The world is getting younger, in terms of young people that make up our 6.9 billion-person population. I’ve seen figures estimating that nearly 1/3 of the world’s population is under the age of 15. The number of youth who will be entering college or skills-training courses, and inherently producing the very content that will explain the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of their education, is growing. These assignments, papers, and projects, much of them digital at this point, absolutely need to be licensed openly and cataloged and stored in public repositories. These students will be doing the work; we may as well organize it. And make it sexy, too.
The structure for this open licensing and organization is in place, but there’s a lack of active participation by universities and other institutions that are building this learning content. I’m not talking about just making learners aware that there is a way they can license their work for free. What’s more important is to inform these future-world-leaders that their contribution to the ecosystem of Open Educational Resources is bigger than them. Progressive movements are what youth tend to promote on a large scale, and social media (which students use constantly) can build the network organically, quickly gaining steam with youth.
On my trip through Europe, I had the pleasure of speaking with college-age and young professionals from close to twenty different countries. Hailing from Singapore to Australia, Canada to South Africa, and all throughout Europe, each student I chatted with was either aware of and open to the idea of licensing their content, or was already doing it on a regular basis. All of them who had not done it yet were open to it, but didn’t know how to do it. A brief explanation, if needed, was all it took for these fantastic/optimistic/worldly students to be on board.
Access to OER
So students these days like their mobile devices. They’ve got an iPhone, Android, or other tablet that runs apps. What about making an app that allows youth (student or not) to quickly browse libraries of all open-licensed media sources? There are apps that let you browse Wikipedia, Flickr, and other repositories of free content, but not an app that utilizes all of the libraries of content together. A lot of this free media has been properly hash-tagged and keyworded, and a simple set of menus to easily search and grab this content could be developed.
What about a desktop browser plugin that integrates with Mendeley/Zotero and Google Docs that would allow students to easily license-and-submit their work? You could turn in assignments (in any number of media formats) and single-click export references to the OER that you used to used/remixed to produce your work. The Learning Resource Metadata Initative has released a schema for tagging education content, the framework which could be incorporated into web/apps access points. In short, you could make some pretty kick-ass apps for finding openly-licensed goods. Academic resources, and all sorts of creative media (music, video, design/art) would be used more often if it was at the fingertips of youth who are creating the most content. And I can tell you: they are willing to share.
Make it Sexy
Ok, so we can make it easy for students to use, remix, and submit content (in addition to original content). And personally, I think the idea of OER is sexy on it’s own. Yeah, total geek. But what about popularizing the idea of it? Students, more than any other population really appreciate the idea of having a say, some control over their future. There are some people working on various OER and Open Knowledge projects (OKFN, Mozilla, P2PU) who are improving the appeal of sharing and open stuffs. Why not involve more of these forward-thinkers into a network of peers that can coordinate multi-group events with the specific aim to get college-age students involved? There may already be some group that does what I just described, but if not, there should be one.
If connected through these groups, content creation in the informal learning spaces (outside of highly-structured education) could expand globally, too, hooking up creatives and forming collaboration with ease. Yes, social media is doing it to an extent, but avenues for the active exchange of OER are not obvious for much of the youth I’ve come across. Make it easy to access the network of content and people. Make the idea of it sexy. And guide the organization of content that builds the world’s knowledge.
Open Education “…is the simple and powerful idea that the world’s knowledge is a public good and that technology in general and the Worldwide Web in particular provide an extraordinary opportunity for everyone to share, use, and reuse knowledge.” —The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation