Image credit: Torley’s “architecture”
I’m following the beginnings of George Siemens‘ and David Wiley’s discussion of the term open as it relates to the open education movement with great interest. I’m fascinated by the various connotations a term takes on as it gains popularity, and I think we can agree—that like organic or green—just about everyone is jumping on the term open in education right now, regardless of any real sense of what that term means or what qualities afford such a designation. It’s no surprise to me that corporations like BlackBoard, Google, and Facebook would push for this label, and there is little question in my mind that the market cache such a term has right now is increasingly diluting any of its meaning, particularly given it’s not so much reliant on technical infrastructure or content (though they are necessary and relevant), but rather dependent on a series of networked relationships that change the very logic of slapping a term on a product or being offered a seat at the proverbial table. Who invites us to this table?
The larger question in my mind is that what’s under girding this discussion is an even more insidious logic than a denatured sense of open, and that’s a sense of entitled leadership. Fact is, the push to make sense of open as a term and discuss it’s meaning, future shape, and ultimate value seems to be the most definitive step in forming an institutional structure of power around it. Who gets to discuss what open is? Where do they do it? Companies don’t really care too much about that discussion, they just care about appealing to users through a term, and if they make up the table, along with administrators at universities and the like, then why do we need to go to the table at all? Isn’t the push away from these legacies of power and privilege a part of what open is working against on it’s most powerful and truly transformative levels? Why does their need to be a continental congress on open? Why do we have to conflate it with system and then elect officials to define it for us? Part of the power and the hope of this space for me is a new scale of working though these ideas that’s both hyper-individual and communally local at the same time. To frame the discussion around a table of designated players that move us forward seems in many ways contrary to possibilities these connections and relationships provide us. I don’t think of this so much as radical, but rather an alternative to the models of leadership, promotion, and adoption of ideas that have ultimately placed them squarely within a system that is moving in a unilateral direction of progress in the name of growth and profit. Therein lies a deep-seated contradiction and paradox of our current discussions of open and freedom when so much of the meaning of these terms is every where circumscribed by ideas of ownership, property, and exploited labor.
I can’t say this is much of a well thought out response as it is a series of questions and reactions, and I’m fine with that, because I am fine with resisting the urge to systematize and officially organize an ideology like open around a definite group of leaders, institutions, and practices—not only is it far too early in the thinking, but our current ways of thinking and systems in place would do nothing both bleed the life out of a movement (not an institution) that is composed of a group of people that are not designated to act, but think, write, and create out of a spirit of loosely coupled principles and beliefs that may not be a ratified Bill of Rights, but are born out of the ideas that a sense of freedom and openness is not something anyone can define en masse or institutions can grant through laws. The question is not so much about open, as it is about the state of our hierarchical thinking about leadership, institutions, and order—-I’m afraid under the current conditions an organized approach to open education can give birth to little but a privileged group of leaders that define an institutional course premised on compromise, acceptance, and personal gain—rather than forging ahead with grassroots, reciprocal relationships amongst people invested in their immediate situation and working for change within and through a conversation, rather than an institution or system, much like David and George are doing—I just don’t understand the push to institutionalize and systematize such an approach? Will it really happen if we aren’t pushed to accept or refuse a position, but rather think it through vigilantly and critically in relationship with others? In short, does open need a table? What’s behind the push to institutionalize its meaning?