Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Openness, Sherpas and ECI831 or Why I Follow So Many Canadians

"Open"courseware is not new. There are several institutions, including heavyweights like MIT that are offering up course materials available for anyone to take and use. There are materials on iTunes U and YouTube EDU but how many institutions or professors will allow noncredit students to attend class sessions and interact with the class?

For the second year in a row I'm taking the ECI831 course, and I didn't fail it the first time. I'm a member of Alec Couros' growing group of non-credit students/mentors. I participate in as many of the online sessions as I am able and interact with the students in the course through the blog posts and twitter. True there is no credit for the course, but I'll benefit from the resources, ideas and learning in the course even if the topics are familiar to me.

Not only do I enjoy the course, but I'm a big fan of Alec's efforts and work in open education. He's not the only person advocating for Open(ness) in Education, but he's likely one of few who will invite you to participate in his classes.

This kind of openness requires a shift from the traditional closed classroom with teacher delivering content model. As part of Alec's recent session he talked about the role of the sherpa guiding learners through landscapes filled with social media and networks, knowledge and media literacy. This is the role that must be embraced at least partially for openness in our schools to occur. It's a little scary being open and transparent in our practices. Being open puts us out there for other to judge and maybe criticize. But it also allows for support and connecting, and as uncomfortable as it may be to shift to the sherpa role, I suspect that is more of what's needed now.

For one, the world is more open, allowing us the potential to make new connections and learn in amazing ways. But it's also needed because both education and teachers have been under fire lately. Openness and transparency might allow schools to connect with communities and parents and show the kinds of learning experiences happening in their classrooms. As a parent with a young child in public school, I like openness in the classroom, not because I want my child in the open and not because I don't trust her teacher, but rather because I want to see the learning that takes place and applaud and support the efforts of her really fine teacher.

A little more openness in education, whether it's courses in universities or in elementary schools, might give all a chance to be a part of a bigger learning community.

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