Identity & Open Education: Reflections on #OER17

My daughter plays with her identity every day. She becomes mummy or daddy, a friend, the naughty child in a nursery rhyme. We run together in the house, bump into a few chairs, sing songs and act for hours. But then, when she is tired, when she wants to sleep or have something to eat, she is herself again. She doesn’t want to be someone else.

It is fascinating to see how she plays with her identity, how she uses it as a tool to explore the world around her. These role-plays are intentional; they are planned and always playful. This aspect of child development, although it’s widely debated in the literature, was completely new to me until my daughter turned three or so. It made me think about the process of identity development, the different ways of being.

I struggle with my identity even now. Coming from a mixed background, I always navigated through different identities. My father’s ethnic origin (Kurds), particularly has taught me a lot. I learned, for example, how silence could be a powerful force for people to unite, when it’s mandated by the authorities. With my British mother, I experienced the white (western?) privilege in many aspects of the society.

There is a lot to say about constructing an identity, multiple identities, in a patriotic and patriarchal country like Turkey. My point is that identity is sometimes a painful process, especially when you don’t know which direction to go, where to rest and gain strength.

With OER17 I did experience something familiar to what I described here, an uncertainty about my place, a doubt cast over the wonderful talks and workshops: did I belong to the community? How could I really hold up to the values of open education and at the same time stand firm on the arguments I was making in my own work, mainly the argument that openness is subjective and meaningless without a given context. And because openness is subjective in any given context, it is absolutely necessary that we engage with it critically. Presentation by Frances Bell was particularly intriguing, as she was saying we need to think of criticality as a disposition, as a will to resist and shape ongoing practices.

Coming back to identity issues… The pressure I felt on digital openness was immense at OER17. With openness I struggled more with my identity. Should I be open, be periscoped, be virtually connected, be tweeted, be on Twitter? Although many times being open online has been playful for me, and many times I enjoyed it very much, this time I just wanted to be myself and I didn’t know at what point I was actually being myself.

But, at the same time, OER17 ignited in me something I kind of knew existed but never had the time to stop and deeply explore. Shortly after the conference, I’ve started reading bell hooks again and put Michael Apple on my to-read list, and I felt good about it. You know, not assigned. Not being forced—my interest in critical pedagogy has been sincere and deep and I owe that to the criticality at OER17.

Reading bell hooks is an amazing experience. It is inspiring and deeply touching. Here I want to share a quote bell hooks notes in her book Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope.  The following is from the chapter Democratic Education and it’s by Judith Simmer-Brown:

As educators, one of the best things that we can do for our students is not to force them into holding theories and solid concepts but rather to actually encourage the process, the inquiry involved, and the times of not knowing— with all the uncertainties that go along with that. This is really what supports going deep. This is openness.

bell hooks continues by saying how discussing our fears and uncertainties can actually nurture openness in education and help us “imagine and articulate positive outcomes,” one of which is commitment to “radical openness,” that is, “the will to explore different perspectives and change one’s mind as new information is presented.”

This chapter on Democratic Education really resonated with me and made me feel quite liberated. Although I wrote about this many times before, reading bell hooks helped me feel that openness in education doesn’t have to be digital or online. It’s a philosophy anyone can embrace as long as they have their heart in the right place. So now, I can confidently and passionately say that I am an open educator—a democratic educator—and that doesn’t mean I will be more exposed, more online and more digitally traced. For some, this might mean I’m not a good fit for the OER community. After all the emphasis in the title is on open resources and that’s tightly defined in many sources. Regardless, there is a new and exciting field that is organically emerging: Critical Open Educational Practices (check #critoep), and thanks to OER17 for bringing it into light.

More to come on that in following posts, thanks for reading…

Note: Shortly after I wrote this post I read Kelly Terrell’s reflections on OER17, in which she describes a similiar struggle with belonging and gives examples from others. Perhaps this is a common experience?

 

 

 

6 comments

  1. Hi Suzan,

    A very candid and insightful post! I think fear is very much tied up with identity.

    Speak soon and will comment on the site x

  2. Thanks Heather! Your comment on the relationship between fear and identity is intriguing, looking forward to hear more about it. 🙂

  3. Thank you for sharing this Suzan, and I absolutely love your statement about openness in education: “It’s a philosophy anyone can embrace as long as they have their heart in the right place.”

    It’s great to capture this a general reminder that this is still new territory for so many.

    Let alone the whole side of online identities, you highlight an important point about how those identities may differ once we are in more open spaces.

  4. Thanks for this fascinating post. After reading it, I have started to check out bell hooks (I have only read one chapter so far) and I found this sample of Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black on Google Books. What she has to say about talking back seems to resonate with what you have said about silence. I need to read more from her.
    And I agree very strongly with thinking about openness prior to digital/Internet. For #101openstories, I reflected and wrote about how I became open (in a digital sense) by accident. I was already an open practitioner in many meanings of the word. Check out this ‘before 1995’ search https://scholar.google.co.uk/scholar?q=Open+Learning&hl=en&as_sdt=0%2C5&as_ylo=&as_yhi=1995
    I also love that you have shared your uncertainty and you took some quiet moments. I was frenetically busy at OER17 but I also experienced quite a lot of uncertainty too.Maybe like silence, uncertainty can be productive, in moderation 🙂

    1. Hi Frances, thanks a lot for your comments and for all the resources. Sharing my uncertainty here on my blog has really been productive for me – you’ve given me a lot to think about, as usual. 🙂

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