The relationships between technology and open education in the development of a resilient higher education

*Originally posted at Learning Exchanges on 4 November 2010

I thought it would be helpful to write-up that which I spoke about at Open Education 2010 in Barcelona, yesterday. The slides are available on my slideshare, and the paper is also available here on learnex. I spoke without slides, but will create a screenr presentation to cover the main points. You might also like to read this alongside Stephen Downes’ Huffington Post article on Deinstitutionalising Education.

This is pretty much what I said, and it is my story of the last 12 months.

This talk has one caveat and six points. The six points focus on: critique; transformation; sustainability; hope; cracks; and openness.

The caveat is that this paper is presented in the policy and strategy strand of this conference. My role as a reader in education and technology, but also as the academic lead for technology-enhanced learning [TEL] at De Montfort University in the East Midlands of England, enables me to influence institutional policy, practice and strategy. My role is to examine and develop approaches for transforming education and the curriculum within my university. My expertise and experience regards TEL as a part of that transformatory moment of education. But it is not the driver, or the most important element of that moment. My understanding of the place of technology-in-education, and technology-for-open-education informs my approach to policy and strategy. I outline my developing understanding in the six points below.

However, in this developing understanding, one of my previous roles as a researcher and a lecturer in History is important. We need to recover the role of past struggles as we face new crises, to recover the stories of the past, and the radical moments when technology was used to transform education and social relations. This is not a focus on technology and progress, as has been seen in its co-option by a neoliberal educational agenda. Rather it is a focus on technology in the name of progressive, dialogic critiques of our current crises, to suggest and implement alternative moments.

My first point is on critique. Open Education is a critique of our current social forms of higher education. It offers radical moments for the transformation of our lived experiences in higher education. However, through an agenda of consumption, marketisation and commodification, visited through the focus on second-order elements like open educational resources, open education is being subsumed within a dominant paradigm of business-as-usual. This fetishisation of OERs as commodities, as abstracted, intellectual value-in-motion that is to be consumed, diminishes the transformative moment of open education.

My second point is on transformation. The transformative moment of open education is critical because we are in crisis. Climate change, peak oil and resource availability/costs, alongside theĀ  attack on the idea of the public sector in the UK, are symptoms of a deeper crisis of political economy. This is usefully framed by Naomi Klein’s idea of the shock doctrine, where the neoliberal, financialisation crisis is being used to extend business-as-usual and to entrench dominant positions through a focus on economic growth. This is an unsustainable approach. The private and public institutions that catalyse this view are unsustainable. The current forms of higher education are unsustainable. We need to produce transformative moments.

My third point is about sustainability. The hegemonic positions defended through the promise of business-as-usual have assimilated the radical moments of socio-cultural and environmental sustainability. The conversation is now based upon economic growth as sustainability, with a focus on impact measures. Moreover, the radical promise of resilience threatens to be bastardised and turned into a radical conservative focus upon adaptation. In fact the crises we face will overwhelm any attempt to adapt and maintain business-as-usual. Transformatory change should be the focus of resilience. What are we sustaining and why is at issue. Our discussion of OERs linked to economic growth, rather than dialogic encounters with of radical, open education, implicates us in this hegemonic conservation, as it hides the importance of movements of struggle, in the service of the status quo. The status quo is not an option.

My fourth point is about hope. I have hope that new social forms of higher education, and possibly the University, can enable students and teachers to develop the characteristics of resilience and sustainability that are transformatory and emancipatory. These new forms hint at open educational curricula underpinned by radical, critical pedagogy. So we see engagement with student-as-producer, teaching-in-public, pedagogies of excess and hope. The intentionĀ  is to enable people to re-cast their lived experiences, and to rethink the production, value and distribution of our common wealth, beyond its accumulation and enclosure by the few. Production is the corollary of consumption. I have hope that we can create radical moments in which we can co-operatively produce our lived experience, rather than simply consuming it.

My fifth point is about cracks. John Holloway argues that it is important to widen the cracks within coercive capitalism, in order to transform moments and institutions for the public good. Open education is a crack in the dominant, neoliberal social forms of higher education. Open education is a crack in the unsustainable models of business-as-usual that exist within higher education. This is important because we are not observing the crisis. We are in the crisis. We are the crisis.

My sixth point is about openness. The theory-in-practice of open education has tremendously empowering, radical moments within it. The struggle for open education is central to transforming our crisis. Open education, open activity, open production, open curricula, open networks, open forms of learning and teaching, are all central to this project. It is important that we develop transformatory moments and re-imaginings of our place in the crisis, and that we openly define and deliver open approaches for resilience and sustainability. We must use open education to reclaim the radical history of education, and technology’s place in education. We must move away from chasing the latest gadget or fetish. We must move away from seeing OERs as value-in-motion, as commodity. We must recover the radical place of technology-in-education from the mundanity of the latest digital development. In this we must revisit and recover the movements and moments of struggle in the past, and the use of technology in those struggles. For me this is a revisiting of the Workers Educational Association, of the Co-operative movements in the UK and in Latin America, of Cuban education after the collapse of the Soviet Union, of community educators like Trapese and the Autonomous Geographers, of anarchist social centres of learning, and of forms of participatory, co-operative education. This is not to say that these are perfect examples, or projects that can be transplanted, but it is to say that they offer radical histories and radical alternatives.

My hope is that we can reclaim open education as a radical moment of struggle, that can transform our experiences in the face of our crises.

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