Opening Up Education–The Remix

by Toru Iiyoshi and M. S. Vijay Kumar

Excerpts from Opening Up Education: The Collective Advancement of Education through Open Technology, Open Content, and Open Knowledge, Toru Iiyoshi and M.S. Vijay Kumar, eds.

Editor’s Note: In their new book Opening Up Education: The Collective Advancement of Education through Open Technology, Open Content, and Open Knowledge (MIT Press, 2008) , editors Toru Iiyoshi and M.S. Vijay Kumar bring together a diverse group of scholars of teaching and learning to address this question:  “How can open educational tools, resources and knowledge of practice improve the quality of education?”  That is, how can educators take advantage of new knowledge-sharing tools in order to make their own learning visible, enhancing the collective understanding of how best to use these same tools in the classroom?

Iiyoshi and Kumar contend that, as technological tools continue to evolve at a rapid pace, the educational community must consciously consider how best to take advantage of these resources, and should implement specific strategies to facilitate sharing of knowledge and practices. This process will require significant adaptation by institutions and educators, as traditional definitions of authorship, credentialing, and curriculum are all thrown into question. The volume looks at three broad areas of open education–technology, content, and knowledge–where diverse authors reflect critically on core questions, drawing on lessons learned from past projects, and proposing new directions for the future of the movement. Here, we focus on the area of open knowledge about teaching and learning, and the challenge of developing open education practices in the context of the ways new media is changing the way we learn, teach, collaborate, and circulate knowledge in our culture. Through this remix of the editors, Iiyoshi and Kumar, the author of the preface and collaborator, John Seely Brown, and a chorus of authors from the volume, we present a snapshot of open education that sits at the intersection of innovation and the imperative for an expanding knowledge base on teaching and learning.  -RB

Defining ‘Open Education’ 
Toru Iiyoshi and Vijay Kumar: a fresh perspective on resources and relationships
Rather than propose one more definition, our reference to open education embraces the many dimensions of this movement as well as the main interpretations of the term “open” as it has been applied to education over time, such as increased access, greater choice, and flexibility. What we offer instead is an extension to these definitions . . . that a key tenet of open education is that education can be improved by making educational assets visible and accessible and by harnessing the collective wisdom of a community of practice and reflection. (Iiyoshi and Kumar, “An Invitation to Open Up the Future of Education,” introduction, 2)

Higher education places a high premium on originality, whereas adapting or improving another’s educational materials is rarely understood to be a creative or valuable contribution. Thus, while scholars are expected to build on the work of others in their disciplinary research, teaching is largely treated as a private, highly territorial enterprise. Open education demands a fresh perspective on resources and relationships. A significant first step towards creating new education models is to build receptivity to open resources at many levels through effective professional and leadership development. (Ibid, 5)

Toru Iiyoshi from The Carnegie Commons Community Forum

Despite the increasing interest in open education, and the availability of these growing collections of educational tools and resources, we risk missing transformative and innovative opportunities. We must think really hard about how open education can help us improve teaching and learning in the small classroom as well as help us create the necessary educational capacity for the entire world. As a global education community, we could benefit from a deep understanding of how educational tools and resources are being created and used in ways that build upon each other’s educational knowledge and practice. It is vital we continue to explore possible synergies and sustainability strategies for all these current and future open education efforts and promote a culture of openness across boundaries and borders. (Toru Iiyoshi, video from The Carnegie Commons community forum:

Vijay Kumar from The Carnegie Commons Community Forum

Our hope is that the book actually launches a process, that it becomes a vehicle for reflection, for discourse, for some very serious planning, for a variety of us: for institutional leaders, as they grapple with how to preserve and contextualize the value of residentially-based education, something that we at MIT for instance worry about a lot–how do you change the production function, the mix of resource and spaces given the new clientele, given that there’s this plethora of quality resources available out there? In cases as nations, as we start thinking about increased access to quality educational opportunity in the new knowledge economy, how do we start thinking as teachers to figure out, you know, how is our role, as John pointed out, as coaches, mentors, managers of educational resources, how does it need to change to take advantage, to leverage this new possibility, how does that role as advisors and mentors change? And then also we hope that this becomes a vehicle for policymakers to think about some of what the new norms for intellectual property need to be–how do you launch this governance, how do you address governance issues, considering that we’re suddenly dealing with the distributed collective of producers and participants in this educational realm. So we hope that this book really starts fueling the discussion so that we can start not just preparing for some of these unintended consequences, but also start proactively constructing a preferred vision of the future. (M.S. Vijay Kumar, video from The Carnegie Commons community forum:

Framing the Imperative 
Toru Iiyoshi, Vijay Kumar, and John Seely Brown
John Seely Brown: Web 2.0 as a new jigsaw puzzle

The world becomes more complex and interconnected at a lightning-fast pace, and almost every serious social issue requires an engaged public that is not only traditionally literate, but adept in a new, systemic literacy. This new literacy requires an understanding of different kinds of feedback systems, exponential processes, the unintended consequences inherent in evolving social systems, etcetera. In addition, the unrelenting velocity of change means that many of our skills have a shorter shelf life, suggesting that much of our learning will need to take place outside of traditional school and university environments. It is also unlikely that sufficient resources will be available to build enough new campuses to meet the growing demand for higher education, at least not the sort of campuses we have traditionally built for colleges and universities. Nor is it likely that current methods of teaching and learning will suffice to prepare students for the lives they will lead in the twenty-first century.

In response, we need to find a way to reconceptualize many twentieth-century education models, and at the same time reinforce learning outside of formal schooling. There may be powerful ways to blur the distinction between formal learning and informal where both turn on the social life of learning. (John Seely Brown, “Creating a Culture of Learning,” foreword, xi)

John Seely Brown from CNDLS on Vimeo.

I mean, if you wish, this book reflects the major shift from Web 1.0, a push notion of just push the material out there, to kind of a Web 2.0 in terms of how do we become more participants, how do students learn from and with each other, how do students and faculty live together and then how do we make that richer than ever?

We’re beginning to have the puzzle, the pieces of a brand new jigsaw puzzle that we’re figuring out how to put together here. And I think if you look at this book, you find kind of reflections on each part of that, but you also see the attempt to start to put these pieces together.

So to me, that’s why I find this so exciting, is that in a curious way the explosion of digital technology still increasing this exponential path is driving change, change, change ever faster, which is creating a tremendous problem for the old ways of learning and teaching. But the same thing that’s driving this challenge we have is also providing us the tools and mechanisms to attack this problem in fundamentally new ways. (John Seely Brown, video from The Carnegie Commons community forum:

Open Knowledge and the Challenge of Improving Teaching and Learning: A Chorus of Contributing Authors from Opening Up Education
Cheryl R. Richardson: Opening knowledge is more than just opening the classroom door
Opening knowledge in education goes a step beyond opening out classroom doors to colleagues. It involves cocreating, experimenting, reflecting, sharing, and reusing accumulated ideas and knowledge about teaching and learning. It is active and welcomes the participation of everyone involved–student, instructor, researcher, policymaker, as well as faculty developer and administrator. We think of this genre as embracing the ideals of scholarship and the practices of our contemporary, digital-participatory culture.

Similar to knowledge generated within disciplinary circles, proponents of open knowledge see the field as gaining credibility from knowing which questions were asked and understanding how they were tested and examined, what results emerged, and how we can trust these results. More importantly, we want results measured in terms of better practice and improved student learning. We encourage change that is driven from the ideas, practices, and reflection of all of these participants . . . In other words, it is rich in particular practices of connecting, co-creating and distributing teaching and learning. With the right kinds of support and development, this culture has the potential to quickly and broadly spread innovation and improved educational practice.

In the context of improving teaching and enhancing learning, authors examine different perspectives of open knowledge. Authors ask–and with theory, example, and description–answer questions about what opening knowledge about teaching and learning means, how it might be accomplished, the challenges of trying, and the various potential and realized benefits of doing so:

  • What role does opening knowledge play in promoting and sustaining systemic and systematic change? What are the various stages of change the authors describe–from the classroom to the institution–and the roles of various players, including faculty, external projects, and administrators?
  • What are the implications for tools that may help capture and share knowledge?
  • What is the role of intermediary projects, organizations, and people in sustaining movements and providing opportunities for shared thinking?
  • How might the slow-to-change culture of education adapt elements inherent in a fast-paced technological world? When is it most appropriate to do so?
  • What kinds of scaffolds and frameworks help introduce newcomers, carry novices further, and use the skills and attributes of ‘experts’ to effectively nurture and encourage open knowledge?

All of these overlapping intentions and propositions show how it takes more than opening our classroom doors to keep up with the needs of education. (Cheryl R. Richardson, “Open Educational Knowledge: More than Opening the Classroom Door,” 279-80; 285-6)

Candace Thille: Creating a self-sustaining ecology
Many OER [Open Education Resource] projects to date have focused on making content that supports existing traditional forms of instruction openly and freely available. In these projects, the power of the Internet is used to overcome barriers to access by serving as a medium for freely distributing content. Making existing content available in this way is based on the revolutionary idea that education and discovery are best advanced when knowledge is shared openly. These OER projects have enabled a great leap forward in democratizing access to educational material. The next step in the revolutionary potential of the OER movement is in using technology to make instruction, as well as materials, accessible to the widest possible audience of learners and, at the same time, improve teaching and learning. . . .

The technological challenges may well be easier to overcome than the greater challenge of creating a self-sustaining ecology in which members are active participants not only in production, adaptation, and consumption of learning resources but also in reflection and evaluation. . . .

Ultimately, it is not the technology itself but rather the new practice and communities that the technology enables that will revolutionize postsecondary education. In the case of OER’s, the technology, the communities, and practices that develop around the OER’s may ultimately allow us to close the feedback loop and support institutions of higher learning to become learning institutions. (Candace Thille, “Building Open Learning as a Community-based Research Activity” 165; 172;175)

Richard A. Gale: Higher education’s black box
[Lee Shulman’s] charge . . . was to build knowledge that illuminates and improves student learning and faculty teaching, to encourage institutions to support and promote this form of scholarship, and to establish a field of endeavor and expertise that facilitates the sharing of what Shulman calls “the wisdom of practice.” To achieve this, students and teachers, administrators and staff, policymakers and the public at large would need to view learning, teaching, and scholarship in new and more collaborative ways.

Behind the work of the scholarship of teaching and learning is a teeming landscape of thought and practice, understanding and action, belief and engagement. Because teaching and learning are so hard to see and know, they are even harder to systematically analyze and improve. One reason why policymakers have turned their attention to the clamor and cry for assessment and accountability is higher education’s “black box” of classroom excellence and student success. If the so-called “best practices” of teaching and learning could be identified and articulated beyond local environs, shared in a transparent and transferable mode with an assurance of accomplishment at the end of the day, then educators the world over might be convinced to embrace change. But the current reality for most higher education institutions is that learning is contextual and unexamined, teaching is ephemeral and private, and scholarship on both is frequently limited in scope and impact by the restrictions of the academy and the lack of resources (variously defined from funding to reward structures). (Richard A. Gale, “Inquiry Unplugged: A Scholarship of Teaching and Learning for Open Understanding,” 289; 292)

Bernadette Chuck Fong: Synergies between academic and open source communities
At Foothill College, open education is more than a passing trend: it has reached the core of what we do. . . . With ETUDES [distance education software system], our faculty maintains the academic locus of control over their courses, curriculum, and pedagogy. An open source community is inherently synergistic with an academic community, and therefore, a highly compatible and self-sustaining relationship. . . .

[A]s the use of online technology becomes more integrated into a course, and particularly in its content delivery and dialogue between faculty member and students, an interesting shift emerges. That is the real shift from teaching to learning and, ultimately, deep learning. The issue of access and success could take on new and more important meaning as the unit of measurement of student work is increasingly more focused on what the student is learning rather than how much time is spent in a course. (Bernadine Chuck Fong, “Open for What? A Case Study of Institutional Leadership and Transformation,” 408-410)

Catherine M. Casserly and Marshall S. Smith: The capacity to reuse and remix

However, open access is not the only feature of OER that distinguishes it from other content on the Web accessible by search engines or from behind a wall that requires status or permission or resources to penetrate. Fully open educational resources provide a license that grants permission to users not only to read the material but also to download, modify, and post it for reuse. Users are empowered to change the materials to meet their own needs. They can mix and remix. The capacity and right to reuse materials is an important step in providing users all over the world the opportunity to actively participate in the open education resources teaching and learning processes. It creates the opportunity for the localization of the materials, where users tailor materials according to their language and culture, and for personalization, where materials can be adapted and modified for individual learners. Reuse also makes possible continuous cycles of improvement of educational materials as users quickly provide critical reactions and evaluations to developers of the quality and effectiveness of the materials. These fast feedback loops of users and developers create an environment for the improvement of content similar to the environment of open source software. (Catherine M. Casserly and Marshall S. Smith, “Revolutionizing Education through Innovation: Can Openness Transform Teaching and Learning?,” 262-3)

James Dalziel: Open source teaching
Open education has had two great successes and one significant failure to date. The first success is the development and adoption of open source course management systems. Moodle, Sakai, LRN, ATutor, and other systems demonstrate that open source development processes can create excellent course management systems that can readily be adopted by educational institutions throughout the world. The second success is the open sharing of educational content. OpenCourseWare, MERLOT, ARIADNE, and other initiatives illustrate how educators and students throughout the world can benefit from freely shared educational content.

The failure is harder to put into words. It could be described as our lack of progress on sharing “pedagogical know-how” among educators. We have systems to run e-learning courses and content to view, but we have not captured the teaching processes that expert educators use to bring learning alive in their e-learning courses. If an educator creates a great sequence of learning activities that leads to a rich learning experience for students in an e-learning class, how does this educator share the activity sequence with colleagues so that they can automatically run the same activities or adapt them to suit local conditions? How does the educator share the thought processes that led to the design of the activity sequence?”. . . Put simply, what we lack is an agreed way to describe and share the teaching process, regardless of whether the activities are conducted online or face-to-face. As a result, individual educators spend heroic amounts of time on planning and preparation, but with enormous duplication of effort and no economies of scale. Apart from the lack of efficiency in preparation, educational quality also suffers: While some educators regularly create outstanding learning experiences for their students, some do not. How could the best teaching processes be shared among the widest number of educators?

Most importantly, if we could share descriptions of educational processes together with advice on the reasons for their design, then not only could a novice educator  benefit from the work of experts, but all educators could collectively adapt and improve each others’ work, leading to improved quality overall.

This suggests a fascinating question. Could the collaborative development processes of open source software be applied to open teaching? Harnessing the collective expertise of the world’s educators to achieve greater efficiency and improved quality would transform education as we know it. (James Dalziel, “Learning Design: Sharing Pedagogical Know-How,” 375-76)

Diana Laurillard: Teaching must become problematized
The idea of a learning system capable of adapting itself to new environmental conditions is applicable also to the teaching community itself. Our knowledge and understanding of “technology-enhanced learning” will accelerate faster in a teaching community that acts like a learning system–one that makes knowledge of what it takes to learn explicit, adapts it, tests it, refines practice, reflects, rearticulates, and shares that new knowledge. Teaching must become problematized, innovative, and professional, taking research as its model. If lecturers were to conduct the process of teaching as rigorously as they conduct their research, then they would expect 1. support for some personal development in how to teach; 2. the means to build on the work of others to design their approach; 3. the means to experiment and reflect on what the results imply for their design and their understanding; and 4. the means to articulate and disseminate their contribution. Those four characteristics together define the essentials of what we might call “open teaching”–what James Dalziel has called “open source teaching”–such as an environment in which “educators can freely and openly share best practice teaching.”1 This communitarian approach reflects the ideals of the research community in general, and the scholarship of teaching in particular.2 It would enable the teaching community, throughout the education system, to learn how to adapt to the new challenges for education and to exploit technology in the process. (Diana Laurillard, “Open Teaching: The Key to Sustainable and Effective Open Education,” 328)

Diana G. Oblinger and Marilyn M. Lombardi: Building a sustainable practice
Several programs in the United States and the United Kingdom are pushing the concept of Open Education beyond the courseware model in order to build a sustainable practice capable of scaling broadly. Examples include the Connexions project at Rice University, the National Science Digital Library project, the Open University’s OpenLearn pilot project, and Carnegie Mellon University’s Open Learning Initiative (OLI), which is marked by its unique interdisciplinary course development process. Launched in the fall of 2002, OLI is dedicated to the development of freely available “stand-alone” college-level online courses informed by research from the cognitive and learning sciences. The OLI course design process is unique in its dedication to teaming faculty content experts with cognitive scientists, learning scientists, human-computer interaction specialists, formative assessment specialists, and programmers, along with ongoing course evaluation and iterative improvement. Ultimately, the collaborative nature of the OLI course design process has had an additional, unanticipated effect: inspiring participating faculty members to rethink their approach to teaching. Although OLI courses are designed as “stand-alone” online experiences, Carnegie Mellon faculty are successfully integrating OLI’s Web-based instruction modules into their traditional instructor-led courses.3 (Diana G. Oblinger and Marilyn M. Lombardi, “Common Knowledge: Openness in Higher Education,” 397)

Randy Bass and Dan Bernstein: The middle space between local and cosmopolitan

We propose that a key location for the scholarship of teaching and learning is in a middle ground between what we might call the “individual” and the “cosmopolitan.” These two ends of a spectrum are often the focus of scholarly teaching and the scholarship of teaching: the individual engaging in reflection for the improvement of his or her own practice and the individual published work available for others more generally. There is a loop between them in that many individuals draw on cosmopolitan resources while some individuals aspire to produce written or digital work that contributes to a general body of literature. Thus, by “middle ground” we mean work that falls between individual practice and the world of generalized knowledge about teaching and learning. . . . Our sense of this middle space–what often will be local but could be virtually achieved communities of practice–is not merely one version of the scholarship of teaching and learning, but an essential link between individual practice and the eventual construction of knowledge in open systems. Perhaps this middle level is the critical bridge between the logic of the learning paradigm that turns us inward and the implications of a broader notion of learning that draws us outward. . . . An open electronic space will provide a flexible and dynamic home for both ongoing collaboration as well as post hoc identification of common themes and coherent results. To maximize the potential of open education, we need to learn how to link local and cosmopolitan work with vibrant and visible practice, and to find a middle space between isolation and full participation in a research community. (Randy Bass and Dan Bernstein, “The Middle of Open Spaces: Generating Knowledge about Learning through Multiple Layers of Open Teaching Communities,” 304; 316)

Mary Taylor Huber and Pat Hutchings: Balancing big ambitions with small steps
Looking ahead, the questions that stand out most for us are how to expand and preserve the openness about teaching and learning that is increasingly in place and how to ensure that the new (or newly available) resources in the teaching commons are actually useful to those who can benefit from them. It is well and good to make as many educational resources as possible accessible to as many teachers and learners as possible. But, to borrow a line from the movie Field of Dreams, if we build it, will they come?

The answer, we believe, will be shaped by progress in two related areas. To deliver on the promise of open knowledge will first require concerted attention to conceptual questions about what kinds of knowledge can best contribute to educational quality. To put it simply, “they will come” if they find resources and insights they value and can use. Second, future prospects will depend on the development of policies and practices that support an ethic of openness in ways that are inclusive, inviting, and rewarding (in several senses of the word). These challenges are related, clearly, and are likely to be further complicated by the increasing calls for accountability faced by higher education today.

Like the vision of open education itself, these challenges can seem daunting. It is tempting to reach for shiny new answers that depart, radically sometimes, from what has gone before. Our instinct is to be more modest. The promise of open knowledge can best be met, we believe, by building on what is already underway, by not underestimating the value of small gains, and by balancing big ambitions with lots of small steps along the way. (418)

As with other areas of academic thought and practice, the best chance for pedagogical knowledge to circulate widely and publicly will be the success of that knowledge itself. Will this work improve teaching? Will it help create better environments for student learning? Will it create a vision of what is possible that is compelling enough to attract colleagues to join in? The challenge for the open knowledge community is to realize that their big ambitions can best be pursued in concert with others who care about learning in higher education, and by taking the many small steps necessary to create an academic culture where the intellectual and creative work involved in teaching is understood, encouraged, and supported. (Mary Taylor Huber and Pat Hutchings, “What’s Next for Open Knowledge?” 418; 426-7)

Building The Collectivity Culture

Toru Iiyoshi and Vijay Kumar
Transferring practical knowledge about how to use tools and resources, even if they are readily available, is not easy. Indeed, this kind of pedagogical know-how is notoriously hard to make visible and portable. While some might argue that such knowledge is already built into educational tools and resources–that a syllabus, for instance, already embodies what the user needs to know about using that syllabus–the vast majority of this kind of practical knowledge remains tacit and invisible in the experiences of the educator(s) who created and used the materials or the learners who used the materials. Thus, a crucial task before us is to build intellectual and technical capacity for transforming “tacit knowledge” into “commonly usable knowledge.” Building this capacity is urgent, as the process of creating and sharing quality educational knowledge needs to catch up with the burgeoning availability of open educational goods . . .

In order to collectively advance teaching and learning globally, we need to devise mechanisms to harvest, accumulate, and distribute locally created educational assets, pedagogical innovations, and wisdom of practice in a manner that can be reused effectively in different local contexts. As practice and experience is made increasingly tangible and transferable, we need to create a network of educational knowledge-bases that inspires and helps to inform future efforts.

The canvas of educational issues and opportunities is wide and varied–from national concerns about competitiveness to bringing more global perspectives to curricula. The ambitious and accomplished projects represented in this book and other open initiatives can provide even more powerful solutions to the large problems of education if they can effectively collaborate to maximize the collectivity of their individual efforts. For example, the vision of the Meta University, eloquently articulated by Charles M. Vest, president emeritus of MIT, as “a transcendent, accessible, empowering, dynamic, communally constructed framework of open materials and platforms on which much of higher education worldwide can be constructed or enhanced” presents the dramatic potential of synthesis and the collective.4

Fostering the collectivity culture and harnessing its power will require the creation of conditions favorable to the spawning and sharing of new ideas and models. Making openness thrive will require policies and practices that entice and reward openness, as well as programs for supporting and monitoring diversity as well as quality. . . . The systemic nature of change requires that synergy among various open education efforts, along with the intersection with other initiatives, are explored for end-to-end delivery of quality education. By employing powerful multimedia, data mining and analysis, knowledge management, and social and semantic network technology, we should be able to help people around the world find and use appropriate educational tools, resources and knowledge of practice that advance their local learning and teaching. Ideally, this should also enable learners and educators to contribute back to an ever-growing knowledge-base of open education, thereby leading to a spiral of educational transformation efforts.

Educational institutions, organizations and communities must understand that open education is not just about disseminating resources that can be localized in many ways to improve education in local contexts, but also about an opportunity toward broadening and deepening our collective understanding of teaching and learning. Difficult and unchartered as the terrain may appear, we anticipate at least three dramatic improvements over time: increased quality of tools and resources, more effective use, and greater individual and collective pedagogical knowledge. Ideally, all will occur concurrently, combining local innovations and learned lessons through global knowledge-sharing. This process also needs to be spiral so that we can continuously pursue “betterness” in various aspects of education. (Toru Iiyoshi and M.S. Vijay Kumar, “Conclusion: New Pathways for Shaping the Collective Agenda to Open Up Education,” 436-9)

1. J. Dalziel, “LAMS community launch,” LAMS Foundation News (Sept. 30, 2005), [return to text]
2. C. Kreber and P. A. Cranton, “Exploring the scholarship of teaching,”The Journal of Higher Education 71 no. 4 (2000): 476–495. [return to text]
3. M. M. Lombardi, “ELI Innovations and Implementations: The Open Learning Initiative,” EDUCAUSE (July 2006), [return to text]
4. Charles Vest, “Enabling Meta University,” EDUCAUSE Review 41, no. 3 (May/June 2006): 18–30. [return to text]