The three articles of this week’s readings tied together the historical high points (and low) of education technology (“ed-tech” or “EdTech” depending on personal preference), open education practices (OEP) and open education resources (OER) – although these three terms often overlap.
Before I delve into the specific “So What?” of this blog piece, I’d like to address some smaller points. In Martin Weller’s article Twenty years of Edtech, he mentions two specific points that hit home: firstly, in discussing ed-tech developments, he states that “educational transformation is a slow burn.” Granted, Weller seems to be writing specifically about higher education; but many of the ideas mentioned in the article fizzled out well before trickling down to K12 classrooms (if they were ever transferable at all). If he thinks transformation is all about patience at the university level where most of these trends were implemented, imagine how school teachers feel. Secondly, Weller acknowledges that technological innovation is often thrust into education without a plan – on this point he could be speaking to educators at any level. While technology evolves quickly, true educational transformation does not. And often, yes, new technology is disconnected from pedagogical thought until well after an attempted implementation. I call it tech for the sake of tech. Weller calls it “technology seeking an application.”
The bigger point to address here however is the progression of ed-tech and the focus within these articles on “higher education.” Both Weller’s article above and Mapping research trends from 35 years of publications in Distance Education by Naidu and Zawacki-Ritcher target technological developments within university programming and distance learning. As a result, much of the information seems irrelevant to me as a K12 educator. While OEP/OER are trends that have trickled down to K12, much of the points and ideas within these two articles (MOOCs, open textbooks, LMS) would likely inspire in the average educator a wide range of emotion from straight indifference to full-blown apathy.
This focus on higher education is the key to my issue with the third article, On the role of openness in education: A historical reconstruction, by Peter and Deimann. The historical look at this topic was fascinating – easily the most interesting read of the three. Once again sitting squarely in higher education, the authors acknowledge that the concept of “openness” has been muddied in its journey and is currently mired in the swamp of technological progress – the article proceeds to use examples from history to illustrate the original intent of “open” education both structurally and philosophically. In most cases, progress in open education has developed as a grass-roots movement among learners, is inevitably adulterated by the intrusion of “stakeholders” and/or bureaucracy and becomes what the authors describe as “pretended” openness. In concluding, the authors state that “history emphasizes the risk in failing to preserve the openness that made initiatives successful in the first place.”
Given the historical pattern laid out in this article, how can current students, educators, and the public at large truly get behind any research into OEP/OER? Based on history and our current state, it could appear from the outside that the research is often stationed in higher education not out of prudence or academic rigor, but simply because OEP/OER can be designed, constructed, implemented and studied to enhance a for-profit system at the university level in ways that are currently unavailable at the public K12 level. There is an economic benefit to pursuing open education practices at the higher level – more students plus lower administrative cost = more profits for the universities (and companies selling the technology).
It can’t be surprising that the general public might be critical, skeptical or at very least apathetic about open education and research. For truly “open” education to work, it must be not only free but credible. Completing open course work would have to be on par with the rigor of completing course work through a recognized university program – and therefore equally weighted on a resume. But that will never happen. It would undermine the entire “pay-to-play” higher education system, and the stakeholders don’t want that. As Naidu and Zawacki-Richter state, regarding online education initiatives: “it is quickly becoming fashionable to be in this business.” I think the use of the word “business” is appropriate.