By Ronald Macintyre
Any record of an event where your main function is to keep time is likely to be imperfect and impressionistic. However, even as we head towards replacing imperfect human memory with digital memories I still think there is a role for forgetting, for a recollection system that seems to highlight the frequent and the exceptions. So here are my recollections of the day and the main themes.
The problem of alignment on came up frequently. At the moment it is not clear where openness sits, it is partly a function of the multiple interpretations of open, from the affordances of the learning objects (licence or design) to questions around conceptions of openness based on ideas around equity and social justice. These multiple interpretations make it difficult for people to see where it fits. For example, is being open about; international strategy, outreach strategy, marketing strategy, (dare I say) a Widening Participation Strategy. All but the final one came up frequently through the day, and the question was about alignment, about ensuring whatever function being more open served it would only serve that function if it was appropriately aligned to the strategy of the organisation. Inside these conversations about how to and what openness enables for organisations and absent presence was the sense of what it might enable for students. The alignment needs to match the resources capabilities and aspirations of the organisation, otherwise they will not be able to embed open practices. However, there is also a need to think about how well aligned those are to the wants and needs of students. Perhaps we need to ensure the student voice is much more clearly articulated and physically present at future events.
One thing that was noted more than once was how silent everyone was, few questions, and I agree with the comment that we had a lot to think about, big challenges to rise to. I also think it relates to this question of matching the internal and external environments of each organisation. As organisation look to align openness with these internal and external drivers they develop their own sense of openness, and in the end I think we each create openness in our own image. It is only right, but the diverse communities that came to the event, might also have contributed to a reluctance to “speak out” to place a mark in an uncertain landscape. For me those diverse readings of openness worked in the small groups, but not in the open floor session – lesson learnt.
However, one question that arose for me at the end of the day is – are there basic ideas or principles we ought to adhere to within open educational practice, and related, what is the role of policy. Where and how does bottom up and top down meet, both within the individual institution and within the broader education landscape. A couple of anecdotes here. In one of the two workshops the OEPS team ran in the afternoon one participant talked about getting his institution to sign up to the OpenScotland declaration, something which was clearly on folks minds. The nature of the OpenScotland declaration, the evolving nature of OEP and the culture within the Open Community (indeed one of key qualities) is the acknowledgement things are in a constant state of becoming. The individual wondered how you would ever get the management to sign up to an agreement that was not fixed – jokingly noting management are likely to dismiss this with, “lets see what our lawyers say”. A clash of culture. Amusing, possibly, disappointing, definitely.
The second also come from an OEPS workshop, someone from one of the Scottish Ancients noted with dismay that the socio-economic profile of OER users was just a symptom of a wider malaise in Widening Participation, HE providers seems to be getting worse at this and the focus on younger learners was welcome but risked neglecting those who need a second chance. I know, I am sharing depressing anecdotes about clashes of culture and education providers reproducing inequalities through outreach programmes. But I think tensions are bound to arise, we will not change anything if we do not accept it is not all good news.
This is a somewhat fractured account of the day, impressions and bits of questions, I am not going to attempt to draw this together into a neat package at the end. Instead I want to close with some thoughts about what Allison Littlejohn said about how individuals and organisations develop their understanding of OER, from learning about the objects and the licence and how to share, to embedding these in practice and reflecting on the implications for the educator and the learner of changes to educational practice. It is when the questions of objects, affordances, and licences become tacit, become routine that educators and organisations can start to explore what it means for them. I have probably tweaked Allison’s words to my own ends here, but you can read the “real thing” here. So how we do step up as education providers, producing things, doing things is part of it, but as someone noted at the end of the day if all that was achieved by a focus on OEP was making things they would not be satisfied, what we really needed to do as a community was look at how we manage and enable individuals and organisations to change.