<Image Open by Mag3737 http://www.flickr.com/photos/mag3737/1914076277/>
This is rather late to the party, but the changing nature of the term 'open' is one of my things, so I wanted to chip in.
George Siemens kicked off an interesting debate around 'openness'. George argues that the term has been diluted so as to become almost meaningless, and that an ideological (rather than, say, a pragmatic) stance on openness is important:
"We need some good ol’ radicals in open education. You know, the types
that have a vision and an ideological orientation that defies the
pragmatics of reality. Stubborn, irritating, aggravating visionaries….
Openness should mean something. It should be driven by ideology, rather
than convenience. As a foundational principle in education, openness
should be discussed, critiqued, encouraged, and aggressively preserved."
David Wiley then responded thoughtfully, and argues that the pragmatic approach is the best means to advance such interests beyond a niche audience, building on the open source movement and Richard Stallman example George provided:
"Without translators like Raymond, who adapted Stallman’s message so
that a broader audience could both (1) understand and (2) see the value
of it, Stallman and his philosophies would still be niche players on
the global scale today."
(As an aside, there are echoes of the Cato vs Cicero debate in this which I previously applied to Stephen and David)
Jim Groom, quite rightly I think, is suspicious that the term is being appropriated by commercial entities for marketing reasons:
it’s no surprise to me that corporations like BlackBoard, Google, and
Facebook would push for this label, and there is little question in my
mind that the market cache such a term has right now is increasingly
diluting any of its meaning, particularly given it’s not so much
reliant on technical infrastructure or content
He then goes on to express some concerns about the nature of the debate:
Who gets to discuss what open is? Where do they do it? Companies don’t
really care too much about that discussion, they just care about
appealing to users through a term, and if they make up the table, along
with administrators at universities and the like, then why do we need
to go to the table at all? Isn’t the push away from these legacies of
power and privilege a part of what open is working against on it’s most
powerful and truly transformative levels?
So here's some thoughts from me, because, hey, it's an open debate right?
Firstly, I share George and Jim's reservations about over-use of the term. I even had a half-baked post ready about how this time next year 'open' will be a naff, over-used term, like 'web 2.0' is now. So, in this respect, George is right in his call to arms to defend the term ideologically. But, I think Jim hits on something too – one consequence of George's call might be that a few 'chosen' people or people in preferred positions get to determine what 'openness' is.
George's position (I think, correct me if I'm wrong George) is that those in education should take control of what open education means. This seems logical, except I think that the concept of openness has been advanced mainly by people outside, or on the periphery, of education. Open source software, wikipedia, the open APIs of twitter and Facebook (more on this later), Google, slideshare, scribd opening up of content, etc.
Which brings me on to my main point – I can live with a plurality of definitions. In fact, I rather like it, and I think academic obsession with finding a precise definition often gets in the way of being productive – witness how every paper, conference presentation, or website about learning objects had a definition of what a learning object was, instead of getting on with just sharing stuff.
I work at the Open University (I think I may have mentioned that before ;)) – and what a lot of the new 'open' discussion misses out is what the OU thinks of as important in open education, namely 'supported' open learning. Access to content is not, in our experience, sufficient for open education to be successful. For students to learn at a higher level they often require a wide range of support structures (although not always, with the right content some students manage on their own). This aspect of 'open education' is largely absent from much of the debate, perhaps because it is taking the open source model and is largely focused around content.
I am not arguing that this should be the definition of open education, but illustrating that under the umbrella term 'open education' there are many elements. It may be that some of these are not even complementary (for example, providing supported open learning is often expensive so may run counter to the open as in free branch of thought). I think we are too new in all of this to start pinning down definitions or excluding uses. As Clay Shirky (sorry George!) argued about the newspaper industry, we are living through a revolution and we don't know what will happen:
So who covers all that news if some significant fraction of the currently employed newspaper people lose their jobs?
I don’t know. Nobody knows. We’re collectively living through 1500,
when it’s easier to see what’s broken than what will replace it. The
internet turns 40 this fall. Access by the general public is less than
half that age. Web use, as a normal part of life for a majority of the
developed world, is less than half that age. We just got here. Even the revolutionaries can’t predict what will happen.
So, I'll go along with Twitter and Facebook saying they have open APIs, because one could see how open APIs may be the a really significant force in open education. I'd probably feel less inclined to include Blackboard in this because their history has shown their antipathy towards openness. And if Slideshare turns out to be a better model for OERs than MERLOT, then I'll take that on board too.
So I'd agree with David when he says that: "I think a great example of that undernourishment is the belief that open means the same thing no matter where you find it." Open is a big, buzzing ball of interrelated concepts, beliefs, technology and approaches at the moment, and I'm okay with that.