During the 2013-2014 school year, average in-state tuition and fees totaled $8,893 for a public, four-year institution – a figure almost guaranteed to rise each year. As the cost of higher education rises, so does student debt. The average student loan debt in the U.S. was $29,400 in 2012.
What if you could cut that down to, say, $0 – or just the cost of an Internet connection and a laptop?
There are hundreds of free educational resources available online and people from all over the globe are taking advantage. Perhaps the most prolific collection of courses is EdX, governed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard. EdX partners with more than 30 different universities, including the University of Texas System, University of Tokyo, Dartmouth, and Rice University.
Growing in popularity, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have the potential to reach millions of people – anyone with an Internet connection.
So why are we still paying for higher education? Well, for the most part, these are free courses – not entire degree programs, much less the ‘campus experience” and all that comes with it. Entire programs are not necessarily easy to find – or even fit together in a way that’s useful. When it comes to resumes, a “certification” from EdX is a far cry from an Applied Mathmatics degree from Harvard.
To make these free educational sites useful, educators from multiple disciplines would have to come together, find those resources, hack out a solution, and turn that solution into a useable program.
Enter Open Ed Jam, a three-day event starting this Friday which will bring national and international educators together to explore openly licensed educational resources. The event will focus specifically on three resource tracks – software, hardware, and curriculum materials – and will conclude with a Hack-a-thon to bring the resources together to promote free education.
Open Ed Jam was created by St. Mary’s University graduate and AmeriCorps Vista member Mariah Noelle Villarreal. Villarreal was introduced to “open education” on a research trip to Montevideo, Uruguay, where she did a one-month study on the One Laptop per Child program currently underway in the country. One Laptop per Child is a non-profit organization that gives laptops with license-free educational software to children in the developing world. After seeing educators in Uruguay use the software to great effect, Villarreal developed a passion for promoting free learning.
“We live in this post-information age where you can really Google anything you want to learn about,” Villareal said. “Putting this information into something that could be an educational resource is really attainable now because we have that access. It’s just a matter of people putting it in these freely licensed, almost-public domains so that more people can access that information.”
The event will include multiple workshops and dialogues. The first two days will be held at Rackspace’s headquarters. Third day events will take place at the downtown Central Library. Speakers include Walter Bender, former president of One Laptop per Child, as well as Beatriz Busaniche and Josef Prusa.
“The philosophy behind the event is to really get people talking about their specialties with curriculum software and hardware with other people who are outside their field,” Villarreal said. “By doing that, we will create this line of communication that will hopefully lead to better developed educational resources.”
Some of those resources will include free desktop environment, or bundled programs, called Sugar, which was used by One Laptop per Child to bring together educational software such as TurtleArt and MIT’s Scratch. Geekbus Captain Mark Barnett will be heading a workshop on using MaKey-MaKey computer kits, which can used for a variety of functions but will be turned into a game controller.
To help educators develop their own free curricula, several speakers will give presentations on free textbooks from the CK-12 Foundation, and how those books can be used to create free customized lesson plans.
Open Ed Jam is primarily funded by San Antonio non-profit SASTEMIC, and $2,000 donations from Red Hat Software and the 80/20 Foundation. The Hack-a-thon is supported by the 10BITWORKS hacker space, and hardware for the event is provided by SparkFun Electronics.
*Featured/top image: Since 2009, Josef Prusa has been developing one of the most popular Open Source 3D printers – the Prusa Mendel. All his work is done for the RepRap project, which focuses on printers that self-replicate. Courtesy photo.