Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

What’s “Open” Anyway?

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Right, so it’s time for the #WhyOpen MOOC 🙂 yay! I’ve already blogged about why I’m here.

So… What is “open” to me? I’d say something different every day you ask me. In general, though, for me (but I am pretty “open” to other understandings of it!):

Openness is an attitude. In my case, not just towards educational resources, or open access publishing, but a more general attitude towards keeping things open. I think the Ubuntu concept which I recently read about on Sally’s blog covers the basics of what that means (quoting Desmond Tutu):

A person with Ubuntu is welcoming, hospitable, warm and generous, willing to share. Such people are open and available to others, willing to be vulnerable, affirming of others, do not feel threatened that others are able and good, for they have a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that they belong in a greater whole…

Sometimes I am angry at others who are not open, other times something happens to make me realize I am not as open as I would like to think I am.

Openness is access
It’s not enough to put something somewhere and say it’s open because you haven’t got a gate on it. Others need to be able to access it. This means free (no cost) but it also means all sorts of other things that we may not be able to do – such as internet access,tech skill, tech literacy… It also means making it available in accessible language, and that does not mean just English vs other languages, but also using accessible discourse. That’s actually quite difficult, because as I recently wrote,some of the most open educational innovations are not really comprehensible to others outside the “field”.

There are so many different ways to be open. I wrote during #nwoer about those different shades of openness. They include using and creating and modifying open educational resources, publishing and reading from open access journals. Those are probably pretty common understandings of openness. But I take it a step further where I try to mostly just peer review stuff in open access journals, publish most of my stuff in open access locations (or at least zero-cost-to-reader, even if not CC-licensed stuff), and I am also a huge fan of open peer review.

Openness needs(?) Advocacy. That’s a key thing for me, because there are a lot of misconceptions about openness that give it a bad name, particularly in terms of open access scholarly journals. I participated in organizing an open access event at my university last semester and it is definitely something that requires advocacy because of all the resistance to it.

Caution from some Deceptive Openness Discourse: it is not a panacea
Openness discourse can sound utopian but unrealistic and sometimes even deceitful to the point of being harmful. Let’s not forget that most OERs are in one language, English, and some are “no derivatives” so you cannot translate. Let’s not forget that most OERs are coming from the Western world, so privilege certain cultures and knowledges. Let’s not forget that most (all?) OERs are digital and have tech requirements. But there is more beyond this.

There was a discussion on the #rhizo14 facebook group on this TED Talk, which many of us reacted to negatively: it sells openness, but does not really offer openness; in fact, it shows a complete ignorance of the true meaning of openness. I blogged mainly about the difference between $0 and $1 but other friends blogged more in-depth and critical analyses of that talk: Apostolos (AK) here and Shyam Sharma here. For example, Shyam says:

“The inability that this speaker shows to imagine himself in the shoes of others in their very different contexts (while he makes grand claims about improving other’s lives in extremely unrealistic and extremely insensitive terms) is astounding. But somehow, it has somehow become amazingly easy for such technomagicians to manufacture virtual universities out of thin air.”

Apostolos makes this great point: “No matter how people try to make “Open” = “Free”, open is by no means free!” – because whoever is providing resources to others free of charge, are people getting paid in some other way that allows them to do this. And that means also that only privileged people get to “do” open in the first place.

So… “Open” in my context?
For those who don’t know me: I am an Associate Professor of Practice at the American University in Cairo in Egypt. My full time work is as a faculty developer at the Center for Learning and Teaching, but I also teach, I teach ed tech to in-service teachers, and most recently I started teaching undergrads on designing educational games as a 1/3 of a course on creativity.

Beyond the obvious open access publishing aspect I talked about earlier here, and the advocacy, I also try to share on my blog about my teaching, I try crowdsourcing all manner of things, because I believe in the power of that. And although I believe openness discourse has a lot to learn in terms of the nuances of what that means for people in developing countries (see Laura Czerniewicz’s post here), I still believe in the philosophy behind it and look forward to discussing it further through the #WhyOpen MOOC.

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