Open is Alive

OpenEd16 isn’t your normal higher ed conference.  This year it had all the normal features of a higher ed conference: keynotes, the stimulating concurrent presentations, food, and evening socializing by academics that felt just a little more freedom by being out of town.   But it also had a something new. A jam session.

Yes, that’s right. In addition to organizing the usual conference, David Wiley (@opencontent) rented a drum kit and who knows what other instruments and somehow convinced the Hilton Hotel to allow us to take over the lobby bar from 8 to 10 last night. Anybody from the conference was free to step up to the microphones, grab and instrument, and make music with their peers. Peers they had never practiced with. Peers they were playing with for the first time. Peers who were all at different stages of experience in playing. Peers who had varying levels of talent and skill (I’m assuming that, since being at the zero level on that scale I can’t really judge). Does this sound like an open pedagogy class to anyone yet?

When I heard of the plan, it sounded crazy. But it wasn’t. It was brilliant. It was fun. It was energizing. Some people got up and danced. Many watched and listened intently. Many others were actively engaged in conversations around the room with the music of their peers as background. I think everybody there had fun. And I know I at least had a moment of insight, that exquisite moment when the blood surges in the brain near the right temple that Gardner Campbell told us about in the opening keynote yesterday.

Somebody called it the OpenEd band (although membership was rather fluid). I have to agree. The band actually demonstrated why open education (open pedagagy) works. I’m now music expert, but even I know that objectively they weren’t “great”. They certainly weren’t as polished or slick as the original bands that sold platinum albums of those recordings. But that peer-reviewed, objective standard of “great” didn’t matter. Nobody wanted to sit around and hear the albums of The Monkees, The Rolling Stones, Dylan, Bonnie Raitt, Lynyrd Skynrd, and all the other bands whose songs got played. What mattered was who was playing and that they were playing – creating– live. Live music beats polished recorded music. Everywhere.

Why?  Why would we rather listen to flawed music, complete with mistakes, than all gather to listen together to the perfect, polished recording?  Because it’s live. And live means alive.

I think the same is true with students and learning.  Alive matters. Alive gets us the real learning, not the “picture of the learning”.  But for learning to be alive, somebody has to be actively creating something. We have to be part of a live experience.  To me, the core of open learning is being in that space where things and ideas are created. The best space for that is for both instructors and students to create, share, and publish their own work.  Simply reading or viewing the flawless, peer-reviewed, polished, perfected work of some publisher is like listening to an album in public. It becomes background noise. If directed, we can attend a small part of it, maybe.  But mostly, we it has no affect on us.  On the other hand, reading, viewing, and listening to each others’ creations in the same time and space as they’re being created engages us. It even inspires us to create ourselves.  The flaws don’t matter.  The creating does.

Open works because it’s live. And live means we’re alive.

David Wiley, the leader in the background.

David Wiley, the leader in the background.

David Wiley, you modeled the proper role of a professor tonight perfectly. You set up the space. You provided the assignment. You mixed the sounds to pull in everybody. Folks engaged the risky experiment because they trusted you. And then you let the students open it up and create. Open. Live. Alive.