A Student’s Perspective on Open Education

Martin Tasker – Open Content Curator Intern

It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I am a massive nerd. I love finding things out; history, science, maths – you name it, I’ve probably spent far too much time reading about it. Two of my earliest memories were two very different types of encyclopaedia. The first was a traditional 500 page leviathan of a book, illustrated with beautiful watercolour pictures of everything from the depth of space to the internal combustion engine – the perfect children’s book of everything. By the time I had grown out of it, the pages were dog-eared and the spine of the cover was long lost and its bindings exposed, fascinating me still further as I tried to work out how it was held together.

It was the second type, however, that truly changed me. When I was five, my Dad acquired a second hand computer for us – our first. I loved it as a child. I messed about on MS Paint (such novelty!) and I played, often to destruction, the few early PC games that came with the computer. There was one CD-ROM I owned, however, that I cherished more than any other. Before I even knew what the internet was, I would spend hours trawling MS Encarta, taking in everything my young brain could. The articles were far too complicated for me to understand, but I would watch the video presentations again and again and again until I recite them word for word. Tornados, lightning, the solar system, quantum theory – even the Chernobyl disaster – all beautifully covered. But as happens to these things, my precious CD-ROM went walkabout, and was never seen again.

I went through much of the rest of my education simply reading books – often overly simplified or with out of date information. So you can imagine my delight when I stumbled across MIT’s OpenCourseWare. OCW allowed me to suddenly get the fix of up to date and challenging content I wanted, completely free. I would sit for hours watching lecture after lecture in both maths and physics, taking careful notes, replaying parts, trying to understand what was happening. I would do the readings in the notes they provided, answer and mark the problem sheets. I became semi-obsessed with completing as many of these courses as I could, and was soon scouring the internet looking for more of the same – something that Yale and a few others obliged.

To me this was everything I had and wanted more of as a child. I suddenly had not just a world of knowledge but a world of teaching at my fingertips. I could try out whatever I liked – no obligations, just curiosity. I could jump from subject to subject, and by God I did – from special relativity to the American Revolution.

And so when I came to make my choices at the end of school, I plumped for mathematical physics – something that by all rights should have been a bit of a leap in the dark (the gulf between high school and university is massive in both maths and physics), but for me was comfortingly familiar. Sitting in lecture halls taking notes was no different to the many hours I had spent watching the professors at MIT and Yale. Problem sheets came and went without too much of a hitch – I had seen them all before. Complex mathematical techniques came far easier to me – I had practice, after all. I can honestly say that without these open education resources, not only would I have had a far trickier time when I came to university, I may not even be here studying physics at all.

It was this that attracted me to the Open Content Curator Intern post. Open education has played such an integral part of my life so far, and has given me access to knowledge that would otherwise have been totally inaccessible to me. It has genuinely changed my life, and likely the lives of many others. This freedom of knowledge can allow us to tear down the barriers that hold people back from getting a world class education – be those barriers class, gender or race. Open education is the future, and I am both proud of my university for embracing it, and glad that I can contribute even in a small way. Because every resource we release could be a life changed. And that makes it all worth it.

—–

I am now nearly six weeks into my internship on the Open Resources team at EDE, and it’s going marvellously. After a slow start, we are starting to churn through a massive number of resources with a view to getting them shared on the internet extremely soon.

The main “project” of my internship is the sharing of Geoscience resources. MSci students in their final year are offered the opportunity to work with a local school to create a resource (usually lesson plans) to help with teaching. This results in a large catalogue of resources that, if copyright cleared and released under a Creative Commons license, can be released openly. This is in accordance with the University’s Open Education policy, which is to release as standard resources under CC licences. I have also been involved in clearing other resources that we have been sent for sharing, including Divinity resources.

At the start of this internship, I set myself three main personal development goals: improving my networking, decision making and cooperative skills. So far I have had ample opportunity to develop them through my time here. I have had to work cooperatively with multiple teams, sometimes crossing several departments and schools, (specifically in my case the Geoscience outreach team). This has involved communicating extremely minute details of copyright and proper licensing, which has been no easy task (especially given it is relatively new to me as well), but it seems to have been successful so far. This has also been excellent for my networking – I have met several people from several departments doing work that is very close to my own interest. I will aim to continue this throughout my time here. Finally, my decision making has also improved. To release resources under CC licenses, sometimes modifications have to be made. As there are so many modifications to be made, I must do these independently, so must use my decision making skills to make the changes without altering the author’s intent.

This internship has so far offered me an amazing opportunity, and has been both an illuminating and fun experience.

 

You can view some of the OERs that I’ve been working on as part of the internship:

 

*Image: fairy-tale-fantasy-deam-night, by cdd20 on Pixabay, CC0 – Public Domain

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