Building the Open Future of Education

Open Education 2016

Authors: Mary Lou Forward, Open Education Consortium, United States

In my work life before Open Education, I was engaged with other deans in our institution, devising strategic plans for future curricular directions. Specifically, our focus was on how best to prepare students for an interdependent future. These discussions centered around helping students gain understanding of “critical global issues,” those big, complex problems that the world needs to collectively address in the 21st century. Challenges like energy, sustainable economies, public health; issues that require input from multiple stakeholders and appreciation for how actions can impact people thousands of miles away. In order to meaningfully address these big issues, education itself is a critical issue. More perspectives, more understanding, more information, and more empathy are keys that can unlock new and better approaches—approaches that require collaboration, sharing, and an open mind.

And then I was introduced to Open Education, and it struck me as both simply brilliant and brilliantly simple. Knowledge without borders. The opportunity to create, access, share, and modify the educational building blocks that would invigorate educators and learners everywhere to embrace the curiosity, cooperation, and open-mindedness required to address both critical global issues and important local issues. An educational practice that ameliorates significant problems with current educational provision: access, equity, and innovation. Sign me up. Count me in. Let’s go.

So please allow me my rose-colored glasses. I’m tethered to the foundational idea that open education substantially contributes to a better educational future. And we’re seeing more and more indicators that this is true. There have been significant projects directed at increasing access, whether that’s access to learning materials of all kinds from institutions across the world, access to educational experiences through efforts like OERu and openly licensed MOOCs, or access through affordability by reducing or eliminating paid course materials. Faculty are bringing more diverse teaching and learning resources into their courses by adopting OER (See Chae and Jenkins 2015). Teachers are innovating their approaches to teaching, such as those inspired to bring their students in as the co-creators of their educational experiences (Example 1, Example 2)

But open education needs to go further. To start with, only about a third of faculty surveyed in the US are aware of open educational resources (Online Learning Survey Report, 2016). Most other countries don’t have awareness statistics, but we could safely assume similar or lower levels of awareness. You can’t use or contribute to the open pool of resources if you don’t know they exist. Awareness outside of education sectors needs serious attention, too. We still have a lot of work to do to make sure that people know what open education is and how it can benefit them.

Second, the ideas around open pedagogy are still emerging. These ideas and efforts need to be nurtured and encouraged if we’re going to realize the full potential of open education. As just one example, students at any high school or university with internet capacity now have access to more information than professors at the most well-equipped universities had 20 years ago. Available information is likely to keep increasing more quickly than people can consume it. Open educational practice can not only model how to navigate a broad pool of information to find the most appropriate resources for understanding a topic, but can also serve to stimulate the call for openly licensed works so that this currently available, but for the most part fully copyrighted, information can be used most effectively to benefit society.

Third, if open education is going to really support the skills people need to address global issues, or embrace changes in their work and social lives, we need to develop more resources and tools aimed at supporting these things. For example, open resources that address skills like collaboration and cross-cultural understanding, and resources tailored to workforce development needs, tie open education to skills as well as knowledge, which makes it even more valuable. Extending open educational resources and practices outside of formal educational delivery will accelerate the demand that they become integral parts of education writ large.

But before I go too far down the road of grand societal change, I’ll address what open education might look like in 20 years. We will see significantly increased awareness as successes compound and more teachers and students benefit. We will see a proliferation of new approaches to teaching and learning, partly driven by open educational pedagogy and the availability of resources, and partly driven by changing expectations from learners. There will be more collaboration, more attention to providing support to individuals, and more interaction between learners, as well as between learners and teachers. As collaborations increase, more boundaries will seem artificial and begin to fall away, leaving the opportunity for students to engage with people far away on issues that face an increasingly interdependent world.

Rose-colored glasses, perhaps, but hopefully only slightly tinted.

References & Footnotes

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This work by Mary Lou Forward is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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