Building a better web for all

Jim Groom has been on a tear lately, clearly articulating some of the fundamental principles of the web & open learning that many of us attempt to bring into practice.

His Open, Public Education Platforms #4life post last week resonated quite deeply with the educational technologist in me as Jim connects the role of EdTech with something much larger than simply being the person helping faculty shovel content into pre-built LMS templates. As Jim points out, as educational technologists, we can do so much more (emphasis mine);

I should be building communities that are premised upon openly sharing the work we’re doing as public institutions. I understand the need for the LMS, I just don’t understand its value. This field should be pushing to make the work faculty and students are doing part and parcel of the web in order to bridge the understanding for hundreds of thousands of people on the web.

Jim situates the open work being done at UMW within a larger societal context, and along the way has really asked a bigger question than what is the role of an EdTech in an institution, but what is the role of our public institutions within society? Is the role of our public educational institutions only to educate the few select who manage to meet the entrance requirements, or is there a larger,  much more fundamental role in educating ALL people, regardless of whether they have been “allowed” in?

What Jim writes about is making our work transparent and available to be found; to set up the conditions for curious people to serendipitously discover the knowledge that, for so long, has been hoarded behind our institutional walls.

It’s about just-in-timing learning where we can be the providers of information at the precise moment that someone who is curious about a topic is looking for them. It is about making our knowledge findable on the tools people use everyday to find information, like Google.

His latest post continues on the theme of opening the institution and brings in one of my favorite topics: authentic learning, and the role that open education has in creating authentic learning opportunities for students.  Jim talks about a history project where students are collaboratively working side by side with the faculty to develop a website of learning resources associated with the Taiping Civil War.

Think about it, fifteen newly decalred history majors drilling into a focused topic alongside a faculty member who’s guiding them in the collaborative construction of an intellectual resource designed specifcially for the web.

Now THAT is an open education resource! And what can be more motivating for a student than knowing the work you are doing might actually be used as a source by someone who happens to search for the Taiping Civil War in the future?

And all because a professor simply said, “Why not?” Why can’t UMW undergrads do this? Why can’t we work together to build a resource for a broader public rather than remain a slave to the individually produced research papers that two people will ever read? Why can’t a course have a domain that becomes the ongoing record of the thinking about a topic that anyone can access?

It reminds me of some of the more exciting open textbook projects I have seen, like Project Management for Instructional Designers  and the Chemwiki project at UC Davis, both of which began life as faculty led student created open projects. The Chemwiki project now generates over 2 million visitors each month, making it one of the most visited domains in the entire UC Davis online world.

Now, I can almost hear the drool dripping from the institutional marketing mouths right now, but this goes so much more deeper than providing Google juice to an institutional web presence. This is about providing authentic learning experiences for students to contribute to their chosen domain in real and meaningful ways while being guided by experts in the field; their instructor. The final result of which makes the open web a vastly better place by providing something of authority and substance in a web content world that is feeling more vacuous and hollow.

Higher education can make the web so much more than Buzzfeed, Perez Hilton and TMZ. We can contribute in ways that are much more real, authentic and valuable. But it all starts from the place of making the work we do open outside the confines of restricted publishing platforms. Because if it can’t be found, it doesn’t exist. And content that is locked away inside institutional content management systems is content that can’t be found except by a privileged few who have figured out how to jump the hoops needed to get access.


Clint Lalonde

Just a guy writing some stuff, mostly for me these days on this particular blog. For my EdTech/OpenEd stuff, check out