#OpenedMOOC Week 6: The Triumph of the Immaterial

This is the final week of the #openedMOOC and my final post. Like Matthias Melcher I have surprised myself by reaching the end of this MOOC. When I first considered signing up, I thought the MOOC would be more about open education more broadly and discussions around open pedagogy, than about open educational resources. Also like Matthias I have not wanted to complete the MOOC tasks or meet the course objectives; instead I have followed my own interests.

Like some others – see the Twitter stream #openedMOOC – I have enjoyed the weekly videos of discussions between George Siemens and David Wiley, which succeeded in being very informative, and also Stephen Downes’ videos, because he always brings an alternative perspective.

Again this week, Merle Hearns has done a really good job of pulling together this week’s content in her blog,  so there is no need for me to repeat it. Merle discusses Norman Bier’s video, which is well worth watching and from which I made these brief notes:

For Norman Bier the future of OER will depend on how technology is used to collect and apply data, and provide better feedback for students and teachers. He tells us that our practice is already data driven and this should raise concerns for open education research, particularly if that research focusses on static content. He warns that there is no visibility on how data is being used and that it’s important for the OER movement to understand and explore the algorithms in analytic systems. Algorithms are not neutral and if we can’t avoid the biases of the developers getting into the systems then we need transparency to mediate this.

So having written all this you may be wondering why this post bears the title – The Triumph of the Immaterial.

The reason is that this is the title of a clay sculpture by ceramic artist Phoebe Cummings, who today won the BBC Woman’s Hour Craft Prize 2017, with this clay fountain:

Screenshot from BBC Radio 4 Website

And this photo by Laura Snoad gives us a close up of the detail of the work

In this video Phoebe talks about how her work is temporary – making the raw clay sculpture as a fountain means that the water will erode the clay over time.

And in this short video clip we can see the effect the fountain of water is having on the clay sculture

For source of video see: http://alreadyshared.com/explore/medias/1632069198719374070_1663972413

In hearing that this sculpture (a piece of work that will no longer exist when the created fountain erodes the raw clay) has won the prize, it occurred to me that this may inform David Wiley’s 5 Rs of open content. Phoebe Cummings has created a piece of work that she expects to be reused, reworked, remixed and redistributed. She created it to be ephemeral, to enact its own performance and to no longer exist after a period of time, in this case the time it takes for the fountain water to erode the clay.

Phoebe Cummings has a unique approach and way of thinking about materiality and ownership and I’m wondering whether she has anything to teach us about open education resources and copyright. Maybe the success of open education will depend more on how we think about issues such as copyright and ownership, rather than what we do about them.

Thanks to David Wiley and George Siemens for the MOOC, and to Stephen Downes and Norman Bier for their videos.


Openness, constraint and emergence

Openness does not mean that anything goes. Even openness of mind does not mean this. In our work on emergent learning, we (Roy Williams, Simone Gumtau, Regina Karousou and I) have in the papers we have published (see here  and here) suggested that constraints are needed for emergent learning to occur. I have been thinking about this further over the past week or so in relation to the work of two artists – Jackson Mac Low, the American poet, performance artist, composer and playwright and Edmund de Waal, the British ceramic artist and author.

Jackson Mac Lowsafe_image.phpSource of image: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Henry-Flynt/109544385731314?nr

Jackson Mac Low featured in Week 9 of the Modern & Contemporary American Poetry MOOC (ModPo).

Edmund de Wall 348664217_640Source of image: http://vimeo.com/50611081

Edmund de Waal featured in a BBC One Imagine arts programme (see below). The two seem connected to me in the way in which they use constraint to fuel their creativity. They have both challenged conventional thinking in their own fields.

Mac Low created a memorial to Peter Inisfree Moore  by using the three words of his name to find 960 words, some recognisable and possibly meaningful and some nonsensical. His idea was that the words become less relevant because they are produced deterministically through a set procedure and not egoistically. Mac Low then got together a group of collaborators to perform this piece. (Click here for a recording).

He gave them rigorous instructions on how to collaboratively perform. He wanted his piece to be collectively intelligible. Each performer must be present with complete concentration, singers must use clear diction and move their eyes freely from any word to any other word and so on. There are a lot of ‘musts’ in his instructions. This was a random piece meticulously performed.  It forces us to shift our attention and listen. Its making and performance relied on constraints.

Jackson MacLow, wrote to Al Filreis about this piece as follows:

The community made up of the performers is a model of a society that has certain characteristics  that I would like to see abound in the wider society. The individual performers exercise initiative and choice at all points during the piece but are also constructing an oral situation that is not merely a mixture of results of egoic impulses but an oral construction that has a being of its own.

This for me resonates strongly with the original philosophy behind cMOOCs and the idea, which we have discussed in our papers, that emergent learning depends on frequent interaction and self-organisation of learners.

When I watched the BBC programme about Edmund de Waal, I was equally fascinated by how his emphasis on repetition ultimately led to a similar collaborative ‘performance’. deWaal for his exhibition A Thousand Hours – created a thousand porcelain pots through a quite deliberate and repetitive process. He was then meticulous about how they were exhibited in vitrines, using drawn plans which a team of collaborators were required to follow to place the pots in exact positions.

To watch Edmund de Waal at work, view this video.

Edmund de Waal: a thousand hours from Alan Cristea Gallery on Vimeo.

For both artists, the hard work, the open thinking, the collaborative physical experience, shift of attention, the community of performance and the open listening resulted in outcomes beyond anything that could have been predicted; the outcomes were emergent.

As one of the ModPo teaching assistants (Amaris Cuchanski) said in the week 9 video discussion about Jackson Mac Low

‘The individual constraints liberates the community as a whole. Meaning is created in the space between the subjectivity of the people involved’.

I am still grappling with the relationship between openness, constraint and emergence, but both these artists sparked off these thoughts. Edmund de Waal opened his mind to the possibilities of porcelain pots and Jackson Mac Low opened his mind to the possibilities of words and sounds, but both applied constraints to their work.