Sorry, we’re open used courtesy of oknovokght.
I have to be honest with you, I’m getting more and more confused with the term “open” when used in the context of educational technology these days. The term has been popular in software development for decades, particularly in relationship to free and open source software (FOSS). This approach is premised on community development which means sharing the source code freely, rather than patenting an application and closing it down. Open source applications have had considerable success over the past decade, and much of the usage of the term open in regards to education, such as Open Education Resources (OCR), Open Courseware (OCW), open content and open access, is credited to the principles and successes of the open source development initiative.
The term is often abstracted from any specific resource to signify a political position of “openness,” often referring to something both conceptual and concrete all at once. And while the technical definitions of what constitutes open content can quickly become a legal minefield of licenses and attribution clauses, the general idea of openness in education might be understood as something beneficial to the community at large by providing a means of freely sharing one’s work with others—all made infinitely easier given the new world order of “free and open” digital publishing and distribution platforms. Openness has for many in the educational field become synonymous with a kind of “common good” that benefits both teachers and learners worldwide.
Hell, bloggers I read regularly have the term open in their titles: David Wiley’s Iterating Towards Openness, Bill Fitzgerald’s Open Academic, and Alec Couros’s Open Thinking & Digital Pedagogy: Open, Connected, & Social (that’s two opens!). And over in Great Britain there is the legendary Open University, rich with an unfair advantage of knowledge and innovation represented by cats like Tony Hirst and Martin Weller. In fact, Brian Lamb’s struggles with publishing and distributing open content with loose syndication systems might be the best example of everything this term has come to represent in regards to expanding the educational resources available while thinking about the open web itself as the learning management system.
So, I thought I kinda knew what open meant when it came to educational technology and the like. Well, I thought I did, but there is some serious linguistic confusion emerging as of late that has me thinking about this ubiquitous term. Take a look at the following excerpt of an article (actually, it reads more like a press release) from Inside Highed Ed, which outlines BlackBoard’s announcement that they’ll be “connecting” with the open source course management system Sakai:
“There’s been some concern in the [open-source] community that this is a giant attempt to suck everything into Blackboard…. It really is done in the spirit of trying to be an open company, [to] really focus on something that will add value to the student experience,” Fontaine said.
So Blackboard’s an open company now? Is John Fontaine, Blackboard’s “technology evangelist” (yep there’s another fucking term out the window), confusing open with public, as in publicly trading? This may seem like a “knee-jerk” reaction—as the article promised there would be—but have we come to the point in our terminology where there are no fine distinctions anymore? What does “open” mean in this context? Is this the same open company that has re-opened its suits against Desire2Learn?–a fact that this article fails to mention, and kudos to Jeffrey Young’s article in the Chronicle which gives us at least that.
Point is that an announcement like this has very little to do with open source innovation, and everything to do with a marketing strategy to linguistically co-opt the term open. The word is used 21 times in this article, and while BlackBoard is working with the IT staff at Syracuse University to create a “dongle” (I refuse to call it a bridge) to connect with Sakai (hardly revolutionary),the actual language in the article is what’s important. BlackBoard is attempting to “brand” itself (which reminds me of a post I have brewing about the constant references to “personal branding” in education—but I digress) with the concept of openness. It’s a sales tactic, pure and simple. And the next time your BlackBoard rep comes to campus, they’ll not only be able to say we can do what those open source CMSs can, but he/she’ll even be able to say, “Hey, don’t worry about all those open source CMSs, we’re in bed with them now. We’re open too! Would you like me to show you the dongle?”
Which brings me to Sakai. After the Sakai Paris 2008 conference, Michel Feldstein suggests there is “a new Sakai” on the horizon. And he could very well be right, and while I was underwhelmed by what I saw of the old Sakai, the next two years could very well be a watershed for this open source application. Nonetheless, Sakai and Moodle have everything to gain by some kind of seamless integration with BlackBoard, and these open source applications by their very nature can take advantage of the opportunity thanks to the altruism(?) of BlackBoard. Let’s face it, by such a move to connect with these open tools (that aren’t that much cheaper in the end) BlackBoard gets that much more of a competitive edge in a market they already dominate. And, in my humble opinion 😉 , both Sakai and Moodle represent the worst kind of “learning” application (whether or not they are open source): course management systems. They ape the functionality of BlackBoard, but just in an open source model—they are course specific, they have few features that actually enhance learning, and they smack of an outdated model of ownership, control, and management—which makes them administrative tools, not learning tools.
What we have here is “large tools tightly joined.” And the moniker they are using to sell you this grand innovation is “openness.” In fact, why stop there, why not throw in another key term that has defined openness and innovation on the open web:
But Fontaine said that wouldn’t be the case. He said the connector would be “bi-directional,” giving users the ability to make a “mash-up” of data from different software systems.
Hey, it’s a data mash-up too! What it is is capital’s co-opting of the terminology of so many of these open tools and practices to erase any difference and assimilate any potential edge of a term like open into its brand.
I guess open is the new closed, and I’ll have to think twice before I use it so freely any time soon. Like lambs to the corporate slaughter. Looks like EDUPUNK is the only pure alternative 🙂