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Chuck Carney
IU School of Education
ccarney@indiana.edu
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Last modified: Monday, July 20, 2009

The 'flat' world is 'open': how technology is changing education

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 20, 2009

School of Education professor's new book outlines the complex world of learning today

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- A new book by an Indiana University School of Education professor takes a comprehensive look at how Web technology is changing worldwide education.

The World is Open: How Web Technology is Revolutionizing Education, published by Jossey-Bass/Wiley, was written by Curt Bonk, professor of instructional systems technology. It documents the many ways in which he says innovations have made it possible so that "anyone can learn anything from anyone else at any time."

The book is inspired by the best-selling work of New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, The World is Flat. In the book, which came out in 2005, Friedman documented 10 "flatteners" that have made economic globalization much easier.

Bonk's book provides a framework for understanding the availability of education through Web technology with his own list of 10. "With it, people can go down the list not of 'flatteners,' as Friedman talks about, but of 'openers,' as in the doors becoming open for education," Bonk said. "By having that list of 10, it is a somewhat succinct list from the potentially hundreds that could be listed, so as not to overwhelm people with the possibilities."

The 10 key trends Bonk explores include "Web searching in the world of e-books," "availability of open source and free software," and "real-time mobility and portability." The beginning letters of each trend spell "WE-ALL-LEARN."

The book documents numerous stories of e-learning, from the founding of Wikipedia to a high school student who took coursework traveling with her family at sea. Extensive interviews include a young millionaire in Tapei who made a fortune first translating Lord of the Rings books and then used that money to translate open courseware from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology into Chinese and make it available for free. Bonk also discusses a 21-year-old behind a free online book catalogue who already made his mark on the Internet by helping author "Real Simple Syndication," or RSS, at age 14.

Not only is education changing in the places where the internet is available, the resources available on the Internet are changing education even where the Internet is not available, Bonk said. People are taking knowledge to remote places. "For instance, in Western China, I talk about the '1kg Project,' where people go on the Web, volunteer their time and visit schools in Western China, and bring one kilogram of stuff with them," he said. "These kids don't have Internet access. But really, the Internet's enabling them to get education that normally wouldn't happen."

In the book, Bonk points out how the different trends have especially impacted worldwide education, particularly open courseware and open education resources on the Web. Shared online video and "wikis," online texts that readers can contribute to, are having a large influence. "The fact is that collaboration is from birth to death these days," Bonk said. "You have to do it in K-12 schools to survive, oftentimes, and also in workplaces."

Among the areas Bonk notes as cautionary areas in the future are ways to control plagiarism and handle copyright issues. More should be done to alleviate access problems for those with disabilities, he said. Bonk added that while Asians may be the predominant users of the Internet in the future, English is still the dominant language on the Web. And questions surrounding educational quality must take into account the intent of the user.

"The vast majority of people going online are not looking at it to take a course, or to get a degree," Bonk said. "They're doing it out of their own personal volition. They're doing it out of their own learning quest, if you will."

Through the testimonies of e-learners, teachers, technology leaders and others, Bonk points out that not only are the methods of instruction changing, technology is also altering the way we learn things.

"If all you have in your tests are dates and states and capitals -- which you can easily have access to and put on your flash memory sticks -- what have we really taught people?" Bonk said. "So we have new questions about education and about types of knowledge, levels of knowledge, types of skills, problem-solving. What should be the goals for education?"

There is an extensive Web presence accompanying the book. "I truly tried to show that the world is open by having a lot of free content," Bonk said. The site, http://worldisopen.com, features links to resources and references from the book, some excerpts, as well as a book prequel and postscript. Bonk will soon be adding an e-book "extension" of the text. The site also links to his personal blog, TravelinEdMan (http://travelinedman.blogspot.com/), as well as discussion spaces for readers to share their own stories which can be expanded in a wiki.

Bonk said he'll keep examining the ideas explored in the book and adding to the information on the Web, and possibly in another book. The continuous development of ideas deserves further exploration, he said. He points out that many educators have used the Friedman text for retreats.

"My hope is that The World is Open could be similarly used by some people to think about strategic planning for technologies within training and education," Bonk said.

Media Outlets: The following comments are available as mp3 files on the IU School of Education Web site at http://education.indiana.edu. Look for this news release under "News" on the home page. The sound bites below will have a clickable link to hear and to save the files.

Like Friedman in The World is Flat, Bonk has organized his book along a framework of 10 important trends:

"So people can go down the list of not 'flatteners,' as Friedman talks about, but 'openers,' the doors becoming open for education, which opener, which door we are opening, and there are 10. So by having that list of 10 -- it also is a somewhat succinct list from the list of potentially hundreds that could be listed, so as not to overwhelm people with the possibilities. At least it lets people, it nudges them in, it at least gets them to say, 'Hey, I can think about integrating technology into my classes. I can think about why my kids might attend a college that emphasizes the use of this mobile device or something you see as a parent.'"

Bonk says the influence of Web technology has changed education even in places where it's not available:

"So for instance, in Western China, I talk about the 1kg Project, where people go on the Web, volunteer time, and to visit schools in Western China and bring one kilogram of stuff with them. It's not the one kilogram of stuff that's important. It's them going there and talking to kids and exposing them to new careers and forming friendships and bonding. There's a sister project to it called the Twin Books Project, where if you buy a book, a second book is sent to Western China. These kids don't have Internet access, so there's a digital divide that people would think about. But really, the Internet's enabling them to get education that normally wouldn't happen because people create these connections. It might be a mentoring connection, it might be, you know, going off on your vacation there. So one way to look at the book is a geographic notion, and that is that people around the world now have access to educational materials and resources in ways they didn't before, and I call that Level 1 knowledge -- there might be an instructor behind there."

One important aspect of the "open world" is how it might be changing the nature of education:

"If all you have in your tests are dates and states and capitals, which you can easily have access to and put on your flash memory sticks, what have we really taught people? So we have new questions about education and about types of knowledge, levels of knowledge, types of skills, problem-solving, decision-making, problem-finding, finding information and filtering it, looking for credibility of information, critical analysis of information. I think we've got a whole set of questions that this book kind of raises in the background that I really don't list extensively in the book. What should be the targets or the goals for education?"

Bonk says the question of educational quality on the Web should be understood in the context of why people are learning through the new technologies:

"The vast majority of people going online are not looking at it to take a course, or to get a degree, or some kind of new status. They're doing it out of their own personal volition. They're doing it out of their own learning quest, if you will. Trying to, in effect, become, satisfy their own personal interests."

Of the latest technologies, Bonk says sites like YouTube, Scribd, and wiki sites are encouraging the world to work together:

"Wikis, from the standpoint of empowerment from learners, the standpoint of the global perspectives that are now possible, and the fact that collaboration is from birth to death these days . . . You have to do it in K-12 schools to survive, oftentimes, and also in workplaces to design new products and create new reports and documents in government settings and universities to do research together. So I'd say wikis sort of epitomize some of that, and it's the quick notion of adding to the Internet, as well as receiving from -- you can read it, but you can add to it and change it."