(Initial) Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali's blog has now moved to http://blog.mahabali.me

How many shades of open?

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It occurs to me that those of us advocating for open access in academia (whether open educational resources OER or open access publishing) have a really hard time. We’re passionate about something, believe in it so much, it seems instinctual: how could others possibly not get it? But of course there are the institutional structures that for years have gone against openness in academia – on so many levels.

I don’t know that I can necessarily cover all the different shades of openness here, but here’s trying. (this blog post is inspired by a twitter chat using the #nwoerchat which was wonderful (Storify here) – but a group of advocates of openness supporting each other; I just cannot imagine a non-supporter of OER being able to contribute to such a discussion, or even wanting to).

“Open” as a word in different discourses is often a good thing – “open” as in honest, “open” as in welcoming, “open” as in open-minded, open to different perspectives. Sometimes, it’s a little radical and not mainstream, like “open relationship” and what is becoming more mainstream now, “open online course”. But “open access”, “open educational resources” – these sound like they should be good, right? That we should all embrace them. But we don’t.

So… the first obvious hurdle is Open Access publishing, and the issues it creates for tenure, promotion, etc., in academic as it is not always perceived to be as rigorous. That’s a myth, in my opinion, and I wrote about that and a few other myths of OA a few months ago. My writing of that article put me in touch with others at my institution interested in open access and we are holding an open access week, through which I got to know others locally and globally who are interested in open access (e.g. people coming to our event; e.g. the whole #nwoer online event). It’s great to know there are others interested in this kind of thing. It’s just that we’re faced by so many f2f colleagues who just don’t get it and I’m not sure if we’re going to get through to them. I’m not sure who plans to attend our OA event, will we be preaching to choir? Will we in a couple of days be able to convert anyone? Hopefully, there are people on the fence who believe in openness but fear it would limit their career prospects (this point also came up in the twitter chat). One of the best things I heard on the twitter chat is that openness is our social responsibility. This is even more so for research in the sciences where things like patents in the pharmaceutical industry can result in very expensive drugs and people’s health/lives at risk because of that.

Several of us in the Twitter chat mentioned trying to publish all our work in OA journals. I go one step further and try to also peer review mostly OA journal material; and to join editorial boards of OA journals. Luckily, there are many examples of good quality OA journals in the field of education (these are ones I have either published with, reviewed for, or am on the editorial board of):

Journal of Pedagogic Development
Journal of Online Learning and Teaching – via MERLOT (which also links to some OER and peer reviews them)
And a bit more radical and exciting: Hybrid Pedagogy

The latter also has an open peer review process, which I absolutely loved, as I wrote here. Unfortunately, although I find it a pedagogically better approach to peer review, there are people who are pro-open access but against open peer review. I have heard some people say it wastes time (this makes absolutely no sense to me: at least you’re not second-guessing your interpretation of what a reviewer says – you can just ask them!!!); I have heard concerns about antagonism and retaliation by more senior colleagues – but as I’ve discussed with a friend, this all assumes peer review has a policing effect that may result in rejection: but what if the journals are “open” as in, we want to try to accept everything, now let’s work together to make it of the required quality? That’s kind of the approach Hybrid Pedagogy takes, and I respect that so much. I can see why it might not work for the sciences where some experimental work might not really be of the standard acceptable, and where hierarchies might get in the way. It’s sad, though.

One thing that was brought up in the chat was the benefit of sharing openly. Many of us felt it helped us develop our ideas, network with others, and for me personally, it is gratifying to know I’ve done something valuable to others anywhere else in the world… and it’s important to my own professional development to benefit from what others share – including incomplete thoughts on blogs that develop via interaction with others.

Then there are of course Open Educational Resources (OER) – some teachers traditionally hoard and protect what is theirs and won’t share it with anyone. The first time I taught formally was at Rice University, teaching English (in what is their continuing education school/dept) and we were asked to share all our material in a shared online drive. This was wonderful in that I felt I could both benefit from the work of more experienced others before me, and also share with others my innovative practices as a younger teacher. No need to reinvent the wheel. However, you do make yourself vulnerable: what if what you’ve done is not up to par? Some people might also feel like they’ve given up something, rather than given something. While I care about attribution, I would much rather the hard work I put into creating a resource by used by many students for years to come (leave a legacy and such dramatization) than have it thrown in the bin. Many great proverbs we use today are of unknown origin. I say this, but I assume the “reuse” is being done in good faith, not in ways that “steal” ownership and pretend it is the idea of someone other than the original author. Otherwise, I’m happy to “share”. It is actually strange how many things are available online but copyrighted – gets confusing for people unfamiliar with the concept. All those images you technically can’t use but you can see them, right there!!!

Anyway – I asked around about a repository of different open edu/access repositories, and Lenandlar graciously linked me to this: Directory of Open Access Repositories (note how the web title with acronym OpenDoar sounds like… Open Door!). I guess this is even wider than DOAJ (Directory of Open Access Journals)

In OER there are still more levels of openness: open to link to, open to embed, open to copy, open to modify? The latter is maybe one of the highest forms of openness (as in open source software; as in collaboratively edited google docs) – but I always ask myself if “share alike” is a good thing, or would we be enforcing openness on someone else? Do we have that right? Is it our responsibility? I am not sure!


graded squares

graded/shaded squares – wikimedia commons


There is so much else to say about openness, but I’d like to discuss one other topic that came up – MOOCs. The MOOC acronym stands for “massive, open, online courses” – but they vary on all these fronts (well, maybe they’re mostly online but they definitely vary a lot on the other three). Particularly, I have tried a variety of MOOCs on various platforms led by people with diverse philosophies. The most most most open has to be Open Learn because you just click the link and find the course and you can do whatever you want with it. A couple of other relatively open platofrms are P2PU and Canvas. But I did take a course on Canvas that was later removed, so I was disappointed. The other MOOCs on Coursera, etc., require a login so this makes them slightly less open. The more connectivist MOOCs (cMOOCs) are obviously more open because much of the content lies on social media outside any platform like people’s blogs and twitter – though I think stuff that’s on facebook groups is less open as others are less likely to be able to listen in, even if the group itself is open. Also, some stuff on MOOCs disappears eventually. Not really open. Much content cannot legally be used beyond the course. Not so open. A good blog post shared during the twitter chat on this here

The last thing I wanted to say about openness (for now, anyway) is that just because you make it open (e.g. via using a Creative Commons license) does not necessarily make it accessible. People with certain disabilities may not be able to access it. People without internet connections, without knowledge, without judgment might not be able to access or benefit from it. And people whose language is not the language of the object cannot benefit. And that’s why the license to create “derivatives” is important – at least to allow translation, customization to local needs. I am sure I am missing other ways in which open is not really open πŸ˜‰ I just can’t think of them all right now.

And I leave you with a beautiful analogy of openness and food (a point brought up and reused during twitter chat):

Author: Maha Bali

Associate professor of practice, American University in Cairo

One thought on “How many shades of open?

  1. Pingback: How many shades of open? | Open Online Learning...

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