Presenting subject matter to learn online inside of a curriculum or one of its courses causes extra steps for learners and teachers go through to find that subject matter. The illustration* above of the network structure of the internet shows why this is true.
For example, in the network illustration above, the Frog Animal Bytes page from the San Diego Zoo could be the 4-dot webpage, with the green dot representing the upper left frog photo. Fortunately, in this case the excellent Animal Bytes pages each have their own urls, and can readily be found through searching online.
Because the Animal Bytes frog and Toad page is an independent url, it can be networked into curricula, independent study, science work and all sorts of subjects: jungles studies, flycatchers, comparative amphibians, and power jumpers, to name a few.
But when curriculum makers and aggregators make their users drill down into through curriculum to lecture to chapter before getting to the meat webpages of the subject matter, the benefits of open source and open content are pretty well lost. Putting curriculum materials online without making their knowledge assets findable on their own degrades the quality of learning. After all, can we suppose that curriculum makers will create a better frog page than the San Diego Zoo has? Yet if you look around at online curricula you will find that often (most often?) the folks who make the curricula do not connect out to the excellent resources like Animal Bytes. That needs to change.
The natural granularity of knowledge itself will inexorably cause order to emerge out of the now chaotic jumble of online education. Click “open” and “shut” in the above animation to see the simple network principle: When little pieces of what an institution or expert knows are released into the online networks of ideas, these pieces follow network laws attracting them to link as nodes into patterns of related ideas.
For the past dozen plus years, there have been many sorts of “edu” stuff put online: museum exhibits, the work of science labs, webpages by college professors and departments, lesson plans, curricula, and courses. Some of this has been OER (open educational resources). Much of it is proprietary — for sale — to schools and libraries and/or generated at universities for use within their ivy firewalls. Most of it has been bundled in big pieces, trapping the nodes of ideas in bundles of pedagogy. Like proprietary resources and the building in the animation, a course or curriculum or textbook is shut. The bits of knowledge cannot release into the open patterning network of subjects and ideas.
THE THIRD KEY IS FINDABILITY: If you are an expert in some area of knowledge, you can add to the commons by putting what you know online in open and unbundled webpages. But there is one more crucial step: You need to optimize those webpages so they are findable in the network. Here are a couple of articles I have written on this third principle:
The gushing spigots of money poured into analog educational materials manufacture a scarcity that belies the reality of 21st century learning resources. Billions alloted into the printed walled gardens of textbooks and digital walled gardens of for-pay school resources deepen economic woes — to say nothing of dumbing down kids because open online resources are long tail instead of bell curve, and are more and better.
Teaching and learning should now, and inevitably* will, use the open internet instead. An individual’s mobile internet browser will become the primary access to knowledge for each student and teacher. We should be working to make this happen soon. “Shame on us” when we do not do so.
The idea that “people will be more than willing to pay” is only correct in an environment of scarcity. But we’re past that point in the internet space, either wired or wireless. Any scarcity has to be contrived and manufactured, with things like walled gardens — which, of course, didn’t (and don’t) work.
Because education is “public” (socialism), the decisions about to paying are far removed from the minions spending the money. In this milieu, the scarcity myth endures, muddled up in politics, special interests, and bureaucracy. Billions are spent on educational resources that are or easily could be globally available for free online. Abraham Lincoln observed that you cannot fool all of the people all of the time. How long will taxpayers be willing to pay?
*Even if the taxpayers don’t catch on, this change is inevitable because network laws rule. Now that learning resources are emergent online, it is only a matter of time before they break down the garden walls of learning resources. What broke the grip of the music industry and is now going on with main stream media will happen soon to educational materials. It has already begun.
School standards and grades only require students to learn a small amount about a few subjects. Kids get diplomas for getting 75% (grade C) of the limited subject matter that state standards describe for each of the very few subjects studied in schools.
So how can a youngster get a chance to learn about an image like the one above? The fresh, new, comprehensive knowledge online is now magnitudes greater than the standardized fare in schools. The more money we dump into schools that settle for very little learning as they graduate kids, the more intrenched underclasses become.
Two streams of water collide with remarkable results. At the top, under the influence of pressure and gravity, the streams squirt out into a flat sheet, while surface tension draws the fluid into strands and then globes as it falls. “We often associate complex behaviors—the spontaneous formation of intricate patterns, unexpected changes over time—with systems that are themselves complicated,” Whitesides writes. “Even the simplest systems have the potential to show behaviors that confound us.”
Sharing open educational resources (OER) holds enormous potential for saving educational costs. After all, much of what professors teach and students learn is largely similar everywhere. Why not source online knowledge from crowds of open resources instead of having each campus create its own firewalled virtual web resources for subjects studied on myriad campuses? For essentially every/any subject there are already excellent online open webpages; the GoldenSwamp Study Subject Sampler connects to some examples.
. . . So, in a few weeks, the university will try something different: letting computer users answer one another’s questions.
Information-technology people call this “crowdsourcing,” a buzzword that puts a positive spin on leaving the job of writing and editing to volunteers rather than hired experts. The idea is to open a Web site where students and professors can post their IT woes and share their solutions. College officials tell me they hope it will grow into a self-service support center for colleges nationwide—a kind of Wikipedia for campus computer problems.
After all, professors and students everywhere suffer from the same digital headaches: glitches in Blackboard’s online grade book, corrupted Microsoft Word files on the day a term paper is due, problems checking college e-mail messages on their iPhones, and the like . . . .
What if there are only two key ideas we need to push to cause 21st century education to rise like a gorgeous young phoenix from the ashes of today’s crumbling learning? I am talking globally — and I think the interaction of these two ideas are the key mechanism that will soon have that phoenix rising:
1. Handschooling: Getting an individual mobile device with wireless broadband browsing to every youngster, so that each of them can connect to:
2. The golden swamp: The aspect of the internet where what is known by humankind has nestled into the open online network forming a self-vetting ecosystem that allows everyone to learn from the same virtual page.
Here is a new section of GoldenSwamp.com, where I am beginning to elaborate these and other points: IDEAS changing learning. Dumping millions more on failing schools that perpetuate the underclasses is not the way to go. New ideas are about to change everything for the better, liberating the individual minds of the young generation.