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DIY Learning, Hacking and Accreditation

Some of these readings strongly echo our discussion from last Thursday – why are these novel approaches (in this case, open access university systems) being met with harsh resistance to accreditation?

In How Web-Savvy Edupunks Are Transforming American Higher Education, Kamenetz, quoting Jose Ferreira, writes, “The Internet disrupts any industry whose core product can be reduced to ones and zeros.” I think we’ve seen this everywhere in education – online supplementary materials for classrooms (like Blackboard), online research tools that have replaced encyclopedias (Wikipedia) and librarians (google, Wikipedia), and now online-only scholarship which we discussed last week.  The main problem we identified with the online-only journal model was its lack of accreditation within the majority of our fields. Open access journals that publish scholarly writing can be a major tool for us as academics to broaden our CVs or for students, non-academic learners, etc. to find resources to help them with research. However, this model of publishing is perceived as sub-par, or at the very least as non-competitive with more traditional journal formats. Despite the optimism about the Edupunk movement, there still seems to be the same concern over this lack of traditional accreditation.

Kamenetz discusses MIT’s ‘open content’ as a innovative frontrunner for a new model of higher education. However, what holds ‘open content’ back is its reception; though it contains courses from top universities, it is not affiliated with a traditional degree path – members who access course content do so without cost. Accreditation comes with a huge fee; those learners who seek higher education through these open access models will not receive the same credit for their work as their paying peers. This is extremely problematic; this type of university system could have a more positive and profound effect on the way that all future learners interact with information, and should be recognized as such.

Thomas Gokey argues that we need to ‘weaponize’ these open access schools and programs through “an autonomous accreditation agency based on mutual recognition.” I find such an approach inspiring, particularly because of last week’s discussion. If a lack traditional accreditation is the problem for these new approaches to learning, then why can’t we come up with a different model? Why can’t we based accreditation on something like mutual recognition?

I think the Wired piece gets at that very point – if self-motivated learners come together in a joint space to teach each other and learn from each other, why shouldn’t that count as a legitimate learning process? Is there any reason why these ‘students’ can’t come away from these ‘classes’ with a recognized skill set?

I think the Wired piece also touches upon another aspect of learning that Kamenetz mentions in her book – that of a social network of learners. While some learning is done in isolation, most people choose to participate in group learning environments (whether they be chatrooms, classrooms, workshops, coffeeshop meetups, etc.). This really seems to capture the social element of learning as something essential to the process. I definitely agree with this idea, and think it should be expanded beyond the traditional (acceptable) teacher/student relationship that dominates universities.

I really liked the way they Noisebridge system works – a very democratic approach to education. This echos some of my own research interests in philosophy. Traditional ‘private’ spaces take on a somewhat ‘public/political’ element when they educate individuals to be better citizens. How do they do this? By engaging in democratic processes (like giving grop members the freedom to pursue their own interests within the shared space, sharing and distributing resources, open access to resources and decision making, etc) outside of the traditional ‘public’ sphere of elections/policy making. Everyone can be and is an active participate, which is something that doesn’t always happen in the traditional classroom.

I think the open access model of education works off of some of these ideas – education should be accessible for all (not something that only the wealthy can afford), resources should be widely available or shared equally among learners (again, low-cost over high-cost), and learners should be able to choose how they will navigate their education rather than following a traditional path. Paving the way for new models of accreditation will allow these types of educational systems to better establish themselves, but I think a cautious approach is needed to avoid falling in line with traditional approaches to accreditation.

Posted in Motivations.

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  1. Michael Mandiberg (they/them) says

    How does Mozilla Badges fit into this scenario?

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