Open all hours #EDEN15

Martin Weller's keynote presentation at EDEN 2015 Conference was entitled 'The battle for open.'  A professor of educational technology at the British Open University, he has been an advocate of openness in education for many years, but he expresses doubts over the outcome of the battle. His latest book, also entitled 'The battle for open' carries the strapline 'how openness has won and why it doesn't feel like a victory'. The synopsis reads:

With the success of open access publishing, Massive open online courses (MOOCs) and open education practices, the open approach to education has moved from the periphery to the mainstream. This marks a moment of victory for the open education movement, but at the same time the real battle for the direction of openness begins. As with the green movement, openness now has a market value and is subject to new tensions, such as venture capitalists funding MOOC companies. This is a crucial time for determining the future direction of open education. In this volume, Martin Weller examines four key areas that have been central to the developments within open education: open access, MOOCs, open education resources and open scholarship. Exploring the tensions within these key arenas, he argues that ownership over the future direction of openness is significant to all those with an interest in education.

Clearly, the tensions he identifies require some analysis. In a previous interview I conducted with him, Weller emphasised the idea that openness is a philosophy that can pervade all educational practice. Throughout his keynote presentation in Barcelona, Weller built on this, regularly reminded delegates that openness has been victorious, and we have reached a certain point in the history of education where openness is now mainstream. However, he said, there is a time of tension, where this doesn't yet feel like a victory, and we are now deciding the direction of openness.

His main premise is that we need to be able to define, and understand, the implications of openness in education. What are the core principles of openness? he asked. There is also a battle for narrative raging, where the victor will write the history of openness, he said, continuing the metaphor. Early efforts at openness, including the British Open University, were about removing barriers to study - this university became known as the 'university of the second chance'. The open source movement emerged, with an emphasis on efficiency, and on the rights to use and modify software and tools. Finally, the emergence of Web 2.0 created and encouraged a culture of content sharing. Different elements of this history will resonate with different people he said, so that one definition of openness is problematic.

He traced a brief history of Openness: It starts with a belief in openness that is for the public good - leading to democratisation of knowledge. Then there is resistance to this, because it is unworkable, and low quality. Openness then becomes mainstream, is adapted and adopted by the big companies.

We are now at the stage where at least 50% of academics have published in open access journals (Stats from Wiley), an there is a growth in Open Educational Resources including OER Commons, with many universities now providing free content. There is a rise in open textbooks, where publishing is on demand and open licencing is available. There is a rise in the impact of these research outputs, with open access journals gaining ground in the impact indices. There is the provision of open stats, and data sets are posted online so that anyone can use these data for further research.

Weller talked about the hybrid publications swindle, where publishers charge authors to publish their work and then charge subscribers to read the content - a cynical, 'double dipping' strategy for making money out of the efforts of academics. Weller asked whether the idea of education being broken is now being monetised by the big edu-businesses and Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. The dominant narrative now is that MOOCs are the technological solution and education is ripe for disruption. The demise of the university has been heralded by people such as Sebastian Thrun, but this is largely a spurious claim, said Weller. This narrative creates a false dichotomy where you are either 'open' or 'closed'. This is unhelpful he argued, because it forces people into extremes of thinking about the web and education in general.

Ultimately, said Weller, the concept of openness allows us to be more creative and to take more risks. Openness is about to move into the mainstream, said Weller, but this is not inevitable. He warned that there is always resistance even once victory has been achieved, and where old frameworks and ways of thinking take a long time to die out. Change happens very slowly, and then come very quickly.

Several of Martin Weller's slidesets are available for free download here.

Photo by Steve Wheeler

Creative Commons License
Open all hours #EDEN15 by Steve Wheeler was written in Barcelona, Spain and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


Dominic said…
A valuable and timely keynote. Thank you, Martin.

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