What poets can tell us about ‘openness’ and ‘sharing’

The ModPo MOOC (Modern and Contemporary American Poetry) is surprising me in many ways, but mostly because in the poems we have studying in Weeks 1 and 2, there seem to be so many connections with my research into online teaching and learning.

I have already made two posts about how these poems have given me new perspectives on emergent learning  and ‘presence’  in online environments.

This week I have realised that I now also have a new perspective on the meaning of ‘openness’.

MOOCs themselves are all about openness, but I didn’t expect poetry to be too.

MOOCs, in their original conception, were intended to be free and open to anyone with an internet access. No registration or ‘signing up’ was required and it was expected that participants would ‘openly’ share their knowledge, expertise, ideas and thinking in the course. Resources would also be openly shared with the possibility of aggregation, remixing, repurposing and feeding forward.

Stephen Downes (who with George Siemens gave us the world’s first MOOC in 2008) has written about openness as follows (blue font is mine):

Openness — the network should have inputs and outputs, content should flow freely through the system, constrained only by the individual decisions of the entities, and entities themselves should flow freely into and out of connective relationships with others. Openness enables the possibility of perception by the network, and fluidity of connection enables the possibility of learning and adaptation.

The system of education and educational resources should be structured so as to maximize openness. People should be able to freely enter and leave the system, and there ought to be a free flow of ideas and artifacts within the system. This is not to preclude the possibility of privacy, not to preclude the possibility that groups may wish to set themselves apart from the whole; openness works both ways, and one ought to be able to opt out as well as in. But it is rather to say that the structure of the system does not impede openness, and that people are not by some barrier shut out from the system as a whole. (Source: Huffington Post)

Openness is about possibility. And here begins the connections I have seen with the poetry we have been reading in ModPo.

Emily Dickinson ‘dwells in possibility’. She is ‘open’ to new ways of thinking, the sky is the limit, but she does have some conditions as to who can share in these. Only those who are willing to put in the work to understand her poetry can join her. This suggests a link between openness and hard work.

Walt Whitman, in his poem – Song of Myself –  is ‘open’ to all, with no selection. Any Tom, Dick or Harry can join Walt in his poetry. For him ‘openness’ relates to ‘all inclusive’, a bit like how ModPo has opened its doors to poets and non poets alike, and every level of expertise, interest and experience in between. BUT – even Walt cannot avoid selection. Every act of representation is an act of selection. So openness is not a free for all or value free.

Lorine Niedecker in her poem ‘Grandfather advised me’ –  relates to this idea. For Lorine ‘less is more’. By condensing her writing to eliminate anything unnecessary or superfluous, even punctuation, she opens up the poem to a wealth of variable meanings. She has not spelled it out for us.  She does not even have a full stop at the end of her poem – the possibilities are infinite.

I learned to sit at desk and condense (Lorine Niedecker)

I think Stephen Downes has understood the ‘less is more’ connection to openness – when he writes that in his courses, it is not the content that is important, but the process, which is much more important than the content.

Cid Corman in his poem It isn’t for want  also teaches us about openness. He too understands that it not the content of his poetry that is important, but the communication, the connection between meaning maker and receiver. Openness is not only about the ability to be ‘open’ but to communicate this in such a way that it can be received. ‘I exist because you exist’ to quote Al Filreis.

Of all these ideas, I love the idea that ‘less is more’ in relation to openness. It seems so counter-intuitive, and so unlike many of the ideas that have been espoused by various bloggers/writers, who equate ‘openness’ with more, more and yet more ‘sharing’.

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