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Saturday, June 23, 2012

Wisdom - Humanity's Cut-And-Come-Again Pudding

Last night I did something which I regret - which is to stand on a soap box and deliver a polemic at the MIT club of northern california meeting where Open Courseware was seeking feedback from the alumni community.

 As part of purging myself from the excruciating feeling that I did my cause no benefit by doing that, I would like to share the thought in a less polemical way - ie what I should have said.

Background Context 

OpenCourseware (OCW)   is MIT's open source platform for sharing course materials - 2100 courses to date from MIT, 20,000 courses on the platform put on by others Tufts, CMU, etc. There are mirror sites around the world, eg Sub Saharan Africa gets the stuff on hard drives so that Internet access is not needed for local tapping of OCW, Chinese translators create Chinese language versions and post them out, under CC license. In all, current estimated audience is 125 million globally. We have just reached the 10th anniversary of OCW, and the speaker's were former Dean of engineering, Dick Yue and the Executive director of OCW, Cecelia d'Olivera. There are 30 ebooks, each MIT course is the sharing of the equivalent of 1 MIT Professor's time on average, 1 year in preparing a new course. They take sabbaticals to create new courses - at least that's what they told us last night.

90% of faculty participate - MIT being what it is, they joked that the only other thing attaining this extent of 90% of faculty participation, is in knowing where the Mens and Women's restrooms are.

MITx is the parallel effort by MIT to actually offer free courses - where you can get an MITx Certificate. 

The first course MITx on circuit design of some kind, has just completed. 150k people signed up. 9k took the mid term. 5k took the finals 7k passed (I guess you could pass without taking the finals, based on earlier work)

They asked us, several questions, the last of which What would be the impact of not moving forward boldly with OCW, they have a dream of reaching 1 billion people.

My response to this question: 

OCW is like the Gutenberg Bible of our time (yes, its possibly a little bombastic, but I do think this - also am aware I'm talking Western Europe only) - before the printing press (analogy Internet) if you wanted to learn to read and write, you had to join a monastery and become a monk. There was a priesthood. Or you had to be very wealthy, and pay monks to teach your kids. Because churches were the only place where knowledge gardens were tended in those days, and they begot the small number of universities (Paris, Bologna, Scotland) - Wikipedia: "The first institutions generally considered to be universities were established in ItalyFranceSpain and En
gland in the late 11th and the 12th centuries for the study of artslawmedicine, and theology.[1] These univers
ities evolved from much older Christian cathedral schools and monastic schools." 

The printing press broke the monopoly of the church and began the trend of the increasing literacy of the people. Cheaper books meant that literate people could teach anyone they wanted to, wherever and not make it a condition that you would devote your life to God in order to learn to read and write.

OCW is the Gutenberg Bible, in that just like the Gutenberg Bible opened the possibility people can read for themselves, decide for themselves - no longer does God have to be interpreted for the illiterate by the literate priesthood.....

OCW opens the possibility that anyone with Internet access (big IF, but it was a big IF whether or not a Gutenberg bible was within walking distance to you) can "see, understand and learn" for themselves and decide for themselves what kind of life they might want to lead, how they might earn a living, how their community might operate. No longer does global fields of knowledge have to be interpreted by "haves" to "have nots".

Like the ABC of literacy, with OCW is the door to 21st century literacy, the genii is out of the bottle. People being people, they will get what they need and want, the most ambitious, strong minded ones first will break down the barriers for those that follow. It might take the Enlightenment, the equivalent of the American, industrial, information revolutions to occur, before all the things happen like every human having the chance to realize their potential to thrive and pursue happiness, but the dam has broke, it will not be put back again.

The next part I did not say last night, but I am sharing here: 

What brought me to Douglas Engelbart and why I worked with him for 4 years was that I recognized that he knew that it could go the way of open source and human potential, OR be hijacked by monopolists and used to "enslave" the many to benefit the few powerful. And that the angst we feel, and mirrored around the world, is because we hover in the crucible until the needle points firmly in one direction or the other.

The powerful will always gather power, and drive to feudal society - because they live in a world that is static, a pie that is not growing. 

The other view: Knowledge multiples when it is shared... a cut and come again pudding! The American experiment has shown that the opening the pursuit of happiness to all, can have generate collective knowledge with beneficial results for over 200 years. But as power entrenches, the tendency to shift back to feudal is threatening to overwhelm the American experiment (Citizens United is such an Orwellian term don't you think?)

With knowledge going global, which way will the needle go?

 MIT OpenCourseWare: I'm invested Support Wikipedia

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