Judy Breck and Open Content

Some of you may have read my earlier post on Michael Schrage’s recent article in the Financial Times, pointing out some of the pitfalls associated with computers in classrooms. Some of you may even have seen Clarence Fisher’s almost-angry but later calmer response, a reaction similar to mine.

Why did we respond initially that way? Because of the number of people who keep damning the use of technology in education with faint praise, I guess. Because of the wasted opportunities.

So it was a good day to come home and find Judy Breck’s “109 Ideas for Virtual Learning” waiting for me. Delightful book, one that any and every one interested in 21st century education should read.

Here’s an excerpt from JSB’s foreword:

Let me dwell a moment on this powerful metaphor, an ecology of learning, founded not just on the vast information now readily accessible on the Internet but also the tools that amplify the social aspects of learning — learning in communities, learning with amateurs interacting with professionals, learning as a constantly expanding exploration of ideas.

Emphasis mine. JSB also makes the point about learning-to-be rather than learning-about, as a result of the feedback loops and social networks and participatory process. Brings to mind an old Maths professor of mine, who used to chide us regularly saying “All you do is commit to memory and vomit to paper“. Sounds better with his accent, where he made commit and vomit rhyme just fine.

I quote from Judy:

That transforming idea for education is this: The network, patterning structure of what a mind can know is mirrored in the network, patterning structure of the open Internet.

Powerful stuff. But my first-time around favourites are in ideas 8, 80 and 42. Why only open content will endure. Why open content is a bargain. And The Grand Idea.

I particularly like how Judy approaches the walled-garden problem from an educationist’s perspective. Here’s what she says on page 30:

“It will not work out to have open and closed content in parallel because knowledge itself is connected and that connectivity is dynamic. Only open content will endure because closed pieces of content are excluded from the dynamics.”

And then she goes on to say:

“A knowledge asset closed and isolated in a single website may be an expensive animation of a scientific principle, an erudite essay by a field-leading professor, or a rights-protected journal article. Many of these kinds of assets exist in the closed sections of the Internet. The knowledge quality of what these assets contain may be absolutely first-rate.”

“Even the highest quality isolated assets are a cut below open content because they are isolated from the larger context of their subject.”

Wow. Just go buy the book. Now.

Open content is not about tree-hugging tax-avoiding music-pirating downright UnAmerican activities. Open content is about learning and discovery and magic and our children and Judy’s Golden Age.



Let me know what you think

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