Take a Load Off Fanny: And, And, And, Put the Load Right on Me

Part 5 of 5 Reflections on Open Education

Posted by David N. Wright on December 3, 2015

Note: This post picks up on Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV of thoughts stemming from my participation in the Open Education 2015 Conference.

Take a Load for Free

There’s a few themes that have been running through most of the posts I’ve been writing about open education (see above). One of the terms that I keep coming back to is “responsibility.” In other words, whose got the responsibility to change something? Is it “me”? Or “us”? Or “them”? I’m not sure the answer isn’t “anyone who wants it.” And, taking that one on is a tall order, but I’m going to look forward, ask a few questions along the way, and present a few things that might make bearing responsibility in open education easier to handle.


Scheduling might appear trivial to some, others might expect a long diatribe on workflow. I’m interested in neither. What I am on about is the nature of scheduling in higher-education. Where I am nested, which I’ll take as an example, most IT services, administrative support, anything other than HelpDesk-type classroom support and library services, run on a pretty consistent 8am - 5pm, Monday through Friday, schedule. Instructors on the other hand come and go all over the place, teach evenings, sometimes only one or two days a week, sometimes they disappear for entire semesters. And now, with the dynamics of online education, some instructors don’t even come into the building except to attend meetings and participate in the institutional community.

Taking that snapshot as a starting point, I think we need to think about how we support open education. We might need to attend to the inevitable conflicts that arise because people are on different grids for different deliverables. The solution of course is integration and more people listening to other people–working in the open. One way to do this is to break down silos not between disciplines or faculties, which is, and has been, the trend. Instead, why not have my office (as instructor) right next to the IT support person? The conversations I’m going to have with a Biologist might yield interesting intellectual conversations about the conflation of say, ecology and literature, but the conversation I’m going to have with the IT support person will more actively involve real learning–and we can talk about ecology and literature too; I’ll invite the Biologist over!

What I’m pointing to here is a way to cause collisions between sectors, or between faculty and services–in higher education rather than collisions between disciplines or disciplinary structures. It’s not “disruptive” to put one academic next to another academic. Instead, let’s create circumstances that encourage conversations about what different sectors and services–responsible to the same population I might add: students–expect as outcomes. The scheduling issues are reduced not by rescheduling everyone, but by making collisions possible by proximity.

I’ve noted in other contexts how instructors, librarians, tech support, student support, and administration do not work together enough, that we don’t know what the other(s) is/are doing. One way to address this might be to assign support to a group of instructors with a similar schedule. If I am one of, say, ten faculty teaching a 6pm - 9pm night class, I have dedicated support and so do nine other people for that time slot. Jane the IT services person works with those ten faculty first, doing everything else she needs to do after those individuals are set. It doesn’t matter if we are all teaching different subjects, the dedicated support can fall outside the discipline, much like it does now. And, what this also presents is the possibility for tactical deployment in groups–piloting educational technologies becomes easier, crunching and gathering data more reliable, problems more easily solved with solutions pushed to other similar populations. What you have then is a series of active tactical teams that can deploy different things–different modes of open education for example–at the same time across academic disciplines and even across different support services. You can be damn sure the educational technology will work across all those sectors before you deploy it to the whole institution or, you can make damn sure it doesn’t get deployed in the area(s) where it doesn’t work.

Bottom line, being open means opening all the mysteries of scheduling and connection that go on in all levels of a post-secondary institution. Deploying open resources and supporting that implementation means opening the entire institutional structure–put in place largely to deliver closed systems of curriculum support. I attend open education conferences in which I see name badges of individuals who work at the same institution as I do and, because they are at the conference I assume they share my philosophies, but I have never met them or encountered them where I work. We need to reconcile this by working more in the open–something I’m awkwardly trying to model by writing these posts, a-hem.

Space and Collaboration

Having said the above, I’ll freely admit that I don’t necessarily like working with other people. I get more done when I do things myself first or am part of a team with clearly defined roles, not a team that moves as a herd. Let’s not get too taken away by the current of “collaboration” as if working together is the answer to productivity. I collaborate plenty and sometimes it’s hell working with other people. Just hell. We all need space, private space to work, fail, experiment in peace and have some agency over our own learning, skills acquisition, and life. We also need to people to tell others we’re not interested in what they have to offer without creating some kind of personal rift. Sure, we need to treat everyone with respect and dignity–no assholes–but, we don’t need to “love” each other, we might not need a “culture,” just a pleasant and fulfilling place to work in, and a cause to believe in, together or on our own.

Suffice to say, just because I believe strongly in open education, doesn’t mean I need to be open myself–you don’t need to know anything about my personal life. I don’t need to “share” if I don’t want to, and I don’t need to be “friends”–though we might be! I’d like that in fact. Wait… back to being cynical! Even though I’m advocating for shared spaces, spaces for collisions, collaborative spaces, untraditional spaces, doesn’t mean I don’t want my own space. I tend to think about collaboration as picking up a thread that someone has left behind. That to me is a good metaphor for open education itself, whether from the perspective of open learner or open teacher or open supporter: I am leaving threads, pick them up if you want. I might join you later, I might pick up the thread with you if you ask, I might remain silent, I might not even acknowledge that I left the thread in the first place, and I might just tangle all your threads. I’m entitled to all of that just as you are entitled to the same–don’t pick up my thread; we’re still cool.

The point is, that with every move to open there’s a desire to close (it’s like the “good vs evil” dichotomy, can you have one without the other?). We need to allow space within our collaborative and open endeavours for privacy, closure, rest, personal reflection. We also need to have the impetus to continue without others, to forge a path independently from the herd. Ultimately, I hope we’re not teaching open education; instead, we’re teaching individuals to be critical thinkers, independent skeptics, knowledge hounds, geniuses, dreamers, engineers, caregivers, through open education. Open education is a means, a way of doing something; it isn’t something. That something is for individuals to arrive at however they want to get there–that’s the point of making it all “open.” I hope they share that awesomeness when they arrive at it, but they don’t have to.

Workload / Accountability

That header above probably stressed you out just reading it no matter what boundary space you occupy in higher / post-secondary education. All this talk about open education often skirts questions around how we are going to deliver it within the current constraints of faculty workload. There’s a lot to handle here and a lot of different opinions about how faculty, in particular, handle their time when it comes to using or inventing or learning about open educational resources.

Deploying open educational resources takes time. There’s a steep learning curve. Shit doesn’t work. Shit fails. Shit happens. Shit can be awesome, game-changing, best.thing.ever. And yes, as faculty and support teams, we are increasingly being asked to do work that was traditionally handed off, or better, didn’t even exist twenty years ago. There’s a lot to be said about the resources–personal, professional, institutional–needed to make the delivery of open educational resources possible.

I’ll address that entitlement quickly: get over it. Either you believe in it or you don’t. If you don’t want on the open resources bus, that’s fine. But, the bus is going, so get out of the way. Stop jamming your foot in the door. Get on the bus and have at it, your comments are always welcome. We’ll listen, we’ll adjust, we’ll dismiss, we’ll dispute, we’ll engage, we’ll encourage, we’ll welcome, but stop kicking the side of the damn bus and yelling. We’re not going to run you over, but we’re on a bus so we’re moving, we’re going somewhere, maybe Textbookville, whatever. Get on or get off, you’re welcome either way. We think no less of you if you do not get on the bus. We’re not excluding you; you are excluding yourself and that’s okay. Now get on! (or not… evens.)

This leads me to my last reflection emerging from the Open Education Conference 2015 and perhaps the summation of these last five posts: who is accountable? It might not be faculty. It might not be support staff. It might not be administration, or government, or any of the other groups we traditionally attack as not doing enough to make post-secondary education work. It might actually be students. Students need to ask for these resources and work to use them and implement them and actively participate in their development. If they don’t do this, then all is lost. We’re doomed sitting in our collaborative cubicles, holding conferences, thinking about how we can help, opening, offering, building, but doomed.

In particular, students who are privileged with universal access to education need to push for more open standards so that those who are not so fortunate have the access they have–through any peaceful and legal means possible, maybe (I’m looking at you copyright). Students in the Western World need to work actively to help students who can access open resources but don’t know what the hell to do with them or don’t understand what advantages there may be in learning through them. I’m going to talk about privilege and open education in another series–oh yes, there will be more!!–but we need to think about how open resources are being put into play and by whom. If we don’t then open education is an exercise, not a movement. Students are the ones who need to make open educational resources visible, useful, and meaningful. Without students using open education, there is no resource worth discussing.

As the song says, I’m going to “catch a cannon ball now to take me down the line”; it’s been real. Thanks again for reading.

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