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Thinking critically about women & care relative to openness #oer17 #critoep #femedtech

This week I attended the #OER17 conference where the theme was ‘The Politics of Open’, followed by a BERA EdTech SIG seminar entitled ‘Critical and Theoretical Approaches to EdTech Research‘. Both events were superb in terms of their scholarly engagement in the topics of open ed, edtech and their critical, political and (inter)disciplinary aspects. What’s more, it was quite startling how much synergy there was between the two events, both of which have started me wondering about the role of women, or feminist perspectives, and the theme of care relative to openness and edtech.

There are many reflections and curated resources coming out of #OER17. Indeed, I was going to write a reflective summary of the event myself. However, the tweeted snippets below prompted me to focus my reflection quite specifically on one aspect i.e. women, and/or feminism relative to openness, edtech, critical theory and political activism.

Quite honestly, reflecting back, it hit me hard in the face that so many of the voices at #OER17 were those of women.

Yeah, why were so many of the voices at #OER17 those of women?

The 3 keynote speakers were women; the plenary panel comprised 3 women and the sessions that I picked out to attend, now that I look at it, were all made up of women (yes, all!!). Indeed, a FemEdTech initiative was launched at OER17. I have to say that although I was vaguely aware of this, I hadn’t specifically planned to go along. It just so happened that my lunch buddies were going, so I tagged along. I understand feminist critiques of power and issues of gender inequality but TBH I’ve never really identified myself to any great extent with the feminist cause. For me, class struggle has always seemed to override it. Consequently I’ve not paid as much attention as I ought to feminist issues or politics. Recalling Maha’s keynote, and in light of some further thinking, maybe OER17 has just provoked that particular seed with a little more intent.

The Twitter conversation continued: it was wondered about the perceptions of others who attended the conference, particularly those of male participants/attendees. And that maybe my perception was a reflection of my network after all.

So, still scratching my head, I decided to check this out against the conference programme. As a crude measure, I simply tallied the number of male and female names listed against each session in the programme.

The figures go someway to validating my perception. Looking at the OER17 programme, women outnumber men in the open space. They outnumber men in all categories except, wait for it…. ‘policy and practice’. Interestingly, women significantly outnumber men in both the categories of ‘institutional/organizational politics’ and ‘participation & social equity’.

I’m not sure what the figures tell us, or if it’s anything surprising. However, the other thing I noticed is that openness is being shaped by a discourse of care, or things related to caring, which again has female connotations.

It was in an all female panel session that the idea of hospitality as a value of openness was put forward, and that advocating for openness might best be served from a position of empathy and care. The theme of care seems to be coming widespread across the discourse of openness. Rob Farrow’s OER17 provocation mentioned openness and the ‘ethics of care’ and David Wiley has also highlighted the relationship between open education and generosity and care:

Both education and openness, in their deepest and truest senses, seem to converge on relationships of generosity and care between human beings. I think that’s important. It has implications for the future of open education, which to be true to both “open” and “education” needs significantly more intellectual and financial investment in understanding how to enable and support the development of these relationships of generosity and care.

Indeed, Martin Oliver’s BERA keynote was entitled ‘why should we care?‘ It’s not so much ‘why should we care?’ because that’s not hard to answer, rather it’s why are open educators being summoned by a discourse of care, and to what ends? Why is it that critical or emancipatory approaches to edtech are also being called for using the language of care?

In one of her sessions, Laura Czerniewicz asked “what is it we’re not seeing?” I wonder too, and I wonder where it is we need to look and from what position.

It can’t be denied, there was much delight at OER17 regarding the critical turn that openness appears to be taking. Yet, as was noted at the plenary, it’s OK to talk the critical talk, but now we’ve got to walk the critical walk. I’m re- reading Stephen Brookfield’s ‘Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher‘ at the moment (in fact an updated edition was released this week). It’s stirring stuff and quite sobering in equal measure. It talks about ‘difficult conversations’ and a ‘loss of innocence’. Therefore, given that power can operate through discourse and the disciplinary effects we impose on ourselves, it would seem that matters raised here might just apply to one, or both, of those categories.

Either way, it looks like I’ve gotten myself a bonus OER17 #IWill. That is, #IWill engage critically and earnestly with feminist approaches and concerns relating to openness and edtech. So, who’s with me?


Body Combat: Metaphor for Open Ed Practice & Critical Advocacy #OER17 #101openstories

Just wondering what’s body combat? Click here

I’m really looking forward to attending #OER17 next week and participating in the conversation about openness in education, particularly as there’s an emphasis on critical perspectives. The conference theme is ‘The Politics of Open’.

This couldn’t be better for me, as I’ve recently set my cap at doing a PhD study that takes a critical look at aspects of open educational practice (OEP). Although I’ve followed the event over the last few years, it’ll be the first time that I’ve attended in person. However, I don’t think I’ll feel like a total ‘newbie’ because to some extent I already feel part of the ‘open community’. Notwithstanding the fact that I’m based in IET in The Open University and four fellow PhD colleagues will be presenting, plus the entire OER Hub team, also based in IET, it’s because, as an open learner, I’ve already blogged, Tweeted and hung out with a number of individuals who are attending the conference. Plus, there’s so much pre-conference interactive engagement on social media that I’ve been introduced to even more like minded ‘open peeps’. There’s a creative media challenge, questions and hashtags and, get this, the keynote speaker, Maha Bali, has been preparing her keynote in the open through a series of blog posts, which she tantalizing pulled together in an #OpenEdSig webinar earlier this week. I strongly urge anyone to watch it as it serves as a REALLY powerful example of what it means for someone to be open ‘as a way of being’, and to engage in open, networked and participatory scholarship.

Which kind of brings me to my research interest, as well as nicely setting up this post as a contribution to the #101openstories project that launched this week. The project invites personal stories about openness, the aim of which is to

help us all get to know each other, share ideas and engage in conversations and identify opportunities to support each other and collaborate. These stories will help us learn with and from each other and grow individually AND collectively.

My open story is that I was hooked through participation in the whole cMOOC phenomenon, to which this blog stands testament. I’m wholeheartedly a product of innovative open educators who dreamed, and dared, to open up learning for all on the web, well, all like me any way 🙂 As such, I feel indebted to these educators and to the network that formed part of this experience, such that I’m interested to learn more about the Open Education and the OER movement and to advocate on its behalf. However, I must essentially be something of a skeptic because I always need to examine things critically, that is, to consider matters of power and to look for hidden assumptions. I know open education is contested, with it increasingly being seen as a response to pressures of neoliberal economics and austerity (Jones 2015). MOOcs being a case in point. Like Martin Weller (2014) says, there’s a ‘Battle for Open‘. Indeed, OER17 is a response to this.

The idea of openness as ‘a way of being’ is very appealing to me. I mean, there’s just so many people out there who seem to approach teaching and learning in this way – sharing openly and transparently as a means of democratizing knowledge. So when I recently discovered the concept of self_OER put forward by Maha Bali and Suzan Koseoglu at OER16, and its references to openness as a ‘way of being’, I was immediately intrigued, especially as they posed the question: how might the processes and products of open scholarship align/intersect with the goals of open education? It’s exactly this that I hope to take up. However, baring in mind that openness is contested, which is evident in the battle metaphor, and which, to be honest, seems to imply institutions, corporations and generally all things big and organized, I was wondering if a metaphor that specifically speaks to the individual open practitioner might be more helpful, body combat!! That’s right, a martial arts inspired mind set.

I recently started going to body combat fitness classes (no, that’s not me in the video) and I can’t help thinking that as open educators and researchers we might benefit from developing our practice, metaphorically, along these lines. Release the inner warrior to fight off the co-option of open, or ‘open washing’.

As Stephen Brookfield (1998) says, critically reflective practice

makes us more aware of those submerged and unacknowledged power dynamics that infuse all practice settings. It also helps to detect hegemonic assumptions – assumptions that we think are in our own best interests but that actually work against us in the long term (p. 197).

Open education has been critiqued for not engaging critically with aspects of power (Bayne et al., 2015; Knox, 2013), and where it has engaged, it has tended to focus on hegemonic aspects of sovereign power, and failed to take account of disciplinary aspects, or ‘technologies of the self’, whereby individuals constitute themselves within and through systems of power, which might seem natural but are either enabled or constrained by the techniques available in the associated discourse (Foucault, 1998). You can see why I’m intrigued by the the concept of the self as OER. The research I’m formulating is not to intended  to expose contradictions and pull the rug from under the feet of those engaged in open education, far from it, rather it’s to suggest something akin to collective self-examination, or a SWOT analysis, one that takes account of all aspects of power. I’m interested to become a better informed open practitioner and to advance the ‘true’ goals of open education. Therefore, extending the martial arts metaphor, I see critical investigation and a body combat mindset as presenting a way of becoming a ‘black belt’ advocate for open education. What do you think?

I look forward to participating in the conversation at OER17 next week and to developing my research ideas further.


  • Bayne, S., Knox, J. and Ross, J. (2015) ‘Open education: the need for a critical approach’, Learning, Media and Technology, vol. 40, no. 3, pp. 247–250.
  • Brookfield, S. (1998) ‘Critically reflective practice’, Journal of Continuing Education in the Health Professions, vol. 18, no. 4, pp. 197–205.
  • Foucault, Michel, et al. (1988) Technologies of the self: A seminar with Michel Foucault. Univ of Massachusetts Press.
  • Jones, C. (2015) ‘Openness, technologies, business models and austerity’, Learning, Media and Technology, vol. 40, no. 3, pp. 328–349.
  • Knox, J. (2013) ‘Five critiques of the open educational resources movement’, Teaching in Higher Education, vol. 18, no. 8, pp. 821–832.
  • Koseoglu, S. and Bali, M. (2016) ‘The Self as an Open Educational Resource [1091]’, #OER16 [Online]. Available at
  • Weller, M. (2014) Battle for Open, Ubiquity Press [Online]. Available at

My Open Tour: a critical turn

Amongst several concepts of openness that Open Knowledge MOOC has turned its attention to recently is that of open scholarship, asking us to consider how the new principles of openness, as facilitated by digital means, affect the way in which knowledge is produced, published, disseminated and reviewed and entreating us to think about the limits, or tensions, that ever greater openness may bring. This segues nicely with the material that I’ve just covered in the Open Research course from OER Research Hub and the new MOOC on the block, Networked Scholars #scholar14.

One of #okmooc’s core readings was ‘Assumptions and Challenges of Open Scholarship‘, co-authored by George Veletsianos and Royce Kimmons (coincidentally, George Veletsianos is the ‘main man’ over at Networked Scholars). Anyway, I enjoyed reading this article, the dual aim of which was to identify the assumptions of open scholarship and to highlight the challenges associated with open scholarship’s aspirations for broadening access to education and knowledge.

Identifying assumptions and highlighting challenges.

Most notably, I enjoyed reading the paper because it called out the edtech community for being overly optimistic when stating technology’s roll in educational transformation and displaying a lack of critique of open educational practices.

 such critiques are largely absent from the educational technology field, as members of the field tend to focus on the promises of educational technologies, rarely pausing to critique its assumptions (Selwyn, 2011, pp. 713).

Veletsianos and Kimmons’ paper went on to declare a pressing need for the understanding of educational technology narratives and their unfulfilled potential. Citing Hall (2011, pp. 11) they said,

in order to understand our present position, and to develop alternatives that matter, we need stories and metaphors and critiques of where we are.

Such a challenge made me think of Audrey Watters‘ recent and awesome keynote speech at altc, entitled Ed-Tech’s Monsters. Indeed, it really is “a [fascinating] romp through literature and the cultural history of ed-tech” that, by retracing connections through narratives and counter-narratives, talks about teaching machines and monsters and also serves to inspire a re-examination of the Luddite cause as a critical starting point.

The inherent assumptions Veletsianos and Kimmons identify within Open Scholarship are:

  1. Ideals of Democratization, Human Rights, Equality, and Justice
  2. Emphasis on Digital Participation for Enhanced Outcomes
  3. Co-Evolutionary Relationship between Technology and Culture
  4. Practicality and Effectiveness for Achieving Scholarly Aims

Here, two things caught my attention. First, relating to the assumption concerning the co-evolutionary relationship between technology and culture, mention was made of the phenomenon of  ‘homophily’. I must confess, I’d never heard of this term before but basically it’s the tendency to connect with similar or like-minded individuals. Therefore, in actuality, social media mightn’t after all foster the diverse spaces for knowledge exchange and negotiation that we think they do, instead leading to the creation of ‘echo chambers’: a situation in which we share knowledge and perspectives with individuals who already share the same views as ourselves. This is vitally important to recognize when developing a personal learning network (PLN). As Howard Rheingold is credited with saying,

 “if your network isn’t offending you, you’re stuck in an echo chamber.”

Well, may be not offending you exactly, but definitely singing from different hymn sheets, which brings me to the second thing that caught my eye, that is the assumption that Open Scholarship is ‘capable of achieving socially valuable scholarly aims’. Here, the work of Robin Goodfellow comes to mind, a scholar whose work is in the field of new technology in teaching and learning, yet who chooses not to engage in social networking practices such as those exemplified on Twitter.

Referring to the complexity and interplay between openness, scholarship and digital technology as ‘an impossible triangle‘, he’s sceptical of Open Scholarship’s ability to deliver the aforementioned ‘socially valuable scholarly aims’. He points out that

particularly confounding is the tension between digital scholarship and open knowledge, where the former is focused on the creation by specialist communities of knowledge of a stable and enduring kind, whilst the latter is characterized by encyclopaedic knowledge and participation that is unbounded by affiliation or location.

Further, he says

that the enduring importance given to objectivity and the ‘scholarly record’ is often in tension with ideas about democratizing scholarly knowledge.

On which note I’ll sign off. It’s been worthwhile taking the time to think about open knowledge practices and the assumptions and tensions relative to Open Scholarship. It’s certainly taken me some time to think about this and get round to posting this blog. The reading was flagged up in week 6 of Open Knowledge MOOC and it’s now week 9 or something. Doh!!


  • Selwyn, N. 2011. Editorial: In praise of pessimism—the need for negativity in educational technology. British Journal of Educational Technology, 42(5), 713-718.

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