Why Open Matters (#OpenEdMOOC)


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Openness in education matters because it reveals how actors within a group or network interact with each other. Instead of thinking philosophically about what the term means, defining openness within a particular local context helps determine specific relationships between individuals, materials (i.e., objects, technologies, etc.), and ideas. Hatakka’s (2009) discusses obstacles teachers face at the university level when OERs are considered. This is likely to be the result of possible power relationships between those who make decisions about didactic materials and those who do not; relationships between ideas that teachers might have about what content should be included in the classroom; and which technologies should or should not be used to access certain content or contact with other individuals (e.g., relationship building). How open content is, then, depends on how purposeful human relationships remain, how transparent processes are, how accessible tools or technologies are, and how the integrity of ideas get shared among individuals.

As a matter of degree (ontologically speaking), openness is a result of a learning trajectory - one that can grow or diminish based on a continuous flow of associations between ideas, materials, and human relationships. Siemens, Downes, and others have mentioned connectivism (or connected knowledge) in similar terms (Connectivism, 2017), but I see openness (as a network) through the same lens: a historical context to understand purposeful (social, material, and ideational) associations occurring at any given time. Understanding current associations and their histories can yield insights into any future directions of openness.

Example A

Teacher A gets criticized for using too much technology in classes with students and when assuming leadership positions with (teacher) colleagues. Students don’t see the reason for using technology and colleagues have been just fine over the years working the same way (without technology) to “get the job done”. Technology (an attempt to work more openly) just seems like more work on top of an already busy work schedule.

In this example, openness matters because it forces students and colleagues to address all relationships between individuals, ideas, and technologies. In doing so, complaints extend beyond just being forced to use technology but may reveal other possible issues (and possible solutions) that plague the need for change. Thus, understanding openness makes it impossible to only blame technology without understanding the broader perspective, say relationships between teachers and administrators and certain ideas related to curriculum, assessment, and instruction.

Example B

Teacher B is not allowed to use open educational recourses (OERs) in classes because they are viewed as invalid and unreliable. Instead, the curriculum committee decided that the institution should adhere to (an expensive) textbook as the primary source of course content for the duration of the term.

Compared to example A, which is perhaps more of a communication problem, openness (and related issues) in example B is likely to relate more towards issues of power and prestige (politics). Teacher B may avoid employing OERs (or even learning about OERs) for fear of facing consequences if not complying to current institutional policies.

Openness matters because it forces educational stakeholders to address matters of equitable teaching and learning processes from multiple perspectives. It makes transparent how individuals engage with each other and the relationships they form; the ideas that are being shared between social relationships; and the where, when, and how these social relationships form based on the technologies and spaces that facilitate such awareness. Transparency helps to understand what openness is, and it helps to understand how the network forms. If there is any uneasiness about open education, it stems from confronting issues that naturally emerge from a continual sharing of ideas and experiences throughout the network. Hence, terms open and closed networks then fall on opposite ends of a dynamic and complex continuum. Depending on the context, an open network could be both a positive and negative pursuit (and vice versa). Are schools ready to go open? How might instructional leaders prepare teachers, students, and parents to be more open? How can schools evaluate whether becoming more open is effective, efficient, and engaging? One can agree that working towards becoming more open is a good thing while at the same time realize jumping suddenly into open territory without a network that is prepared for it can have a negative effect.

Openness matters because it becomes an exercise in exploring Wiggins and McTighe’s (2005) six facets of understandings: one can explain, interpret, and apply; one has perspective, empathy, and self-knowledge. To understand open education is to be able to utilize these six facets within specific contexts, and then share this knowledge with those from different contexts so that the generalities of openness in the abstract don’t become a distraction.