Radical Openness #OLCIdeate – and radical uncertainty


Maren Deepwell, chief executive of the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) and Learning Technologist and Anthropologist.

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Re-posted from Maren Deepwell’s blog.

Recently I contributed to a conversation around radical openness as part of the OLC’s Ideate online events, together with Robin DeRosa, Gerry Hanley, Leigh Graves Wolf and Rajiv Jhangiani. I was very glad to be invited and really enjoyed taking part.

The session, described as a ‘community salon’ was described in the programme as an “opportunity for a group of thought leaders to engage participants in rich discussions around a broad topic intersecting with their scholarship and outreach. This salon brings together champions of open education and pedagogy sharing perspectives and guiding activities around the topic of radical openness, with a special focus on the ways that we can open doors for learners that are often hidden or closed to their success. Come with your ideas, challenges, and questions on the topic of openness, and take part in building new knowledge around open practices that will sustain us through and past these challenging times.”

Leigh Graves Wolf set out a really helpful structure for the session, guiding us through a series of prompts and questions, including:

  • “in what ways are you open/radically open?”
  • “What are some Open Educational Practice behaviors that you promote/enact/admire?”
  • “What are some Open Educational practices that you promote/enact/admire?”

And it resulted in a rich discussion and engagement, collated into shared documents (I encourage you to visit the OLC website to explore more).

Eventually the conversation turned to current events, to how everyone is coping (or not) with the challenges of the pandemic, working from home, childcare, supporting students, teaching, Zoom… and so on. These topics, which have become so familiar to all in a short space of time.

The more casual part of the conversation brought to light a different side of openness, which makes us all more vulnerable than sharing a teaching resource or a textbook. But it also made me think of ways in which, over time, our ideas of what might be radical openness may change. Here are some of my reflections:

Radical… power structures

At this stage of the great pirouette online, much of what is being done is still determined by power structures within institutions and communities or even countries, that rely on the decision making power of face to face institutions and processes, such as university governing bodies, finance committees, audits, quality reviews and so forth. Most of what is happening is not what was planned, but it is too new still for a lot of annual processes or less regular process to have happened yet and many of those processes are not open in either behaviour or practice. It’ll be interesting to see if we can challenge the openness of such structures more radically or whether the opposite will be true.

Radical… change and culture

In the first year of moving everything and everyone online we can draw on what we built up in person. There is a certain amount of common experience, of organisational culture, of shared memories, that act a bit like glue when it comes to getting through a crisis. But over time, as new people join the venture who don’t have that shared background, you open your behaviours and practice up to more radical change and transformation and that can be hard for everyone involved. Hard for those who are joining and hard for those who are already there. It’s difficult to build a shared sense of identity, aims or values without in person interaction at any level. One’s instinct is to close down options to change, to potentially loose what is being held on.

Radical… uncertainty

In the absence of much that we can rely on, it is difficult to imagine beyond the radical uncertainty we face. What do you do, whom do you ask, what is your plan when no one knows what, when or how things will change.

Open behaviours and practice are hard to embrace when you are facing that kind of perspective. In that sense, any amount of openness we can put into practice is radical.

One of the things we discussed in the session was how to support learners, and we were mostly focusing on traditional learners in a higher ed context here. But it was clear from the conversation and the comments from the audience, that we were all feeling more like learners again in a sense, just without the study guide to refer to.

About Maren Deepwell

I am the chief executive of the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) and I work as a Learning Technologist and Anthropologist. I am an Open Practitioner with a special interest in leadership, equality and open education.

As a trained sculptor I can carve marble, but nowadays I focus on bringing about change through policy, community engagement and open governance. Whilst much of my work is in the UK, I am bilingual in English/German and I use my other language skills to keep up with developments in education and technology across the globe and beyond the English speaking nations.

My studies in art and anthropology have given me an appreciation for the importance of criticality, history and theory and how they inform our understanding of education and technology. I am a fan of new technology, a geek at heart, but not one to embrace innovation unquestioningly.

Much of my writing on this blog is about Learning Technology and professionalisation but I also write about other things that interest me, like story telling, running and LEGO.

Visit my blog.

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