Open courseware: surely you’ve heard of it? Coursera, MIT, Stanford… No? Doesn’t ring any bells? Well, open courseware is a new revolution in how people of all ages and in all parts of the world can learn whatever they want, whenever they want. And most of it’s free! So far, you can’t actually obtain a free online degree, but educators are working on it, and it’s definitely coming. “Open” is the new standard for 21st century learning, and that’s why much of this semester we’re going to be talking about all sorts of “open” things in Honors English II.
We started off talking about open things with three TED talks (woot!) and a couple of other very interesting videos. TED talks by UN Admiral James Stavridis, Rice University professor Richard Baraniuk, and Kirby Ferguson (all available on YouTube or ted.com [although ted.com can be temperamental]), as well as Kirby Ferguson’s four-part series “Everything Is A Remix” on Vimeo.com. Adm. Stavridis spoke about open security for protecting people in, say, Afghanistan and Iran, Rich Baraniuk talked about his open textbooks that he and several other students and teachers from around the world had created, and Kirby Ferguson related stories about how creative people have always borrowed and stolen ideas from creative people who came before them.
As you can probably guess from the title, Kirby Ferguson believes that everything is a remix of everything else. This goes for education and learning too: papers about books, poems, scientific studies, or really anything that’s not an original idea is basically a remix of whatever it is that you’re writing a paper about. For instance, this blog post is a remixing of all seven videos that we watched the last two class days in English, and the last blog post I wrote is very much a remix of the Wikipedia article I used as a source. Even the massive project which you may remember I did last fall was a remix of all the historical things I knew or learned about Montgomery (and a couple of my favorite places to visit, even though they weren’t or aren’t necessarily historical; i.e. California Yogurt Kraze – not exactly a memorial). I sort of knew that people borrow from other people for all sorts of inventions and things, but until I watched these videos I had no idea how much they borrow. For instance, did you know that the Macintosh borrowed its Graphical User Interface from Xerox’s early PC? Or that Led Zeppelin stole (or borrowed without citation) many of their lyrics and melodies from old blues songs?
Putting things like books or music into the sphere of open works is something I’m fairly familiar with. I downloaded books from Gutenberg Press when I was about nine, and when I was 12 I read maybe a third of Fahrenheit 451 on Google Books. My brother, who obsessively plays Microsoft Train Simulator, talks almost incessantly about “free-ware” add-ons for that game. One of my friends releases all of his electronic music for free downloads online. I pretty much only download free apps to my iPod (because I’m too cheap to buy any XD). When I was about eight, I took an online writing course. But I’d never really thought of textbooks and actual college classes as being open. I’m really curious and excited to see how we’re going to incorporate our class into the world of open learning.
I really highly recommend all these videos, especially Kirby Ferguson, to anyone interested in how the world works nowadays for learning, security, and creativity. I’m personally very excited to see how my life will be changed because of the new world of openness, and the constant remixing that takes place in the lives of all human beings who actually absorb new material. I hope you’ll join me in my explorations!