Open — it ain’t what it used to be…

ECC sighted at Boblo Office Building
ECC sighted at Boblo Office Building by Tony Lafferty on Flickr

“I’m sorry to say that this is likely only the first of many uses of “Open Education” by a company that appears to have very little or nothing to do with promoting open education. Darn.” — David Wiley, “Openwashing – the new Greenwashing

Also via David’s blog, in a post considering the implications of the latest (BOY HOWDY!) draft of the Creative Commons non-commercial clause, check out the Monterey Institute for Technology and Education Terms of Use and Privacy Policies, which asserts:

MITE understands that the Noncommercial (NC) restriction on this Creative Commons license precludes institutional use of the materials, including by governments, corporations, public entities, and businesses, whether for-profit or non-profit.

Now why would they add that “understanding”? I used to think that one of the benefits of open education was the sharing of resources between institutions, to make educational practice cheaper, to free up time and effort, and the recognition of the “commons” as a shared foundation of knowledge that we all draw on. MITE goes on to state that it welcomes “all individual (e.g., students, teachers, general public) use”… though under terms so restrictive that one wonders why it bothers with CC at all. Why not simply encourage people to exercise their fair use/dealing rights? How it practically intends to distinguish between institutions and teachers (most of whom are not self-employed …not yet anyway) is unclear to me. David takes comfort that in the future Creative Commons won’t permit licensees to “‘redefine’ Noncommercial with little ‘clarifying’ add-ons”, but if that’s the case, again, why would MITE bother with CC at all?

Actually, I have to admit I’m being a little disingenuous with my apparent confusion. I think I get MITE’s “understanding”. I’m guessing somebody read in Teh Chronicle that the great big open education game has hit a monetization phase, and we’re not all in this together anymore. Tom Friedman and David Brooks say the real revolution is here, and when have they ever been wrong?

Which brings us to EdUCKA, putting the MASSIVE into MOOCs, generating buzz and venture capital for education start-ups, enough boffo bucks to pay for a few hours worth of speculative rate manipulation or capital siphoning on the derivative markets. That’s enough money to convince an educational administrator that this is indeed “serious” stuff. It’s about time.

Martin Weller is his usual sensible wild, demented self when he points out that when it comes to the big new MOOCs (that owe absolutely nothing to the Canadians, don’t blame the Canadians), there is a difference between “free” and “open”, and that these initiatives are closing themselves off from the truly interesting stuff. Then again, “truly interesting” just sounds like another way of saying “commercially unviable”.

And how about the distinction between open doors and open hearts?

Some courses are open as in door. You can walk in, you can listen for free. Others are open as in heart. You become part of a community, you are accepted and nurtured.

Me? I’m still waiting on the free beer that people have been talking about for years. I think I know how much free speech will be tolerated in the current climate.

Since this post is disintegrating anyway… Did you catch where Sebastian Thrun mused that in some of our lifetimes “there will be only 10 institutions in the world delivering higher education and Udacity has a shot at being one of them.” What an inspiring vision of the future that is. Why so many as ten? If we are going to consolidate that much, might as well be honest and take single sign-on to the logical conclusion. Do we really think the problem of the modern economy is that there are too many places for smart people to find work? How many of the people pushing “disruption” in higher education feel that way?

I wonder if I will delete this post? As a Follower of the Apocalypse, I know this has all been said with far more punch already. Dubstep. Yeah, that works… Maybe we should take a break, take a cue from a “lovable crew of droids as they solve their differences the only way dubstep robots know how.” (Thanks Dr. J.)


Dubstep Dispute from Fluxel Media on Vimeo.

OK, I’m back, and I don’t feel the least bit better.

A few links from a Canadian perspective, with Tom Slee arguing Why the “Open Data Movement” is a Joke:

* Canada Joins International Open Government Partnership

Wow. Canada embraces openness on the federal governmental level. Let the sun shine in. Open open open. It’s good. It’s democracy. It’s now.

Oh, wait…

* Conservative Cuts put half of Statscan jobs at risk


* Cancelling the compulsory long-form census (link), thereby demolishing a source of reliable statistical data that guides government decisions and debates over national priorities. “The information previously collected by the long-form census questionnaire will be collected as part of the new voluntary National Household Survey (NHS).” The decision prompted Statscan head Munir Sheikh to resign (link).

*Muzzling Canada’s public scientists in other departments, with one example being Fisheries and Oceans scientist Kristi Miller (link). More broadly, “Natural Resources Canada scientists have had to get pre-approval from Minister Christian Paradis’s office to speak with journalists. They must also get ministerial approval for everything they say to the news media.” (link).

It’s got to the stage where the Canadian Association of Journalists recently awarded its “Code of Silence” award for Canada’s most secretive government or publicly-funded agency to the entire federal government (link).

The current Canadian government’s animus against the liberal bias of reality has gotten so pronounced that it has prompted unprecedented opposition from our scientists, including a rather large demonstration today.

Back to Slee:

While there has been opposition to these moves, I think it’s fair to say that the “open data movement” has not been central to it. But never mind, Statistics Canada data is now available for free on the government’s web site (link). There seems to be no link between the government’s actions and the actions of this “movement”, and basically that’s because the Open Data Movement is more focused on formats, digitally-acessible data sets, free access to postal codes, and so on than it is focused on actual government transparency around issues that matter. It’s a movement that has had no impact on government accountability. [My emphasis.]

Will open education have a real impact on the social needs that we need education to address?

It reminds me that “open” education was never the goal. “Open” is just one necessary condition to a set of practices that might result in a more vibrant and relevant form of education. Part of that historic and probably doomed race against catastrophe.

Teemu Leinonen: “Open education can only happen with free knowledge. Free knowledge does not exist without open data (and information). Open education should focus on wisdom, truth, beauty, love and music (art).”

19 thoughts on “Open — it ain’t what it used to be…

  1. Thanks for some clarity in what has been an increasingly depressing space to watch the idea of open education be reduced to acronym that no one is really examining too closely, what’s more the idea that open plays any role in this whole equation was captured nicely by this quick post by David Wiley titled the “MOOC Misnomer:” http://opencontent.org/blog/archives/2436

    The only upside of this whole thing is this post is as sharp as ever, yu are getting ready to put your edtech game face on and make a little sweetness and light at TRU! (Love that acronym.) I am increasingly of the mind that locking in, doing a little good, and having fun is the only medicine for the commodified logic that pervades all things HE these days—and that Thrun quote just tears it—so terrifying, fucking Germans!

  2. Brian – you must *not* delete this post: it is pure, true and beautiful and – dammit – what other criteria matter these days?

    For me you nail it with “it was never about open…” – you are entirely right. We go on about open like it was some sacred property, but we apply it to objects rather than actions.

    Sometimes you have to *make* stuff open, even if it is not actually supposed to be. I offer that man Groom and his battle with youtube and various large corporations who are claiming (the fools!) to own large parts of the inside of his head?

    Trouble with drawing such thick lines around “open” is that “closed” seems like the opposite….

  3. Thankyou for your one-man attempt to rebrand me as wild & demented self. I guess we always knew this would happen – open was great until it hit the mainstream. Two things happen when it hits the mainstream: 1) it becomes standardised and regulated so we have complicated structures to ensure openness (see the Finch report for open access in the UK, which means publishers get to screw us from a different direction) 2) it becomes a sales pitch – if you pay us, we’re really open.
    There is a utilitarian view to all this I guess – the overall gain outweighs the loss. But like corporate blogging, it feels very distinct from the thing we all loved.

  4. Jim… I’m sure that little jab at the end at our Teutonic friends was in fun. And say what you like about the tenets of Udacity, at least it’s an ethos.

    I do need to learn to “lock in and have fun” a little more, it’s a healthier response than doom-mongering.

    David, thanks for chiming in, I’ll leave it up for you…

    Martin, I can always count on you for wild and demented perspective. I hope you are right that the gain outweighs the loss, I find myself brooding on Trojan Horses…

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