Some thoughts on being open and the ongoing struggle with open praxis

#hello #flickr

(random picture from my open photo collection)

I am writing this post in response to this, really thoughtful critique on open practice from  my former colleague and good friend David Sherlock (aka Paddy the Rabbit).

In the post David articulates his personal struggles with being told to “be more open” and about writing openly.   At the crux of the post is this question

how does an open person use technology in an open way? .  . . I think there is a struggle in the current technological landscape to be open and that large corporations purposely turn open in to self-promotion. In technology and education I don’t think that something ‘being there’ is the same as “being open”. How can people interact with my stuff, how can they expand, remix. It isn’t solely about the right license.

Now this really made me stop and think. As one of the people who encourage not only David, but everyone, to “be more open”,  I see technology as a crucial part of my own personal open network/ecosystem/infrastructure. That’s not to say I don’t share David’s concerns about intentions of big corporations, fake news, data manipulation, bots.  I really do.

However I believe that those of us working in education do have a bit of an obligation to use/subvert technologies and be open or at least keep an informed and evolving discourse alive and active across many channels.  Blogging and  social media are a way of doing that.

Perhaps I am deluding myself, but I have to believe that the medium is not the message. There are really significant messages with the medium. But of course finding them is a challenge. The needs of “the market” are mostly at odds with the recognised right  for all to universal, fair and open education, as highlighted in UNESCOs 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development . But we have to try.  As commercial pressures force changes into the terms and conditions of many services, we are all potentially held hostage to the dominant “fat digital controllers”.

Not long after reading David’s post, I came across this post from a wonderful open educator, Maha Bali. If it wasn’t for technology, I probably would not have found her work so immediately. But more importantly I wouldn’t have been able to connect directly with her and be able to call her a colleague and friend.

Maha’s work constantly takes me out of my comfortable, global North enclave and reminds me of the wider meanings of inclusiveness, hospitality,  open-ness and equity. and the “unbearable whiteness of the digital.”  In this open document she quotes Lugones and Spellman:

We [the minorities] and you [the dominant] do not talk the same language. When we talk to you we use your language: the language of your experience and of your theories. We try to use it to communicate our world of experience. But since your language and your theories are inadequate in expressing our experiences, we only succeed in communicating our experience of exclusion. We cannot talk to you in our language because you do not understand it

Now this made me think of David’s post. Ironic, on so many levels as David is a white male – but he really is one of the good guys.  It got me thinking is what David expressing actually his feelings of exclusion around open practice?  Is he actually seeing a dominance of open voices that he equates to established personalities and personas that he can’t engage with/that won’t engage with him beyond superficial self promotion?

I don’t know, but it does make me think about the difficulty of working at the praxis of open education. It is a habit, you can’t do it all the time, as Catherine Cronin says it is continually negotiated.

So how do we ensure that open practice doesn’t seem out of reach, too hard, for researchers like David to engage with?  I would point people to the work of the non dominant voices like Maha, and so many others.  Use them as inspiration and example of how to circumvent the tech giants, the formal means of academic publishing.

Personally I have always found working in an open way equally scary and rewarding. I keep doing it at my own pace, in my own way but with the support and encouragement of a wider (mainly open) community.  Sometimes it is superficial but more often than not, open practice (in all its variations) leads me to many things that enhance ‘the day job’. The externality that my open praxis provides me with often gives me the support, inspiration and criticality I need to continue my work in more closed areas.

David is probably more open than he realises but it is really important that these struggles are discussed further.  I would love to hear what you think?


  1. I read David’s post and came away worried that he felt compelled or even told to “be more open”. We should be inviting not giving orders. His description of what he did as prior practice sounded rather open to me.

    I see too the trap of being open as being visible or seen; when that becomes the reason, IMHO it fails. Your own descriptions describe the rewards- getting connections to people like Maha. Open fails to me if there is not an individual reason/ gain (that is not monetary or just for follower boosting) that serves the work we do. I worry to that he felt like he had to change our handle- the right to choose how we are represented online needs to be our own.

    • Hi Alan – good points. I also should have added something about risk and vulnerability. I think that is heightened for PhD or any student really. The risk for me is low as I don’t have a big reach, and my identity not solely based on my blog for example. I,m also old enough not really care😀. on twitter David has suggested the idea of technical co-ops – so some thing I hope he explores more

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