My earlier posts on open source higher education have generated a lot of discussion and I want to say thanks to all who have chimed in thus far.
One of the contributors to this discussion, Greg Byshenk, questioned my use of the term “open source” and so I thought I ought to clarify exactly what I meant. Because I’m an anecdotal communicator, let’s see if a concrete example helps.
One of the courses I teach on a regular basis is History 312: Nationalism in Eastern Europe. When I taught it for the first time in 1997, it was in no way “open source.” If you wanted to obtain any information about the course and how I taught it, you would have had to be in my classroom at Grinnell College.
Over the years, the course has become more and more open. The most recent version of the course is now available for your perusal from the website, which is nothing more than a blog with associated documents (assignments, podcasts of lectures, syllabus, etc.). If you read through and listen to what’s on this website you’ll know a lot about what goes on in my class. And, like open source software code, you are free to take and use whatever you find there, modifying it as you choose.
My intention is to take the course a step further in the next iteration, setting up a video camera in the classroom and recording my presentations to the students. I won’t be recording them because the human subjects/permissions issues are so complex that I simply don’t have time for them. But once the video recordings are complete, then anyone anywhere can do one of two things–take the course as an auditor (no credit awarded), or use any portion of the course for their own (non-commercial) purposes.
And, just as good open source code includes commentary by the author(s) of the code, I intend to record meta-commentary on the course itself that would be useful to both instructors and learners. This commentary will include an overview of the conceptual design of the course, what I expect to happen when I teach it, what actually happened the most recent time I taught it, and so on.
Finally, I’ll be inviting others who might teach the class to add to the “code” I’ve put forward in a variety of ways–including other assignments, etc., that will enrich the overall course.
This is a very different model from the standard course taught in American higher education. Most instructors consider that course their intellectual property (although their universities consider it work made for hire) and so not available for use by others without permission of the “author” (instructor).
In this case, I’ve laid out an example of what an open source course might look like. In my original example, I speculated about what an open source major might look like–one where our enterprising student was able to modify the content of the major to fit her own intellectual needs. I’m more than happy to stipulate that there are plenty of practical problems associated with this idea, but I’m also convinced that at least some segment of higher education will pursue a more open source path in the coming decade that in some way reflects the basic principles I laid out.
Already, this course is much more “open source” than it was 10 years ago when I taught it for the first time, because in 1997 the only thing I put online was the syllabus.