Update: I’ve revised in response to comments below through 12/17. Thanks, everyone!!

I am liveblogging the manuscript process of writing Learning Freedom and the Web: The Book. Previous posts here and here. Your comments and editing suggestions are welcome, nay, encouraged, nay, begged for. You can also find a directly editable version of this text at this Etherpad.

Barcelona, Fall 2010:
Two powerful vectors of change converge in a public square. Although the forces are unpredictable, and many of the outcomes of their convergence will be unintended, this experiment is not entirely uncontrolled. Like Doc and Marty McFly in Hill Valley, the team has calculated the likely conditions, wired in all the right connections. When lightning strikes, we’ll be ready.

The first vector rumbles like a seismic wave from the basements of the ivory tower and the schoolhouse down your block. The demand for access to both existing and new and better models of learning is rising as uncontrollably as the average temperature throughout the globe. The traditional educational ecosystem is edging toward collapse. Fifty million university students in 2000 will grow to 250 million by 2025, and the graph of educational costs is a hockey stick–headed straight up. Four hundred million children around the world have no access to school at all. No country in the world has a plan to fix this.

Meanwhile, informal learning–the kind we do all day every day, as long as our eyes are open and we’re not in school–is going through an unprecedented Cambrian explosion. “How to” is one of the top searches on Google. YouTube hosts millions of videos that can teach you to deliver a baby or solve a Rubik’s cube. An entire generation of Web geeks is functioning more or less self-taught, because traditional curricula can’t keep up with the skills they need.

Informal learning really glows with possibility when it meets hardcore learning materials.
For the past ten years, the Open Educational Resources (OER) movement has released thousands of entire courses from pre-K to PhD–lectures, exams, serious games, and everything in between–that can be freely shared under licenses like Creative Commons. Free textbooks are a potent gateway drug: OER already has support from tens of foundations, hundreds of schools and dozens of governments. Obama’s Department of Education has thrown its weight behind the cause of open licensing all educational content created with government funds.

Now, innovators are found thick on the ground both within and outside the academy. Open learning and open courseware couldn’t exist without the network of passionate, committed educators employed in traditional institutions, like Davidson and Wiley, for two.

Yet even as the ground shifts under its feet, formal education as a whole has its head stuck in the sand. There’s a little debate going: Do today’s prevailing schooling models owe more to the monks of the 1400s or the bureaucrats of the industrial revolution?

The problem is ancient, says David Wiley, professor at Brigham Young University and one of the godfathers of open educational content. “About 500 years ago the primary mode of teaching in the university was to come in with blank sheets of paper and listen to the professor recite from a manuscript so you could make your own copy of the book,” he told the crowd on Drumbeat Festival’s opening night. “There was an opportunity 500 years ago with the invention of the press to radically change education. But that didn’t happen. The lecture is still the primary model. Now we have the birth of the Internet. If we only get these opportunities twice a millennium we should try to use them.”

Cathy Davidson of Duke University, nominated to the National Council on the Humanities, and a proponent of storming the academy from within, focused on a different moment of stuckness in her electric Drumbeat keynote. “Virtually every feature of traditional formal education was created between 1850 and 1919 to support the Industrial Age. The whole basis of assessment is the standard deviation, the invention of Francis Galton! A eugenicist who believed the English poor should be sterilized!  We’re stuck with Henry Ford’s assembly line from kindergarten through grad school! But our world has changed! With the Internet we don’t need the same kind of hierarchical structures.”

The diagnosis is different, but the prescription is the same. Both Davidson’s and Wiley’s accounts point to the second vector.

Arcing over the hilltops: It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a lizard! It’s the ongoing creation of the open web!

Learning, Freedom and the Web is the theme of the first Mozilla Drumbeat Festival. Mozilla Drumbeat is “a series of practical projects and local events that gather smart, creative people around big ideas, solving problems and building the open web.”

Mozilla is a giant nonprofit open source software project. Together, thousands of people, employees but mostly volunteers, create Firefox, the number two web browser by market share, used by 400 million people worldwide. This is open source–a new way under the sun of organizing creative work with broad participation, all enabled by transparency. And in its maturity, a movement has grown out of this work, a worldwide alliance of people dedicated to keeping a part of the web transparent, held in common, and freely remixable by individuals. Oh yeah—and awesome.

Mitchell Baker, Mozilla’s founder and chief lizard wrangler, never takes a stage without thanking the volunteers that make it all possible. As she explained onstage in Barcelona, “Mozilla is about trying to build a part of the web that allows individuals to move from consumption to creation. We’re nonprofit not because it’s easy but because it represents what we’re trying to do. The Internet is so important that we believe that part of it should be a public asset.”

Their successes led Mozillians to ask, what else can openness do?And the battles they were constantly engaged in to protect the cause of Internet openness led them to ask: Beyond the realm of hackers, programmers and developers, who are our natural allies? Who else believes in openness, innovation, sharing, democracy, participation by all? Who can be convinced to fight for it?

There are many possible answers to that question: journalists, artists, filmmakers, political activists. But the decision to start the Drumbeat by rallying the avant-garde of teachers and learners was by no means arbitrary. The two groups have two important shared values and two shared tasks before them. You could call them the Four Freedoms.

  1. Freedom of Speech: The Internet transforms how we connect and share information; these are the defining tasks of education.
  2. Freedom of the Commons: Both the open web and education must balance their public mission with market forces.
  3. Freedom to Build: The architects of the Web are increasingly designing the parameters of private and public life. A key hacker value is that the Web is something WE Build. But for that openness to be meaningful, more people need the skills to participate. That’s where education comes in.
  4. Freedom to Transform: Formal education just happens to be the defining institution of any given civilization. It’s the machine that preps children to enter all the other institutions: the marketplace as workers and consumers, the government as citizens, or if they come in below grade, the welfare systems, the courts, and the jails. So, if you really believe in the promise of the open Internet—that this is the birth of a new kind of institution, a really new way of organizing human endeavor–then an education revolution is not only essential, it’s all but inevitable.

Inevitable, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be a lot of hard work. Which is fortunate, because working and creating together is, generally speaking, the best way to form relationships, to build communities, and even to learn.

So here’s the complete Drumbeat formula for catching lightning: throw together educators and techies, both committed to innovation in the public interest; guzzle coffee, snarf tapas, chat and make friends; but also actually make stuff using open-source technology. The design brief is to develop new tools and practices that can supplement, optimize, and/or replace the traditional trappings of the education system, from diplomas and textbooks to lectures and lesson plans–the better to serve learners’ needs for learning, socialization, and accreditation in open-source fashion. And amidst the code sprints, why not write a wish list too: What tools remain to be developed to allow learners of all ages to form the questions that are most salient to them, find the answers they need, build skills, and present themselves for a community’s stamp of approval? What allies and teams need to be formed to make these things happen?

And thus, if successful, the agenda of two days becomes the manifest of a much greater voyage: A call for all those who care to spread Webcraft literacy, to learn by making stuff together, to keep the Web free by making it ourselves, to shape society through more democratic design, to pull learning out of the 15th or 19th century and into the 21st, to find strength in diversity, and to think critically about–and tell joyful stories about–all this doing and building and learning and making and sharing, the better to get more people to notice and get involved.

So lightning struck the clock tower, two worldviews faced each other in a public square, and Drumbeat was born.

Or in the opening-night words of Mark Surman, director of Mozilla Foundation and Drumbeat’s visionary, as he shouted over the crowd, cheeks shining with sweat, in the high, echoey atrium of Barcelona’s Museum of Contemporary Art, “The future of the web and future of learning are intertwining. People here are creating that future.”

11 Responses to “Presenting: 1st Draft of Intro To Learning, Freedom and the Web!”

  1. Good stuff, Anya. I like the four freedoms, and the Mozilla recipe.

    A couple of copy things:
    “Their successes Mozillians to ask…” Should there be a “motivate” as the third word?

    Is your “second vector” informal learning or OER? Para #3 makes it seem like the former, but “Both Davidson’s and Wiley’s accounts point to the second vector.
    Arcing over the hilltops…” suggests the latter.

  2. Anya Kamenetz says:

    Thanks, Bryan!
    Good question! I have to think about that.
    I mean it’s this general feeling of “open webbiness” or “things you can do with the open web” that encompasses both informal learning and open educational resources. Yet the two are certainly distinct, if complementary movements, but i would like to say that they are both part of the second vector. You can sum vectors, can’t you?

  3. dkernohan says:

    You’re falling into an obvious trap of slagging off the lecture. Some lectures are rubbish… some are brilliant, participative, engaging. It’s not for nothing that some of the most popular OERs are video and audio recordings of, yup lectures. Rather than just abandoning the whole idea, we should be using them as one tool amongst many. And using them well.

    It would be useful to be more honest about drumbeat too. There was some good stuff went on, but it had a horrible tendency to ignore everything that is great about institutions as they currently exist. OpenEd was also in Barcelona at the same time… actual academic s talking about actual university practice and trying to make stuff work better. You know Universities? Those big things that release all that OER, and employ all the academics that make it? Probably worth a mention as a force for good.

    Another thing with drumbeat was that it was a little bit of western California dropped into the middle of one of the roughest areas of Barcelona. Maybe a little bit of cultural awareness missing there, guys? And a big issue with online learning as well. If you don’t share the westernized, youth, internet culture then it’s not for you! Universities have often been quite bad at this too, but we’ve worked at it. These days we’re all about access and support.

  4. Anya Kamenetz says:

    Hi David,
    Did you attend both? Did you blog about them? If not, can I quote this comment? I know there was at least one critical and widely circulated blog post about Drumbeat Festival’s less-than-ideal integration with the setting and local culture. I definitely want the book to include dissenting opinions although the main point isn’t what Drumbeat did, it’s what Drumbeat is trying to start.

    FWIW, everyone I talked to who attended both OpenEd and Drumbeat seemed to find Drumbeat a lot more…well, exciting, frankly. Part of that just comes with OER being a more mature movement, and yes, being more integrated with institutions as they currently exist. Not being employed by one, I tend to be naturally more interested in what’s coming next.

    I find “we’re all about access and support” to be kind of hilarious as a blanket statement about universities. That’s certainly not how you’re perceived.

    Maybe Universities are to learning as Lectures are to pedagogical modes: ONE tool in the toolbelt, but one that’s been far too dominant for far too long.

  5. floa says:

    add 1 sentence on what drumbeat is — as I’ve never heard of it till reading this. Help move mr along in your into by writing that, and another sentence on what you think “it is trying to become.”
    yes, let’s kill the lecture into extinction. lecture suggests monotone, mundane, and wise leader filling empty vessels of students. then there’s presentation. and presentaton styles are moving into more and more engaging formats.

    1 question: if formal education has been vital in every civilization, what will informal education mean for future civilizations?

  6. LauraFHilliger says:

    Hi Anya,
    I think what David is trying to say in the “force of good” mention is that although our universities, colleges and traditionally run schools are outdated and in desperate need of change, they are still institutions of learning, innovation and stimulation and should be respected as such. Your mention of universities sounds very, very negative and there is no bounce-back. Yes, they are in need of a facelift, but they definitely shouldn’t be abandoned, and this viewpoint isn’t obvious in the text. We, the educators and web nerds who make up Drumbeat, aren’t looking to destroy the infrastructure we have in place, we’re looking to change how that infrastructure is used.

    I second the motion that it should be more clear that universities have something to offer other than just industrial age learning procedures and boring ass lectures. Just think about the fact that universities offer infrastructure for learning and go from there – I’m thinking about the innovation that comes from the FREE and OPEN learning within these institutions, like Marie Curie having access to a lab or, to use an example which both pisses me off and also changed the world, Mark Zuckerberg being inspired by his social surroundings to come up with Facebook.

    You are right, many formal learning institutions have their heads stuck in the sand. But you are making it sound as if they are not listening to us and what we are trying to tell them even a little. Like they have no interest in changing, but I think they WANT to change, they just lack the knowledge on HOW to get started and WHAT, concretely, needs to be done. That’s where we come in, to show them the light.

    I’m not trying to be negative about your work so far, I just don’t want the book to slam the traditional infrastructure because we are going to need that space for our learning revolution.

    Your writing style is supreme, great flow and nice metaphoric approach. You’re doing great, thank you.

  7. Bryce says:

    The blindfolded rubiks cube videos are hoaxes. The video is actually running backwards.

  8. Scott Davis says:

    Did you write this yourself? It doesn’t sound like you, in style or in substance….

  9. Fred Stitt says:

    Anya,

    I’m very happy you’re doing this. It’ll be a terrific service.

    I attended Open Ed and Drumbeat in Barcelona and Drumbeat
    was the superior experience (although it seemed to fall apart
    on the last day — sessions I attended seemed to be conversations
    about how little sleep people had). No matter, it’ll be great to
    be able to attend ALL of Drumbeat next time (I advocate Silicon
    Valley).

    I’ve been running a green building architecture school for many
    years in the Bay Area and in recent years turning my attention to online
    education. This has allowed me to create some alternatives that save everyone
    a lot of time and money. Still trying to sort out the problems of certification
    of student work. Not to mention accredited portable portfolio programs for
    students who will also now be learning everything everywhere. No one at Open
    Ed or Drumbeat seemed to have solutions, but they’re certainly working on them.

    I’m also preparing a “Universal Green” education program to offer high
    level skills and theory education on every aspect of green building world
    wide — education that can be certified so students receive documented recognition
    for what they learn — and all at no cost. Again a problem (opportunity)
    that needs solving.

    I might suggest that you identify key problems, issues, opportunities that
    are emerging from all this and use the list as key tabs for your book.
    (I’ve only read the text on this blog page and maybe you’ve already started
    doing such.)

    I also just attended “Big Ideas” (in education) at Half Moon Bay last week and it
    was dynamite. Many of these same issues raised and widely discussed.
    And I’ll be doing a talent search at the upcoming TEDxCalTech conference
    to seek out conversations and commentary on education from that visionary crowd.

    I’ll want to comment more and will keep in touch. Meanwhile, superb project.
    You’re a doer. I loved DYI and I know you’ll create something significant here.

    Fred A. Stitt, Architect
    Director, San Francisco Institute of Architecture, http://www.sfia.net.
    Director, Free Minds Institute (new, no web presence yet).

  10. Bryce says:

    Another minor point, regarding that quote from that one lady who said that one thing: eugenics was big in intellectual circles in the 19th century. That doesn’t invalidate the other ideas that came out of that age. I’ve seen the same eugenics-by-association thing used against Planned Parenthood.

    In other words, it’s a bit off-putting as a rhetorical device. Does she have another quote you could use?

  11. Anya, I’m very happy you’re doing this. It’ll be a terrific service. I attended Open Ed and Drumbeat in Barcelona and Drumbeat was the superior experience (although it seemed to fall apart on the last day — sessions I attended seemed to be conversations about how little sleep people had). No matter, it’ll be great to be able to attend ALL of Drumbeat next time (I advocate Silicon Valley). I’ve been running a green building architecture school for many years in the Bay Area and in recent years turning my attention to online education. This has allowed me to create some alternatives that save everyone a lot of time and money. Still trying to sort out the problems of certification of student work. Not to mention accredited portable portfolio programs for students who will also now be learning everything everywhere. No one at Open Ed or Drumbeat seemed to have solutions, but they’re certainly working on them. I’m also preparing a “Universal Green” education program to offer high level skills and theory education on every aspect of green building world wide — education that can be certified so students receive documented recognition for what they learn — and all at no cost. Again a problem (opportunity) that needs solving. I might suggest that you identify key problems, issues, opportunities that are emerging from all this and use the list as key tabs for your book. (I’ve only read the text on this blog page and maybe you’ve already started doing such.) I also just attended “Big Ideas” (in education) at Half Moon Bay last week and it was dynamite. Many of these same issues raised and widely discussed. And I’ll be doing a talent search at the upcoming TEDxCalTech conference to seek out conversations and commentary on education from that visionary crowd. I’ll want to comment more and will keep in touch. Meanwhile, superb project. You’re a doer. I loved DYI and I know you’ll create something significant here. Fred A. Stitt, Architect Director, San Francisco Institute of Architecture, http://www.sfia.net. Director, Free Minds Institute (new, no web presence yet).

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