“There’s no free. Commons is limited. Education is slavery.” – anonymous
In the last couple of months I have spent a remarkable amount of time to think about Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), learning analytics, data science, learning science, quantified-self, reflection in learning, tools for reflection etc. Same time I have been thinking what are commons in education?
What are commons? Antonio Lafuente describes the commons as follows:
“Commons are a new way of expressing a very old idea: that some things belong to everyone and as a whole, they comprise a set of resources that should be actively protected and managed.”
Simple. Commons in education means that opportunities to study and learn belong to everyone and together we create, protect and manage resources that will enable it to happen. I am in.
I am, however, confident about digital technology’s, especially Internet’s potential in education. With the technology we can provide opportunities for more but also do it pedagogically better than ever before.
Why I am skeptical if I still believe in Internet as the most important change factor in education in my lifetime?
My skepticism about MOOCs is probably related to my failures with some early experiments with online learning.
In 2005-2006 I was running my first set of large-scale online courses (some kind of xMOOC). The courses were part of the Art, Design and Technology Master Classes in the Arab States -program, funded by UNESCO, designed, developed and lead in Finland but taught by teachers in Beirut, Dubai and London (if I’ll remember right). To keep it high quality we limited the number of participants to be 50. Out of the 50 participants taking the first course we selected 20 to the second and third part of the program that was planned to take place partly online and partly in Beirut.
This kind of study program was possible to organize only with the Internet. The students came from different Arab states and also the teachers were geologically distributed. Still I would not call it a great success story. The quality was not great, although we did limit the number of participants, had a great teachers-student-ration and time for individual tutoring. It just didn’t happen the way we designed it. Many students were shy and we failed to build social cohesion among the group. Also our original plan to bring 20 students to Beirut to work face to face and to have an exhibition in there was cancelled because of the 2006 Lebanon War. Still there were a lot of positive things in the course, too. For many participants the course was a first time they met other artist and designers from other Arab states interested in to use digital tools in their work.
In 2007-2008 I was teaching another course online. With this course I was experimenting with a colleague the idea of truly open online course (nowadays called cMOOC). To the Wikiversity site we made a sketchy syllabus and schedule of ten weeks Composing free and open online educational resources -course. Then people came, some edited the syllabus and about 70 registered themselves to the course. We didn’t limit the number of participant. In the the course we were having weekly videoconference sessions, gave feedback on the assignments people did on their personal blogs that were openly in the web and also gave them grade (passed/failed) based on their activity in the course.
I think the course was good for some people, maybe for 10 participants. For most it was not. The quality for all was not high. Most people dropped and from those who completed only few did very well their assignments and really put a lot of effort to their studies.
Still the experiment was in some level convincing me that this kind of course could have a real impact in a global capacity building. To do so we would need millions of people doing courses like this all the time in every corner of the globe. Could this happen? It will happen but it may take very long.
Commons in education is not reached with xMOOCs, neither with truly open online courses such as the Wikiversity course. We need both. And we need much more. We need:
- Free and very low-cost access to educational content for all different age groups and in all the languages of the world. To do this we need free and very low cost connections to Internet, globally.
- Open source / free software to run open education and to experiment with it in open education.
- Free and very low-cost access to books (on paper and e-books).
- Galleries, libraries, archives, and museums, in place and online — free and low-cost.
These are the educational resources that should be actively protected and managed if we are interested in to build commons in education.