OER17 – Shouting from the Heart

This is my blog.  It’s called Open World.  It’s powered by Reclaim Hosting and the title is inspired by Kenneth White, Scottish poet and Chair of 20th Century Poetics at Paris-Sorbonne.  Mostly I write about work, about conferences and meetings I’ve been to, presentations I’ve given, papers I’ve written.  Sometimes I write about my thoughts on other people’s writing.  Sometimes I write about the frustrations of being a woman working in technology.  Sometimes I write about events like Open Access Week,  Ada Lovelace Day, or International Women’s Day.  Mostly I write about Open Education.

Mostly I write because I want to; but sometimes I write because I have to.  Sometimes writing is a necessity, a catharthis, the only way to process experiences or events that are too overwhelming, too infuriating, too incomprehensible to mediate in any other way.  That’s when writing gets, personal and political, messy, emotional and confrontational.

I seem to be writing more and more of these personal blog posts recently; after the failed Scottish independence referendum (Hearing voices), after  Brexit (This time it’s different), after the US election (The wrong side of history).  It was Helen Beetham who called one of these posts a shout from the heart and I guess in a way they are.  There’s no denying that they’re a personal emotional response to events that seemed, that still seem, to be utterly incomprehensible to me.  There’s also quite a lot of swearing involved, but I’m not going to apologise for that.

So what has any of this got to do with open education?  I’ve always had a strong personal commitment to open education.  I believe passionately that as educators we have a responsibility to work together to improve opportunities for all, not just for a select few. I believe there is huge creative potential in openness and I believe we have a moral and ethical obligation to open access to publicly funded educational resources.

 “Open education can expand access to education, widen participation, create new opportunities for the next generation of teachers and learners and prepare them to become fully engaged digital citizens. In addition, open education can promote knowledge transfer while at the same time enhancing quality and sustainability, supporting social inclusion, and creating a culture of inter-institutional collaboration and sharing.”

These words are from the Scottish Open Education Declaration.  I wrote them and you know what?  These aren’t hollow words, I actually believe them.  I actually have a genuine commitment to these words, and that’s why I find it increasingly difficult to disentangle my open education work from the personal and political.  And to be honest, I don’t really care because never has the feminist rallying call “The personal is political” rung more true than now.

I know I’m extremely fortunate to be in the position where I can write these personal political blog posts and express my opinions without fear of reprisal and I am aware that this is an incredibly privileged position to be in.   It’s very easy for some of us to take openness for granted but it’s important to remember that for many there’s is also a risk associated with openness, because openness, education, knowledge all seek to challenge structures of power and control. And in talking about risk, I don’t mean risk in the abstract sense.

“Bassel Khartabil (Safadi)” by Joi Ito – http://www.flickr.com/photos/joi/4670781482CC BY 2.0

Do any of you know who this man is? This is Bassel Khartabil a Syrian open source software developer, open knowledge advocate, Wikipedia editor and project lead for Creative Commons Syria.  Bassel is also a contributor to the New Palmyra project; a digital archaeology and open data project that aims to create a virtual reconstruction of the ancient city of Palmyra, much of which has been destroyed by ISIL during the Syrian civil war. Bassel was detained by the Syrian government in 2012 and held in Adra Prison in Damacus for 3 years. In October 2015 his name was removed from the Adra prison register and despite calls from numerous human rights organisations, his whereabouts are unknown.  In order to raise awareness of Bassel’s disappearance a group of open practitioners came together to write the open e-book The Cost of Freedom: A Collective Inquiry.  My contribution to the book was a short piece called The Open World which touches on the personal risks, costs and benefits of openness, much like this talk today.   The plight of Bassel Khartabil is a sobering reminder of the risks of openness, proof that open is always political, but it’s also shows why we need openness more than ever, because openness is inextricably bound up with freedom.  And in the words of another older declaration, the Declaration of Arbroath.

It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom – for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.

The Cost of Freedom – What is Open?

Another gem from The Cost of Freedom project, this time by Richard Goodman (@bulgenen), my partner in crime from the ALTC-2016 social media team.  I was chuffed to bits when Rich decided to write something for the project.  You can read his poem What is Open? here.

As part of disquiet Junto Project 0202 Text-to-Speech-to-Free Rich’s poem has also been recorded by Michel Banabila who created this amazingly atmospheric remix.

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The Cost of Freedom – The Open World

Based on an original painting by Omar Ibrahim, designed by Julien Taquet.

Based on an original painting by Omar Ibrahim, designed by Julien Taquet.

Towards the end of last year, following an invitation from Adam Hyde of booksprints.net, I wrote a contribution for a free and open online book called The Cost of Freedom.  The book is dedicated to Syrian internet volunteer and open knowledge advocate Bassel Khartabil, باسل خرطبيل, who has been detained in Syria since March 2012. On the 3rd October 2015 Bassel’s name was deleted from the Adra Prison’s register where he was detained and no further information has been obtained about his whereabouts.

The Cost of Freedom is not a statement about freedom and culture — it is a primal scream — the sum of our questions and desires. It is the raw expression of our lives. It talks about what is ultimately made through the dream of free culture: us.

~ The Cost of Freedom

The book was written in Pourrières in France during a five day book sprint in early November 2015, with additional contributions being submitted by writers from all over the world. Here’s my contribution, a personal reflection on what openness means to me.

"Bassel Khartabil (Safadi)" by Joi Ito - http://www.flickr.com/photos/joi/4670781482CC BY 2.0

“Bassel Khartabil (Safadi)” by Joi Ito – http://www.flickr.com/photos/joi/4670781482 CC BY 2.0

The Open World

In Open is not a License Adam Hyde has described openness as

‘a set of values by which you live…a way of life, or perhaps a way of growing, an often painful path where we challenge our own value system against itself.’

To my mind, openness is also contradictory. I don’t mean contradictory in terms of the polar dichotomy of open vs. closed, or the endless debates that seek to define the semantics of open. I mean contradictory on a more personal level; openness raises contradictions within ourselves. Openness can lead us to question our position in the world; our position in relation to real and perceived boundaries imposed from without and carefully constructed from within.

In one way or another I have worked in the open education space for a decade now. I have contributed to open standards, created open educational resources, developed open policy, written open books, participated in open knowledge initiatives, facilitated open events, I endeavour to be an ‘open practitioner’, I run a blog called Open World. However, I am not by nature a very open person; my inclination is always to remain closed. I have had to learn openness and I’m not sure I’m very good at it yet. It’s a continual learning experience. Openness is a process that requires practice and perseverance. (Though sometimes circumstances leave us with little choice, sometimes it’s open or nothing.)

And of course, there is a cost; openness requires a little courage. When we step, or are pushed, outside our boundaries and institutions, it’s easy to feel disoriented and insecure. The open world can be a challenging and unsettling place and it’s easy to understand the impulse to withdraw, to seek the security of the familiar.

When large scale open education funding programmes first started to appear, (what an impossible luxury that seems like now), they were met with more than a little scepticism. When a major OER funding initiative was launched in the UK in 2009 (UKOER), the initial response was incredulity (OER Programme Myths). Surely projects weren’t expected to share their resource with everyone? Surely UK Higher Education resources should only be shared with other UK Higher Education institutions? It took patience and persistence to convince colleagues that yes, open really did mean open, open for everyone everywhere, not just open for a select few. One perceptive colleague at the time described this attitude as ‘the agoraphobia of openness’(1).

Although open licences and open educational resources are more familiar concepts now, there is still a degree of reticence. An undercurrent of anxiety persists that discourages us from sharing our educational resources, and reusing resources shared by others. There is a fear that by opening up our resources and our practice, we will also open ourselves up to criticism, that we will be judged and found wanting. Imposter syndrome is a real thing; even experienced teachers may fail to recognise their own work as being genuinely innovative and creative. At the same time, openness can invoke a fear of loss; loss of control, loss of agency, and in some cases even loss of livelihood. Viewed through this lens, the distinction between openness and exposure blurs.

But despite these costs and contradictions, I do believe there is inherently personal and public value in openness. I believe there is huge creative potential in openness and I believe we have a moral and ethical responsibility to open access to publicly funded educational resources. Yes, there are costs, but they are far outweighed by the benefits of open. Open education practice and open educational resources have the potential to expand access to education, widen participation, and create new opportunities while at the same time supporting social inclusion, and creating a culture of collaboration and sharing. There are other more intangible, though no less important, benefits of open. Focusing on simple cost-benefit analysis models neglects the creative, fun and serendipitous aspects of openness and, ultimately, this is what keeps us learning.

In the domain of knowledge representation, the Open World Assumption ‘codifies the informal notion that in general no single agent or observer has complete knowledge’. It’s a useful assumption to bear in mind; our knowledge will never be complete, what better motivation to keep learning? But the Open World of my blog title doesn’t come from the domain of knowledge representation; it comes from the Scottish poet Kenneth White (2), Chair of 20th Century Poetics at Paris-Sorbonne, 1983-1996, and a writer for whom openness is an enduring and inspiring theme. White is also the founder of the International Institute of Geopoetics, which is ‘concerned, fundamentally, with a relationship to the earth and with the opening of a world’ (3). In the words of White:

no art can touch it; the mind can only

try to become attuned to it

to become quiet, and space itself out, to

become open and still, unworlded (4)

disquiet ambient/electronica have recorded a number of the contributions to the book, including mine, which you can listen to here.

References

  1. I cannot remember who said this, but the comment has always stayed with me.
  2. White, K., (2003), Open World. The Collected Poems, 1960 – 2000, Polygon.
  3. White, K., (2004), Geopoetics: place, culture, world, Alba.
  4. White, K., (2004), ‘A High Blue Day on Scalpay’ in Open World. The Collected Poems, 1960 – 2000, Polygon.

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