By Jim Shimabukuro
Microsoft’s Office 365 and Google’s Apps for Education are the latest in an endless line of gimmicks for supremacy in the cloudy learning management platform (CLMP) battle. They’re waving the “open” flag to attract the administrators who determine how our colleges and schools will spend their technology dollars. But the problem is that free is only one side of the open standard. The other is freedom.
Microsoft and Google — as well as Blackboard and Pearson, with its OpenClass — just aren’t getting it. Free for the enterprise doesn’t necessarily translate to free for the individual in the classroom who actually uses the CLMP — the teacher. For the overwhelming majority of enterprises, the primary concern is control, and that control is ultimately manifested in power over how teachers will use technology.
The result, from the teacher’s standpoint, is the same old restrictions that apply to closed systems. The CLMP may be free to the enterprise, but it doesn’t spell “freedom” for the teacher. Instructional technology administrators are attracted to CLMPs because they cut operating costs while maintaining their power and control in the technology chain of command.
What’s being ignored is the teachers’ freedom to decide how to use technology, which includes the power to determine which apps to include in their personal instructional environments as well as freedom from jumping through the hoops that define closed enterprise-class systems.
A fully open CLMP would be pitched to teachers as individuals — not to enterpises. Like Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, Blogger, and other open social networking services, teachers would sign up for individual accounts, by and for themselves, and have the power to control access. The accounts would not be domained in the enterprise.
In this scenario, the IT staff would support teachers and students by providing on-demand help, services, and workshops to facilitate and optimize the use of open CLMPs. The CLMPs that prevail will, like the most popular operating systems and browsers, be easy to use and provide the most power via free and open access to the largest number of useful teaching and learning apps. Teachers and students, individually, will drive this market. The result is win-win for all — students, teachers, IT departments, and CLMP providers.
Tony Bennett, Indiana’s superintendent of public instruction, said, “I believe in local control, and we don’t have the ability to be the keeper of knowledge we have been in the past. We’ll be better off if we uncuff people’s hands” (Tina Barseghian, “Technology Vs. Learning: False, Tiresome Either/Or Debate,” Mind Shift, 10.2511). He was referring to digital textbooks in the hands of students in classrooms, but his comment is appropriate for education in general. We must “uncuff” instructors and students and give them the freedom they need to teach and learn.
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