Defining myself as an “Openairian”


I’d like to thank my friends and colleagues, Verena Roberts, Randy LaBonte and Ian O’Byrne for spurring this internal dialogue. We have been working on a chapter on K-12 Open Learning and have had fantastic discussions which just keep making my world bigger and different. 


Ask people what Open Education means, and I have found you will get a plethora of responses. You’ll get people who are passionate about sharing knowledge and pedagogy. There will be a group who are advocates for social justice reasons. Another group will be ultimate social constructivists, largely concerned with the learning that occurs in the open – in the moment – through serindipity. For connectivists Open means more information to curate, organize, synthesize and remix. There will be those for whom Open means free, Open means open source, or Open means democratic.

And with all of these identities of openness floating around, sometimes clashing, sometimes competing, sometimes complementing each other, I am having an identity crisis. What should my values be as a staunch advocate of Open Education? 

For me, Open Education is about empowerment of underserved populations. I see it as a civic duty to share one’s knowledge online. If one is a teacher, I see it as a part of our job to synthesize information, share educational materials and perspectives, and to facilitate learning when the opportunity presents itself. I want to use the best tools and the most accessible tools to get the job done, and like any good teacher, I am part scavenger, and part mixed-media artist. I’ll snatch up a free tool and use it to facilitate learning with hardly a second thought. If I don’t find a lesson that suits me, I’ll remix it until it does. If my opinions grow stale I’ll put them through the grinder with new information and remake them. Then I’ll proudly display my brand new opinions, until I have to grind them up again when faced with new information that challenges them. I exploit Google, Weebly, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, even Facebook for educational purposes. Yes, I know they are exploiting me as well, but this is a part of the love-hate relationship I have with technology and social media – and it’s far more love than it is hate. For me the tradeoffs are worth the security (and the lack thereof) of the service I am getting.

When I am faced with those passionate about corporations gathering our data and using it or concerns about cloud-based technologies collapsing on themselves, I don’t have a lot to say. I understand the concerns; however, I personally am not passionate about those things. I do wish them the best, however. I want them succeed in overcoming the obstacles they see when faced with the choice of using a great tool or retaining their intellectual property. I don’t want them to lose all their data if Dropbox goes under. I don’t want them to have to learn a new tool if WordPress suddenly goes kaput, or lose their connections if Facebook starts charging a subscription fee.

So I’ve been talking to myself all morning, trying to figure out what values I must have to be an Openairian – because I really want to be one. I decided that the difference of opinions I have with some of the other Openairians I have spoken with really hinge on three topics. First of all, the concern that tools will change and we’ll just have to learn something new; secondly the worry that our data will disappear if we aren’t in control of the hosted solution we are using; and thirdly, the procurement of our intellectual property by the corporations who do own the solutions we use. So let’s try out my reasoning in terms of these three values that I can’t seem to embrace.

Free commercial solutions can’t be counted on to remain static

Nothing is permanent. Therefore, it doesn’t matter how much time I spent mastering HTML – when Weebly came out and allowed novices to publish web pages that looked just as good as the ones I had hard coded in HTML, then I had to just suck it up. Yes – I love HTML. Yes I even think and dream in HTML. But I had to evolve. If Google collapses on itself, I will find an alternative online. If it collapses and takes my email with it, I’m going to be seriously angry – but I’m going to get over it. I have had operating systems crash, taking all of the mail in my local inbox (which I had brilliantly sucked out of the server) with it. If Google goes down, it won’t take me down with it. Sure, I learned Google – I put some trust in it – but it was FREE. What did I expect?

We should use open source software and tweak it to meet our needs

I don’t have the technological capability to create or even hack a Google-like solution that I can use for educational purposes, or even personal purposes. People go to school for years to learn to do that (or they are born with some preternatural disposition). In the mid 90s I actually did create a perl-based “Course in a Box” that I distributed to others through Unix. It was truly primitive, and when Blackboard came out, my little discussion boards, chat rooms, and structured course menus and pages went the way of TRS-DOS. So like it or not, for my definition of Open to work, I have to use commercial tools which hide their code from others, but allow me to reach my goal: to add to the body of knowledge available through publishing and interacting with others in what I hope is a quality way.

Google and other services own your intellectual property

I see it as my responsibility to share – even if all of my intellectual property is being taken, remixed and repurposed. If someone else is making money off of it, yes it makes me mad and no it isn’t fair – but let’s be real. How long has it been since we thought life was fair? I make the choice to risk my intellectual property being taken every day that I post, tweet, curate, or share.

Knowing there is a risk that companies will take my property and exploit it or share it without my knowledge simply makes me cautious as to what I share. On the other hand, knowing what individuals might do with my germs of an idea or with a resource I shared makes me brave. What if someone could take my intellectual property and somehow build on it so that it is even better. What if it cures cancer, or the common cold – this idea I spurred in someone else? What if they take what I have learned and created, and put out there and shared, and without ever paying me a dime, they eliminated childhood poverty? Okay granted, that isn’t going to happen, but with enough ideas put out there, and the right person(s) with the right kind of intellect looking at them, I really believe something amazing could ensue. If I don’t get credit or partial credit that is okay.

In Conclusion…

This all started out as a discussion of what it means to be an advocate of Open Education and I’m going to bring it back around. I think I fit Verena’s definition of an Openairian. She has a friend who is a Vegan Openairian – meaning she is weaning herself off of corporate resources. I am not nearly that disciplined. I would call Ian an Openaire Revolutionary. He is trying to change laws and create a future in which we don’t have to worry about corporations owning our materials, our pictures, our histories. I think that is absolutely noble.

My Openairian Identity

I suppose that I am a Meat Eating Openairian who probably harbors some bad habits which may not serve her well in the long run, but suit the purpose now. I have, as Dave Burgess put it, “…a Malcom X by any means necessary approach to education.” I’ll use any tool put out there within reason. And I won’t even complain about it! I’m just grateful the technology is there and that I have the privilege to use it – for whatever length of time, and regardless of ulterior motives.



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