“Open Source Learning” (and The Anti-Textbook)

August 4, 2008 at 1:52 am 1 comment

From The Radio Free School:

We have heard of the concept ‘open source’ in internet circles; anything can be learned over the internet. There is a new openness to educational resources; for example MIT (Open CourseWare) is now offering up to 1800 on line course materials for free – their motto being “unlocking knowledge, empowering minds.”

Open source learning as coined by Taylor Gatto is based on extending this idea to all learning, to everyone. The underlying premises of open source learning is that learning is available everywhere in life and not restricted to ‘places of learning’-namely schools.

Resources are every where to be found in the day to day world; people, art galleries and science centres, businesses, professional schools, museums, community centres,libraries, the internet, and so on. Much learning happens incidentally and by doing; through games, work, and living. You learn fractions by cooking, history by watching movies, writing by reading books.

This article is worth a read and brings some great ideas forth. I completely agree with this notion of “open source learning” – but I want to expand upon it somewhat. When I think of open source, I think of something that can be manipulated, added onto, changed, used, and recreated at another person’s (or group’s) will. So, open source learning would also extend to teaching and to sharing how things are taught.

When I taught a class called “Controversies in U.S. History” at North Star: Self-Directed Learning for Teens, I also developed an “Anti-Textbook” to go alongside of it. The purpose of this Anti-Textbook was to be a tool that teachers, educators, learners, and all people could use for free to reproduce the workshops and learning activities that I did in the class – and so that they could change them, add more, and so on – like open source software. In this case, it would be open source learning and open source teaching. I think what I wrote for the actual Anti-Textbook can speak better for itself, so here is an excerpt from the intro:

[…]The initial purpose of the anti-textbook was to create an educational tool that exposed the controversies that have comprised the history of the United States of America, that served to help facilitate the learning experience in accordance to the students’ lives, and to make the learning experience (and the anti-textbook itself) financially equitable and reproducible by all people that wanted to emulate the process. These were the goals I began with, and appropriately enough they changed drastically through time, development, and application. I came to realize, through trials and errors, that while these aspirations were noble – they were not truly enough of a break from the traditional way of teaching U.S. history. These realizations would pile on over time, and I would take action on them.

As I continued to develop the anti-textbook and the activities that it is comprise of, it began to turn from the standard textbook approach of a class being based off a written text, and was becoming more based on the idea of encouraging lessons that could help spawn student-driven learning. For a while it remained dependent on the text I wrote or brought forth, but it was becoming more centered on experiential activities and student-controlled information. What’s more is that the conception of the anti-textbook was moving towards one thing that I have left unmentioned thus far, but that I feel is important to address: fun. (I also realized that the first two activities were also not economically equitable activities for all).

My ideas on the functioning of the anti-textbook have shifted drastically since the start. At first, I thought it would be something resembling a textbook – but with an undogmatic tone, a text that explored controversies, and had activities built into it that could help learners explore the information and relate it to their lives. Time went on, however, and my perceptions on this became challenged. I’ve stated, and don’t need to repeat in detail, my commitment to anti-dogmatism. I believe that the function of a standard textbook is automatically linked to dogmatism, and thus an anti-textbook cannot function at all in the same manner of saying what is important and what needs to be known. Instead, the purpose of an anti-textbook in U.S. history should be like the purpose of the teacher: to inspire curiosity, to challenge dogmatic narratives, to trust students to learn on their own/together with others, to not try to force every detail down their throat, and to give students the tools to accomplish these things. In the end, the anti-textbook transformed into more of a guide – recommended activities, explorations, or exercises that could be done to tackle topics, themes, and ideas in United States history. This anti-textbook has also come to operate like open-source software, where it can be manipulated, added on to, adjusted, and improved by other learners and facilitators of history. Textbooks are centralized, with one dominant voice and pedagogy. The anti-textbook, then, is a decentralized learning tool that can be manipulated by its users, that does not shout out a dominant voice, changes through time, is financially equitable, and history lessons/activities can be cherry-picked from it.[…]

If we are to make free schooling a viable and sustainable tool and resource, I believe that cooperation and complete transparency is necessary for how we teach and learn. The open source software movement is a wonderful model for how we can share our learning and teaching methods and skills. If used over the internet, it also makes the process nearly free (besides the cost of the internet) – instead of the price of those hefty textbooks. On top of that, developing learning activities is quite often a lot of work. This addresses that problem in many ways, two of which are the following: first, it allows you to access learning activities constructed by other folks (which you could manipulate to what you needed), and the second is that once you share learning activities that you create there are other people that can help you work out the kinks. Additionally, this sort of open sourceness is a major demonstration in learning, teaching, and working cooperatively – a major necessary function of free schooling.

The idea of open source learning and teaching is definitely something that should be embraced and expanded upon.

P.S. I do not have the Anti-Textbook fully up and functioning yet; however, that is one major goal I have for this website: to make it a place where sharing learning and teaching strategies can happen all the time. I’m just not technologically sophisticated enough yet to make that possible (though I’m working on it). If anyone is, and would like to help out, please contact me at brian AT freeschooling DOT org.


Entry filed under: Learning, Related To Free Schooling, Teaching. Tags: , , , , , , , , , .

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Textbooks Shmextbooks – mister stepan's Class  |  September 3, 2016 at 3:59 pm

    […] just read two great blog posts.  The first was Open Source Learning and the second was Open Source Learning (and The Anti-Textbook).  Both articles present a good case for moving away from textbooks in education.  In  OSL the […]


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