Todd Richmond on Open Educational Resources

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"What happens when you look at the future of teaching and learning through the lens of DIY media and participatory culture? At the most recent DIY Media seminar at the Annenberg Center on October 19, Todd Richmond’s presentation on open educational resources and Bob Stein’s preview of a toolset that will enable people to add multimedia annotation to online texts, offered two glimpses of a possible future upheaval in education.

Todd Richmond is currently a Fellow at the USC Annenberg Center, and the Center for Creative Technologies at USC. He is also an Adjunct Professor in the Interactive Media Division of the USC School of Cinema-Television. He specializes in basic and applied research in the broad field of digital networked media, social networks, and social software. He is currently working on a Hewlett Foundation-funded research project titled “Viral University Education” which seeks to better understand and facilitate the uptake of freely available open educational content on the Internet by using a variety of social software tools and technologies to create viral learning communities and content.

In his presentation on October 19, Richmond compared the future technology-triggered transformation of educational institutions to the “perfect storm” that hit the music industry when several different factors intersected to disrupt the existing institutions for making, distributing, and monetizing music: millions of people acquired broadband connections and used sufficiently powerful personal computers, the MP3 format made it easy to encode, transmit, and decode music via the Internet, digital tools for capturing and editing audiovisual content made “studio quality” production widely available, online social networking made p2p and viral distribution possible. Richmond included one more technical factor, “common metastructure.” In music, the common metastructure of bar, beat, and temp made remix and mashup media possible.

The same forces that disrupted the music industry can be applied to education, and the content that could drive a transformation in teaching and learning — and the institutions through which it happens — is becoming available as other universities, including Rice and Johns Hopkins, joined MIT, which in 2001 began to make its “open coursware available.” Richmond sees another factor at work here, the same “commons-based peer production” at work in Wikipedia. The challenges to a wave of change in education are, Richmond enumerated, “IP, IP, IP…uptake, IP, and tools.”

Open educational resources, Chinese Backstreet Boys video, viewed one and a quarter million times on Youtube, as an example of “going viral.”

The availability of DIY media production and distribution tools changed the asymmetry between the producers, distributors, and distributors of music, Richmond pointed out, referring to that changing power asymmetry as “the delta.” With Wi-Fi in the classroom and lecture videows online, and student familiarity with laptops, remix, mashups, blogs and wikis, together with the power that “Googlepedia” teachers and learners, the delta in education is changing: the previously strictly hierarchical relationships between teacher and learner are changing.

“Resistance is futile,” believes Richmond: although existing educational institutions are not generally embracing a digitally transformed future, “the educational sector will be dragged into the future kicking and screaming by the next perfect storm.”

In education, there may be good reasons for maintaining the role of teacher, where the roles of middlemen in the music business may not be necessary. “Optimizing the delta,” Richmond calls it: how do motivated learners and skilled teachers make use of open educational resources to best achieve their aims?

In the discussion that followed the presentations by Richmond and Stein, and the smaller seminar after lunch, discussion turned, as Adrienne noted, to the way institutions can react to the forces for change that new technologies and social practices might enable. The existing university classroom has to change, but how? What might be the event or new driving forces that produces the storm Richmond predicts? Will the extensions of copyright law such as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, technical barriers such as digital rights restrictions, and politically-sanctioned shifts in net neutrality become insuperable barriers to educational change? Will the non-educational reasons for schooling — a place to park the kids while parents work and boot camp behavioral trainingfor industrial-era employees and consumers — prove to be the immovable object that stops the irresistible forces Richmond foresees?" (

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  1. Open Educational Resources