Open Education is about Student Control

Lately, when people talk about “open education” they seem to be thinking mostly about the ease with which students enter an online course. MOOCs are generally free and easy to join. In this sense, they are certainly open and this kind of openness can be an important way to allow access to education opportunities to people who don’t have money or live in place without a strong educational infrastructure.

Open can also refer to the ease with which a student can interact with the course learning environment in order to carry resources in and out. The ability to access learning resources outside of the course management system is a pretty big deal.

I spend a lot of time researching and supporting the development of online learning at my college. Recently, I have been coming to this work as a student. One of the things I admire about Chuck Severance’s Internet History, Security and History MOOC is the ease with which I can download videos, export calendars to my mobile device and track conversations in Twitter.

Every video lecture resides within the course management system but is also published on YouTube and available for easy MP4 download for offline viewing. This is a strong consideration for users who may not be able to watch the lecture videos while online. The user has the option of where and how they want to engage with the lecture portion of the class. I must admit the download option worked great for my laptop but I haven’t taken the time to shift them to my iPad for viewing. The in-course streaming hasn’t been seemless due to inordinate buffering. YouTube viewing has been my favorite option. It works well.

I understand that the native Coursera-hosted video version has additional content like embedded, interactive quizzes. I haven’t seen those yet so I will reserve judgement as to whether the trade is worthwhile. The point is I have several options and can choose the one that best suits my need.

I also like being able to export the course calender into a Google calendar which I can then carry on my mobile device. There is also an iCal option for Mac users to synchronize with their device calendars. This isn’t a huge deal for this course since the calendar is pretty spare right now, but if I were a student managing several courses, I would definitely want to carry everything with me in one place.

A few days ago I wrote about my first experience with the MOOC discussion boards. The introduction board was the heaviest use since most students are posting to that board. The other boards have less traffic and, so far, are easier to monitor. That said, class conversation isn’t limited only to native discussion boards. The class chat also happens across Twitter, Facebook and GooglePlus. Given the scale, the class conversation can spread across three social platforms without much trouble. Twitter is the highest use channel and the only one I really watch at all. Again, I have choices.

This brings me to my main realization. The current course management system (CMS) at my college is designed as an environment where students visit to discover, access and use course materials, lectures and supplementary learning resources. Students who want to send a message login to the CMS. Students who want to check their class schedule login to the CMS. Students who want to watch lecture or do class readings or make notes login into the CMS. Everything is contained in the CMS and nothing really comes out. The student goes there for everything.

I know part of this is instructional design, but the default condition is to use the CMS as a destination and/or storehouse. Instructors who want their students to take resources outside of the classroom figure out hacks.

I know really good students who use this system. They sometimes carry resources, schedules and materials out in Google docs to ensure that they can access and organize those resources in the way they want, when they want without having to be online and at a computer screen. There has to be a better way.

Mobile-friendly learning design is no longer optional for online learning.

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