Longing for Openness

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In his Foreword to the recently published book, Open Education: International Perspectives in Higher Education, David Wiley stated, “When properly understood, openness is a value.”  This is intriguing.   In the eight years that have passed since I had the opportunity to hear Dr. Richard Baraniuk speak about the open education movement, I’ve been seeking to know more. And as my all too human brain often does, I’ve been trying to understand it by examining the parts.  But considering openness as a value has taken me to a new place, which has provided a glimpse of the whole.

Over the years, I’ve examined many elements of Openness in Education.  I’ve considered benefits and risks of open educational resources –  such as greater affordability and access versus the possible loss of incentives and quality assurance.  I’ve thought about opportunities and challenges of open pedagogy – the opportunities for increased agency and engagement against the challenges of meeting and assessing desired (or program mandated) outcomes.  I’ve studied the beauty of open licensing while wondering about the unintended consequences of disruption.  But I don’t believe I’ve ever thought about this subject in the philosophical terms introduced by the idea of openness as a value.

Through my analytical approach, I long ago decided that, in general, open is good and closed is bad.  I’m an advocate for opening up education. However, re-framing the picture to consider a value based perspective leads me to think about this in new ways.  It’s no longer a black and white view of open versus closed.  In value laden terms, “closed” no longer adequately describes the alternative.  Competing values, such as safety, security, convenience, and comfort now enter the conversation.

To reach a deeper understanding, I’ve been thinking of this idea in metaphorical terms.  I love to walk in the foothills that rise above my home.  A longing for the openness calls to me. When I climb out of the order and control of the city streets and up into the winding dirt trails, I find a sense of freedom, a feeling of independence, and a space of solitude that feeds my soul.  I value the openness of those foothills.  However, in my wanderings, I take Tanner, my fearless protector, and I stay on the trails.  Trails that have been mapped out and maintained.  Trails where I often pass other people.  I value the safety and convenience offered by the well worn shared spaces. I value the random encounters with others who share my love of the foothills. And after my adventures, when I’m exhausted, I also value the comfort and security of my home in the orderly and controlled city.

So now I’m thinking about open education in terms of these different, competing values.  Values are complex and situational. It’s important to balance the value of openness in education with other worthy values. Values such as safety, security, comfort, and convenience. To many, elements of the existing educational system may represent these or other values.  And from the view of competing values, some circumstances may place these above the value of openness.

I’m still an advocate for openness in education, openness matters.  And now, I may become a more critical advocate and consider openness in the context of other values.