Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Rating Open Learning Sites

Bryce Bunting's comment on my last post asked about the potential impact of open-learning sites for faculty roles and the traditional practices of higher education. There are few more important questions out there right now. The economy and the shortcomings of higher ed make it seem like colleges and universities 20 years in the future may be radically different than they are today. (This is not necessarily a bad thing, though there are no guarantees that higher ed will be better--it could become much worse at supporting the sorts of learning that lead to economic well-being, civic engagement, and an ability to face up to the big questions of life.)

If open learning sites are going to be significant players in remaking higher ed, it seems they would need to have four characteristics:
  1. A wide range of content, put together in useful chunks. (A whole semester's course in one file--too much. One primary document--too little.)
  2. A structure that makes the site easily searchable, and useful for the expected audience. Faculty want different things than students from sites like these. Faculty may want to select content to spur conversation; students to provide answers to questions. (At least if the use of current online resources is any guide.)
  3. An acknowledgment that much of the learning that takes place in higher ed happens outside of the formal curriculum. The sites need to be amenable to use by staff and administrators, and the content needs to be separable from individual courses.
  4. The potential for change. Do the mission, content, and organization of the site support active learning? Does the site attend to the ways that learning takes place out of class? Is it possible to craft new approaches to the curriculum, or to the whole institution from the site? If so, then they have a high potential for change. If not, then they are nothing more than online versions of textbooks--a good thing to be sure, but not great.
Over the next few weeks I'll be rating open learning sites. If you know of some that you would like to have me look at, or even better, if you'd like to rate some yourself, let me know.

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