Critical debates in open education OER18 Presentation

Highly selective reference list and further reading relating to this presentation

This presentation is really just the drawing together of a few threads of criticial voices about OER and OEP and not meant as a comprehensive view by any means. In doing so I hope to catch glimpses of the distance travelled and any opportunities to revisit things that have been said which could improve debates and practice. The following is a selection of thoughts I’ve had about the subject the weeks before the conference.

There is a danger that open could start going in circles, ever re-defining what it is, claiming an re-claiming territories because as a space it is still fighting for recognition? Imagine a world where open is now invisible, so embedded in individuals’ and institutions’ practices and policies – that it no longer became something to discuss, there wasn’t this feeling of constantly rolling a big stone up a hill, but never getting to the top? (Massive work has been done and huge achievements have been made, I don’t mean to undermine that. When you consider that this work has been done without the support of validation and recognition from the wider educational community, it is all the more awe-inspiring.) That conferences like this evolved into something else, with other concerns? This conference has evolved of course, that’s what’s so interesting about it. It’s agile and responsive to world events. Open educators take on the world.

So is most of the scepticism reserved for MOOCs – the structured, institutionalised, privileging-the-already-privileged, both in terms of institutions themselves and individuals? Is there a two-tiered criticism, with the individual teacher valorised? That’s a question I’d like to explore further.

Yet we’re still working with systems, flawed systems, built by flawed people, and used by flawed people.

Back when I engaged with debates in a previous institution about resuable learning objects and specifically about where they could be stored, findable and know-that-they-are-there-able, the issue of metadata came up. Now, I assume that metadata the issue has come up elsewhere, and hasn’t gone away. And licencing. The issue of helping people understand the differences between creative commons licences – these issues are still here. Yet in spite of best intentions, people don’t do as they should, they don’t adhere to the rules, or forget and ignore rules. Additionally our best intentions also lead us to bias and perpetuation of inequality. There is a sociomaterial aspect to open education which it seems to me we are doing our best to deny. We don’t have total control, precisely because it is open. Put technology and people together and there will be unpredictable outcomes, we are shaped by technology as technology is shaped by us. Individually and as a society.

Are the rules about open too restrictive, trying to predict too much of what happens when open education is taken up by those outside this tight-knit community, those who are not initiated? It struck me reading one of the essays by Raymond bundled under the Cathedral and the Bazaar, that the invisible rules of the hacker community were borne out of a tightly connected ecosystem with multiple transactions. That’s where norms and taboos were formed, and reputations were earned. I’d wager that within this conference it would be unusual to see slides containing unattributed images, whereas in other conferences it may be the norm. There are taboos on open education. There are norms. But society at large doesn’t really care about them as much as we do. And we can’t legislate for that (well, obviously there is copyright infringement legislation, but you get my point).

Incredibly useful work exists, like the lived experiences of educators explored by Catherine Cronin (2017), which demonstrates the complexity of people’s negotiation of the open. And perhaps work like this exposes as shaky the structures and categories that have been built to protect and promote good practice in open education. And this, in many ways, makes the dangers of bias and embedded inequalities so much more urgent – and really has to be addressed on a societal level. Because we know institutions love structure and rules and hierarchies and diagrams. As Oliver (2015) says, permeability is key. Maintaining operations within and outwith systems. Being careful not to prescribe too much.

Are these crises in ownership of ‘open’ more personal, more introspective of the open education movement itself, (possibly a bit insular), reflecting global issues through a smaller prism where we examine ourselves as both heroes and villains. As is our nature, publicly flagellating ourselves for not foreseeing the problems and inequalities our very work was engendering? The self as ‘misguided’ OER? I’ll finish with a quote from Helen Crump who places our humanity in a more forgiving position:

” Subjectivity is different to identity. It’s about how individuals are ‘subjected’ to outside forces such as economics, the law, society, the circumstances of history and the physical world in general, and consequently how they’re made subjects of these forces. From this perspective it’s not so much what kind of OER you’d like to be, but rather what kind of OER you can be.”


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