Open sourcing education

Reflections on the Dubrovnik iSummit Open Ed whirlwind are now settling in. Here’s the picture: there were 25 hardcore open education activists attending the track throughout, with another 25 people flowing in and out from the main summit. We spent three days in a beautiful – albeit boiling hot – building on the Aegean Sea, dreaming up ways to collaboratively build the open education future.


The people who hung for the whole track were from all corners of the world: Australia; Chile; Estonia; Finland; Netherlands; Peru; Poland; South Africa; the United States. Almost everyone in this core group spends the bulk of their time running practical projects applying open source and commons thinking to education. Whether teachers or policy makers or students, they all had a concrete stake in opening up education.


Listening to three days of buzzing conversation, it’s clear that we don’t yet have a good open education ‘map’, or even a clear picture of what it is. However, there is growing amount of energy in this space and some pieces of the map are rapidly making themselves evident. Free text books. Collaborative processes. Volunteering models. Curriculum repositories. Authoring platforms. Licensing approaches. Policy visions. All these things are being articulated and experimented with in multiple places around the world, and all were discussed as a part of the education track at iSummit.


Over the next couple of weeks, University of the Western Cape’s Philip Schmidt and I are going to write up a paper reflecting on the patterns and ideas emerged from the summit. Some of my questions are:

What are we talking about? While we may not have a shared map or definition of open education, the conversations that happened at iSummit offer some interesting foundations. There was clearly a consensus that we are talking about freely available and mixable content by and for educators. And, there was even a pretty broad push for the idea that we are talking about actual changes to how education works, with students more in the driver’s seat. We’ll need to look at the patterns here to see what comes up, and also compare these patterns with the recent John Seely Brown Hewlett paper and a framework from Finland that Philip mentioned. We might also look at the open access Budapest Declaration, which participants at the summit mentioned as an example of what’s needed at this stage in the evolution of open education.

Resources or ecosystems?
The term ‘open educational resources’ dominates this space. Yet, at the iSummit, the message over and over again was: It’s about collaboration. It’s about students and teachers. It’s about connections. My gut says that we should starting thinking bigger than just content and resources. A few months back in Cape Town, Jimmy Wales said that Wikipedia is ‘10% technology, and 90% community’. The same math may well apply to open education – the resources are only 10% of the picture. If so, we might need to start talking about open educational ecosystems as our frame of reference, and not just about resources.

How do we work sideways<->out? For better or for worse, the best known open education projects come from the United States, and mostly from big universities. However, there is a ton of emergent work in other countries and from smaller players, many of whom were at iSummit. It’s essential that these emerging players can easily get on radar and into the game. Doing this means consciously embracing a way of working together that is not top down or bottom up, but sideways out. It also means not getting hung up on North vs. South, but rather embracing North/South/East/West/Everywhere engagement from the very beginning. Open source movements give us models for how to facilitate this kind of innovation from the edge. However, actually working this way requires a ton of intention and focus.


Even without solid definitions, it feels like something amazing is happening. The people who were around me at the iSummit – the Delias, Werners, Amys, Neerus, Lisas, Martijns, Steves and Jos of this world – are a part of something bigger than themselves. It may be too early call this a movement, although I don’t think so. Certainly, it is dynamic and fluid as good movements are, with new formations and innovations emerging around every corner. Maybe this fluidity is better described with verbs than with nouns. Maybe it is the open sourcing of education. Hmmm. Philip?


  1. Steve Foerster replied on | Reply

    Mark, thanks again to you and gunner for moderating a track so awesome that the other tracks could only be jealous. You rock!

    And IMHO it’s definitely not too early to call the open education movement a movement. I too was struck by how quickly we went from talking just about open educational resources to bigger issues about the nature of education and how it needs to move from a hierarchical approach to a networked one.

  2. Heather Ford replied on | Reply

    I’ve been reading and watching all the footage from the Summit and I’m really excited about the community that has emerged from this gathering. I think you inspired people who weren’t in your track to imagine what it would be like to have a similar experience – forming new connections with people from around the world who you didn’t know before but now have some really good reasons to be staying in touch and working together with in the future. I would say that its the beginnings of the movement, and as such, you should definitely call yourselves a movement in anticipation of the greater diversity that we’ll hopefully attract at next year’s Summit. Let’s see whether something grows from here next year – I’m really looking forward to it and I thank you all for initiating such great energy and enthusiasm.

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