Whadya mean “openness has won”?

In my Battle for Open book (and article) I make the claim that openness has been victorious in many respects, and reinforce this by examining the success of open access publishing, OERs, MOOCs and open scholarship. However, to many working in higher education, this would seem a rather overblown claim. They may work in contexts where open scholarship is not only not recognised but actively discouraged, where the mention of OERs would be met with blank expressions and any proposed change to take advantage of the opportunities of open education is actively resisted. Any notion that openness has won seems like the fancy of a privileged few, perhaps operating within an open education bubble.

I have sympathy with this view, so wanted to explore what was meant by my claim. I think we can point to many examples that demonstrate the success of the open approach: the open access mandates; the numbers of learners and media interest in MOOCs; the impact and sustainability of open textbooks; the changing nature of fundamental scholarly practice as a result of open approaches.

To suggest that openness has been successful though is not to claim that it has achieved saturation or 100% uptake. Rather that all of these separate successes point to a larger trend – this is the moment when openness has moved from being a peripheral, specialist interest to a mainstream approach. To use that oft-quoted (and perhaps meaningless) term, it is at a tipping point. From this moment the application of open approaches in all aspects of higher education practice has both legitimacy and a certain inevitably. This is not to say that it will always be adopted, just as the open source approach to software is not always pursued, but it is an increasingly pervasive method. The speed of acceptance will be influenced by a number of factors such as disciplinary cultures, national programmes, policies, funding, the presence of champions and immediate benefits. 

The victory of open education then is that it is now a serious contender proposed by more than just its devoted acolytes, as a method for any number of higher education initiatives, be they in research, teaching or public engagement. And this transition is at the heart of this book, since inherent in it are opportunities and challenges, just as a small start-up business must face a whole different set of issues when it grows and becomes a larger multi-national corporation. In this transition there are many potential pitfalls – the whole enterprise can fail, it can be taken over by others, or the fundamental value and identity that characterised that embryonic stage can be lost.

3 Comments

  1. “…the whole enterprise can fail, it can be taken over by others, or the fundamental value and identity that characterised that embryonic stage can be lost.”
    This is where I think the analogy becomes problematic. Your sentence above is somewhat at odds with your contention that “we’ll never go back to closed systems in academia anymore.”
    It might just be that we live in different parts of the opening, metaphorical globe, but I’m not so confident that we’ll never go back and much more confident that the entire enterprise can fail. In particular, I’m not sure that decision makers in higher ed have much understanding or will to retain/enhance open efforts in the face of growing economic pressures…they are essentially the educational cloud, providing services without tangible returns and, like those cloud providers, they could start dropping like flies.
    Then again, I might end up like one of those dazed soldiers emerging from the jungle 30+ years after WW II, unaware that war was over.

  2. Hi Chris – thanks for this. It’s really interesting to see your perspective, and I can see how from a slightly different angle it doesn’t look like a robust change at all, but rather more fragile. Maybe that’s true of ‘real’ revolutions also, they are vulnerable just at the moment of their victory, in that things are unstable. I think what might mitigate against the backslide to closed systems is the efficiency (rather than the altruism) argument for openness. It’s simply a better way to operate a lot of times, for example the open access impact advantage.
    I liked your emerging soldier analogy, perhaps I’ll be the foolhardy charge of the Light Brigade.

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