Openness in Education (Part II)

Openness focuses not only on the content of education but on its form as well. David Price, who was mentioned in part I, presents some interesting facts in his book OPEN: How We'll Work, Live and Learn in the Future. Those facts disclose why open online education is strongly supported by governments in other countries. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the USA ranks last among 18 developed countries in the number of academic degrees at universities because students have very low motivation to study. For example, in 2011 the number of bachelor’s degrees obtained at San Jose State University over previous 4 years was only 7%!  The US Ministry of Education conducted a survey. They showed that students who studied online (fully or part time) in general had better results than those who study traditional way.

Jerry Brown, Governor of California, announced that he wanted to launch remedial online courses developed by Udacity, which is a competitor to Coursera. The pilot project turned out a success. It is likely that open online courses will soon become part of curriculum in all Californian universities. David Price claims that everything that starts in California goes around the State in a very short order. 

There is no doubt that online training will never fully replace the process of live communication between talented and curious students and their talented and curious professors. Even though many people today talk about disintermediation, which is avoidance of mediators between knowledge and students. Digital mediators allegedly will inevitably replace real ones – professors and lecturers. I believe this approach is not productive. Open education has its risks: it is chaotic and fragmented. A professor is supposed to help their students to overcome difficulties and manage risks, keeping education liberal and open. This very special and difficult function is only about to be mastered by professors. One thing is obvious: modern education requires flexible approach to its form and content. Some part of a curriculum should become convenient to deal with via smartphones. Students want to study at time, place and manner they feel comfortable with. They should have opportunities to listen to Stanford’s MOOC courses at home or on a bus and then discuss essential issues face-to-face with professors.

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However, combining different forms of teaching (online and traditional) and types of education (open and organized) is an emerging trend today. High quality online lessons and lectures offered by open education platforms are good alternative for those who cannot be present in a classroom for some reason.  For professors they turn into a great factor of developing their professional skills and competitive abilities. 

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Having all the advantages, principles of open education represent a big challenge. There are several reasons for that. First of all, only very rich institutions can afford opening their resources. Or it may be a purely public initiative that is aimed at exchanging knowledge between people on the Internet. All other organizations need to earn money. They may do that certifying their services. In other words, knowledge (or part of a curriculum) is in free access but in order to get a diploma people have to pay. Many universities and open education online platforms work that way.   

The second reason why open education is a challenge is our constricted thinking. Despite the fact that intellectual property is a relatively new term, it has become a sacked cow for international and Russian audiences. Copyright is still legally protected. No wonder, many professors and lecturers consider opening the access to their publications and books as an infringement of their intellectual property and copyright.


Unfortunately, we must admit that sometimes people do not want to share their intellectual property because they really do not possess any of it. They replace it with plagiarism and non-professionalism. If a person creates a product of high intellectual quality, they must be interested in communicating it to as many people as possible. Their works will be cited more often and their reputation will grow. An author whose paper, book, or monograph is open to the audience competes not only with their university or department colleagues but also with colleagues from all over the world. This philosophy must become part of academic attitude.    

Openness is a difficult choice for all institutions despite their structure and stage of development. It is a switch to different model of management and organization. If we want to be leaders, there is no way we can avoid it. Openness is a trend and it will become more and more popular. So we have to learn how to cope with it. Good news is that openness is one of three values (along with classicality and fundamentality) that construct the genome of our University. Building the basis of TSU’s model, we concluded that it was necessary to make the boundaries of our education system open for exchange of knowledge, information, and technologies. We do not need, like any other universities, to review our philosophy in accordance with new trends. We just need to learn how to use it when we develop new education strategies.

Process of mastering new formats of education programmes successfully started two years ago. Over this time, we have developed 16 open online courses for Coursera. Most courses have leading positions in number of subscribers among the Russian audience. Now we must create education products for the English audience.

Keeping our mind open, we have to achieve the following goal: we have to avoid the education formats of the 20th centuries, which have not gone far from the methods of the 19th century, and make a leap to the middle of the 21st century. It will be possible only if we open to the world.