Posted by: drbrucepk | August 21, 2008

TED Talk: Richard Baraniuk and the Role of Open-Source in Education

Today’s TED talk that I’m going to cover is the 2006 talk by Richard Baraniuk who is an electrical engineering professor at Rice University and the founder of Connexions which is an open source, online education system. Baraniuk’s talks about open source and how that can be used to help solve the crisis in education that exists around the world. The key issue in this talk is the problem with getting content to students and teachers around the world in affordable and usable formats. What’s involved here?

Books. Baraniuk talks about books – books that are collaborative, relevant, current, and interactive. Following Baraniuk’s approach, book content would be licensed in a framework that everyone can use like Creative Commons.

photo from TED website

photo from TED website

As I began to write this post, I jumped online to look up the bio for Baraniuk and a photo that I could take off the TED site. From that start, I followed a link to the Connexions site, from there I followed a link to the Social Sciences section and then on to an online course on using technology in education.

What’s the point of this brief, and I hope not confusing, aside? The TED talks can start up a stream of consciousness that can be materialized (for want of a better word) by getting online and following these thoughts and seeing where they lead, because they often do lead to somewhere where someone has already started working on just the idea that has occurred to you. Right now, because of the materialization of this stream of consciousness, I’m in the process (slowly because of a slow ISP) of contacting an educator who is working on issues surrounding integrating technology in education.

So back to Baraniuk, and I hope that you’ll follow the link here and listen to Baraniuk explain all this much better than I probably am. By using open-source and going to printing books on demand (with the much lower cost than normal because they use free content that is licensed by Creative Commons), community based books can be created which bring in those people who are often left out of the development and presentation of knowledge such as non-speakers of English, people in remote communities, educators and others who might lack the academic credentials usually necessary to get a book published.

So content becomes either free or very inexpensive. Because it is open-source, it can be used by people in other countries and translated and modified to fit local needs. Thus, sharing knowledge changes the landscape of education and educational publishing.

I know that my children, for instance, would like to have access to some of the content that my students had in terms of educational materials. Books for Indonesian students are expensive and frequently changed (there has been a suggestion recently that Indonesian schools go to having books online that students can then print out, but there are a number of problems with this approach that I’ll address another time.)

A few questions arise here in terms of quality such as what is quality, who decides what it is and who controls the accreditation of content as being of high quality. This is an issue that arises when using Wikipedia, for instance, instead of a traditional encyclopedia. I’ve just spent an hour reading a fascinating discussion of this at a link that I discovered through Connexions, but I’m going to save the issue of quality and the authority of content for another time. I would suggest though that this is an area that teachers need to address within the profession as well as with their students.

Educators from the K-12 variety through professors need to address these issues and begin looking at how open-source can be used in schools. This is already being done by a number of educational visionaries, but until this reaches the trenches, we won’t be getting much farther than just talking to ourselves.


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