World Open Education Week begins on March 10th and Dr. Gary Michelson and his wife, Alya Michelson, say that it’s an excellent direction for the country’s education system. As co-founders of a foundation that is intended to increase the availability of open digital textbooks in order to make higher education more widely available, you could say that World Open Education Week is right up their alley.
That’s because World Open Education Week is all about making educational materials, and some instruction, available to everyone at no cost.
A free education, available to every child, is one of the core values of America, but World Open Education Week is about something more than that. It’s about making higher education freely available too.
In a time when the cost of a college education is very much a topic on the nation’s collective tongue, free access to one is an exciting notion.
You might be surprised to know that there are such resources available currently. From World Open Education Week’s website:
“Open Education Week’s goal is to raise awareness about free and open educational opportunities that exist for everyone, everywhere, right now. We want to highlight how open education can help people meet their goals in education, whether that’s to develop skills and knowledge for work, supporting formal studies, learning something new for personal interest, or looking for additional teaching resources.”
In fact, the availability of free course materials is on the rise, much of it through MOOCs (Massively Open Online Courses) in which educators are making entire courses available for download or online viewing. These might include text resources, recorded lectures, and even video of classes.
Dr. Gary Michelson and Alya Michelson joined the Open Education movement when Dr. Michelson learned that every year, students were failing to complete their degrees due to the lack of money to purchase textbooks. The two formed the Twenty Million Minds Foundation, which is intended to work toward ways to negate the cost of textbooks for students.
In fact, financial woes factor into many of the educational decisions America’s teens and young adults make, and as a result, into the long-term career choices they make. When the financial state of an eighteen-year-old can limit his chances and options for the rest of his life, opening up education, and career choices, to those who cannot afford them is essentially a step to make America more equitable, to truly provide options across all income levels.
As exciting as the idea is, it’s hardly surprising that many are opposed to it. There are those who profit from educational materials and those who labor in the educational field who may fear the loss of income or livelihood.
The Open Education Week FAQ explains a little about this, indicating that educational resources have always had limited resale value, and that giving away those resources that continue to have little value for sale will increase the value of those resources that do have a financial value. They also indicate that this will provide educational institutions with an opportunity to market their services, through the spread of freely available materials.
Clearly this will do little to assuage the concerns of some who work in the field of education or produce educational materials, but, according to Dr. Gary Michelson and Alya Michelson, this is one more reason that the World Open Education Week events are so valuable: they will help to show both sides of such polarizing topics, and work towards understanding and compromise between the stances.
Dean Florez, President, CEO explained the view of 20 Million Minds Foundation:
“Universities are drowning in digital information. Our students and universities have clearly already made the shift whether in their pocket or in the classroom. It’s time to take on ‘openness’ – and its consequences – in the current environment, which today is still hidden behind paywalls, passwords, subscriptions and other virtual gateway impediments. Open education week reminds us that we have more work ahead of us to address today’s conventional closed methods that have constrained true knowledge which can only come about with open, free collaboration.”
In fact, this is exactly what the organizers behind Open Education Week argue. The world’s information is going digital . Today’s students have already embraced the idea that information is free, and widely available. They are used to accessing any piece of information they are interested in immediately, at the touch of a button.
In light of this, perhaps offering information – organized and prepared so that those learners who do not yet know exactly what they need to learn can still access it and be taken through it in a logical progression – truly is as much of a way for educational institutions, textbook producers, and educators themselves to stay relevant. This is a way to make a education freely available to all learners.
Perhaps too, it is a change that, regardless of the positions of those on either side, is truly inevitable. Technology continues to grow, and both students and the producers of educational materials continue to take advantage of all that sharing technology has to offer.
If the move toward free educational materials – with all its benefits and all the concerns it raises – truly is inevitable, then, as Dr. Gary Michelson and Alya Michelson assert, events like those of World Open Education Week are absolutely vital for spreading discussion and understanding of all that is to come.