Friday, October 28, 2011

Occupy Park City: Reflections on #opened11

It’s the day after the Open Education conference in Park City. What can I say in a brief blog post to mark that event?  I want to thank Brian Jacobs of Akademos for attending the conference and being one of its sponsors.  We met while suffering through the trials of studying political theory in grad school.  While neither of us has become a practicing political theorist, we’ve been disciplined (for better or for worse) by our common education.  Over the years I’ve attended a lot of open-oriented conferences and been exposed to a lot of insightful perspectives.  But while that diversity has been good it was gratifying to be there with someone who was familiar with the same disciplinary frameworks I use for making sense of what a social movement like open education is all about.

That isn’t to say that I’ve got it all figured out beyond noting that the open ed movement gathers together a set of people and beliefs and practices that belie easy generalization.  This was epitomized on Wednesday when  Jim Groome began his presentation by popping out of a tent he’d pitched on stage as a way of drawing connections between the Occupy Wall Street movement and the open education initiative.  Jim gave an inspiring account of his teaching which is bold and experimental and seems to engage his students and prompt them to develop new media literacy.  But however important that message was, it was overshadowed by the stylistic contrasts between himself and the other featured speaker who was Josh Jarrett, Deputy Director of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  Where Jim presented in an untucked t-shirt, Josh showed up in a blazer.  Where Jim flashed slides of Wonder Woman, Josh spoke in sobering terms of budget challenges, demographic changes and educational completion rates.   When the presentations ended David Wiley, thanked both speakers and asked the audience to reflect on the contrasts and on how these different archetypes complement and (perhaps sometimes) antagonize one another.

A presenter immediately after those keynotes asked the audience who they most identified with, and the answers varied.  Some said Jim, some said Josh, and milquetoasts like me said both (even though I was wearing a blazer). All of this is to say that, like the Occupy Wall Street movement, open education isn’t a phenomenon that is simple to define, and is replete with marked contrasts.  Its constituents identify with the underprivileged but the conference was hosted in a rarified and expensive locale.   Its constituents are attracted to archetypes of rebellion but the movement’s locus is in one of the more conservative states in the union.  It challenges traditional ways of disciplining the faculties but is led in part by a resurging discipline of instructional design.  Its advocates celebrate openness and democratization and sharing and the disruption of traditional academic practices.  But they promote different degrees of openness, and democratization and disruption.   It’s been interesting to see how this coalition has come together and whether it stays together going forward.

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