Diversity, Justice, and Democratization in Open Education and #opened17

This post is more about connecting some dots for myself, and drawing parallels (see 4 especially), than making a fully comprehensible argument.

Blog work-in-progress, they say.


Diversity by Manel Torralba

1. In 2012, we wrote that the open movement, and thereby the individuals associated with it, assume “ideals such as democratization, human rights, equality, and justice.” We argued that individuals should be vigilant and reflective of their practices, and that “such vigilance should focus both on determining who profits from [open] practices and who is excluded from them so as to combat both under-use by some (e.g., those lacking entry to or knowledge of useful networks) and over-use or exploitation by those with the wealth, power, and prestige necessary to effectively strip mine sources.”

2. I was reminded of this recently, as there has been many conversations around diversity in the open education movement. Some, but not all, of these conversation surround the choice of a keynote talk at the Open Education 2017 conference. Here are a few tweets to contextualize this conversation.

3. As part of the Digital Learning and Social Media Research Group, we’ve been awarding funding to individuals interested in conducting research with us. One of the papers resulting from these research opportunities contributes somewhat here. Michael Paskevicius was interested in examining discourses surrounding openness on Twitter and we analyzed a large Twitter dataset for this purpose. In that (forthcoming) paper, we wrote: “Inherent in the idea of openness is the attitude that all should be able to participate and share and reap the benefits of open communities. However, our results on the national and gender demographics of participants raises questions as to the ongoing diversity of the open education community. Notably, the U.S. dominates English-speaking conversations about openness, and though this might be somewhat expected given the relative size of that country, overrepresentation of males in the community should lead us to consider whether there are social or other barriers of entry for female participants. Interestingly, females gradually gained traction in the community and even overtook males in 2013, but this trend swiftly reversed the following year, and males now participate more than females at a rate of 1.8-to-1. The reasons for this up- and then down-turn is unclear… At any rate, if diversity of perspectives would be valued in any community, we would anticipate that this would be the case within open communities, so we suggest that leaders in this area should consider ways to better understand this issue and the reasons why many who should be participating in these conversations are not.” [emphasis mine] From: Paskevicius, M., Veletsianos, G., & Kimmons, R. (in press). Content is king: An analysis of how the Twitter discourse surrounding open education unfolded from 2009 to 2016. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning.

4. In response to a question I asked a couple of weeks ago, Martin Weller noted open universities’ contributions to the ideal of democratizing education/learning. Others, noted openness in general. To what extent can an innovation/approach/activity be said to be democratizing when itself could be more diverse and more inclusive? Put differently, can open education be democratizing when itself and its community could benefit from being more democratic, diverse, and just? If i had to venture a guess, I would say that many in the open education community would say “yes, open education can concurrently be democratizing and in need of growth.” Warning: How is this different from techno-utopian SV approaches to educational technology that go like this: “We are democratizing/uberizing/disrupting education, even though we do need to work on our privileged heteronormative ways?” Perhaps what’s different is that in the open education community there seems to be a desire to do better, to be better, or at least, to start with, an acknowledgement that we can do better.

As I said… work-in-progress.


Institutional use of Twitter: Can universities surpass brand image to make their social media relevant?



1 Comment

  1. Ali Spear

    Although the gender gap is important, if we are really going to look at diversity, it is maybe the answer to the wrong question. In distance ed. we know that there is a problem with our data: we assume only those who are active participants (in the sense that they respond or publish,) are counted. I think that in the past, I maybe thought that “lurkers” (even the term sounds so negative) in open educational contexts were less agentive because they understood less about the mediative technology and the formal register of its users. Now I wonder if maybe there are gendered differences in their democratic work – their values, processes, audiences. I’m thinking, for example, of female school teachers -still a majority- who integrate OER in classroom settings, and analyze arguments with their students, but who for privacy and protection (or policy) reasons, neither publish student responses or educator implementation. The author role in OER is greatly valued, but maybe its possible that minorities are organizing themselves differently. In the case of the K-12 teacher, open practices may be potent in mobilizing youth to participate in OpenEd: they create access by increasing awareness, leverage brick and mortar for collaborative action, provide safe environments for experimentation with coding/platforms, and support students to contribute to open academic processes through validation. I don’t really know about gender studies, and haven’t looked at any of the research in its intersection with Distance Education, so my idea isn’t well articulated, but I think we need to challenge the idea that democratization happens only in public settings, and also that Open Education never happens in intimate contexts. I wasn’t a participant in OpenEd17, so if I can read more about what others shared at the conference on this matter, I would be very grateful. My colleagues are working on a project to analyze digital citizenship practices and creating policy to protect educators and students in public digital spaces.

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