The Impact of Open Source

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Anant Agarwal, a professor of MIT’s EECS department and President of edX, a worldwide, online learning initiative of MIT and Harvard University, was interviewed on the Colbert Report about the phenomenon which is Open Source within higher education. During the interview, when asked about how it could be a good idea to offer a U.S. education to everyone for free he stated, “So, we’re giving away education. So, this is going to be good for the world. An educated world is a better world for everybody.” (Inside Higher Ed, 2013) There are a number of different ways to receive a free education available today for those who are willing to go out and find it. From MOOCs to free degrees online through schools like University of the People, there is no shortage of ways to access a free education.

MIT Open Courseware, found at http://ocw.mit.edu/index.htm, completed its initial publication of the materials from 1800 of the courses offered at MIT in 2007.  “The idea is simple: to publish all of our course materials online and make them widely available to everyone” (MIT Open Courseware, n.d.). The President of MIT, L. Rafeal Reif, in his message on the OCW site explains that “MIT’s mission statement charges us to advance knowledge and educate students, and to bring knowledge to bear on the world’s greatest challenges for the betterment of humankind. Open sharing of knowledge is the purest manifestation of this mission” (MIT Open Courseware, n.d.). The faculty of MIT uploads the materials from their face-to-face courses to the Open Courseware site in the hopes that those who want to find the knowledge can do so at no cost, anytime, anywhere.

The idea behind the MIT Open Courseware site follows the Theory of Independent Study proposed by Charles Wedemeyer most closely as it emphasizes “learner independence and adoption of technology” (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2012). It gives the learner complete independence to take the materials presented and to use them as they see fit to learn the content. The adoption of technology comes from using the internet to access the materials and in some cases, where the course offers, to view video presentations. Wedemeyer does say that the relationship between the student and teacher is important (Smaldino et. al, 2012) and this is where these course offerings from the MIT Open Courseware stray from the theory as a distance learning model. There is no real relationship built with these courses between the teacher and learner as it is really more of a repository of information.

Essentially, these courses are the materials from the face-to-face courses offered on campus at MIT made available online to anyone. The courses include a syllabus, a calendar, suggested readings and assignments. Some of the courses also offer video or audio lectures, lecture notes, online textbooks, example student work, assessments, and interactive simulations. In the sense of these courses being consider distance education as proposed by Simonson et. al., they present a very loose interpretation. The definition for distance education proposed by Simonson et. al. (2012) is an “institution-based, formal education where the learning group is separated, and where interactive telecommunications systems are used to connect learners, resources, and instructors” (p.32). These courses meet all the criteria except for the interactive telecommunications. However, the courses are not developed with the online learner in mind. The courses are, in using terminology from the Equivalency Theory, identical and not equivalent. However, these courses are free and thus the expectation of “equivalency” would be unrealistic. The materials are available, what learners are able to glean is completely at their own discretion.

In evaluating this site and the courses offered for the sake of distance learning theory and the focus on the distance learner as an audience there is a definite disconnect from what is being outlined by Simonson et. al. However, for the purpose of the site and the mission of MIT, this site and its courses are meeting its goal. I think there is great value in these materials as they are available to those who are looking for the knowledge that is offered here. To learn from professors from an institution such as MIT, even if there is no two way interaction, is a great benefit. I, for one, plan to take advantage of this resource now that I am aware of the offering.

References:

Inside Higher Ed. (2013) Colbert Report Explains MOOCs. Retrieved from http://www.insidehighered.com/ quicktakes/2013/07/26/colbert- report-explains-moocs

MIT Open Courseware. (n.d.) Retrieved from http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/find-by-topic/

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., & Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a distance: Foundations of distance education (5th ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson.

Defining Distance Learning

I currently work for an organization that parents a number of universities that provide degrees through both traditional classroom settings as well as completely online courses. Before attending courses here at Walden I had only ever taken one course online myself and that course as well as my knowledge about this type of course was from my exposure through my current employer. That being said, when I heard the term “distance education” as presented as the title of this course, my mind went directly to online learning. If you had asked me what my definition was I would have said something like, “Distance learning is a student taking courses online instead of in a classroom. They complete their work in their own space and in their own time as long as they meet the requirements of the institution. They communicate with their professors and the other students in their courses through the computer or by telephone.”

However, after only one week of reading and material in this course on distance learning, my understanding and my definition of distance learning has changed. Not only do I see that distance learning can involve other avenues of communication outside of a computer and online, but I also believe the work I do as an instructional designer within a corporate setting can be included in this broad methodology of learning.

Reading about the history of distance education this week was very eye opening. I hadn’t considered that distance learning could have begun at least 160 years ago. Of course, it looked a lot different then. “An advertisement in a Swedish newspaper in 1833 touted the opportunity to study ‘composition through the medium of the post.’” (Simonson, Smaldino, Albright, & Zvacek, 2008) This mode of distance education is also one I had not thought about. My mind automatically goes to how I see distance learning today. A world where we have high speed internet and cell phones on which we can access virtually any information we may be looking to find; this is the world where my definition of distance learning has been shaped. Still today, distance learning can include methods such as the mail, videos, and the telephone, not only the computer and the internet.

The method for distance learning was not the only change that my definition had to undergo this week. When I considered distance learning before it was almost exclusively used for education in the higher education arena. However, we read three different articles this week that defined how distance education is also being used effectively in the K-12 and training and development areas. This should not have been a new part of my definition. In fact, in training and development, it should have been a major part of my definition as this is what I do in my work on a day to day basis, but it is not something I would have defined as distance learning before this week. I now see this differently. I now define distance education differently.

Based on my experience and my knowledge, including what I have learned in the past week, if you asked me today what my definition of distance education is I would say something like, “Distance education is a person gaining knowledge through a method of learning outside of a classroom using resources provided from an instructor who communicates through a variety of different means.” It is much broader. It is much more encompassing of not only my own experience but the experience of a much larger audience.

As my definition has changed based on what I now know about the history of distance learning, the future of distance learning must also be considered. Where is distance learning going? What does the future of distance learning look like? I am no expert in this field, and I do not own a crystal ball. However, having seen computers go from a flashing green cursor on a black screen only 20 years ago to a tablet that can now access the world wide web by just touching the screen, I would say that the future of distance learning has no limit. We are already able to take our courses from a cell phone, from anywhere at any time. As technology continues to advance so will the possibilities for distance education. The challenge will be in designing the instruction for the learning to meet the needs of all learners in these new formats. This is why being in the field of instructional design in the present is so exciting, because the future looks so bright!

Distance Learning Mind Map