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Back to the beginning: ds106 and open education

This week’s post is going to be a bit short, but I’m hoping to lay the groundwork for a return to where all this madness began: ds106! My initial proposal revolved around framing a discussion of open education and edtech with my experiences in that class, and while I’ve spent these first few weeks getting my bearings in an unfamiliar field, I need to start bringing things back around.

I’m dipping back into Spiro and Alexander’s NITLE paper about open education in the liberal arts this week. They’ve provided some excellent definitions of open education, and I think it might be useful to examine ds106 to see how it fits into those definitions, and how it is affected by being part of the curriculum at the University of Mary Washington.

Perhaps simplistically, I’m going to go through the list of attributes of open education identified by Spiro and Alexander and discuss how ds106 fits into their conceptualization of open ed initiatives.

● Open teaching

Perhaps not readily apparent in ds106, but certainly occurring nonetheless; you need go no further than the blogs maintained by Jim Groom or Alan Levine to discover the thought processes behind their teaching. Their feedback on student work via the blogs maintained for ds106, archives of weekly office hours (now The DS106 Show), and the weekly assignment list for the class bring a great deal of transparency to the teaching behind ds106.

● Open curricula

The ds106 Assignment Bank is one of my favorite examples of open curricula, in no small part because I helped expand it. One of my favorite, and for me most empowering, parts of ds106 was the opportunity to showcase what I’d learned by creating my own assignments for the class. Similarly, the first rule of ds106 was always touted as “there are no rules,” meaning that so long as a student was creatively demonstrating their understanding of the content being taught, they were free to go above, beyond, left, right, or sideways of given directions.

● Open learners

And how! Everything about ds106 is tailored to facilitating open learners. It’s one of ds106’s strongest points, in fact, that all the assignments students do is hosted on public blogs, and is therefore open to commentary and feedback from the internet at large as well as fellow students.

● Open educational resources (OER)

Much of ds106 depends upon open resources, although because the class focuses on storytelling not all of them are considered strictly “academic.” That said, work distributed with Creative Commons licensing and the ability to remix and mash up content is integral to the course, and all of ds106’s course content is freely available online.

● Open courseware

See above! All of ds106 is hosted on a freely accessible website, so anyone can see assignments, class resources, student work, and instructor commentary.

● Open learning tools

ds106 students are frequently told to use freeware such as GIMP and MPEG Streamclip, and open-source blogging platforms like WordPress, to complete their assignments. It’s never assumed that students have access to high-end software such as Adobe Photoshop. Instructors aim to keep the class as accessible as possible for as many students as possible by tracking down reliable programs and workarounds to help facilitate the creation of high-quality student projects without resorting to spending hundreds of dollars on hardware and software.

● Open courses

While ds106 certainly qualifies as an open course in the sense that anyone can join in, instructor feedback is given more frequently to students enrolled through various universities, and open online participants must motivate themselves to complete work without the looming threat of a deadline or grade. ds106 is also offered as part of the University of Mary Washington’s course catalog, and is likewise funded by the university. It wouldn’t exist at all without that university funding, which is a concept that seems like a given in most of the discussions of open courses I’ve seen, but I personally struggle with as a definition. Can a course truly be “open” if certain facets (such as, in the case of ds106, in-depth instructor feedback and grades) are restricted to students affiliated with the university funding the course? In the case of ds106, at least as I see it, one of the ways the course maintains its high quality is not only that university funding, but the fact that instructors can focus their feedback on a a smaller group of students rather than every single individual enrolled, even while disseminating the same overall content to a large audience. I still haven’t sorted out all of my thoughts on this matter, but I’ll definitely be discussing it in the coming weeks.

● Open assessment

See above. ds106 doesn’t offer any kind of assessment for students who are not enrolled at UMW (at least that’s the way UMW is running things—I can’t speak for other schools with similar courses), but it does follow the student as producer educational model. By the end of the course a diligent student could have easily pulled together a cohesive multimedia portfolio showcasing a great deal of work, which in many ways is even better than receiving a grade.

● Open universities

At the moment, ds106 is UMW’s only open course, so it’s far from qualifying as an open university.

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