Renewable Energy for OpenEd

Several dozen entries in the Dell Social Innovation competition (which I have become mildly obsessed with over the past several days since entering—yes, that was a shameless plug…check it out) proposing everything from human-powered nut butter machines to low-cost solar panels cum water purifiers, plus the numerous billions of dollars allotted for “exploring” it in the nation’s latest stimulus package have got me thinking a lot about renewable energy.

As said entries make abundantly clear, there are numerous interpretations of the term “renewable;” from the denotative take of a resource replenished by natural processes at a rate comparably faster than its rate of consumption (the windmills sprouting like towering minimalist daisies along I-80 in Wyoming) to the more pragmatic idea of an abundance that’s not likely to go away (the mechanism that would transform traffic racket to electricity proposed by this guy.)

So what could “renewable energy” mean in Open Education?

I know! Freshmen!

In all seriousness, though, the open education movement is largely centered in higher education. And if there’s one sector with a perpetually renewing abundance of harness-able human energy, it’s college campuses.

What if beginning graphic design students were assigned to “visualize a biological process so that it can be explained to middle school kids” … What if senior computer science students work in groups to create a decision-making simulation of a critical historical event, or animation teams were challenged to tell the “story” of supply and demand, or logical fallacies … What if creative writing students wrote cases for negotiation courses or business strategy workshops?

The students get top-quality, relevant pieces for their portfolios, and teachers and learners on campus next semester and around the world get top-quality, relevant learning objects that enrich their learning environment.

Focusing solely on “technological” (in the Gibbons sense) programs; courses concerned with artifact production, with building something, I found almost 50 classes offered this semester alone for which an assignment to create an OER could be a natural, direct fulfillment of a core learning objective:

To say nothing of the potential value of say, assigning groups in a freshmen biology course to create open slide-shares for high school students describing various genetic disorders, or students in a technical writing class being encouraged to craft instructions on how to add fractions or find Saturn through a telescope instead of the classic “make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich” (hate to admit I did that one.)

(just skip this paragraph if you’re not in the mood for a slice of pie in the sky) We could even create a system where professors and students create a bank of learning object needs, like a huge personals section for open learning; “dedicated student seeks sleek, simple, accurate depiction of a functioning larynx” from which the students with these course assignments can draw. Within a matter of a few years, we could create collections that rival those of international publishers in breadth, depth, and quality.

Granted, in most of the projects I’ve looked into, materials creation is hardly the bottleneck. And far from solving the sustainability question, this would actually magnify some of the concerns. Still, tapping into the rising generation of educators, creatives and technical professionals like this might just help us move toward the critical mass OpenEd needs to become a “given” in US higher ed and around the world.

  1. ldswhy

    I love the thinking outside the box… 🙂

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