Thursday, August 13, 2009

Obama's US Graduation Initiative

President Obama has announced that the US will be spending an extra $12 billion on education initiatives in community colleges in the next ten years in an effort to make higher level qualifications accessible to an extra 5 million US citizens.

Part of the plan is to create entirely open online courses that anyone can take.
"Create a New Online Skills Laboratory: Online educational software has the potential to help students learn more in less time than they would with traditional classroom instruction alone. Interactive software can tailor instruction to individual students like human tutors do, while simulations and multimedia software offer experiential learning. Online instruction can also be a powerful tool for extending learning opportunities to rural areas or working adults who need to fit their coursework around families and jobs. New open online courses will create new routes for students to gain knowledge, skills and credentials. They will be developed by teams of experts in content knowledge, pedagogy, and technology and made available for modification, adaptation and sharing. The Departments of Defense, Education, and Labor will work together to make the courses freely available through one or more community colleges and the Defense Department’s distributed learning network, explore ways to award academic credit based upon achievement rather than class hours, and rigorously evaluate the results."
It's a nice idea but that single (if lengthy) paragraph worryingly conflates a lot of complex ideas - access to knowledge, access to formal education, credit for skills and experience already acquired, supported open learning at a distance, exploitation of technologies to facilitate education and learning, open content, sustainable open content business models, personal social and economic capacity to engage in formal education - and hints at that old chesnut of an underlying assumption that 'the computer automatically does education better faster and cheaper'. They need to disentangle and run with all of those things, play with the technologies and most importantly use those technologies for what they are good at rather than trying to shoehorn them into doing things they are not good at better faster and cheaper.

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