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#OpenEducationWk: Openness for eternity?

Open Education Week 

It’s #OpenEducationWk and I’ve been inspired by activities and blog posts from across the community, including a special edition of the #LTHEchat (helpful intro here) and a number of webinars organised by the ALT Open Education Special Interest Group (including a preview today of the OER16 Open Culture conference coming up in April). Seeing so much commitment to and enthusiasm for scaling up open practice and resources has been a joy – but it’s also made me think about sustainability in the long term.

Many of us have plenty of problem solving to do right here, right now – and planning for the long term is not often a top priority. When it comes to creating open educational resources or sharing open practice it can be hard enough to do in the first place without thinking about how sustainable a particular piece of work might be when someone comes across it in 10 or 20 years. One of the immediate benefits of sharing something can be the feedback from colleagues, the conversation and knowledge exchange it stimulates and the connections we build through them. So our networks grows bigger and stronger and become more sustainable.

But what about our resources we share? What about them in the long run? In Learning Technology in particular many are fond of big sweeping statements (see Audrey Watter’s Hack Education project for an eye opening reality check) that make it sound as if a project or initiative solves a particular problem once and for all (and for everyone). Hyperbole along the lines of “no more textbooks – EVER” or “the END of the universities” makes it sound like we operate only a stone’s throw away from #edtech nirvana over the horizon. But without the right meta data, without considering interoperability, without updating and re-sharing things much of what we create remains useless to others. Enabling others to find and make sense of resources or assess their usefulness in their context is challenging while looking for what you need often leads to broken links, missing licences, taxonomies that only make sense to those who designed them and repositories that have long since fallen into dis-use.

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Institutional structures, if they support openness, can help with some of these issues while we have access to them. But when jobs change, people move on or institutions evolve these internal structures can become inaccessible.  Like the huge aircraft boneyards that become material metaphors of the age of air travel, our open landscape has its own spaces where all the dead OERs reside. When the lifespan of open resources is so limited the investment they represent also has limited benefit. Particularly when it comes to publicly funded resources there is a lot more we could do to ensure that what funding there is has an impact beyond its immediate beneficiaries.

This is why policy is so important. The work Creative Commons are leading in the US for instance (here is further info about their #GoOpen campaign) or the work of the Open Education Consortium help create robust ways to enabling open practice, create and share open resources at scale – to ensure sustainability in the long term. When institutions embrace openness, like the University of Edinburgh has done recently by adopting a new OER policy, they bring us a step closer to making openness sustainable in the long term.

Which brings me make to where I started: openness for eternity? How can we make it work in the long term? Make sharing openly sustainable, scale-able and useful? From the global movement via national and institutional policies to individual practice it is a formidable undertaking. Weeks like this, #OpenEducationWk, show that we are making progress.