How I found the OERu and a bit about why it matters …
Today’s educational landscape is adopting technological innovations at every level. There is little discussion, however, about how we incorporate these tools into the educational microsystem, and less about which ones to use and why. As a result, districts, colleges, etc., are offering proprietary LMS systems that lock students’ content after course completion, restrict the teacher’s approach to learning, and are founded on unethical principles of software implementation. The OERu serves as a counter-example in this climate, offering courses to students that are not restricted to an LMS and only require authentication for commenting and dialogue. The content offerings and business infrastructure are built exclusively using Free Software which is educationally ethical for many reasons. One primary reason is that the freedom to Help Your Community (as OERu describes the fourth freedom) – fosters a community that sends code improvements upstream. These upstream improvements are the best solution and/or mitigation against the repeated data breaches and violations of student privacy (see Pearson for latest example). In future posts, I will dive more deeply into how all of the four freedoms impact primary, secondary, and higher education, but for now let me discuss a bit more about what I am gaining from my investigation into OERu.
I was recently contacting the OERu on Mastodon and after reflecting, I have found three key areas that I expect to do a lot of further work on:
- Exploring ways to utilize the OERu technology stack in a co-work/co-learn facility in NM
- Leveraging OERu planning hub + other FLOSS lead. designs for dissertation & other work
- Learning from the Centre for Open Educational Practice, specifically LiDA103 (first)
These areas are a great starting point and were suggested by OERu in my discussions with them tonight. But my initial interest, however, was inspired by a set of articles I read within the book Open: The Philosophy and Practices That Are Revolutionizing Education and Science. In particular, there were two articles I read and wrote an assignment upon that caught my interest and reinforced my own attempts at integrating Free Software into my research design, my pedagogy, and my policy recommendations. The first was Free Is Not Enough, by the OpenStax team at Rice University, and the second was Open Course Development at the OERu.
I found these publications because of my connection with OpenStax. I have followed OpenStax from the beginning as a student first, and now as an instructor that proudly utilizes their textbooks in many of the courses I teach at Santa Fe Community College. I was charged with writing an assignment on some topic in educational leadership so I chose to write about the difference between open and closed education. Naturally, I looked into whether the OpenStax folks had written anything new, which they had.
To my surprise, I found the article by Wayne Mackintosh inside the same compilation – boldly mentioning Free Software (both licensing and usage) as essential to open education, including a fascinating story about his use of GNU/Linux at a firm he worked at prior to his work with OERu. I knew the underpinnings were rich, but not quite how rich until I had some time tonight (between semesters as a teacher and as a student) to dive back into his offerings.
Here are some additional take-aways in addition to the ones that pertain to me directly that I mentioned above:
- Other educators can leverage the Open Education software stack to ensure that their technological back-end and front-end uses Free Software – including wikieducator – which will potentially sync that content to a WP front-end.
- A leadership approach to the company that is based on Open Design so that there is a threefold Free Software implementation: back-end (how it all runs) – design (how we all work) – front-end (what the user gets)
- An awesome tech blog called OERu Technology where I stumbled upon a complete gem of a presentation, called Democratizing Education which more properly discusses topics that were inadequately covered by peers in the Open compilation mentioned above
As I move forward with my own educational work and my venture capital work, I will be keeping the OERu close by for both enterprises! I hope other educators are able to use these resources and gain a better appreciation for the urgency of using Free Software in primary, secondary, and in higher education.