In an earlier post I promoted the idea of extending e-mail systems with personal content management functionality. Google seems to have taken a step further into this direction with a new functionality in Gmail allowing you to open an attached document as a Google document.
I have looked at Google docs before, but as things are, if there’s no need – there will be no use. Now with the new functionality allowing people not only to version track the document, but also to invite others to collaborate, an simple e-mail attachment becomes a Wiki!
The invitation engine in Google Docs is linked with the contacts in Gmail. Great too the possibility of exporting the doc as rtf, pdf, word doc, html, or openoffice doc. Plus, the possibility to publish to the Web or a Blog!
Pity just that geomapping does not work in a global society and they should make this user controlled. Because my access point is located in Austria I automatically get a (unwanted) German interface. Also the invitations to collaborate go out in German, which is not terribly useful in international collaboration. Still, all-in-all a great tool.
At the EduMedia 2007 Conference, Graham Attwell gave one of his typical thought-provoking presentations. He argued that he wanted to de-school society to enable real and effective life-long learning. While he explicitely said that he saw a role for teachers in his vision, he kept quiet about the role for institutions and educational policies.
I believe that while it is clear that (1) we need independent learners and independent life-long learning, and, (2) the current education system has serious flaws, it would be very destructive to society to leave learning entirely to self-arranged activities.
Self-motivated learning is led by interest and personal gain (market values). But learning also includes learning about your dislikes and opening new, unexpected doors. I remember the days of school when I was confronted with Chemistry lessons that I certainly would not have picked myself. If anything, it taught me that this was not a field I wanted to identify myself with, but that there were interesting bits and pieces in there. In order to facilitate quality decision making we have to also enable negative selection and this requires a certain insight and knowledge about the field – thus avoiding ill-informed decision making on the basis of prejudice. Can independent learning deliver this?
There is a further danger that a de-schooled society would be taken over by other “motivators for learning” i.e. employers enforcing their specific needs. Let us not forget that the education system for better or worse is also a protector of cultural identity and values outside the market forces!
The education system as we know it worked well for many centuries, but as all big systems do after a while, got petrified, inflexible and unresponsive. It is this that we need to change: we need to get it moving again and e-learning might be just the catalyst for getting us there!
Another conference on open content was reaching for the stars once again, this time in Salzburg, Austria. Presentations included the $11m OpenLearn venture of the OU, but also smaller enterprises like our very own OCW efforts at Klagenfurt University.
There is probably nothing I can say that has not been said before – the publicity has been and gone. The OU provide an impressive range of materials, etc. etc. However, what’s still largely misunderstood, is that the benefits are too high level and that this is a barrier to success. We need to bring them down to a realistic win-win situation or it’s not going to succeed beyond the individual project funding streams.
By “too high level” I mean the lovely vision of everyone having free access to OERs (open educational resources). This is a nice ideology, but most people’s daily jobs and university budgets are not focussed around feeding the world. Instead, fierce competition and constrained funding leads to cuts not give-aways. OERs cost money: creation, editorials, metadata, licences, storage & publication.
It would be all worth while the expense and efforts if sharing in the immediate neighborhood (e.g. between departments) were to bring the benefits closer to home, but that’s not happening and there is little indication that it will.