@Vconnecting and the paradox of open #OpenEd15

By Helen DeWaard. This post was originally published on Helen’s blog

Within any experience where educational technology is involved, there lies paradox. Being able to identify these diverse and polarizing entities can influence the direction or stance for an individual response. It’s within the tension that exists in the balance that dynamic and powerful learning can occur. That’s why conferences are such a rich and fertile ground for people to connect, discuss, argue and disagree. Conferences can bring people together or they can polarize when ideas and beliefs become paradoxically entrenched. The conversations at the 12th Annual Open Education Conference (#OpenEd15) in Vancouver were rich in tension as individuals and groups attempted to define and describe open education and open education resources (OER). Below is the playlist

Virtually Connecting provided opportunities for conference keynote speakers to engage in clarifying conversations with virtual participants about topics where a push/pull in open education discourse exists. It allowed individuals from distant locations to probe for deeper understanding. The human challenge, when participating in conversations from disparate contexts, as evident in many conference experiences, is to stand your ground on an idea or process rather than ‘turning to wonder’. Maintaining an openness of mind and viewpoint is not a conference requirement but ultimately leads to a richer conference experience.

With the VConnecting experiences at the OpenEd15 conference behind me, I can reflect on the ideas around “being open”. Each of the virtual conversations didn’t necessarily help dissipate the tensions but they certainly clarified the paradoxes evident in my understanding of open education and OER. Capturing the vocabulary from conversations about open education in a word cloud collection shows the diversity of ideas, concepts and issues.word cloud image

The impact of the conversation with Vivien Rolfe, Amy Collier and Jen Ross continues to resonate and create tension in my thinking about what it means for my own course content and learning processes. They discussed the notion of not-yetness in reference to open education and the polarity found in ed tech spaces that are measured, controlled and efficient rather than emergent, generative and diverse. Their concept of the ‘borderlands’ and ‘boundaries’ that define or contain open education challenges me to look beyond the containment of learning in digital courses and learning management systems (LMS).

The conversation with Martin Weller, Mary Burgess and David Porter brought forward the paradox of recording and sharing open education efforts while learning from the missteps or misconstructions of others. Paradoxes that emerged through this conversation included the tensions between experimental vs structured materials, sustainable practices and processes vs consistent finances and funding, as well as faculty engagement vs administrative endorsement.

Conversations with Mike Feldstein and Phil Hill illuminated the paradox between open education as a professional learning community or as a systemic movement toward an ill-defined goal of openness. Their exchange touched on the paradox between closed, contained LMS systems and open conversational spaces. This deliberation examined how to balance the tension between what IS the primary focus in open education conferences or conversations and other potential focus points e.g. textbooks, MOOCs, student agency.

Alan Levine and Brian Lamb’s dialogue, with Robin DeRosa and others, identified the paradox between functional openness and the promising potential of technology to create open web spaces. The discussion of SPLOTS (smallest possible learning open tools) contrasts to the use of an LMS for students and faculty to explore digital spaces in anonymity and ease of use. Using ‘training wheels for the web’ contrasts with the challenges of creating with open web applications.

Vconnecting logo imageThroughout these rich conversations about open education and OER there is evidence of an openness of thought and dialogue from each of the participants. VConnecting provided a space where ongoing discourse can occur beyond the walls or finite times permitted within the conference architecture. Topics of interest will continue to resonate openly beyond the conference framework. Open education will continue to be defined by the paradox between open and closed, between being and not-yetness. Examining, analyzing and exploring these paradoxes will help me hold them in tension.

The open dialogues that occurred at the Open Education Conference 2015 can be viewed at Virtually Connecting.org. While viewing these conversations, consider your definition of open education. Where are the boundaries or borderlands that encompass your understanding of openness? What tensions can you comfortably hold when working toward openness in teaching and learning spaces?

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