Motivation and Vision

“There really is no limit to what teachers can do if they have the right resources. A decade from now, finding and using the best content and technology will be as natural as opening a book. Tablets and high-speed Internet access will be ubiquitous. Each student will have a learning map that helps chart their interests and learning path inside and outside the classroom. And the concept of the textbook will fade—replaced by easy online access to the best lectures and course materials available.”
Bill Gates on Education 2.0

As indicated by Bill Gates above there is a revolution occurring now in higher education. This is largely driven by the availability of high quality online materials, also known as Open Educational Resources (OERs). OERs can be described as “teaching, learning and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use or repurposing by others depending on which Creative Commons license is used” (Atkins et al., 2007). The emergence of OERs has greatly facilitated online education (eLearning) through the use and sharing of open and reusable learning resources on the Web. Learners and educators can now access, download, remix, and republish a wide variety of quality learning materials available through open services provided in the cloud.

The OER initiative has recently culminated in MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) delivered via providers such as Udacity, Coursera and edX. MOOCs have very quickly attracted large numbers of learners; for example over 400,000 students have registered within four months in edX. Also, in the four years since the Open University started making course materials freely available in Apple’s iTunes U, nearly 60 million downloads have been recorded worldwide. More recently, the Open University established FutureLearn as the UK response to the emergence of MOOCs, in collaboration with premier British institutions such as the University of Cambridge.

These initiatives have led to widespread publicity and also strategic dialogue in the education sector. The consensus within education is that after the Internet-induced revolutions in communication, business, entertainment, media, amongst others, it is now the turn of universities. Exactly where this revolution will lead is not yet known but some radical predictions have been made including the end of the need for university campuses4, while milder future outlooks are discussing ‘blended learning’ (combination of traditional lectures with new digital interactive activities). The consensus is however that the way higher education students learn is about to change radically.

The Future Internet Research and Experimentation (FIRE) initiative is intended to ensure that the European Internet Industry evolves towards a Future Internet containing European technology, services and values. Through the FIRE initiative and other similar regional and global initiatives a variety of facilities have been established to enable such experimentation.

These facilities cover a plethora of different domains belonging to the Future Internet ecosystem, such as cloud computing platforms, wireless and sensor network testbeds, Software Defined Networking and OpenFlow facilities, infrastructures for High Performance Computing, Long Term Evolution (LTE) testbeds, smart cities and so on. However, the corresponding cost both for the establishment and operation of these infrastructures is not to be neglected. Hence optimal usage of the facilities is desired by its owners, a goal which in general is not yet achieved today. To increase the usage, several steps can be taken.

One approach is to raise the awareness of the facilities within communities that are less familiar with the FIRE initiative. Another is to use the infrastructure not only for research and development, but also for other activities such as teaching through a constructivist approach. This means that students would be enabled to take certain initiatives in their learning, by setting up and conducting scientific experiments based on FIRE. In this way, using FIRE facilities for teaching computer science topics or other scientific domains would not only increase the usage of the facilities, it would also raise FIRE awareness in the long term since the students/experimenters of today are the researchers of tomorrow. And if educational materials were available that actually enable new types/areas of experimentation through FIRE, this would further lower the threshold for experimenters to explore new facilities and technologies.

References

Atkins, D. E., Brown, J. S. & Hammond, A. L. (2007) A Review of the Open Educational Resources (OER) Movement: Achievements, Challenges, and New Opportunities. The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.