Educon Day One: Openness

The opening panel proved to be provocative as ever.  The conversation centered around openness and transparency.  These concepts are at the forefront of technology and education right now as well as politics and government.   One of the things that I think is happening is a shift from open to not open, but looking open.  As Sunny Lee said, the term has no meaning, the way organic has no meaning any more.  The Open Source Movement used to tout that free software was free as in freedom, not free as in beer, and that the former is more important than the latter.  The idea that software could be patented was frustrating to the Open Source folks.  And what do you do if you’re an educational institution who is dealing with student data locked in a system that isn’t open and that may or may not be sharing that data with others.

MOOCs, everyone’s favorite example of Open, are not really open.  Sure anyone can access them, often for free, but only if they’re willing to share their data with the provider, which they’ll use to make more money.  We are the product.  I say this to my students all the time.  Actually, I make them come to that conclusion.  It doesn’t make them run away from Facebook, but at least I’ve planted the seed.

Another way of thinking about openness is to think about sharing ourselves, not with companies like Facebook and Google, though those often become spaces for that sharing, but with each other.  This was, for me, the promise of social media (which meant blogs in the days I started).  Through social media, we could connect with each other, help each other, give something of ourselves out there for complete strangers to use.  And I think if you think of openness this way, it gives you a way to think about how to help students not be too open.  You want them to share who they and what they have to offer, but not reveal things that might make them embarrassed.  If you shift from what I see as the Facebook way, from sharing to show off to sharing to connect, then you’re really sharing.

I’m not sure if openness==sharing, but for me, it has that connotation, even when you’re talking about MOOCs or Open Source.  You’re talking about a willingness to let go of ownership, to share your work in ways that might benefit others more than you.  I think that’s where educators in general need to go.  We don’t own our classrooms or our students or what we do.  Letting go of that opens up opportunities for collaboration, breaking down disciplinary walls, and for innovation.

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