An intriguing editorial regarding Open Source educational materials appeared recently in the Chronicle of Higher Education; it discussed a Labor-Education proposal:

“Community colleges that compete for federal money to serve students online will be obliged to make those materials…available to everyone in the world, free . . . [as] . . . open educational resources, or OER’s.”

(Read the article here: The Quiet Revolution in Open Learning.)

Putting aside whether this particular event will come to pass, the idea is part of a larger debate about the very nature of open-source learning materials and the problems such OER’s present with regards to quality control, course credits, and credentials.

It also raises questions about teachers of the future: will instructors no longer be so necessary, and will their fate be similar to that of clerical workers losing jobs to increasingly automated business processes?  Also, is it possible for education to be a self-guided endeavor?  In the comments section of the article, you’ll see a small glimpse of this heated debate.

Now, I believe it’s quite obviously possible to learn on your own — in fact, studying and learning are pretty solitary tasks and always have been — but yes, it’s also true that at some point, we must have human guidance (i.e., good teachers!) in order to fully appreciate the resources we find.  There’s the issue of Wikipedia and information literacy, for instance (in short, one can’t believe everything one reads on the internet); and the simple fact that the person reading and studying must have the proper muscles, the proper critical thinking skills, to process all that material.

And then there’s willpower and work ethic (things nothing on the internet, so far as I know, can create in us).  I don’t agree with the title of a video seminar from a few years back, “Where there’s a will, there’s an A,” as I don’t think effort, much less desire, is necessarily equivalent to outcome; but on the other hand, without a will, there’s very little chance of an A (at least, an A in a class even remotely worthwhile).  Also, without hard work, real learning will not happen.

That’s the beauty of teaching yourself: it’s impossible to do it passively, just as it’s impossible to bake your own bread or build your own shed passively.

You’re problem solving and being creative just by seeking out ways to go above and beyond your classroom education.  So I say go forth!  And by the way, in future posts, I’ll share some existing open source materials for your perusal.

Image via / seemann