How does one conclude and close (however temporally) a book dedicated to open, openness, opening, opened, without giving the impression that the debate is now settled and closed? How does one conclude and yet, at the same time, keep the space open, and actually even destabilise the sense of ‘ending?’
Our Call for Papers intentionally played with opening ‘open’ by referring to open, openness, opening, opened – to, from the very start, point to our claim that open is much more than just a status or process. In the context of education, specifically postsecondary and tertiary education, each of these terms offers glimpses of a tentative evolution of the notion of ‘open’ and can refer to, inter alia, admission requirements, registration periods, flexibility in choices, open pedagogies, curricula, professional development, curriculum resources, assessment practices, the scholarship of teaching and learning, and research.
In some of the debates on open education, there is also the unquestioned assumption that thinking about ‘open’ also almost automatically must call forth thinking about ‘closed.’ In some of the debates, the binaries – closed/open, good/bad, black/white – function as Medusa’s gaze, keeping our thinking and practices locked in, and in our opinion, much poorer. Thinking in terms of binaries ‘serves to flatten critique,’ and we may miss the opportunity to engage with the notion of open as a ‘sociomaterially and temporally situated practice’ (Gourlay, 2015, p. 325). Open also calls forth the notion of space – whether enclosed spaces such as classrooms or gardens, boats or trains; and space as ‘non-space’ such as mirrors, as Foucault (1986) suggests.
While it is possible to see open, openness, opening, and opened as statuses or processes, we can also understand them in terms of multidimensional and sociomaterial relationships and networks. In these relationships and networks, the status or process of open, openness, opening, and opened evolve in relation to each other. These relationships are often mutually constitutive and often comprise incommensurable factors in overlapping ecologies consisting of human and non-human actors. A train, for example, can be seen as a particular space, but also, as Foucault (1986) suggests, as ‘an extraordinary bundle of relationships’ (p. 83); and as Gourlay (2015) suggests, ‘a bundle of ideological signifiers’ (p. 314). Foucault (1986) uses the example of a train which is, at the same time, ‘something through which one goes, [but] also something by means of which one can go from one point to another, and then it is also something that goes by’ (p. 24). Trains are therefore moving or stationary spaces, consisting not only of material relationships (the locomotive, coaches, etc.), but also relating to other materialities, e.g. the tracks, the station, the signals, etc. In addition to thinking about trains as spaces, we can also think of how humans, on the train, not only relate to the materiality of being on a train, but also to one another, being in and sharing the same space. It is therefore possible to think of trains as being more than just a train but indeed a ‘bundle of relationships’ (p. 83) that constitute an ecology of sociomaterialities and networks. In foregrounding open, opening, openness and opened, we aimed to open spaces where we could explore the interrelationships, the sociomaterialities, the different networks and ecologies that inform and shape our understanding and practices of open.
In the Call for Papers for this book, we proposed the possibility of understanding open, openness, opening, and opened open, openness, opening, and opened in terms of ‘ecologies of open’ that exist in the nexus of political, economic, social, technological, environmental and legal frameworks and agendas; and as entangled with contestation, incongruities and obstacles. Why ecologies? The word ecology originates from Greek and originally referred to ‘house’ or ‘environment.’ In the academic disciplinary context, it is found in the biological sciences and focuses on the dynamic inter-, and intra-relations between organisms and the environments in which they are found. In much of the current discourses on open education or OER, we think in terms of materials, policies, and licences, to mention but a few, while forgetting that surrounding these, there are human and non-human actors and networks. When we refer to ‘ecologies of open,’ we foreground the broader ecosystems that surround open education and that stimulate, support or curtail and frustrate open education. ‘Ecologies of open,’ therefore, aim to foreground the different processes, interactions, adaptations, and new forms of open that emerge or exist at any particular moment in time as a result of various, intersecting factors and human and non-human actors. Ecologies of open also rest on and flow from historical legacy systems and beliefs of how we understand the world and humanity’s role in it; and how we define, teach, and share our understanding of knowledge. The notion of ecologies provides a useful interpretive lens on open as evolving, emerging, changing, and often liminal spaces/non-spaces.
Authors such as Gourlay (2015) and Knox (2013), as well as some authors in this book, point to the often unquestioned claims that open education and specifically open educational resources (OER) per se democratise education and are key to ‘not only to solving the global education crisis but to unlocking sustainable global growth in the 21st century’ (Daniel & Kilton, 2012). These claims position open education and OER in stark contradiction to the traditional university that is portrayed as ‘exclusive, retrograde, and reproductive of social privilege’ (Gourlay, 2015, p. 311). ‘Central to many in the OER cause is the idea that the educational institution functions as a barrier to the egalitarian acquisition of knowledge’ (Knox, 2013, p. 823). As such, traditional universities and teaching practices are ‘reduced to a liminal site, and abstraction or a bundle of ideological signifiers which are not based on evidence from the particular, or from situated practice’ (Gourlay, 2015, p. 314). As in defining open – where the temptation of thinking in terms of binaries, open/closed, good/bad – is a constant danger, we should also be careful as regarding open education and traditional education as homogenous and uniquely distinct spaces, and not connected like boats to harbours and the mainland; and overlapping with and connected to traditional and formal teaching and learning. There is ample evidence of open practices and open resources in traditional universities, while there is often a surprising lack of openness in the choice of prescribed materials in some courses at ‘open’ institutions. As Knox (2013) suggests, open education sometimes overlaps with traditional education, such as when the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) ventured into the open education space; and the OER University (OERu) claimed space as a university, albeit founded on OER. In its opposition to traditional higher education, the OERu functions as a ‘parallel universe’ (Taylor, 2007) ‘in which the activities of teaching and learning take place independently of a centralised institution’ (Knox, 2013, p. 824).
In imagining this book, we wished to open a space where authors from different geopolitical and institutional contexts could reflect upon and share experiences and insights on the different possibilities, if not universes Taylor (2007), that would help us to understand open, openness, opening and opened. Looking back at the various contributions in the book, the insights and shared experiences, we have a suspicion that underlying the quest for open, lies the rich history of how knowledge came to be defined, protected, shared, closed and opened. Each of the chapters in the book adds to our understanding of how knowledge came to be defined, formalised, and protected by gatekeepers and later on, by formal admission requirements and licencing agreements. Thinking about the evolution of humankind, it is interesting to consider, for example, how and when (as a continuum) did the tradition of sharing experience and knowledge through signs, gestures and later speech and oral traditions become only accessible to those on the inside, those of a particular gender, position in the hierarchy of the troop or tribe? When did knowledge become ‘classified’ as consisting of general secular knowledge and special or ‘profane’ knowledge (Muller & Taylor, 1995)?
We cannot, therefore, reflect upon open, openness, opening, and opened without considering and accounting for how issues and notions of open are connected to and often constituted by historical and current asymmetries in power relations, networks and ecologies of knowledge production and dissemination.
1 Open, Opening, Opened and Openness as Utopia?
Considering the evolution of humankind and knowledge, as well as the above-mentioned asymmetries, many still see open education as an (unattainable) utopia, an unreal space that cannot really confront and rectify the imbalances and injustices in knowledge production and dissemination. Despite the claim that open education is seen by many as a utopian dream, the chapters in this book bear testimony of the many individuals, alliances and organisations doing open. For many of them doing open – of opening, of breaking open, and of keeping and defending opened spaces; open education is anything but a utopian desire, but a very real, and often embodied, practice and sociomaterial space. There may be some individuals, alliances and organisations that do not recognise the flaws and contestations in the various nuances and practices of open education; many of them, however, are aware of how opening, breaking open, and keeping and defending opened spaces is often a compromised and entangled practice. For those who practice and embrace open, opening and opened, their practices constitute, in many respects a heterotopia as counter-site to a utopia (Foucault, 1986) or a ‘parallel universe’ (Taylor, 2007). For them, opening education is not a utopia, but a real space. As a site (whether a course, a book or as Foucault mentions – a mirror, a train, a ship, etc.), open education constitutes and is constituted by ‘an extraordinary bundle of relations’ and is, per se, heterogeneous (p. 23).
Many may scorn open education and its practices as only a utopian dream, as unachievable, and as merely a fleeting mirage in a mirror. We would propose that the chapters in this book provide evidence not only of deep and critical introspection on the limitations, challenges and potential of open education but also of open education practices and praxis.
Open. Openness Opening. Opened. This was our rallying call in the Call for Papers. The chapters following this introduction as well as the End Note provide a rich testimony of open education as heterotopia, a place of crisis and deviance, a place distinct but connected to the mainland of education, a space containing several, often incompatible spaces, a space where time accumulates and where time is flowing, a space that opens but also a space where ‘open’ is a process of opening; and a space, like a boat, that provides space for ‘an extraordinary bundle of relationships’ (Foucault, 1986) and ‘a bundle of ideological signifiers’ (Gourlay, 2015, p. 314).
DanielJ., & KillionD. (2012). Are open educational resources the key to global economic growth. Guardian Online. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/blog/2012/jul/04/open-educational-resources-and-economic-growth
TaylorJ. C. (2007). Open courseware futures: creating a parallel universe. e-Journal of Instructional Science and Technology10(1), 1–9. Retrieved from http://www.ascilite.org/archived-journals/e-jist/docs/vol10_no1/papers/full_papers/taylorj.pdf