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Top Ed-Tech Trends of 2011

A Hack Education Project


This post first appeared on Hack Education on December 15, 2011. It's Number 9 in my Top 10 Ed-Tech Trends of 2011 Series.

When I made my 10 tech predictions for 2011 for RWW last year, I included the following:

6. Openly-licensed content - open education resources, open source, open data - will thrive, as more people question outmoded intellectual property laws. Nonetheless, there'll still be patent and copyright infringement lawsuits aplenty.

Looking back on 2011, I don't really feel like I can pat myself on the back about that prediction. I don't think I can cheer, "woohoo, I got it right." What I wrote was so very bland and vague. And while I can chronicle all sorts of interesting developments in openly licensed content this year, I'm not sure that verb I chose in December 2010 -- "thrive" -- is quite the right one for December 2011. Have we really seen intellectual property laws questioned this year (See: Andy Baio's article "No Copyright Intended")? Or are we seeing them re-inscribed (See: SOPA)?

That's not to say that 2011 hasn't been an important year for openly-licensed content, open educational resources, open source, open access. Indeed, it's been quite an interesting year for the adjective "open."

A retrospective:

JANUARY: The Departments of Labor and Education announced a $2 billion program to help build educational and career-training materials. The stipulation: the materials have to be licensed Creative Commons CC BY, making them available to be openly shared and remixed.

FEBRUARY: LMS upstart Instructure released the source code for Canvas, its learning management system software.

The first strategic meeting was held for Open Educational Resource University (OERu), a system under development by the OER Foundation to make it possible for students to gain academic credit by studying open educational resources.

MARCH: Federal Judge Denny Chin threw out the Google Books settlement, rejecting the deal that Google had made with the authors and publishers over its digitization efforts. (Not a ruling about openness per se, but definitely a ruling about ownership.)

APRIL: MIT OCW turned 10. (For an interesting read, check out the announcement back in 2001 in The New York Times.)

JUNE: Federal legislation was introduced in Brazil that would require that government funded educational projects be openly licensed. And the Sao Paolo Department of Education also mandated that all its educational content be released under the Creative Commons Attribution NonCommercial Share-Alike license.

JULY: Activist and early Reddit-er Aaron Swartz was indicted for downloading some 4 million JSTOR articles from the MIT library.

SEPTEMBER: JSTOR announced that it making all its early journal content freely available -- because, ya know, it's not copyrighted -- including all JSTOR articles published prior to 1923 in the U.S. and prior to 1870 elsewhere in the world. (Thanks Aaron Swartz!)

OCTOBER: Washington launched the Open Course Library which makes openly-licensed content available as a (potential) textbook replacement for 81 of the state's most popular college classes.

Pearson announced OpenClass, prompting me to use an Admiral Ackbar image in my story about the education company's "free and open" LMS.

Language in a House Appropriations Bill appeared to strip federal funding for OER in any Department of Labor materials. (See January. Marvel at lobbying efforts.)

LMS giant Blackboard announced its support for OER, making it possible for faculty to share their course materials. The company also said it was revising its policies so that institutions that do open up their course materials this way don't incur any additional licensing costs when people access the materials, even via webinars and the like.

NOVEMBER: Khan Academy (undeniably one of the biggest OER stories of the year) raised $15 million to expand its faculty/platform/facility.

DECEMBER: Chrome surpassed the open source browser Firefox in market share for the first time. (IE remains the world's most popular browser.)

Prooposed legislationin California will allocate $25 million to create the California Digital Open Source Library, a library of 50 free and openly-licensed college textbooks.

Reading through this list of events -- which I realize is just a very partial picture of everything that falls under the label "open" and which really does contain a good amount of "good news," I still can't help but feel that 2011 was sort of a mixed bag. I am sure that OER will be on lots of folks' lists of most important education trends of the year. And I don't mean to say that it isn't.

But I have this suspicion that some of the progress we've made towards "open" only exists at the surface or very fringes. I think we're in store for lots of conflict over what constitutes "open" -- how it's funded, how it's labeled and licensed, who mandates "what counts." I don't mean to complicate a post of 2011 trends with musings about 2012. In fact, I'd see some of these conflicts bubbling beneath the surface all year -- it's in the lawsuits and the funding battles and the business model and marketing plan re-writes.

What does it mean -- culturally, pedagogically, politically, financially -- that Stanford garners so much buzz for its free online courses while other MOOCs (Massively Open Online Courses) go unheralded? Will more universities offer opencourseware and demand open access? Will government funds help promote OER? Will these funding efforts subsidize open content from a closed set of "common" standards? Will "open" become the magical marketing term that giant education companies adopt? What happens to the open Web when companies like Facebook, Apple, and Amazon want to attract consumers to their Internet silos, and similarly what happens to open content when publishers must scramble to adapt their business models to a digital world? What does it mean -- culturally, technologically, philosophically -- for example, that Google's Chrome browser has now surpassed the open source browser Firefox for market share? Do folks really care if something is "open"?