Early this week I attending the ALT Open Scotland meeting at the University of Edinburgh. It was a really though provoking day with a great range of speakers from government, FE, HE and the school sectors.
As a result not only of the presentations but the wider discussions before, during and after the event, the cost of open practice has been swirling around my brain. There’s been a lot of war/battle analogies used about open education. I can see why, there is a struggle, and sometimes it does feel like being in some kind of war like situation with ever changing battle lines being drawn/redrawn. However, as I reflected early this year, not everyone actually realises that there has even been a war let alone realise that it has been won.
As I am only too well aware, the wider (non open education specific) battles in our education sector have seen a lot of casualties – not least for some of our boldest soldiers. In that context, I am one of the lucky ones. After Strathclyde University decided not to extend the Cetis contract, I did manage to find a permanent job.
However, in terms of analogies in the open education context I’m now actually thinking more around a supermarket one. The reason is due to one word I heard a being used over the day in a number of different contexts. That word is “luxury”. I used it in my own presentation, when talking about developing open education practice at GCU, and my own experience. I think I said something like “I have had the luxury of being able to develop my open practice and be supported in doing so”. So is open education practice a luxury item or an every day essential?
Now it’s only really in hindsight that I can use the luxury word. I experienced plenty of “struggle”, but being part of a nationally funded Innovation Support Centre I felt that developing and being as open a practitioner as I could was almost an unwritten, partly self imposed, part of my raison d’être. I was also fortunate enough to be involved at the start of lots of open education initiatives.
But other people and institutions have been/are in quite luxurious positions in relation to developing open practice too. The University of Edinburgh invested £5million in developing online education which has helped with their MOOC programme and research. To their credit, they have been very open at sharing their findings and practice. Other universities in the FutureLearn club, which are by and large the Russell Group, I’m sure have had quite substantial amounts of funding and/or staff time given to developing their involvement. Other institutions (including my own) don’t have that luxury.
In terms of community building, the Open Scotland Initiative is in some ways the antithesis of top down, big money projects. It is very much a bottom up, community driven development. And without Lorna Campbell’s continuing (unfunded) support it wouldn’t have evolved the way it has over the past year. So I found it rather odd to hear at the meeting that the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) have given the Open University quite a substantial amount of money (£1.3 million) to look at open and online education in Scotland.
Despite the promise of engagement, community building etc, I have very “bad feeling” that this comes about at the same time as I hear that Grainne Hamilton – who has pretty much single handily created and promoted a very active community around open badges in Scotland, has not had her contract renewed at the SFC/Jisc funded RSC due to funding cuts and is going to work with Blackboard. Who will carry on that work? The rest of her colleagues are flat out providing the other areas of community engagement and support that is vital in our community.
Open eduction, sector capacity building capability – nil : commercial, open when it suits them companies – 1.
Being a bear of very little brain at times, I can’t figure out why money is being given to the OU to carry out community engagement in open and online education and at the same time money is being taken away from people who have been doing exactly that. Now I know that the world of funding councils can be very complicated, and there very well maybe moves afoot to distribute some of this money to organisations like the RSC and Cetis. But it does seem to me that the SFC have gone straight for the shiny, luxury option. The OU gets the money, the “ancients”, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Strathclyde get a place on the steering group, but what about the rest of us? Do we just wait to pick up the crumbs off their table? Why not a funding programme that would give those of us who don’t have a spare couple of million to spend on developing MOOCs a bit of support to buy out a bit of space and staff time to explore how open online education could really make a difference to the widening participation agenda here in Scotland? What about relatively tiny bit of funding to continue to co-ordinate and strengthen the OpenScotland Initiative via Lorna and Cetis?
They do say that money follows money, and we all know that open doesn’t = free, there is a cost and we all have to pay the bills which means sometimes we just can’t afford to be involved in open education. I fear that with this type of funding decision the gulf between those who can afford the luxury of open education and those of us who can’t is going to increase. Whilst I, and my colleagues can do what we can to develop open practice within our institutions, we do need wider support in terms of community engagement too. That’s where the RSC and Cetis come in. I don’t see them as luxuries, they provide a vital role for our community in terms of the development and sharing of practice. They are a the everyday essentials the sector needs. The SFC and other funding bodes strike them off their shopping lists at their peril and to the detriment of the continued growth of the sector.