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From the Blog of Ken Udas

Posted in OSS and OER in Education Series |

Welcome to David Wiley

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2007

I want to welcome David Wiley and thank him for agreeing to contribute to the Impact of Open Source Software and Open Educational Resources on Education series on Terra Incognita. His post is scheduled to appear on October 3, 2007 (eastern U.S.). David will write about the role of open content in open education.

David Wiley currently serves as an Associate Professor of Instructional Technology and also the Director of the Center for Open and Sustainable Learning, (C()SL), at Utah State University. He is best known for having coined the term Open Content and creating the first open source-style license for non-software. His work on open content, open education, and informal online learning communities has been reported in many international outlets. His leadership in the open education resource is wildly recognized.

I am very much looking forward to David’s posting, which promises to build on the great dialog that was generated during the past months on the Series. Please feel free to comment, ask questions, build on the conversation, and enjoy.

Content Is Infrastructure

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2007

Content is infrastructure.

Why would I say such a thing? For three reasons.

First, I wish to point out that content is absolutely critical. In the late 90s, webmasters frequently heard the phrase “content is king.” Today the notion is often rejected and replaced with something along the lines of Content is Dead. Community is King Now. In the past I’ve said I could care less whether or not learning objects were dead or alive. However, to declare content dead in favor of the coolness of community misses the point that content is irrefutably a critical piece of educational infrastructure. Wikipedia says:

Infrastructure is generally structural elements that provide the framework supporting an entire structure…. The term “critical infrastructure” has been widely adopted to distinguish those infrastructure elements that, if significantly damaged or destroyed, would cause serious disruption of the dependent system or organization.

If the content base from which we all teach and learn - the internet, textbooks, library books, journal articles, etc. - were ’significantly damaged or destroyed,’ is there any way to imagine that this would not ’cause serious disruption’ to all education, both formal and informal? It is almost incomprehensible where we would be without content - at best, we would be reduced entirely to purely oral methods of teaching and learning. It may seem childish to point out something so obvious, but content is a critical part of the infrastructure of education.

Second, I want to suggest that we must understand that content is infrastructure before we can see radical improvements in education. Before we can expect large scale educational experimentation and innovation to occur we must deploy a sufficient amount of content, on a sufficient number of topics, at a sufficient level of quality, available at sufficiently low cost. Take the roads (an example of civic infrastructure) as an example. When there are enough roads, going enough places, with enough capacity, and without tolls, we can expect to see significant experimentation and innovation on top of this infrastructure. In the case of roads, we can see people establishing a variety of transportation services (taxis, shuttles), delivery services (food, packages), support services (towing, tire repair), and other services. In the case of content, when there is a sufficient amount of open educational content on a sufficient number of topics at sufficient quality, we can also expect to see experimentation and innovation in localization services (translation, low-bandwidth delivery), accreditation services (degrees, certificates), and support services (tutors, study group locators).

Of course, it costs money to build roads just like it costs money to create content. However, it generally does not cost money to drive on a road, and this encourages people to experiment and innovate in creating services that rely on the roads. We should realize that content is infrastructure in order to more clearly understand that the eventual creation of a content infrastructure which is free to use will catalyze and support the types of experiments and innovations we hope to see in the educational realm.

It’s all very Marxist; when only the wealthy can afford access to the means of production (or, in our case, the “means of instruction”), very little innovation will percolate up from the rest of us. But when everyone has free and open access to the means of instruction, we can expect to see large scale experimentation and innovation. As Linus so famously said,

And don’t EVER make the mistake that you can design something better than what you get from ruthless massively parallel trial-and-error with a feedback cycle. That’s giving your intelligence _much_ too much credit.

If we want to see education radically improved, we can’t architect it. None of us is that intelligent. We have to understand that content is infrastructure in order to start Linus’ massively parallel feedback cycle running.

And finally, we have to understand that content is infrastructure to see current “open educational resources” projects and initiatives from the proper perspective. The OpenCourseWares, the Connexions, the GLOBEs, and all the other repositories of open educational resources in the world are critical infrastructure. As such, they are necessary conditions for revolutionizing education. The revolution can not happen without them. However, open content itself is by no means a sufficient condition for the revolution to succeed. So much more is needed! The list above includes only a handful of what needs to be worked on (localization, translation, low-bandwidth delivery, accreditation, degrees, certificates, support, tutors, study group locators).

To say that content, and therefore these projects, are necessary but not sufficient conditions is not to say that content is unimportant. Anything but! Every piece of the system, including content, is critical - as Paul taught the Corinthians:

For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. And if they were all one member, where were the body? But now are they many members, yet but one body.

Content is infrastructure. An important beginning step that absolutely must be completed, and there is much more to follow. If you’re reading this post, I invite you to join our host Ken Udas, the other Guest Contributors in the series, and myself in working on creating this infrastructure and innovating on top of this infrastructure to improve education for everyone.

Do I have it wrong? Have I missed something obvious (or otherwise)? Please join the conversation in the comments below.

is_content_dead.txt · Last modified: 2015/01/31 23:55 (external edit)