Openness in Education should have firm principles

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Connectivist educational theorist George Siemens has a long and convincing rant about the need for a radical and principled approach to openness in education, mostly a response to David Wiley’s view that openness is about gradients, and NOT a binary choice.

It’s worth reading in full and has the links to the twitter and blogging conversation that preceded it. And don’t miss the lively and stimulating comments.

George Siemens:

“We need some good ol’ radicals in open education. You know, the types that have a vision and an ideological orientation that defies the pragmatics of reality. Stubborn, irritating, aggravating visionaries.

Today, I fear, open education is beset with a more moderate spirit. People are trying to make a living off of being open – i.e. openness as a utility to advance a career, gain recognition from peers, or make money. This is fine. But it’s not what I’d expect in the early stage of a movement. Ideological purity in open education had a very short existence. Instead of building a future foundation, we see instead a foundation to serve for career advancement.

This was made rather clear to me in a recent exchange on Twitter. I posted a tweet (in response to Dave Cormier’s Top 10 of 2009) saying openness is a stage through which we pass…the real impact is systemic change. Things lingered for a day or so until Alec Couros asked for clarification and I responded by saying “look at open software – we are on the way out of that movement. it changed things systemically. that’s the real impact”.

Well, then the gloves were off.

Most people who contributed to the conversation, while questioning my mental acuity, were at least willing to discuss/debate (one individual, however, took the passive/aggressive stance of someone responding as if I had questioned the Pope’s religious affiliation). D’Arcy Norman finally suggested that the conversation wasn’t too productive on Twitter and that a blog post might be in order.

That’s how we got here.

Let me start by stating that “open” is a term that is now essentially meaningless. Apparently Twitter is open. So is Blackboard. And Facebook.

David Wiley states that open is a function of gradients (”a continuous, not binary, construct”). According to Wiley, openness is not an ideological concept, like democracy, but rather a functional or utilitarian construct: like a door or window being open or partly open. I can see the appeal of this view – the value of something is discovered in its implementation. But it seems wrong to me when applied to an ideological concept such as openness.

Let’s briefly consider the gradient view of openness. It’s like saying being alive is a gradient. We are more or less alive. That may be true. A teenager, not positioned in front of a PS3, may have more “life” than a senior. But really, at some point, being alive has a threshold. Is being on life support part of the construct of aliveness? Or is a window that is open precisely 1 mm open? In both cases, we could say, well, yes, of course the patient is alive or the window is open. But not at all in a way that we commonly associate with the concepts. And, in the case of a window, of absolutely no practical use for why we would want to have a window open in the first place. Seeing openness as a gradient in education is an accommodating approach, an act of moderation.

Even democracy – a much abused and increasingly meaningless term – still has some relevance. Most of us would not say that China is a democracy. Or that the USSR was. The gradient of democracy has a threshold.” (