Opening up Education: Towards Affordable and Sustainable Solutions

Opening up Education: Towards Affordable and Sustainable Solutions

Tanja Urbančič (University of Nova Gorica, Slovenia & Jožef Stefan Institute, Slovenia) and Davor Orlič (Knowledge 4 All Foundation Ltd., UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8844-5.ch009
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The questions of affordability and sustainability in current educational systems gain importance, as they are expected to provide answers to new extensive challenges and increased needs of rapidly changing society, while facing severe limitations of resources. In this chapter we discuss how Open Education principles and practices might contribute to the solution of this problem. While they have already found their place and demonstrated their advantages in informal education, there is still a considerable potential in combining them with other practices and to gradually introduce them into more formal learning environments. More openness in formal learning could result in more transparency and consequently in more trust, in enhanced cooperation and new connections needed for affordability and sustainability of educational infrastructure, contents, solutions, pedagogical approaches and methodologies. We present the OpeningupSlovenia initiative as a nationwide framework aiming at fostering and enhancing this process.
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Development based on the imperative of growth as the prevailing model and criterion of success has its limits. Alternative ways enabling sustainability are needed. One of the inspirations mentioned sometimes in this context is our brain that also doesn't just inherently grow, but instead establishes more and more cognitive connections.

Can this principle be reflected also in education on a larger scale and recognized in some solutions at the level of educational models and systems? Can we see similarities within trends and principles such as student mobility, academic networking, collaborative research, inclusion of employers into design of study programs etc. in the context of increasing interconnectedness and openness in the search of effective solutions for new challenges? The needs of society are rapidly changing, many new subjects and ideas for study programs arise, yet the number of schools and study programs cannot be increased with no limits. A solution might lay in extended modularity and flexibility, establishing new connections and enabling more combinations beyond particular disciplines, institutions or countries, allowing for composition of study plans very much aligned with particular needs. This holds for society as well as for individuals. At both levels, education should be affordable and sustainable, and should be implemented in a combination of formal education with non-formal, life-long learning.

Involvement of Information and Communication Technologies in the process does not solve all the problems by itself, but it is crucial due to the role they may have for innovation and affordability. While sustainability is to a larger extent driven by the contents of education, ICTs contribute also in this direction by enabling more rational use of resources.

In September 2013 the European Commission published a communication to boost innovation and digital skills in schools and universities (European Commission, 2013). According to the statistics mentioned in this communication between 50% and 80% of students in EU countries never use digital textbooks, exercise software, broadcasts/podcasts, simulations or learning games. The statistics go further by saying that most teachers at primary and secondary level do not consider themselves as 'digitally confident' or able to teach digital skills effectively, and 70% would like more training in using ICTs. With this in mind, the Commission has decided to adopt new and innovative measures and tackle the problem by creating research and industrial opportunities for organisations, teachers and learners to innovate, increase the use, creation and collection of Open Educational Resources (OERs). Additionally a strong emphasis was presented in ensuring that educational materials produced with public funding are available to anyone, anywhere at any time and mostly for free, this is to be done via providing better ICT infrastructure and connectivity in schools.

When used in an open mode, ICTs are also the pathway towards transparency. We don’t claim that transparency based on open data, open software and open accessibility of resources is the best solution for all cases as clearly there are situations in which protection and control is needed. However, there are many cases is which there is no general agreement on where the borderline between transparency and protection should be. Also in the case of education, where the idea of open access to knowledge is becoming more and more accepted, there are different views on how this should be achieved and what “the right level of openness” is. Even in the same social and cultural context there can be different views, stemmed in different stakeholders’ interests and different ideas about the directions of future development. However, we claim that we should talk openly about openness, we should carefully research, develop, test and validate suggested solutions in order to support development towards improved education for all.

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