The Benefits and Risks of Academic Openness

 

Yesterday Frances Bell made a presentation to FSLT12 MOOC on

The role of Openness by Academics in the Transformation of their Teaching and Learning Practices

This was a thought provoking session. Frances didn’t throw content at us, tell us what to think or how to think, but challenged our thinking with the questions

  • How can openness benefit my practice?
  • What risks are presented by open academic?
  • What impact is your participation in #fslt12 having on your personal network?
  • What role can openness play in learners’ practice?

Of course there are no right or wrong answers to these questions. It’s all a matter of perception. Frances states

I prefer to think of openness as a default option that can be turned off, not as a zealot’s precept

But when  I recently wrote a blog post raising the question (in response to a post by George Veletsianos)…..

Is openness becoming a ‘tyranny’ that we are all just drifting into? Or is openness essential to the future of education and scholars?

…. Stephen Downes emphatically responded ‘Yes’ it is essential to the future of education and scholars’, but ‘No’ it is not becoming a tyranny. He feels that we have the autonomy to decide whether to be open or not and writes

First, nobody’s imposing anything here; if you want to go back to your structured formal education, where you pay a substantial fee, there are thousands of institutions who would be happy to help you. Second, the openness (and the rest of it) is the result of a critical examination. As I have argued with respect to the principles of successful networks, if you want your social organizations to be effective at all, you need to embrace things like autonomy, openness, interatcivity and diversity.

This was on the 18th May and I have been thinking about it since because I have a great deal of respect for Stephen, but for me the answers to the questions are less clear cut.  I think in the context of Higher Education the problem is that we are in structured formal education, where, if we want to keep our jobs, we sometimes do have to conform to the institution’s requirements – and that may or may not include a requirement for openness. I should say here that I am not in this situation (I am an independent consultant), but I have been in the past and I know from experience that resistance to an institution’s principles might mean handing in your notice, which is probably not an option for many people – although I have done this twice in the past, and fortunately on both occasions was able to move straight into another job. So I think in certain circumstances, openness could be imposed if you do not have the autonomy to resist it.

But I do agree with Stephen that openness is the result of critical examination – which I think fits with Frances’ statement that openness can be thought of as a default option. As she said in today’s session it will not be for everyone in every situation. We each, individually need to decide how open to be, when and where.

So what might be the benefits? I know that the benefits can be considerable, although I think I benefit more from others’ openness than being open myself. I get access to free information and a wide range of alternative perspectives. More importantly I receive support and encouragement from people I may not even have met. People’s generosity through openness on the web and indeed in this FSLT12 MOOC never fails to amaze me.

But I am equally aware of the risks. Openness necessarily means a certain degree of exposure. For introverts and private people in particular this can be difficult. I think I’m in this category. For novices it may be even more difficult. As Stephen says, we don’t have to be open. We can choose not to be. But first we have to have the freedom to make this choice and second we have to have the skills to weigh up what is gained and what is lost by being open or not open, what we should be open about and what we should keep to ourselves – and then of course we need to decide who to be open with – the whole worldwide web, or just a small working team? As Frances has said in the Moodle discussion forum

I really don’t understand why anyone would want to be open (different from honest in that we can choose not to say certain things) all the time – some remarks are better kept from the public gaze.

Openness is not straightforward. It clearly means different things to different people according to their context and it may be something that we cannot take a stance on in the moment. I suspect it may take considerable experience and time to determine what openness means on a personal level and how that understanding will be reflected in our personal practice.

#fslt12 Week 2 is underway

There is loads of great discussion on the FSLT12 MOOC Moodle site  and there have been a number of fascinating blog posts which have been aggregated on the FSLT12 MOOC WordPress site

As with all MOOCs – even if you have plenty of time – it’s difficult to keep up with everything – if possible at all. A couple of my colleagues have both in the past, when I complain about feeling overwhelmed, reminded me of the importance of not trying to cover everything, but focussing on the bits that interest me and following those through. Good advice, but often easier said than done because its ALL interesting 🙂

Click on the diagram to see the course schedule more clearly

Last week the focus of the FSLT12 MOOC was on reflective practice and this generated wonderful examples of reflective writing in practice, not only from those participants being assessed. These can be found in the Moodle site and on various blogs. There was less discussion of open academic practice (which was the parallel theme for last week), but I’m sure that will be sparked off by Frances Bell’s presentation tomorrow

Frances Bell, “The Role of Openness by Academics in the Transformation of their Teaching and Learning Practices.” Wednesday 30 May 2012, 1500 BST 

Link for the session here

Check your time zone here

Frances has asked that we do some reading before attending the session. See The Role of Openness by Academics

A parallel theme this week is the Teaching of Groups and discussion has already got going in the Week 2 Moodle forums  in response to Mary Deane’s audio about this in relation to Belbin’s team roles

What are your personal experiences of group work and how do you manage group work if using it as a teaching strategy? If you are interested in these questions, then do join the discussion.

Finally, a new activity starts this week. This will be explained in the second half of the live session tomorrow, but there is also information about it on the Moodle site

There is so much going on that I will definitely be filtering and carefully selecting the threads I want to follow this week – but the good thing about MOOCs and open courses is that the information remains online long after the course finishes, so hopefully allowing time to fill in the gaps later.

Reflective Learning and the Glass Half Empty

I have been told twice, very recently, and quite often in the past – that I am a glass half empty person. In other words I am a pessimist and the implication is that this is not good. Good would be (I have been told) – to be a glass half full person – an optimist.

I have thought about this a lot – as you do when you feel that you have been criticised – and I honestly don’t feel that the criticism is justified – not because it is not true – it is (I am definitely a glass half empty person) – but because I think there is real value in being a glass half empty person and especially in relation to reflective learning.

For me being glass half empty means that I am usually prepared for the worst – so ahead of time I carefully analyse situations, I go through everything with a fine toothcomb, I try to anticipate what might go wrong. I also try to surface assumptions, I ask critical questions and I really can’t be doing with ‘appreciative inquiry’! I come from a science background and science progresses not by proving things but rather by disproving. I strongly believe in learning from mistakes and that as an educator/teacher/learner I have to try and ensure that I, and those I learn with, are not afraid of failure. There is plenty of research to show how inhibiting fear of failure can be. For me a ‘can do’ attitude comes from knowing, through careful analysis and preparation, that it can be done!

I am thinking about this now because the first activity in the #fslt MOOC asks participants

To reflect on your overall experience to date as a teacher; what kinds of students have you taught, what have you discovered from the experience, and what have you most enjoyed in your teaching?

I may not actually do this activity but it’s interesting to think about how I might approach it if I did?

Being a glass half empty person, to complete this activity I would probably select a critical incident in my teaching career (and there have been many :-)) and analyse why it was a critical incident and what I learned from it. To do this I would need to do more than simply describe the event – I would need to critically analyse it, looking at it from a number of different perspectives – my own, those of the learners involved, my colleagues and the literature – as suggested by Stephen Brookfield’s four lenses.

But how would I know that my analysis was critical and not simply descriptive? Jenny Moon’s writing on this has been significant in developing my understanding.

In her book ‘A Handbook of Reflective and Experiential Learning: Theory and Practice’  she includes a number of exercises to help learners develop their reflective learning skills and abilities. One of these activities (which is freely available on the web – search for ‘An example of a graduated scenario exercise – ‘The Park’ A means of introducing and improving the quality of reflective learning’) provides three accounts of a critical incident in which each account becomes increasingly reflective. Jenny Moon then describes the shifts that occur in deepening reflection.

When I worked on Oxford Brookes’ online reflective learning course as a participant in 2007 (and Jenny Moon is a tutor on this course), with another participant Bernie Gartside, we explored these shifts in detail.  I have summarized our work in the diagram below. (Click on the image for a clearer view).

Characteristics of Reflective Writing

So in my analysis of the critical incident I selected, I would hope to see some of the characteristics described in the diagram above.

And finally, what I have learned from John Mason, who writes about the teaching of mathematics, in his book – ‘Researching your Own Practice: The Discipline of Noticing’ –  I know that I am unlikely to ‘notice’ changes in my learning unless I ‘mark’ them in some way. There are many ways of ‘marking’ learning, especially these days with multimedia at our fingertips, but my blog serves this purpose as I explain in this video, which is also posted on the #fslt Moodle site.

#fslt12 MOOC Week 1 starts today, 21-05-12

The MOOC is off to a really good start. We have around 120 people registered on the WordPress and Moodle sites and about 16 interested in being assessed. And there are likely quite a few more following the course without registering.

Activity in the Moodle forums last week, particularly in response to the question ‘What is learning for you?’ indicates a real interest in the issues surrounding learning. Discussion has covered aspects of the process and product of learning, transformative learning and threshold concepts – worth reading if you haven’t already visited the Moodle site (you do have to enrol in the Moodle site though, if you want to add to discussion). See http://openbrookes.net/firststeps12/moodle/

This week the focus is on Reflective Practice. Some people have already set up their blogs and started this activity which is:

We suggest that in this first week you reflect on your overall experience to date as a teacher; what kinds of students have you taught, what have you discovered from the experience, and what have you most enjoyed in your teaching?

We have also suggested that Stephen Brookfield’s lenses might be a good place to start when thinking about reflecting on learning and teaching – beginning perhaps with the autobiographical lens. There are some resources on this in Week 1 of the Moodle site – http://vle.openbrookes.net/mod/page/view.php?id=67

For those who have chosen to be assessed the activity is linked to UK Professional Standards Framework for teaching and supporting learning in Higher Education 2011 http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/assets/documents/ukpsf/ukpsf.pdf  All the details are on the Moodle site

Also this week we have our first live session. We have allowed 2 hours for each of these sessions. The idea is that our Speakers (this week George Roberts and Rhona Sharpe, from Oxford Brookes University) will give us a presentation during the first hour and then we can use the second hour to discuss course issues, particularly those concerning assessment.

Looking forward to following the discussion in various locations.

Blog Aggregation

As with other MOOCs, the #fslt12 MOOC offers blog aggregation

From my perspective this has been one of the most difficult aspects of organizing the technologies we are using for this MOOC. How should we do the aggregation and where should the aggregation appear? Ultimately the decision was to aggregate the blog feeds into our WordPress home site. I wasn’t involved in setting it up, but I have been interested in the discussions around what to do and how to do it.

I have been aware for some time of Stephen Downes’ grsshopper aggregator which he openly shares in detail, but recently I have become aware of the Planet Aggregator .

I have also been very interested in the work that Gordon Lockhart  has been doing on scraping blog comments

In the past six weeks I have been participating (as a mentor) in  CPsquare’s   Foundations of Communities of Practice workshop. This is a community of practice on communities of practice. I have been a member since 2007 when I was a participant in the Workshop. Part of the workshop experience is to work for two weeks with other participants on a project of your choice. This year one of the participants, Mel Chua was keen to try out the Planet Aggregator to pull in blog posts about communities of practice or which reference CPsquare.  This is where the project has got to: Demo site

This project has raised some very interesting issues, most notably the issue of tagging. We didn’t want to pull in authors, so much as the posts that relate to communities of practice of specific authors . Obviously people blog about a variety interests, some of which wouldn’t be relevant to this blog stream.

We discovered that some people don’t use tags at all, even if they write good posts on communities of practice.  Others (me included) are inconsistent in their use of tags or use a variety of tags to represent posts on communities of practice. So discussions at the moment are around whether or not only ‘invited’ people can submit their blog to the aggregator and then whether they should be required to use a given tag, for their blog to appear in the stream.

This has led to a further discussion about boundaries. CPsquare has a ‘permeable’ boundary. It has some aspects of it’s work ‘open’ to the world such as it’s wiki and it’s website , but it also has a private members area where there are ongoing private conversations. Members pay a membership fee.  So the question has been whether any of those conversations should appear on the aggregated blog stream, or whether only members should be invited to submit their blogs to the stream. I think the idea is that the stream will include ‘trusted’ friends who write about CoP related issues, but are not necessarily paid up members of the community.

The suggestion from Mel has been that CPsquare will need a ‘planetmaster’ to manage the invitation of subscribers.

Although a lot of hard work has gone into looking through members’ blogs for relevant tags and categories, Mel and John Smith (community steward for CPsquare) seem to have been able to set up a demo site in a relatively short space of time – so it would seem that aggregation of blogs might be easier in the future – maybe even for non-technical people like me?

#fslt12 MOOC – Week zero – discussion has started

The discussions in the FSLT Moodle site  are  beginning to get going and quite a few people are already blogging or setting up their blogs.

We have set up an Arrivals Lounge  where people can introduce themselves. And there is also a Course Questions forum, where we will try to answer any queries as soon as we can.

But in  the  Week 0 (Supporting Learning) area of Moodle (which is this run up week to the course), George has posted a great question to get us warmed up – ‘What is Learning for you’ and provided an audio introduction to go with it. Allan Quartly has pointed us to a blog post that he made last year

Like Allan, I feel as though this is a question I have asked myself before.

My thinking on this has been influenced by the work of Etienne Wenger – and his book Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning and Identity  and here  Etienne lists the key principles of learning that he outlines in his book. (Etienne and his wife Bev will be speaking to the FSLT MOOC on Wed 6th June)

I have also been influenced by the work of Stephen Downes who says that to learn is to practice and reflect  and that learning is about recognising patterns

 

(Slides taken from – http://www.slideshare.net/Downes/the-meaning-is-the-message)

And much of my recent thinking about learning has been related to the work I have been doing on emergent learning and embodied learning

So when I think about learning I tend to think more about process than product.  I don’t forget that Etienne has said that said that ‘learning is a claim to competence’ but more important for me learning is (as Ronald Barnett discusses in depth in his book ‘A Will to Learn’ ) the continuing process of ‘learning to learn’ and (through this) ‘becoming’ who I am and developing an understanding of my ‘being’.

Barnett writes on p.62 of his book

‘In a genuine higher education, the student not merely undergoes a developmental process, but undergoes a continuing process of becoming. This becoming is marked by the student’s becoming authentic and coming into herself ….. She discovers her own voice, is able to articulate it and deploys it to effect. She brings to bear not just her own intentionalities, but her own will. She not just is carried forward, but carries herself forward.’

My thinking is that this applies to all learners – not just students. We are all learners, are we not?

Scholarship and the ‘Tyranny’ of Openness

There have been some great comments by George Veletsianos, Mark McGuire and Fred Garnett on my blog post, which asked the question ‘What is a Scholar’ –  prompted by George’s presentation to ChangeMooc.

In George’s comment he asks

Are we are attempting to impose our values (of openness, sharing, online learning as the future of education, etc) without a critical examination of what that means for practice and for individuals who are part of social organizations?

This is a very timely question. There has been a lot of discussion on the web over the past 12 months or so about what we mean by openness. According to Martin Weller it is a ‘state of mind’. I agree…..

….but whose mind? As Carmen Tschofen and I discussed in our paper – Connectivism and Dimensions of Individual Experience  – openness means different things to different people – ‘learners may vary greatly in their desire for and interpretation of connectivity, autonomy, openness, and diversity

On p.137 we write

This inner state of openness offers a significantly expanded perspective from the much more externalized “sharing” definition of openness and the “no barriers” definition currently articulated in connectivism. It leaves room for the speculation, for example, that legitimate peripheral participants may be experiencing “openness” in relation to connective learning by being attentive in a mindful and non-judgmental way.

An understanding of psychological openness and its relationship to connectivist principles and process also introduces a potential connection between creativity and connective learning. The personality trait of openness to experience is linked to curiosity, exploration, creativity, and unusual ideas. These elements may be significant in gaining insight into MOOC “early adopters” and in understanding the challenges and rewards of promoting and conducting such unusual learning ventures. By the same token, learners who express discomfort in learning networked environments, calling, for example, for more structure, may be closer to the “more cautious” end of the openness spectrum, with greater preference toward the familiar, including learning conventions and traditions. Questions remain as to how connective learning can best accommodate learners throughout this spectrum.

So I agree with George that we need to critically reflect on what we mean by ‘openness’ and how this might affect our expectations of scholars and influence their scholarship. And I think I understand where he is coming from when he writes ‘I am worried about imposing a single worldview that we view as “correct” on others. Freire talks about the oppressed becoming oppressors, and I find that without an uncritical examination of our practice we might be heading towards that direction.’

I also understand where Mark is coming from when he writes about the dangers of becoming institutionalized

‘in the process of working within an institution, we become institutionalized. We internalize the values, assumptions, and practices of the institution of higher education as it is currently constructed, and we take on the mission statements, strategic plans, and objectives of the organization that pays our salary.’

‘becoming institutionalized is like becoming acclimatized or acculturated — it is an induction into a particular set of habits, histories and beliefs that we come to accept as natural and right. If we wish to develop new ways of organizing our labour and our learning using more open networks, in keeping with shifts elsewhere in contemporary society, we must be prepared to examine and critique our institutions and our place within them.’

It seems to me that both Mark and George are making a strong case for critical reflection on and critical examination of the meaning of openness. Is openness (like participation) becoming a ‘tyranny’ that we are all just drifting into? Or is openness essential to the future of education and scholars?

I’ll be interested to hear what Frances Bell has to say about this when she talks to #fslt12 MOOC on Wednesday 30 May


Frances Bell, “The role of openness by academics in the transformation of their teaching and learning practices.” Wednesday 30 May 2012, 1500 BST