Sunday, October 28, 2007

Week 9 - Can't Make Up My MIND

QUESTIONS: What can the open education movement learn from the book you chose to read? Elaborate on at least three points. Which of the ideas presented in the book did you find hardest to believe or agree with? Why?

I have decided to do this a little differently and comment on several of the books instead of just one.

The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid by C.K. Prahalad. This is a book about economics, financing the poor at the bottom of the pyramid and creating a diamond out of it (creating a middle class). Knowledge procurement is discussed (as in information about crops) but education is never brought into the formula. ICICI Bank wanted to lend money to rural India in a sustainable way (p.117). They had to challenge existing assumptions about market development, capital intensity and managerial cost structures.

Part of the success of ICICI Bank is its philosophy: “If you are going to gain sustainable competitive edge, you have to leverage technology in a big way.” They could see that moving from “physical-branch banking” to “virtual banking” would be a lot more profitable. This is a fact that Distance Education has yet to learn. USU has been doing Distance Education for a couple of decades – reaching out to the very rural areas of Utah. They did it by building ‘brick and mortar’ buildings around the state and then piping in the ‘virtual’ part, causing students to sit in F2F classrooms that utilized expensive technology. That was understandable in the beginning, but as rural areas gained access to home computers and connectivity, the university failed to make changes and continues to invest in even more expensive equipment to replace the stuff that is getting old. Rural students have to leave their home computers and travel (an hour or two) to an outreach building, to attend ‘virtual’ classes, synchronously. The investment in unneeded technology is proportionate to the inability to let go and let virtual.

And many institutions are stuck in that same holding pattern. Over the past few years Distance Education classes have been cut out or eliminated because of the incredible expense. It doesn’t have to be that way. If India can trust in the ‘virtual’ in rural areas, why can’t the United States? Oh, you say that virtual banking is different than virtual schooling?

This book discusses micro-financing and reaching out to the very poorest. Loans are made that most companies would never consider. The very poor have always been seen as a waste of capital: poor risk with little return. However, according to the author, the program has had great successes. I want so much to believe all that he says, but sometimes it just seems too good to be true.

One of the lessons learned from micro-financing could be helpful in OER: “…the incumbents in this space were all struggling to turn profits since they were used to working as donor-funded and –supported institutions. This dependence often affects scalability and sustainability (p.118).” Sound familiar? What they needed was a ‘point of presence/distribution point’ in the rural area. Instead of brick and mortar and staffing expenses they leveraged the relationships, knowledge and rural networks already in existence.

OER is such a great idea that many have been working on it all over the world. But we seem to be at a crossroads. Nothing is set in stone and direction is still up in the air. Some things have been defined, but still we are not happy. Licensing is an issue and so is platform. My thoughts keep going to the way Wikipedia began and has grown. It makes the most sense. So I took a look at WikiEducator to see if they were doing what I had envisioned. I saw lots and lots of effort at building a structure but no content for learners. That isn’t what I had in mind. If Wikipedia started the same way, it is possible that we would still be waiting for the content.

There are lessons to be learned from BOP (bottom of the pyramid). We know the virtual piece is important, we just can’t figure out the content. Give the responsibility to the SHG’s (self-help groups), those who have the greatest reason to see it succeed. Just start building, as in Wikipedia, and let the village grow.

more to come............................................