The university is a techno-social structure. It was designed by technologies of information and knowledge production that were the most viable for storing, sorting, transmitting, and preserving knowledge (Goldberg & Svenson, 2015). With new technologies we have introduced new forms and formats of knowledge but have left the centralized broadcast-based model of learning institution as a central mediating structure unchallenged. Thus universities become ‘closed’ learning environments where filtered learners get privileged access to curated information protected equally by regimes of research secrecy and intellectual property rights.
In 2015, we conducted a workshop with 30 stakeholders to map the tension at the heart of digital, open and connected learning. We characterize this anxiety as the ‘future of the university versus the university of the future’. The former refers to the ways in which we utilize digital technologies to ensure that the model of the universe adapts to our future-looking practices. The latter invokes the idea of the digital as the new ontology to reconfigure the university structure for the futures that we would like to stand for. The workshop concluded that the digital turn is not merely about the questioning of knowledge forms but of the ways in which learning institutions are configured.
Drawing from this workshop, we propose that the ‘Open Everything’ movements have focused largely on processes of digitization and interfaces of access, thus turning Openness into a black-box that does not take into account either to the reconfiguring structure of the university or to the embedded principles and embodied users (Shah, 2015) that openness practices bring with them. Consequently, Openness advocacy concentrates on building strawmen institutions that are deemed as completely closed, inaccessible, and redundant. The responses of Openness, then, have a narrow focus on infrastructure, design, scaling up, access as tools to open these closed models (Losh, 2014).
We propose to build an Openness Ready Scale to fight for Openness as opposed to fighting against Closedness, suggesting that that absolute states of closed and open are not possible, but aspirations of openness and conditions of closed can be strategically selected to fit the ambitions, goals, and visions of the institutions. The workshop seeks to unpack openness across six different drivers:
a. Governance, policy and Administration
b. Participation, engagement and outreach
c. Technology, infrastructure, and production
d. Ownership, sharing and accessibility
e. Content, curriculum and courseware
f. Pedagogy, learning and collaboration
to see the convergent, granular, specific and strategic possibilities that Openness offers towards building new models of open and connected learning. The Openness scale that we seek to thus develop and rehearse is a point of departure from existing scales that focus on evaluation, grading, rating or developing blue-prints for open implementation. By dislocating implementation and operationalization as the focus of Openness, it instead hopes to develop a critical discourse around the infrastructure, contexts, ambitions, politics, and materiality of openness as an approach and a discursive practice.
Workshop Agenda / Format
Catalyst Inputs on Openness (10 minutes)
Rapid Feminist Prototyping across 6 drivers of Openness (40 minutes): Rapid Feminist Prototyping draws from conversations in the Feminist Technology Network (FemTechNet) that suggest that rapid prototyping can accommodate new kinds of voices, experiences, ideas and ambitions that go beyond the utilitarian prototype development cycles. The workshop has been developed in different formats to begin with critical inputs leading to clustered conversations and prototype making that account for social and political materiality of production practice and development cycles. For example, at the Transmediale 2016, in a workshop on ‘Everything Will be Fine’, Elizabeth Losh and Nishant Shah led a group of 50 participants to create survival tools that help mitigate our anxieties about the future, offering body, affect, learning, and ethics as four entry points into the prototyping. http://2016.transmediale.de/content/everything-will-be-fine-working-anxiety
Prototype evaluation on the scale (10 minutes)
Goldberg, D.T. & Svenson, P. (eds.) (2015) Between Humanities and the Digital, Cambridge: MIT Press.
Losh, E. (2014), The War on Learning: Gaining ground in the digital university,Cambrdige: MIT Press.
Shah, N. (2015) “Of Heathens, Perverts and Stalkers: Examining the learner in the MOOC”, World of Learning, London: Routledge.