The word “openness” means transparent access to information and embracing collaboration and freedom for all stakeholders and parts involved. The Internet makes being ‘open’ easy for anyone. However, today’s economic competition also makes companies think twice about becoming completely open. Allan Christie is Blackboard’s Vice President for e-learning in the Asia Pacific region, and he explains that openness isn’t necessarily cut and dry, because everything and everyone in the education sector is somewhat open.
Openness isn’t just about collecting information from different sources, countries, and perspectives. It’s also about collaborating with people from all over the world, so that the companies and users can fine-tune tools to their specific needs. One company that fully embraces and adopts the openness attitude is Blackboard. Blackboard demonstrates a long-term commitment to open education with the acquisitions of open source companies such as Blackboard Open LMS, Nivel Siete, and NetSpot – the company Allan Christie created in Australia.
Christie explains that Blackboard Open LMS and Blackboard are part of an educational technology ecosystem and that being able to integrate with other products and services allows for a more open approach. It’s important to note that openness means something different to each person and it involves many different industries like open source with Moodle and Linux; openness in creative products like the Creative Commons License; Open Academia and Open Education Resources, which are copyright resources that can be used and edited; and Open Standards, which works with interoperability.
However, Blackboard Learn is a proprietary system but with an open philosophy to support a range of integration frameworks and standards that provides flexibility and choices to its clients in order to meet their particular needs. Christie explains that:
“We see openness as benefiting the customer and the company because we have a collaborative relationship with the community in order to share ideas and resources and gain inspiration and motivation from others. That’s the power of being open.”
The role of LMS in promoting Openness
Allan Christie explains that with Open Education Resources (OERs), the open education environment is clearly visible, and that adding an open license to documents and media makes them free to access, revise, and share. This creates a real democratization of education and provides opportunities for the entire education community.
It’s also important to understand that there isn’t one single solution for all education institutions on a global scale. The ability to use open standards ensures interoperability for everyone and provides an opportunity for each institution to pick what’s right for their particular needs.
Blackboard wants to take its active role in openness to the next level. Openness also means accessibility for everyone, which is something that the industry lacks. Blackboard Open LMS is developing an accessibility MOOC that they hope to release in 2017 to provide an opportunity for instructors to create educational content that is fully accessible for the blind and visually impaired. “I think that’s the role of our technology: it initially supports open educational content, but also isn’t locked into a particular system.” Blackboard Learn became the first LMS to achieve the National Federation of the Blind’s gold level certification for non-visual access in 2010.
Openness and Globalization
It’s possible to learn almost anything through the Internet nowadays. However, Allan believes that the vast amount of content on the web has made it difficult to find and understand credible content because the drive to learn and share knowledge is increasing at such a tremendous rate that the value that is put on the content is diminishing.
The amount of access to information exists because of globalization. Globalization is the process of interaction and integration between people, companies, and governments in different nations, along with a free flow of ideas and international trade. Even though globalization has been routinely discussed, there are still people who don’t believe it exists because of certain restrictions to enter different countries. However, globalization is what leads to openness.
Allan believes that the increase of mobile access that is increasing throughout the world, especially in places like Africa and Asia, will give people the ability to access free content. He also thinks that platforms, such as Blackboard, can provide intelligent response systems to ensure real understanding of the content that they are receiving.
“Artificial intelligence can start to become a leader going forward as a combined capability that personalizes content and provides responses to the content that is available. It’s a pretty exciting time, in terms of granting global access to education,” Christie explains.
But then again, there are many companies who have closed source software and that charge for the use of their product, because it’s economically reasonable to do so. So why does a company decide to go the open source route? Christie explains that just as Blackboard has an open source offering, that is only one part of the delivery. High quality support and hosting services need to be bundled with open source to ensure that customizations are maintained around performance and security. That’s why many companies have embraced the open source approach to software development to develop a sustainable business.
Interoperability, collaboration, and openness
Collaboration is a very big part of open source and open education. There are vibrant communities of users around the world who customize their Blackboard Open LMS courses to their exact needs and specifications. The company needs to consider the performance and security implications of modifying the source code. That’s why it’s a good idea to partner with a professional organization like Blackboard Open LMS and Blackboard, so that companies are able to provide quality control and interoperability maintenance, so that the modifications are sustainable and also meets the security level that the software requires.
However, Christie also understands the importance of having software that molds to each client individually, generates a creative solution to problems, and also helps people all around the world.
The future of openness
We are certainly in a global education environment. Institutions don’t just look at their local cohort of students in terms of being sustainable and relevant. There’s a mix of face-to-face, fully online, and blended learning opportunities. Increasingly, as universities are looking for new business models to sustain, they are looking beyond their borders to grow.
Christie also believes that, as mentioned earlier, the value given to content will continue to reduce, but educational resources will become a much bigger part of the offerings, as there is a growth of e-learning on a global scale.
Openness will continue to grow as technology evolves; more people have access to technology and Internet, and there are more diverse solutions for learning skills, information, and languages.
About Allan Christie
Vice President for E-learning for the Asia Pacific region. Given his 30 years of experience as both an academic and industry leader in the area of eLearning, he has taken on a “thought-leadership” role in the region which includes conference presentations, panel membership, industry association involvement (eg, ascilite, HERDSA), blogging, tweeting, sales support through Level C client/prospect meetings, and business development.
This is a genuinely exciting role given his academic background and long experience in the industry.
* Photo by: AFP Brenton Edwards