Open education needs free knowledge needs open data

“Information is not knowledge. Knowledge is not wisdom. Wisdom is not truth. Truth is not beauty. Beauty is not love. Love is not music. Music is the best…” – Frank Zappa

Open education can only happen with free knowledge. Free knowledge does not exist without open data (and information). Open education should focus on wisdom, truth, beauty, love and music (art).

The Wikimania, the annual Wikipedia conference, is taking place this week in Washington DC. A couple of days before the Wikimania, the World Bank is organizing an International Open Government Data Conference in the Banks headquarters in Washington DC. The same week in Brussels, the European Commission DG for Education and Culture, is having a round table meeting on Open Education with researchers and practitioners in the field of open technologies and open education.

The themes of the three events are related and partly overlapping. The Wikimania is focusing on Free Knowledge with the well-known vision: “Imagine a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge. That’s our commitment”. Open Data researchers and advocacy groups see that opening government data will increase transparency and help in the anti-corruption work. Open Education is seen by many as a vehicle to improve education and skills development. All three have an impact on economy and social good.

In the Wikimania there will be many sessions on how to use, and what is the impact of Wikipedia and its sister projects to education. Wikipedia plays a huge role in education today. Without doubt, Wikipedia is the largest and most used repository of “Open Educational Resources” in the world. What the Wikipedia community could work on more is creating free textbooks on various topics that are written for different age groups. Why we do no have ABC-book, basic algebra book, geography, biology, democracy, physics etc. books online, for free for all — let say at least in 200 major languages of the world at the begining?

The latest project of the Wikipedia community, the Wikidata, has many connections to the governments’ open data initiatives. Practically Wikidata is building a repository of open datasets, which will provide data to the Wikipedia. Without access to data and other sources of information Wikipedia would not exist. The more open data there will be, the better the Wikipedia will become and more widely it will be used in (open) education.

Open data and free knowledge are the basic infrastructure of open education. They are crucial parts of the system. Without them one can’t have quality education.

From the three interconnected things education is probably the hardest to arrange, even if you have the other pieces in place. Investments on curriculum and testing are a wrong medicine.

Quality education is only possible when we see that the primary building block of it is a knowledge community. Knowledge community is a deeply dialogical community where people do things together. They communicate. They contribute to the process of creating knowledge.

When teachers start to see themselves as knowledge community leaders there is hope.

In its simplest and most pure form, education is a human system for building communities with time and space to do things: to explore wisdom, truth, beauty, love and music (art). In education we must get beyond data, information and knowledge.

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2 Responses to “Open education needs free knowledge needs open data”

  1. miska knapek says:

    thanks for the good post.

    though this misses the point of building communities slightly, I’d just like to add one small point about open data and education. namely, for something like science or the social sciences, open data can enable people to work directly with phenomena themselves, rather than theories about it.

    that is, for science students could use data from scientific surveys, measuring instruments, and other government and private environmental department statistics, to look at a phenomena in situ, even contemporarily, rather than study it using only mathematical or biological theories, with perhaps some old data from a remote place and time.

    similarly, social science students and design students could use government department data, of their agencies work and encounters, to look at social phenomena quite directly, rather than, again, through theory and distant anecdotal evidence.
    one ancdote in this regard is that of urban planning students. these are the people who will end up deciding how to build cities for good social conditions. these must pay for demographic data – data about how cities live and breathe socially – and are thus mostly unable to study urbanisation based on real statistical data.

    either way, for natural or social science – and I’ve surely omitted someone… – by using open government – and private? – data, disciplines can be learned and studied also very much about what actually happens in the world , than merely by looking at theories about the phenomena. moreover, by using real data about real situations, including contemporary ones, education will gain society and the world more knowledge about itself.

    so, open data in education may gain studies in certain fields – as relevant – more of a concrete relation to the field’s unfolding in life, rather than looking it things from afar without data based studies, and aiding the development of knowledge about the world in the process.

    (and, indeed, I’ve not quite touched the good community aspects of education teemu eminently mentioned. but teemu’s far better than me at that. i’ll leave that for a better man (teemu) to further, but just mention that the word “communication”, when analysed, means “to make part of the union”. that is, sharing knowledge has traditionally been seen as building community ).

  2. Using open data e.g. in social science, political science and design studies is a great idea.

    I wouldn’t, however, underestimate the theories in here. I have seen several examples where students or activits have been excited about their “findings” when experimenting with open data, but same time their findings are based only on mixing up correlation and dependence. :-)

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