Teaching and Research Interests

Dr. Charles R. Severance

My teaching and research interests are deeply intertwined. From my first moments in the classroom in the 1980's, my goal has been to share my love for the creative and innovative aspects of technology with as many people as possible. Sometimes that manifests itself in building approachable introductory courses, innovative curricula, open content, innovative open source software, or advancing the standards for teaching and learning software. With so much progress and investment in this area since I started teaching over three decades ago, it might seem on first look that this problem is well solved with commercial solutions in the marketplace.

But none of the software to improve teaching and learning built to this point have delivered a high quality experience with components from many diverse sources. The concept of a loosely coupled learning ecosystem with pluggable components has been imagined since the 1990's but has never been delivered beyond simple demonstrators of components from a single source. Similarly the notions of "application stores", "learning object repositories", or "reusable content" have been widely predicted but never delivered in a way that impacts teaching and learning broadly. Open educational resources have an increasing impact but the promise of natural remixability of these resources has been problematic due to a lack of interoperable software and sufficient standards.

The time has come for a coordinated "moon shot" to address all of these issues by building ground-up open source and open content solutions that are conceived and built as standards-based, distributed interoperable components based on REST APIs. While this "next generation teaching and learning environment" will be informed by the current generation of monolithic Learning Management Systems and interoperate with those systems, it must be a fresh start. Since so much new engineering must be done, open source and open standards like those from the IMS Global Learning Consortium must be the foundation of this new frontier.

We must educate a whole new generation of programmers and designers who can function in and build tools and content for this new world. This is where massively open courses, open content, innovative apps and content, and technology curricula come into play. We will build the new infrastructure and then use it to teach the new citizens of the learning technology ecosystem how to participate in, contribute to, and expand the ecosystem.

There is much work to do. We must build interoperable app stores for education, we must build learning content repositories that enable reuse, remixing, translation, publishing and playback of learning content. We must advance the state of the art in interoperable standards and build open source reference implementations for those standards. We must build a wide range of learning platforms that can assemble these applications and content into courses and learning experiences that are well suited for everything from large-scale MOOCs to supporting small face-to-face to face residential classes.

At this point in the history of educational technology, such a bold idea seems both impossible and trivially obvious at the same time. Like any other grand challenge, that means that the perfect time to start is now. I do not plan to make the mistake that was made in the 1990's when academic innovators and administrators followed a short-sighted strategy and ceded the field to proprietary vendors only to be forced to purchase weak implementations of our innovations from those vendors. This time it will be different. I expect that bold leadership and bold organizations will fund this effort, and continue to fund and support this effort until it truly transforms how we teach and learn.

So in summary, my research agenda is to form a coalition to build a completely new standards-based open source learning environment and my teaching agenda is to build a complete approachable technology curriculum based on open content and teach that curricula at scale. I understand that these are large tasks and difficult to pursue alone so I will be looking for supporters and collaborators to help implement this vision.