Context Conditions our Approach to Open, but “what if”…

By Ronald Macintyre (OEPS project)

This the fourth of our OEPS forums was focussed on change.  The focus was based on the feedback we had received from previous events, that the OEPS community wanted an opportunity to talk about and reflect on the changes they felt were needed at all levels and scales, from the individual to the national. I led one of the afternoon sessions, it was called “Open education and digital engagement through a widening participation lens”. When I reflected on ‘what change’ and how to put together something meaningful around big terms like Open Education, digital, and widening participation what struck me was the sense in which we often think of how they relate to each other, as enablers, as conditional statements, and as dilemmas.  For example, in the widening participation world, digital technologies and assumptions about ubiquitous access and digital literacies can act as a barrier, at the same time if we are to promote social justice we need to ensure we reach into the digital world. Or we talk about (or at least used to) digital technologies as enabling OER.

Of course my own reflections are based on my context, a context that conditions the way I approach questions. In the workshop I tried to be open about how my context framed the way I address issues and view change. Suggested context (for me) is made up of three things:

  • Our role, what we do and how we (and others) see our role, as facilitator, teacher, builder, or decision maker (all overlapping).
  • Organisational culture, “it’s what we do around here”
  • Personal values, what I believe the value of education is, and how I think about the role of education in creating public value.

Using the following template I asked people to write in a post-it:

In my Context [describe your context] I understand/think of the role of digital technology/open education/widening participation [delete as applicable] as enabling …. [Fill in the blanks]

Crude I know. But here is some of what people said:

  • In my context in eLearning the role of digital technology in open education is enabling but difficult to roll out and increase engagement.
  • In my context as an eLearning manager, University Leftie, I understand the role of widening participation in terms of enabling equality of opportunity
  • In my context as a lecturer I think the role of digital technology as enabling wider student engagement and breaking down barriers through unlimited access
  • In my context s an education adviser in virtual learning, educator, open organisation, Third Sector strategy, policy developer in virtual learning the role of open education as enabling as many health and social care professionals to improve practice on [health issue]

Just a small selection, but they capture the themes, a sense of interlinked nature, with one enabling but creating tensions around another.  Access was prominent, of course open is about access. But we also see concerns and tensions between access to and engagement with, questions about participation and what being open does in the world. In the second exercise we started to tease out those dilemmas and tensions, again crudely I provided a set sentence as an example.

For me the role of digital technology in Open Education is …

For me the role of digital technology in Widening Participation is …

Slightly over the post lunch lull at this point people were getting warmed up, the comforting hubbub of a workshop where people were thinking and talking, and the papers ended up flooded with post it notes.

  • For me the role of digital technology in widening participation is ambiguous access/participation, potentially one useful component
  • For me the role of digital technology in widening participation is like another chance to market
  • The role of digital technology in widening participation is as a tool not a solution
  • Digital technology in widening participation is another way to engage unreached people, a way to provide different learning styles
  • The role of digital technology in widening participation is providing access to education
  • For me the role the digital technology in widening participation requires more digital literacy education
  • Digital technology has the potential to democratise learning but we might just look at cats

Some useful aspirations, and some reservations, what came across in the statements was the sense of digital as part of series of tools, a tool whose position was ambiguous, and not just because of the cats. There is sense of open and online unrealised potential, that it is a challenge which needs to be grasped. In the final exercise we looked at what had to change about their context to enable us to realise our ambitions. I explained that I tend to end up describing a problem and stating some aspirations when I engage in thinking like this. Again using my crude fill in the blanks I asked them to consider

If [open education/digital technology/widening participation] is to enable then …. [Insert here what needs to change in your context] needs to change

This drew some interesting and challenging responses

  • If open education is to enable wider participation then; a whole organisational change is needed to focus on unreached groups rather than focus on “warm contacts”
  • If digital tech is to enable widening participation we need to be willing to value the open and share our work, e.g. be prepared to be filmed talking about our work
  • Top down policies and leadership to allow for OER to be a priority in Educational Institutions
  • Change in context, self-select organisations whose values reflect your own in order to achieve the changes you want!
  • If digital technology is to enable open education then digital literacies need some improvement in the local context (i.e. staff training)
  • If open education is to enable furthering the goal of the common good then the policy ‘open is not the default’ needs to change to ‘open is the default’!

These are the challenges, some top down, buy in from management, open as default, stop using open as way to market “warm contacts”, start getting serious creating a culture of open (or move on as one suggests), engage proactively in digital participation for staff, the learners you do have and more broadly. Some of the things are facing in, a mix of bottom up capacity building and cultural change and top down policy (I will spare reading the post-it suggesting SFC gives more money). Others are about turning to face out, what open does to blur the boundaries between the classroom, the online and the wider community.

It was all a bit rushed, and people wanted more time to talk through the ideas that were emerging, it meant I missed out the last exercise in each of the workshops. So below is the closing exercise.

To close I thought I would ask you to share one of my “What ifs” And invite you to jot down some of your “what ifs” regarding digital technology, open education and widening participation.

Based on Rogers, E. (1962) Diffusion of innovations. Free Press, London, NY, USA, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Diffusion_of_ideas.svg Public Domain

Based on Rogers, E. (1962) Diffusion of innovations. Free Press, London, NY, USA, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Diffusion_of_ideas.svg Public Domain

We know a little bit about innovators and early adopters, they tend to be well educated and have good incomes, they tend to be societies ‘haves’.

If I think about my context I suppose a lot of what we try to do is push things along the segments:

What if I do not accept the benefits of an innovation (like free open online education materials) are not shared equally.

What if I do not accept this distribution is “normal”

I am not sure what the answer is to this, but sometimes you do not have answers to these “what ifs”, they simply are about thinking outside “the facts”, not accepting the context, and looking at how to drive change.

I invite you to note your “what ifs” and share, and to keep thinking about this.

Posted on April 15, 2016, in article, Event, workshop and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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