“Open is always outward facing”

Last Wednesday I had a discussion with Philipp Schmidt, Ahrash Bissell, and Dave Humphrey for the second seminar of the Mozilla Open Education course. This discussion was designed to focus on four different case studies, but unfortunately Wayne Macintosh and David Wiley couldn’t join us due to technical difficulties. So, the discussion was divided in half. Nonetheless, I hope it was a useful discussion for the participants, anyone interested can find the whole thing here (it’s in Ogg Vorbis format). There were two highlights in particular that I would like to draw attention to.

First, it was my first introduction to Dave Humphrey of Seneca College, who was an absolute pleasure to listen to and converse with (although to my chagrin I kept referring to him as David, not Dave, throughout the discussion–sorry about that!).  His class projects are brilliant, he teaches Computer Science courses wherein his students actually develop code as part of the Mozilla open source community. A re-aligning of a traditional course that makes the work his students do during a semester immediately relevant to one of the biggest–if not the biggest—open source community in the world. You can read more about his project on Mark Surman’s blog here and listen to an audio interview about the course here.

Second, Dave Humphrey said something at the end of the conversation that really resonated with me, so I am going to reproduce it below, as well as provide a link to his closing remarks which I have been mulling over for the last five days. When talking about this idea of open, Dave noted the following:

Open is always outward facing, and so I think it’s a losing battle to try and do it in an inward way. So if my goal was to convert all of my school to the same beliefs that I have about how you should teach and the way you should share, and all of that, I would never get there. So in some ways I have given up on institutional approaches to this, and I am much more focused on individual and community, and how that scales and we can connect those things.

You can hear the rest of this thread below:
Download Dave Humphrey in Mozilla Open Ed, Seminar 2

What struck me about this is the real tension that exists between institutional approaches to ideas of working out in the open and those of individuals who together might forge a community of openness both within a larger institution as well as across any institutional boundaries. A move away from thinking about the possibilities that the openness of the web brings to the future of education is not so much a process of changing the institution, but rather of fostering individual and communal in order to imagine the possibilities that lay fallow all around us. This is the very reason why I love the blogosphere and find it impossible to stop posting here. If I did, I’d become increasingly cut-off from a life-blood of vibrant thought that moves far beyond the confines of my institution—and if I were limited to the current mood of my institution I’d probably have a loaded gun to my head.

I’ve often considered the work I have been doing at UMW as a way to change the institution, working to help the university realize the power and possibility of opening up to the world, and thinking about how the mission of a public university might re-imagine itself given the radical changes in the means and methods of publishing and sharing.  Yet, institutions seem designed to disappoint, and the idea of such an overarching goal for imposing a vision of what open is on others who may disagree is just as problematic as institutions closing down on openness out of fear of engaging in public discourse that makes the work happening at any given campus increasingly transparent and relevant. What Dave’s thoughts made me seriously consider (something I have desperately needed these days) is that what is at the heart of the work we all are doing is not about changing institutions, because if it were I would currently be paralyzed. It’s about communing and sharing openly with others both within and beyond our institutions—a push that limited to, or dependent upon, something like UMW Blogs or any other one tool, but rather on a series of personal commitments to thinking openly and honestly about what the future of education is and how we might take some meaningful steps in that direction.

So, to that end, I’ll link to one more audio excerpt from this discussion wherein I define a DTLT project that moves in this direction of the individual as the site for re-imagining the future of education as part of a community.  For the next year I will be committed to “A Domain of One’s Own,” an idea that is not focused on the logic of the institutional infrastructure, but rather then individual’s own cheap and simple space to both aggregate to and create from.

Download Excerpt from Seminar 2 on “A Domain of One’s Own”

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3 Responses to “Open is always outward facing”

  1. Interesting post.

    I’ll soon be back blogging, and this is one of the subjects I’ve been wanting to address.

    Here’s an interesting question — in music and newspapers, can you name one big name that got it “right”? In an absolute turned around completely, absorbed the new mission, and made a sustainable living on the other side way?

    I can’t. Hard to do — but not all getting it wrong is equal. And in institutions that are graduating hundreds of students a year, getting it a little more right a little faster is not insignificant at all.

    In punk terms we are not committed to he revolution, really. We’re committed to that audience in front of us right now, eeking out a better education for them in whatever way we can. The rest it too much to plan, it’s going to happen one way or the other…

  2. Reverend says:

    In punk terms we are not committed to he revolution, really. We’re committed to that audience in front of us right now, eeking out a better education for them in whatever way we can. The rest it too much to plan, it’s going to happen one way or the other…

    Absolutely, this is right on. i guess what I am worrying about these days is that given the nature of our administration i wonder if the venues are gonna start closing all around us—and that audience effectively disappear back into top 40. So, therein lies my tension, but with that said I couldn’t agree with you more.

  3. Well, like they say:

    People make things possible. Institutions make them last.

    But the question is always what sort of institution, and which things. I’m more sure on the things than the institution at this point, but the institution remains an important part of that equation.

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