The tools that allow people around the world to create and share new knowledge are more powerful and easier to obtain than ever before.
This fall, students from the Gabelli School of Business, the Graduate School of Business, and Fordham College of Professional Studies will join thousands of others around the globe learning about them.
The Power of Open Knowledge, a hybrid course being taught at Fordham by Schools of Business Assistant Professor Bozena Mierzejewska, Ph.D., is a collaboration among Stanford University and four other universities in Canada, Mexico, and Ghana.
In addition to opening up a subject that is normally the purview of library science students, the course will be unique in several ways. It will be offered both as a traditional course, with students meeting weekly at their respective campuses to discuss the lesson, and as a MOOC (Massive Online Open Course) that can be accessed for free by anyone with an internet connection.
To make it more accessible to a global audience, many course materials will also be offered in both English and Spanish. Mierzejewska, whose expertise is in communication and media management, said this distinguishes the course from other MOOCs, which are traditionally offered in only one language, and from a single center.
An expert on the business of media and academic publishing, Mierzejewska was invvited to this online project as a result of earlier collaborations with John Willinsky, Ph.D., Khosla Family Professor of the Stanford Graduate School of Education and the project’s founder.
“He said ‘We would like to have you on board because of your economic expertise with media; you will be the only business person.’ There are librarians, educators, philosophers, historians and specialists in information science involved in the open movement, but the perspective on what open access means for business is underresearched,” she said.
The class will function as a two-track affair. Because the subject revolves around collaborations, Fordham students will be expected to interact with students from partner universities and those participating in the MOOC via blogs, Twitter, and social bookmarking.
“In the digital world, there are so many free tools. We’ll not only learn about them, but also let students use them in an efficient and productive way. In the end they [will]have a project that they can show to anybody and add to their portfolio of projects—rather than keeping them behind a closed platforms,” Mierzejewska said.
The notion of teaching a class about the open knowledge via a MOOC is a natural one, as both involve disrupting existing systems be the publishing or education, she said.
Even though students at the participating universities (Simon Fraser University and the University of British Columbia in Canada, the Universidad Autónoma del Estado de México in Mexico, and the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Ghana) and everyone else participating in the MOOC will be exposed to the same videos and written course materials, the classroom discussions will inevitably differ. In Mexico, for example, students are actually enrolled in an information science class. At Simon Fraser, students are in a publishing studies program.
This distinction is part of what makes a traditional classroom setting invaluable. Although MOOC’s have gained in popularity, Mierzejewska said there are still a lot of problems, from student retention rates to the fact that most people who gravitate to them already have college degrees. Critical thinking, she said, is still best taught in classroom.
A parallel can be drawn between education and technology: Just as there are free alternatives to proprietary software packages, such as Microsoft Office, MOOCs function as a cheaper, far more accessible alternative to traditional higher education, said Mierzejewska. Having grown up in Poland, where access to information was tightly controlled under Communist rule, she said she appreciates the value that open source and open platforms provide by encouraging the co-creation and sharing of knowledge.
But just as there will always be a need for premium software with sophisticated functions, so too there will be a place for traditional classroom instruction. Last fall, the Office of the Provost announced the formation of a task force on blended learning to address topics like MOOC’s and how they figure into Fordham’s future curriculum. Mierzejewska said hybrid classes could be a harbinger of things to come.
“The University is a proprietary model operating for the public good. What we do this time is kind of a mixed model, because we use open resources in combination with the classroom as a hybrid,” she said.
“What gives a classroom setting premium value is you get live, formative feedback from peers and professors, an exchange that you can use to analyze, reflect and apply concepts in real time.”