If We Don't Build It, They Can't Come

The 2011 Open Education Conference in Utah absolutely could not have taken place without the tireless work of David Wiley. A professor, father, school founder and 'Chief Openness Officer', Wiley seems to be a master multi-tasker. Study.com was lucky enough to steal some time to talk with this incredibly busy man during the conference to learn about his various roles in the creation and promotion of open education initiatives.

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by Stacy Redd

David Wiley

Study.com: I have to admit, I got tired just looking at everything you do: Flat World Knowledge, Open High, BYU. I almost don't know where to go begin, so I'll start by asking: how did you first get involved with open education?

David Wiley: I worked as a webmaster at Marshall University while I was an undergrad, in 1996. I was the first webmaster the university ever had. I was building this calculator in Java Script, which was the cutting edge technology of the time. It occurred to me as I was building that that calculator was different from the ones we used at my elementary school, where you had to wait your turn for somebody to hand it to you. If you put it online, everybody with an Internet connection could use it at the same time.

I thought this could go two ways. Either people would build something once and try to sell it to a million people, or they'd build it once and realize there's no cost for another million people to use it. I'm not the only person that had that realization. It struck me that if we have the power to create something that can be used at no cost by a million people we have some kind of strong moral imperative to do that.

Study.com: You hold the position of Chief Openness Officer for Flat World Knowledge. That's not what most of us think when we think 'COO.' How did you get involved in that project?

DW: Flat World let me make up that title, and it's the best title that anybody has ever had anywhere. I just thought the idea of Flat World sounded crazy and awesome so I got involved doing some technical stuff originally, but really my value was in knowing the open community, understanding the intricacies of licensing and other nuances. The real place that I can add value to the company is helping them keep their karma clean about doing open ed the right way and not just applying it as a label. They honor what the community really believes. So really the job of the Chief Openness Officer is just to think about how to keep things open, how to help the company stay true to that ideal.

Study.com: What's your role at the Open High School of Utah?

DW: I actually don't have a role at the school right now. I went through the 12-step program of founding the school, being the chair of the board and being a member of the board and now the baby bird is out of the nest and flying on its own.

Study.com: Had you been involved in K-12 education before?

DW: No, that came out of the blue. One of my grad students at Utah State had been involved in starting a charter school. One day he walked into my office and said 'Hey, Utah just changed their laws making it legal to charter online schools. With all this fancy talk about Open Ed you've been doing, you need to shut up or do something.' Essentially, I got double-dog-dared into starting the Open High School.

Study.com: Do you use open ed with your children?

DW: My oldest just entered ninth grade this year, and he's going to the Open High School. He's getting the full OER experience. My younger ones are all homeschooled with a pragmatic mix of awesome open stuff that we found. The further away from the university level you get, the harder it is to find OER. Except now, because of the Open High School, there are complete ninth and tenth grade core curricula where there was nothing before, and next year they'll release material for eleventh and twelfth grades too.

Study.com: We were told that students are Open High's best advocates, that they're lobbyists. It's fantastic that they understand the significance of what they're a part of.

DW: I don't know if they appreciate the open part of it. But I don't know that they need to. I think what they appreciate is that they have access to all these great resources, that they're available all the time, whenever they want them. Many of them say they have a much better relationship with their teachers at the Open High School than at traditional brick and mortar schools.

If the Open High School's students are having a reasonably good time, they're learning a lot, and they're getting prepared for later in life, then who cares if they know what Creative Commons is? At some point it might be nice to start an elective class that gets into copyright licensing to try to really help them understand open ed, but on the student side that's never what the lead message is going to be about.

Study.com: People keep using different analogies to express the concern that open education could become like a party that no one comes to or a house where no one lives. What do you think is the solution to that? How can you get people to come to the party and take advantage of these resources?

DW: After Field of Dreams came out, 'if you build it, they will come' became the theme of the day, and there was this very strong reaction to it, because building something doesn't necessarily mean anybody will use it. But just last week I saw a piece of writing that said 'if you don't build it, they can't come.'

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