I was fortunate to attend this year’s Big Ideas Fest, held in Half Moon Bay, California. While I attended last year’s Big Ideas Fest (BIF), this year’s was particularly relevant to our work here at Open.Michigan. A primary feature of the Big Ideas Fest each year is the action collab, where participants are grouped together to discuss and jam on design challenges. One of the challenges at BIF2011 was “How might we leverage open (content, data, and research) to transform teaching and learning?” I was particularly interested in learning about practitioner’s perspectives on ‘open’ and how they see open as being used in educational practices at every level. ISKME is particularly adept at incorporating participants from high school students to funders and everything in between to the conversations and activities at Big Ideas Fest.
Our group consisted of representatives from the Learning Registry project, the Open High School of Utah, the California Academy of Sciences, as well as teachers and students in high schools and elementary schools across the country. Folks in our action collab were most interested in using open content to facilitate their own work. It goes back to our desire at Open.Michigan to help people share well. Just what that means and how to facilitate it is hard to grasp, but we know that folks are more interested in the sharing part, than the legal or technical part. It means that those of us working in education have the deep challenge of making this stuff look easy (figuring out the legal and technical part while addressing the dynamic needs of our community).
While the OER practitioners in the room wanted to focus on access, organization, and metadata, the teachers and learners in the room wanted to focus on search, making it easy to find open materials that are most relevant to specific interests, desires, and circumstances of teachers and learners alike. With Pandora, Amazon, and Google all targeting their services, products and content to us as individuals, it’s not surprising that folks are starting to expect similar experiences when they search for content to suit their educational needs. These features beg a larger question about personal data that I won’t delve into now, but in our conversations what folks were interested in at BIF is the experience of a responsive system tailored to educational interests and needs.
Everyone in the room was in agreement, however, that the learning experience is expanding vastly beyond the formal system and that teachers and institutions must start thinking about facilitating lifelong and life-wide learning. Boundaries between levels, grades and subjects are breaking down as models of collaboration and blended learning start to become standard inside and outside of the classroom. We discussed the need to support peer teaching, goal-based learning, and participatory learning and saw some inspiring examples of how DIY, sharing, and hands-on can be combined to teach anyone anywhere about electronics (Squishy Circuits). Issues of maintaining access to resources using digital technology are very important, especially as rules and policies are being rewritten by government and institutions alike. Barbara Chow spoke at BIF about the importance of developing policy and infrastructure that support open practices, and that is our challenge as facilitators of open. How do we support the infrastructure that makes sharing easy, at the local, national, and international levels? How do we make learning and teaching easy (and legal) to do in public settings?
It was inspiring and challenging to hear what the teaching and learning community wants and needs out of open education initiatives like ours. I’m hopeful that efforts like the Learning Registry, Achieve’s OER rubric, AcrossWorld Education, and the Open High School model will start to coalesce to support the policy and infrastructure needed to share well. These activities may help to start shifting the process of finding, using, and creating open content into mainstream education. The facets of developing content and systems that support powerful searching and packaging of content in useful ways (modularity is key), supporting collaborative non-hierarchical learning, and supporting teacher development (as teachers develop digital literacies alongside their students, start to teach across disciplines, and in public spaces) all must be taken into consideration when developing open education practices.