Reply to Cole: Pushing Back vs. Pushing Forward

Cole put up a post recently asking why the open education movement had become so reactive:

Just a couple of years ago we were all trying so hard to get people to accept the idea that open access to learning was a great thing. Hell, some of the best conversations I’ve ever had in this field have centered around the ideals of openness, but now that the MOOC thing has happened the same people who built rallying calls for more open access to learning are now rejecting this movement. Why? Because it is driven by corporations trying to make money? Because it isn’t really open? Because the press isn’t giving a few people the credit they believe they deserve? Because these aren’t really courses? Ok … that sounds like the same stuff we’ve always dealt with.

I respect Cole quite a bit, so I wanted to take some time to respond thoughtfully.

It’s really the openness issue, full stop. And I suppose the reason I feel the openness issue somewhat keenly is that for me open was never about the cult of open. It was about the brilliant idea that if our institutions worked together instead of against one another we could both increase the positive social impact of our universities as well as take control of our destinies.  Open was profoundly empowering.

It’s actually not the MOOC companies that end up irking me I think. It’s the partners. And the thing that gets me is that the partners could choose to use this moment to profoundly empower the education system as a whole — community colleges, less prestigious four-years, heck, maybe even help the for-profits create a better experience for their students.

But by and large institutions have chosen to work with companies that, as far as I can see, are on a path to disempower us, leaving us as the fry-cooks of the freeze-dried meals we’re about to ship America.  I think you’re familiar enough with my thinking to know why I think the ultimate result of this, if followed to its logical conclusion, is a profoundly bifurcated education system, something akin to the GED policy disaster this country still has not recovered from.

Maybe we disgree on that. All well and good — but I’d just add that I don’t see myself as pushing back, but as pushing forward. What I want is not a world where edX or Coursera does not exist, but a world where institutions will make it a stipulation of working with edX that their material must be shared freely (or maybe just do the work of sharing it — it may not be an edX issue at all). That may be oppositional to MOOC platforms, but I think it is certainly pushing forward.

I’ll also say that my own efforts have been relentlessly forward looking. I co-created a Psychology MOOC that launched this week on Canvas Network — everything in that MOOC is under either CC-BY or CC-BY-NC. We’re not just talking about what the model is — we went and built it. We managed to do that as a bottom-of-heap state college with no additional resources or funding. With a professor who didn’t even get a stipend. And we convinced a College President that had just seen his state funding cut by 45% to give it away for free. The whole thing. We can export the course for you into IMS-CC, you can import and run your own class tomorrow with it.

Now if the Coursera and Udacity schools were producing THAT, it would change the world, almost overnight. You know this — it’s the power of open.

Surely if Keene State can build a Psych MOOC out of nothing and give it away for free we can expect better from the elite colleges than we’re getting? I know there are people in those institutions who get it. I worked with them at OCWC, I’ve met them at conferences. I’m good friends with many of them, and consider them intelligent allies.

If you know the round-about argument I have to make to get those institutions to embrace real change, I’ll make it. Until then, forward to me means plowing past them to other visions and pointing out the difference.

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