More on MOOCs and Being Awesome Instead | iterating toward openness

David Wiley nicely wraps up MOOCs, and why they’re important even if much of the hype is just marketing drivel spouted by elite institutions:

For a complex tangle of political reasons, “the people in power” are currently paying a tremendous amount of attention to issues relating to access to education, and the role of the cost of education in regulating that access. MOOCs have popularized and significantly advanced the conversation regarding both universal and free. The general public is beginning to believe that technology may have the near-term potential to provide a genuine solution to the problem of making education both universal and free. We can take advantage of the space MOOCs have created in the public conversation to introduce and advance the idea of truly open educational resources to people who are unfamiliar with it.

The comparison I made above between MOOCs and learning objects was a carefully chosen one. I believe that MOOCs will run – are already running – up against the reusability paradox. I believe people will eventually come to realize the pedagogical restrictions that are inseparably connected with the copyright and Terms of Use restrictions of MOOCs. As with the learning object mania of yesteryear, diehards will stick around but the rest of the world will move on as the experiment fails. If we message correctly before that happens, we can create a general understanding that much of what is frustrating about MOOCs to faculty, students, and others would be solved by the simple application of an open license (the same way an open license can resolve the reusability paradox).

MOOCs have carried the ball a significant way down the field toward universal access to free, high quality education. We should be grateful for the work they’ve done on behalf of that goal. The primary risk we have to guard against now is someone hanging out the “Mission Accomplished” banner. MOOCs are not openly licensed, and consequently will struggle with issues of quality and will never become part of the educational infrastructure that enables truly breakthrough advances. MOOCs get us one step closer to the goal, but we need to continue advocating for true openness in order to create the space in which those advances can happen.

via David Wiley: More on MOOCs and Being Awesome Instead | iterating toward openness.

Exactly. MOOCs themselves aren’t the answer. I’m not even sure what the question is. But, despite mis-steps and corporate branding red herrings, we are now more open than we were before. That’s the important part. MOOCs are just a MacGuffin, a device to keep the plot moving.

As David has been saying for years: iterating toward openness.

On content as infrastructure

Kananaskis - June 17 - 12David suggested in his opening comments yesterday that “content is infrastructure.” He was (I think) meaning to imply that content is an enabling platform, and that if a robust library of open content is available, that individuals and groups will be able to build new things from that library. Things that can’t be predicted by the librarians and publishers. Things that are evolutionary and revolutionary. I completely agree that having freely available and reusable content is an extremely important factor in promoting education and community programs, especially in regions without the resources to build all content from scratch.

But, the “content as infrastructure” analogy doesn’t sit well with me. Infrastructure is stuff like electricity, plumbing, roads and communication networks. Infrastructure’s value is that you don’t have to think about it – it’s Just There™, and is “always on”. You flick a switch, and don’t need or want to think about the electrical infrastructure that heats up the filament in the bulb. You flush the john, and don’t need or want to think about the water supply and sewage infrastructure. Hopefully, you won’t have to.

But – content is one thing that you need to think about. It can’t be pushed so far down the stack that it becomes a mindless and invisible component, akin to electricity. Content needs to be mindful, contextual, active, and interactive. It’s not just a series of bits to be transported via TCP/IP (which could be considered infrastructure) – it’s the context for a conversation.