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

11 thoughts on “Scholarship and the ‘Tyranny’ of Openness

  1. francesbell May 15, 2012 / 9:55 pm

    Good topic Jenny – I won’t be issuing a spoiler for 30 May;) but here is a link to a symposium I took part in last year with Helen Keegan, Josie Fraser, Cristina Costa and Richard Hall.
    I am a big fan of openness but think it needs to be questioned within its context. For me, as a ‘graduate’ of CCK08 the whole groups/networks debate crystallised whether the ‘dimensions of difference’ between groups and networks
    “1. groups emphasize sameness, networks emphasize diversity
    2. groups emphasize order and control, networks emphasize autonomy
    3. groups emphasize borders and membership, networks emphasize openness
    4. groups emphasize additive, cumulative knowledge, networks emphasize emergent knowledge. ”
    become normative devices that constrain people’s behaviour rather than liberate and enable them. My interpretation was that the groups/network distinction was normative.
    A simple example is to think about people’s practice on Twitter. A skillful networked practitioner on Twitter knows how to negotiate open posts and network differently via the back-channel of DMs.

  2. jennymackness May 18, 2012 / 6:29 pm

    Hi Frances – thanks for the link to your symposium. I remember the CCK08 discussion on groups and networks.
    Looking forward to your presentation to FSLT12.

  3. Brad Ovenell-Carter (@Braddo) May 19, 2012 / 4:14 pm

    What you are wrestling with is a variation on the innovator’s dilemma. Education is now an emergent culture ( which means we can’t know in advance the conditions for creating it. There is always a danger of justifying original conditions–openness, flipped classes, networked learning, etc–post hoc. And ther is always a danger of rushing toward an answer to “What are those conditions” before the new culture has naturally emerged.

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