Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The year of the ROOC?

Rook 2 by scyrene, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  Rook by scyrene on Flickr

At the risk of introducing yet another silly acronym into a world drowning in such things, maybe this can be the year of the ROOC - Really Open Online Courses. The problem with most MOOCs is that they are very seldom really open. The structure, templates and material are usually copyright and are not open for reuse and adaptation. While it's understandable that the owners want to protect their material it could benefit so many more people if it could be translated and adapted to other languages and cultures. The word open can be interpreted in so many different ways and this leads to a lot of confusion. The key to ROOCs is open licenses that allow others to use and adapt the course and its constituent parts to be more relevant to local culture and context.

One of the often repeated benefits of the MOOC movement was to make quality higher education available to all and the rather colonial vision of students in developing countries avidly following classes from the top professors at Harvard, Stanford, MIT etc. The problem here is that although the glossy high-end MOOCs are well produced and academically sound they are very much rooted in a western perspective and have little relevance to students in many other parts of the world. This one-size-fits-all approach has been widely criticized and if we genuinely want to use online learning to widen participation in higher education the present proprietary model of most MOOCs must be changed.

So what are the ingredients of a really open online course (massive or not)?
  • All course material has an open Creative Commons license permitting reuse and adaptation so that institutions and educators in other countries can make the course more relevant to local issues and culture.
  • Design sustainable resources - not context-specific, easy to add subtitles, avoid locked proprietary software, standard templates, compatible formats etc.
  • Build the course on a platform that is freely available to others.
  • Create a community around the course to open up the development process from the beginning and then provide support in the future.
If designed in this way even a very small course could grow into a massive one. The initial iteration may not have a massive target group but maybe an institution in, say, India sees the potential to adapt it and serve a massive target group there. Alternatively a small course could be adapted into hundreds of equally small but locally important courses on a global scale. The true power of open education lies in sharing and developing resources together but today's proprietary models simply reinforce traditional structures rather than democratising education. 

If you are still wondering about the photograph above, the bird is a rook!

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