The Age of the List
We live in a world of lists. Seems that there are lists on any topic imaginable. With email, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and other Web technologies, there is often a viral nature to such lists. Among these are online newsletters and email announcements of the top baseball and basketball players of the past century. The Top Ten Diet Plans. Compilations of Fifty Ways to Save Big at the Grocery Store. Recently there was a fascinating and interactive list from Fast Company of 100 of the Most Creative People in Business. Some book authors tell us that there are thousands of ways to market your company or make a million dollars by age 40 and then they list them. Bestselling movies, the essential back-to-school technologies, or most interesting places to spend Labor Day weekend — such high profile lists seem never ending.
Lists are quickly generated for anything that becomes fashionable. As Time magazine has shown us, they are quite useful as time capsules of a particular month, year, decade, or generation. On most mornings, USA Today provides some type of list in the form of survey data results. There are also times when it offers fond memories of a particular event such as the Seoul, Atlanta, or Beijing Olympics. Each day you can test your memories of the past and have your emotions stirred a bit.
Technologies Transforming Higher Education
What you may not be aware of is that during the past couple of years the lists that are sent around are increasingly about higher education. No, not just the top college buys, best football stadiums, most popular study abroad programs, or prettiest college campuses. Today, the focus is on free and open education. That should not be too surprising given the tough economic times we are in. Anything to reduce costs seems to be attracting heaps of attention.
Higher education officials have seen this day coming for nearly a decade. Back in the last century, any suggestion that MIT would place its entire 1,800+ course catalog online for free would have been deemed quite ludicrous. But MIT did dream up the idea of OpenCourseWare in 2001 and put all of its courses on the Web within less than seven years, albeit without course credit or an instructor to guide you through it all. And now thousands more open courses have been added to the mix by places like Tufts, Johns Hopkins, Notre Dame, Yale, Utah State, and more than 100 other colleges and universities around the world. Some well known colleges and universities like UC Berkeley and Stanford have their lectures recorded as podcasts, webcasts, or videostreams and posted to YouTube Edu, iTunes U, or some other online service. In fact, Berkeley offers many of its lectures in YouTube, iTunes U, and a homegrown webcast system, while Stanford is well known for its use of iTunes U. Not sure how to do this or why? iTunes U explains it all for you. A college or university might use these free and open educational resources to attract new students, market its courses, provide continued professional development to alumni, extend its institutional reach to those in developing countries, or generally store and disseminate knowledge.
This open education movement is symbolic of the age of the Web 2.0 and the new millennium. Today, we the people contribute to the Web and to the huge and fast growing pot of online learning resources. We do not have to simply rely on passive consumption of premade content from publishers, expert instructors, and government agencies. The Web is no longer a content dumping grounds to be browsed. Now we can contribute to a blog post like I am doing here. We can add to a wiki resource like Wikipedia, Wikibooks, Wikinews, or Wikiquote. We can create our own podcast shows or social networking groups in Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, or Ning. We also can collaboratively write reports or work on projects with those scattered around the world using Google Docs, Google Groups, or Groove. And you can quickly update anyone in the physical world or in virtual ones in Second Life on all of this with Twitter or other forms of microblogging.
There is so much out there today for educating people, whether young or older, rich or poor, male or female. Once connected, it does not matter if you are located in North America, China, Fiji, or South Africa. You can learn. We all can learn. And you can be a morning person or a night person. The Web is just as open for learning at 7 a.m. as it is at 7 p.m. I find the same information available to me when getting ready to depart from Singapore Changi Airport at 9 p.m. as I do at 5 a.m. when arriving in Reykjavík, Iceland. And with mobile access — like this very moment when writing from the student union at Butler University where my daughter is enrolled and unpacking her bags for her second year — my learning is perpetual and pervasive. With mobile and wireless technologies, we no longer must be tethered to a desk or a particular location when working or learning. We are now free to learn. We are also equally free to teach others who might read our blog posts in WordPress, watch our YouTube videos, join our Ning groups, use our Web portals, enroll in our online classes, or attend our Webinar events.
100 Item Free and Open Education Lists
What does all this have to do with lists? Well, in 2009, the lists I am being sent are no longer the world's best vacation spots, most fun marathons to enter, or top U.S. Wi-Fi-accessible coffee shops. Instead, they are about some aspect of open education, and they tend to come packaged in sets of 100 items. As with midterm and final exams, educators tend to like things in increments of 100. One day I am sent a URL for an online resource summarizing 100 free podcast programs from the best colleges in the world. I am told that if I listen to these podcasts, I can skip the tuition. Sounds interesting. I quickly tell both my son and my daughter, ages 19 and 21, about this one, but unfortunately get no response.
A few days later I am sent a URL created by Jane Hart in the UK containing 100+ Free Websites to Learn Anything about Everything. That, too, intrigues me. Then another link arrives with 100 of the best websites for free adult education. The implicit message is that I can now create my own degree with such courses. Not to be outdone, someone soon generates a list of 100 of the weirdest open courseware classes that anyone can take. I have always liked weird courses, so I give it a look-see. There are courses in American Pro Wrestling from MIT, The Amazing World of Bubbles from Caltech, Positive Psychology: The Science of Happiness from Harvard, and Ancient Wisdom and Modern Love from Notre Dame, as well as courses in butterfly gardening, soft cars, and the meaning of home, among dozens of others. Soon I am hopeful that my kids will prefer a free degree in butterfly gardening or pro wrestling instead of the ones I am spending tens of thousands of dollars on each year.
So many online courses and course materials have been placed on the Web that there is now a National Repository of Online Courses and an Open Educational Resources (OER) Commons. These are freely accessible Web portals for all this stuff. There are also links to free online content for most any higher education discipline at warm-feeling places like MERLOT and Connexions. The UK equivalent to these sites is a more formal sounding portal called Jorum. Of course, there are similar types of content repositories from organizations in China, Canada, and most any country with an education department; hence, most countries have them.
That's not all! Earlier in the year, I was recently sent a compilation of 100 tips, applications, and resources for teachers on Twitter, as well as links to older posts on the top 100 education blog sites (2006) and top 100 open courseware projects (2007). What is it with this infatuation among those in education with 100-item lists? I bet there will soon be a list with 100 or more ways to get an education in Second Life or some other virtual world.
In part, these lists are meant to stimulate ideas related to the educational potential of different emerging learning technologies. They are also intended to get people personally interested in learning online. So many exciting ways to learn! We are no longer restricted to one path or preset time period, classroom, or campus building. These lists help people to grasp the vast ways to learn that are now possible. Highly restricted eyeball-to-eyeball, earpan-to-earpan, and face-to-face forms of learning have given way to online, virtual, and blended learning at one's own time and convenience. As the lists I scan indicate, such e-learning experiences are increasingly free and multifaceted.
What about eBooks?
This is a blog post for Powell's Books, so there should be some interest in what is available as a free or open-access eBook. When in Korea in May I heard about their goal to have free digital books in all K-12 schools by the year 2012. They have more than 100 schools experimenting with these innovative books right now. The following month, Arnold Schwarzenegger made the headlines with his call for open access and free digital books in K-12 schools in California. This initiative was meant, at least in part, to make a dent in their huge $26 billion deficit. It is also intended to foster deeper, more meaningful, and more pervasive learning. Arnold sounds hopeful. I am not so sure about the saving money part, but I do appreciate California displaying some needed leadership in the digital book field.
At about the same time, Scribd, well known for helping users to post online text of any kind, announced book deals with publishers like Simon and Schuster as well as Harvard Press. Millions of people use Scribd each month to share, view, discuss, recommend, rate, and download free online text documents. Scribd is now the YouTube of the world of text. Seems everything is in Scribd. You might be surprised that the largest users of Scribd are government agencies like the Securities and Exchange Commission and the IRS. At the present time, the site is evolving from a text viewing and sharing site to a huge social network of those who love text.
During the summer of 2009, when it comes to text-based online content, the word "free" has become increasingly popular. In August 2009, many online magazines and newspapers were reviewing Chris Anderson's new book, Free: The Future of a Radical Price. One highly viral review by Malcolm Gladwell appeared in The New Yorker. For those interested in this book, an unabridged audio version of Anderson's Free book is available for free from Audible.com. However, the abridged version will set you back $18.89. What an interesting marketing scheme. Even more clever, Anderson placed a freely viewable digital version of Free in Scribd for five weeks prior to the book release. Amazingly, it had over 170,000 views during that time.
So much news lately about free and open access e-books that my head is spinning! Soon I locate a popular blog list from iReader Review of free books for the Kindle and Kindle 2 from Amazon.
Seems hundreds of thousands of free e-books are available from places like ManyBooks.net, LibriVox, the World Public Library, the Internet Archive, Bookyards.com, and a massive number of other eBook sites. A more recent blog post from iReader Review on August 22, 2009, indicates that 16 of the 25 Kindle bestsellers are free. As I said, free seems to be the operative word these days.
Making Sense of This Open Learning World
So much is happening in the eBook field as well in open education, virtual worlds, mobile learning, social networking, and so on. There is no way to keep track of it all. The lists alone will put you in panic mode as you think about how you could ever read, watch, or try out all the new cool ways to learn.
I have attempted to help people make sense of these trends with a list of my own. It is a list of technology trends that I call openers. However, this list is also a framework for thinking about Web-based learning and comes with what I hope is a handy memory aid. Many have heard of the economic flatteners of Thomas Friedman's popular book The World Is Flat. My recent book, The World Is Open: How Web Technology Is Revolutionizing Education, extends his flatter-world ideas to education. But instead of yet another lifeless list, these 10 openers coalesce into an easy-to-recall acronym or first letter mnemonic, WE-ALL-LEARN.
Ten Openers: (WE-ALL-LEARN)
1. Web Searching in the World of e-Books
2. E-Learning and Blended Learning
3. Availability of Open Source and Free Software
4. Leveraged Resources and OpenCourseWare
5. Learning Object Repositories and Portals
6. Learner Participation in Open Information Communities
7. Electronic Collaboration
8. Alternate Reality Learning
9. Real-Time Mobility and Portability
10. Networks of Personalized Learning
With this book project, I am experimenting with a new eBook model as well as supplemental eBook ideas. For instance, there will soon be a second book. This will be a free eBook extension of The World Is Open. Same chapter sequence and same length or longer (perhaps 500 pages with references and Web links); however, it will contain different content. I wrote too much and am now smoothing out the cut content into a free eBook extension. I hope to be done with that in about two months.
So unlike those who give away free eBooks at the release time of their physical books, this notion of free and open education is a bit different — two books, one free and one you pay for. Since I was not content with just having a free eBook, I have created a book website where you can find several free book excerpts as well as all the book references (with hot links to the original sources) and the Web resources mentioned in both books. Now the reader can explore any resources mentioned that look interesting or useful. On top of that, I posted a free prequel and postscript to these books. Discussion or reflection questions will follow.
As is clear, the age of free and open education has arrived. It is time to open up and enjoy it and not simply list it as a passing event of 2009.