What Does Open Mean?

I’ve had lots of people ask me about the meaning of “openness” in the context of the work I do since returning from Open Ed 2009 two weeks ago and I am still struggling for an answer. I was working to frame my view of open based on my own experiences here at PSU, but it feels forced and difficult to grab — there seems to be clarity for a moment and then it just vanishes, slipping through my fingers and out of reach. I mentioned that I have a different perspective on open than many at the conference in my own reflection of the event, but it seems important to me to hash through a few more ideas that are banging around in my head.

I am moving closer to the notion that it can’t just be about access to open educational resources. I was exploring this more deeply in a response to my colleague, David DiBiase’s comment on my Open Ed reflection post. I had mentioned that there were many at the event who pushed on the idea of a moral imperative … I wasn’t saying I felt that way necessarily and I certainly do not spend my time thinking about distance education and access of those materials by everyone. Instead I was asking the question about what needs to be a part of something to make it an OER? Is a course blog an OER? Are a set of annotated Flickr photos an OER? Is a YouTube mediated conversation an OER?

These are things that I am really curious about exploring. Our team here at PSU spends our time exploring platforms to empower teaching and learning in new ways, we spend time working to impact faculty in positive ways, and we work to bring all of our thinking to the entire community in as a transparent way we can through both physical and virtual activities. How are we pressing openness when we don’t really deliver anything that is deemed educational in and of itself. We build the framework that we hope open happens on. I wonder if that makes sense?

A lot of my current thinking is built on a mash up of thoughts I have been working through since I heard Jonathan Zittrain speak at the Berkman at 10 event in Boston last year. My favorite quote from his talk is that, “there is no main menu for the Internet.” Its a mash up of thoughts because it resonates so well with the push button attitude of the web on which too many of us build our identities. In this context I am thinking specifically about the closed room that is Facebook. It is reminding me so much of the old days of AOL that is scary. You remember AOL, don’t you. It was essentially a fully top down, closed, main menu driven version of the Internet that eventually died when we all realized there was value in not navigating the path they wanted us to. The new web should be, by nature, empower openness — just like Zittrain said, the web is an environment that encourages us to party in a “BYOC — Bring your own content” way. Once we started to bring our own content, the proprietary providers couldn’t keep up. Will the same happen at Facebook?

There is no Main Menu for the Internet.

There is no Main Menu for the Internet.

Facebook is clearly different than AOL in that we still bring our own content, but instead of managing and sharing it openly, we are hoarding it and only letting our “friends” see it. Is that really any different than a $5.00 a month service? Facebook is free you say, but the content we deposit in it isn’t. If open is about global access, how does an Internet built on that vision match up? How can we feel good about watching our students (and faculty, staff, children, friends, parents, etc) drop a great deal of long-term learning opportunities into that box?

How does this rambling mess relate to OER? Well, that is for us to explore together, but if there is one thing I believe passionately in its the ability for all of us to have a platform that we can use to make decisions about how our content is shared. My colleague, Elizabeth Pyatt put it brilliantly when she insightfully told me that closed is a gradient of open. Our open movement here may have more to do with providing the opportunity to make the default decision be an open one. I know over the term of my digital life I’d prefer that I can make decisions about what is left there for others to consume. Open may be about letting people know they have the power to make that decision and giving them free access to BYOC.

Just a thought … any reactions?

One thought on “What Does Open Mean?

  1. The question of about what is an OER keeps ringing the old bells of learning objects, which IMHO boiled down to almost everything.

    I’ve not even gotten close to summing the OpenEd experience, but as you suggested a larger theme feels like “its more than just resources/courses/content”. For me, I got that in assembling my stories videos when Nancy White said, “Openness is more than resources, it’s an attitude”.

    It’s soemthing most people there pretty muck grok at a DNA level, like “duh”, but we know out in the trenches, its like singing Sanksrit.

    Please keep banging the Facebook issue- they way they partake of the richness of other open content sites for media, yet dont let it out the same way is… stingy. I refuse to upload any media sans one to Facebook:

    “Closed being a gradient of open” intrigues me, zen like riddle, and perhaps we need to think about a sliding continuum rather than “open or not”?

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