The Open Courseware Network is a project similar in some ways to the Open Source Everything Project but is focused on the development of an emerging educational concept and new technology supporting it which would have extremely significant ramifications for the rest of TMP and future civilization in general.
The Future of Education
A growing number of futurists today believe that higher education as we have known it for the past few centuries has reached its limits of practicality given the emerging social structure in a Post-Industrial age. Though the college and university may still be far from obsolete, its approach to education is not keeping up with the demands of a contemporary lifestyle that no longer strictly conforms to the old notion of a phase of life dedicated to education and little else. Higher education, particularly in technical areas and fields that appeal to the ‘edutainment’ market, has acquired an on-demand aspect that requires methods of asynchronous communication in tune with the complex schedules of working people. The traditional campus-centric classroom presentation scheme is simply not practical in many contexts anymore. A century of academic over-specialization has now created, in this new era of increasingly cross-discipline work and research, a growing demand for on-the-job education even among academics. Meanwhile the notion of commuting to specialized facilities for education in an age of rising fuel costs simply doesn’t make much sense and, though a sort of ‘working vacation’ approach to technical courses has been relatively successful for technical professionals, generally people cannot afford the costs in time of attending distant facilities. Thus there has emerged a trend in space/time asynchronous education; the development of educational methods, based usually on various electronic media, that allow the presentation of course material to be separated in time and space from the student. Key in this has been the evolution of ‘courseware’; digital media that encompasses a complete educational program, potentially including testing and evaluation.
Open Source Courseware
Courseware originally emerged as supplemental digital media intended to make certain aspects of education more convenient to the increasingly harried student through the virtues of digital network distribution. It also allowed for new asynchronous channels of communication between student and teacher. Most courseware today still has this supplemental role and will likely do so for some time. But as courseware has evolved –particularly with the introduction of Web based software platforms and services that encourage teachers to develop courseware in organized and standardized ways– there has emerged a perception of courseware as something much more than supplemental. It is starting to be seen as a form of portable self-contained media/software encompassing the entire educational program; study material, lectures/presentations, and evaluation all in one package. This is a notion that leap-frogs even ideas of digital textbooks as a replacement for their paper counterparts –a critical innovation in western nations where the costs and frequency of replacement for college texts have reached all-time highs. A number of companies are now moving ahead in courseware software development with the anticipation that this new courseware represents what may become the essential form of higher education in the digital age with this software gaining the quality benefits of open collaboration between many dispersed educators combined with the built-in intelligence to be able to evaluate a student’s learning independently and even adapt the nature of the course presentation to suit. One futurist think-tank, the DaVinci Institute, is now betting heavily on this concept and has proposed the eventual development of a global educational network based on the creation of a courseware platform which self-refines content through the interactive participation of educators –with royalty share in content- and feedback from students. They envision a sort of universal higher education catalog of courseware where any one subject becomes embodied by a single courseware program group-refined in wikipedia-like fashion by the contributing academics in its field. This would not only provide a single focus for the standard of education on a subject but also concatenates the civilization’s knowledge base in an organized manner while offering it to the world via the Internet.
The Open Courseware Network would be Foundation’s attempt to participate in this development. Its purpose would be to create both Open Source courseware platforms –an effort likely to be done in participation with efforts like those of the DaVinci Institute– and an on-line facility for the collectivization of courseware development by academics and other professionals in Foundation/TMP communities as well as the world at large. This would evolve into a kind of open Internet university which also has a promotional role for TMP as much of its courseware may relate to topics associated with TMP activities and a very practical role in providing a means of education for eventual TMP communities that, in their early development stages, would have limited space for conventional educational facilities. This will be particularly crucial for early space-based settlements.
Other courseware development efforts are based on a notion of a royalty distribution strategy to serve as an incentive for professionals working on courseware development, even if the courseware software itself may be Open Source in nature. This is a logical carryover from the theory of other Open Source software platforms. However, Foundation’s Open Courseware Network would begin with a lot of courseware development that is itself Open Source and volunteer in nature, its development based on community efforts or simply sponsored by communities to support their diverse educational needs or as a form of TMP promotion. So this program would need to cultivate a way to integrate within its network courseware development on both the for-profit and non-profit sides of the fence.