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Tuesday, July 13, 2004
 
Gatekeepers, Open Courseware and the future of the University ::

Several posts, on education blogs I follow, have combined to get me thinking about this again.

The move by MIT to make their course materials freely available caused some stir a couple of years ago, but seemed to affect little after that initial stir. However, now they are no longer alone, Carnegie Mellon seems to be taking the idea a step further with its Open Learning Initiative.They describe the key difference in the phrase "Building a Community of Use":
A primary objective of the project is to build a community of use for the courses that will play an important role in ongoing course development and improvement. The courses are developed in a modular fashion to allow faculty at a variety of institutions to either deliver the courses as designed or to modify the content and sequence to fit the needs of their students and/or their curricular and course goals. These courses will be broadly disseminated at no cost to individual students and at low cost to institutions.
This suggests a more radical possibility underlying their initiative, yet since the project uses proprietary standards another institution wanting to make use of the material would have to buy in to the whole package for a particular course, there would be little scope for "localization".

A few phrases from the interview with Stephen Downes sparked a related train of thought:
It is important to recall how much of our culture - including political culture, economic culture, educational culture — has been shaped by 'gatekeepers', elites who, because of their knowledge and position, are the sole arbiters of what we will read, buy or learn. This gatekeeping function has already been disintermediated...
This reflects exactly the conclusion reached by a group of University teachers I was part of a few years ago. Some of the social trends that the Internet illustrates and enhances, notably : information is easily and speedily available; "information tends to be free"... render the traditional role of Universities as doorways to authenticated knowledge void of meaning. To put the feeling of that group crudely "why should anyone study at the University of Auckland once they can follow courses online with streaming video etc. by the best profs. from Harvard and Oxford...?

Then I read Finker's latest postings, discover that maybe spring has started in Theology, which I'd though was set to be the last bastion of the selfish-hoarder school of pedagogy - Regent Radio, it'll be interesting to see who they put on over the next wee while...

If course material becomes a cheap (free!?) commodity, what is the role of teachers? Driven from the stage by better known, more skillful or simply better publicized sages perhaps we can be freed to become partners in a wisdom community.

Now that could be fun!


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