Last night Adam Croom posted a text-analysis of the abstracts for Open Education Conference 16 noting the ongoing focus of the conference on open textbooks. This morning Gardner Campbell gave a poetic, metaphor-laden opening keynote that challenged the conference attendees to shift away from open textbooks and refocus on open pedagogy.

Gardner’s opening Overture featured Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan as a transitional metaphor. In his talk Gardner urged us to move on from an Open Education that focuses narrowly on pre-formed, scalable courses that race headlong to achieve the learning objectives. Gardner listed the Deadly Mantras of ‘Student Success’:

  • “Students don’t do optional”
  • “Define more pathways”
  • “We need to graduate more students”
  • “Our students are our products”

Moving from the paint by numbers rubrics integrated in both traditional textbooks and open ones, Gardner has instead offered a rubric that prepares our students for ‘insights.’ If Bob Dylan was insightful, it certainly was not because of formalized training nor was it measurable in a one-size fits all rubric.

Gardner’s talk was purposefully challenging and provocative, but at it’s core it was just a reminder that open education, like all education needs to focus on the individual students. We (those working on online education) are often tasked with producing large scale courses that scale well and fit into programmatic curriculums. These courses, just as much as the treasured seminar, must be designed and taught with each individual student in mind. The goal is not just to move students through the university, but rather to challenge them to do new things, to be reflective, and to pursue insight into both the course focus and also the extramural world. We cannot just replicate the stultifying formalism of expensive textbooks and give them away for free and call it a day.