Well, THAT headline sure got my attention. I have been becoming more aware of free-source or open-source educational missions but still find myself asking a laundry list of questions and not feeling closer to an answer.
For example, on the surface I love the idea of making college-level or college-based learning accessible to people who would not normally have access. In some ways, that is how I view the internet now – the world's largest information bank. I no longer use paper phone books or maps or dictionaries or encyclopedias. Why should I? It is all online now and so much more gratifying to a tech-lover like me to Google it than mess with paper stuff.
But, the other side of my brain goes But… But… But… Like, taken to its extreme, if everything becomes accessible online for free, why should students pay to come to our universities anymore? Today's increasingly tech-centered kids are born and raised Googling for information.
It's one thing for a single professor (take open education guru David Wylie, for example, http://davidwiley.org/) to decide to put his course materials online. It's another thing for an entire college to do so. At what point does the lever tip? At what point will brick and mortar universities start to become a thing of the past? Lots of questions shooting through my brain, very few answers.
I have been working with Penn State's online education division, the World Campus, for about a year now and am becoming more and more comfortable with the nuances and differences between teaching on ground and online. Some people say online education is a thing of the future, some say it won't last. I don't have answers for that one either, but I have been impressed with the passion, dedication, and rigor brought by the faculty I have encountered thus far. The online education environment is much different than I imagined and I understand how it is the perfect solution for some learners for a variety of reasons.
But then today I was alerted to the presence of an ENTIRE UNIVERSITY that is free and online and my brain exploded for a moment. What does this mean? What implications does it have for traditional schools… online schools…? Why wouldn't prospective students flock to this option instead of paying tens of thousands of dollars in tuition? Hmmm…
From the little I have gathered to date, it appears that the classes in the free university "use open-source technology, open course materials, e-learning methods and peer-to-peer teaching". Translated in my mind, that means no faculty. So perhaps having faculty or person-powered expertise in subject areas is still an area of need and demand favoring traditional on ground and online universities?
I expect some people could take the open source course materials, read/watch/listen/consume it and learn a lot. Personally, I am not one of those people. I need the interaction. I need to be able to push and pull and tug and mold the information I am learning in the presence of others. It is through this interpersonal contact that I gain the most. So maybe that is something else on ground and online universities can provide? After all, the peer-to-peer teaching advertised in the free university is only as good as the peers who are present.
All in all, though, I think I am open to the idea. My desire for opportunity and access for people outweighs my skepticism at this point. If nothing else, it will be an interesting experiment. Better still, it provides more than what they had before. So, we'll see. We shall see.
PR release about U.N. free online university: http://www.upi.com/Top_News/2009/05/20/UN-announces-first-free-e-university/UPI-74031242856666/