JISC Netskills – The Rhetoric of Openness

The first JISC Netskills online seminar, ‘The Rhetoric of Openness’ by David White was delivered on Tuesday 21st June; if you couldn’t join the session – you can still watch & listen to a recording of the session here: http://t.co/8LlU95O – you can also comment on the recording, or if you’re tweeting use #nstalks.

Dave discussed openness from the perspective of the institution and the student. These are some of the notes I made during his talk, from my perspective and interpretation.

Institutions can misunderstand the open culture of the web. They tend to think more about opening access to their teaching and learning resources (such as MIT  and the Open University  have done) rather than think about how the resources are appropriated. In addition the institution’s marketing department is often behind the drive for openness leading to a tension between marketing aims and altruism. Dave reminded us that MIT have pointed out that their open resources do not provide the authentic teaching and learning experience, which can only be realized by signing up for a course at MIT.

When the marketing department gets involved there will also be a tension between professional production and the content of the resources. In some cases it is questionable whether the effort put into media production is worth it. Dave was enthusiastic about Nottingham University’s Periodic Table videos, which he described as friendly. But it is difficult to evaluate open content. There is little more to go on than the number of hits on the website.

There are many aspects of openness – open research, open content, open data, open practice, open software, open courseware (as in the case of MIT and the OU) and so on. But what does openness mean? Roy Williams, Sui Fai John Mak and I discussed this in our 2008 paper, The Ideals and Reality of participating in a MOOC, where we discussed the possible meanings of openness as being openness as ‘free’, as in beer; ‘free’ as in liberty, or speech; and there is an additional sense of ‘free’ as in transparent, and therefore shared. Dave discounts ‘free’ as in beer saying that open source resources are not necessarily free of charge – they incur costs – but he seems more in favour of ‘free as in liberty’, saying that the Creative Commons license can mean that you are free to do what you like with the open source materials. However, he points out that re-use in this way has been going on for years, but mostly below the institutional water line – students and tutors have been engaged in this re-use.

For students, openness means that they have access to vast sources of information – Wikipedia, Youtube, blogs etc., but the problem is that institutions often don’t allow them to cite these sources of information in their work. In this sense institutions are a little behind what is happening on the internet. This open access to online resources has led to changes in learning and study behaviours in students. They complain that they do not want to have to evaluate these resources but want to be guided to the ‘right stuff’ straight away, i.e. they don’t want to research and if they have to, then see this as a failure of search engines. As has been commented on before, Dave noted that students lack critical thinking skills and the desire to develop them. They are more interested in contact than content. For them contact is the more valuable resource. This highlights the differences between the institutions’ and the students’ perceptions of the meaning and value of openness. It is one thing to be open in the ‘broadcast’ sense and another to be open in the ‘conversational’ sense. For Dave the latter is the authentic bit of teaching and learning, but it is also the bit that institutions don’t want to let go of.

Dave concluded his talk with a call for ingenuity rather than innovation. We need to look at the use of technologies in new ways.

It seems that the topic of openness is quite ‘topical’. Frances Bell and colleagues Cristina da Costa, Josie Fraser, Richard Hall and Helen Keegan will be presenting a Symposium on the subject of The Paradox of Openness: The High Costs of Giving Online  at the ALT-C conference in September. It will be interesting to hear more about what they mean by ‘giving’ in this context.

The second Netskills online seminar, “Supporting Researcher Engagement With Social Tools” presented by  Alan Cann will be on Monday 27th June, 1-2pm in Elluminate.  To find out more about this session, and how to join, visit: http://bit.ly/m61leW

JISC Netskills is also on the lookout for future seminar presenters, so if you would like to deliver a lunchtime seminar (or know someone who does) – get in touch at 0191 222 5000 or enquiries@netskills.ac.uk

5 thoughts on “JISC Netskills – The Rhetoric of Openness

  1. Keith Lyons June 25, 2011 / 6:11 am


    Thanks for this post. Sorry not to have visited your blog for some time.

    I have shared this with a colleague who is working on an open PhD.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s