Opening Up Virginia or, Faith in a System of People

Stolen from the State of Virginia arts campaign

Funny that I should find myself as excited as I’ve been in a long while writing a post about a state-level higher education council committee meeting I attended. Who gets excited about committee work?! Well, today I did. Because I spent three stimulating hours with a bunch of committed and passionate people talking about what open education could mean for the Virginia public higher education system. The discussion instilled a sense of faith that good people and powerful ideas (like opening up education across institutions in Virginia) is not only possible, but feasible. What’s more, this conversations is happening in on a level where wide-scale change could happen on the level of a state system. I mean the idea isn’t too outlandish, right? David Wiley has been at this for years, and Tom Caswell and company did it in Washington more recently! Why not Virginia?  I truly believe this, and I am not alone—a lot of other people like Richard Sebastian (who deserves a ton of credit for orchestrating this) of VCCS, VCU’s own Jeff Nugent, Nicolle Parsons-Pollard from Virginia State University, M’Hammed Abdous from ODU, Radford’s Steve Helm, Lorraine Hall from CNU, and Tidewater Community College’s Diane Ryan, to name just a few, are bringing their a-game to the table to ensure that Virginia’s public education system remains vital to the state’s future. A committee where you feel like you have the possibility to make a real difference is an awesome thing!

The committee originated this Spring as a Digital Learning Resources (DLR) planning group whose original mandate was framed around “producing a report to articulate policy and process recommendations regarding incentives, funding, and measurement of progress in the improved use of DLR at Virginia public institutions.” The idea of what DLRs encompassed was a bit hazy. From the outset it seemed as if they were being defined as etexts that would produce immediate cost savings through deals with publishers—an idea, no doubt, born in some vendor’s boardroom somewhere. But at the first physical meeting of the committee back in April or May the idea of what, in fact, a digital learning resource is started to broaden the scope of the committee through vigorous conversation. Was it open courses? -open software development? -open publishing platforms? open access?  -open texts locally created? etc.

The conversation took a broader, philosophical view of resources and almost from the start was marrying that notion to something freely accessible and shareable—almost the diametric opposite of etexts as they were presented to the planning group. I found the first conversation exhilarating, but I was afraid it was beginners luck. A thoughtful, discursive state committee meeting by self-described bureaucrats was sure to be a mistake, right?  Surely at all subsequent committee meetings the group would come to its senses and rule out any real innovative alternative. It had to…

But it didn’t. Today’s conversation was even better than the first—conducted on a simultaneously philopsophical and practical plane of what the conceptual impact of open publishing systems could mean for sharing resources across state institutions of higher ed. We talked about everything from Massive Open Online Courses to a state wide open access journal to shared open classes and distributed campus resources—-and it was more than apparent, at least to me, that SHEV’s Academic Affairs and Planning Director,  Joe Defillipo and Policy Analyst Beverly Covington were not simply playing the part of  bureaucrats, they were groking the implications of what an open and connected state-wide higher education system could do “to promote the development of an educationally and economically sound, vigorous, progressive, and coordinated system of higher education.” That’s right out of  SCHEV’s mission, and that’s what we were all doing today on the 9th floor of the James Monroe Building in Richmond. Of this I am proud.

What’s even better than that is it won’t simply stop at today’s conversation. And while I can’t say with any certainty that the Virginia state system of higher education will usher in an era of open resources, I do believe that we have the ideas, people, and passion in place to make this much more than a conversation. We are in the midst of polishing off a Request for Proposals for a state-wide conference that will bring teams from every Virginia state institution together to feature the innovative teaching and learning work happening at their campus.  The conference is in many ways the beginning of the conversation around articulating how a statewide approach to creating and sharing Digital Learning Resources (and their concomitant interaction) can inform both the present and future of higher ed in Virginia. And that is not about committees and institutions, it is ultimately about people who honestly believe we can use the current cultural realities to, forgive the repetition here, “promote the development of an educationally and economically sound, vigorous, progressive, and coordinated system of higher education.” I am a believer!

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2 Responses to Opening Up Virginia or, Faith in a System of People

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