Why “open education” is dangerous

Before I start, let me just say a few things:

1) These are not the views of my employer. I often try to check what I say on behalf of my employer with colleagues so that what I say can be useful. I want to encourage a range of voices from within my job, but I keep being misinterpreted, and I'm finding it hard to get past people's expectations of what I'm saying. This post is just me, on my personal blog.

2) This might read a little angrily, and it won’t mean much to anyone outside my field of work, just ignore it if you don’t like it.

3) My views are as valid as anyone else’s,  I’ve been working in this field for 12 years, I’m not afraid of the politics, its taken me a long time to dare to write this post so please assume this is written from a position of knowledge, not of ignorance

4) I apologise that it is not carefully argued and referenced, I just HAVE to get this out of my system.

 

Here goes …

Are there problems with education?  Yes. Should we be talking about the purpose of education? Yes. Does it matter that people learn skills and knowledge to take them through life, enable them to work, and open up their eyes to other viewpoints? Yes. Does the education system, from nurseries through schools to colleges and universities, need to keep changing to reflect the needs of learners and society? Yes. Should universities look to new models of doing things in order to survive with reduced funding? Yes.

Is it important to help children achieve a good level of competency and grades in a range of subjects? Yes. Is it important to support the weak learners? Yes. Is it important to provide alternative methods of teaching and support for kids that are hard to reach? Yes.

Can online learning be a rich learning experience? Yes. Can academics use their autonomy for the public good, beyond their taught courses and their job description? Yes. Can developers build engaging environments and tools and content that help people think and learn differently? Yes.

Do developed countries have an ethical responsibility to at the very least not obstruct the socio-economic development in other countries? Yes.

Should universities take a role in society and the world, beyond just providing degrees and doing funded research? Yes.

However there are some things which trouble me about pursuing “open education” as a big agenda in the UK in this current political environment.

Is it important to find new ways of stretching the very able? Is it urgent to find new social learning models for well educated self motivated learners? Are degrees as important as school level qualifications for improving class diversity in the workplace? Are learners who have laptops, mobile phones, web2.0 skills, professional networks and the motivation and time to learn really the priority here?

At a time when the very notion of state-funded education is under attack, is it really a good idea to go about presenting the break-up of the education system as an opportunity to try out risky ideas?

At a time when the UK government thinks that unpaid amateurs can do the work of paid professionals, in “the big society”, is it really a good idea to build a shadow system of unpaid work, reliant on the cognitive surplus of people in the pay of the at-risk state education system (if we can even dare to call HE state system any more)

I don’t doubt that many of the motivations behind the “open ed” crowd are good. Maybe I’m feeling left out. Certainly while they were off on their conferences, I was on maternity leave, and I came back to find this lively group of people suddenly in my field of vision, writing blog posts, doing pilot projects, debating the possibilities. But over time I’ve become more and more uncomfortable with what they might be opening the door to.

Experiment, communicate, be passionate. But don't make anything taboo: don't exclude the pragmatists, the cautious implementators, the people who refuse to be swept along by your enthusiasm. Most of all, be very careful what you wish for. Because you might just get it and I'm not sure you'll like it.

4 thoughts on “Why “open education” is dangerous

  1. I was at a meeting today with the really open university, and some one told me that the OCW model MIT employ is neo-liberal.
    I didn’t go on one protest march because I felt, pragmatically, that working on open attribute code would achieve more.
    I can’t see how encouraging learning material going online is bad unless it’s proposed as mutually exclusive to other models. Is Wikipedia wrong? Or is just an academically written wikipedia wrong?
    The dreaming spires are a fordist model, and a poorly implemented one at that. It’s future is infinitely more in its own hands than it is at risk by a video being online. If you give people a choice, and people choose something else then so be it.
    Nothing lives in a museum, it just dies slowly, and under control.

  2. Hi Pat. I think the dreaming spires were an elitist model at a point in history when there weren’t many other options. I’m all for the democratisation of knowledge, good point, I didn’t mean to imply that’s not worthwhile. And open content is *always* good. What I don’t like is the assumption that if we share the content then the learners will learn. Aside from a small minority of self-motivated skilled learners, people need more than content to learn. So democratisation of content doesn’t equate to some kind of alternative education system. In my (not very) humble opinion.

  3. All fair points, I think.
    My answers to your unanswered questions would be:
    Is it important to find new ways of stretching the very able? Yes.
    Is it urgent to find new social learning models for well educated self motivated learners? Important, yes, urgent, possibly not.
    Are degrees as important as school level qualifications for improving class diversity in the workplace?
    Is class diversity in the workplace a particular problem? It hasn’t been in the places I have worked.
    Are learners who have laptops, mobile phones, web2.0 skills, professional networks and the motivation and time to learn really the priority here?
    I don’t think it is fair to lump these together. But, no, not the priority (and especially not particularly branded mobile phones, for instance). But if these things are useful in promoting learning, perhaps making sure everyone has access to them is a priority?
    At a time when the very notion of state-funded education is under attack, is it really a good idea to go about presenting the break-up of the education system as an opportunity to try out risky ideas?
    Yes, as an alternative and because otherwise it may be too late to salvage the best of the state-funded education even as part of a new ‘risky idea’. But that shouldn’t take away from fighting to keep and improve the state system.
    At a time when the UK government thinks that unpaid amateurs can do the work of paid professionals, in “the big society”, is it really a good idea to build a shadow system of unpaid work, reliant on the cognitive surplus of people in the pay of the at-risk state education system (if we can even dare to call HE state system any more)
    Only if the model can be designed to safeguard the livings of those with the cognitive surplus.
    By the way, it didn’t read as angry, more very concerned 🙂

  4. I think this is the first time that I’ve ever commented on a blog, but I am because I agree with you and I worry about precisely the same things you do. Well written and said.

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