What does the “open source” education mean?

Monday is a good day to start out on a positive (always apprehensive) note.  It appears the Obama/Duncan team is supporting "open source" educational curriculum for high school and college work.  The details are in the  Legislative Update from Education Legislative Services.

The president is proposing to invest $500 million over the next 10 years to create world-class online college and high school courses that will be available to all 24/7/365."
 "Colleges, universities, publishers, other institutions and related consortia will be invited to compete to create state-of-the-art online courses that combine high-quality subject matter expertise with the latest advances in cognitive and computer sciences." 
 "Such courses will enable students to move through the material at their own pace. When students do not understand a particular lesson or concept, carefully designed assessments will identify the gap in their learning. They’ll relearn the material and have another chance to demonstrate mastery."
"Such an open-source, easily accessible system of robust courses will produce the most  profound equalization of access to cutting-edge knowledge and information since the creation of the public library. We will see the creation of new companies, perhaps even entirely new industries, situated squarely in the knowledge sector, which is so crucial to our national and  global economic success."

It does sound like a library situation, which is a robust educational success in communities.  This proposal does leave me with some questions.  If it’s open source, could this be used by all teens, et al, just as homeschoolers use the infinite number of educational resources that are accounted for in colleges?  That’s with the assumption that is wanted by the scholar.  A lot of educational authorities’ focus is on a college degree. I’m pleased that our car mechanic knows how our car works (or not) without a degree.  Significantly, he loves his job too. 

If the federal goverment sinks money into programs, I can’t think of an instance where their sketchy accountability wasn’t also required.  So what is the need for more federal monies inserted into the education system, when we already have brilliant minds who are all about open source and passing it along without government ‘help’? 

Last month, I’d mentioned MIT OpenCourseWare program that included all MIT courses this fall.  

Open Education – It’s the Learning that Counts

We are working with a combination of the MIT biology and chemistry courses and it is intense.  The expertise that is offered with these courses are stunning.  For instance, video lectures are offered by Dr. Weinberg (National Medal of Science winner).  Our boys  also had some interest in How to Stage a Revolution.  We have the reading materials, but keep running out of time.  Let me also introduce you to TED Talks, if you’re not already familiar.

From the AEP Govermental Relations newsletter again:

The Secretary envisions that colleges and universities would decide whether to grant college credit to students who exhibit "mastery" of the course content and skills. There could be proctored testing centers available to accelerate and accommodate student learning. Professors could use all or only part of the content of these courses in their own classes, says the Secretary, and the Department of Defense would have similar options for use in their classes for military personnel. Students could gain access to these free courses to learn on their own, to explore and successfully complete educational challenges that previously were unimagined. 

Is the Obama administration considering being rid of compulsory attendance demands?  How awesome would that be?  What does the "open" mean to this particular executive branch? 

What’s the catch?  The federal government money inserted into "open source" seems to be oxymoronic, but I -think- I’m encouraged at an "open source" frame of mind in the White House.  It’s worth watching, despite the teacher union accomodations in this administration’s past actions.  Teacher unions protect teacher unions, not education.

Politico published an Arne Duncan article October 1st, that contains many of the thoughts and agenda that was quoted above.

Moving college into the 21st century

ht to Virtual Meanderings


What does the “open source” education mean? — 8 Comments

  1. Open source, in its initial definition, means publishing the “source code” to a computer program along with the actual runnable file(EXEs) of the program.

    This permitted the users of the program to modify and rebuild the program at will, as well as have a complete internal understanding of what the program does.


  2. Thanks, Paul. I’m learning about terminology as I go. I did run into this about the new White House website using Drupal. The clarifications in the cnet article helps to explain some misinterpretations (including mine) of phrases such as “open source”:
    This move is just the sort of thing that can lead to a lot of misunderstandings about the idea of openness, a term that’s up there with motherhood and apple pie these days when it comes to values everybody wants to embrace. Don’t confuse the fact that Drupal is cooperatively created and debugged in public with the openness of the present administration’s government.

    Open Courses, as MIT demonstrates in their opencourseware, is what I’ll be watching in the scheme of future educational reforms. Homeschoolers practice open education. Educational Anarchy is what the NEA likes to call it.

  3. Susan,

    Paul’s right about open source.

    I think what they mean is that people (institutions) will be able to upload their own courses and they would be rated and compete to be introduced to the curriculum, then that would be more in line with “Open Source Education”.

    The really nice part would be that geeks like me could examine the source code to make sure they weren’t favoring one type of course over another, or dropping courses or other types of mischief.

  4. As an addition:

    This would be extremely helpful in certain cases where homeschooling or learning on your wouldn’t be as useful. For example, in certain very demanding science and engineering fields, there simply aren’t that many good teachers. There’s a lot of great researchers, but not that many good teachers.

    I know this from my comp sci program, most of the teachers just wanted to do research and didn’t put much time or effort into their courses. However if instead of their weak courses, I had taken online classes from this guy:


    I’d probably have been better off. It wouldn’t work for certain types of learning where you have to be hands on. But if I could hook a big screen TV up to a lecture by the best in the field and eat popcorn, maybe I don’t walk out on my lectures after 15 minutes.

  5. No fool, Jason. Definitely a computer geek perfectionist. 🙂 I definitely need some techie stuff added to the blog. I keep filling in the blanks with words, and ignoring the rest. The blog is definitely overdue for an overhaul.

    Interesting about checking the source code for favoritism. Amazing what I learn here.

    The MIT OpenCourseWare chem class is tricky, for the reasons you mentioned regarding hands on. But we bought the recommended textbook as an ebook, and the demonstrations are helpful.

    Our kids unschooled science in the outdoors and via various hands on labs. Until now. The 15 year olds are looking at a science career and want to go to college, so we’re preparing for that.
    We’ve been hitting and sometimes missing with the MIT biology courses. I just discovered the AP high school courses on the OpenCourseWare site, and that is work-able. Even though we struggled with the college Biology courses a bit, I am amazed and extremely pleased with the learning results so far. It’s a work in progress, but that’s how real learning works.

  6. It’s funny — I think that the term “open source” is heavily overloaded. The technical meaning of the term doesn’t really apply outside of software, but the general idea certainly does — and everyone is now fighting to define and redefine the term.

    When most folks talk about “open source education”, they refer to resources that are licensed freely for reuse, modification, and redistribution. This is, thankfully, the definition that Arne Duncan et al seem to be working with. I sincerely believe that the federal money these guys are looking to spend is intended, in part, to help break the hammerlock that Big Education has on the school systems.

    Great to find your blog. Some really good stuff here. I believe that homeschooling is one of the primary ways that we will drive educational innovation in the 21st century.

  7. Wow, Greg, it’s great to run into your website Thanks for passing it along, as it looks like a good one to bookmark.
    I’ll look around your site a bit, so you can convince me about Arne Duncan. 😉 The Open Government Directive is interesting…
    Thanks for coming by here and commenting!

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