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Openness: a practical value #OER18

In a few weeks, many colleagues from across the world will convene in Bristol for the OER18 Conference and from an active conference committee, and a inspiring line up of keynote speakers to a full programme of sessions about the politics and practice of openness in education there is so much to look forward to. I have been following the blog posts published on the conference site, thinking along with the debate about how open practice is being embedded in institutions, how advocates are winning over policy makers and funders and how our perspective on OER is changing. Inspiring stuff – and many difficult questions facing us, too.

Yesterday I was talking to a group of UK policy makers and one of the things I spoke about is how openness is a practical value to me. It’s not a lofty concept or a hopeful, idealistic vision, it’s a practical measure to be implemented, a yardstick against which new proposals can be evaluated.

From Open Access publishing to open licences, from shared content to open governance, it’s not a value that is easy to put into practice at any time. In her #OER18 post, Lorna Campbell reflects on this when she writes:

To my mind, the success of the OER Conference has always been founded on its willingness to examine and renegotiate what “OER” means, and this is one of the themes I’ll be exploring in my keynote.  And by that, I don’t mean defining the specific attributes of what constitutes an Open Educational Resource, I mean critically reflecting on what openness means in relation to education at different points in time and from different perspectives, because as Catherine Cronin reminds us in Open Education, Open Questions, “openness is a constantly negotiated space”. Open education looks very different to each and every one of us, and our perspective will depend entirely on where we are standing and the privilege of our vantage point.  And of course it is inevitable that our perspective will change as our roles and careers develop over time.

Outside of the OER community, most audiences that I speak to seem to think that openness means not generating revenue. It means taking a risk to give away something of one’s competitive advantage. It is for those who are privileged, those who can afford to spend time, to dedicate resources to something besides their core business. And so the work of advocates, individuals and organisations, is crucial to making business cases, to convincing governments and providers of the practical advantages, the bottom line, the success that can be achieved if a particular open model or platform is adopted. Open textbooks, for example.

And yet despite the many signs of progress, there are many instances of what was once open, for example a repository, a course or a platform, turning into something else once it becomes valuable. That’s when economic imperatives take over openness as a value and turn it into a marketing strategy.

For me, that is one of the reasons why it’s difficult to demonstrate that doing, being, leading ‘open’ is a practical value you can turn into success without betraying the principles involved. Openness has draw backs, just as every other approach, and sometimes these are difficult to negotiate. Which is why it is so powerful when you see people do just that. And that is what I am looking forward to learning about at OER18. How we can make openness work for all, warts and all.

So if you are there in person, joining in on Twitter, watching the live stream or coming along to Virtually Connecting, blog, lurk or otherwise take part – as one of the organisers I hope you’ll find the welcome and the inspiration you are looking for.