Openness?

[648 words]

Plunging into the content and the spirit of the cMOOC #openlearning17, I’m thinking at length about “openness” and its many resonances. And, to be quite honest, I’m posing some hard questions during my interior conversation, as I think about the future in general, the future of education, and my own life years from now. (N.B. To some degree, there will be some overlap between this MOOC and another that I’m working on, “What Future for Education?” — taught by Clare Brooks and created by the University of London, UCL Institute of Education.) Another “life thread” that interjects itself into whatever I’m weaving here is deep distress about the Zeitgeist (triumphant extremist populism, nationalism, racism, disregard for truthfulness and ethics, factionalism).

Let me start with the last element (concern), then move on from there. For obvious reasons, I’m worried. My country is entering into what promises to be a phase of extreme conflict, dissension, instability, strife and extreme disregard on the part of many political leaders (and their followers) for fellow human beings. While I’m concerned for the well-being of the vulnerable and marginalized in the U.S., while I’m taken aback by gag orders and by blatant lying, and while I despise the way in which leaders in power seem to want to jettison environmental protections, reject climate-change treaties and ignore scientific evidence and muzzle conscientious scientists and public servants, I’m also very selfishly wondering about my own prosperity, my life savings and my retirement portfolio. Will I be able to retire early? Will I be able to retire at all? Or will the economy melt down and diminish my retirement savings and force me to continue working for many more years to come? More importantly, will this horror lead to armed conflict or destruction of the social ecosystem that I know how to navigate?

In this context (one that I recognize is far harsher for folks in other countries or regions), I find it a bit harder to commit to “openness” in the sense of devoting time and talent to the creation of resources for unfettered distribution, with little or no proprietary control or benefit. My fear and anxiety make it harder for me to feel generous. The dire threat of this social-political moment makes me wonder if I need to hold back and preserve the resources of my work and talent, to invest them in my own future good. Should I not seek maximum benefit, eventually, by selling my creations for top dollar? Of course, it is possible that I’m deluding myself about the value of my cognitive powers and my efforts in knowledge-creation, learning management, or the crafting of educational products. Still, I suspect that I may have a few good ideas, strategies and frameworks to offer. I may be able to help improve the quality of learning, both now and for the future.

So, influenced by angst and concern for the social, economic and political future of my country and the world, I ask myself whether or not I should try to shape these potential contributions to a more commercial and self-serving purpose. Should I craft appealing products, market them, sell the heck out of them? (And to heck with openness!) Except that, in the end, that’s not really who I am. Despite it all, I am determined to continue to create high-quality frameworks, concepts and materials in collaboration and in dialogue with colleagues and fellow-travelers.  In some cases, I may make my stuff broadly available as OERs. Still, with my sympathetic nervous system constantly stimulated by what I see and hear daily, it’s hard to remain dilated, relaxed, generous, vulnerable and open — in the best senses of that last word — connecting freely and meshing with a process that draws me out of my self-centeredness. (Hmmm… I can’t help but wonder: Is “openness” functionally opposed to “self-centeredness”?)

Sorry for the excessive length of this post.

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