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Opening Education: From Sharing Stuff to Changing the World

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It was Brooke Zimmers, a professor at Shoreline Community College and a first time attendee to the Open Education Conference, who best summed up the community of open educators:

"It seems there is a spectrum here. On the one side, you have people who are like: 'Let's share stuff.' And on the other end, you have: 'peace, love, understanding, and change the world.'"

That, actually, captures quite a bit of the spirit of the event. On the one hand, the movement for Open Education materials—materials licensed so they can be shared, reused, and remixed by teachers and students—derives significant inspiration from the desire to keep the exploding costs of education down. That's also the easiest argument to make in favor of Open.

But I think deep down, most Open advocates want to do more than make textbooks cheaper. The movement is about rethinking how we help teachers and students shape the experience of learning, especially in light of the explosion of educational resources available online. As Sam Klein has said, many Open Education advocates want people to think of educational materials not as commodities to be bought and sold but as the public infrastructure of our culture.

My favorite presentation from the conference came from a South African woman, Megan Becket, representing Siyavula. Siyavula brings together volunteer groups of teachers for weekend hackathons where they write textbooks. It usually takes a few weekends to actually finish a book, but I love the idea of pulling together teams of teacher-volunteers to craft openly-licensed materials.

I think there is tremendous promise here in terms of teacher professional development as well as in creating resources for students. It seems like it would be a great EdCamp variant to have people pull together guides for iPad workflow, or student-centered practices with interactive boards, or (in a recursive spin) an OER-hacked guide for finding OER materials.

Katie Ash, a reporter from EdWeek's Digital Education team was there, and it was great to get a chance to meet her. She also did a terrific job blogging the conference. Her posts on what K-12 can learn from higher ed, Siyavalu, open access, and teachers as tinkerers are all worth reading. I also got to have a long lunch with Audrey Watters, another terrific journalist and philosopher of education technology, and she posted her notes on the conference here.

Spending time with both of them made me grateful for independent voices in EdTech journalism, willing to bring a critical eye to a field awash in hype. We need the starry-eyed dreamers imagining new learning futures, and we need people asking hard questions about whether or not our shiny, gleaming screens are really supporting student learning in meaningful ways.

For regular updates, follow me on Twitter at @bjfr and for my papers, presentations and so forth, visit EdTechResearcher.

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