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February 26, 2009

Connected Cities: A Small Contribution to Advancing Knowledge at the Intersection of Education, Technology, and Open Content

I’ve enjoyed blogging this past month for the Chronicle of Higher Education. An edited version of this blog appears today.

Working and being associated with a great university is a privilege. Taking the mission of the university seriously also brings with it obligations. There is a natural tendency in times of local or national economic distress to become inwardly focused. It’s a basic instinct and form of human survival. The problem is that instinct leads to behaviors that work at cross purposes to the underlying interdependencies that now characterize the global economy. At the very moment when economic nationalism becomes politically expedient, we need an architecture for global education that balances the chauvinisms that comes with much ‘wrap ourselves in the flag’ economic policies. With the world economy ever closer to the edge of the precipice, building and reinforcing the undergirding of interdependencies are vital to our collective future.

In my last blog entry, I outlined that we now have an educational economy of information abundance confronting an educational delivery system that was built for a time of information scarcity. Although I don’t consider myself a technological reductionist, I think there are a number of immutable forces at play which will result in more and more open educational resources. Over a relatively short period of time, through fabrics of trust and various forms of peer review, those open educational resources will improve in quality. Will we simply substitute open resources for the legacy and largely proprietary learning economy? If we are to meet the challenges facing the education community in the context of the tensions in the global economy, I think it would be most unfortunate if that was the limited extent of our aspirational goal.

The long term health and well being of our great universities are intimately and ineluctably linked to the health and well being of the cities within which we work and study. Ours is, as we are now finding out, a fragile eco-system. Cities around the world are links in a chain of value which produces knowledge, economy, politics, and different forms of community. Technology, open educational resources, and the education community are the key drivers and enablers of an arc of human activity that can lead us to learn and appreciate more about one another and about ourselves at the very moment when the forces of economic nationalism (and the likely corollary of reassertion of different form of militarism) are pulling us in a very different direction. I think the stakes are that high. I hope that Universities will serve as beacons and a clarion call to both the risks and challenges we face and the need to take action to avoid repeating the lessons of history.

Cities like Cleveland have dozens of sister or twinning cities around the world. In Cleveland we have twenty sister cities as diverse as Taipei, Bangalore, Gdansk, and Alexandria. What if we began a 10 year project to design and develop a university-initiated “connected cities” project (with concentric circles of other twinning cities following to allow the project to scale and extend to many other cities and Universities). The different segments and communities within our cities (children, schools, professionals, unions, educators, artists, elected officials, and cultural communities and so forth) would be afforded a systematic and fully integrated opportunity to advance our working, learning, and cultural relationships with peers and counterparts in our sister cities. The quality of rich interactions could extend from sharing oral and multimedia histories of our communities with one another to formal professional, educational and research exchanges. Technology mediated household to household exchanges or churches here and there could be augmented by international exchanges and visits by graduating seniors, educational leaders, or elected officials. Scientists might share common work underway to attend to sustainability and alternative energy not in a disconnected way from members of the same communities learning about the ways in which high school students are using open learning resources to learn about ecology and the economics of recycling and waste streams. Mentoring relationships, local capacity and human development, collaboration for research and education, professional exchanges between communities are one of the important service roles that universities can play in the 21st century. We can and we should leverage our universities’ ability to create powerful networks of technology and learners to create binding partnerships that matter.

As we learn more about others we will also learn more about ourselves and grow a better appreciation of the ways in which we can leverage technology, open educational resources, and our commitments to community-building to attend to the priorities of our own cities and neighborhoods. We are bounded together not only by common destiny. The oceans that once separated us are now made smaller by the technology that we have helped invent and deploy. We can continue to transact with the world around us in an atomistic and disconnected manner. We can also leverage the power and genius of the university as a creation and ongoing project of creative women and men to lead and to enable science, discovery, and wisdom. Deepening the linkages within and between our communities and across our cities is a 21st challenge worthy of great universities.

Lev Gonick
Case Western Reserve University

Posted by lsg8 at February 26, 2009 10:00 AM

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