CPT+10: A Bright Future for Open Education

A decade after the Cape Town Open Education Declaration the movement is thriving. But there’s still important work to do.

By Mark Surman and Philipp Schmidt

Ten years ago this month, in the courtyard of the Shuttleworth Foundation offices outside Cape Town, it felt like the open education movement was about to take a huge leap.

We’d gathered a wonderful but motley cast of characters. The founder of Wikipedia. The inventor of the first opn content license. Brave funders who’d gotten in early on supporting open education. And the key early innovators in open textbooks and peer to peer learning. This is where the two of us first really got to know each other.

What was the goal for the Cape Town meeting? To tell the world that we had huge opportunity ahead if we could just build on the open education experiments that were starting to bear fruit. With that in mind the group collectively wrote and signed the Cape Town Open Education Declaration – a call to action for open content, open pedagogy and open credentials as a path to unlocking learning for all. Releasing the Declaration felt like a big achievement at the time, but the real work was still ahead.

We’ve spent the past 10 years collaborating – and forging a friendship – as we tried to bring the ideas In the Cape Town Declaration to life.

We worked together on the early ideas for Peer 2 Peer University (P2PU) – which Philipp continued to build into a successful non-profit organization (with Mark on the board). We tried for a year or two to start a School of Webcraft for budding web developers – which eventually led to Mozilla’s huge investment in web literacy and projects like Thimble. We co-facilitated an initial workshop and co-authored (with Erin Knight) the white paper that led to the creation of Open Badges, a project that we have both been working in different ways since then.

All these projects – and many more by thousands of others in the open education movement – have shown that the ideals we laid out in Cape Town can work. There is a lot to be proud of. But we have not made anything near to the progress that we’d dreamed of. Not even close.

Text books are still one of the most monopolized and impenetrable parts of the publishing world, second only to scientific journal publishing. Informal learning as an alternative to expensive formal education is only starting to gain ground and mostly in technical domains. And, despite all of the experiments in badges and other micro-credentials, the idea of open accreditation is still something that seems far away on the horizon.

The promise of open education is still real – but we have a long way to go and much work to do to fully unlock it.

Knowing we have work ahead, we were excited to join CPT+10, an effort to look back at the work of the last ten years, and point forward, by mapping out ten “action points” that the movement considers important for the next decade of our work. Composed of original Cape Town Declaration authors plus many new open education activists, the group released the CPT+10 list at UNESCO’s Open Educational Resources Conference earlier this week.

One of the reasons for articulating ten related but independent points is to allow different organizations and people to rally around specific points. The original values of the Cape Town Open Education Declaration still stand. CPT+10 offers inspiration for how we can build on them. As two people who care deeply about open education and are committed to continuing our work in this area, we’ve picked three issues that we are excited to focus on.

Empowering the Next Generation. Opening up education is clearly a long game. We need to invest more in using and promoting the ideas in Cape Town with people who are likely to teach and support others – pre-service teachers, grad students who will become professors, librarians who developing education programs for their communities. If we can focus our efforts here, it will pay off for decades.

Thinking Outside the Institution (Box). Over the last ten years we have spent a great deal of effort trying to get institutions to open up. But the biggest changes in how people learn seem to have happened elsewhere, outside formal education (and somewhat outside the open education movement even). A new generation of connected learners and educators is showing up on the Internet. And they need support, guidance, and recognition for their achievements. Now is the time to build institutions that work for them.

Copyright Reform for Education. Leading up to the release of CPT+10 there was considerable debate (including between the two of us) about including copyright reform, because it felt like a big departure from the movement’s focus on open content and practices. But we need to recognize that open learning happens most often with websites, videos, music and books drawn from across the internet. Teachers and learners find things online and use them to learn. If they do so in a classroom without getting permission from a publisher, they are most likely breaking the law. That is ridiculous. We need to change the law to include wide exceptions for educational use of content. And we have a chance to do that in Europe right now as the EU reviews its copyright framework.

While it will take time – and we are curious to see what CPT+20 will bring – it’s worth continuing to push on ideas like these. They have the potential to really shift how learning happens. Universities, school boards, foundations, ed tech companies, teachers, students, parents — all of us should putting our energy behind the idea of open education. The work isn’t always easy, and at times progress can feel slow. But as we have found through the years of collaboration it can also be fun and rewarding.

As friends and colleagues, we continue to work together on open education projects. Our current experiment is an Open Leadership Camp that we’re running with Mitchell Baker and Joi Ito. It brings together CEOs and EDs of top government agencies and non-profits to explore how we can apply open source thinking to solving big social problems.

This is important work and part of the bigger goal of using open education and pushing ‘open’ in general. However, the thing that has us coming back to this work time and time again is that we get to meet great people and work together to make the world a better place. Sharing is caring 😉

Philipp Schmidt is Director of the Learning Initiative at MIT Media Lab. Previously he co-founded Peer 2 Peer University, served on the board of the Open Courseware Consortium, and received Shuttleworth and Ashoka fellowships.

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