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.

Getting set for #OER18 reflecting on the #Iwill challenge one year on

Open Sign Board

As this year’s #OER18 conference approaches, like many other delegates of next week’s #OER18 I am getting prepared for my presentation, trying to decided what session to go to and all that general pre conference “stuff”.   I’m also reflecting on last year and in particular the #Iwill challenge that the closing plenary gave delegates in terms of their open practice, both in the room and online.

As my post last year shared I was really taken with the idea of open hospitality that Maha Bali brought up in her keynote.  My response to the #Iwill challenge was;

#Iwill bry to be generous, inclusive and extend notions of open hospitality in everything I do

So one year on, how have I done? Well I guess it’s all subjective . . . I still have the same concerns and struggles with being an open practitioner primarily around where, when, why, how can I be open.  I think I  have peaks and troughs of open-ness, sometimes I am open in a small institutional context, other times far more widely.  Next week will definitely be a peak and within the much broader open education community.

I am trying to embrace more criticality in my thinking about open education.  That is something that I will be presenting on at the conference with Keith Smyth in our session Open Practice and praxis in the context of the digital university.  But I do worry that we haven’t been as open in sharing this work as we had possibly hoped, and that we can’t afford to publish our  the book the presentation is based on via an open access route.

I worry that I haven’t been able to be as connected with other events, other colleagues recently, that I haven’t been able to keep up.  But that’s something we all struggle with and part of the reason I am so looking forward to the conference. It will take me out of my everyday works space, will make me think about “stuff” in different ways, will allow me to catch up with friends and colleagues old and new.

One of the things I wrote in my post last year, and something that again is always at the back of my mind, is that the conference is, and should be,  hospitable to everyone. I am very lucky in that I know so many people there that will be almost like coming home. However,  we all need to make sure that everyone feels welcome and at home. That’s what open-ness is about, it’s not about any one group of people it’s about everyone.  It is the growing community that is at the heart of the conference.

For those that can’t make the conference there are a number of Virtually Connecting sessions which once again I am going to be involved in.  My first experience of Virtually Connecting was at last year’s conference and it really has been such hospitable and generous space. I’m really looking forward to being involved again.