Open as Analogue; Or, What Do We Mean by Openness?

Part 2 of 5 Reflections on Open Education

Posted by David N. Wright on November 26, 2015

Note: This post picks up on Part 1 of thoughts stemming from my participation in the Open Education 2015 Conference. You can read it here, or just dive in.

Technology Transfer; What Are We Talking About?

At the end of the last post, I note that it’s difficult to call things innovative–whatever that word means–if one is simply transferring analogue pedagogy and curriculum into an online space. To some degree, I think everyone working to make education more open in the last little while is guilty–to some extent–of thinking that ostensibly moving material from one “space” to another “space” means that it is open. At the same time, the “space” that facilitates openness is most often ipso-facto the online space. There’s no reason to believe that online means open, and I’m not the first to point this out. However, I want to acknowledge that there are real constraints to online access and bandwidth access, while suggesting that we also need to think differently about how we deploy and develop “open” resources.

The Agora project is an example where I think, judging from what I took from the presenters, the lines between open as online and open as simply inferring different pedagogical approaches are transgressed. While Agora is no doubt about “teaching professors how to create student-centred experiences supported by mobile devices” (source), I was struck by the transformative effect of contact between different educators. There’s a lot to be said for the physical presence of people in the room together talking about how exactly to go about doing “innovative” things. Too often, we’re focused on supply-side dynamics–putting the tools, ideas, templates, methodologies–online without accounting for ways to implement those dynamics or not even considering how “open” can also mean analogue.

Thinking about open as analogue would require us to think about how we might begin to implement analogue methodologies in the classroom and to be reflective about how those analogue methodologies might be open. One such example might be to open lecture planning for instance, allowing students to make contributions to the actual plotting and planning of course delivery. This post on modelling scholarship in teaching is one example where the opaque nature of teaching is “opened” to students. I would add to this that modelling, in the analogue sense, that of practice not digital tool, is one way where we can influence a move to openness. If we teach in the open, then we model teaching in the open–there’s no need to emphasize access to technology in this case. Instead, we’re physically present modelling open practice.

Toward Transparency and Modelling Open

Thinking in this way pushed me to think about how I deliver curriculum. With all the talk about open textbooks–which, as an aside, seems to be the dominant way we conceive of “open” right now: textbooks. What about an academic writing course that focused on developing a textbook as a course theme? A physics course that developed a entry-level textbook? In short, getting students directly involved in the processes and methodologies that govern their acquisition of foundational knowledge (wow, that sentence proves only one thing: I am an opaque academic). Doing so is open practice as far as I am concerned. If we open up the processes behind our teaching (and learning) by modelling that process and sharing it with others, then we can be more reflective about how closed open systems really are. Modelling in this sense triggers questions about who we let in the room with us, what qualifications are needed to be able to deploy some of these open tools beyond technological skills, and how do analogue approaches to pedagogy translate into other “open” spaces.

Too often we conceptualize open resources as putting things online. We don’t often think about the political and institutional structures that govern the creation of what we’re putting online and making “open.” For instance, open textbooks are great; but, the vast majority of these textbooks are still generated by faculty for faculty with little transparency about how they were assembled or the pedagogical and systemic assumptions that went into them–hell, maybe we need an open textbook on developing open textbooks.

One thing we often do is limit access by making meetings about open resources happen inside institutions, or sharing resources and skill-sets at conferences that require paid access–the registration fee for Open Education 2015 was $349US ($464CAN), the cheapest endorsed hotel was $179CAN a night ($540 to stay and attend the conference for three days), and we haven’t travelled or eaten yet; to say nothing of the always already “closed” space of the Vancouver Hotel itself, which features a high-end restaurant and a Dior store.

All this to say that I suspect we need to think more carefully about how we mean “open,” particularly when it comes to space, travel, and cost. Are we really being good advocates of open educational resources when the cost of attending a conference about open educational resources exceeds, at minimum, $500CAN? How are people supposed to physically participate in these discussions who cannot afford it or lack the institutional support to fund such excursions? More importantly, who’s being left out of these conversations because the conversations are not as open as we conceptualize they might be? If we are really working towards the free and open exchange of pedagogical approaches and processes, which I think ideally we are, then we need to think more openly about what we mean by “open resources.”

Getting people together–be they from different cultures, sectors, disciplines, or ages and stages–seems an important move in encouraging collisions between disparate pedagogical and systemic methodologies and assumptions. An answer might be to adopt an ecological approach: “act locally; think globally” and begin by opening up our own approaches to pedagogy and practice. Or by rendering our institutional processes less opaque by opening up about those processes, how they work and why they are there. At the same time, opening up the processes by which we create anything deployed in an educational context–yes, anything–and modelling our pedagogical and systemic assumptions is an essential and too often overlooked part of being, creating, and defining open.

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