Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Sakai 09 Keynote: Vijay Kumar

Keynote: "Learning OUTed: Open Ubiquitous Transformational"

Vijay Kumar is MIT's Senior Associate Dean of Undergraduate Education, Director of the Office of Educational Innovation and Technology, and a member of the Advisory Committee for MIT's OpenCourseWare project. He was also an editor of Opening Up Education, a new and key text for the open education movement. (Dr. Kumar's full bio can be accessed here.)
"My god," Dr. Kumar says, "I thought...this is our Woodstock!"

Remarking on the number of new attendees, Dr. Kumar said:
"There's at least a 50% growth (new users) and that speaks volumes of the strength of this community--which is why it's a particular privilege for me to be here because Sakai's an important marker for something I'm quite passionate about: the open education movement. And yes indeed, it is a movement."

Kumar identified the open education movement one that's both global and accelerating. He notes MIT's OpenCourseWare project as a key momentum-driver, but a wide range of other proejcts too, including work in the k-12, publication, and textbook sectors in addition to higher education. "We need to make sure," he adds, "that this movement doesn't die or meet the future that so many movements have faced."

Going back to the title: Learning OUTed:

"I think one of the most significant impacts that this growing education movement has had is really making learning very ,very visible--learning in all its all its diversity... and suddenly attention is shifting in focus. I think this is the really sustainable impact of the open ed movement.

"For me, what's significant, why I think this is indeed a really dramatic movement, is because it's become part of the discourse of educational change--nationally, globally, whether it's at the micro level or at the level of national or international crusades.

"The fact that this has become a part of the discourse for educational what really signifies the impact of this movement--that this movement is really something to be reckoned with."

Pointing to Opening Up Education, the book he recently edited, he asks this question: "How can we advance teaching and learning by taking full advantage of open education?"

Kumar points to the "iron triangle" of access, quality, and cost--if you want to increase, for example, access, typically either the quality suffers or the cost has to go up. He points to the need for gatekeeping if you want high quality.

"One of the things about open education is that it offers the opportunity to do better things with more quality at lower cost and increased access. It makes the iron triangle much more flexible. It has the ability to render the previously inflexible triangle flexible."

The implications of the iron triangle are much more significant for developing companies and large institutions, he said, but also relevant in developed countries.

Open Education Vision Elements

Kumar points to two areas where Open Education has the most vision-changing promise:
Blended Learning: "When we talk about blended learning--and this isn't a new notion--I'm talking about how open education enables intelligent combinations of the physical and virtual, formal education with informal education..."this is one of the transcendental promises of open learning."

Boundary-less Education: "I am not talking just about traditional geographical and political boundaries, but boundaries that are much more subtle Between disciplines, between research and learning, between on campus and off fact, there's a lot of talk about lifelong learning. I'm talking about all the boundaries that exist between these sectors...between living and learning. And the possibilities of open education presents the transcending of these boundaries in multiple ways."

Dr. Kumar points to multiple examples from MIT, including OpenCourseWare, the Spoken Lecture Browder, an iLab, an open-ed project based at MIT but open for use in multiple sites (therefore boundary-less). Labs in general are expensive, he points out, not just in terms of actual cost but also in terms of the learner's time. One of the criteria of good courseware is that it is efficient on learners' time. iLabs offers a strategy for addressing latency--the phenomenon of a class followed by a lab two or three days later (during which time learners lose information).

One issue he points to is the problem that a lot of learning materials (esp. on blogs) is difficult to package for ready use. We need to consider viability and appropriateness of converting material into open resources.

Kumar adds: There's a lot of assumption that making something available is making it usable, but unless we have ways to show the pedagogical underpinnings of a course, the educational value of some material is debatable--is in fact suspect."

Design, Kumar explains, "is a very, very important influence in who participates in this open education revolution, and in terms of the kinds of choices we enable, and in terms of the kinds of things that can happen." Just having things open is not enough, he explains, unless the design allows access.

Readiness for Opening Up Education: Organizational Cultural Factors

Running out of time, Kumar offers final comments in the following categories:
  • Scarcity vs. Abundance (reliance on situated learning / push teaching vs. demand pull learning)
  • Sense Making (ordering the digital disorder, pedagogical shifts [individual learning=collaborative, social learning], codevelopment of knowledge with learners)
  • Accountability and Accreditation (massification implications for Quality and Preparation; Distributed; Open Knowledge and Learning)

Kumar ends with this quote:

"we are seeing the early emergence of a meta-university--a transcendent, accessible, empowering, dynamic, communally constructed framework of open materials and platforms on which much of higher education worldwide can be constructed or enhanced." Charles M Vest, President Emeritus, MIT

**My thoughts**
Vijay Kumar is a big name in the open education movement, especially for anyone who's done any reading or conferencing. I'm already a convert to the open education movement and therefore found his talk fascinating; but there was a mass of newbies in the audience, and this was a moment to grab and convert the fence-sitters. Even if it's true (and I'd be willing to believe it) that everybody in the audience is already a fan of open education, I wish Kumar had spent more time galvanizing us around the notion of community. As Michael Korcuska noted, attendees came from all over the world. We're meeting for the first and, for some of us, the only time--we're converging in the name of open source, open technology, and open education. Let's value, admire, and rally around the ethos, the spirit of open education, that brings us together. Kumar pointed to this in discussing the newly flexible iron triangle, but while that hits me right in my logic center, I'm also here to get hit in my passion center.

Okay, that's the mini-critique. What I'll add is that Kumar is a fascinating, smart, excellent speaker whose ability to talk about complicated, difficult issues in the economics of education is impressive. Mind-blowing, really. As noted in the Twitter conference feed,

You can follow Sakai tweets with the hashtag #Sakai09.

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