OER17 – Connections to Relationships

These are my reflections from the OER17 conference in London.  It is a mark of  a powerful community and conference that it is nearly 3 weeks gone, yet it has a powerful hold on me.  I wrote just six months ago how OpenEd16 changed me. Lightning has struck twice.  I can’t be the same again.

There is so much to recount and I’m sure I can’t do justice in mentioning all the great stuff I learned. Instead I’ll try to actually put it into practice and spread the word.

My journey to London started with a speculative blog post last November in the wake of Trump’s election in the US. With the encouragement of Martin Weller, David Kernohan, and others it led to the panel discussion I assembled for the conference. Just the experience of putting together the panel with so many great people was awesome. Thank you to Martin, David, Maha Bali, Lorna Campbell, Robin DeRosa, Chris Gilliard, and Nadine Aboulmagd.

The greatest experience for me of the open education community in the past couple years has been the connections made. I want to comment here on the importance of making connections. For decades, I’ve gone to conferences and shows. As an academic, I’ve done the economics world, the higher ed leadership/accreditation world (HLC, AACU and the like), the community college and general teaching and technology conferences.  Sometimes I felt like visitor from Mars and other times it felt close-but-not-quite.  The open education community has become home. I feel at home with these people.

One of the best aspects of the open education community is that people are, well, open. They connect. They welcome connections. They are, as Kate Bowles would say, hospitable.  I find them authentic. So in the last couple years as I’ve become more active in the open education community, my “network” has grown. Saying the “network has expanded” sounds too cold. I’ve connected with people.  I can say with pride and great warmth that I now have connections to people in places around the world. This makes the world smaller and more human.

I’ve always been concerned for events and the well-being of people around the world.   I follow the news. I seek out other perspectives. But without personal connections, such concern is only abstract. To read of a bombing is tragic. But when we have personal connections, the depth of feeling changes. We connect to the humanity.

A year ago I would read of the bombing of a Coptic church in Eqypt and be sad to think of the people killed and their families. I may have reacted with anger at the political policies that lead ultimately to desperate acts of terrorism. Now I read of such a bombing and the depth of feeling is greater. I know people there. They may be hundreds of miles away and uninvolved but they’re a lot closer to it than I am. I have at least some small glimmer of their lives. I wonder how it affects them. Being connected to at least one or two real persons, individuals I know and care about, my concern, feelings, and thoughts for all the Egyptian people take on a different character. My connections with one or two help weave a stronger fabric for humanity.

At OER17, I experienced making new connections to people in places I thought I would never connect with. Places like South Africa, Germany, Scotland, France, and Australia.  But I also experienced how what starts as connections can deepen into relationships.

I want to mention two in particular. It was so wonderful to finally put a face and human touch to them.  Jim Groom is somebody I’ve learned from, worked with, and given grief to over the Twitter for a few years now. We’ve come to know each other enough that Jim himself wondered how it could be that we hadn’t met in person yet.  (I still maintain it’s because he fled the country when I signed up for Reclaim, btw.) That connection became a relationship.

Finally I want to acknowledge the wonderful soul of Maha Bali who I only connected with for the first time last fall, yet has become such a valued relationship in my life it is difficult to believe it has only been six or so months. I see and understand things differently because of Maha. (and Maha, you’ll be pleased to know that with my wife’s help I am practicing how to properly pronounce your name.  It’s harder than you think for this old Ohio boy).

Open education, by fostering openness as a value, respect for people, and the technology to make it happen, creates connections.  When we mindfully nurture those connections and collaborate creatively, those connections become relationships. Relationships can span the globe and weave the fabric of humanity.  That is how we will eliminate poverty and create peace – one connection at a time.  The politics of open is the politics of connected people.

Thank you all for the experience.

What’s Open? Are OER Necessary?

Like most great conflagrations, it began as a small exchange that touched on a vital point.  At OER17 a couple of weeks ago a suggestion appeared via Twitter that DS106 (the pioneering online course, not the NETGEAR router) wasn’t/isn’t really “open” since it wasn’t based on true OER (Open Educational Resources.  Exception was taken. The ensuing discussion has only grown. Now nearly three weeks after the conference, the discussion (debate? argument? positioning battle?) has grown to the point that Maha Bali has organized a Hangout to discuss it further.  She’s also begun to curate the growing number of posts on the topic.  Thank you Maha.

Back at the conference – before it blew up into such a large discussion – I had promised to blog on the topic.  Alas events at my home campus have delayed that post but here it is. I hesitate somewhat given the great minds that have already weighed in, but in the interest of openness itself I think I might have a slightly different perspective to add.

OER: Permission to Use Property

The definition of OER, Open Education Resources, seems relatively clear and agreed. David Wiley has defined Open Content and OER as those copyrightable works licenses so as to permit perpetual 5R activities of retain, reuse, revise, remix, and redistribute. In practice this means Creative Commons (CC) licenses and CC-BY in particular.

I have some issues with this definition such as the exclusion of open source software, the silence regarding public domain and fair use, and Wiley’s deprecation of CC SA, NC, and ND licenses, but that’s fodder for another post. For this discussion, this CC-license-with-the-5R’s definition will suffice to clarify OER.  Thus we have it: The essence of openness for resources is permission to use copyrighted property. 

note: Though it’s peripheral to this discussion and worthy of its own post, I would like to remind folks that while we call copyrighted material intellectual property and the law treats it as property, it is artificial property. It’s not like land or that coffee mug in your hand. It’s an artificial government-granted bundle of monopoly powers that we call property.

The driver of this growing discussion then really turns on the question of what qualifies as “open pedagogy”?  Wiley is pretty clear about his view. Open Pedagogy is the practice of using OER.  Thus the definition of “openness”, according to Wiley, has OER and its property use permissions as prerequisite. If there’s not explicitly CC licensed OER involved, it’s not open.

Many of the posts discussing “what’s open pedagogy?” take a turn towards defining it differently. Some use open in practice/praxis terms.  Others use it in terms of the “open web”.  I think we can consider the use of open web approach as one emphasizing open access, whether that access is to read or to publish. Either approach, the praxis/practice approach or the accessibility/open web approach seem to still emphasize the written materials as the center of the issue.  In other words, the focus shifts to what’s done with the materials? Is the Internet and its affordances utilized?  Jim Groom in I Don’t Need Permission to be Open stakes out the position closer to my heart:

I think the locking down of open is dangerous. I think it draws lines where they need not be, and it reconsolidates power for those who define it. More than that, the power around open has been pretty focused on a few people for too long, and I count myself amongst them. More and more on this trip in conversations with others, I think we as a field need to do a better job of bringing the next generation of ed-tech folks to the fore, stepping back, and letting them frame what’s next. Even this post shows my harkening back to work I did 6 years ago, I don’t want to have a corner on open or ed-tech, I want something that gets me excited and passionate. OER17 certainly did that, and I crave more. What I see as hardline definitions of what is and is not OER or open need not police the discussion. I would hate for an edict about what is and is not open pedagogy to get in the way of people “coloring outside the lines” of the 5Rs, to appropriate Brian Lamb’s gorgeous turn of phrase from one of this 3 tweets in response to the avalanche.

David Kernohan in his comment on Jim’s post, though, really nails my position:

I don’t need 5Rs permission for the inside of my head. And if I want to share what’s inside my head with others, that’s my business. The fact that some of the ideas in my head have been put there by corporate idea salesmen, and that I need to refer to those ideas to express mine, is immaterial.

Make art. Dammit.

I would just add to David’s comment the admonition to “Make Art. Or Science. Or Philosophy. Or Whatevs. Dammit”

Property, Process, Pedagogy, and Power

The core of my objection to the “OER as prerequisite to being open” position is that OER are resources. They’re things. Commodities. Property. Or, at least they’re treated as property in a capitalist US-Western economic system that increasingly dominates the global economy and culture.

Pedagogy isn’t property. It’s not a commodity. It’s a process. It’s a method of creating a desired outcome. For me the analogy is to business process analysis: pedagogy is the production process. It may be mass-production oriented or it may be artisinal. It’s the way things get accomplished – or at least it’s the way we intend to accomplish things.  For those without a business analysis background who may recoil at anything smacking of “business” in education, let me use a different analogy.  As educators, we intend to help students to have some kind of particular experience: learn something, change perspectives, grow, mature, create, collaborate, etc. Of course in the modern lingo we call those “learning outcomes” (don’t get me started on that!). My point here is that pedagogy is the intended process by which we enable students to reach those outcomes and  have that experience.

As a process, pedagogy, makes use of resources. Any production process uses resources, but the resources are not the essence of the process. In the case of pedagogy, what we normally think of as “educational resources”, books and written materials, whether they be closed ER or OER, aren’t even the most important resources.  The most important resources are human – the labor, communication, dialogue, and care of humans. Other critical resources include technology and its affordances embodied in what we economists would call capital. The methods and rules we use to combine all these resources, the property, the humans, and the technologies, is the process, the pedagogy.

If licenses and legal permissions to use property make resources open, then what makes pedagogy open?  It can’t be licenses or permissions. Pedagogy isn’t property.  It also can’t be that open pedagogy simply means using open resources. The resources may be openly licensed, but that says nothing about the openness of the process, the openness of the humans, or the openness of the media & technology.

A process, like a pedagogy, can be conducted in isolation removed from any other activities or parts of life. Or, the process can be conducted in the open, connected to rest of human activity.  Humans are the center of pedagogy or educational praxis. It’s students and teachers and their interactions that are the essence of pedagogy. That means that pedagogy is not just about some instructional design strategy, it’s about power relations. Who gets to do what? Who gets to tell whom what to do? Who sets the bounds and the rules? What are the limits of activity?  Who tells whom what to write about? Who defines the limits of the audience the student can reach? Who defines meaning?  To me, any pedagogy is primarily about power relations and therefore freedom.

Now I think we can get to the essence of openness in pedagogy. Since pedagogy is about process and power relations, then openness in pedagogy is about freedom and connection. It’s about the degrees and ways in which a pedagogy is free and mutual. Openness in pedagogy then starts to overlap with critical pedagogy. It is no wonder then that a discussion of “what’s open pedagogy” should emerge from an OER17 conference with the theme of the “Politics of Open”.

Recognizing Openness in Pedagogy

I don’t think a simple, checklist definition of open pedagogy is possible. It’s a pointless and ultimately dangerous endeavor to attempt to judge pedagogy as open or not according to some abstract checklist.  To do so risks reifying both pedagogy and education as something that exists independent of the students and teachers engaged in it. We already all too often talk about education as something to be acquired rather than an experience or activity that’s lived.

Freedom, power relations, and learning are very multi-dimensional.  So while a strict, abstract, checklist definition of open pedagogy isn’t useful, we can describe dimensions of openness.  I would love to see our discussions of what’s open pedagogy evolve these lines.  So let me try a few examples of dimensions of openness in pedagogy. I am grateful to my colleagues Jeff Janowick, Regina Gong, Meg Elias, and Leslie Johnson for recent discussions that helped my understandings of these dimensions. For each of these examples, the dimension is described as running from more closed to more open.

  • Isolation vs. Connectedness:  Does the pedagogy and learning activities exist predominantly in a closed, isolated space such as the traditional classroom or do they engage and form connections with the larger, outside world?  Using this dimension, courses where students create materials on the open web, accessible by the public, makes the pedagogy more open.
  • Disposable  vs. Permanent, Public, or Authentic assignments
  • Temporary Interactions vs. Building of Lasting Community
  • Defined, limited activities vs. opportunity for expressing more creativity
  • Controlled, limited use of learning materials, including which sources are approved vs. Accessing and using the range of publicly available resources on the Web.
  • Teacher as “the” authority vs. Students being able to bring other sources of authority. 

This is just a beginning. I would be very interested in hearing what others might think and of other dimensions in which pedagogy may be more closed vs more open.

If openness in resources is defined by permissions to use property, I argue that openness in pedagogy must be measured in terms of freedom, authority, and power of the learning process.  To place the resources, the OER, as the prerequisite of openness of pedagogy is to commoditize and reify education itself, ultimately denying the possibility of critical pedagogy. Open pedagogy, and therefore open education and open learning, are more about freedom of action and authority than they are about property permissions.





Open Ed, Trump, Brexit

The #Trexit Conversation

I’ll be leading  a panel discussion at OER17 called Open Education in a time of Trump and Brexit.  Joining me in the panel live at the conference will be Maha Bali (@bali_maha), Lorna Campbell (@LornaMCampbell), and Martin Weller (@mweller).  While we four could easily carry on a lively discussion for 80 minutes (some would say I could jabber that long myself), I wanted to bring in additional perspectives.  To that end, I have enlisted the help of a few people to provide different perspectives to get the conversation going.  These people, Robin DeRosa, Nadine Aboulmagd, Chris Gilliard, and David Kernohan, unfortunately couldn’t attend the conference in person, but they’ve kindly provided us video statements intended to help provoke the discussion and stimulate our collective thinking and learning.  I’ve embedded those video statements below in this post.

I know many, perhaps most or even all, open educators have thought about the implications of the Trump election, the Brexit referendum, and other political movements for open education and OER.  I hope this panel can help stimulate a wider and deeper discussion and sharing of ideas.  Feel free to participate on Twitter with the hashtags #trexit #oer17.   Or, add your comments here or blog them yourself.

The Topic

The original motivation for this panel discussion came from private discussions among some of us just after the US presidential election in November 2016.  We thought those discussions should be expanded and made more open. After all, one of the core values of the open education movement is that more participation and open involvement improves the outcomes, right? Hence, this panel discussion with the open education community at OER17. The original proposal for this panel discussion stated:

Like the Internet itself, the Open Education movement, including OER and OEP, has grown in a world of globalised capitalism that has been dominant in North America and Europe, and indeed, developed and growing economies. The Brexit vote, Donald Trump’s election, and shifts toward nationalist-right parties elsewhere are changing the political landscape. At a minimum, the rhetoric of these movements, both in support and opposition, has altered public discourse and often attitudes toward higher education. These political shifts have complex and multifaceted implications for the open education movement.

At the OER17 conference in London, our panel aims to stimulate deeper thought beyond our initial reactions to these political movements. We hope to provide different perspectives on the relationship between Open Education and the political changes represented by Brexit and the Trump election. Many questions arise, including:

  • What challenges do these political movements pose for Open Education? What opportunities?
  • Open Education movement has largely embraced values of inclusiveness, sharing, connectedness, equity, voice, agency, and openness. How might these values be furthered under these new regimes? How might these values be hindered?
  • Will our work in the open education movement change?
  • In what ways can we shape the future of the Open Education Movement?

When considering the relationship between Trump/Brexit and the OER/ open education movements, it is tempting to think in narrow terms. We’re tempted to see think first of funding implications, academic freedom concerns, or wavering support for education as a public good.   These are valid concerns. But as our three “provocateers” suggest, there’s more to the intersection of Trump/Brexit and OER/Open Education than we might think at first.  It’s complex.

The Provocations

Robin DeRosa

Robin DeRosa, (@actualham), suggests we observe and consider the parallels between the larger political environment and the environments we create in the classroom. (4:47 min)

Nadinne Aboulmagd

Nadinne Aboulmagd, (@NadinneAbo), provides a close-up insight into some challenges the Trump administration policies create for open scholarship. Note: Nadinne was prevented from creating the video at the last minute due to illness but has very generously shared her script for the video here.

Chris Gilliard

Chris Gilliard, (@hypervisible),  notes the role of surveillance and monitoring and urges us to think of open as in freedom. (2:28 min)

David Kernohan

David Kernohan, @dkernohan, takes a look at the “roaming auto-didacts” involved in the Trump/Brexit movements and considers what open education/OER did and did not contribute.

At this point, we’ll insert insightful and witty commentary from our panelists.

UPDATE:  After I put this blog post together but just before the panel started, we received the video from Nadinne (who went beyond the call of duty!).  I wanted to include it:

Mythbusting Immigration – Presentation Slides

If the embedded slides don’t display, you can access the file in Google Slides at https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1uZeLVGcMYcsnxLKmpNRw9-TcJey5Kcfch6u4fGPrnj0/pub?start=false&loop=false&delayms=3000

A last minute addition to the readings from Vox: http://www.vox.com/the-big-idea/2017/3/17/14951590/nas-report-immigration-economy-taxpayers-trump


Still Running Errands for Open Learning Ideas

A big day planned today.  I’ll be spreading the word about Domains of One’s Own projects, Reclaim Hosting, and open learning to community colleges. I’ll be presenting twice today at the League for Innovation in Community College’s big Innovations 2017 conference.  Actually, we will be presenting and spreading the word today.

First up, I assist my fantastic colleague Leslie Johnson as she tells how the LCC Center for Teaching Excellence  uses our Open Learning Lab to promote sharing of teaching ideas and teaching faculty how to use open learning techniques like writing-in-public assignments.  The session is titled “Connect and Create: Teaching Faculty by Modeling Open Learning”.

Then in the afternoon we’ll switch roles and she’ll help me as I spread the word about open learning and Domains projects to community colleges. It’s the latest incarnation and update of story of how a community college started a Domains of One’s Own project. I call it “Running Errands for Ideas”.  The slides are here.

If you’re interested in learning more, contact us either by comment here or on the Twitter. I’m @econproph on Twitter and Leslie is @mtflamingo.