Monday, February 10, 2014

Reflections on Online Learning Experiences

This week in Higher Education in the Digital Age we were assigned the task of spending at least an hour in each of two online learning courses and then reflecting on these experiences using the following prompt:

Write a critical reflection of your 2 online learning experiences. What was engaging? What promoted learning? What was not engaging or did not promote learning? How would you improve one or both of these online learning environments?

The first of the online learning experiences was to complete at least one learning module from Hidden in Plain Sight, a course on historical thinking for high school history teachers.  For my second online learning experience, I used the first four modules from Codeacademy's JavaScript course.

I'm a huge fan of of online learning resources.  Even before I began the Open Book Project back in 1999, I had starting fantasizing that one day educational resources would be ubiquitous, high quality, interactive, and free. Both of the learning modules I looked at this week were indeed high quality and interactive. Neither one, however, was free (as in speech -- see Gratis vs. Libre).

At present you can use the Codeacademy materials without charge.  I'm using the JavaScript course with my Web Design and Development students this year. It is high quality, interactive, and allows students to move through the material at their own pace with continuous automated feedback.  Computer programming lends itself to automated feedback of this kind.  Still, since the materials are not Open Educational Resources, I can't make a copy of them, so I have to use them with caution, understanding that they could change or disappear without warning and I would have to immediately seek an alternative resource.

The Hidden in Plain Sight resource was far more restrictive.  You need to pay $40.00 to use the materials, which are unreachable without a user name and password.  It's a shame, too.  Hidden in Plain Sight makes history come alive in a way my high school history courses never did.  It is designed to help teachers learn to teach historical thinking as a core component of their history classes. I would venture to say that the authors of this high quality educational resource care about this approach to teaching history, and would like to spread the word about it, reaching as many high school history teachers as they possibly could.

That's where the contradiction comes in.  The requirement that this educational resource have an exchange value prevents it from reaching its full potential as a use value.  It has always rubbed me the wrong way to see large expenditures of human creativity and resources essentially spent making things worse.  Digital resources cost almost nothing to reproduce, so vast amounts of human energy are spent making it more difficult to access and reproduce them, so that they can be withheld from anyone who has not paid the required fee to access them.

It's a loosing battle in the long run, because this kind of information wants to be free. Until our society comes to terms with the outmoded ways it produces educational resources, however, we will be stuck with this contradiction. Until the day when the educational value of human development becomes more valued by our society than exchange value, we will continue to be held back by the efforts to turn knowledge into a commodity rather than a shared human resource.

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