Humming this iconic song by Kishore Kumar that takes the listener into a Utopian world, a world where there is no barrier, I unknowingly stepped into a new land. This land was different. Something was typically very different in this land. I had stumbled upon this land. I had never come across this land! Was I dreaming? Was I being “Alice” falling down the rabbit hole? Trying to gather myself, I gingerly opened the gate to what something looked like a new town. I entered into this world, a little amused, a little curious, not scared though.
As I walked ahead, I came across a school. Ah! This is where I was supposed to be. But I did not know anything about it. What was I supposed to do? “Come on, let’s see what lies ahead” I told myself. I entered the school premises and found that on both sides of the pavement that led to the school, there were racks full of books, videos, photo albums and many more. Yes, racks, not cupboards. Open… No locks on! This was interesting. Inadvertently, I picked a book of the topic that interested me. And to my surprise the book re-appeared on the rack again! I stared at my hands. The book was still in my hand! Wondering whether this was what was meant by a free world, I trotted ahead. 
This did not feel like a school..it was a mix of a school and college…there was an inherent difference. I was not able to make out. Again, brushing it aside, I explored. I happened to peep in one of the classes. I saw that there were all sorts of students. Of all ages. What does that even mean? Which class was I supposed to take? Whom was I supposed to teach? “All. Anybody.”, said a voice. I swiftly turned to see Ms. Niki standing behind me. She was the supervisor or the Head here. “You can teach anything and everything. You will have to decide what you have to do. You are the developer, the creator. There is no barrier here.” “But,..”, I stammered. She just motioned me to follow her. As we sat in her office, she dialed a number. “Ms Gaea, we have a new candidate…” There was some exchange over the phone which I couldn’t understand so I busied myself with the book in my hand. “Okay, Ms Gaea and I understand the difficulties of the newcomers. So, we have Mr. Aeolus, who will shortly arrive and guide you. Feel free to connect and ask whatever you want to. But remember, this is a free land. And it has its own rules. Ones that the remaining world should also accept.”, she handed me an envelope that contained details of Mr. Aeolus. I could hardly fathom what she spoke, nevertheless, I knew that this was the time to go back to my assigned cabin. I got up and took her leave, heading towards the cabin, toying with the envelope.
On the way to my assigned cabin, I saw that there was a slight commotion in the classroom to my right. They were struggling with some concept that I had some knowledge about. I wondered if I could go and help them. I looked around to find a person who could give me the permission to do so. “You don’t have to ask for a permission. This is the open world. Go and guide them.”A voice boomed. I looked around to find out who it was ,then figured out that it could be some public address system. Brushing aside the feeling that couldn’t be named, I stepped towards the class.
I entered the class. I explained the concept. Now I had to give examples. Examples that I had read earlier. Of famous authors and scientists, some even in bestsellers. But whatever I spoke could not be heard! Afraid of losing my voice, I tried speaking, explaining a term I had just explained. I could speak! I tried another example and it met with the same fate. I recollected an example I had read from the book I had picked up from the rack in the beginning while I was sitting in Ms Niki’s office. Now I was audible! But soon the name of the book, the author tumbled out of my mouth automatically! Suddenly there rose a huge cloud that tried to engulf me. What was this! The cloud forming words! I watched with my jaw dropping to my feet! “Attribute. To not do that is a crime.” I was trying to understand whatever was happening. I said “Yes, I will.” I repeated the names of the book, the author etc and slowly the cloud fizzled out. 
I entered my cabin trying to wrap my head around whatever was happening. Half-wishing that it was not a dream to be woken up from. This was just getting adventurous! Looking around the cabin, I could see similar racks full of books and other things. I could also see lots of files and folders neatly stacked with names of famous schools written on them! What are these files doing her, I wondered whether I could touch them..it was “their property”. What do I develop? I didn’t know how and where to begin. Suddenly there was a draft, a breeze. I turned in the direction of the breeze. And he walked in. He had to be Mr. Aeolus.
“Hello, Mr. Aeolus.”, I greeted.
“Aeolus. Just Aeolus.”
“How do you want me to frame the syllabus?”
“Exactly the way you want to.”, he smiled.
And thus, started our work. We worked tirelessly. Experimenting. Though we knew we could ask Ms Niki or Ms Gaea for support, we hardly had to. They trusted Mr. Aeolus. He trusted me. And the freedom. With freedom comes great responsibility. Responsibility to do it right! In a world that has no barriers, that promotes open education. Of course, this world is different from the world in which we usually live. The world of Open Education. A world where we designed and developed what is called as courses. Where you can take a course of your choice, study as per your pace, learn things that were earlier not possible. And that too without any payment! But for that, those who want to learn need to be responsible too! Simply because it is your responsibility to learn. Responsibility, Freedom and Choice are things that not everybody can handle. So, though people are enthusiastic about it initially, they do leave and we don’t stop them. So, we maybe left with a handful of learners, but those are the ones who are genuinely interested. After all, real learning happens only when you are truly interested, isn’t it!
And mind you, this is not a fictional world. Yes, such a world exists. And so do these people! (Read about them – the real them- at the end). Why this story? Because today we just wrapped up our 4 -week -4 module course titled “Chem-Mystery- Unraveling the History of Chemistry” which was my dream course as a developer. And in this course, the youngest person was a First year Bachelors student of Chemistry from Mumbai while on the other hand, we had a senior Professor with 25 years of experience from Agra! The feedback of the participants was very heartening. They said that they had never studied such a fascinating subject- the History of Chemistry! That they want a part-II of the course! Developing this course has been an amazing experience. I tried out so many new things, so much adaptation! The experiment of not including any video material in module 2, using discussions and arguments a staple feature of the course, this course was heavy! Then came my googly (a term in cricket) – an unexpected twist- when I gave them final assignments in the form of reflective and creative assignments where they had to set their imagination free! One choice was to imagine themselves to be a chemist that had been discussed in the module and write a monologue! We also allowed them to submit this assignment in the form of audio and video formats. Needless to say, they have loved these the most, they told me about it yesterday! And in all these experiments that I did, Mr. Aeolus stood rock solid in support, sharing the same vision. As also did Ms Niki and Ms. Gaea. I knew they would be there to guide if something went wrong.
Now, who are these people? Well, the hint is in the names. They are names of Greek/Roman Gods which have almost the same meaning as their first names!
Ms. Niki: Dr. Jayashree Shinde, Director, TLC, Dept. of Educational Technology, SNDT Women’s University.
Ms Gaea: Dr. Vasudha Kamat, Former VC, SNDT University.
(Both of them are the Asia Hub co-ordinators for the Open Education for Better World- A UNESCO Project chaired at University of Nova Gorici, Slovenia)
Mr. Aeolus: Dr. Sameer Sahasrabudhe, Director, EMRC, Pune. (Mentor in this project)
- These resources that you can pick up represent Open Education Resources- Resources that are available for us to reuse, adapt. They are made by leading Universities.
- This scene represents plagiarism. Using resources without attribution is an offence.