Thanks to open source software, such as Linux, Mozilla Firefox, and OpenOffice.org, as well as thousands of smaller projects, I've come to expect more of things when they're described as "open." When I hear the word "open," I expect a community-oriented process where contributions are welcome, application of the product is flexible, and in turn for receiving something for free, you promise to keep your contributions free, too. This kind of open process is a beautiful thing and a great model of how well we can innovate.
The US Department of Education's recently launched "Open Innovation Portal" is designed to give students, teachers, administrators, and other educators a place to "contribute ideas, collaborate on solutions, and find partners and resources." I welcome this effort, and I hope to see this become a place where classroom-based educators have the power to shape the education reform conversation. If you follow many educators on Twitter or their blogs, you know good ideas are already out there, and innovation is happening because teachers like getting ideas from other teachers. The Open Innovation Forum can do the same thing on an even larger scale, with the key benefit of adding a policy-oriented audience.
As I write this, I rank #1 in Colorado on the Open Innovation Forum with 600 points. (I haven't submitted any ideas, but I did score points for filling out my profile.) While I hope to contribute the best of my ideas, I don't expect my #1 ranking to last. What's troubling, though, is the national leaderboard, where the #1 position belongs to a CEO of a company selling reading programs. I don't mean to judge the quality of their product - for all I know, it could be the ideal solution for a school looking to improve students' reading skills. But I'm troubled by the immediate influence of a for-profit company posting advertisements for their products as ideas, and wondering if the Open Innovation Portal will become little more than a national Craigslist for education.
The Open Innovation Portal will be as open as its members make it. If teachers want to freely share ideas (free as in speech, as well as $$$), then it's our responsibility to participate and take charge of the conversation. There's nothing stopping us. If we don't, I don't see how this will avoid becoming much more than a glorified, government-sponsored classifieds section. So fellow educators, I challenge you to go back through your blog posts and dig up your very best ideas and start posting them on the Open Innovation Portal. When you do, encourage your PLN to participate in the portal so your ideas are heard, and let's all help keep "open" in the open.