This post is for the inclusive Open Space session coming up at OER19 in April. You can read all about the session here. It is posted on the FEMEDTECH OER19 OPEN SPACE. Here is a link directly to the post.
I have chosen to focus on the question: “How do we manage sustainable spaces for exploring challenging issues around open?” and my response has also been inspired by a recent blog post by Martin Weller on ‘Learning the rules of predicting the future‘. In the post, which deserves extra credits for inspired use of Parks and Recreation gifs (note to self: up your GIF game), Martin sets out the following “rules” for predicting the future for education (I am quoting only very briefly here, so you should really read the whole post, as it makes for excellent reading):
- The first rule to learn about change in higher education is that very little changes, while simultaneously everything changes.
- A second rule is that technological change is rarely about the technology.
- The third rule is to appreciate the historical amnesia in much of educational technology.
- The fourth, and final rule I would suggest is that technology is not ethically or politically neutral.
And that has inspired me to think about rules for making sustainable spaces, which links to the broader question of who takes responsibility and how to take responsibility for the future of open spaces of all shapes and sizes. It also relates to the question of permanency on the web and in technologically mediated social spaces in general (I have written about Cemeteries of the web: parallels between Victorian burial culture and digital infrastructure previously). So here goes:
First, I would argue that in most cases planning for the long term, for sustainability in any sense, does not come into the development of new spaces, platforms or tools. So many sites and systems come and go, disappearing often with all the content we have created and without much notice or help for migration. Interoperability standards, transferable file formats and all that goes with it are rarely at the top of anyone’s priority list whilst iterative, agile approaches to development force users to move along regardless. When funding dries up or business models change repositories, community sites, communication platforms etc become unsupported, derelict collections of broken links and unanswered support requests. This is not only inconvenient, but has serious consequences: it makes it difficult to have a sustained critical debate as we constantly loose records of what we have already done; it puts the focus always on reinventing, re-establishing, re-designing new spaces and it promotes the kind of historical amnesia in much of educational technology that Martin Weller warns us about.
Sustainable spaces for exploring the challenging issues around open also require us to address the question of who has ownership of those spaces, both in a practical sense, i.e. who owns the domain, who controls access, who pays the bills, as well as the social aspects such as who controls the conversation, who records it, who can participate and who ends it. Some of the hardest questions we must ask have strong political and ethical dimensions. If the organisation or entity that hosts or supports such a dialogue has a strong agenda, be that commercial, political or social, then we need to question how that impacts on the kind of discourse we can foster and also how this may impact on the sustainability of the project. Open means many things to many people and there is a whole range of motivations to get involved and try take ownership of spaces that support open communities.
One of the things that’s really tricky about both open in education and technology in education is what Martin Weller describes as ‘very little changes, while simultaneously everything changes’. I find that is often to do with our goalposts constantly moving further ahead and at the same time the spectrum of individual and organisational practice spreading out. What I mean is that the range of challenges we ask technology to help us meet is huge – from basic infrastructure to educating millions across the globe. Similarly, when it comes to thinking about open, there is a vast array of situations to tackle. It all depends on the perspective you start from and it can be difficult to find common ground in a conversation that brings together many different contexts – this is exactly the reason why an open space like this one can help.
I don’t seem to have come up with very clearly articulated rules, but rather characteristics and questions around the lack of long term planning, questioning ownership and motivation and the need to appreciate different perspectives from which what we find challenging about open can be explored. One very generic sounding conclusion to draw is that the only rule is to make use of your voice, to continue to engage and question, not to become indifferent or disengaged no matter how difficult that can seem at times. But it is, for me, a powerful reminder that we each have agency, and that taking part, contributing something that helps others understand our way of seeing the world, our perspective on open, our world view (as a women, as a feminist, as a contributor in my case) is a meaningful and important act.