A week after the publication of Opening up Education, open education specialists from around Europe gathered at the ‘Opening up Education’ seminar organized by Nether to discuss this document for the first time. What did stick after a year of discussing MOOCS and Open Educational Resources?
Ana Carla Pereira, Head of the Unit Skills and Qualifications Strategies at the European Commission says: “MOOCs determine the entire picture of what is going on in open education, but they are just a small part of this discussion. They are a symptom, a technological mean that can alleviate the costs of education.”
UNESCO’s open education expert Abel Caine sees a lot of confusion in the discussion on Open Education, the definition of Open Educational Resources hasn’t landed yet everywhere. Open Educational Resources (OER) are freely accessible, usually openly licensed documents and media that are useful for teaching and learning. “MOOCs are not necessarily Open Educational Resources and vice versa,” Caine clarifies.
Pre-industrial primitive way of learning
According to Pereira, universities in the EU currently offer 276 MOOCs, a number questioned by Abel Caine from the UNESCO and Dirk van Damme from the OECD, since there are globally only around 400 MOOCs. It is hard to believe that the majority of MOOCs is offered outside the ‘Big Three’, Coursera, edX and Udacity. This indicates that still several definition of a ‘MOOC’ exist next to each other. Spain for example claims to be offering 79 MOOCs indicating a slightly broader definition than the US.
Not everybody is happy with the rise of the MOOCs, among them Dirk van Damme. “I am concerned about this linear vision on learning. In this ‘new’ vision of learning the learner is no longer central, in that sense MOOCs are a kind of pre-industrial primitive way of learning. A teacher that stands in front of a large group of passive learners, I thought we were beyond that. This feels like a step back.”
Digitally confident teachers needed
“The picture of Europe doesn’t look very rosy”, Pereira said. In Europe there is a large skills gap. There are over 900.000 vacancies for digital jobs while large numbers, of especially young Europeans, are unemployed. According to Pereira digitally non-confident teachers are the largest bottleneck. “Only 20 to 25 percent of European students are taught by digitally confident teachers. How can they excel digitally when their education lags behind?”
Not only teachers lag behind in this digital age MP Marietje Schaake explains: “I have colleagues that are very skeptical about the internet as a whole and some of them don’t even know the difference between a server and a waiter.”
OER as game changer
However, Fred Mulder from UNESCO sees great potential for Open Education. “It’s a state’s obligation to promote and secure accessibility, quality and efficiency of its education. Normally an investment in one of these leads to lesser results in the other two. A higher quality for example results in less accessibility and less efficiency.” Open Educational resources can boost all three at the same time.
“Accessibility is easy, it can be increased by making text books and other learning materials available online. Quality can be increased by involving many experts and users in various roles. Finally, efficiency can be stimulated by making the replication of other’s work superfluous. It’s no longer necessary to develop seven different algebra courses.”
Entrepreneurial skills are key
What will the future of learning look like in Europe? A lot of people think, or fear, that universities from the US and Asia are going to be a lot more successful than its European peers. “The US doesn’t only lead in MOOCs, but in other educational innovation as well’, Dirk van Damme explained.
However better times might be upon Europe. “There is a shift from American education systems to Europe. The idea that European education is in crisis is wrong. It is also wrong to think that Asia is here yet. The future of higher education in the EU is bright, but they miss the entrepreneurial skills US universities have”, Van Damme concluded.
Make it mobile
In order to secure this potentially bright future and make its content accessible beyond Europe, some adaptations have to be made to the Opening up Education proposal, says Abel Caine. “In most developing countries young people have no idea about pc’s, they only use mobile devices to access the internet. Therefore it is of utmost importance that all materials will be in HTML5 and thus accessible for mobiles.”
“It is also important to include appstores as partners to distribute the created educational resources around the globe”, Caine continues. “To make it truly accessible the high prices for international data roaming should also be limited.” The OECD ex pert also has some advice beyond the used technology. “There is currently little focus on students and teachers with disabilities, people from rural communities and people in very challenging circumstances like immigrants and refugees.”
Also in Europe, digital and open education could make teaching more resilient. “What happens when your school is not there, like during the recent floods in Southern Germany? Now they needed to close the school for two weeks, with Open Education those children could have been taught online at home.” Abel Cain concludes, the European Commission makes brilliant stuff for Europe, but I sincerely hope that it is not only for Europe. We need to establish how it can be sold and promoted to the outside world and how can it help developing countries. That is important.”