A response to #BreakOpen Breaking Open: ethics, epistemology, equity, and power

A response to the provocative question posed by Maha Bali, Taskeen Adam, Catherine Cronin, Christian Friedrich, Sukaina Walji, Christina Hendricks’s (+ Martin Weller and Jamison Miller):

How do we use openness to exclude, overpower and/or oppress marginalized individuals, communities, knowledge systems?

Initial reaction: This question assumes that “we” are the ones in the privileged position. Asking it from a place of power, a place of comfort and confidence. The question also assumes that there is somewhere a united “we” – could this be the OER18 community?

How about..

How do we use openness to exclude, overpower and/or oppress the other, whoever that might be?

The other doesn’t have to be “the marginalized.” Their opinions and habits might actually matter. For politicians it can be another group with power. For designers it can be the “end user.” For educators the other can be students.

The other might be anyone or anything we want to silence, exercise our power on, take advantage of, make profit from.

Refined reaction: But…something isn’t right..

Could it be because  I have created the “other” with the way I asked the question?

Othering: Any action by which an individual or group becomes mentally classified in somebody’s mind as “not one of us”.   

Could it be because there is something missing in this question… a sense of connection… connection with real life and experiences, people’s stories.

Could it be because exclusion, overpowering and oppression are different things? They can be very different things and can come in many forms.

What does all of this mean for me?

Has there been a time where openness excluded, overpowered, or oppressed me? How so? How did I feel about it? What did I do about it? What could I have done about it?

Ok, this feels quite personal and the search for experience is emotional.

Has there been a time where openness excluded, overpowered, or oppressed YOU? How so? How did you feel about it? What did you do about it? What could you have done about it?

I’m asking something personal. Something that matters to you. Something that made you feel bitter. Or something that you aren’t even aware of yet. I don’t know what this might be,  I don’t want to make assumptions. Only you could tell me. 

What do you think?

Values in Open Education

Today, I want to talk about something positive, something that gives me hope and energy.

Thanks to the great efforts of Teresa MacKinnon and the open ed community, the ALT Open Education Sig has recently held a webinar where they talked about values in open ed:

I couldn’t join the webinar (recording will be available here) but I went through all the latest #openedsig tweets and got a sense of the nature of the conversation, at least on Twitter. Here is what I celebrate in this convo and where my thoughts are taking me to:

1. Open education isn’t a single thing.

2. There isn’t a single set of values in open education.

I think I mentioned before that open education has an ethos of social justice and transparency in its core, but this doesn’t have to be the case for all organisations and people. Open education communities, people who work in this field, have many interrelated and sometimes controversial values (value for money? doing open ed for business?). There is “plurality of interests” (Michael Apple talks about this in Official Knowledge) in open ed.

3. Open education community should celebrate its divisions and embrace plurality.

Because, as Michael Apple says:

Culture—the way of life of a people, the constant and complex process by which meanings are made and shared—does not grow out of the pregiven unity of a society. Rather, in many ways, it grows out of its divisions. It has to work to construct any unity that it has. The idea of culture should not be used to “celebrate and achieved or natural harmony.” Culture is instead “a producer and reproducer of value systems and power relations.”

4. However, we need [to learn] to recognise the tensions in open ed and respond in a compassionate and considerate way: this is critical literacy in open ed contexts.

5. And critical literacy is only possible by embracing “an ethics of care and listening” and by developing our understanding of the complex social and political systems in which we operate (this I draw from Michael Apple).

It’s evident from the Twitter conversations that there was this ethics of care and listening in the webinar. I’m happy to be part of the education community, the open ed community, which I see and experience as a “caring” and “connected” community, a community which is ready to recognise its limitations as well as its successes and challenge the status quo. That’s a good thought. It’s a happy thought.

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 argued 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:

You cannot possibly know every individual or see every blog post, comment, or tweet. This often means that you will miss some things, and in missing them, miss entire consequences built upon them. So there will also always have to be a humility of “knowing we do not know.”

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!

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?

 

 

 

Open scholarship, researching public activities and openness as a worldview

The first time I ever considered a person, myself, a “resource” was 4 or 5 years ago, just before I started teaching my first completely online class as a graduate instructor at the University of Minnesota. I had good experience in teaching adults and received tremendous support from the department in designing the course site and the syllabus, yet I felt nervous. Would I be able to teach/facilitate this class well? Would students enjoy their studies? When I shared my concerns with Angel, my teaching mentor at that time, without a pause, and with a smile on her face, she said “Suzan, I have no doubt that you will be a great resource for your students.” I still remember her comment clearly to this date, because–now an obvious fact–until that time, it had never occurred to me that someone could be an educational resource. It simply hadn’t been part of my teaching vocabulary.

Years later as I was concluding my graduate school journey, I found myself going back to, and re-discovering with others, the notion of self as educational resource again. I was doing my dissertation research on an open online course designed by the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) and I was struck by how participants in my study had positioned themselves as learning resources in the course. Carol, for example, explained to me in an interview that she strived to be a good learning resource for VCU students in the course by strategically interacting with them through linking, tagging, annotating, and commenting. Mariana not only put a significant effort to nurture a welcoming and supporting online environment, she also wanted others to see herself as “an open educational resource.” Michael, another open participant in my study, published blog posts–a great synthesis of personal and professional experiences–as learning resources for others to use.

Yet, none of these people magically became a learning resource for their audiences, nor we can claim that each and every one of them wanted to be “public resources.” All the participants in my study, except one, repeatedly mentioned in the interviews how they were enculturated into openness through on-going practice and through their engagement with specific communities and networks. I said except one, because Michael (pseudonym) never responded to my attempts to connect with him. His posts were written as a potential learning resource for other teachers, but not for me – I wasn’t in his intended audience. But there I was, accessing, examining, writing about his participation in the course. (Please see my dissertation for a discussion on the ethics of adding Michael as a participant to my study.)

Thus, the historicity of openness and the tensions I personally experienced in open scholarship, made it clear to me that open processes, including research, is often times multi-layered, personal, shifting, and unpredictable. You are an open resource one day, the next day you are not. You are open in one course context, in another one not so much. You are this complex and messy human being living openness in a unique way, shaped by your own experiences–which includes stories of successes as well as failures–motivations, background, and future aspirations. In my conversations with Maha, this process of openness, the subjectivity of it, was something we often talked about. As we mention in our ProfHacker article:

While open scholarship can be planned, it can also be an everyday activity: unplanned, informal, arising out of relationships as much as personal motivations. It can be part of our identity.

I mostly talked about sharing openly in networked environments in this post. There is that; but there is also a whole other notion Maha and I will talk about in tomorrow’s GO-GN #FirstWednesdayoftheMonth webinar: openness as a state of being in the world. And I can’t think of better person than Maha to talk about that. If you are interested in learning more about open scholarship, researching public activities and openness as a worldview, please join the webinar – we would love to hear about your experiences and questions during the session.