Martin Weller gave a 30-minute presentation last week for George Siemens’s CCK09 course on an idea he called “the pedagogy of abundance.” The key idea was that teaching in the past had been based on a scarcity model. I interpreted this as meaning knowledge was scarce (or closely guarded) and educators (the “talent”) were the scarce high priests on high–classic sage on the stage. He likened it to the music industry, which doesn’t strike me as too far off-base.
However, the music industry has been forced to change. The talent was still scarce, but production and distribution were now abundant. As we know, artists can even easily self-publish and promote, taking that power out of the record industry’s grasping hands. Educational resources are now experiencing the same sort of revolution. It’s suddenly easy for content developers to share their content; it’s the age of abundance.
Weller listed several requisites for the pedagogy of abundance:
- Content is free
- Content is abundant
- Content is varied
- Network is valuable
Looking at that list, it’s very heavily influenced by principles of the Open Source movement and, consequently, the Open Educational Resources movement. That movement was given a huge boost in terms of available content, quality of content, and certainly profile by MIT’s large-scale OpenCourseWare project.
One problem, however, with this model is that, while the content is free to consumers, it’s not free to the producers. In a November 10th Guardian article, author Harriet Swain states that it costs MIT between $10,000 and $15,000 to put material for each course online. She also mentions that Utah State University recently had to freeze its own project after failing to raise an addition $120,000 US/year needed to fund their project. MIT’s project is being paid for—at least partially—with donations and corporate sponsors. I suspect some of that cost is rights clearance for materials and converting courses developed prior to the project to the OpenCourseWare format. If so, the cost should go down as authors are encouraged to make use of free materials and develop in a format appropriate for easy publication via OpenCourseWare. Still, it does demonstrate that producing and disseminating high-quality free content is in itself not necessarily free.
Nevertheless, several institutions, including the Open University, are still committed to producing this content, not to mention countless individuals. Free content that we can remix. reuse, and repurpose fits beautifully and naturally into several of Weller’s suggested models, like resource-based learning and problem-based learning. However, it can also fit into constructivism, communities of practice, and connectivism too, where we’re actively building a shared understanding of materials through exploration and collaboration.
With the glut of content available, it’s easy to drown. Backchannel discussion talked about the need for information filters and crap detection (see Howard Rheingold’s excellent article). With too much choice comes uncertainty and second-guessing, something Barry Schwartz has done some research on. Shared exploration and collaboration works well with the “guide on the side” metaphor, where you have subject expert mentors who help create “paths” through the sea of content, providing an intelligent information filter.
George Siemens mentioned that this was similar to Darken’s (1996) “wayfinder” metaphor from gaming, an apt linkage. This skill is necessary for both learners and mentors, because we’re both in a transition period between scarcity and abundance. The information filtering issue probably won’t be as pronounced or maybe even worth mentioning by subsequent generations. Does that render the pedagogy of abundance a meaningless discussion or concept? I don’t think so, because we’re still talking about ways to promote participatory learning and encourage connected constructivism, regardless of the strategies people use to locate the content needed to do that.
Weller’s presentation ends with three conclusions:
- There’s nothing in a pedagogy of abundance.
- There are sufficient theories already; they just need to be recast.
- None of the existing theories adequately captures the technology and behaviour, so a new theory is required.
Initially, I tended towards two, although I commented during the presentation that many of the suggested pedagogies can be mixed and matched. If you’re mixing and matching, you could end up creating something new, which could potentially make it number three.
Resources and References:
- Darken, R.P. & Sibert, J.L. (1996) ‘Wayfinding Strategies and Behaviors in Large Virtual Worlds’, presented at Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems: Common Ground, Vancouver, Canada, April 13-18, ACM. pp:142-149.
- Rheingold, H. (2009) ‘Crap Detection 101’, SFGate, blog entry posted June 30, 2009. Accessed November 17, 2009.
- Schwartz, B. (2004) ‘The Tyranny of Choice’, Scientific American, April 2004.
- Schwartz, B (2006) A Paradox of Choice – TED talk by Barry Schwartz
- Swain, H. (2009) ‘Any Student, Any Subject, Anywhere’, The Guardian, News -> Education -> Access to University. Accessed November 10, 2009.
- Weller, M. (2009) A Pedagogy of Abundance slides at Slideshare (with audio track)