I’ve been talking about open education with academics for the past year and a half. I try to put everything out there: open education resources (OER), open access scholarship, open source software, open courses. My NITLE colleague Lisa Spiro formulated nine (9) different ways to envision open education. And the general response to this multileveled discussion is?
“Yes yes. But talk to us about MOOCs.”
To be clear, the academics I’ve been listening to are primarily campus leaders: deans, provosts, presidents. In addition, private institutions’ trustees and boards follow the same line. “Open” is a code or trigger for “MOOC”.
So why is this happening? Why are campus decision-makers so keen on MOOCs, seeing them as dominant within the broader open field?
Here are some thoughts and hypotheses. These aren’t endorsements or defenses, but my attempts to understand:
- By 2012 campus leaders have already made decisions about open education. They have policies in place for OER production, open source software, open access scholarship, etc. Some of those policies are negative, i.e. “we won’t do that here.” (Last month one provost told me her faculty were considering whether to allow their peers to publish in open access journals.) The Berlin Declaration was ten years ago. So open education is not a live issue for them. Its historical development is either not on administrators’ radar, or is seen as beyond their scope. MOOCs, on the other hand, are newly arrived on that radar, especially xMOOCs.
- The most visible forms of open education (creating and maintaining OER, building OA repositories, hiring programmers to maintain open source) look like they require spending money. Which is a very tricky thing as higher education has been slammed hard by the Great Recession. xMOOCs aren’t free to make, either, but consuming them is cheap and easy.
- While many colleges and universities see themselves on the global stage, they don’t connect that stance to open education. They are building satellite campuses or cultivating sister schools abroad, redesigned core curricula to include preparing students for a globalized life, etc. But American higher ed is very nationalist, and the world of educational technology especially so. The global benefits of, say, producing OER aren’t in the discussion.
- Much open education looks unfamiliar, even today. Most faculty were not trained to be media creators, for example, beyond scholarly work. Open access scholarship is a strange thing for many. xMOOCs, on the other hand, look like classes.
- xMOOCs have excellent cachet in the academic pecking order. They emanate from Stanford, Harvard, MIT. Coursera draws from this elite stratum. This makes all kinds of reputational and political sense to campus leaders.
If you’re in campus administration, how do these five elements correspond with your own thinking, or that of your peers? If you work elsewhere in academe, do these map on to your sense of institutional leadership? What’s missing?