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.

#fslt12 MOOC – Registration

Although the development of the First Steps into Learning and Teaching in Higher Education MOOC is still a work in progress, the course is now open for Registration – http://openbrookes.net/firststeps12/registration/

‘First Steps into Learning and Teaching in Higher Education’ is a free online course, which will run from 21 May to 22 June 2012, and will introduce new and aspiring lecturers to teaching and professional development in higher education. We also welcome experienced lecturers who wish to update and share their knowledge and expertise.

Why Register?

There are a few reasons

  1. We will know you are interested and have your email address, should we need to contact you or you us.
  2. You will be able to tell us whether you are interested in being assessed. We only have 25 assessment places, so do register early if you are interested.
  3. Some aspects of the course are only accessible through registration, e.g. the Moodle discussion forums

The Assessment Activities

The three activities we have designed, which you can find details of on the Moodle site, are for everyone – not only those who choose to be assessed. We hope that many participants will complete these activities, openly share them and that there will be lots of peer assessment. For us, this would exemplify open academic practice and also engagement with some of the principles of learning and teaching in HE.

Other activities in this MOOC might include, blogging, participating in Moodle discussion forums, interacting in distributed spaces of your choice on the web (but don’t forget to tag your posts with #fslt12), and attending the live sessions to hear our guest speakers

  • Frances Bell, “The Role of Openness by Academics in the Transformation of their Teaching and Learning Practices”, Wednesday 30 May 2012, 1500 BST
  • Etienne and Beverly Wenger-Trayner, “Theory, Pedagogy, and Identity in Higher-Education Teaching.” Wednesday 06 June, 2012, 1500 BST,
  • Dave White,  ”The Impact on Teachers of Open Educational Resources and Open Academic Practice in the Digital University.” Wednesday 13 June, 2012, 1500 BST

Assessment

By registering and opting for assessment, you will be agreeing to complete the 3 activities and will receive feedback on these activities from George, Marion or me. At the end of the course you will receive an Oxford Centre for Staff and Learning Development (OCSLD) Certificate. Details of the activities can be found on the Moodle site. Once you have registered, click on each of the tabs for each week to access these, but please remember that the site is still being developed so there could be changes to the content before the course opens on May 21st.

This is a ‘massive open online course’ (MOOC), and offers you the freedom to decide whether you wish to be assessed (and receive a completion certificate), how you want to engage with the course and how much you want to interact with the content and other participants.

My Reflections at this Point

This is an exciting but rather daunting process. We have had lots of interest, with people from all over the world expressing interest in different aspects of learning and teaching in Higher Education.

I am beginning to realize the amount of work that must go on behind the scenes in the other MOOCs I have attended 🙂

We have deliberately chosen to distribute the course across different platforms – WordPress (for the Home site), Moodle (for the course), Blackboard Collaborate (for the live synchronous sessions) and we are still discussing whether or not to have a separate wiki site, or to go with the wiki in Moodle.  The reason for this decision (i.e. the different platforms) is that we hope to introduce participants new to teaching in HE to the idea that learning can take place in a variety of online spaces.

Access to our WordPress site has been open pretty much from the word go, and now access to the Moodle site has been opened, despite the fact that neither of these is yet ready. For me, this is a new way of working and takes a bit of getting used to (heart in your mouth stuff!).

Finally, we are conscious that the course has been designed to attract people for whom this way of working and the technology involved might be completely new –so we have to achieve the right balance between providing enough structure and support and encouraging open academic practice and independent learning – one of the many tensions involved in designing a MOOC.

That’s it for now.

We hope lots of people will register and find the course useful, and that you won’t hesitate to comment or ask questions as we continue to get ready for this MOOC.