What Open Education Can Learn From Open Source

Short Form


While FLOSS projects aim to acquire contributors, Open Education projects look to acquire users. This talk will look at the current state of Open Education, FLOSS projects are successful in both open and functional contexts, and what FLOSS can do for open education.


Khan Academy, Flatworld Knowledge, and OpenCourseWare projects at various universities release internally created content as Open Educational Resources. These resources, once created, are thrown over the proverbial wall. Typically, the OER community promotes metrics of how many learners use our material. But true openness is measured by re-use.

FLOSS projects strive to acquire contributors. Wikipedia’s success has been created by its editors, and the manner of use. People all over the world not only take in Wikipedia’s content, but also edit it, share it, reuse it, and remix it. Content being taken out of its original form and modified by others is one way to judge success of an open project. Most OERs lack communities of users, communities of contributors, or communities of remixers.

Groups like P2PU and OpenStudy take or create OERs and organize study groups around them. The Open University of Catalonia ran a Facebook-based course designed around this idea of peer learning. These activities, while successful as peer-learning, do not carry the hallmarks of functioning open source projects.

A functioning open source project is exceptional in the way peer-mentorship works. People working on different aspects interact in sharing and mentorship capacities. One (temporary) example of successful peer-mentorship is from November, 2010, when the Debian mentor list has a 90% response rate to questions from newcomers aiming to join the project.

Ideas of peer-mentorship, collaboration, interaction,and even mailing lists are generally foreign to the OER world. In cases where where they exist, they do not constitute communities engaged in improving the project they are discussing beyond translation work.

By talking about the nature of OERs in an opinionated environment of open source participants – with senses of community, community building, and peer-mentorship – I aim to refine these concerns and shed light on how open education can improve.

Speaking experience

I have never given this talk before. I have, however, given a talk entitled "Nerd Legends and Keyboard Cowboys: Ethnographic Approaches in Nonfiction," covering a summer research project on personalities and community interaction of FLOSS hackers in the Boston area. I also gave a lightning talk on the history of 4chan trolling. Prior to this, I presented at the 2009 Association for Asian Studies conference on the nature of philosophical and metalinguistic intuitions, comparing those of rural Mongolian nomads to their city dwelling counterparts. I have no slides, but there is a video of me online making ice cream. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZsTgvOpl8j0.