Please Don’t Disturb Dr. Jones, She is Platforming Her Course

By | August 6, 2014

The convergence of digital publishing, online communities, and online education continues at a rapid pace and those of us in the business have to adopt new language to describe processes and outcomes that did not exist years or even months ago.   An August 1, 2014 article in the media section of the New York Times, titled “More Online Publishers Let Readers Fill the Space” captures this very nicely:

For publishers, the new meaning of “to platform” is something akin to: Take a traditional media company and add technology that allows readers to upload digital content as varied as links, text, video and other media. The result is a “publish first” model in which a lightly filtered, or unfiltered, stream of material moves from reader to reader, with the publication acting as a host and directing conversation but not controlling it.

The same logic and process applies to online courses, digital “textbooks,” and curated educational collections.  Students/learners can and do make tremendous contributions to learning resources through online learning communities.   The Animal Diversity Web (ADW) hosted by the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology is a great example:

An essential feature of the ADW is student authorship of species accounts. Students learn considerable detail about the biology of a species, then share their work with users worldwide by making it part of our permanent database. Our web-based template ensures a consistent format for accounts. Help pages suggest content and sources. The system checks that no one else is writing about the student’s chosen species, checks spelling of scientific names, and fills in the scientific classification. Instructors and ADW staff review and edit accounts before they are added to the site. Classes at dozens of universities and colleges contribute to the ADW project. The resulting growth of the database makes us even better for inquiry learning.

Most educational educational enterprises — from universities and colleges to corporate universities and continuing education enterprises — are not prepared for a world where learners contribute substantial content as participants in a learning community.   In addition to requiring that educators and administrators learn new skills, educational institutions face a host of new questions about quality and reputation.  The New York Times article, focusing on news publications, raises the issue which many long-time educators fear:

[E]stablished publications, particularly those specializing in news, have flinched at making it possible for outsiders to upload raw content for fear that the publications’ reputations for reliability — which took decades to build — could be undermined easily.

This is, however, an unstoppable transition.   The challenge for educational enterprises will be to take full advantage of learner engagement in content production and contribution while maintaining quality in educational collections, materials, and services.