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Are we in open country? (Symposium 0120)

12:00 - 13:00 on Wednesday, 7 September 2011 in A2
0120 Are we in open country? Helen Beetham, Amber Thomas, David White, David Kernohan
0120 Are we in open country? Helen Beetham, Amber Thomas, David White, David Kernohan

Before about 2008, it seems, most UK higher education took place behind closed doors. Now we seem to be in open country. The harsh wind of public scrutiny blows through our lecture halls. Ideas have been set free to roam in social media. The terms open content, open courseware, open scholarship, and open research have galloped into the everyday discourse of academia. But what exactly does ‘open’ mean? Is learning open to all, or just wider open to the few? Is it open to the market forces that increasingly dominate thinking about university education, or openly shared in a democratic knowledge free-for-all? While the rush to release continues, critical thought about has lagged somewhat behind.

In our work with open content projects, we have observed many benefits to the open release of academic content, though the benefits as well as the barriers are often tied to existing modes of institutional practice. What we have failed to observe as yet, is a change in practice among academic staff. We also worry that despite impressive statistics for access and download of open learning resources, we know far too little about who is using content, and to what advantage. And we are concerned at the increasing tendency to conflate the availability of content with access to learning.

While the OER movement concerns itself with infrastructure and discovery mechanisms, the funding system and arguably the infrastructure of UK HE is being torn apart. What, if anything, can OER and the emerging body of critical thought surrounding it contribute in the expected wasteland?

This panel session will explore these issues within an open debate, triggered by a series of blog posts from the presenters that will combine to create a discursive introduction. Themes we expect to arise include:

Why are our institutions suddenly talking about being open?

What will an academic career look like if everything you write is made openly available?

How should/could we accredit open learning i.e. learning achieved

through access to and study of open educational resources by independent learners?

What will learning be like if all educational content is openly available?