open source

Building an open source learning ecosystem: does anyone want to?

My Learning Ecosystem by ianguest, on FlickrLast week I saw a few tweets in between sessions whilst I was at the ASME annual scientific meeting (#ASMEASM2014) from the annual Blackboard World get together.  Over the weekend I read a few articles and this piece in Inside Higher Ed – The post-LMS LMS caught my eye.

IHE report that Chuck Severance, who’s Chair of the Sakai Project Board has commented that this year’s round of LMS/VLE vendors have been characterised by their lack of major announcements.

“I think we’re in a weird place right now in the marketplace — partly because there’s a lot of parity between the systems,” Severance said. “You can almost throw a dart at a dartboard and pick an LMS, and it won’t be that bad.”

He added, “Everyone is struggling to figure out what the next steps are.”

The article goes on to mention that the major LMS/VLE platforms are embracing interoperability standards and moving to the notion of a marketplace of apps and add-ons rather than trying to build clunky bloated tools into their platforms.  This leads us back to the notion of an online learning ecosystem which includes different tools that hopefully are all usable and do what’s actually needed.  The piece ends with Chuck Severance reminding us that the notion of a learning ecosystem was something that was talked about years ago in educational technology circles.

The idea of a learning ecosystem was a hot topic at ed-tech conferences years ago, Severance said, but instead “everything fell back to ‘let’s all stay inside our silos.’”

“Everyone wants to make proprietary ecosystems,” Severance said. “That’s not what a learning ecosystem is.”

How true – we’re still stuck in walled gardens and too often teachers are given a technology and told to use it rather than starting with what and how they want to teach and looking at what tools might best support and enhance what they’re trying to achieve.

Severance continues:

“Higher education needs to be present with real participation to ensure that the right things happen, and that it doesn’t just go to the quickest, dirtiest solution it can possibly be,” Severance said. “The sad thing is that if an open ecosystem does not get built, a closed ecosystem will. If the open-source people don’t stand up and actually get involved …, then we’ll just wait for the vendors to tell us how much it costs.”

Is there an appetite to develop this open learning ecosystem?  At first glance it would seem that in the current climate of cuts and reduced funding in HE in the UK that perhaps this isn’t achievable.  In times of plenty we seem to have seen lots of projects funded and technical solutions developed which haven’t been sustained and adopted by the wider community.  There are countless reasons for this, I have my own thoughts, but sometimes it’s when we have to be a bit more resourceful and creative that we can work together and come up with solutions that work.  The wider issue is whether HE in the UK buys into the open source ethos and I’m not sure it does in the way that other sectors have.
Are there others interested in working together to build an open learning ecosystem and can we make it happen?  Or is everyone past caring?  Back in March Joss Winn from Lincoln talked about hacking the University at the JISC Digifest.  In the medical and healthcare professions education field we’re now working on organising two hackday events, is there anything similar happening in HE more broadly?  Perhaps everyone’s happy with proprietary solutions?
Image Attribution
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  ianguest