philosophy

Rethinking the Open Society #oer17

Here are my slides from yesterday’s presentation at OER17.  All feedback welcome.

Abstract

This presentation explores open education ideologies in light of educational technologies; recent political discourse; and the political philosophy of Karl Popper.  Since the latter half of the 20th century, “openness” has developed within stable frameworks of liberal/social democracy, and is now often tacitly assumed in many areas of society (such as open government, a free press, freedom of speech, etc.).  Over the last year we have witnessed considerable and sustained political upset around the globe, causing many to proclaim a crisis of liberal democracy. In the Anglo world, we observe a surge of support for ‘closed’ political positions, including ‘Brexit’ and the USA presidential election (Knapton, 2016).  There are indications that openness might form the basis of an alternative politics; the Píratar political party evolved from a single-issue focus on copyright reform to become the biggest party in Iceland, standing on a platform of civil rights and participatory democracy.  Slaughter (2016) proposes that the web is the new geopolitical theatre, and that the USA “should adopt a grand strategy of building and maintaining an open international order based on three pillars: open societies, open governments, and an open international system.”

Moe (2017) describes the difficulties inherent in developing and teaching critical thinking, especially within standardised education.  In the connected age, access to information and control over media narratives are paramount to governance.  In the age of ‘post-truth’ we need more than ever educational systems that promote information literacy and critical thinking. There is reason to think that there is a need to reconsider the ideological basis and commitments of open education and its practices, many of which remain wedded to traditional academic structures.  This may seem counterintuitive: as Weller (2014) suggests, the ‘battle for open’ is in many senses won, with a growing body of open access publication; open textbook uptake; open source tools for building learning environments; massive open online courses; and open sharing of research data. However, Rolfe (2016) has demonstrated through content analysis a fundamental shift in the discourse around open education.  Articles from the 1970s tended to understand openness in terms of widening participation, and with this came a concomitant promotion of humane values, fostering autonomy, facilitating the development of others, and a wider social mission. This approach has in turn been disrupted by the rise of flexible learning in higher education and the wide availability of educational materials.  By the time the OER movement had grown to a global force much of the debate had moved on to licensing, technical and implementation issues (Weller, 2016).

A reconsideration of the role of ideology in OER will be framed by elements of Karl Popper’s The Open Society and its Enemies (1947).  Popper’s approach was hugely influential for Western liberal democracy, and remains arguably the most sustained attempt to develop a vision of society from the idea of openness.  Popper’s critical approach to education – which emphasizes the role of learner as so-creator of knowledge– serves as a model for making explicit the connection between critical rationality and openness, and provides tools for systematically reflecting on educational practice (Chitpin, 2016).

References

Chitpin, S. (2016). Popper’s Approach to Education. London and New York: Routledge.

Knapton, S. (2016). Donald Trump is a ‘vulgar, demented, pig demon’ says Hillary Clinton’s ex adviser. The Telegraph, 30 May 2016.

Moe, R. (2017). All I Know Is What’s on the Internet. Real Life Mag.http://reallifemag.com/all-i-know-is-whats-on-the-internet/

Popper, K. (1947a). The Open Society and its Enemies. Vol. I: The Age of Plato. London: Routledge. Available from https://archive.org/stream/opensocietyandit033120mbp.

Popper, K. (1947b). The Open Society and its Enemies. Vol II: The high tide of prophecy: Hegel, Marx and the Aftermath. London: Routledge. Available from https://archive.org/details/opensocietyandit033064mbp.

Rolfe, V. (2016). Open.  But not for criticism?  Open Education 2016.http://www.slideshare.net/viv_rolfe/opened16-conference-presentation

Slaughter, A.-M. (2016). How to Succeed in the Networked World: A Grand Strategy for the Digital Age. Foreign Affairs. (Nov/Dec.) https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/world/2016-10-04/how-succeed-networked-world

Weller, M. (2014). The Battle for Open. Ubiquity Press.

Weller, M. (2016). Different Aspects of the Emerging OER Discipline. Revista Educacao e Cultura Contemporanea, 13(31) http://oro.open.ac.uk/4

Ethics, Openness and the Future of Education #opened14

By popular demand, here are my slides from today’s presentation at Open Education 2014.  All feedback welcome and if this subject is of interest to you then consider checking out the OERRH Ethics Manual and the section on ethics (week 2) of our Open Research course.

Open Research into Open Education #calrg14

Here are my slides from today’s presentation: feedback welcome as always.

The project website is http://oerresearchhub.org and the OER Impact Map is available at http://oermap.org.

A Battle for Open?

Martin Weller has a thought-provoking editorial in the latest issue of JiME.  He argues that many of the battles for open education have been won but that the movement now faces the challenge of balancing all kinds of different aims and aspirations.  Is openness about freedom?  Is this an argument about business models or a philosophy of education?

These questions are couched in a wider narrative about finding pathways through times of change (especially rapid change or revolution). We often only see the underlying patterns of historical forces in retrospect:  as the philosopher Hegel tells us, the owl of Minerva ‘flies only at dusk’.  Not only are the issues complex and conflated; there is also the small matter of the education publishing industry that is keen to protect billions of dollars of revenue.  With all this is mind it can be hard to focus on the more prosaic problems we face on a day-to-day basis.

Martin appeals to the same ‘greenwashing’ analogy that Hal Plotkin used when I spoke with him in Washington DC earlier this year.  Nowadays environmental friendliness has penetrated the mainstream so successfully it can be hard to recall the way many corporations and lobbyists fought against a small environmental movement.  Brands are more than happy to present themselves as ‘green’ where before they denied the value of such a thing.  Their redefinition is known as ‘greenwashing’ and shows how a message can be co-opted by organisations which would appear at first to be excluded.  Can we say the same thing about open education as commercial providers become ‘providers of OER’?

Martin does a great job of showing why ‘battle’ might be an appropriate metaphor for what’s going on.  In the case of open access publishing, for instance, incumbent publishers want to preserve profits but open models have allowed new entrants into the market.  These new publication models are immediately thrust into challenges of scale and sustainability that can make it hard to preserve the openness that was the original impetus.

I won’t try to present any more of the argument here – it’s well worth reading in full.  But here’s the conclusion for the gist of it:

Openness has been successful in being accepted as an approach in higher education and widely adopted as standard practice. In this sense it has been victorious, but this can be seen as only the first stage in a longer, ongoing battle around the nature that openness should take. There are now more nuanced and detailed areas to be addressed, like a number of battles on different fronts. After the initial success of openness as a general ethos then the question becomes not ‘do you want to be open?’ but rather ‘what type of openness do you want?’ Determining the nature of openness in a range of contexts so that it retains its key benefits as an approach is the next major focus for the open education movement.

Open approaches complement the ethos of higher education, and also provide the means to produce innovation in a range of its central practices. Such innovation is both necessary and desirable to maintain the role and function of universities as they adapt. It is essential therefore that institutions and practitioners within higher education have ownership of these changes and an appreciation of what openness means. To allow others to dictate what form these open practices should take will be to abdicate responsibility for the future of education itself.

Socratic Method, Mazur and ‘Peer Learning’

I realise I haven’t been keeping up with blogging here (the perennial blogging complaint), mainly because I’ve been contributing blogs to the OER Research Hub project.  But I think there should be a bit more activity here as well as a bit of cross-posting (oh for the ability to re-blog between .com and .org installs on WordPress…).

What’s prompted this is a presentation I’ve just attended by Kari Arfstorm of the Flipped Learning Network.  I hadn’t previously been aware of an explicit connection between the ‘flipped’ learning methodology and a particular kind of pedagogical approach.  For those who are unaware, here’s the skinny on ‘flipped’ learning from the FLN site:

Flipped learning is intended to make more efficient use of classroom time by making sure that passive learning (e.g. reading, watching lecture) takes place away from the classroom and the time spent in the classroom makes the most of discussion, debate and inquiry.  Kari made an explicit connection between this approach and Socratic method – one I hadn’t made myself until now.

I confess to still being a little unclear on exactly how Socratic we should take flipped learning to be; or the ways in which flipping encourages a certain kind of pedagogy.  Kari suggested in the session that some subjects (e.g. mathematics) we might abide by a more authoritative teaching model in order to reflect the ‘hard’ nature of the subject while in the humanities we might employ a more authentically Socratic method.  I’m behind the curve on the whole thinking behind flipping, but a few thoughts come to mind:

  • Part of my confusion seems to arise from the fact that I understand Socratic method as anti-didactic.  Of course, it’s still a form of instruction (hence the irony) but ultimately a kind of facilitated self-instruction.
  • Socrates does in fact use this method to ‘teach’ mathematics.  In Plato’s Meno he takes a young slave boy and demonstrates his innate knowledge of Euclidean geometry by asking him questions rather than ‘teaching’ him.
  • Do you observe, Meno, that I am not teaching the boy anything, but only asking him questions; and now he fancies that he knows how long a line is necessary in order to produce a figure of eight square feet; does he not?

  • ‘Flipping’ seems (at least at first glance) to be an irony-free approach to pedagogy, which makes its Socratic status unclear to me.
  • In some dialogues, Socrates is often regarded as a mouth-piece for Platonic ideas. We don’t mean this kind of instruction when we talk about Socratic pedagogy but obviously there’s a lot of debate about when & where this is happening and why.

In any case, it seems that simply ‘flipping’ the classroom need not in itself result in more critical forms of reasoning and/or learning, though it’s easy to see how having a bit more time devoted to discussion or ‘higher-order’ pedagogical exercises might facilitate this.

When I asked Kari about this aspect of ‘flipping’ she said that the connection was not simply to Socratic methods but to some of the pedagogical approaches inspired by critical approaches.  Foremost among these seems to be physicist Eric Mazur‘s concept of peer instruction which dates from the early 1990s.

Peer Instruction encourages more interactive engagement by replacing lectures with small group discussions of concepts, supplemented by larger discussions punctuated by mini-lectures between questions. Students contemplate answers individually then discuss the explanations for their answers with their peers and come to agreement on the underlying physics (or models).

Here’s an outline of the process based on C. Turpen and N. Finkelstein (2010).

  • Instructor poses question based on students’ responses to their pre-class reading
  • Students reflect on the question
  • Students commit to an individual answer
  • Instructor reviews student responses
  • Students discuss their thinking and answers with their peers
  • Students then commit again to an individual answer
  • The instructor again reviews responses and decides whether more explanation is needed before moving on to the next concept.


  • Here’s a lecture by Eric Mazur which explains his approach to peer-based learning.


    I feel like I’ve learned something today as I have a better understanding of some of the pedagogical principles underlying the idea of ‘flipping’ the classroom.  But I also feel that it may be better to think of these approaches as encouraging a kind of intellectual or critical autonomy (undoubtedly a Socratic aspiration) rather than thinking of them as Socratic per se.

    Interestingly, the idea of Socratic reasoning also came through in a separate presentation today. Thanh Le (of the Vital Signs project) explained how ther schoolchildren use negative method of hypothesis elimination in order to improve their knowledge of native and invasive flora and fauna.

    Data visualization as simulacra

    I just saw this quote over at Radical Cartography and thought it was really interesting to think about in relation to data visualization, which is essentially also making spatial representations of information.

    Information is already abstraction from experience because in regarding it as knowledge rather than immediate sensation.  So, creating representations of information is moving away from the referent and towards the ‘hyperreal’.  This is compounded when we visualize data in order to inform decision making as the ‘map that precedes the territory’.

    At the same time, there is something organic and biopolitical about the growth, flourishing and decline of different representations of the world which inevitably reflect and express surrounding power structures.

    If we were able to take as the finest allegory of simulation the Borges tale where the cartographers of the Empire draw up a map so detailed that it ends up exactly covering the territory (but where the decline of the Empire sees this map become frayed and finally ruined, a few shreds still discernible in the deserts — the metaphysical beauty of this ruined abstraction, bearing witness to an Imperial pride and rotting like a carcass, returning to the substance of the soil, rather as an aging double ends up being confused with the real thing) — then this fable has come full circle for us, and now has nothing but the discrete charm of second-order simulacra. Abstraction today is no longer that of the map, the double, the mirror or the concept. Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being or substance. It is the generation of models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal. The territory no longer precedes the map, nor survives it. Henceforth, it is the map that precedes the territory — PRECESSION OF SIMULACRA — it is the map that engenders the territory and if we were to revive the fable today, it would be the territory whose shreds are slowly rotting across the map. It is the real, and not the map, whose vestiges subsist here and there, in the deserts which are no longer those of the Empire but our own: The desert of the real itself.

    Jean Baudrillard (1981) “The Precession of Simulacra” in Simulacra and Simulation.

    There’s some quite interesting stuff over there, in fact.

    Reading: Open Education

    I’ve been meaning to spend a bit of time trying to better understand the open education movement of the 1970s and how it relates to contemporary developments in academia.  A useful summary of some key texts is over at infed.org but I’ve copied the bibliographic details here just in case it goes down or I can’t find it again.  I’m particularly interested in getting my hands on the Nyberg (for obvious reasons).

    Easthope, G. (1975) Community, Hierarchy and Open Education, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

    Nyberg, D. (ed.) (1975) The Philosophy of Open Education, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

    Puckrose, H. (1975) Open School, Open Society, London: Evans.

    Sharp, J. (1973) Open School. The experience of 1964-70 at Wyndham School, Egremont, Cumberland, London: Dent.