There is a sweet scent of convergence in the wind, although the connections haven’t really been stitched together yet—at least not as far as I can see. But there is an underlying pattern of currents that, sooner or later, need to merge into something new and improved for making more learning opportunities available to more people in more ways—which means breaking down those many barriers and silos we all seem to love to create, nourish and defend in higher education. These thoughts emerged during discussions at the CONVERGE-EFQUEL 2011 conference in Lisbon, Portugal.
First, open content is boundless in its availability. It’s wonderful and it’s a mess. But we can’t not do anything about that as educators. More on that later. Next, alternative forms of credit and accreditation that can be given to other forms of learning than that gained in the standard university environment: Discussions that took place on outcomes-based learning made it clear that outcomes approaches are vital to moving beyond content- and credit-driven systems of recognition of learning. Third, user-generated content is receiving growing attention—i.e. content that is developed by students in a wide variety of courses and other learning contexts in such socially-shared areas as blogs and micro blogs, journals, podcasts, social bookmarks, wikis, shared videos and photographs, and many other formats—content of sufficient value that it could form content to be used by other learners. The pool is growing and increasingly we see learning communities consisting of instructor-developer-learner partnerships. Fourth is movements in quality that is defined by fitness for purpose and appropriatness for context; i.e. quality not as an “objective characteristic of a learning resource or a service, but … constituted as a specific characteristic of a context which in turn is made up through the realities of the personal, organizational, social and structural interactions of the stakeholders involved” (Thomas Kretschmer at the CONCEDE – EFQUEL2011 conference in Lisbon). There’s more–we have concepts of learning interactions that proceed on the following hierarchy: data-information-knowledge-wisdom-transformation (Steve Wheeler at the same conference), reminding us that content (data and information) is only the beginning. Up to data and information, scouring the Web is very much up to the task for learner. Building up towards knowledge begins to occur when there are reliable guides available or open courses with inbuilt pedagogical interactions. But when it comes to wisdom and transformation – the praxis of both knowing and doing – that is where higher education can continue to excel, if the convergence is allowed to continue and learning extends beyond the classroom and reaches into the world around us.
That brings us back to OER, the discussion and practice around Open Educational Resources and how they can be developed, discovered, used and revised. There is nothing new in the concept — but with the development of the Open Education Resources university (OERu), there is now a core of committed institutions (including, happily, mine) seeking to contribute a core of OER-based courses toward a coherent combination culminating at the degree level. This is wonderful news, especially for learners in countries that desperately need more higher education but can’t afford it. But to make it fly, we need to find the will and way to continue the convergence.