It’s no accident

Open Closed, originally uploaded by visual think map.

When talking and planning strategies to promote open education, I keep wishing people would read and understand the significance of posts like this one by Cole (who is riffing off one of Jim’s simple parables of openness):

…content that has been locked away in the LMS/CMS of choice is now being freed by the easy publishing enabled by Institutional blogging platforms. I find the notion that there is this vast sea of open content being generated without the official blessing of the Academy a wonderful incidental benefit to it all. Let me put it this way … MIT made a huge splash with a “real” open courseware initiative several years ago that cost millions of dollars. The money went to invest in content management systems, convincing faculty it is good, developing models for openness, to support faculty development, pay for marketing, and all sorts of physical and virtual infrastructure. No doubt MIT’s initiative is amazing and has been successful for lots of reasons, but the fact of the matter is that this information inherently wants to be free … so the bottom up community-driven approach I am seeing is a wonderful thing.

Here at PSU our own Blogs at Penn State environment is working to free content in new and interesting ways. Faculty who until recently would not have bothered writing and engaging students openly are doing so. I wonder if it is the toolset or the times we are living in? There is an unprecedented acceptance of technology in our everyday lives and I can’t help but wonder if we are a part of a larger movement in general … a movement in which citizen journalism is reaching into otherwise fortified verticals. Our own vertical, Higher Education, has been one that has promoted locked content for some time now … but what is happening is the convergence of easy to use platforms, social pressures and acceptance, and an interest in participation. It is amazing to watch it unfold. Can it continue in the absence of administrative blessings? I hope so.

I haven’t had much success in convincing people that the most important thing I can do to promote an open education community of practice at my university is to get more activity happening on our blogs and wikis (or any other simple, open online platform). For whatever reason, that argument does not seem to garner much traction. The highly managed repository model dies hard. Pondering why that is, I cannot help but think back to a post by Martin Weller, which presents an essential and little-understood truth about the costs of sharing:

The ‘cost’ of sharing has collapsed, but institutions don’t know this. This means they behave in perfectly logical ways if sharing was still a costly activity. I am using the term cost here to refer to both a financial price and also the effort required by individuals.

Clay Shirky argues that the cost of organisation has disappeared, and I believe this is because sharing is easy, frictionless. If I come across something I share it via Google shared items, Twitter, my blog, etc. If I want to share I stick it up on Slideshare, my blog, YouTube. There is a small cost in terms of effort to me to do the sharing, and zero cost in anyone wanting to know what I share. Sharing is just an RSS feed away.

But institutions don’t believe this, or know it. It used to take consortium agreements to share, conferences, best practice guides, incentives, metrics. How can all that be replaced by an RSS icon? Obviously it must be something different they reason, so for our needs we have to invent a system. Except it isn’t.

I don’t know how to make this argument carry where it is needed.

3 thoughts on “It’s no accident

  1. Brian,
    I totally agree, Cole nailed this question of a kind of de facto openness beautifully. And I have to say that I caught up with the PSU folks at ELI and they are both a fun and formidable bunch that is doing this stuff at a scale that just blows my mind, and they all drink good liquor at an impressive pace 🙂 They have integrated these open tools beautifully into the daily working of their entire network, just like UBC, and the models you both are blazing provides such an important model because you’re doing this at such large institutions, yet that hasn’t prevented you all from leading the way in so many regards.

  2. The longer I hack away at this, the more I’m convinced of two things:

    1. These efforts at openness and online publishing/conversation are at the heart of what we say we want from education, but at the same time they represent attacks on the core of how education has come to define itself over the last 150 years, and particularly since the 1960’s. Education can’t have it both ways forever, I guess, but I’d sure rather not wait for an implosion for everyone to get the point….

    2. The real traction always comes from faculty using the tools in their courses. That’s not a bad thing, in my view, except see number 1. Reward and recognition do not accrue to faculty who push out in these ways, typically. Instead, they get pushback, they get marginalized, they get shunned in some cases. Fortunately, the old tradition of faculty autonomy offers some measure of protection for those radical professors, particularly if they’re tenured. Here is a great reason for protecting the tradition of tenure!

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