Sunday, November 25, 2007

Week 13: Future of OERs

A Changing Culture of Assessment

OER proponents tend to focus on the great aspect of opening up higher education to all people - regardless of their ability to afford university. I think this is the third great unlocking of knowledge for the average person (the first was the printing press, the second was free mandatory mass basic education). This is WONDERFUL! I won't dispute it. But not enough attention has been paid to other subtle aspects of why people go to university, get degrees, are assessed.

Wiley spells out one of the results of the new wave of 'tribs' peeps, who will post content, comment on it, mash-it-up, post tests, be bored in lectures where they've already read the content online, etc. And suggests that Western Governors University, which grants credits based on competency, instead of on attendance in class, etc., will be one new way of the higher ed. Funny, but that's what the higher ed system in France has been doing for years. (what about Italy, Norway???)

However, the French aren't afraid to fail people, either. In my understanding as a comparative educationalist, this is part of the reason why the French can offer free higher education in its current form - because they make it darn hard to stay in Uni (the competency exams and essays are a form of weeding people out). In contrast, it seems politically unacceptable for a prof in the US or Canada to fail the majority of its students.

In fact, many scholars over the years have argued - what's the actual purpose of exams? And which exams test actual knowledge, versus those who test your ability to strategize in tests. Any TOEFL teacher knows that you don't actually teach the content, but rather the skill of taking the test, making educated guesses, and ignoring questions that are hard work, but worth the same value. If OER degrees led to a "test your knowledge"environment - what would they actually be testing?

Of course, this begs the question: What's the purpose of a degree?? How much of its function is as a weeding tool for employers? My experience in grad school tells me there is so much more to a degree than simply knowing the content of courses. There is still much to be gained in interactions with other students, profs, colleagues - where dialogue can take place. OERs have great potential to open this dialogue, no doubt. But is this the purpose of the degree?? As an educator, I'd say yes. As an economist, businesswoman...?? Where do these aspects fit into higher learning? Even if we don't want them to, they do...

Is there such a thing as too much participation? too many tribs?

The greatest part of Web2.0 is the realization of the ordinary person that they can contribute something. That the world is not a static place where changes are only made by experts, but that ordinary people can and do change the course of history, technology, life. everyday.

This aspect of OER jives with the idea of participatory learning - that students can and should contribute to discussions, as a way to learn; that the student is not a blank slate in which to 'bank' knowledge. However, cautions on participatory learning are necessary:

I was part of a grad class on Popular Education a few years ago. Great prof - expert in his field, but fully into allowing the students to discuss what they were learning, to the extent that we didn't hear a lot from him. Two dynamics quickly emerged in this class:
1) Some students felt they had more of a right to speak, and dominated the discussion. (Whether this was due to socio-economic factors or their personality, i don't know.)
2) I got really sick of hearing fellow students opinions on the matters - because frankly, it meant that I didn't get to hear the prof. Not that the prof was an infallible demi-god of knowledge. But rather, here was a man who had spent years and years reading and discussing on this body of practice, and didn't have fleeting opinions of the matter, but had thought long and hard about it. (Just like Wiley has for this OER class). And this insight wasn't passed on to me because the time was dominated by a cacophony of quickly thought-out opines on the matter.

I can see the same thing happening in OERs. I think Wiley has done a good job of allowing us to hear his voice, because a good part of our required readings are his thoughts. These readings serve almost as lectures, which is really cool. However, how can we help foster real dialogues in OER courses? If we can, how do we ensure that some students aren't silenced by the domineering of others? Can we?

Should there be a difference between knowledge and opinion? OER content may make this distinction, but I'm not convinced OER courses will...


robmba said...

On the purpose of degrees and the university community vs taking tests...several people have mentioned this issue. I think part of the problem we are facing is the minimum-requirement creep that we see for employment. It used to be just a high school diploma got you a good job, then an Associates and then came the bachelor's degree as a requirement for any good job. A BA/BS is practically required now for any entry-level position, with a masters required if you want to be in any upper-level positions in a company. Associates degrees are rarely even mentioned anymore. The problem with loss of prestige for associates or certificate programs, which are all you need for many decent jobs, is that all those people are trying to get bachelors degrees that might not be a good fit for them. A lot of time is wasted going to school, when they could be working, getting real experience and working up in the company. I mean, I understand the purpose of a university education and appreciate it, but it simply doesn't make sense for some people; however, to get even an entry-level job, they have to get a liberal education, rather than plain old technical training.

There's almost an anti-real-world skills mindset at the university level. One prof of mine, when I complained a few years ago about the lack of a consistent programming language in all the department courses, so we could leave with a real skill when we graduate...he said that we're not a tech school...we're teaching you to learn, overall concepts, technologies change, etc. Great, teach me all that stuff, but in one consistent programming language so I can put it on my resume. Don't make us so well rounded that we've seen everything, but not done anything.

Elisa - ITALY said...

Maybe OER courses are still too much teacher-centred, at the expenses of the cooperative interaction of the members of its learning community, but the group should be as cohesive as to give a feedback and take the initiative at its own advantage... ;-)