Boundaries of Openness

“Space without boundaries is not space, it is a chaotic void, and in such a place no learning is likely to occur.” Parker J. Palmer, The Courage to Teach

Reflecting on her recent #selfOER exercise (If You Were an OER, What Kind Would You Want to Be?) Maha said:

As I was reading Parker J. Palmer I found my personal answer to my Maha’s question. I’ve become open and stayed open (although intermittently) mainly because it’s a learning space for me, and because learning is social, it’s a social space for me too.

In his book The Courage to Teach, Palmer notes “six paradoxical tensions” that for him form the basis of good pedagogical design in (what I understand to be) formal educational environments:

1. The space should be bounded and open. (Bounded by a subject but open to interpretations and new directions of inquiry.)
2. The space should be hospitable and “charged.” (A safe space for learners to be present with their authentic identities, yet challenging enough to create tensions and aha moments.)
3. The space should invite the voice of the individual and the voice of the group. (Receptive and responsive to the learner voice and the group artefacts.)
4. The space should honor the “little” stories of the students and the “big” stories of the disciplines and tradition. (Connects the personal with larger theoretical frameworks, worldviews.)
5. The space should support solitude and surround it with the resources of community. (Learning can be self-directed and personal as well as communal).
6. The space should welcome both silence and speech. (Both silence and speech are equally respected.)

The networked spaces, in particular Twitter and the blog you are reading, have become learning spaces for me, spaces that are organically designed around the principles of paradox. I’m not expected to participate in open networks as part of my job but what I learn from open spaces directly feeds into my work. (As Simon Ensor says, “I think of my online friends. They, the ones, who have fuelled much of my creativity.”)

What are some boundaries of openness for me? Well, first of all, most of my open activities are professional – my blog is the most personal of all because it’s a reflective medium and I write not as a gift but to think and connect with others (a lot to critique about the gift cultures but that’s another post). Second, even when I’m in a seemingly chaotic space like Twitter, I create boundaries by focusing on a specific subject (For example, education > open education > #OER17) and by following certain hashtags and people. I might learn from the chaos (mostly by lurking on random discussions) but I get the most out of Twitter when I have a systematic approach to open.

As we go forward with our research on selfOER, or the open self, we need to “identify the precise interpretations and contexts of openness being explored,” as Catherine Cronin suggests in her recent (really awesome) paper, because we are dealing with a complex construct that is perceived and practised differently by people.

Recent discussions on Twitter with Sally Burr and Helen Crump and the DMs with Maha have helped me think about some boundaries to our research, although they are still quite fuzzy.  The four dimensions of identity by James Paul Glee is an interesting theoretical framework which has a lot of relevance to what we are doing. The tensions between discursive identities (emergent, defined by relationships) we create in open spaces and our institutional identities might be one area we might focus on. As Maha said in a recent post, most of open scholarship is “based around volunteering models”, around (most of) us carving time outside of our paid work” and this “is problematic,” it’s “not sustainable.” Our research might be helpful to draw some implications to better bridge our work in open spaces with the work in institutional spaces and get recognition for our hard work! It might also help us create more sustainable models for open connections and learning. (Having said that, I’m also aware that research often time takes you to unexpected places, provides new insights, so who knows what the implications of our research will be at the end?)

Drawing boundaries to our research might mean we’ll miss important stuff along the way, but as Maha noted in an article (link coming soon!), we can’t possibly know everything in an open environment and we need to act with the humility of not knowing.

What do you think? If you were to research the open self how would you define the boundaries for research and participation? Please leave a comment here or join the hashtag #selfOER, we would love to hear from you!

8 comments

  1. Just realized i haven’t commented here tho we have tweeted a lot.
    I’m most struck by Catherine’s use of “continuously negotiated” w respect to openness, and how to capture that in research. By doing what Bonnie Stewart did, observing people over time, by interviewing them over different periods of time, by looking at some of their blogposts from years ago and asking them to reminisce and reflect in context of then and now?

    1. These are great ideas Maha. I’ll also check with Angel Pazurek – a colleague who used phenomenology for her dissertation research. She might give us some good ideas too. As far as I remember, she did interviews and asked research participants to write about their lived experience (reflecting on the past and present) for the study. We can also use our blogs for researcher reflections?

  2. great post Susan – it articuales much of my experiences, practice and reasons for identifying as an open practitioner. Boundaries are tricky – I struggle with balancing my internal and external boundaries. Too much open/visible outwith internal structures can be frowned upon but for my personal (and ergo professional) development and sanity I need those increasingly open and personal connections.

    1. Thanks for the comment Sheila! I hear what you say about personal development – this is definitely something we need to explore in this study. I have some questions to ask about your comment but I’ll probably send you a direct message. 🙂

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