“Open is always outward facing”

Last Wednesday I had a discussion with Philipp Schmidt, Ahrash Bissell, and Dave Humphrey for the second seminar of the Mozilla Open Education course. This discussion was designed to focus on four different case studies, but unfortunately Wayne Macintosh and David Wiley couldn’t join us due to technical difficulties. So, the discussion was divided in half. Nonetheless, I hope it was a useful discussion for the participants, anyone interested can find the whole thing here (it’s in Ogg Vorbis format). There were two highlights in particular that I would like to draw attention to.

First, it was my first introduction to Dave Humphrey of Seneca College, who was an absolute pleasure to listen to and converse with (although to my chagrin I kept referring to him as David, not Dave, throughout the discussion–sorry about that!).  His class projects are brilliant, he teaches Computer Science courses wherein his students actually develop code as part of the Mozilla open source community. A re-aligning of a traditional course that makes the work his students do during a semester immediately relevant to one of the biggest–if not the biggest—open source community in the world. You can read more about his project on Mark Surman’s blog here and listen to an audio interview about the course here.

Second, Dave Humphrey said something at the end of the conversation that really resonated with me, so I am going to reproduce it below, as well as provide a link to his closing remarks which I have been mulling over for the last five days. When talking about this idea of open, Dave noted the following:

Open is always outward facing, and so I think it’s a losing battle to try and do it in an inward way. So if my goal was to convert all of my school to the same beliefs that I have about how you should teach and the way you should share, and all of that, I would never get there. So in some ways I have given up on institutional approaches to this, and I am much more focused on individual and community, and how that scales and we can connect those things.

You can hear the rest of this thread below:
Download Dave Humphrey in Mozilla Open Ed, Seminar 2

What struck me about this is the real tension that exists between institutional approaches to ideas of working out in the open and those of individuals who together might forge a community of openness both within a larger institution as well as across any institutional boundaries. A move away from thinking about the possibilities that the openness of the web brings to the future of education is not so much a process of changing the institution, but rather of fostering individual and communal in order to imagine the possibilities that lay fallow all around us. This is the very reason why I love the blogosphere and find it impossible to stop posting here. If I did, I’d become increasingly cut-off from a life-blood of vibrant thought that moves far beyond the confines of my institution—and if I were limited to the current mood of my institution I’d probably have a loaded gun to my head.

I’ve often considered the work I have been doing at UMW as a way to change the institution, working to help the university realize the power and possibility of opening up to the world, and thinking about how the mission of a public university might re-imagine itself given the radical changes in the means and methods of publishing and sharing.  Yet, institutions seem designed to disappoint, and the idea of such an overarching goal for imposing a vision of what open is on others who may disagree is just as problematic as institutions closing down on openness out of fear of engaging in public discourse that makes the work happening at any given campus increasingly transparent and relevant. What Dave’s thoughts made me seriously consider (something I have desperately needed these days) is that what is at the heart of the work we all are doing is not about changing institutions, because if it were I would currently be paralyzed. It’s about communing and sharing openly with others both within and beyond our institutions—a push that limited to, or dependent upon, something like UMW Blogs or any other one tool, but rather on a series of personal commitments to thinking openly and honestly about what the future of education is and how we might take some meaningful steps in that direction.

So, to that end, I’ll link to one more audio excerpt from this discussion wherein I define a DTLT project that moves in this direction of the individual as the site for re-imagining the future of education as part of a community.  For the next year I will be committed to “A Domain of One’s Own,” an idea that is not focused on the logic of the institutional infrastructure, but rather then individual’s own cheap and simple space to both aggregate to and create from.

Download Excerpt from Seminar 2 on “A Domain of One’s Own”

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5 Responses to “Open is always outward facing”

  1. Jared Stein says:

    There may be some consolation in that being broadly outwardly-facing prepares one for openness. I’d suggest that even if a community/institution doesn’t share the same ideals or objectives, they may find common ground in the tools and the actions of, for example, blogging. A community of bloggers may not be a community of open educators, but I think blogging is one activity that primes one’s self for openness.

  2. Ted Major says:

    I agree that seeking a community of openness outside one’s own institution is more likely to be fruitful than trying to convert an institution (or system of institutions) to a more open culture, sometimes institutional change is necessary to even participate in open education.

    I work for an institution that has a copyright policy that is fundamentally opposed to open education. College policy says that if an employee (or student!) creates any copyrighted work using ANY institutional resources, then the college has “complete and exclusive ownership . . . of all resulting copyrights.”

    Student posts to a blog using the college’s wifi? College claims ownership of the copyright in that posting. Under this policy, for example, students don’t have ownership of the copyrights in their own works to grant the license necessary to contribute to wikipedia or a software project such as mozilla. (For that matter, they can’t comply with the terms of facebook, either).

    So the battle I’m fighting is to get beyond an outright prohibition of open education and move to mild discouragement or even begrudging indifference.

  3. Reverend says:


    I agree entirely, and very well said. Interestingly enough,we didn’t come at our work with faculty as creating open educational resources, but rather as experimenting with these tools. The idea of openness was actually a fortuitous result of this, rather than the reason for doing it. And, like you suggested, it makes the conversation about oepnness all the more easy. So, there is consolation there as you suggest 🙂

  4. Reverend says:


    Wow, that is interesting, and raises the question of at what point might a completely distributed logic, like the idea of everyone getting there own space and creating from there start to challenge such a policy. Now, don;t get me wrong, I know this is next to impossible, and that do do this at any institution, particularly one wherein the idea is so antithetical to the idea of open, would be ridiculous. But to follow my train of thought for second, this is the very logic Ahrash set up as being obliterated in his opening to the discussion. The idea that any given institution thinks that they can control what people are creating is not only outdated, but extremely dangerous to that school’s very existence. I wonder if such a logic makes the stuff we are thinking through not so much about licensing and OERs, but rather a larger tension between th preconceptions of sharing information along the lines of a 19th century logic and a 21st century logic. The very nature of infrastructure and possibilities in our moment seems to have us clinging to institutions for one very powerful reason, it is one of the few ways to get paid 🙂 The business models and re-thinking some kind of monetary space for one’s contribution online has not be imagined fully yet beyond advertising and corporate control.

  5. Ted Major says:

    Actually, that’s pretty much my plan. I don’t think the policy was really intended to control student and faculty communication so much as to make sure that the college captures any revenue from textbooks written by faculty using college resources–it was just so broadly written that it is over-inclusive. I think I’m pretty close to getting a revised policy that would grant employees and students a royalty-free license to any works the college claims ownership in because they were created using college resources.

    The system I work for has a very centralized structure, so I think you hit the nail on the head with the idea that what’s in play is an older understanding of information control and dissemination. I also think there’s a tension at play between management models that rose out of late 19th/early 20th C manufacturing and newer organizational models based on the service and information economy.

    Manufacturing firms tended to have many levels of management and decision making at high levels whereas the general trend among service firms has been towards flatter organizational structures that empower lower level employees: think Google v. GM. That trend has been largely resisted in higher education, even though it is a service industry, but still maintains a very tall organizational structure.

    I feel the tension between service and a tall bureaucracy pretty acutely in my institution, but I think that same tension is present throughout higher education, where tall organizations are still the norm.

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