What open-source software can teach to open education

by alessiob

Butcher et al. define open education as “an approach centred on students needs, located in multiple arenas of learning and that seeks to remove all unnecessary barriers to learning, while aiming to provide students with a reasonable chance of success in an education”. As such, open education I based on a set of values including: accessibility, sharing, transparency, interoperability, open content, awareness and community.

Open-source software is a movement and type of computer software in which source code is released under a license which grants users the rights to study, change, and distribute the software to anyone and for any purpose. Compared to open education, open-source software is a more mature movement which has originated in the late 1990s. As such, it has a couple of lessons, which open education can benefit from.

Open education is not equal to free.

While free is a necessary condition towards open education, it is not sufficient on its own. In fact, even when educational material is distributed free-of-charge, oftentimes it can not be modified and re-distributed.

Open education is not equal to source available.

Making the source of learning material available to inspections can have great benefits in terms of improved quality. However, it won’t ensure open education as the actual learning material could be not free-of-charge for use and distirbution.

Open education is not equal to open-sourcing education.

Making old learning material opened is not equal to open-education as usually the material might be outdated and providing lesser chances of reasonable success to students.

Quality is king.

Open education should aim at building user confidence through realising learning material of a certified quality.

Different development models for different contexts.

Open education can be achieved in many contexts. Each context might require different development model. For instance, a centralised model might be suiting the case of developing learning material with students. A decentralised model might be suited when working among peers.

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Hailong Li 5 April 2020 - 19:59

Very interesting blog. I would like to say I agree with you for most of them.
I also have a big concern about free of charge, which has been considered as the core feature of open ‘things’. Especially for open education, this may not be a sustainable way. That is why I think good business models are needed.
In addition, ‘quality is king’ sounds quite ideal. As other products, the brand could have a big influence. The OOCs offered by the top universities could be more attractive.

alessiob 16 April 2020 - 13:46

Definitely we might need better business models than a simple “free of charge”

Daniel de Augustinis Silva 10 April 2020 - 15:09

Hi, Alessio. While reading your reflections, I kept thinking about what Weller (2014) argues for in The Battle for Open: Open textbooks. In the previously mentioned book, the idea of open textbooks is compared with that of MOOCs. Weller says that while MOOCs have received vast media attention, open textbooks have not. I attribute that to a general uncritical perception that newer is better and that technology can change the world by itself. New material developments do not necessarily mean a new attitude to people by people. This is why open textbooks, defined as ‘electronic versions of standard textbooks that are freely available and can be modified by users’ (WELLER, 2014: p. 76), may not sound so exciting as MOOCs or a new gadget or app, but seem, I contend, much more aligned with open and free access for all (provided that everybody has the hardware to enjoy these textbooks) than anything radically newer. Opening textbooks and allowing them to circulate and to be modified freely would allow teachers to use and adapt materials (which is essential due to the question of context) and save a number of students a great deal of money.

alessiob 16 April 2020 - 13:49

Thank you Daniel, I wasn’t aware of these open textbooks. I am going to check them ASAP.

Pietro Elia Campana 13 April 2020 - 23:44

Hi Alessio,

first of all, I have to say that I´m amazed by your super-fantastic blog!!! I agree on your statement that open education is not equal to free. This reminds me the TED talk of David Wiley (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rb0syrgsH6M) and the restrictions of technology development.
I look forward your next posts!

alessiob 16 April 2020 - 13:47

Thank you for the link to the TED talk. I will watch it ASAP.

Mehrdad Saadatmand 13 July 2020 - 16:18

The comparison with open source software is interesting and I agree that it is a more mature movement compared to open education. One idea here might be to introduce different licensing formats as we have in the open source community for educational materials that define their levels openness, accessibility and to what extent they can be shared and modified.


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