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Open Education and Open Educational Resources

July 27th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

Stephen Downes wrote last night that national programs supporting open educational resources (OERs) are springing up. He noted the publication of a Green Paper describing and making recommendations for OER initiatives in Brazil. Also, in Holland, he said, the government has launched the Wikiwijs project (literally: Wiki Wise), which “is an open, internet-based platform, where teachers can find, download, (further) develop and share educational resources. The whole project is based on open source software, open content and open standards.” Meanwhile the Washington State colleges board has passed a resolution saying “All digital software, educational resources and knowledge produced through competitive grants, offered through and/or managed by the SBCTC, will carry a Creative Commons Attribution License.”

To these initiatives can be added the launch of JISC OER Infokit (interestingly developed on a PBWorks wiki site) aiming to explore a range of considerations from specific technical issues to barriers and enablers to institutional adoption. They say “This infoKit aims to both inform and explain OERs and the issues surrounding them for managers, academics and those in learning support. It is aimed at senior managers, learning technologists, technical staff and educators with an interest in releasing OERs to the educational community.”

Stephen Downes quotes the Brazil Green Paper saying: “Education policy and projects that combine infrastructure investment with a coherent ‘network’ approach to content are the most likely to have significant positive impact and realize the goals of the policy. The ability of the Internet to create radical increases in innovation is not an accident – but it is also not guaranteed to happen simply through putting computers and courses onto the network. This ‘generative’ effect of networks comes from the combination of open technologies, software platforms that allow creative programming, the right to make creative and experimental re-use of content, and the widespread democratization of the skills and tools required to exercise all of those rights.”

The issue of democratisation is taken up in an excellent blog post entitled “Open Education: the need for critique” by Richard Hall. Richard says ” democratic practices in education are critical in enhancing our broader socio-educational life, and underpin radical re-conceptualisations of educational practice, for example mass intellectuality, a pedagogy of excess and student-as-producer.” He goes on to say: “To use the term learning revolution demands a critique of the political economics of education, and the social relations that exist therein. This cannot be done in terms of OERs without an engagement with critical pedagogy.”

Richard points to risks in present discussions about PLEs, OERs and informal learning.

  1. That the role/importance of individual rather than social empowerment is laid bare, and that within a libertarian educational structure, the focus becomes techno-determinist. The risk here is that, accepting the position of others in meaningful, socially-constructed tasks, technology is the driver for individual emancipation [although we rarely ask “emancipation for or from what?”]. Moreover, we believe that without constant innovation in technology and technological practices we cannot emancipate/empower ever more diverse groups of learners.
  2. That we deliver practices that we claim are radical, but which simply replicate or re-produce a dominant political economy, in-line with the ideology of accepted business models. So that which we claim as innovatory becomes subservient to a dominant mode of production and merely enables institutions to have power-over our products and labour, rather than it being a shared project [witness the desire for HE to become more business-like].
  3. That we fetishise the outcomes/products of our labour as a form of currency. This is especially true in the case of open educations resources, which risk being disconnected from a critique of open education or critical pedagogy, and PLEs which risk being disconnected from a critique of their relationship to our wider social relations.
  4. That we fetishise the learner as an autonomous agent, able to engage in an environment, using specific tools and interacting with specific OERs, so that she becomes an economic actor, rather than seeing her engagement as socially emergent and negotiated.

He puts forward a number of questions around iopen education and OERs.

  1. How do we prioritise engagement with the broader, open context of learning and education, with trusted peers? How do we raise our own literacy around openness, in order to legitimise sharing as social practice and as social process, and not as a response to a target of OER-production-as-SMART-objective?
  2. Is the production of OERs a means of furthering control over our means of production and our labour? Is there a risk that the alleged transparency of production of OERs is used to further control and power-over, for example, teachers and teaching by impacting contracts of employment?
  3. Though education, how do we enable the types of participatory engagement and re-production of groups like the Autonomous Geographies Collective or Trapese, where the production of OERs is a secondary outcome to the re-fashioning of social relationships that it enables? By so doing, we might just enable groups to engage with the activity-areas that Harvey highlights as a process of production, rather than fetishising the production of things.
  4. How do we resist the increasing discourse of cost-effectiveness, monetisation, economic value, efficiency that afflicts our discussion of open education? How do we move the argument around sustainability and open education away from a focus on economic value? Too often our discussion of open education is reduced to a discussion of OERs and this, in turn, is reduced to a discourse of cost and consumption. As a result, our role in education is commodified and objectified.
  5. Do we ask who is margnalised in the production of OERs or in open education? Are non-Western cultures engaging in open education and the production of OERs through the languages of colonialism or by focusing on native socio-cultural forms? At what point do OERs and open education become part of a post-colonial discourse focused upon new markets?
  6. How do we utilise OERs to open-up trans-disciplinary approaches to global crises, like peak oil and climate change? How do we enable the emerging array of open subject resources to be utilised across boundaries (be they personal, subject, programme, course, institutional or national), in order to challenge sites of power in the University and beyond? These resources enable ways of challenging hegemonic, mental conceptions of the world and framing new social relations. This requires curriculum leadership. These crises require socio-educational leadership.

These questions challenge us to reconceptualise what we mean by open education. More than that they force us to start exploring a critical pedagogy and what that implies in terms of meanings and our actions as educators and educational researchers and developers I hope Richards blog post gets the attention from the community it deserves. I will be trying to answer some of the questions on this blog in the next few days.

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