Setup for the Live Presentation:
Previous commitments did not allow me to take part in the live event, but the recordings were available. Distracting background sounds frequently marred the recording, possibly because the recording was from sounds from speakers rather than directly from the digital stream.
This session with David Wiley was more Question & Answer than a formal presentation. Given his vast and varied experience, it seemed more like George Siemens and Stephen Downes were picking his brain. As such, the content was wide ranging and hard to summarize. It was also quite different from Wiley’s initial blog post which highlighted the various phases of his career. On the Friday chat between the three facilitators, they commented how unusual it was for Wiley to speak of himself and his many accomplishments. Back to the Q & A….
The discussion had six main parts: The opening question dealt with was publishing. Wiley asserted that the current model with static and very expensive textbooks is not sustainable. As an alternative, he is involved in Flatworld Knowledge publishing which allows free downloading of open license textbooks. The business model is built on making money if a person wants a paper or audio copy or access supplementary material like flash cards. Those would not be free, but purchased using pricing similar to downloads from iTunes.
The second area discussed was Wiley’s encouragement for academics to “Do the right thing” by releasing their work using a open license. Does he think this is the only way things should be done? While he recognises that there are others models, he insisted that his approach must be understood as one right way to do things.
Downes asked if the FlatWord model was sustainable if paper purchases disappeared. Wiley responded by saying that if and when that happened, alternative models would need to be developed.
The fourth area highlighted Wiley’s “pragmatism over zeal” approach. Wiley argued that his textbook publishing approach was analogous to the open source versus free software debate. He came down on the side of the open source model which requires openness, but does not try to remove all commercial enterprises from participating in the field.
The fifth area dealt with the phenomenon of self-organization in the midst of chaos. He used Slashdot as an example of a site that was able to develop self-regulation which arose from within the users of the site in the face of a huge proportional of off topic posts to news stories.
The last area discussed was the use of analytics in the education process. Preliminary steps of analyzing the participation of individuals can highlight when a student needs help in an specific area. Wiley stressed that this is not the time place for some pre-programed response to kick in, but rather human intervention: Human involvement at exactly the point where help is needed. Thus analytics will make a more human approach to education possible. After all, it is human beings who are doing the learning, and human beings who need support. The goal of analytics is to figure areas that need help.
Certainly much more could be said than what is contained in the above summary because Wiley is involved in so many different initiatives. His passion to make educational materials more accessible is admirable and he does much more than simply theorize about it. I found the discussion of learning analytics the most fascinating. This is not an area in which I have specific expertise, but I appreciated his stress that the approach should not be seen or used as a replacement for human assistance, but as a method to more efficiently focus on areas of need. Obviously there is a lot of potential for such tools, but the training in how to use them will need to be developed so that needs can be met in a timely fashion. The data must be accessible and easily understandable if it is to be useful. But the potential to enhance learning is huge.