Last July I was honoured to give the closing keynote for the JISC Open Educational Resources International Symposium in London, England. It was a terrifying prospect on a couple of levels… First off, I knew I would be speaking in front of some of the most accomplished people in the field. And of course the backdrop of the event was a rash of near-apocalyptic news about higher education in the UK. I really struggled with how to frame a broad discussion of the role of openness in the academy in such a context.
The trip ended up being a wild and incredibly rewarding experience, rich in discussions that have resonated with me ever since. I’ve since been trying to think of how I could write up what that amazing week has meant to me, but nothing has seemed quite right.
Thankfully, David Kernohan (who I must thank for inviting me to take part in #UKOER10 in the first place) has just published a blog post on the just-wrapped ALT-C 2010 conference. Somehow his words speak to my experience in the UK as well:
The technological is now political; rather than leaping at the possibilities as in the past we are sitting back to ask why? who for? and what is the real cost? There was a sense of a last gasp, we are running out of time, running out of money, and (as Richard Hall and Joss Winn made terrifyingly clear) running out of energy. Even by 2014, we could be living in a radically altered society in which we would either adapt or collapse. Kudos to the pair of them for making it sound challenging and exciting. We’re higher education, we used to love solving problems…
In my own meagre contribution, my colleagues and I tried to highlight the dangers of toying with transformative concepts without at least an aspiration of where we want to end up. We saw three delightful models of how OER could benefit the educational community, and then one neo-liberal corporate nightmare. The oncoming commercialisation of higher education is another figurative crossroads that we stand at, with a genuine and fundamental conundrum about the creative and connective capacity of humankind being used for the benefit of all, or sold back to us to benefit from the few.
But there are strange and magical powers within our creaking old dark-age institutional structures. The gaps, the synergies, the misfiring collegiate neurons and the freedoms within the way we work give us the chance to influence, to build and to organise against the oncoming storms.
Besides David, Joss, and Richard, I was privileged to talk with a number of gifted and inspiring colleagues: Tony Hirst, Josie Fraser, Matt Jukes, John Robertson, Jackie Carter, Pippa Buchanan, Giota Alevizou, Alex di Savoia, and even my longtime Canuck buddy Scott Leslie had his own UK trip align with mine. Most of these conversations took place within reach of a frothy pint of one of England’s many fine ales. To everyone who made my trip so stimulating and memorable, I cannot thank you enough.