Bold innovations in openwashing

new car wash shared CC by vandy meares


One could argue that Audrey Watters’ dismissal of today’s announcement is a little harsh, somewhat cynical. Maybe insistence on open code and open content as necessary conditions for “open education” is a case of ‘zeal over pragmatism’.

But if proprietary content and platforms in service of for-profit enterprises counts as “open education”, just what is the “open” part supposed to be? Audrey’s subsequent tweets offer a clue.


Open as in doors. Open as in hearts. Open as in “for business”. And give them credit, the venture capitalized open education movers have proven tireless in making deals and spewing triumphant press releases. The Open Education Alliance represents the latest landmark in this glorious history.

In any event, while a concept such as open source carries certain obligatory qualities, when we talk about education the application of “open” is more closely related to how ‘All Natural!’ or ‘New and Improved!’ are used on our supermarket shelves. It’s gotten to the point where I find myself hesitant to use a term like “open education” when I speak with people. And I wonder if I still want to be called an open educator.


Reading stuff like this is a massive open online bummer. But truthfully, I’m actually not so Abject these days. I’m plenty busy working with people here and elsewhere on approaches to using online technologies to extend, enhance and energize learning. We share a dedication to working in ways that exploit network effects to inform, amplify and augment our practice. We share what we do because it feels good, because it makes what we do better, because it represents a human-scale way of being, one with global reach.

I’ll strive to adjust my bloggage accordingly.

14 thoughts on “Bold innovations in openwashing

  1. Years ago, I sat in on a demonstration by sales vendor from Blackboard when they had first started sneaking “open” into their sales literature. I still have no idea what they thought they meant when they used that word.

    I hate it when people take good words and make them suck.

  2. Stitching you a ‘We Can Make It If We Try’ badge … with a Sly Stone motif. Could you send me a photo of you jumping in the air kinda like

    Looking forward to seeing and hearing more about the great stuff in the hopper.

  3. Makes me think of the “Open Handset Alliance”… moved quickly from a noble-sounding plea for user-hackable phones to a loose plea for manufacturers not to break Android *too* much.

  4. Last week I watched a doc with my daughter called “The New Green Giants” ( about the recent boom in the organic food movement. In the doc, there were interviews with the original organic food pioneers; the back to the land counter-culture hippies of the 60’s who, in the early years, struggled to do what they did out of the belief that it was the right thing to do.

    Then big business came, bought out the early pioneers and organics became an industry.

    Along the way, there were many victims who’s early ideals were squashed, bought, folded, spindled and mutilated. Organic became a marketing buzzword, and it wasn’t until laws were introduced by governments outlining strict guidelines for what could be labelled “organic” did the term begin to mean something again. But by that time, the damage had already been done to some extent, and many of the big foodcorps simply switched out the word organic for natural on many of their products – and no one really noticed.

    I am not sure what my point is with this rambling comparison (and it is certainly not advocating for something as radical as government intervention) other than as I watched this doc, I kept having images of the faces of early pioneers of open education superimposed on the bodies of those early organic food producers. And a kind of sadness came over me as I watched the sincere earnestness of their youthful endeavours transform into jaded memories of how their movement was taken over as they were systematically forced out of the movement they started by their new slick corporate overlords.

    Geez…if you are going to take a break from abject postings for awhile, maybe I can just pop into your posts every once in awhile and inject a bit of doom and gloom with my comments.

  5. Not sure why I’m replying to this now. But I came over to see if there might be a new Lamb post, there’s not, so while I wait I figure I’ll comment on this last one.

    There is this question of how much it matters, and I go back and forth on it. I guess I don’t know if openwashing (or “open-jamming”, my preferred term) poses an existential threat to open as we envision it. Maybe.

    But I will agree with you and Jim — the situation on the ground has never been better. There is more grass-roots innovation than ever before. In a bizarre way, xMOOCs create the problems to which our open is the obvious solution.

    No other thoughts, really. I just want to revel in the upside a minute or two, while life is still groovy.

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