Learning from disruption #oer2015

I’m in Sausalito, California in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge for the Hewlett Grantees meeting this week.  Today is the start of proceedings proper, and I’m going to blog some of the presentations and seminars.  First off is Douglas Gayeton of Lexicon of Sustainability, which attempts to explain basic principles of economy and environment to a wide audience.

As a film-maker and photographer, Douglas has often reflected on the way that pictures omit as much as they include.  How can a picture capture the full story?  One way is to take lots of pictures and then turn these into a composite image.  This image can then be used to explain the overall message, perhaps with textual cues added.  We need to recast information in ways that people can understand.  (Compelling graphics can also be especially memorable.)  At the other end of the scale of transparency. he suggests, we might think about Latin versions of the Bible, which made religion obscure and opaque.

An underling assumption here is that when consumers are better informed they will make better choices.This seems like a fairly big assumption to me. (What about, for example, smokers who are fully aware of the dangers of their habit and yet continue to chuff away?  Motivation is also important.  Perhaps it is better to say that being well informed is a necessary but not sufficient condition of possibility for making good choices?  Alternatively, a paternalistic approach could make ‘good’ decisions on behalf of consumers without any need for the consumer to know what is good for them.)

Chains like Whole Foods now require clear labelling of products with GMO ingredients – Gayeton compares this to Martin Luther‘s insistence that the Bible be translated into native languages.  Consumers are also demanding transparency around the use of antibiotics to increase the weight of livestock.  Labelling around when and where fish were caught is expected to follow, as is information about grain origins.

It is argued that making improved information about food available to consumers is sustaining a national ‘locavore’ movement where localism, greater co-operation and seasonal eating replace the industrialisation of food production.  The ‘New Corner Store’ movement encourages consumers to ask for better options in their local stores.  Project Localize brings the message into schools.  Douglas take comfort from the various grass roots movements and small holdings: personal stories can be effective for communication.

I must admit that how this relates to OER wasn’t that clear to me, and there wasn’t much exploration of the disruptive elements which might be considered transferable.  I suppose that the idea is to change cultures through improved information though I suspect this is actually only half the battle.  There’s definitely a sense in which the message about OER, nuanced as it is, doesn’t always travel that far beyond the open education movement and its advocates.   But is the idea that we emphasize the hard data, analytics and metrics?  There doesn’t appear to be much of this in the materials we have been presented with today.   Should we instead focus on personal stories and narratives (which seem to be the focus here)?  Both?

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