[This post was published elsewhere in 2015]

A response to Viv’s excellent reflection on attending ALTc.

I have been trying different ways to respond to Viv’s post. I wrote a post on my other blog, I ditched the post. I started using Hypothesis and commenting on her blog, I deleted my annotations. I thought of calling her, and then realised this would mean my response would be private when her questions had been public.

I found myself noticing something about reflective posts from the conference. Certain type of post seems to attract substantive and many comments, others seem to attract just a like or no comments at all. As ever in the context of open education, I cannot name names so as to avoid trolls and defensive behaviour – I have had enough of that. One of the consequences of open scholarship, the conflating of people and ideas in relationship. I remembered Brint talking about virtues and vices in our definitions of community. This gave me a way to respond publicly to Viv without naming and quoting.

I note that one type of post after the conference was the kind that extolls the virtue of connecting and open education. This type of post seems to attract many comments and ususally within the first 24 hours of being published. I checked 4 posts and counted: 36 substantial comments in the first 24 hours. There is another type of post of which Viv’s is an example. The one that asks that we critically reflect on the impact of our open education narrative. One might say the type of post that says there are virtues *and* there are vices to explore in this movement of ours. I looked at 4 posts of this type too. 20 comments mostly ‘likes’ with only 2 substantial (more than 4 sentences) comments and some posts with 0 comments.

At the time of writing there are no comments on Viv’s post. There is, however, an apology from Viv on Twitter for having written it.

Brint talks about virtues and vices of communities,  Gourlay talks about how our heroic narrative creates heteropias of desire, that the

allegedly ‘radical’ claims of the ‘openness’ movement in education may in fact serve to reinforce rather than challenge utopic thinking, fantasies of the human, and monolithic social categories, fixity and power, and as such may be seen as indicative of a ‘heterotopia of desire’.

In 2012 Jenny Mackness and others explored the ‘tyranny of open’ and raised the need to critically evaluate what we are doing. Jenny quoted George Veletsianos,

“Are we are attempting to impose our values (of openness, sharing, online learning as the future of education, etc) without a critical examination of what that means for practice and for individuals who are part of social organizations?”

I get a sense of Deja Vu and am reminded of David’s wonderful image “I watch the ripples change their size but never leave the stream”. Viv wrote another post earlier in the year asking us to explore the vices (this one attracted 9 comments) and the conversation ended with Viv saying – let’s keep talking but also act. Viv asked:

“how on earth [can] the open movement […]move forward unless we start defining the ethical boundaries in which we operate?”

It is easy to extol virtue, it is hard to face our vices. And those who have the courage to ask questions that need to be asked should not have to apologise for asking them nor be faced with silence whilst other party next door . I too value the virtues of connecting and open education and I wonder with Viv how on earth can we keep going without challenging our hidden motivations for foregrounding the virtues and backgrounding the vices?

Viv asks some important questions (quote):

  • 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’?

She then explores the motivation we have for doing this at all. Is is about rebellion? Is it about being perceived as ‘nice people’? Is it about finding freedom when little freedom is left in our institutions? Are we trying  any means possible to get ‘a tickle behind the ear’? If we see ourselves as ‘guerrilla academics’ have we thought about the ethics of bringing our students (sometimes mandating our students) to work in the open?

I am thinking about all of those things, Viv. I also find myself ‘questioning not just openness by my motives behind wanting to contribute to it.’ Some people have already said Adios. If we do not take time to consider the vices as well as the virtues, in the spirit of inquiry rather than self-righteousness, many more more might say adios in the not too distant future. Is this how we want it to be? Those of us left will be those looking at the ‘pretty’ and not the whole story.




I am glad you took the time to ask these questions, Viv.

I was a little weary of the ideological obsequiousness permeating some of the commentary I have been reading. And as you always remind us, we don’t just need to keep asking, we need to start acting: A comment on a blog post that asks us to think rather than clap might be a start.