Interview with Colin de la Higuera “Open education does not stop at open education resources, it is a global approach”


Colin de la Higuera is a professor of computer science at Nantes University and Nantes Digital Sciences Laboratory (LS2N). A researcher in the field of automated learning (or machine learning), he collaborates with researchers from around the world. He is one of the ambassadors of open education in France and abroad. She is one of the 6 administrators at the Knowledge for All Foundation Institute and has been chair of the UNESCO chair since 2017, “Open Educational Resources and Artificial Intelligence.” We met with her to share her views on open education.

Can you define our open education? Openness is a process: wanting to share, to be included. We often talk about open educational practice. Of course, OER (Free Educational Resource) is at the forefront, but there are other practices: allowing other members of the teaching team access to their courses, making our students’ work public, giving access to the general public at our conferences, some of our courses for high school students, To increase the number of activities to spread knowledge and thus provide lifelong learning …

Where does open education come from?

The concept of open education has always existed. Medieval universities were much more open than they are now! Who wanted to come and study. I am sure that every teacher has started his career with the desire to share knowledge. Digital tools finally allow this today: I can choose to allow my courses to be visible, to share them, to allow peers around the world to reuse them.

How did the idea of ​​sharing knowledge for a more just and virtuous world come about?

There are several “births”. The “Open Courseware” movement was born in MIT more than twenty years ago: teachers were aware that they were only teaching an elite, and this seemed inadequate to them. So to build a movement aimed at organizing educational knowledge sharing. In a short time, the birth of Creative Commons made it possible to establish a fairly simple legal framework.

Are we lagging behind France in the question of knowledge?

That’s a big question. For the long answer I mention you in this interview published in March 2022. But the answer is we are not leaders. Oh, there are important signs: the Paris Declaration, the pre-eminent role of UNESCO based in Paris… but if we accept that open education must be based on properly licensed open education resources, we have a lot more to offer. To do and for this will require resources. This is in the millions of dollars per year, which is the amount of the budget allocated to certain American states or to a few German lenders.

Should open education be an ambition that goes beyond the interests of the nation? How to achieve this?

In 2019, UNESCO unanimously accepted its recommendation in favor of OER. Through these recommendations, states seek to develop the creation and use of OR. This point is one of the key factors in achieving the United Nations Fourth Sustainable Development Goals.

We see large industrial groups investing in media and now in education. What is your take on this incident?

The world of school and university publications has always been a powerful asset to French education policy. For a long time, that ministry has worked very well to share programs among publishers who have written programs and published textbooks. But, like everything else, the exclusive situation creates a problem. And while, in addition, the group owner’s political views are concerned that the problem may become serious … yet the audiovisual sector has been hit by it.

You support open learning against single thinking, what are the other benefits?

The introduction of a portion of the OER in France will still have several beneficial effects: to ensure that pluralism is implemented, but also to save enough. If we remember that textbooks are free in France, they still have a cost to the community, spending hundreds of millions of euros per year on states and communities. After all, does it make sense for people to pay double for this knowledge? The first time the teacher paid the salary and wrote the textbook, the second time he bought the same textbook?

Your chair is supported by UNESCO. This chair combines OER and Artificial Intelligence, can you tell us how Artificial Intelligence can contribute to open learning?

This is also a complex question. I’m probably going to add very suddenly: education is the aspiration of all internet giants. Whether we like it or not, their algorithms – including a large portion of artificial intelligence – are already being used. To help you learn, to offer our resources, to suggest study plans. But to do our homework, allow us to take exams for ourselves. This is an important event for education and we must regain control. One way is to double-lock everything so that no one can enter our digital learning environment, not even our own colleagues or partners. We can think of ways to protect ourselves from the giants of the Internet. And it is true that they will not come and “steal” our lessons. But other courses exist. They can be written in English, and the quality of (still AI) machine translation tools is getting better. And we should not be surprised if these courses, perfectly packaged and offered in an attractive, efficient and effective environment, come to replace our hidden, closed courses, which we have refused to open to the world. Open learning must be based on open courses on which our algorithms can also contribute to an optimized educational experience.

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