The new homeschool

By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  August 31, 2010

P2PU is just one example in a diverse group of "wiki-universities" on the Web. Indeed, one of the looming tasks within the open-education movement is to find some way to organize all these entities; if people are going to chart their own educational courses, they at least need some stars by which to navigate.

OPEN TEXTBOOK RESOURCES FOR COLLEGES AND PROFESSORS.

While independent study is a critical component of the open-courseware movement, its most immediate application is in existing brick-and-mortar classrooms. When Kamenetz refers to "techno-hybridization," she's talking about traditional universities embracing open-learning tools to supplement traditional degree programs. (Here, too, the distinction between open-educational resources, which rely heavily on online innovations, and for-profit online universities, where academic rigor may not always be in line with tuition costs, becomes clear.)

She thinks community colleges, especially, have a lot to gain from these innovations, and so does Judy Baker, dean of technology and innovation at Foothill College in California and founder of the Community College Consortium of Open Education Resources, which helps connect community colleges with open textbooks and other learning materials.

"Open licensing for educational content provides a means for faculty to share, remix and improve the content, and for faculty to take greater control over localizing the content and making it relevant," Baker writes in an e-mail. "Regaining this control and providing fresh educational experiences is critical to the future of community colleges. In the same way that newspapers and the music industry slumbered while the times changed, the community college community is faced with a direct challenge. In a world where you can just download the instruction that you want, why do students need an expensive college experience if all they need is the content?"

Representatives from more than 10 New England community colleges have expressed interest in the CCCOER (including Southern Maine Community College, according to director Jacky Hood).

Paul Charpentier, assistant dean of academic affairs at SMCC, says professors are "increasingly using resources that are out on the web that are freely available." He cites the Khan Academy (khanacademy.org), a non-profit educational video library that offers short videos and exercises on myriad math and science subjects, as one popular choice among SMCC professors.

In addition to expanding the intellectual pool, open courseware can save students significant amounts of money. That's good, both at community colleges (whose matriculation lists account for 47 percent of students enrolled in public institutions, according to the US Department of Education) and at universities that can't seem to keep their tuition from skyrocketing.

"Rather than layering new technologies as bells and whistles onto existing classes, or adding a free textbook to a traditional lecture course, courses need to be completely redesigned using information technology strategically in order to save significant money and improve outcomes at the same time," Kamenetz writes.

Hybrid learning is also taking place at the University of Southern Maine, which offered 441 fully online or blended classes between the fall of 2009 and the summer of 2010 in response to both student and faculty interest.

But it's unclear whether or not these are saving the institution any money. "Probably not," says AnnMarie Johnson, director of USM's Center for Technology Enhanced Learning — the cost of the software and tech staffers might equal the cost of a face-to-face course. "We haven't done a financial analysis of that."

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