Sunday, November 16, 2008

Wide open-- CCK08

“The lake’s wide open.
There’s a lake effect snow warning.”
As inhabitants in the heart of the snowbelt region of Northeast Ohio, we know what that means. Chances are we’re about to witness a significant accumulation of snow. The 60 inches that fell in four days in November, 1996 are a good illustration (shoveled all by hand -- too wet for the snowthrower).

The open lake (not frozen) enhances the capacity for the snow events to increase in significance, especially when the other critical variable factors are present—temperature of the air, the water, levels of humidity and wind direction. Lake effect snow events are fickle. Last week the wind was more westerly than northwest, so during last week’s warning 10 inches of snow fell just 10 miles north of us while we had a just a dusting.

Waking this morning to a lake effect snow warning, reflecting upon my readings on openness in education—and connecting—

The open lake, with its capacity to enable and enhance such snow-- the Internet, with its capacity for more freedom, for providing more access:
“Fortunately, various initiatives launched over the past few years have created a series of building blocks that could provide the means for transforming the ways in which we provide education and support learning. Much of this activity has been enabled and inspired by the growth and evolution of the Internet, which has created a global “platform” that has vastly expanded access to all sorts of resources, including formal and informal educational materials.” Seely Brown and Adler
The humidity, elevated and contributing to increased snow-- the rise of sharing and social learning expanding more opportunities for open communication:
“The Internet has also fostered a new culture of sharing, one in which content is freely contributed and distributed with few restrictions or costs. …

The most profound impact of the Internet, an impact that has yet to be fully realized, is its ability to support and expand the various aspects of social learning. What do we mean by “social learning”? Perhaps the simplest way to explain this concept is to note that social learning is based on the premise that our understanding of content is socially constructed through conversations about that content and through grounded interactions, especially with others, around problems or actions. The focus is not so much on what we are learning but on how we are learning.” Seely-Brown and Adler

“The idea that all of us, acting independently, but ensemble, en masse, can come up with something better than any individual in the group could by themselves. This is not a case of marching toward mediocrity, this is a case of the group simple being able to take into account more factors, more variables, than any given individual. But for this to work, we have to have the open communication and access. We have to have the distributed non-centralized non-hierarchical model.” Stephen Downes
Yet, these snow events and openness of connected learning rely on a confluence of so many variables and each, if not in sync, can become a barrier to the realization of the phenomenon--

Open Access to content and conversations is a stated characteristic of connected, networked learning: “openness is a prescriptive, integral part of the theory. It is one of four major properties I identify as essential to successful networks (diversity, autonomy and interactivity being the others). ..” (Stephen Downes) How often my frustrations have surfaced when a search appears to have located just the perfect resource, only to find that it requires a membership to view in total. Although there is a trend toward more open and available resources, as Stephen Downes noted: “…the calls for a closed network are becoming more insistent and more pervasive.” Despite those calls, open access “creates a participatory architecture for supporting communities of learners.” (Seely Brown and Adler) Those varied and numerous communities contribute to more accomplished practice (deepened learning and understanding) for all who contribute. Initially, however, there is some fear of the transparency inherent in such a culture.

Transparency, the willingness to share is essential to the openness of connected learning—requires a significant shift in thinking by many educators.
“It is the openness of learner’s writings that I find difficult to require. …But not everybody is comfortable with this extent of openness. At best, some will gradually become accustomed to it (as I did to a large extent). The other sort of discomfort with openness arises when there is a major disproportion of abilities. …So there are many possible reasons why people would prefer some privacy zone for their learning.” Matthias
I’m wondering if overcoming that feeling of “uncomfortableness”, of trying out ideas and writing in the open isn’t one step on the road to becoming part of a participatory culture. Isn’t it that transparency that helps pull in those from the periphery? And can’t transparency enrich our collective learning?

Communication and Cooperation, without question, are critical variables to openness in education. Mike’s comment resonated with me as he described what I see as “real” learning in which we engage together:
“Natural learning is not scripted. It’s not neat, tidy, and orderly; organised or in-line with learning objectives or attributes - to act otherwise is both shortsighted and to our detriment. Learning is messy, complex, complicated, wrought with false starts and at times highly frustrating. It is exploratory, and experiential; fueled by incessant curiosity and endless questioning of our world and our place within it - it is also an inherently personal process that cannot be handed down from on-high. I cannot learn for you, and likewise you cannot learn for me. We can, however, learn together, and learn from each other.” Mike
Stephen Downes also speaks to open learning and communication when he says:
“When we begin to speak, and not just listen, and in the new language, not just the old language. When we gain access and control of the syntax, the semantics and the vocabulary of the new media. And this happens if, and only if, we have an open communications network.”
In recent years, I can’t count how many times assistance has been offered to me with no conditions (a great benefit of sharing and openness); Rheingold reinforced my sense of why when he explained:
“I give useful information freely, and I believe my requests for information are met more swiftly, in greater detail, than they would have been otherwise. A sociologist might say that my perceived helpfulness increased my pool of social capital. I can increase your knowledge capital and my social capital at the same time by telling you something that you need to know, and I could diminish the amount of my capital in the estimation of others by transgressing the group's social norms. The person I help might never be in a position to help me, but someone else might be.” Rheingold
That open communication, the enriching of both knowledge and social capital rely on cooperation and a willingness to adopt norms that promote the freedom of expression through civil discourse:
“One of the great problems with the atmosphere of free expression now tolerated on the Net is the fragility of communities and their susceptibility to disruption. The only alternative to imposing potentially dangerous restrictions on freedom of expression is to develop norms, folklore, ways of acceptable behavior that are widely modeled, taught, and valued, that can give the citizens of cyberspace clear ideas of what they can and cannot do with the medium, how they can gain leverage, and where they must beware of pitfalls inherent in the medium, if we intend to use it for community-building.” Rheingold

Licensing, Creative Commons or GNU, can enable open learning. However, as Lisa has discovered those open licenses are not recognized by all and she asked:
“If they’re doing it with my little article, then right now, people must be taking all kinds of free and open work, and charging for access to it. What kind of walls will our content be behind, without us even knowing it?
Open Resources—there needs be a willingness to share resources and Stephen Downes has noted the benefits which result both publisher and reader:
“For readers, open access grants access to an entire body of literature. For publishers, open access guarantees the widest dissemination of the articles they publish.”
Sustainability Stephen Downes’ Models for Sustainable Open Educational Resources addressed critical issues related to this topic including various funding models (Endowment, Membership, Donations, Conversion, Contributor-Pay, Sponsorship, Institutional, Governmental) and a description for sustainability of a project:
“the functions of production and consumption need to be collapsed, that the distinction between producers and consumers need to be collapsed. The use of a learning resource, through adaptation and repurposing, becomes the production of another resource. Though there is a steady stream of new resources input into the network by volunteers, this represents, not the result of an OER sustainability project, but the beginning of it.”
It’s my thinking that we must work toward the common goal of not permitting these variables to become or remain barriers to open learning, because the opportunities that arise upon convergence —

only reinforce -- “We need to transform learning…from something we do for people to something they do for themselves… --Stephen Downes

And that transformation needs to be “wide open”.

Photo Credit

1 comment:

Keith said...

What a beautiful post, Lani. I do hope that the openness you write about so eloquently arrives like one of those beautiful warm winds that makes action possible, comfortable and natural.