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Hal Plotkin: Free to Learn

Hal Plotkin: Free to Learn


>>I actually encountered Hal, what
to do, often today on the Internet – that sounds kind of strange
– I saw him in a video, I believe it was the Big Ideas Fest;
he has a very interesting profile and personal story and I will
leave that to Hal to tell. He is the senior policy
advisor to the under secretary of education, Martha Kanter. Perhaps more importantly is the fact
that he has been a long-term proponent, a longtime proponent of open
education, and I want to also promote – this is one of his publications –
Free to Learn; there is a saying in open education movement, free not
as in free beer but as in free speech. It does cost money to produce materials,
but we want them to be open in terms of open scholarship, and
to give our ideas away. This is an excellent primer that
he has written on the movement. It details all the different
kinds, the different facets of open education and what it means. This one take away that you
want to be sure that you have, caring back to your institutions,
is Free to Learn by Hal. Basically I asked Hal
to give us a little bit of an idea what the Department of
Education thinks about open education and how that kind of fits into where
things going today, so he has promised to say a couple of things
about that, and also I am sure that we have questions later on after
his talk to ask him where the department of DOE stands on a host of issues,
particularly in international education, foreign languages as
well as open education. So, Hal, the floor is yours.>>Thank you. Thanks very much and I guess –
pardon me I brought my drink up here because I need more listening and
less talking, I am losing my voice – I know our friends needed to do it
mic check and everything is good. So good morning and thank
you all for being here. I am really delighted to be here,
and mostly to salute your leadership and to encourage you and tell you that
as important you think your work is, and we all like to think that what we do
is important, and that we are important as individuals, many of us in the
open educational resources movement and indeed in the Obama administration
regard your work is essential. And certainly important enough
for me to take some time to be with you this morning. I apologize if I’m a little disjointed. I was preparing my remarks. Carl was talking about how far everybody
came to be here and I want to put in a nomination for myself, at
least over the last 72 hours as having come the farthest. Because just a little under 48 hours I
was in Indonesia at the world conference on open and distance learning which
brought together 400 or 500 scholars from around the world who are
increasingly collaborating in using open education resources
to serve the overwhelming need for high-quality education that
is unmet by traditional methods. Although I have to say I am a little
disappointed because when I was in Indonesia – and the authorities
there took me after the formal meeting from place to place to meet different
dignitaries – they squired me around in the formal motorcade
with a police officer at front and police motorcycles on the side and
behind with a whole entourage followed by an ambulance for the entire day. And when I asked them
why the ambulance? They said, you are an
American government official. If anything bad were to happen
we wouldn’t want you to wait. So it was a little disconcerting. It was the first time I have ever
been trailed by an ambulance. But I got used to it. So when I got here at Austin last
night I was looking for my ambulance; hopefully we will not see one today. I have the high honor and I will explain
to you why – I see so many new faces in the room – I can tell the
story that Carl has heard. I suspect many of you have not. I know Rich is not in the room, he has
heard the story now probably 15 times so that is probably why he will
join us when he knows it is over. I have the high honor of giving
your greetings from the president of the United States, Barack Obama. The vice president, Joe Biden. The secretary of education, Arne Duncan,
and the under secretary of education, Martha Kanter, who knows takes
a lot of real personal interest in your work and this work. In a few moments you will understand why
it is such an extraordinary development that I would be standing in
front of you, speaking on behalf of the President of the United States. It is gob-smakingly strange
in some respects. But to do that I need to back up
a little bit and tell you a little about myself as Carl indicated I would. In doing it I tell the story not because
it is a particularly unique story. In fact, it is probably in
one dimension or another one of the most common stories
experienced around the planet; but also because it reinforces the
importance of your work in developing and continuously improving
open educational resources, particularly in the field
of language acquisition. My sister and I grew up in a
single-parent family in California where our father was absent from
the time we were young kids, and my mother was ill and
frequently unable to work. And so we were raised on
food stamps and welfare. By the time we got to high school
my sister and I, it was either stay in school and watch our house get lost
– a situation quite familiar to a lot of people today – but one that back in the 1970s left us with
a good deal of shame. Or drop out of school, stop
going to high school and work so we could help her meet
the monthly mortgage payment. Believe it or not, that mortgage payment
on a house in Palo Alto, California, where we were raised at that
time was $287.50 a month. It is a number I will never forget
because by the end of every month we had to raise that much money along with
whatever public assistance we got to keep the foreclosure vultures away. So my sister and I both dropped
out to work in the same – or left school rather – to
work in the same pizza parlor where I was making $1.50 an hour
under the table; every night the owner of the pizza parlor would go to the cash
register right before I left at midnight or 1 AM or something like that,
and he would peel off dollar bills and hand me my stack of 10 or 12 or
11 or 14 or whatever I had coming that night; and I would take them home
and put them on the stack on the counter and the goal was to have 287 of
them by the end of every month. One day while I was at work and
I had been – I had stopped going to high school, I guess this was
10th grade – for quite some time, many many months anyway, and I picked
up the newspaper on a work break and there was a story in the
newspaper about dropouts. And I thought it was a really pejorative
story; it was full of all sorts of accusatory observations
about why students dropped out. And you know they probably
are all taking drugs, and nobody ever really explains
to them how important school is. They don’t understand that either. What is wrong with these kids? And I remember being furious about it. That night I went home and
on a piece of binder paper with a pencil I wrote
a letter to the editor. I excoriated him and the newspaper
for writing such an obviously biased, indeed insulting article and
allowed it to be published. And I suggested to him at the time that
he was contributing to the very problem that he was trying to illuminate by
using these pejorative understandings of the issue, and also the very word
“dropout” itself to which I objected. I explained to him that
my younger sister and I had not dropped out of anything. In fact we felt like we had been
pushed out and that nobody cared, nobody came to look for is beyond
sending some postcards to our house that my mother never saw or opened
because she would go months at a time without even looking at the mail. The system was not responding in
any way and the very first thing that the news media could do would be
to start describing this problem in ways that those of us who were
experiencing it would recognize. So that there would be at least some
chance that effective public policies and public interventions could be
put into place that would give folks like my sister and myself an
opportunity to get back in school. And I singed the letter in
pencil and mailed it off. A few days later, the editor of
that newspaper caught up with me, found me in the pizza parlor. Told me that he had liked my letter
so much that could he print it – edited a bit – and printed as a
guest editorial with a byline. And paid me $50. And so a career as a writer was born. I went on – it took me about eight
years – I finally graduated high school with the help of the public
attention created by that episode. But was working, 20, 30, 40
hours a week for the entire time, while going back to school. I eventually went to Foothill Community
College, where I worked full-time. And gradually over time
I started doing more and more writing; I would
write at night. Back then – I am old enough now to
remember when word processors came out – I moved from the pencil on binder
paper to an IBM Selectric typewriter that I had bought for I think $35. And then eventually I started working
– after the drugstore I went to work at a sponsored project at
the Veterans Administration where they actually had one of
the world’s first word processors. I remember this device was a
marvel to anybody who saw it; it had not the capability that
you would find on my blackberry, and I remember Mr. Wang and his company;
and the $40,000 system that I was one of the first people at Stanford to – because I was then a manuscript
editor working part-time while going to school – I was a manuscript editor and I learned how to
use the word processor. And so I would do my writing in
the evening after work and what not in one thing led to another. By the time – eight or 10 years later
– that I had an Associates degree and an undergraduate degree
from the state university, San Jose State University, I was
already working for different national and international news organizations. And over time wrote I think close to
650 published articles in a variety of different publications in the United
States and overseas, focusing mostly on technology and public policy
and science and education, and the links between all of them. And so I knew from my own
personal experiences – it was not for me a theoretical issue
– that there was an enormous gap in our country and one that is
even more yawning around the world between the capacities and
desires with regards to education and the system’s ability
to match resources to those needs and opportunities. This was not a theoretical
issue that, gee, if we created more schools would
there be enough qualified students who would take advantage of those
opportunities if we figured out how to provide essential
support for students? So if we have high-quality
opportunities, would we be wasting our time? And I knew that it was
just the opposite. That there was an enormous
need, and unmet need, that our formal systems
were not responding to. So to fast forward the story a bit I had
some success in media production circles and ended up working for publications
and organizations like CNBC, and Barron’s, and the Wall
Street Journal’s publications; Harvard Business School
publications and others. 25 years later, a little over 25 years
later, there was a vacancy on the board of trustees for the Foothill/De
Anza Community College District. The same community college
district that I started to attend when I was in my teenage years. It was an elective position
in California, and elective government position. The community college
district supervisors — two community colleges with about
45,000 students between the two of them, located right in the
heart of Silicon Valley — and there had never been a graduate
of Foothill College to ever serve on the governing board of trustees. Typically a different profile as
you probably know, finds themselves as members of boards of trustees
of colleges and universities than is found resident in the
student body in most cases. And I was approached. One of the odd circumstances of
life is that because I had spent so much time taking one class or two
classes at a time, going to night school and all the rest at this
community college 25 years earlier and at the time I felt I was
cheated by it to be honest. I remember a lot of kids that I
went through junior high school with who had a better foundation
of support, watching them sail through their college years
uninterrupted and with comparatively – not always but often –
comparatively fewer burdens. I remembered feeling
cheated by all that. One of the consequences of it was that I had made a lot of
friends in the faculty. They would see me hitchhiking
to school as they were driving into the parking lot or whatever; some
of them would pick me up from time to time, and take a special interest
in my circumstances and situation. So 25-30 years later there was a
vacancy on the board of trustees. There had never been a graduate of the
school and leaders of the faculty union and the academic Senate for both
colleges approached me and asked me if I would run to be on
their board of trustees. And of course I said no,
it was a large district, about as big as a congressional district
and expensive to do something like that. And I explained that I didn’t like
raising money, and I had tried that before and I never felt
comfortable asking folks for money. And it didn’t seem like a very good fit. So they told me that they
did what I did years earlier, they just didn’t accept that. They organized a campaign on my behalf
and the faculty started raising money to get me on their Board of Trustees;
they opened up a bank account in the organized teams of people to
go knocking on doors and the printed up the first brochures and they
came back to me and said, you know, this is no longer a question. You’re running. We’ve already started. And so I ran and wouldn’t you know
it, it became a contested election and one thing led to another but I found
myself elected to the Board of Trustees and shortly thereafter the members
of the Board of Trustees elected me as their president, and I found myself
the president of the Board of Trustees of one of California’s largest
community college districts, managing about a billion dollars
a year in public funds. And overseeing the educational destinies
of tens of thousands of students. I guess people say this all the time
but I’m a walking example of it. Only in America. I get to travel around the world; I
have in my capacity as a journalist and now as a government official. I don’t see these stories
any place else. And maybe we will come
to see more of them of the world becomes a
smaller place, I hope so. But despite all of the travails and
weaknesses of our system, our culture and our politics, the United States
still – because of patterns of openness, engagement and in particular because
of the dedication of people who work in higher education systems
where they dedicated their lives to helping educate the next
generation; you encounter people, at least I did encounter
people, who help me over all of the different barriers that I faced. I can tell you with absolute certainty that what I have accomplished
today I did not do by myself. As a matter fact I look
back on it sometimes and I think, what part of it did I do? Because there were so many
others who were standing ready, from that newspaper editor to the
faculty leaders that I encountered to the other mentors and supporters
that I’ve had along the way who are far more responsible for
the fact that I am standing front of you today in this capacity than
from my own individual efforts. So I tell you that story again just so that you will know what a
spectacularly bizarre thing it is that I get to stand in front of you
or any other group in this country or around the world, and speak on behalf
of the president of the United States. It is extraordinary. It is a testament for the capacities
that each of you have to change and to transform lives, and to not
only be leaders in your communities and in your academic cultures, who
transform your own institutions. In addition to playing a role in
transforming the lives of others, in the most fundamental and
extraordinarily important ways that will have many not only to them
but to their families, to their children, and to everybody else
who comes after that. So thank you really for the work
that you do, and know that many of us who work in positions of policy in the Obama administration have similar
backgrounds; we were sought out exactly for these kinds of reasons. This is what the President did
shortly after he was elected. In his transition team was put in
place for the Department of Education. They went looking for people like me. I was – you could have knocked me over
with a feather when the opportunity to serve the Obama ministration came. I had contributed I think
$50 to the campaign. My wife and I – we are not
wealthy, she’s also a journalist – a better journalist than
I am I should add. She was nominated for a
Pulitzer Prize; she won the award from the California Publishers
Association as the best investigator
reporter in California. But still, we’re not wealthy. We had made sandwiches for the
local headquarters and brought them in on occasion, and did what we could
of and then to be given this opportunity to serve in a senior position
in the Department of Education as the most extraordinary
opportunity of my life. And now I sit just down the hall from
secretary of education Arne Duncan, who was he and a regular basis. I visit the White House two, three, four
times a week; I have the opportunity to have a seat at the table
where important issues related to open educational resources and
higher education are discussed and I am often brought in for
advice on a wider range of issues. At present I am the senior
policy advisor in the office of the Undersecretary of Education. We have responsibility for the
federal government’s entire oversight of higher education. That includes the student loan
system, the Fulbright scholar systems, Pell grants, anything that has to do
or touches with higher education policy or programs comes through our office. Let me talk a little bit about
President Obama’s commitment to open educational resources
because it really started with him, and it has a direct bearing
on your work. Then I have three or four other
key point that I want to share with you today really based on the
most recent things that I have learned about where this field is going, and where I think you can have the
greatest impact in the months and years ahead in addition
to encouraging the work that you are already doing,
which is so critically important. A few months after the president
was elected and indeed while FBI and others were vetting my suitability
to serve, from the moment I got the call to the moment they said okay you
can come was about three months; it was a startling three months
where about the largest thing that ever happened to wife
and I had just happened and we could not tell anybody. It was a trying time but about that
same time Presisent Obama announced his proposal for what he called
the online skills initiative. Some of you may remember that
original proposal made I think it was in March right after he was inaugurated. In that proposal he made a bold
and revolutionary suggestion that the federal government
ought to support a new generation of post secondary courses and learning
materials that would be open source; that would be open and customizable
and reusable and re-mixable. His original proposal
came under the rubric of legislative vehicle called the
American graduation initiative. And the open education resources
component was originally envisioned as 50 million dollar a year
investment in the production of these open curricular materials per
year over 10 years, a total investment of 500 million dollars over 10 years. The president proposed to finance
that – not by raising taxes – but instead by reforming the student
loan system which probably many of you know had for many many years been
quite a sweetheart deal for the banks who were essentially subsidized in their
offering of student loans but protected against any defaults or financial
losses that might occur from it. And our administration calculate
that we could save taxpayers about 60 billion dollars a
year over 10 years by ending that subsidized arrangement with
the banks to offer student loans and instead having them be offered
directly by the federal government which after all is guaranteeing
the loans to begin with. And that was a tenacious fight in
the US capital, and consumed most of the first year of
those of us who were there in the department of that time. Many people – you are
forgiven if you are among them, most of my immediate family members did
not know this either – did not realize that provision was tucked in, the provision reforming the
student lending industries, was tucked into the healthcare reform
bill that got all the attention. Everybody was talking and
fighting about what was going on with the president’s
proposal relevant healthcare and I’m sure you all remember
how tied up in knots Washington and indeed the rest of the
country was during that episode. It was actually called the healthcare
and education reform reconciliation act and part of it in part of the
reason that measure was fought so determinedly was that in addition to
creating the breakthroughs that it did and the promises to in the years
ahead in the healthcare field, and also contained this
reform for the banks. But at the very and that is
literally at the last moment — the night that it was being
passed, Congress stripped from it the provisions related
to open educational resources. And the 50 million dollars a year over
10 years – 500 million dollars total that have been proposed on that – through a sort of what some
would say an accounting measure, others would say a gimmick, was removed. And of course you can imagine there
was opposition to it from some of the traditional incumbents in that
space who did not cuddle to the idea of open educational resources
becoming publicly supported and becoming available for use in ways
that might compete with the desires of certain special interests. But at the same time that night,
literally again in the dead of night, another opportunity presented itself. That was an older piece of legislation
called the Trade Adjustment Assistance Act, which had been sporadically funded
since 1960s was up for refunding. The purposes of that act were
to protect and retrain workers who have been dislocated
by international trade, people who have lost their jobs because
the factory closed down and moved away. That legislation simply directed the
secretary of labor to create programs that would serve the interests of those
workers in helping them get assessments, new skills so they could
become reemployable. We realized that although the original
proposal the president had made have been defeated, that were money
placed into that legislation with some administrative
creativity and modernization, we could use that vehicle to support
meeting those dislocated workers need with open educational resources that
would also have multiplier effects and be useful for other
purposes, in addition to the ones that they were narrowly delineated for. The traditional model of the
Trade Adjustment Assistance act, which I’ll call the TAA, moving forward, was that the federal government would
give a student a voucher, $3000, $5000, something like that and the
student would then take a voucher to some training provider who
would hopefully give them some sort of training or something and
they will learn some skills that would allow them to
reenter the workforce. 2 billion dollars from the savings of
the student loan program was placed into funding the TAA, with
only a vague description of exactly how it was to be used. And the President and the White House
decided at that time that the Department of Labor would work – Department
of Labor which owns that program – would work in close partnership
with the Department of Education, to modernize the methods under which
those funds would be appropriated. And make it a kind of a joint project
and I was given the responsibility of helping to lead the Department of Education’s efforts
in that modernization. Instead of 50 million
dollars a year over 10 years, we had 500 million dollars
a year over four years, for a total of 2 billion dollars. Very early on we made the decision
that all of the intellectual property that would be produced
for these education and job training resources would be
released as open educational resources. So we went from what became
a 50 million dollar promise to a 500 million dollar
delivery in this space. And just two weeks ago we announced the
winners of the first 500 million dollars in grants for the production
of open educational resources to support high-quality post
secondary education and job training. The requirement is — the complication
under the statue in the law — is that to begin with all of these
materials have to be suitable to help dislocated workers
reenter the workforce. But when we assessed dislocated
workers we found out of course that they had many of the same
problems entering or succeeding in the workforce as other groups. Many of them need basic skills. They need more modern technological
skills; they need language; they need skills that match up
with what the workforce demands. And the materials that could be produced
for them – if you think of it kind of like a Venn diagram, those
diagrams where circles overlap, one with the other, if you had one
circle of what dislocated workers need and then if you had another circle of
what the rest of everybody else needs in terms of access to open,
high-quality educational opportunities, where those two circles overlap
is a remarkable sweet spot that allows federal investments in this
area to be multiplied significantly. So rather than serving on a one-off
basis the needs of anyone learner, each dollar invested
could be potentially of use to every similarly situated
learner around the world. We are in the first year of that;
the grant solicitation announcements for the second year of funding in
that area are being prepared now. When I go back to Washington that’s
the first meeting I will have, I guess tomorrow morning on working
to develop that and we will be looking for ways to see what we can learn from
the first round of grants that just went out and expand on it and strengthen it. I do not think it is an exaggeration
to say that when you take it in its totality, 2 billion dollar
investment in certifiably high-quality, open educational resources by our administration represents the
single largest expansion in access to high-quality education and
job training opportunities in the history of the world. You have not read much about this; as a former journalist I am
shocked by that everyday. I talk with journalists all the time,
and I guess it is a kind of think that once students finally
get access to these materials and they start seeing the logo on the
bottom that says produced in partnership by the Department of
Labor and Education, people start smacking their
heads and saying my goodness where it did all this come from? But it has not been terribly well
covered and is another reason that I wanted to bring the
news to you personally. Because if the news of this advance and
accomplishment is to be made known to the American people it’s likely to be
done not the major news media organs that some of us have come to rely on
and or despised, instead it will come through the word of mouth of
professionals like yourselves and colleagues who will
point people to it and help others understand
the significance. If you want to read more about this
announcement, the easiest way to do it – I do not bring a multimedia presentation
today – just do a Google search at some point for my name, Hal
Plotkin, and White House blog; that will lead you right to
the announcement that we made on the White House blog when the first
run of solicitations was available; at the bottom of that blog post you will
see a link to the solicitation itself that we will be working off,
to create a new one. So, I will come back to what we are
doing in the Obama administration in just a few minutes, but I have
three other main points I wanted to cover before inviting
a conversation or any questions that you might have. And Carl I look for you to give
me the hook because I’m still in Indonesia time; people could
probably tell I could talk about this stuff for a long time. Why open educational resources? And why is it important, in particularly
for the field you are involved in? And the best summary that I
have of that – and it is ironic because I see this language
being used in another context – I assure you it is the
language which I have been using for the last couple of years. What percentage of people around the
world do you think would you estimate have access to high-quality, post
secondary educational experiences? I am guessing, just knowing – there
is no right or wrong answer to this because no one is actually counted
this, it is part of the problem, in a real robust way – but I am guessing
that if you added up the total capacity of all our institutions, the Rices, the
Stanfords, the state university systems, the similar ones that exist around the
world, that it may be no more than 5% of the world’s population
who realistically have access to high-quality, post secondary
educational opportunities. It means 95% of the world’s population
are effectively in one way or another – if not legally then practically – locked out of the post secondary
system for higher education. 95% of the world’s population. And if you assume that talent is
equally distributed around the world, then you come to understand that in structuring a higher
education enterprise that leaves out, or blocks out 95% of the world’s
population, we have architected or allowed to be architected or allowed
to be maintained on our watch a system that is not only desperately
unfair to those potential students but cheats humanity out of
realizing its potential. If there is a cure to cancer
that will be available soon enough to help the people in this room
or those we care about who are, or would be afflicted by that disease,
it is so much more likely to be discovered and developed by somebody
in that 95% than in the 5%. If there is a great work
of art or literature that will bring the world
together in common purpose and help it overcome sectarian,
nationalistic boundaries and move us to a place of international –
improved international cooperation and collaboration – it is so much
more likely to be found in that 95%. It is in our interest, all of
us, to do everything that we can to use currently available
technologies and inclinations, including those resident
in faculty to provide and to bring high-quality
educational opportunities to those who are currently precluded from meaningful participation
in post secondary systems. This is also a key to economic
revitalization of the world’s economy. That 5% who are well served
by the current structure — for the most part they have already
bought the stuff that they need. Many of them already have two
houses; they ve got their cars. The crisis we have in the global economy
today is a crisis of global demand. Global demand has collapsed. One of the main reasons global demand
has collapsed is that the 5% are loaded with debt and fairly satiated in
terms of their material needs, while the 95% cannot
afford to buy anything. You do not buy anything if you
are dirt poor and illiterate; people who are dirt poor and illiterate
cannot power and economic resurgence. But if we can find ways to
bring literacy and numeracy and improved educational language
facilities to that part of the world, people who are educated
build more, they buy more, the trade more, they hire more people. Although it is not a quick fix,
it is not the kind of thing where you turn a switch and all of a
sudden you have a billion more jobs, it is the only sustainable path to
restoring global economic growth to rates that we were more familiar with in
the post World War II era that allow for the kinds of more comfortable
lifestyles and expansion of educational opportunities,
and growing of the pie that is both our national and
international economic salvation. For us – for the leaders in the
Obama ministration and certainly for the President himself and the
leaders in the White House office of science and technology policy with
who I work on an almost daily basis – this is not a feel-good education issue. This is a national security issue. This is about the future of democracy, the future of open markets
and open societies. That is really why I am with you today. To make sure you understand the context in which the federal government
has invested in your work and the seriousness of purpose with which we regard your
efforts moving forward, and the degree to which we will continue
to support those efforts in every way that we can and to highlight them
and to bring more resources to bear as we move forward together in
meeting these important needs. Carl was kind enough to
briefly mention Free to Learn; it was nice to see it listed and
I want to belabor much about it. I just want to make two quick points
about it and then I urge you to look at it, it is a creative Commons’ licensed
and is available to all of you for free. And for free distributions. Ironically in a kind of weird billiard
balls hitting each other in random ways but somehow at pattern emerges
later that we call life, one of the opportunities I had as
a journalist 10 or 12 years ago was when Larry Lesley was thinking about this wonderful idea he
had called Creative Commons. I thought it was such a great idea. It had not been born yet, but I ended up writing what became the first article
ever written about Creative Commons; one that was used originally
developed some of the additional support and
financing for it. Now, Larry was with me in
Indonesia earlier this week and we both remarked the
incredible path that has taken place over the last 12 years
from it becoming an idea to it now being intellectual
property license that governs or that makes possible the use of
open educational resources and tens of millions of publications
with thousands and thousands of scholars involved. This is just one piece. But there are two takeaways from Free to
Learn that I would like for you to think about and also to consider how
you might be able to help with. One is that when I agreed to
serve on the Board of Trustees at the community college district, one
of the reasons besides being flattered by the invitation from the faculty,
one of the goals and reasons for doing it was because I
thought, you know if I get on that thing there is
something you like to do. It grew out of some of the
articles I have been writing for the San Francisco Chronicle back in
those days where I was writing a column on the intersection of
technology and public policy. I have been asking myself and
asking our readers why it was that when the Internet existed in
all of these other new realities of technology were possible,
when a poor student as I was 25-30 years earlier showed
up at for example at Foothill College to learn mathematics, the first
thing they did was send me to the bookstore to buy a $130 book. It just seemed incongruous. Couldn’t — we not spend 60 billion
dollars a year in the U.S. on education, couldn’t we come up with three
high quality math, algebra, statistics textbook that interested
faculty members could be paid to create, and that could be given
to students for free so students could spend the money
fixing their car, for getting childcare or doing whatever else they need
to do to be able to attend classes and pay attention to their studies? I had written a lot of these articles
and then I found myself on the board of trustees and I thought, fate has
given me this wonderful opportunity to see if we can do that and we did. We created at the Foothill/De
Anza community college district – the story is detailed in Free to
Learn – the country’s first policy, governance board policy on
open educational resources. At the time were calling it
public domain learning materials. It’s another talk about
why we switched the name. But the policy was very simple. It simply said that the Chancellor of our community college
district had a responsibility to support faculty members
who wanted to create or to use or to improve open educational
resources, for the established curricular
purposes of the district, and the Chancellor would report
back to the Board of Trustees at least once a year on the progress. This had dawned on me
as just an elemental – it ought to be an elemental
defined purpose of every higher education
institution in the country — but we were going to start with
the one that I was president of the Board of Trustees of. It struck me as just bizarre for example
that a faculty member could be walking across one of our campuses and could see a
divid in the football field and could know exactly who to call to get that
divid and the football field repaired and more likely than not the
next time they were walking across the campus the
football field would be repaired but if the same faculty member were
walking across the campus and said, you know, that I want to create a free,
open piece of scholarship that I would like to use and share with my
students and also to collaborate with other faculty members who teach
similar disciplines, that faculty member in most cases is no place to go. Where does that person turn for support? Why is it that all of you have to turn
to the federal government and FIPSE and similar programs to do what is
essentially the most important work of education, which is the development
of high-quality curriculum materials that could be offered to students on
terms that they can afforded experience? And ought it not to be a governance
purpose of higher education institutions to provide students with those
materials, not to require faculty to produce them, not to take
the rights of faculty to publish in alternate domains including
copyright it – I’m a writer after all. I made my living for close to 30
years as a writer and media producer. We weren t trying to take anybody’s
property away but we were saying, if there are faculty members who
want to produce these materials than the school ought to support them
and find ways to make that possible. We passed that policy. We only passed the policy after first
surveying the faculty because one thing that our Chancellor, who was very savvy
and who I used to supervise as president of our board, she’s now
our undersecretary of education, and so now she’s my boss. We switched places, much to my delight. Her thought was, we need to do
this but only do it in a way that the faculty supports and so
let’s start by surveying the faculty. We went to the leaders of the academic
Senate and we asked them, if we gave or offered faculty support
for the production of open educational resources,
would you welcome them? Would you use them? Overwhelming numbers of faculty members
– not all of them – but certainly more than a critical mass
including superstars in every department stepped
forward and said by all means. In fact we discovered that many of them were already producing
open educational resources for use by the students on their own,
uncompensated, working nights and weekends in the because they knew
it was a way to help their students. After we passed our policy – for example
– one math professor came to a Board of Trustees meeting and waited
for the part of the meeting, through a lot of long, tortured fiscal
reports and all kinds of nonsense, waited to the part of the meeting where
he could address the Board of Trustees. He said, I just want to thank
you for passing is policy. It has improved the situation
in my class dramatically. Because now I am able to work
on developing these materials and providing them to my students
for free – their high-quality – and as a result my students,
it’s improving what is going on in my classroom because
my students trust me more. They know that I fought hard to get
them the best possible materials at the lowest possible
cost and it is built a kind of trust relationship
that did not exist before. And the students stay after
class to talk with me. They e-mail me, they call me up,
they know I am on their side. Thank you Board of Trustees
for making it clear to my students that I am on their side. And giving me the support
to make that possible. So here we are now – that was
2003 – here we are now in 2011, so, it is seven or eight years later
and I like to tell you that these official governance
policies that we enacted so successfully in Foothill/De Anza which helped
bring this to the attention of President Obama shortly after he
was elected, have been replicated in exactly 0 higher education
institutions around the country. The gap between what is in terms
of governance and what faculty and students desire, and what the
governance boards and officials who run higher educational
institutions could be doing is as big as the Grand Canyon or even as my six-year-old daughter
would say, bigger than Jupiter. It is extraordinary omission
opportunity that has led to what is a great opportunity
for you and other early leaders of the open educational resources
field because that then touches on the next point I wanted to raise
with you which is sustainability. The work that you are doing
is extraordinarily important, but the question I get asked most
often is, how do we sustain this work? The grants are being cut,
we can’t keep going around – open educational resources
is a bit like a cargo cult, if there are any sociologist in
the room you remember the reference to cargo cults. Cargo cult were – I will give
it a bad definition – if there is a sociologist
somebody will correct me later, was the idea that people use to
– anthropologist used to visit like South American jungles, native
societies there, they were flying in to these quickly made
airports and then they would try and study the local culture but when
they came to have all these goodies with them, hammers, nails,
packaged food, whatever – and they discovered a little while
after making all of the landings that they had transform the
local cultures because instead of enjoying your local cultural
activities before they were invaded by the people who were studying
them, now they were all just lined up around the airfield enchant
and dance and all the rest waiting for the next cargo planes land. These were called cargo cults. Open educational resources is
in danger of being a cargo cult, unless some plane lands and gifts
you with resources there is no way to continue the essential
work that you’re doing. People say what we really need is
we need some organization that has as its purpose the provision for the
general welfare that is concerned, that has resources – that
is concerned about education, that is involved in education to
support these activities moving forward. And I will put it to you that we
already have that organization; it is called the government; it is
called schools and our task, your task, our task in partnership is to help
governance officials at the institutions at which you reside and
we reside recognize that responsibility and live up to it. The federal government cannot- for as long
as our administration is there – we will continue to that to direct
as many resources as we possibly can to supporting this kind of work. But ultimately it will sink or
swim; it will be sustainable or not sustainable depending on how
well support for it is transferred into the mainstream governance
and philanthropic activities of higher educations institutions
themselves and of the state that support higher education
institutions. And when support for open educational
resources materializes in real weight like we did in our community
college district through governance and the systems of education and through
schools, that is when the transformation that those materials can
enable – when it is at the core of higher education enterprises
– that is when the transformation that it can enable will
become much more profound and durable and in fact sustainable. Two other quick points
and then I will conclude. One has to do with badges;
have any of you heard of badges? Oh good. I’m glad that not everybody. And for those of you who haven’t
– I hadn’t not long ago either and I will tell you a quick story. I apologize for going on
so long but you invited. So I was in Barcelona – now it’s about
eight months ago – I was at a similar, I was at the Mozilla drumbeat festival. You probably know Mozilla
is the foundation that supports the Firefox
browser that a lot of us use. They get – I don’t know – they have some
kind of deal with Google, they get 30 or 60 billion dollars a year from
Google because when you do a search on Mozilla Firefox browser it
automatically takes you to Google. And their purpose, their defined
purpose, is to keep the Internet free and open, to make sure
that no one company – so they have an open source browser – to
make sure that no one company ever comes to dominate communications on the
Internet and their companion purpose is that the Internet be used as a
powerful vehicle for the transmission of high quality education opportunities. So to have a focus on education. They were sponsoring their
annual drumbeat festival and they were doing a partnership
with the MacArthur foundation so they invited me to talk
and I gave my little talk. Pretty raucous group from all
over the world, open source folks. And at the end of my talk, this
young woman came up to me and said, you know Mr. Plotkin we
really like you a lot. I’ve been reading your stuff for years
now and a lot of us passing around and we just think you are great. We really appreciate what you’re
trying to do to reform and improve and modernize the higher
education system but we don’t think that
you’ll be successful. So we just decided to replace it. Which like to come and see
what we are working on? And I said sure. And they invited me into the
Mozilla Mcarthur foundation Badges working group. I think that it may have been the first
time that they all physically assembled in one place, if not the first
time it was one of the first times. And so I found myself in this
meeting with oh, I don’t know, 40 or 45 of the most energetic,
technologically inclined – I guess some would call them nerds,
I would call them Futurists – people from around the world. Piercings were far more common
than formal wear in this group. And I was fascinated by what they were
doing and I ended up staying with them until nearly 4 o’clock in the morning;
and they were working in a kind of accordion business process where
they have developed – they have support from these two foundations now
– and there were representatives of both Mozilla foundation and
MacArthur foundation there as well; Amy Chung at the McArthur
foundation is helping to lead this work, extraordinary
visionary. And the idea goes something like this. I will give you one early
model of how it works. But I think it has profound impact
– it will have a profound impact on your work going forward – so
they fashioned in a partnership with I think the international
Association of Web and graphic designers or something like that, a curricular
alternate industry recognized credential program is essentially what it is. They organized a curriculum
online from OAR that is all free that teaches someone how to become
a graphic designer or web developer. And it has all of the lessons
in it that you can imagine. How to build a webpage, how to make the
logo, letterhead, all kinds of things that a graphic designer
would want to do. And all of the instructional
materials are free and the student goes through the process until they
get to the point where they want to have what they have done
assessed, their portfolio of work that they created in this process. And then they petition to
the international Association for an assessment and they pay, I
don’t know what it is, 35 dollars, 85 dollars or something like that. I remember that it was under 100. And senior members of the group
look over the portfolio of work and if they determined that the student
has successfully accomplished the work in order to have mastered the curriculum
that is been organized for them, they award them what they call a
“badge” a little digital badge. The badge has the logo of
international Association on it, and the student can take that badge and
they can put the badge on their resume. And then when they are applying for
job somewhere, the employer can click on the badge and see the portfolio of
work that the student did to enable them to achieve that industry
recognized credential. And this is what the woman who is
running this project said to me. Think about this, Mr. Plotkin. Think about 10 or 15 years from now. You are an employer and you
are interviewing two candidates for an open position, it’s Friday
afternoon and you need a person to start Monday morning in
a mission-critical position. And in walks two job candidates;
one of them has a nice shiny diploma from an Ivy League institution; and the
other has a resume that is full of 10-12 of these badges in the exact operational
areas that you need the employee to be proficient on when they start
at eight o’clock on Monday morning. And what’s more, you can see examples
of their work in each of the areas. Which of those two systems
is going to win in the end? Then if you think about it, a
system that accommodated that nice, shiny Ivy League diploma
can only accommodate, say, 5% of the world population and the other
system can accommodate everybody else, which is going to become the
preferred system of credentials – educational credentials – that
are meaningful in the marketplace? And after all, isn’t that
one of the main – not only – but one of the main justifications of
the entire higher education certificate and degree granting process, to
create some kind of reliable arbiters of quality that employers
and others can rely on? I don’t know. I am not a futurist. I’m just a writer. And I don’t know if this is going to
replace higher education as we know it with all the Ivy and all the rest. But I do think that this is going to
have an impact on higher education and as we move forward in the years
ahead, these kinds of new systems of creating industry recognized
credentials both for learners and also for teachers I think will
become extremely important. Let me conclude by giving you some sense
of how fast all of this is moving just because I got back from this
international conference where I had dinner with the president of China’s recently renamed
open University. Used to have a different
– far more bureaucratic, and communist sounding name – and
now the China open University. He has 3 million students in degree
granting programs at the present time. One of the things he said to me,
incidentally, and I’ll be happy to be the person who built these
bridges with you or anybody else, he said do you happen to
know institutions or programs in the United States that
might want to work with us? Particularly in the areas
of language acquisition? 3 million students eager,
looking for partners with open educational
resources as the bridge. Similar progress underway in India where the Indira Gandhi open
University now has close to, if not more than, a million students. The United States – as fast
as we are trying to move in the Obama administration – has
some serious catching up to do, and you are in the forefront. You are who we are counting on,
leaning on and depending on to continue to lead your institutions, your programs
and in fact your country as we try to step up to this enormous opportunity
which means so much not only to you and your programs and
to our administration but in fact the entire global economy. So finally, let me conclude by
reminding you what President Obama said on that night when he won,
his improbable victory in the presidential primaries
where it was clear that he would become the
nominee of the Democratic Party. And which led directly to the
improbable fact that I stand in front of you here today. He reminded you, he reminded the people
in the hall that night in a phrase that has been often repeated,
that when it comes right down to it we are the people
we’ve been waiting for. And what I would say to all
of you here this morning is that our work together has just begun. Thanks for your patience. [ applause ]>>CARL: Hal had a lot to say and he
cut a little bit into the Q&A time. But I do like to take at least
one question and then we’ll have to take a break because we have to
set up our Skype for our next speaker. But anybody have a question for Hal?>>HAL: I think I covered everything. [ laughter ] .>>HAL: Yes sir.>>Man: The Obama administration and the
secretary of education have probably done more to devastate international studies
than anyone else (indiscernible), that has led to a lot of
unemployment in this area. It has led the scuttling of all
kinds of programs and projects, of the kind you’re talking about. For example, we’ve had an
online beginning Korean program that (indiscernible) — it
seems to me that the emphasis on international studies, specifically
language, is — it’s hard to address. Because there’s so little
response to any of the issues that come up (indiscernible).>>HAL: It’s a very fair question,
and a very important observation. I think that if you could draw
something for my presentation, it would be to help you understand as
an administration how creative we have to be to get any support, any resources for open educational resources
absent explicit cooperation from the U.S. Congress. There’s a difference between what we as
an administration would have proposed, would propose, and would
like to see happen, and what we can get moved
through the U.S. Congress. So I can assure you there is
no lack of appetite on behalf of our assistant secretary
for international education, Maureen McLaughlin; or her
companion, Andre Lewis. Both of whom, if you look at
their publications and the work that they have done for decades
comes from the leadership of these international education
programs and the proposals and speeches that they have made since
we’ve been in Washington. But we leave in it tripartite system
of government where it is difficult to use the diplomatic word to get certain
forces in Congress to understand that support for international
education does not come at the expense of domestic needs.>>My understanding is that this decisions about Title VI was not made in
the administration, but was made by the Department of Education and money
saved went to something like raised to the top. That is, I think, the issue, the questions that we have
that we never seem to get answered>>HAL: I can get you more specific
answers from our assistant secretaries of international education the best way
to do it is if you send me an e-mail with a very specific set of
queries, I will make sure that you get very specific
point answers to each of them that will illuminate the budgetary
processes that are involved in making those kinds of
decisions and recommendations. I think it is extraordinarily
clear from the work that I know and the colleagues that I know that
there is a much greater appetite to make a requests – budgetary
requests – in this area. But on occasion requests are made,
official requests are transmitted to Congress based on what we know can
pass within the deadlines and timelines that avoid things like
the government shutdowns so then you can come back later on and
say, ah, you are in favor of so-and-so because you made the proposal but
the proposal may have been generated at a time when it was the only way to avoid some even more dire
consequence from occurring. I can’t – on the balls
of my feet right here – detail for you the exact budget
mechanisms that were in play that led to the cuts that you and I both lament. Which extend far beyond the
programs that you just mentioned, but there were some programs
that the president proposed for which we could get
congressional support and there were others that we couldn’t. And to blame us because we
couldn’t convince the Congress to do things they didn’t want to do, I don’t know that it
would be entirely fair. The fair thing I think would
be to look at what we proposed and what we continue to propose. And determine what the obstacles
are in implementing the proposals.>>CARL: I’m going to have to stop. We need 10 min. to set up our next speaker and
this discussion on history is going to go on; it’s a terrific question.>>HAL: And it should go on.>>CARL: It should go on. And needs to go on; 10 min. coffee break and we will
start at the top of the hour. [ applause ]

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