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Archive for March 14th, 2014

Guest Post: Why the Opposite of Open isn’t Necessarily Broken

Posted by sheilmcn on 14 March 2014

Open Education Week 2014 logoThe third annual Open Education Week (#openeducationwk) takes place from 10-15 March 2014. As described on the Open Education Week web site “its purpose is to raise awareness about the movement and its impact on teaching and learning worldwide“.

Myself and my Cetis colleagues are supporting Open Education Week by publishing a series of blog posts about open education activities. The Cetis blog provides a series of posts from Cetis staff which describe Cetis activities concerned with a range of open education activities. These posts are complemented by a series of guest posts on the UK Web Focus blog from people I have worked with who are working in open education.

The fourth guest post in the series published on the UK Web Focus blog is written by by Sheila MacNeill. In this post Sheila gives her reasons “Why the Opposite of Open isn’t Necessarily Broken“.


Why the Opposite of Open isn’t Necessarily Broken

When Brian approached me to write a guest post for Open Education week, I was flattered particularly when he told me about the other guest bloggers he had lined up. And I was relieved that my last excursion onto his blog hadn’t put him off! But more seriously it seemed to the perfect opportunity for me to share some of my recent experiences of open education and open educational practice. Later today, along with Catherine Cronin, I’ll be taking part in a webinar latsr today (from 13.00-14.00 on Friday 14th March) organised by David Walker, University of Sussex as part of their open education week activities. This post will hopefully complement the webinar, as well as contributing to the discussions on this blog this week.

The title of our webinar is “Open and online: connections, community and reality“. It will give us an opportunity to explore the research and realities of open education, online identities, networks, communities and connections.

As some of you may know, I have fairly recently changed jobs from Assistant Director with Cetis to a Senior Lecturer in Blended Learning at Glasgow Caledonian University. A large part of my work with Cetis was increasingly predicated by engagement in open, online communities. My visibility in a number of networks was a key part in me getting my current position. Openness, from open software to OER to open educational practice was and continues to be a core value not only for Cetis but for my own professional practice and values. However I am increasingly conscious that my practice is changing in response to my institutional role and new physical networks. This ties in really well to Catherine’s research on open online identity and the role of the networked educator.

When Brian and I were talking about this post, I half jokingly said to him that I felt a bit like a time traveller and a bit like Marty McFly was experiencing some back to the future moments. At other times I feel a bit like one of the Tomorrow People, who has to be very careful about where and when to use their special powers, particularly in relation to open education.

Over the past few years, I’ve heard in various places (both online and offline) that the “battle for open” has been won, or that open education is now “ mainstream”. I’ve always been slightly skeptical about such grand claims. Whilst the open education movement has made considerably inroads in the past decade, OERs and open educational practice are still not universally known about and used. Now, I’ve not started to work at some backwater on the edge of civilisation but believe me there are people here who aren’t even aware there has been a battle let alone have any idea of who/what has won, and what the legacy of the war is. Perhaps the greatest Trojan horse for open education has been MOOCs, as nearly everyone has heard about them.

Of course we do have some pockets of excellent activity not least from our library who are currently developing an institutional OER policy. But open practice, and to take an important step back to just sharing “stuff” doesn’t feature on the radar of many of my colleagues. It’s not because they are anti-open, or closed, it’s just not their practice. They haven’t developed open practices or habits in the way I have over the last however many years. And you know what? I think some of us in our open, care-y, share-y, OER-y community forget how hard it can be to start being open and develop open habits. I am getting a bit of a reputation here for saying (perhaps slightly flippantly) “just slap a CC licence on it”, and then more importantly “stick it somewhere other people can find and use it”. It really is that simple. However I am still being met with wide-eyes and doubting, knowing faces. Sharing and being open is a great thing in context, but the benefits aren’t always obvious and there is a lot of confidence building and hand holding to be done yet. And that is always the part of “the war” that seems to be forgotten about. Developing people and habits is where any education battle is really won or lost.

I have come from an incredibly privileged position where I was able to be in on almost at the start of developments, particularly in the UK, around OER and open practice. I had time to explore the issues, play with open playgrounds, build my online networks , be a very small part of the twitterati, build up my confidence around blogging and sharing my thoughts with others, sharing slides with images attributed, try things just because I could. Most jobbing academics, learning technologists, librarian and other support staff don’t have that luxury. I now have even more respect for those who do make time to engage externally. With cut backs to funding from bodies like Jisc, experimentation and risk taking opportunities are becoming less and less common. However I can (and am) doing as much as I can to support open-ness across our institution – from policy to hand holding level.

The irony of this is that as I am connecting and sharing more with my new internal networks I feel that I am sharing less and less with my external networks. I certainly don’t spend as much time on twitter, which maybe isn’t such a bad thing . . . In preparation for this week, I was heartened to see that people in my twitter network do still consider me an open practitioner (this storify collates a few responses). My former Cetis colleague David Sherlock in this response to a tweet from me point out another side to why people might not be open, that of who controls our open communication networks and who owns our data? That hadn’t been on my mind thinking of this post, but it is a crucial point. Our networks and data aren’t only valuable to us, they have other economic values. We do need to remember that seemingly open and free services do have economic models.

Last year at the Open Scotland summit, Cable Green gave a great line “the opposite of open is not ‘closed’, the opposite of open is ‘broken’.” However good a line that is, in reality things are more nuanced. In trying to support others to be open I may for a time, appear closed, and may even feel a bit broken and bruised. I’m not working with broken people or systems, just ones that need time and support to be comfortable with being open in ways that work for them. It is my open practice and the support from my open networks that continues to give me the support I need to continue to be open and contribute to our collective development and understanding of what being open actually means.


Biography and Contact Details:

Sheila MacNeill

Sheila is UK Learning Technologist of the Year, 2013.

She is interested in all aspects of the development and use of technology in education. She is a Senior Lecturer in Blended Learning at Glasgow Caledonian University.

Over the past 10 years her work has centred on developments in the Higher Education sector through her work with CETIS.

For further biographical details please see Sheila’s About.me page.

Sheila MacNeill
Senior Lecturer
Blended Learning
Glasgow Caledonian University
Glasgow

Blog: How Sheila Sees It
Twitter: @sheilamcn


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