Open Education – Part 2: Matters of Equity

I love the access I have to quality on demand learning opportunities along with the community of learners that come along with these opportunities. To think that just a scant 5 – 10 years ago, I would have had to pay some serious money to take the face to face version of these courses leaves me only to marvel at the advances in technology that has brought the open learning revolution to my dining room table.

It is an undeniable truth that Open Learning or Open Education as some like to call it, is heavily dependant on technology. Although Open Education has been around for decades, it is only recently that Open Learning has become an on demand experience. Open access to amazing learning resources has become so prevalent, even us run of the mill classroom teachers are using open access to support their instructional practice. For the schools where the technology works well enough, it makes for a resource rich learning environment

Unfortunately,  regardless of how great technology has become at delivering everything and anything you ever wanted to know, there are still issues, especially in an institutional setting. Within the school setting we often find that our demand for open learning resources, far outstrips the ability of the technology to deliver. Whether it be bandwidth issues, hardware issues or compatibility issues, the infrastructure fails us just as we are about to share these amazing resources with our students.

Unfortunately, not only can deficiencies in technology be frustrating, they can be costly to resolve. The question then becomes, if we are going to move to technology dependant open access resources, who should pick up the tab for the technology that delivers it? and increasingly, this answer has become the end user.

Keeping up with the latest demands of the information age is costly these days and school budgets are not getting any larger. What we are now seeing is that school districts are beginning to eye BYOD programs as a way to download technology costs to the end user (the student), saving a bundle in the process but it brings up a very serious question. The question of equity.

It is one thing if someone is utilizing Open Education resources to satisfy a personal interest in their spare time while sitting at their dining room table. It is an entirely different thing if this kind of open access becomes a standard method of delivery, within our public education system. The cost to access these resources would become a significant issue for many school districts the families and as a result equity of access becomes a significant issue around Open Education.

It comes down the definition of what Open Learning / Education has traditionally been.

Activities that either enhance learning opportunities within formal education systems or broaden learning opportunities beyond formal education systems.[1]

Even though Open Education has come a long way in recent years, we cannot become dependant on the Open Education model for teaching in our public school systems. Open Education is a great supplement to the academic foundation we provide our children or as a means to pursue a personal interest but if we cannot guarantee equitable access to all within our public education system, Open Education should continue to be a fringe education system.

 

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