What's behind quality
education? According to
MIT's Vijay Kumar: openness.
KUMAR: 'Open education
goes far beyond just making
In the book Opening Up Education (The MIT Press, 2008), Vijay Kumar,
his co-editor Toru Iiyoshi, and contributors
explore the realm of open knowledge. Here,
Kumar, MIT's senior associate dean and director of
the Office of Educational Innovation and Technology,
tells CT how open education reveals and shares
pedagogy along with content resources, taking us
beyond access, to educational transformation.
We've heard about open content, but how does
open education or open knowledge differ from
that? At times we have talked about opening the doors to
education, or making educational resources more accessible.
We have talked about open content or open
resources, and about open standards. But open education,
or an open knowledge ecology, is the open sharing of
not just educational resources, but also of practices and
pedagogies that underlie the content and resources.
This kind of sharing leads to a very participatory and
generative form of education where people actually coproduce
educational resources, actively reviewing and giving
feedback to improve educational practices-- revealing
what is usually kept tacit, that which lies underneath the
content and materials. It's a scholarship around teaching
and learning that's about putting up everything that leads
to the production of educational resources. So, it goes far
beyond just making educational opportunity more accessible,
to making what's behind quality education much
more visible. That is really important if we want to make
productive and sustainable change in education.
What are some examples of institutions pursuing this? Being at MIT, I like to point to OpenCourseWare as a very significant movement in bringing the
world's attention to all this, because what we put out
there is a snapshot of basically all the courses at MIT.
But still, what you see is the content and structure,
rather than the thinking behind the courses-- so we really
have only begun to share the pedagogy that led to the
production and delivery of the courses.
And it's not just MIT anymore, but several other
institutions as well that are beginning to share similar
information. In the OpenCourseWare Consortium there are now about 200 institutions.
Other examples of open resources and practices
that have been widely shared include content repositories
like MERLOT, or in K-12, Curriki.
These are all initiatives tending toward open education,
but there is much more that has to be done to find ways
to share more of the pedagogy along with the content.
One clear example is a tool kit that the Carnegie Foundation has developed in its
Knowledge Media Lab, called the KEEP Toolkit. It allows people to share the motivation and
pedagogy that goes into educational innovation. It's an
important step toward the goal of open knowledge.
Connexions is another interesting project
that's been underway for years at Rice University
[TX], where there's a corpus of materials and a community
of scholars in specific disciplines who are creating,
selecting, and annotating materials. And OpenLearn at the Open University in
the UK provides access to open education resources, around which is an environment for discussion, sharing,
and re-use of those resources. These are both examples of
what open education might start to look like.
"The force of this distributed, connected global
and mobile world will drive open education."
You talked about an open knowledge ecology. Is this
coming about organically in a sense, or is it something
that will require a lot of top-down development? The
world today is highly distributed, very localized, and very
participatory. Many things happen despite organizations
and governments, but we do have schools, institutions, and
governmental agencies which, in our current world, have
roles and responsibilities such as creating capacity to meet
the needs of a growing knowledge economy, making sure
that industry is well-served by employable graduates, or
ensuring that individuals' needs for education are being
met. All these agencies need to understand a world where
there is extremely decentralized production of information;
the amount of globalization and "flat-worldness" that we
hear about is significantly on the increase, and there is
much greater mobility. I think that the development of open
education is going to be neither strictly top-down nor completely
distributed. But it's the force of this very distributed,
connected global and mobile world that will be a very
important factor in driving open education.
How does open education take advantage of Web 2.0
technologies, and how does it fit in with established
programs like distance learning? When we talk about
distance education, we typically consider standard mechanisms
like delivering education via video. Often, we take
the education that we are delivering in traditional forms on
campus and just broadcast it with some degree of interactivity.
But if you really want to deliver excellent quality,
you have to start to think about a combination of open
resources and network-based delivery. You use Web 2.0
functionality, and this becomes the central modality by
which you deliver quality education at scale. There is no
way that you are going to meet the demands of quality at
scale any other way, particularly in the context of developing
Would you say there is a nexus of open knowledge and
Web 2.0? Yes, indeed. In fact, a lot of what we refer to as
Web 2.0 becomes a very important part of this: the tools
and facilitators of the intent of open knowledge. When we
talk about sharing, we are talking about communities of
practice and learning. It is all that Web 2.0 points to; it's
about collectivity. People are collectively viewing, reviewing,
critiquing, and constructing knowledge based on
Web 2.0 resources and tools.
This is about the whole educational service, using open
technologies and architectures to create localized communities,
communities of knowledge sharing, and communities
of learning. That's the open knowledge vision.
How would you think globally about open education
trends? Sometimes we talk about open education transformations
at the micro level-- how disciplines can change with
blended practices; how learning in physics can improve by
sharing good practices through open courseware and other
open education practices. But then you move to a global
conversation and context, and the considerations change. I
can speak particularly about India as I have served as an
honorary adviser to India's National Knowledge Commission. India is a country with
a booming economy and a need for knowledge workers in
practically every sector. How do you address the needs for
education at that mammoth scale?
This is where you can take advantage of the open education
movement by not just looking at all the content and best
practices available, but also by leveraging the participation
of experts and communities of learning so we can move
toward an ecology that allows you to scale excellence.
When we think about countries that are growing in a hurry
and trying to participate in the global economy-- usually we
refer to them as developing countries-- they have tremendous
needs for skilled human resources. And for them, what
open education brings is the ability to address new knowledge
and continuous knowledge updates, while simultaneously
providing general education at a scale we in the US
can't even imagine.
Do you think it would be helpful for colleges and universities
to include an open education component in
their formal strategic plans? Absolutely. I think it is the
most vital thing institutions have to consider. Today's economic
realities press institutions to look urgently beyond
what has been business as usual. We're facing a climate
that requires a re-orientation of practices and a rethinking
of operational models, to deliver relevant education. Still, it
is not simply that this has the potential to change the economics
of education; it has to do with quality. By sharing
pedagogy, critically reviewing it, and making that work
much more visible, we can bring the practice of research
into education and move collectively toward better practices
and educational transformation.