Open Education Week In the Shadows

As part of Open Education Week (#openeducationwk), Jonathan Worth is facilitating a conversation on trust and privacy in the context of open, a conversation both in-person and online, synchronous and asynchronous, this Thursday (March 12).  A brief prologue on the conversation, as well as the first whispers of the conversation, can be found at speaking  I was asked to respond to the thoughts of provocateurs Ulrich Boser, Audrey Watters, Cory Doctorow, Dan Gillmor and Nishant Shah, and my response will be available for streaming on Thursday; until then, the site will roll out the conversation in hopes of building a dialogue to crescendo at the end of the week (NOTE:  as of Tuesday PM, the site had added comments from Viv Rolfe, Alan Levine, David Kernohan and more).

Critical voices in open education are emerging, but the open field remains largely dominated by instrument-defined adherents building resources and mechanisms to share resources.  Open Education Resources are important and admirable, but by focusing the debate on open entirely as a means to an end without defining the end or why we want to reach the end, we buy into narratives of modernism, solutionism and manifest destiny rather than a realistic, pragmatic or even postmodern purpose/objective.  This becomes problematic for a number of reasons:  we assume open to be benevolent; we “create a false binary where open is technological and closed is human” (quoting Nishant Shah); we further a simulacrum of open as foundation-less idealism purported as apolitical, atheoretical & ahistorical.

I bring this up today because at the same time as #openeducationwk promotes events around the world in the promotion of open education, #sxswedu has brought together David Wiley and an entirely different set of educational stakeholders in Austin to convene on topics of education.  I brought this up on Twitter today

In the subsequent discussion, Mark Morvant of the University of Oklahoma reminded me that I made a similar comment at the Open Education Conference in November, tweeting edX’s Anant Agarwal as I was presenting on Critical Issues in Open Education w/ George Veletsianos.  Agarwal was in Washington, D.C. as part of the Department of Education’s #futureready happening, just minutes from our conference in Crystal City, VA.

My instinct both at #opened14 and during #openeducationwk has been to point out the lack of awareness of the mainstream on issues of open in education.  Events such as #futureready and #sxswedu promote a notion that education is broken and solutions are needed in disruptive and innovative places, with a grassroots commitment to fixing this problem.  The history of and brainpower within the Open Education movement are a testament to the present state of education, evidence that practitioners are invested in the field and in betterment of their milieu and that what is really broken about education is the education is broken narrative.  So I have taken to social media to point out the conundrum for Open as well as for Disruptive Innovation:  what are we working toward if we work independent of one another?

But I think I have been wrong about this point, about Open Education needing to work alongside #futureready and #sxswedu (and not wrong because Richard Culatta of the Department of Education came to OpenEd for an impromptu address of the conference).  If the Open movement has been so focused on instruments and mechanics and solutionism that its definition as a values-based proposition is wonting, what would happen to the concept when introduced outside a scholar/practitioner arena?

More use of the term Open without adhering to the core tenets of Open.  More hype.  More solutionism. More openwashing.

That Open Education and OER have received attention and are viewed as a solution is excellent news and an invaluable step toward one of many elements that could provide better education for students and teachers alike.  But it’s also a good thing that Open Education has not become a buzzword like the MOOC, pushed and pulled and prodded and contorted until it looks nothing like its original conception.  Here is hoping that 2015 can be a year of critical discourse on what Open means and how we can create a shared vision for the field rather than believe our own personal inferences are globally shared and perfect.

About Rolin
Assistant Professor & Director of EdTech & Media at Seattle Pacific University. Consultant w/ RAM TEC. Work with faculty, teach students, explore non-formal learning spaces (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museums)


  1. I like the way you have used the idea of shadows in a critical approach to Open Educational practice. Jenny Hackness and I have adopted a similar approach in a recent paper about participant experiences of a CMOOC. A group of us conducted a symposium at ALTC 2011 that generated lively discussion. Here’s the abstract I sometimes think that shiny stuff and shiny ideas can be so dazzling that they obscure worthy areas for critique.

  2. That should have been Jenny Mackness

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  1. We need to talk …..

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