OpenFiction [Blog]

Which learning is more valuable?

Posted in Uncategorized by scarsonmsm on February 16, 2007

Stephen Downes once again devalues the OCW model for not addressing his agenda. In a recent article in ScienceGuide, Stephen compares MIT OCW to OU UK’s OpenLearn, rating the former as the “green” standard in open educational resources and the latter the “gold.” I think Stephen is pretty right on in his description of the different models, although he overplays the extent to which MIT provides any kind of “stamp of approval” for use of the material (the example he cites was a experiment to see how easily localized the materials were rather than an attempt to market something using the OCW name).

I take issue, though, with rating one as somehow better than the other, which is a byproduct of Stephen’s interest in online learning versus classroom based learning. A quote that as usual strips out the rhetoric:

The understated message in an initiative such as OCW is that an MIT education is not equivalent to the resources that support the education, that it consists essentially of the contact with the professors and the community that develops among the students… Something like an MIT education can be obtained—but like the liturgies of old, the intercession of the scholar is needed to interpret the source materials… But is the development of an institution and a class, whether online or in person, necessary in order to translate digital content into learning? What of the self-study materials that have blanketed the digital world offering everything from database design to Spanish lessons?

He then goes on to praise OpenLearn as the gold to MIT’s green. First, this ignores the data we’ve developed [PDF – 9.0MB] demonstrating that the vast majority of use of OCW is self-learning independent of institution and classroom. The difference between the two sites is that MIT’s reflects our core competency in residential instruction and OpenLearn reflects OU UK’s in distance education. Both are the result of universities exceptionally well positioned to create a particular type of open resource, and the only reason to rank one against the other would be if one valued a particular type of learning over another, as does Stephen.

I guess the reason Stephen’s comments irk me is that they are exactly the kinds of comments likely to discourage broad participation in open sharing. We have a tough enough time making the case to other schools that open sharing is both a thing worth doing and relatively affordable. Stephen dings us on the one hand for appearing elitist and then turns around and sets a gold standard for open sharing that very few other schools are going to be able to meet. The OCW Consortium has been working hard in the past few years to find ways of making open publication more affordable, and his own judgments of the Consortium’s intentions notwithstanding, we’re actively working with all types of schools including community colleges, state schools and private institutions.

Most schools are publishing classroom-based materials. Others who have the experience and staff to support online learning, such as UC Irvine, are publishing online courses. Each type of sharing ought to be celebrated and encouraged rather than set against one another. If schools are made to feel that the sharing is only valuable if it is done in one particularly labor-intensive way, few will participate, and only the well funded will end up doing it, which I doubt is something Stephen intends to occur.


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  1. […] Not sure why my blog is not allowing log in for comments, as Stephen Downes indicates below, but I’ll try to fix it (any suggestions are welcome). His response to my previous post is included in its entirety below. Valuable Learning […]

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