Open Chasms – definitions dividing or uniting the open community? Some thoughts from #oer18

It’s often said that history is written by the winners. At this year’s OER18 conference all the keynotes took had a touch of history about them. Lorna Campbell got the conference off to a great start with her long view of changing perspectives on OER.  Momodou Sallah inspired everyone with his pedagogies of disruption, infectious activism and counter narratives, particularly around the history of access and control over and to, education and  culture in Africa. In the final keynote,  David Wiley took us through his potted history of open, open source, learning objects.

Much of what David spoke about resonated with me and the audience.  However as his presentation unfolded, and with the messages particularly from Momodou’s keynote talk the previous day still in at the forefront of my thoughts,  I was struck by the people he highlighted in his talk – predominately white, male, North American,  middle class, including some who hold some very unpleasant (to say the least) views on women in tech and gun ownership.

Early on in his talk David asked if there was/is going to be a split in the open community.  I hope there isn’t, but there are some gaping chasms. These chasms have nothing to do with the pragmatism versus practicality debate he spoke of. They are to do with who ‘wins’ the definition wars, the continuation of casual. everyday discrimination, exclusion and lack of/acknowledgement of counter narratives, and cultural sensitivity.

In tune with the 1980’s vibe let loose by the Reclaim Video folks, I can’t help but think of the classic 1980’s film The Return of the Jedi where Obi Wan Kanobi explains to Luke Skywalker that what what he told him about his father was the truth “from a certain point of view

For me, definitions particularly in education, are a bit like that. They are created, shared, debated based firmly on a certain point of view. This means that they all too easily can become, from a critical pedagogy point of view, symbols of oppression.

If am I told a narrative based on white, middle class, middle aged, North American males, I am immediately excluded (along with half of the worlds population).

If we don’t explicitly address diversity,  actively seek to include, support and embrace different voices, it’s not the difference between purists and pragmatists that will divide a community –  it’s who is included and excluded.  If your community doesn’t speak to me, then why should I become part of it, or defer and adhere to its definitions?

One of the joys of the OER conferences for me is that is a really powerful, hospitable space that brings together diverse voices to raise critically informed debate about open education.  It’s a space for people to come together and reflect on  what it means to be an open practitioner, what OER is in their context, and more importantly it can’t and can’t do.  Channelling the wonderful Dr Catherine Cronin  it’s not just open education practice that is a constantly negotiated process, it’s our definitions of it. They need to be open to negotiation and cognisant of context too. Surely that’s the way to engage, grow and sustain a diverse community.

4 comments

  1. Great points about negotiation of definitions. I hope and trust that there will never be a single definition of open content or open education or open anything. I think definitions can be useful, for example in dialogue between people with different perspectives who are able to learn from each other, as markers over time to trace change and developments in concepts. Or not always needed when people of privilege can learn from those who lack that privilege, as I did after #Ferguson when I followed #blacklivesmatter and learned that I needed to listen not talk.
    As a woman, I have something to say about my experiences of discrimination but I need to listen to listen to black women to understand better their experiences of discrimination.

    Thanks for your post Sheila.

  2. I agree with this and with Stephen Downes take on the Open Education Reader. People of privilege often take “leadership” roles as if it is their right. I have found areas in the open that are totally opaque and lacking any real dialog, not to mention consensus. (Notice that there is nothing in the reader about Open Leadership and consensus building practices.) The open community suffers from a few “experts” or “thought leaders” whose ultimate concern with open seems to be open for business, which fortunately, is one of the least sustainable models for open at all. I predict that this chicanery will go the way of Flatworld Knowledge and others who will cash in and then fade away into the oblivion of middle market of the failing economic model that is education publishing. Any one who is willing to sell out open education is willing to sell out themselves, and disappear. Keep your fingers crossed that they are successful 🙂

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