Emergent patterns in nature and society

Topic 2: Open Learning – sharing and openness

Sharing and openness

One of the features that attracts me to open online learning is the democratisation of knowledge. Science and scientific knowledge is one of the main achievements that makes us humans: from the invention of fire to the development of vaccines. Knowledge is a form of power that cannot be taken, once you know something no one can force you to unlearn it. By encouraging open education, we are empowering people to be better, but also to scrutinise, criticise and improve what others have done. But it begs the question of how to be open or what practices are out there for practicing open education?

The first thing that comes to mind are massive online open courses or MOOCs. They have revolutionised education by using technology and reach out to many more people that traditional classroom based courses. There are however some caveats. Learning occurs in the interaction with peers and teachers, through discussions, questions and exercises. Online platforms are good for putting online lectures available to many people, but are more restricted at recreating the wealth of social interactions that a real classroom or lab can offer. Although some MOOCs do offer group work and mentoring by teaching assistants, the content and platforms are not completely open. Most MOOCs are run by companies whose interest include making profit. Courses are open only for a limited period of time and by subscription, they can be free if one does not opt for a certificate, but they are not free all the time so students can follow at their pace or convenience.

But MOOCs are the product of companies like Coursera or EdX. They have state-of-the-art resources to make materials available, make use of interactivity, language translation, or other features. How does one practice open learning if your are a high school teacher or a lecturer at a university? What if you don’t have all the time or resources that companies do, but want to practice some of that openness in your classes?

That got me thinking on content types and looking for examples of teachers sharing materials. I found useful and inspiring, for example, the recorded lectures of the non-linear dynamics and chaos class by Steven Strogatz. He is a famous mathematician and excellent communicator on the topic who has authored several non-scientific books, columns on the New York Times, as well as the Joy of X podcast.

I also found a series of online materials for a Bayesian statistics class (on twitter). The author has the content open and is happy to get feedback from the larger community on how to improve it. As an R programmer myself, I find useful that many books and tutorials are available online, free, and often develop with the input of people who use it and test it as it is written. Examples of these resources I often use include:

Inspired by these people I started collecting all my teaching materials under my website and make it available when possible for students or my future self to revisit, correct and improve. I still need to add creative commons licences to it, and perhaps store the code to create them on a clean repo with a clear open licence. I got inspired by the stats course on developing a website later on if I’m leading courses. I also like how Strogatz uses video, or for example the math classes in the Khan Academy walk students through demonstrations. I’ll need to think more carefully how to create such type of content in an engaging way. For now here I collected some resources for inspiration.

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