This week’s assignment:

QUESTIONS: What do these representative open education projects have in common? What differentiates them? In the context of open education projects, what does “quality” mean?

These projects have more that differentiates them then they have in common, but here are a few commonalities:

  • They all purport to be “open,” though to different extents. (I have found a great deal of content in these projects and other “open” projects that is not really open. More on that in another post.)
  • They are primarily geared toward adult learners.
  • These projects all have a far reach, being used by non-traditional lifelong learners around the world, regardless of whether that was the intent. (That’s one of the great side benefits of “open”.)
  • These are all primarily written in English and at a fairly high readability level.
  • None have an obviously sustainable model. This is a critical issue for open ed movement. Until people start addressing sustainability, this is going to remain a fringe endeavor.

These projects have many differences. Here are a few:

  • Some, like MIT and Carnegie Mellon, have a producer-consumer model with one entity providing the content. Others, like Connexions, have a massive collaboration model with everyone invited to participate.
  • While most of the content in these projects is traditional university coursework, a few like UNESCO are targeted at other groups. As mentioned above though, all are used by a variety of groups.
  • Some of these projects have the primary content housed in the online system, which others (MIT, parts of others) are predominantly syllabi with references to outside (copyrighted) readings.
  • The ability to revise or remix course content varies. Many of these projects use the PDF format, which makes it extremely difficult to do much revision. Connexions has a feature by which you can create a copy of a module and revise it or essentially fork the content.
  • Each handles “quality control” differently. The producer-consumer model projects only allow their own staff to contribute, enforcing the strictest quality standards. Others screen content. Connexions invites anyone to post, which may imply looser quality standards, but they have an interesting way of facilitating peer review of content.

So what is quality? It’s hard to say; in many cases, quality is in the eye of the beholder. What may be an exemplary course to one audience may be incomprehensible to another.

In a traditional sense, quality at its most basic means factual accuracy. (Even factual accuracy though can be subjective. Read a discussion page in Wikipedia.) Another measure of quality is the degree to which it is free of errors, whether they be factual, typographical, or technical.

Specific to open ed, quality measures might include that the material:

  • is truly open
  • is readily remixable
  • is suitable for a variety of audiences (accessible, multimedia, etc.)
  • provides pportunities for social networking [as written about by Alessandro]

I fear that to many, quality is somehow equated with quantity. (I heard this relationship drawn several times at this week’s Open Ed conference, and it made me shudder.) More is not necessarily better. In many cases, less is in fact more. Many of the open ed projects are suffering from a quest to get x million items in their repositories. The result is a lot of material that is crap, which will drive newcomers away from these resources.

OpenEd-Week 5

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