User Generated Contexts are COOLE!

We need to address the current asymmetry in the type of technologies developed for education: we have many teaching technologies (LMS, electronic whiteboards, OER, etc.) and substantially less authentic learning technologies. Evidence of this asymmetry, amongst others, is to be found in the fragmentation of the learning landscape and infrastructure, something obvious when a pupil moves from one school to another or when studying at different institutions. How can we put an end to this fragmentation? How can we create a truly Open Education Space (OES)? By making learners the designers, builders and operators of their learning environments, the authors of their learning contexts!

While, thanks to the rise of knowledge media, we now have many practices based on / leading to user generated contents, what we now need are technologies and practices leading to user generated contexts. Why not build digital learning environments based on the MineCraft paradigm, i.e. using a technology accessible to everybody? Why should Moodle and the like be left in the hands of the teaching high priests? The issue is not just to make Moodle more ‘open’ or to give students authoring accounts (to mimic what their teachers do?) but to create new tools, with which they would be empowered to design their own learning environments.

Make learners the architects of their co-constructed learning environment(s)! This is a very different view from the individualistic PLE, or the course-focused MOOC (prefixed with either a ‘c’ or an ‘x’). A User Generated Context should be more like a co-designed / co-constructed / co-operated open learning environment,  a self-generated learning context — autopoiesis.

I will christen this new object: COOLE (CO-constructed Open Learning Environment). Probably what we need for the development of an Open Education Space (OES), beyond institutional boundaries.


How to make learning COOLE?

We could start defining COOLE by listing what should not be part of it. The very first things that should be crossed-out are multiple choice questions, fill-in the blanks and all the paraphernalia of computer-based testing that so many teachers love to find in teaching management systems like Moodle. Multiple-choice questions and computer testing are the ultimate un-COOLE things — if the objective is to create an authentic learning and authentic assessment (i.e. learning about learning) space. We do not need either a technical specification like IMS GLC Simple Sequencing the objective of which is to control “the flow of instruction through content according to the outcomes of a learner’s interactions with content” (link).

We could continue our definition by listing things that might be useful, while not being at the heart of COOLE. Open Educational Resources (OER) like open textbooks will probably find some use, but they will most likely represent an infinitesimal part of the whole COOLE learning resources. Why bother with pre-digested and too often sanitized content when you can have access to real literature, real science, real history, real philosophy, etc. Authentic Open Learning needs Open Knowledge, not OER! In a sense the expression Open Educational Resources could be interpreted as an oxymoron: it claims openness, yet it defines the borders of what is and what is not an educational resource. Is War and Peace an OER? Is Michel Houellebecq’s first book, The Map and the Territory, an OER? Is Alfie Kohn’s Punished By Rewards an OER? Shouldn’t we study books under the criterion that they have not been designed to teach, or not authored by or under the supervision of learning high priests — or because it is not free, according to the specious criteria set by some Guru of openness who equates open with gratis?

Open to the World!

Now that we have eliminated the testing paraphernalia as ultimate un-COOLE and OER as medium un-COOLE, what are we left with? Well, maybe something we might call the world? The world as an open learning space (OLS) or open education space (OES). In this space, every object, even a pebble on a beach is a potential learning object, an object open to many learnings: science, poetry, history, architecture, etc. Every object is a learning object, in the sense that it aggregates, condenses, connects many different sources of information, but also places, people, ideas. Even OERs might become learning objects to the students trying to understand why previous generations thought they needed something called OER to learn while they had the whole world at their feet (and fingertips)!

COOLE Practices and Technologies!

After having de-constructed teaching management systems and OERs, it is time to start reconstructing and imagining how COOLE would operate. Let us assume that while schools still exist, they are not run on the basis of age-groups and disciplines — this would be a minimum requirement to let learners co-create their own learning space. Let us assume that the society we live in has defined a number of key competencies everyone should master by the end of initial education, one of them being entrepreneurship:

Sense of initiative and entrepreneurship refers to an individual’s ability to turn ideas into action. It includes creativity, innovation and risk-taking, as well as the ability to plan and manage projects in order to achieve objectives. (Source: Key Competence Framework, European Commission)

The un-COOLE approach would be to look at and try to find a lesson plan, a game or a text-book on entrepreneurship — and jump of joy if the OER is SCORM-compatible so it will be integrated seamlessly into the school’s LMS. The COOLE approach is more about using digital technologies in a way that is consistent with the very essence of the goal to achieve: using COOLE as effective practice of entrepreneurship.

What technology do learners need to be COOLE? Wikis, blogs, calendars, tags, social networks are the first that come to mind. Using a blog/CMS like WordPress (or Drupal, Joomla etc.) and its many plugins (Buddypress among thousands of others) would allow students to be in charge of their learning platform, the whole platform, not just part of it. If some COOLE technologies already exist, we should be looking for super-COOLE ones! They will probably emerge from future progress in the field of the semantic web, identity, trust and big data.

To make learning really COOLE, we need to move away from the teaching/OER centric model towards the learning/OES centric model. How many centuries, auto-da-fé and casualties did it take before recognising that the universe is heliocentric, not geocentric? If the advent of COOLE takes that long, we should at least expect less casualties!

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