One thing I have already noticed about being on a MOOC is that the forums and blog posts tend to mingle responses to the exercises and feedback comments on those exercises themselves. Maybe this is all part of the learning experience, but I’m not certain it is always helpful. I will try not to do this too much, but I do have one observation which may be relevant to open education as a whole.
I am a bit surprised that one of the resources set for this task is a set of Powerpoint slides for a talk delivered at a conference. When I personally use Powerpoint in presentations (which I know is a bit unfashionable), I consider it key that the slides are a visual aid to the presentation – they are not the presentation itself. You can use Powerpoint on a stand-alone basis if you want, but that is not what is happening here. The result is that, apart from thinking that 73 slides is far too much for one talk, I feel like I have picked up some ideas about what the speaker was saying, but I don’t think I really understand his argument. (Although I thought his wordle “word cloud” cv was very cool and I will pinch that idea for the “About Me” section of my blog). So why were we set these resources, instead of a more complete resource such as a video presentation, podcast or article? Is this because “open education” means “anything goes”? Hopefully not, but it raised the question in my mind.
Anyway, we are asked to create a visual representation of open scholarship, drawing on some of the ideas in our resources. I am not great on visual representations – I tend to think in words not images, and I have generally worked in places where experts can deal with making things look attractive, so I have never honed my skills in this way. But I gave it a go (that spirit of openness again). At risk of over-simplifying, I would depict the situation in two simple diagrams. One depicts the “old world” of scholarship, say up to the 1970s, although still very much the dominant model when I was at university in the 1980s:
It would be too much to say that scholars were completely isolated from society, but they seemed to me fairly well insulated. There were clear entry criteria and career paths. Scholars attended conferences where they discussed matters with each other. They published papers in peer-reviewed journals that few if any outside the scholarly community would ever read. They taught some students within the institutions they worked for. There was interaction with the world outside – perhaps some public lectures, “popular” books or TV appearances – but these were limited.
As we all know well, this model started to break down in the 1970s, with organisations like the Open University and the University of Phoenix (which, in the interests of being open, I will disclose shares a parent company with my employer) getting things going. You can then chart a trajectory via the World Wide Web, academic blogs, OpenCourseWare, Khan Academy and many other staging posts to the emerging situation we see now:
The key point is that the line between scholarship and the rest of the world is much more porous. Scholars regularly host tv programmes, share their thoughts in blogs as well as academic journals, and run courses open to everyone. This process is still at the early stages, of course, but the direction seems clear. It’s an exciting development, and means many more people can access and contribute to scholarship in all its forms. But, going back to my point about “anything goes”, the questions multiply too:
- If the universities no longer have a monopoly on scholarship, then who defines whether someone is a scholar or not?
- Who exercises scholarly authority? Is it based on credentials, qualifications, experience, or how many hits your blog or YouTube channel gets?
- Social media discourse tends to gravitate to “small talk” – chat about the latest fads, fun stuff, soundbites, instant feelings. There is nothing wrong with this. But it is very different to scholarship, which at its best can mean a painstaking trawl through data and literature, carefully building up conclusions and then opening them for debate. Is the world of open scholarship going to allow space for this?
All food for thought and discussion as we move onwards.