Reflections on Openness

I have written a number of times about my learning experiences through Open Networked Learning.  ONL is an online course that is run by a consortia of universities mostly based in Sweden and South Africa, which freely offers (mostly) academics the opportunity to learn about openly networked pedagogy, and how it might be effectively embedded into tertiary education. I have reflected on my experiences as participant and co-facilitator, and have compared the open networked learning experience with connected learning.

Through ONL I have met many amazing educators, working in widely varying disciplines, hailing from different countries around the world. It has been a wonderful experience, and I would encourage anyone reading this who is interested in open, networked, digital pedagogy and learning to consider taking part in a future iteration.

This semester, my role in ONL172 is a little different. Rather than meeting every week, I am working with Alastair Creelman, one of the course co-ordinators, to provide learning opportunities during Topic 2, which focuses on Openness in Education.  My contributions consist of co-constructing an online tutorial (which may be viewed below) and co-hosting a webinar and Tweetchat with Alastair. In preparation for the webinar, I have been thinking about open education, and most specifically, Open Pedagogy. There are many scholars who write and share extensively on open education, and I would always direct you to read their work (some of my favourites include Catherine Cronin, Maha Bali, Martin Weller and Penny Bentley. In this post, I will share my reflections on just a small snippet of this huge field with you.

Click this image to view the tutorial. Viewing time 24 mins.

When considering open pedagogy, my overarching thoughts are drawn to the ‘soft’ side of the concept – sharing, generosity, trust and vulnerability.  While practicing open pedagogy requires thorough knowledge of quality pedagogical technique and a certain level of digital capacity, without an awareness and acknowledgement of the value of these personal attributes, open pedagogy will fail. 

Open pedagogy requires these traits of both educator and student.

To practice open pedagogy, the educator must put aside traditional notions of teacher/student hierarchy and make their practice public and transparent. They make themselves vulnerable – to their students, to colleagues, to those who might critique. They demonstrate generosity in making their life’s work freely accessible, and trust that those who make use of it will do so in the spirit of scholarship and reciprocity, and not take advantage of them when they are truly open.

To participate in learning through open pedagogy, the student must put aside traditional notions that they are empty vessels, required only to be ‘filled’ with information. They make themselves vulnerable – to their peers, to their teachers, to those who might critique. They demonstrate generosity in sharing their learning process with others, and trust that their fellow students will work with them in the spirit of scholarship and reciprocity, and not take advantage of them when they are truly open.

The tutorial video above finishes with the quote from Jesse Stommel’s presentation on the Open Door Classroom, who suggests that:

“Sometimes we do need to close our classroom door (whether virtual or literal).We should take these moments as opportunities to talk to students about the “rhetoric of the room.” What are the affordances of a closed door? What different stuff can happen inside a closed space? And who gets left outside? Can we imagine a space with a closed door but open windows?”

This idea of the rhetoric of the room gives us the agency to address the soft side of open pedagogy – that, as Catherine Cronin wisely identifies, open pedagogical practice is highly contextualised, and always personal. There are times when completely open practice may not be sensible. It may ask too much of new learners, of educators not used to the glare of attention open pedagogy may bring. Even Martin Weller, highly respected digital open scholar reflects that during his learning, he has experienced times when he felt happier within the shadows, until  his confidence and sense of place could develop.

Practicing open pedagogy requires of the teacher and the student more than a professional contribution. It requires participants to open themselves to potential critique and judgement, to exploitation and to misuse. Yet for every possible danger, there are multiple gifts. Opening up pedagogy enables participants to connect and discover, to co-create knowledge that may have been previously unimaginable. It leads to the potential for new directions and new opportunities. Sometimes the risk may not be worth the gain. Sometimes, we can only open the window a crack, other times we can leave the door ajar, and at times we can fling everything wide open. It is important to be fluent – to be able to evaluate the context, consider those involved, and choose the strategic course of action. However we cannot be this flexible if we do not understand what open pedagogy truly is and the potentials it holds in all its forms.

Below, you will see an infographic I have created with just some of the ideas that are addressed in this post (here is the presentation version, and here you can download the printable PDF version). It is designed as a conversation starter. It does not tell the full story. It is a series of prompts. Particularly the final part – what is the sweet spot between connection and openness? How do we balance our needs for privacy and protection with our desire to share and be transparent? How do we develop the capacity to know when to step up…and when to step away? In a networked environment, how do we develop meaningful connections and still leave ourselves open to serendipity? So many challenges in the open education sphere! I would love to hear your thoughts.

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