I lost my Open Ed virginity

I was fortunate enough to attend the annual Open Ed conference last week, and there was much food for thought.  I live-blogged as many of the sessions as I could in Cloudworks and there’s a video archive of the presentations available on YouTube.  The event certainly gave me quite a lot of ground for reflection and some of that will be covered in further posts.  But I’d like to concentrate here on both my general impressions and on a couple of the keynote speakers.  (I would like to offer the caveat that I don’t know a great deal about all the speakers and their work, and I’ve never attended an open education conference before; so these comments are just my impressions as a sympathetic but inquisitive person with a practical interest in a major OER project.)

Coming off the back of my recent attempts to understand the ‘openness’ of OER and work on the OLnet Evidence Hub, I was particularly interested in how closely my understanding of the OER world and its issues related to the discourses taking place within the community.  It certainly seemed to me that there are two levels of discourse at the moment.

The first is about the right kind of licensing for open content (of which CC-BY) is perhaps the ‘gold standard’ (notwithstanding the issue of commercial use of another’s intellectual property).  This is really the OER question as far as OERs themselves are concerned.

The second – and, to my mind, the far more pressing and yet generally neglected part of all this – is to do with the implications of widespread adoption of the ‘open’ model of education.  I alluded to some of these issues in my previous presentation.  The difference between consecutive keynote sessions on day two of the conference really drew out the tensions between those who see themselves as proposing radical changes to education and those who are rather more pragmatic about managing a process of change towards the use of OER.  Here are the two presentations in question.

Josh Jarrett, Senior Program Officer, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

Wednesday Keynote given by Jim Groom, Instructional Technology Specialist / Adjunct Professor, University of Mary Washington

Josh’s presentation was a sobering account of the various obstacles that need to be overcome at institutional, governance and financial levels, while Jim’s more a more polemical plea for innovation and change in the world of education.  Josh had the spreadsheet, Jim had the pot of gold.

I think David Wiley had it right when he commented at the end of this session that it’s the tension between these two perspectives that people need to think about.  But on Twitter it was all about Jim’s presentation.  Perhaps it’s just because I’m new to all this (or maybe because of Jim’s somewhat unconventional style) but I was pretty confused by Jim’s presentation.  When I remarked on Twitter that I didn’t really see how Jim’s approach  could be replicated without Jim and in different subject areas, the response was quite telling.  Some of those following the conference hashtag who are close to DS106 were straight to Jim’s defence and we ended up with a bit of a crossed wire.  But I was quite surprised to get this kind of response to a well-meant question at a conference (which, after all, is a place for exchanging ideas).  It left with with a sense that I was encroaching into a space that some felt sacred.

More generally, I found was that whatever self-critique was going on amongst the delegates it wasn’t very obvious.  Rather than raising troublesome questions in the session  most of the discussion about the issues takes place online. It’s great that the Open Ed movement provides such a level of support to its members, but I come from a tradition which encourages face-to-face exchange in public fora.  Sometimes putting people on the spot and challenging them is the start of a productive process of exchange.

Typically, conferences are about like-minded people coming together, and this is undoubtedly a good thing.  But sometimes Open Ed 11 felt a bit like the choir preaching to itself.  Useful for me in terms of getting an understanding of the movement and where it’s at, but maybe not exactly what is needed to push OER and open education to the next level.

(At least now I know what an edupunk is!)


Published by Rob Farrow


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