Open Ed - Week 9: Elective Reading Synopsis

Questions for Week 9 of the Introduction to Open Education Course for the book The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman:

What can the open education movement learn from the book you chose to read?

Harnessing the Power of Communities: Friedman lists bottom-up and self-organized community development as his "Flattener #4". He uses open source software development to describe the notion of "Community-Developed Answers" (see page112). This bottom-up and self-organized community development process parallels the open education movement. In addition, it helps to explain how an open educational model can be sustained.

Open educational content is often described in terms of pieces of information created by an author (or group of authors) for an audience. However, in a flat and open world, it is important to think about how these pieces fit together, how the users contribute, and how the loose pieces influence each other. Instead of thinking of a global community "collaborating" on an "answer", Friedman describes a network of individuals connecting around common interests. In contrast, collaboration implies members of a group working toward a single goal. However, in the communities Friedman describes, each person brings individual contributions to the network based on individual needs and interests. While they may interact and in turn support each other, they are not necessarily focused on achievement of the same goal or for a specific outside audience.

This last point is an important one with respect to the open education movement and something I did not fully appreciate when preparing last week's post for this course. I made the observation that a producer driven model (that does not contemplate the needs of the end user) cannot be sustained. However, after reading David Wiley's blog post Producers, Consumers and Reuse and Friedman's observations about how global communities work, I have re-thought my observations about producer driven open education models. Contrary to my assertions last week, a producer driven model is created for an important end user .... the producer. As David Wiley notes:

"... every good work of open source software begins life as a producer-driven work ... The secret sauce in both the cases of the good open source software and the good OER is an actual, bias-riddled, context-bound, historical person located squarely in a concrete place and time addressing their own specific instructional problem."

Therefore, while not guaranteed, it is likely that those with common or shared interests will benefit, but not necessarily in the same manner, for the same purpose, or to fulfill the same need. That is the beauty of a flat and open world that I had not fully appreciated. While I may benefit from reading and interacting with another person's work, it may be for either the same or an entirely different reason. Contrary to my post from last week, not being preoccupied with the needs and concerns of the broader audience may be a good thing for the sustainability of open education. Go figure?!

Who owns What?: As part of what Friedman calls "The Great Sorting Out", "ownership" of intellectual property is going to get messier as the world get flatter. On page 253, he asks the following questions about intellectual property rights which are equally applicable to the copyright issues involving open educational content that we covered during Weeks 6 and 7:

"How do we build legal barriers to protect an innovator's intellectual property so he or she can reap its financial benefits and apply those profits into a new invention? And from the other side, how do we keep walls low enough so that we encourage the sharing of intellectual property, which is required more and more to do cutting-edge innovations?

As I noted during my reflection in Week 6, licensing of open educational content involves this trade-off between the needs of the individual and the needs of society to use and build off the original works. This sentiment was echoed in a quote on page 253 from IBM's chairman in which he states his belief that there needs to be a "new path forward" with regard to intellectual property rights; one that both protects the interests of creators, but also protects the communities who use and add to the innovation. While issues of copyright and ownership seem on the surface to be nuisance issues, they are unfortunately very critical to the openness of our ever more connected world and Friedman drives this point home.

Unfortunately, Friedman doesn't offer an answer to these complex questions. At the end of this section of the book, he begs, "Somebody, please, sort all this out." This is the same feeling I was left with after reading through the materials for Weeks 6 and 7. While Creative Commons is typically held up as the answer, it is not a silver bullet solution. Incompatibility across the various licenses and author imposed restrictions prevent a completely free flow of information. While Creative Commons licensing may help us get more works into the pipeline, I wonder if it provides the ultimate solution that Friedman seeks?

The Quiet Crisis  - Friedman speaks of the gaps in education, infrastructure, and ambitions as America's "Dirty Little Secret" within Chapter 8. Friedman's answer is "compassionate flatism" which he describes on page 364. He assumes that the world will continue to get flatter, so we should capitalize on it rather than to fight it or keep on doing what we've been doing. Of the five prongs to his compassionate flatism approach, the following are the most applicable to open education:

  • Leadership: Friedman suggests that we need to acknowledge that the noted gaps exist and foster a sense of urgency in order to fix the problems. This relates to open education in two ways. First, open education must be viewed as part of a broader educational solution; as a means of bringing educational opportunities to the masses and as a means of facilitating and sharing innovation. Secondly, it is necessary to demonstrate to our educational leaders that open
    education is not a threat, but rather a means to a better end that should be supported, not prevented. That said, open education is not an easy sell. It is threat to the proprietary walled gardens that most institutions fight to maintain. It is hard enough to get people behind something new, but it is even harder when that something new threatens the established ways of doing things.

  • Muscle building: Friedman asserts on page 369 that the social contract in a flat world can no longer be lifetime employment, but rather lifetime employability. Friedman describes the new social contract on page 369:

"We cannot guarantee you any lifetime employment. But we can guarantee you that we will concentrate on giving you the tools to make yourself more lifetime employable ... more able to acquire the knowledge or the experience needed to be a good adapter, synthesizer collaborator, etc."

What a simple, yet profound distinction that speaks to one of the key benefits of open education - support for lifelong learning. As Friedman suggests, the days of one career at one company are a thing of the past. Therefore, open education is a means to ensure greater access to information and learning opportunities. It also offers support to individuals as they acquire knowledge and the experience necessary to maintain lifetime employabilty.

Which of the ideas presented in the book did you find hardest to believe or agree with? Why?

I found it ironic that Friedman's book is about recognizing and embracing the factors and technologies that have created a flat world, yet he falls back on stereotypes and tired educational traditions in discussing how to prepare students for this new flat world. While I appreciate and share many of the sentiments presented in the passage about "Parenting" beginning on page 385, I feel he is missing the mark on the solution.

In this section of the book he begins by discussing the need for "a new generation of parents ready to administer tough love." His assertion that kids need to appreciate that learning is their responsibility and that it often involves hard work is very much in line with my views that I expressed in a blog post titled, "Be a good girl, have a good time, and learn a lot." These words were my marching orders from my mom every time I left the house as a child. They were more than words. They were expectations about my behavior, my attitude, and my responsibility and a lifelong learner. 

However, instead of embracing the same connective processes and technologies that create and foster this new flat world we live in, Friedman says we must "shut off the iPod" and avoid the "instant gratification" that technology has to offer in order to prepare students for this new flat world. He spends an entire book describing countless examples of how
connective technologies are flattening the world, but then recommends
that students put away these technologies when they learn. Given that the thrust of Friedman's book is about embracing the factors and technologies that have created and now foster this flat world, I find it troubling that Friedman does not make the connection that these same connective processes and technologies can (and should) support education.

Instead, Friedman cites a tired example of how kids are using technology to cheat in school. In an example on page 458, a student uses a cell phone to take pictures of a test. Friedman focuses on the fact that schools are now in the position of banning cell phones to prevent cheating. However, he misses a golden opportunity to consider the broader and far more important impact that technology can have on eduction in this new world he describes - a far more interesting discussion than an assessment of how technology is providing new ways to cheat. Could it be that in this new flat world, instead of banning technologies, teachers should embrace them as new means to educate and assess students? Instead of finding ways to prevent cheating on a test (which has been going on long before cell phones), let us instead focus on developing assignments and assessments which embrace this new flat world - just as we are doing in our global reflective writing project in this class. I would like to know how Friedman thinks we can prepare students for this new flat world by not encouraging them to participate in it.



[...] The World Is Flat (Updated and Expanded): A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century (Friedman) Commented on by: Rob, Jennifer [...]

You make very clear

You make very clear understanding on each section of the book. But it is hard for me to relate the first few paragraphs to the content of the book, would you indicate that? Or if they are just your opinions, then never mind. I agree with your last few paragraphs, even though I think there are a lot more technologies other than cellphone we are using now for education. It is not cellphone's fault if the kids use it for cheating, they can also use small cheating sheets. Then do we need to get rid of paper? You are right on this point, but do you think only writing reflective paper will help understand all the content of classes? How can you test on some classes such as math, statistics, physics?

Re: Pages 93 - 125

Thank you for your comments! In the first couple of paragraphs, I was speaking to Friedman's observations on pages 93 - 125 (but also themes peppered throughout the book). I was attempting to get at this notion that "collaboration" in the sense of a flat world is NOT a top-down or single goal oriented phenomenon. Rather, it is individual contributions at unique points of common intersection ... which relates to Friedman's notion of "uploading". Using Friedman's Wikipedia example ... a tremendous amount of collaboration occurs which results in a cohesive "thing" called Wikipedia, but collaboration is accomplished in bits and pieces of "uploaded" content produced to satisfy the individual interests and motivations of the contributing participants.

The same is true for the examples he shares re: community based software. While the end product ends up being a single usable "thing" (software), the individual needs, motivations, and participation levels of the contributors are very diverse. Using Drupal as an example, I have colleague who is a teacher and he contributes a lot of code and modules to the Drupal project for modules he has created for his own needs in the education field. However, it is very likely that someone in the music field will find value in a podcasting module the guy in education created. The music guy downloads the code, modifies it for his own need, and re-uploads it as an enhancement to the original module contributed by the guy in education. While they both are now contributors and users of the same thing, they really aren't "collaborators" in the tradition sense in that they didn't set out to work together on a solution, but rather due to their individual needs which happened to intersect at this point of need and interest they both devoted time and energy to its creation.

Jennifer Maddrell

I enjoyed this post. Re:

I enjoyed this post.

Re: your comment that “It is hard enough to get people behind something new, but it is even harder when that something new threatens the established ways of doing things.”, this is such a huge problem in education (or as I like to call it the “education-industrial complex.”) It is one of my biggest frustrations every day.

It’s hard to deny that K-12 education is at a point of crisis. Literacy rates are appallingly low. Critical thinking skills development is alarmingly absent. Drop out rates are deplorably high. Yet, because most of the proposed solutions “threaten the established ways of doing things,” they are discounted immediately.

I had the pleasure of teaching for a few years in an environment that wasn’t concerned with the “established ways of doing things.” It was a school that centered itself on what was best for the kids. The core value was education. Not government regulations or testing or unions or textbook adoptions – just giving kids the best education possible.

One of the reasons I was drawn to Open Ed is that I saw the potential of the movement to give educators the flexibility to improve the educational experience for their students without having to rely on the whims of legislators and administrators.

It’s interesting that in U.S. schools, something that is new and threatening is difficult to “sell” even if it is free. In fact, I have heard more than one ed tech director make a speech advocating the position that anything free is inherently bad. (Their Microsoft sales reps are cheering in the background.)

My fondest hope is that the kids embrace the benefits of Open Ed, mass collaboration, and new technologies even if it is despite the momentum of the educational system.

Status Quo

I've been reading some blogs lately from those who mock and bash the exuberance of teachers who are trying new things with connective technologies. Many question how we can afford the distraction when we fall short in getting kids to read and write. My response is that technology should not be thought of as a distraction, but rather as another means to an end. To your point, it is giving kids the best education possible - and one that looks a lot more like the world they will engage in as adults.

Jennifer Maddrell

Inspiring along the way.

Great post, Jennifer. I especially agree with your end-section - on how kids should be raised. Just turning off the technology is not going to help, as you say. Although in some cases I think it is important to do this - not for preparation in the workforce, but for enjoyment of life. I got rid of my TV three years ago - it is amazing how much more time for walks/exercise/books I now have. These things do not prepare me for work, and yet are intrinsic to my well-being. However, if we follow your advice and not turn off the technology - how is it best for us to embrace it for our children? Could you give some more examples of how teachers could embrace them? Do you mean, for example, that a great assignment would be to get students to use their cellphones to track down info - in essence teaching them how to cheat - except that in the real world where we don't normally take tests, this skill of tracking down info quickly is essential? Thoughts?

"Guilty" as Charged :)

Megan, you picked up on the fact that I am a huge advocate of using technology to support education. Guilty as charged. As a distance student, it is now impossible for me to separate my learning from the technology that mediates it. You also raised the $1m question :) What is the best way to embrace technology for education? I don't think there is a right way for all people and all situations. Some teachers are having great success reaching out to distant classrooms around the world with teacher moderated social networking sites. Some teacher are having great success having kids create podcasts along side written assignments on wikis and blogs. Some teachers are sending homework assignments out as text messages or in online message boards. Are these means of technology mediated communication and engagement always better than the old fashioned "offline" ways? Probably not. However, these technologies are now part of the world we live in and they can enable amazing connections and experiences. Therefore, I don't think the answer is to block or ban technology. Rather, the answer is to do what teachers do best ... inform and model best practices.

Jennifer Maddrell