Monday, September 28, 2015

Why Open?


The other day I was reading a recent post by Jenny Mackness on questions about being open. Jenny had attended the recent ALT-C conference and was responding to a fellow ALT-C participant's questions on openness.  Specifically Viv Rofle ponders:

I’m questioning not just openness by my motives behind wanting to contribute to it.

  • What motivates academics and teachers to get involved in areas of practice that are NOT supported by their institutions? 
  • Why invest even longer hours in supporting educational practice? My dentist doesn’t give me free root canal treatment outside of work? 
  • Why personally finance conference attendance and travel, and what are the implications of this for the education sector? 
  • What is in it for those willing to ‘go open’?
These are good questions, and I think that the fact that I, a non-participant in ALT-C, am able to view, ponder, and engage with such questions and discussions is really the reason why you'd want to be open. Even things such as virtually connecting is only possible due to the openness of others. I don't see it as freeloading (as some might) but I see openness as an opportunity to augment, enhance, and expand the conference and learning experience.

I guess, like Jenny did, I want to address Viv's specific questions one at a time.

What motivates academics and teachers to get involved in areas of practice that are NOT supported by their institutions? 

Well, I don't know.  I guess I'd need to do some research on that in order to come up with some sort of answer that is generalizable. If I take some anecdotal evidence, both from my own lived experience and from stories I hear from other open colleagues, I would make the bold claim that to be in academia means that you should ascribe to notions of openness.  I know that this is a philosophical stance, and that others may not share in my views of academics, however why would someone devote their life to teaching and/or to research if they are not willing to be open about what they do?  In research results need to be validated and vetted. One of the ways to do this is to be open (and honest) about your methodology and how you obtained your results.  In teaching if you are closed you don't share anything. 

How does one teach without sharing?  I often am perplexed with academics who throw copyright statements on their syllabi.  What the heck for? Have you found the most awesome and most effective way to teach Introduction to Biology or Intermediate Accounting? I am sure that there are others who approach the subject in both similar and different manners but students still learn.  I often think that such crazy actions on the part of academics is driven by fear and uncertainty rather than selfishness.  I do think, however, that the path out of fear and uncertainty is openness.  Those who are open - again my small anecdotal sample size - find themselves with more opportunities.  In the end I think that the original motivation for being open is the wish to connect with others, and to share know-how, and to engage with them. There may be benefits beyond this as well, beyond the altruism.


Why invest even longer hours in supporting educational practice? My dentist doesn’t give me free root canal treatment outside of work? 

I am not sure that the analogy is apt. I also think that it depends on where you work.  Even as a professional staff member (not a faculty), many of my previous departments were open to me spending some time engaging professionally and intellectually outside of my department's work. So long as department work was done and there were no issues, I had some academic freedom†. That said, I think that many of us do not see our jobs as simply something that pays the bills. I am not going to go so far as to call the job "a calling" - I often roll my eyes when I hear that, but I do think that we have fun with what we do, even if there are things in our jobs that grind us down.

As such, there isn't this on/off moment whereby during the hours of 9am and 5pm we turn off our interests and focus on mundane work, and a 5:01 we turn off work and we focus on what makes us happy.  There is often an overlap - which does have the real danger of losing balance between work and fun.  That said, being open doesn't mean being open all the time.  If you need to take time off, or don't feel like posting your syllabus as Creative Commons document right now, that's perfectly fine.  You are open on your own terms, and there are shades of open. I know that there are people out there that would disagree with me, but from where I stand open is not an all or nothing proposition.

Why personally finance conference attendance and travel, and what are the implications of this for the education sector? 

I think that this is a personal choice of individuals.  I personally don't personally finance conference costs and attendance.  The money that I save for vacation goes toward vacations where I can see new sights, explore new cultures, and eat new food (also toward seeing the same ancient Greek monuments and eating the same yummy Greek food). I have a philosophical issue with paying my own money to attend conferences.  I try to find conference attendance on the cheap.  I look for conferences that I can attend for free if my conference paper is accepted.  I look for conferences that my employer can foot the bill for.  And I look for conferences that are local where I don't have to pay for hotels or airfare.  This generally means that I only really attend one or two conferences per year (one in Boston, MA and one in Providence, RI) but that doesn't matter to me. What being open means to me is that the entire year can be a conference. Between virtually connecting, cMOOCs, and other impromptu work that I do with my open colleagues, I end up learning more, and meeting more people than attending a paid conference.

What is in it for those willing to ‘go open’?

I think the WIIFM (what's in it for me) question is also the wrong question to ask.  While an exchange mentality is OK in some contexts (negotiating work salary for example), I think it's the wrong frame of mind for open.  If you are asking the question, my gut reaction is that you are not ready to be 'open'.  It might sound a little yoda-like in its philosophy, but the benefits of open (at least in my own small sample size) are not always visible, immediate, or quantifiable.  For instance connections with fellow colleagues aren't something you can monetize or take advantage of.  Opportunities may arise in the networks that you are part of, and hence by being part of an open network you could reap some rewards down the road, such as landing a new job, learning of a publishing opportunity you didn't know about before, or participating in research that interests you but would have gone under your radar.

For me being open - keeping in mind that I've defined open as 'degrees of openness' - is sort of along the same lines as 'being kind to people'. No one ever asks WIIFM to be kind to others, unless of course you are philosopher.

Your thoughts?



NOTE:
† obviously I am not using academic freedom in the same sense as faculty do :-)
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