Open Ed 09 Conference: Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

I recently gave a presentation at the Open Ed 2009 Conference in nearby Vancouver.

The session descriptionfor the presentation is below.

Please also check out a video of the presentation and the corresponding PowerPoint file.

Open Education, defined as “forms of education in which knowledge, ideas or important aspects of teaching methodology or infrastructure are shared freely over the internet” is a relatively new coinage. It juxtaposes understandings of the nature and potential of pedagogy, technology and populist politics (”openness” or “freedom”) into relatively novel and potent interrelationship. As such, its history and intellectual heritage has been most frequently associated with recent commentators, such as Thomas Friedman’s arguments in The World is Flat (2007), and the libertarian politics of the open source movement. In this presentation, Dr. Norm Friesen argues that this intellectual heritage can be seen as being much broader and diverse. He highlights four precursors, Antonio Gramsci, Walter Benjamin, Paulo Freire, and the popular education movement, and describes how learning and its relationship to politics and/or technology is understood by each. Each one of these precursors is able to shed light on certain aspects of the existing and potential interrelationships of these three components (pedagogy, technology, politics) constitutive of open learning. Gramsci shows how knowledge and thus education itself is inherently political, with the potential to either reinforce or undermine the “spontaneous consent” that arises in the context of “hegemonic” political and economic conditions. Benjamin shows how technology can cultivate politically-charged awareness, emphasizing its potential to “emancipate the work of art” (and content more generally) from its “parasitical dependence on ritual”, whether that be the ritual of the museum or the lecture hall. Friere, for his part, combined understandings of the political potential of technology with an open and politicized pedagogy to provide a powerful example of a technology-supported program bringing together literacy education “with lessons in self-reflection, cultural identity and political agency.” Popular education, finally, is a broad and diverse movement that provides many important precedents and valuable lessons for open education. All of these precedents and precursors powerfully illustrate that open education should not be understood principally in terms of new forms of software development or economic competition. Education and its ?opening-up? can be much more than a “mad dash,” as Friedman puts it, to compete with “the flat-world field…of 1.5 billion new workers in the global economic labor force.” Instead of focusing on competition in a world or a game whose parameters are already set, education has the chance to be much more about recognizing and even changing those parameters.

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