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Enacting the Value of Openness by Sharing #OER19

(and by doing ‘free’ labour).

This post presents the script of my #OER19 presentation and curates links to the recording and to the slides.

The Script

Oh, it was a 20 min presentation, so it’s gonna take 20 mins or so to read this post.

Networked Participatory Scholarship

My research is into open educational practices within the context of networked participatory scholarship (Veletsianos & Kimmons, 2012).

In this presentation, I’ll outline how I conceptualised openness and how I utilised the idea of selfOER that Suzan Koseoglu and Maha Bali proposed at OER16. And how I used it as an interview prompt for discussion about open practices and the relationship with open educational resources. I’ll then go on to outline how my analysis and interpretation is progressing, highlighting the role of sharing and ‘little’ OERs (Weller, 2010) in open practices before going on to consider how value is created and the nature of labour that this involves.

Openness in Practice: SelfOER

Coining the term selfOER, Koseoglu & Bali proposed that understanding of open educational resources should be widened from one that primarily regards OER as openly licensed content to include individuals in the learning community. That is, to see individuals, or their practice, as open educational resources. They contend that an individual, or the self, and their practice can become an OER via the ‘process and products’ of open scholarship. Essentially, this is the connections, or relationships, that are formed and the resources that are produced. Within this, they also contend that many individuals hold openness as ‘a worldview’ or are open as ‘a way of being’ and that this is manifested in their practice.

The idea of openness as a way of being really resonated with me. What’s more, I was certain that this would resonate with others, so I used the idea of selfOER to facilitate interviews with 11 participants. Relative to their own practice, participants were asked to comment on the particular framing of openness and the depiction of practice within the idea of selfOER and to present a selection of texts, or resources, that exemplified their openness. This ‘show and tell’ method proved a very useful way to surface aspects of open practice, particularly the meanings that participants attribute to it and the relationship between practice and resources. And, yes, the concept of selfOER resonated. All 11 participants, for a whole host of different reasons, said openness as a worldview, or as a way of being, was how they framed their practice. And for many, openness directly equates to sharing. 

Openness as a ‘Way of Being’ or ‘Worldview’

Participants said openness for them was:

  • The human element
  • Sharing
  • Identity
  • Being open to others
  • It’s about life
  • It’s about freedom

Openness as Entangled Phenomenon

However, before I move on, I have to say that I was really challenged in the early stages of my research with questions like how does the self become an open educational resource and how might practice be seen as a resource? And also, the nature of the relationship between discourse and materiality, which came out of my MRes study. To resolve this I adopted Karen Barad’s idea of a ‘phenomenon’, which derives from quantum physics. Instead of focusing on separate entities or agencies with inherent boundaries and properties it means that openness is seen as a phenomenon in which there are no pre-determined boundaries between the individual self, the resources produced and technology. Consequently, within my study, openness is regarded as a single phenomenon, it is a process, or a doing, that is enacted in practice, material-discursive practice. It is the entanglement of meaning and matter, of human and non-human actors.

My study is an interpretive case study that essentially seeks to describe openness and its distributed nature.

Big and ‘Little‘ OER

At this point, I need to highlight the sorts of texts, or resources, that participants presented as exemplifying their openness, and that they share in practice.

Veletsianos and Kimmons (2012) regard open, or networked participatory scholarship, as referring to teaching and research practices that espouse openness, and this takes three particular forms: (1) open access publishing, (2) open education, including OER and open teaching, and (3) networked participation. Participants referred to all these forms of scholarship and the texts, or resources, they presented covered this spectrum, but what was most noticeable was that everyone, to a greater or lesser extent, positioned their openness in relation to networked participation. This was either exemplified by their blog, their Twitter, an online community that they belonged to, or a combination of similar such things. Flickr and Instagram, even.

It seems that the aspect of social media and networked participation adds a certain vibrancy to openness. That is, it adds the human element. I was really struck by just how much meaning, purpose, desire and support, or care, was on display.

There was just so much life!! So much humanity!!

As such, the majority of texts, or resources, presented were not typical institutional OERs. They were what Martin Weller refers to as ‘little’ OER: individually produced, low cost resources that don’t have explicit educational aims or learning outcomes. Consequently, their use can be unpredictable and in unpredicted contexts.

Broadening the definition of OER to include ‘little OER’ now means that we can consider a continuum of resources. But, this begs the question, how little can a ‘little OER’ be, and what exactly is viable as an OER?

Big and Little and Human(?) OER

Back in 2006 Stephen Downes asked whether people could be considered open educational resources. And since then a number of people have asserted that yes they can.

“Can a guest lecturer be an OER?” “Any resource that supports education is, at this point, is under consideration.” (Downes, 2006)

“I am a human OER” (Funes, 2014)

“I am an OER” (MacNeill, 2015) at OER15

“We are all an OER” (Sallah, 2018) at OER18                                                                                      

Sharing: Boundaries of Sharing in Network Culture

When researching a phenomenon, Scott & Orlikowski (2014) ask ‘what does the phenomenon depend on?’ ‘What drives practice?’ Well, overwhelmingly, and no surprise, openness is enabled by sharing.

Kennedy points out that although sharing is a central concept of networked culture, its conceptual boundaries with other social theories of exchange haven’t been established, nor has the concept been adequately critiqued. Moreover, there are few empirical studies of how sharing is practiced when mediated by social media.

Added to this, the notion of sharing presents many possible meanings. It relates to the distribution or division of physical resources, as well as to the sharing of an experience or the disclosure of personal information. Goods shared can be material or immaterial.  And immaterial goods can be intellectual or affective.

Consequently, sharing then has both social and economic dimensions, which are counterpoised in networked culture. A condition in which opposing forces are equal to one another and have balancing or contrasting effects.

Typically, sharing in networked culture is explained in relation to gift giving and its feature of reciprocity. Across the board, in some way or another, participants in my study equated openness with reciprocity.

Explaining sharing in terms of gift giving and reciprocity distinguishes it from commodity exchange.

Sharing as a Demand, NOT a Gift.

But, do you know what? It turns out that there’s no discrete theory of sharing. Following the work of Marcel Mauss (1954), sharing has conventionally been explained as a sub-category of gift exchange theory. However, anthropologists, such as Widlok (2016), who mainly study hunter-gatherer societies have a host of empirical evidence that refutes sharing as being reciprocal.

Gifting involves giving, receiving and reciprocating. As such, it’s a two-way exchange between two people. It’s about establishing and strengthening social bonds, as in kinship relations. Sharing on the other hand is not reciprocal because although you might receive something through sharing, you’re not obligated to give something back to the same person. Sharing then is a one way transfer that’s multi-directional. It’s not about strengthening social bonds per se; it’s about enabling, indeed maximising, access opportunities all round. It’s an economic mode of transfer that enables others to access what is needed, or is of intrinsic value. Sharing provides an alternative to both gift-exchange and market exchange.

What’s more, sharing’s not initiated by the giver; rather, it’s prompted by the receiver in the form of a demand. This demand is made on the basis of individuals, humans, sharing needs derived from the fact that they share the experience of life itself and that they recognise this. The demand can be spoken or silent. This silent demand is founded on bodily presence. In the context of human sociality, bodily presence by itself constitutes a demand, a demand for being acknowledged as a human being with legitimate needs. For example, in anthropology, it’s frequently observed that a person who silently positions themselves next to a fire or a cooking pot will most likely be given something by those tending to it. Online, bodily presence equates to embodied presence and the invisible ‘other’, or the ‘lurker’.

Sharing practices are established through bodily co-presence, but they also involve communication, or speech acts, to structure the process. Plus, they also depend on the relationship, or affordance, of the thing being shared, as well as being influenced by the nature, or materiality, of the physical space involved.

The Internet is fundamentally a sharing technology. Its surveilling properties enable us to imagine the watching presence of others; its infrastructure facilitates efficient resource sharing and the addition of social media enables the social dimension of communication. The upshot is that the Internet enables both the ‘sharing out’ of resources and the ‘sharing in’ of life’s experiences.

Seen like this, and in contrast to gift giving, sharing is about creating opportunities and gaining access to what’s needed or valued. It’s not a matter of obligation and the imperative to reciprocate. Rather, it’s about the “opportunity to request” (Widlok, 2016, p.80), which means that the initative is with the potential recipient. It enables them to request what they need, things that are not already out there or easily located.

Sharing is a way to achieve one’s needs, or reach one’s goals, through the help of others. It’s the recognition that fellow human beings can provide what’s needed and the power that’s asserted based on the recognition that we share life and understand what others require.

Sharing in Open Practices

Verbal demand – Given this understanding of sharing in relation to openness we can see that when Pearl says “I ask for help” that we’re not talking about gift giving because people don’t generally ask to be given gifts. She’s demanding access to what she needs. Pearl was struggling with an aspect of her research so, in order to get help, she set up a Facebook support group to get the help she needed. Now others can join the group and similarly ask for help.

“I ask for help.” “Me myself, […] I’ve needed help from other people, so I’ve been relying on others’ self as OER to help me.” Pearl (anon)

Silent demand – Then there’s the silent demand from the invisible, imagined, other. It was noticeable just how many participants were conscious of having an audience, and the possibility that there were people out there with unfulfilled needs or who’d find something they had to be of value. They hoped their posts, or their comments, or their resources would be useful to others.

“Maybe one sentence I’ve said somewhere in the blog will be useful to someone somewhere in the world.” Gabi Witthaus

I’m quite conscious is this going to be of use to somebody else.” Judy (anon)

Sharing life – It was also noticeable just how much the texts or resources presented exhibited personal or social aspects. That is, affective goods. There was such a lot of ‘lived experience’ on display, relating to both professional and personal life. Jeff (Merrell) narrates his course design decisions, Sheila (MacNeill) blogs about her “struggles” with openness, Rebecca (Hogue) shared her breast cancer story and now researches this area, and Laura (Gogia) openly documents, or narrates, aspects of her personal life and professional practice .

Creating opportunities – As we can now appreciate, sharing is about opportunity, the opportunity to request access to things we need or solicit opportunities for ourselves. Laura puts her finger on it when she says, the interrelated practice of sharing and openness is partially controlled and partially serendipitous. Either way, she says it’s about creating opportunities for yourself. She gives the example of provoking a discussion on Twitter by making a deliberately controversial statement. The exchange resulted in her being invited to contribute to a podcast.

“It’s partially controlled; it’s partially serendipitous; it’s very active, but also it’s creating opportunities for yourself.” Laura Gogia

Value

People participate in communities and networks because there’s value in it. If people don’t get value, they won’t participate.

In the first instance, value is derived in the immediate term, from the experience of participation itself. This can simply be through connecting with others, asking a question, passing on information or providing feedback. Or just being with others who understand your challenges can also be a source of support and motivation.

On the other hand, value, in the form of knowledge capital is something that can be realised later, and this can take a number of forms. Participating in communities and networks helps develop an individual’s knowledge, skills and competencies. That is, it develops their human capital.

Social relations and connections are also a form of knowledge capital, and the cultivation of one’s reputation is a social achievement that can also operate as a knowledge resource.

Undoubtedly, open practices contribute to a reputational economy. Amongst the participants there was no shortage of benefits derived from cultivating one’s reputation: invitations to speak at conferences, for example. Reputation translates into a form of exchange value, as does human capital.

Value of Open Practices and the Labour Market

However, it’s the role of use value that intrigues me in all of this, and commodification. It seems that open sharing practices are built around the concept of value as use and that this helps foster the way in which value is created.

Scholars such as Benkler (2006) and Bauwens (2005) argue that the peer2peer sharing economy is founded on the promise of use value over exchange value and a partnership between the peer economy and the market.

However, I’m not sure how this works exactly. We’ve already acknowledged that once something like a little OER is ‘out there’ its use is unpredictable in unpredicted contexts. It could easily become a commodity.  

Moreover, as Kennedy (2016) points out, the exchange of information data and immaterial labour that constitute open sharing practices gets transformed into a commodity to be exchanged. Indeed, Audrey Watters (2018) has recently highlighted the aspect of value and the “invisibility” of labour in open practices.

The relationship of openness to the labour market and the precarity of higher education was a noticeable feature in my study. 5 out of 11 participants related to it in one way or another. Maeve and Libby acknowledged that they could see the benefit of sharing and open practices in order to secure employment in precarious circumstances. And Gabi, said she was appreciative of the identity and support that open scholarship afforded her when she was in-between institutions.

When I’ve been on short term contracts I also was able to see the benefits of sharing practice so that people […] could Google me and they could see that I was motivated and interested.” Maeve (anon)

I’ve managed to keep myself permanently employed in a field that moves very very fast and is very very precarious.” Libby (anon)

“Being an open scholar gives me an identity that’s not tied to an institution and I’m very appreciative of that because I can quite imagine a scenario if I’d been in a very closed environment and then was suddenly without an institutional home, I’d be feeling very isolated right now.” Gabi Witthaus

Invisible ‘Free’ Labour and Biopower

It’s important to analyse what’s not included in material-discursive practices. What’s excluded matters because it remains in play as a constitutive element. And guess what’s not included in the discourse of open? Labour!! Overwhelmingly, the emphasis is on the product, not the producer. Labour is downplayed and labelled as ‘creativity’.

Considering that networked participatory scholarship requires the construction and performance of identities, which are essentially established through a range of strategies involving some aspect of our life, or our “bios”, I’m drawn to Foucault’s idea of biopower, a disciplinary form of power over life itself, and how this seems to have become appropriated into the workplace for productive purposes. Moreover, how sharing seems to feed into this, considering that we’re practically compelled to share as we recognise our needs in others.

Under the term biocracy, Fleming (2013) highlights how productivity is increasingly dependent on social and personal aspects of human life for its value-creating qualities. Much of this ‘tacit’ dimension can’t be sourced or nurtured inside the institution. It’s not just a matter of formal learning and explicit codified knowledge anymore. Value is increasingly derived from aspects of tacit knowledge that’s learnt socially or informally. Moreover, it’s generally developed beyond the formal remuneration process and as such it takes on the form of ‘free work’. Free work, or free labour, in the biocratic academy harnesses our ‘free time’; and it relies on our autonomy and ability to self-organise and our drive for self-development.

What’s at Stake? The Social Commons

So, why does this matter? What’s at stake? Because it represents the enclosure of social value. It’s the social commons that’s at stake. It’s the onslaught of the social factory (Hardt and Negri, 2000).

After transcribing participant interviews I wrote in my notes the words “total capture”, and I’ve been trying to understand what this means ever since. 

Enclosing social value and the capture of the social commons forms the basis of neoliberal human capital theory (Hanlon, 2012). That is, we’re no longer just participants in an economic exchange relationship, rather we’re the living embodiment of capital.

Sharing practices operationalise, or CAPTURE, value production from forms of socialisation founded on a communistic nature. Utilising our life, or our bios, the diffusion of sharing practices promotes the systemic integration of ephemeral forms of sociality into value creation chains.

Consequently,  scholars are beginning to see sharing as the indication of a broader process of re-socialising economic exchange. That is, market exchange, or commodification, is becoming increasingly embedded in society in new and antagonising ways (Pais and Provasi, 2015).

Life is Sharing

Yes, indeed, life is sharing, but to what extent is life capital? That is the question.

And to what extent is the self an open education resource, or simply a human resource?

Because, as Maeve (anon) concludes:

“Ultimately, I am the resource.”

Thank You.

I hope I’ve explained my research clearly, and my concerns.

References: available here
Image: Jonathan Saavedra on Unsplash
Note: a number of research participants chose to waive their right to anonymity.


Warning and Wearing Purple #OER19

This was written as a guest post for OER19 conference.

This post is my lead into OER19. It outlines my own presentation at the conference and also introduces the work of Irina Rets. I thought it would be a good idea if ahead of the conference people could find out a little bit about the work of others, someone that they’re not familiar with, and introduce them as a form of ‘community-enquiry’. I’m glad to say that Lisa O’Neill has already bitten the bullet on this one in her pre-conference post.

OK, so what’s with the “Warning” title of this post?

Warning is a poem by Jenny Joseph. It’s twice been voted Britain’s favourite modern poem and has been referred to as an ‘ode to non-conformity’. No surprise then that it’s one of my favourite poems. The poem starts

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me

The poem then goes on to list a pile of things that the author is going to do later in life, such as spend her pension on brandy and summer gloves; run her stick along public railings and go out in her slippers in the rain – all to make up for the sobriety of her youth and her current life-phase of duty and conformity that requires her to “set a good example”. The poem finishes with the author looking forward to the later stages of her life and actively planning for the transformation she envisages. In fact, she rationalizes that she ought to rehearse a little bit now.

Maybe I ought to practise a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am
old, and start to wear purple.

Well, this is a bit like how I feel ahead of OER19. Perhaps I ought to practice a little now so people in the Open Education community won’t be too shocked and surprised when I, metaphorically speaking, start to wear purple. That is when I start to say I’ve more questions than answers about openness in education and that I really wonder about the role openness plays in the digital and networked transformation of not only education but society in general. And when I, and hopefully others, really start to take up critical perspectives and interrogate whether there is a ‘rhetoric and reality gap’ in open education. A bit like Sheila MacNeill when she asks “Is openness an act of conformance or defiance?” or when Mariana Funes and Jenny Mackness pose a “counter narrative” for Open Education.

My research is making me think really hard about the role of sharing in open practices, and how sharing has, to date, largely passed by un-problematized as it transitions into online spaces. After all, sharing is an economic mode of transfer that entails both social and economic dimensions. Moreover, sharing enables “others to access what is valued” (Widlok, 2017, p. 1) and it refers not only to the ‘sharing out’, or distribution, of physical resources but also to the ‘sharing in’ of life’s experiences. In turn, what exactly is being shared is making me think about how value is created in our practices and the labour that this involves. Here’s my conference abstract, ‘Enacting the Value of Openness by Sharing‘. All being well, I’ll post the transcript of my presentation at a later date.

So, that’s me. Looking through the OER19 draft programme I was surprised by the range of initiatives and contexts covered by Open Education. I was equally surprised to see so many names that I recognised from The Open University – all doing aspects of Open that I’m not that familiar with. A case in point is the work of Irina Rets. Can you believe Irina is a PhD research student in the same department as me but I honestly know very little about her research. So, an email and a coffee later, this is what I discovered.

OER Accessibility to English Non-Native Speakers – Irina Rets

Irina’s study explores the accessibility of open courses in terms of the level of English language proficiency required. The OER literature identifies a high demand for education provision from developing countries, which in turn translates to a high demand from non-native English speakers. So, in line with the equitable aspirations of OERs, it might reasonably be expected that this is taken into account and the level of language used in course materials is appropriate, or differentiated, to the level of the course itself. I’m not going to give away the details of Irina’s study ahead of OER19, just to say that I found our discussion very interesting. It illuminated an area of Open Education that I’d not really thought about before, but at the same time it touched on a lot of very similar questions that I’ve been wondering about when it comes to all things ‘Open’. I’m sure this research will make an important contribution to the discussion around ‘Recentering Open’.

I’m totally looking forward to OER19. I’m looking forward to discovering more about the different facets of open in education and the people working in it, as well as engaging in the project of ‘Recentering Open’ and really taking into account critical and global perspectives.

Reference: Widlok, T. (2016) Anthropology and the Economy of Sharing, Routledge.

Image: Pixabay


Open, with care… and vulnerability.

My enquiry into what exactly the notion of open and openness entails seems to almost have taken me back to the starting point, the starting point not only of this particular chapter of enquiry but also to the starting point of my own initiation into open online learning and learning in the open. That’s because caring and vulnerability has been the theme taken up this week in Networked Scholars. Although I’ve already highlighted vulnerability as being, for me, a key aspect of being an open learner,

a way to engage in learning that acknowledges the vulnerability and risk that’s inherent and asks the learner to recognize and embrace this,

it was interesting to consider vulnerability yet more closely and an absolute privilege and a delight to have Bonnie Stewart share her thoughts on the topic.

In a powerful and searingly honest ‘live chat‘, Bonnie outlined the deeply personal circumstances in which her blog and was initiated, identifying the move as displaying vulnerability with agency. To me, that phrase, vulnerability with agency, seems to capture what’s at the heart of networks and learning in the open and as such, it begs the question how do educators bring learners to such a position, and by encouraging them to participate in this way what might they be asking them to assert and what might they be asking them to risk? Not easy.

It was interesting therefore to come across an article from ALT’s July newsletter entitled ‘Social media in education: ethical concerns‘ in which HE educators discussed these issues. A primary concern was that of online harassment. Of course I’ve heard of internet trolls and cyber-bullying, and I know that women are not fairly represented or treated in certain fields, but I hadn’t really stopped to consider any of this in great detail, not until now that is. Not until I was confronted as part of this week’s discussion with Kathy Sierra’s recent revelations about the harrowing experiences she’s had to endure online. Horrendous. When you’ve had nothing but positive experiences using a social networking tool such as Twitter, it’s an uncomfortable truth to realize that, for all it’s good, it’s also a hate amplifier.

The purpose of this week’s topic in #scholar14 was to consider that social media and online networks are not neutral and that, for better or worse, social media reflects society. So far, I’ve explored how online social networks function as places where scholars can agencially make themselves vulnerable but where they might also be exposed to the darker side of humanity. Thankfully, online social networks also function as places where scholars may express and experience care: support or mutuality, if you will.

open with care 1
Open with care.

As the saying goes ‘sharing is caring‘, and a culture of sharing it seems is increasingly becoming the norm online. It’s argued that open practices reflect a form of caring, and that such a culture of sharing or giving without expectation of anything in return potentially leads to the development of ‘gift economies‘ or a series of relationships that depend on meaningful collaborations and pay-it-forward interactions. I can certainly vouch for this: people sharing status updates and links, taking the time to comment on blog posts, cooperating in open online courses, collaborating in research projects and, in the case of POTCert, paying it forward. As a case in point, I think POTCert (Programme for Online Teaching) deserves a special mention, not only because it’s where I was initiated into open online learning but because it functions as a type of gift economy and exemplifies the altruistic culture of sharing outlined above. POTCert is a free, open, online class aimed at those who wish to teach online. It was was founded at MiraCosta College, San Diego and is run by run by a volunteer faculty group with its alumni ‘paying it forward’ each semester in the form of mentoring and/or moderating etc. Respect due.

Resources: in order to add more context to Bonnie Stewart’s live chat, here are the links to further resources.

Networks of Care and Vulnerability [blog] http://theory.cribchronicles.com/2014/11/04/networks-of-care-and-vulnerability/

Networked Identity: Networks of Care and Vulnerability http://www.slideshare.net/bonstewart/networks-of-care-vulnerability?utm_content=bufferf1a8c&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

Networked Scholars Expert Chat with Bonnie Stewart [Youtube] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t6xTyDar9Jw

Image source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corrugated_box_design

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