Professor Profile: Ittay WiessHello Ittay, thank you for taking the time to let us and our readers get to know you! We’ll jump right in with our first question: What have you been up to with the Saylor Foundation?

I started off doing some review work on the course MA241 and some fine tuning of the accompanying exam. This activity was a bit like playground preparation for my next assignment which was to create, pretty much from scratch, the follow up course MA242. With my previous experience teaching a similar course I set out to find high quality OER sources on the Net and started molding the course. After several iterations between myself and the excellent house editors the course reached completion and is now being peer reviewed. My current assignment is the design and creation of an accompanying exam for the course.

On behalf of all of us: we’re sooo glad to see MA242 now taking final shape! It’s been a long time coming! So, what keeps you busy otherwise?

My academic job as a mathematics lecturer at the University of the South Pacific keeps me occupied with both teaching and research. On top of that, I’m keeping my childhood passion for programming alive by following the fascinating developments in the world of computer science, keeping myself occupied with learning and experimenting with Ruby, Python, and R. The most important portion of my time is being filled by spending time with my wife and nearly-five-year-old daughter. Surprisingly, the time spent with my daughter is more than tangential to my academic work as my daughter is learning the basics of writing articles on LyX. I’m sure she will be ready for some Ruby soon.

Nice! Although many readers are probably feeling shy about their coding skills at the moment. How has your work with the Saylor Foundation contributed back to your professional practice or repertoire?

Using the materials offered by the Saylor Foundation, I had already redesigned an advanced abstract algebra course that I’m teaching at the University of the South Pacific and made it completely OER-based. The impact for the students was immediate and significant: they did not need to spend a small fortune on purchasing an expensive textbook. Designing the course was also a breeze since all I needed to do was take the existing Saylor course and adapt it to the local needs. Certainly a win-win situation.

That’s one of the big ways we envision people using our materials. Part of being ‘open’ ourselves is allowing people to adopt, adapt, and re-deploy our stuff elsewhere. The more, the merrier! How did you first find your way into open education?

I became aware of the existence of OER when a colleague sent me a link to the Saylor Foundation website. I was amazed at the rich content and the readily available material and immediately realized the potential. Except for wishing this technology existed 20 years ago, when I was a teenager with plenty of time on my hand, a great thirst for knowledge, and with now so many resources around me, I immediately decided that I would redesign the courses I’m teaching to take advantage of OER and in particular the existing course frameworks on Saylor. Since I saw some mathematics courses were still not developed I contacted the Saylor Foundation to see if I might contribute. The collaboration since has been great fun!

That’s good to hear…we like “fun.” What is it you truly enjoy about your work?

When I find the time to prepare a course, or a solution, or a well-designed exam and I look at the end product and I feel that I created a work of art, that’s when I feel that I accomplished something unique. I greatly enjoy communicating difficult and elaborate mathematical concepts to others, whether mathematicians or not, and being able to allow others to share in the magic of mathematics. I still vividly recall the sense of awe I experienced when I was first confronted with advanced mathematics and invested hours upon hours to understand it – and then it happens: you do understand it and it is beautiful. Most people do not experience mathematics as beautiful. If at the end of a difficult course I get as much as one student to thank me and add as a comment “I never thought mathematics can be beautiful” then at that point all of the hard work into designing and delivering the course becomes pure joy.

What advice would you give to other teachers interested in open and/or online education?

OER is the future and it’s already here. There are so many new developments almost on a daily basis and the world of education is undergoing a dramatic change. By getting involved with OER, either as a user or a developer, we are keeping track with these important changes and helping to steer the process so that it converges faster and to the right place. Moreover, it is great fun and very flexible. It gives you the chance to collaborate with people from all over the world at your own leisure. I never thought that I would be situated in Fiji emailing my work to a Saylor editor sitting in Washington, and have my work peer reviewed by someone else on some other point on the globe. It is very exciting.

Although those collaborators probably all wish they were in Fiji, too 🙂 Care to opine on the future of learning?

The internet is changing the world at an ever increasing speed and the world of education is no exception. Gone are the days of rigid curricula, of lecturer based teaching, of strictly frames courses. We are facing an era where education of the highest quality is free and accessible to those who do not fear independent learning. If the markers today of successful university students are the ability to learn what one is given, but not necessarily have any ability to find relevant information independently then in the future of open education it is all about figuring it out yourself. As Agent Mulder says, “the truth is out there.”* It’s true once “the material is out there” and all you have to do (and it’s a lot) is learn to navigate.

Moreover, the existing paradigm of degree-based education is quickly become obsolete. Instead modulated learning and social learning will become the norm. Educating oneself will become much more flexible and will allow one to more freely plan when and how to learn as one steers his or her career. Everybody will become a lifelong learner. As we already are.

So all that said, what advice would you have for people just entering adulthood?

Earn academic credits if you must as these are still deemed important by potential employers. But, reinforce your studies by taking online courses, either those that award a certificate or not, and become part of online communities that interest you. That is where the real thing is happening. In the future, employers will want to know that you can learn independently, and not so much that you can cram all that stuff your professor told you to. And the best way to develop the ability for independent study is to study independently. Today, with the existing technology, there is no excuse not to do that. And it’s great fun.

What about those already embarked on adulthood?

Brace yourselves! Lots of new opportunities are coming your way fast!

Bonus points to Millennials who can identify the reference! -Ed.