Problems with open learning

I appreciate David Wiley and Jon Mott’s comments on open learning networks (OLN). They attempt to take what is not working with formal education, and create a model to design structures that enhance learning – with a Web2.0 flavour. I have to agree that CMS structures are limited. Designing course curriculum for these platforms limits selection of communication and information tools. For the most part, I use the discussion board feature, but tend to use external tools 90% of the time such as wikis, blogs, slideshare etc.

However, my biggest concern with using external tools that host work is copyright and privacy issues. What information do students have to give to create a ‘free’ account, and what happens to their work? In the last 2 months I have reviewed many freeware sites, and most state they will use information and posted work within their sites to promote their product. Does this mean we need to hide behind secured virtual walls in order to protect our students from potential harm in open spaces?

As well, using the plethora of resources and information online is like going shopping. The variety and quality is impressive. However, what about infringing on the copyrights of authors/producers? To avoid this, and to alleviate lengthy wait times to gain rights to use the content, I tend to link to the information. However, this will become problematic as information moves and links become broken. As well, on some of these sites students are exposed to flaky advertising and inappropriate information or comments.

In a perfect virtual world, information would be at our finger tips, online environments would be manageable, significant networks would be developed, meaningful boundaries would appear, and our identity and work would be safely handled. I appreciate those that continue to examine ways to create good learning environments, and the software developers would attempt to build them.

Knowledge is status

I recently viewed the following trends on the state of status. Apparently, it is trendy to have knowledge and skills. Having such assets is parallel to having expensive things, such as a mansion, exotic trips, and an impressive wine inventory – as long as they are acknowledged by others. However, pursuing it as a status seems to cheapened the concept of knowledge a bit.  Acquiring knowledge and then being ‘seen’ to having it seems to refute the idea of the contemplative thinker and the respected expert.

Following the trend on having status through knowledge is being well connected, and of course, being seen. The amount of knowledge sharing and networking via web-based products is mesmerizing. Trying to engage and being part of that is a full-time job. Has it gotten out of hand? Are we over doing this?

For instance, a trend stated  in the linked webpage above was, “This will then lead to an even-bigger need for consumers to ‘feed’, maintain, and improve their online presence with a steady stream of content: thoughts, photos, videos, songs, opinions, stories and so on”.

But for what purpose? To have status, to have a community, to express oneself? Status is taking on a new meaning and it is a bit confusing on how to engage and project oneself. It’s making me rethink why and how I contribute to a networked world.

Time to think

Thomas Homer-Dixon in his book “The Ingenuity Gap: Can we Solve Problems of the Future?” brings up a good pont. We are becoming overwhelmed by the amount of accessible information. I would also add the increase in real-time communications and information networks is overwhelming requiring new skills in organizing and managing them. But, how does one keep up with all the conversations, postings, and new technology products? I have a list of 30 software products I want to explore!

However, Homer-Dixon states the offside to this abundance of info  is we aren’t stopping to reflect, critically think, or merely ponder new ideas or old ideas. This could be critical to finding possible solutions to social, economical, environmental, and health problems. The world is moving quite fast. At times, I find the postings through blogs, articles, etc. are rehashed and repeated. This requires a lot of time to mine through, time I don’t have. Yet, I do appreciate that others are filtering information for me and I tend to monitor their online posts.

But, stopping and removing ourselves from the barrage of information provided through technologies would make for a healthier life and give time for important thoughts to come forward. Just stop and reflect. It’s okay.

Are online degrees acceptable?

Adams (2008 ) in his article Understanding the Factors Limiting the Acceptability of Online Courses and Degrees examines prior research to determine whether online degrees are acceptable in the hiring practices in the business, health and academic fields.

The literature indicates that online learning is a substantial part of higher education, but not for everyone. However, successful students seem to indicate they are equally or more satisfied compared to traditional courses. Yet, some miss live instruction.

What is more, the literature indicates that “those who hold online degrees, or whose records include a significant amount of online coursework in their curriculum studies, are not judged as having qualifications that are equal to those of graduates who earn their degrees in a residential program” (p.576). Whereas, in the health field only 6% of employers are willing to hire online learners.

Other studies found the missing skills or elements with online learners for employers is classroom experience, working with professors, and having been mentored; thus they value student interaction. Also important are the institution’s accreditation and reputation for rigorous programs, and academic honesty. However, learning online had benefits such as discipline and increased technology skills.

Adams found that employers and university administrators prefer traditional degrees more. They think that having face-to-face instruction and mentoring are part of quality education.

However, it will take change in instructional design and delivery in order for institutions to increase these interactive functions online . This would mean using online systems that are less restrictive as with content management systems, increasing the technology skill level of instructors, considering new models of learning and exploring emerging technologies that are more responsive to learners.

Legal confusion

Stephen Marshall in his article on the collision of copyrights, technology and education (published in Innovate, 4 (5) at http://innovateonline.info/?view=article&id=528&action=synopsis) brings forward the real tension with concepts such as Web 2.0 and other collaborative and network-driven interactions – free use of owned materials.

He advocates for learners to be exposed to many sources and networks of learning, and the importance for them to remix existing resources and knowledge to create new ideas. He states, “in Web 2.0, that collective transformation of data generates value” (p. 1), explaining blogging and tagging are not the work of a few but many.

However, using, reusing or remixing existing materials and resources has large implications for copyright violation. Stephen hits the nail on the head when he states “economic growth and the protection of commercial interests are increasingly taking precedence over public access to information and education” (p. 3).

In order to create a balance between the inevitable laws protecting intellectual property and the need for open access to information for learning, Stephen calls for an approach such as the TEACH act. This law ensures educators respect the interest of copyright holders in exchange for access to their materials. More important, he is correct in thinking that asking for open licenses, such as with Creative Commons, is not realistic when considering materials owned by publishers or other commercial venues, as well as those created Internationally. Nor does he think that full submission to strict copyright laws or control technologies should prevail, rather as a field we should look for better arrangements that suit both sides.

I think he is proposing a good start to compromise between evolving forces and their agendas, such as with higher education, intellectual property and commercial interests, and the open, networked world. Expecting such forces to dissipate is not a viable solution – it might be best to negotiate.

Also see my article on copyright issues in the digital higher education field at: http://www.cjlt.ca/content/vol32.2/edmonds.html