The Meaning of Openness in Education and Learning

This has been on my mind as we (Roy Williams and I) will be presenting our papers at the Networked Learning Conference next week. As part of our presentation will be saying that openness, in terms of learning, is not easily understood and certainly not easy to achieve. It seems that this thinking is timely as others far better versed in all this than me have also been considering the issues associated with openness in relation to education.

David Wiley’s slideshare presentation on Openness and the Future of Education is very interesting even without hearing him speak. I was particularly struck by Slide 49:

2008 Professor in Southern US

Claimed (C) of his class lectures, declared student notes derivative works, and asserted control over their use.

 This also relates closely to Stephen Downes’ recent Half and Hour blog post – Paying for Art – another very interesting post which I have been thinking about for a day or two.

The underlying question in both these posts is how much we would/should be prepared to give away our work for free. Stephen makes it sound quite easy.

 I don’t sit on my work and demand royalties; I share it as widely and freely as I can. This has resulted over the years in my being hired for a series of positions where I am paid to create even more work and share it

This reminds me of a relative who has lived his life on the premise that if he gives everything away then it will come back to him twice-fold – and it seems to have worked. He isn’t rich, but he has had a very comfortable and pleasant life – as Stephen describes his life to be.

But – my relative is well above average intelligence. He could easily have been a high flying academic had he wanted to be – just as Stephen could probably easily make a lot of money from his conference speaking if he wished to. The thing is that they both have the choice – but not everyone has that level of choice. Not everyone is in a position to be able to freely give away their hard gotten gains – are they? This is the question that is troubling me. What would happen if everybody gave away everything for free with no expectation of anything in return? Would it work? What would we gain by living in such a society? What would we lose?

 It just doesn’t seem that straightforward to me, but I can’t put my finger on why.

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