What can you bring to the open table? Some initial thoughts from the #porusuni

I’ve spent the last two days in Inverness at the Porous University Symposium. This was a relatively and deliberately small event, with about 35 people in the room. The event wasn’t exactly an un-conference but it was very much structured around discussion and debate.  Provocations were invited to stimulate discussions and then in smaller breakout groups we discussed and shared our reactions to provocations and attempted to create responses to them.

I am still processing the many discussions that I participated in, but there were a couple of overriding themes that I want to highlight, which follow on from many of the discussions I have been having pre and post the OER17 conference around open practice and open hospitality.

Unsurprisingly many of the provocations at the event highlighted the uncertainty, fear, demoralisation that many of us who work in education (and indeed in other parts of society) are experiencing just now.  Increasing managerialism, neoliberalism, the rise and acceptance of alternative facts.  . . . what Richard Hall neatly described as the challenge between “the pessimism of the intellect versus the optimism of the will”.

We spent quite a lot of time discussing the nature of our Higher Education Institutions, what is their role, their wider place within society? What does a University do? How does/can “open” impact on that role, that potential of exchange of ideas within and beyond our spaces?  Lots of chin stroking, deep thoughts, and critical concepts were flying around the room.

This was great, but, and yes there has to be a but. It was all at a very high level. There were lots of very clever people in the room. To misquote from Forrest Gump ‘“clever is as clever does”.

Whilst on the one hand  I appreciate and support the need for criticality, there is also the need (more pressing than ever just now) to be able to distill our critique into something that is clear and understandable to those not in ’the academy’.  Our choice and use of language can actually close off our conversations around openness to those we ultimately presume can benefit from open education.

This event was specifically targeted at University level so there was an inherent bias and exclusivity about it. However, we were really fortunate to Alex Dunedin from the Ragged University attending.

Alex is one of those extraordinary people who just “does it” and is a truly open by default human. He doesn’t do anything for the money, because it’s in his job description, because it’s the “cool” thing, he does it because he really cares. He is an embodiment of the self as OER.   He finds places, spaces, people with ideas, people with problems and brings them together.  You can hear more from Alex in this recording of the Virtually Connecting session from the event.

‘The Ragged University project is about learning from all the traditions of free education and making them live through practice . . .The Ragged project operates in informal spaces. The spaces we are interested in are known as ‘third places’ which belong to everyone and are those which foster relaxed atmospheres. These non-institutional spaces are needed to generate certain types of dynamic between people which allow us to comfortably share what we know on our own terms.”

I *think* that I am a pretty hospital person, but its only recently that I have discovered the work of Kate Bowles around the concept in education. Being a bit Winnie the Pooh like at time ( a bear of little brain), I hadn’t quite put the two things together.  It is something that I am committed to continue to work on.

I loved Alex’s simple messages of bring education back to hospitality, find a space and just asking people to “bring something to the table”.  You might start with just one dish, but by the end you have a full table and a feast.

Although there was a lot of talking over the two days, there was a consensus that we wanted have “something” at the end of the event to share. (All the provocations, videos, and other ‘stuff’ from the event will be available over the next few days). At the end of the first day there was talk about a manifesto. However as day two unfolded the conversations turned from the high level institutional issues to the personal, pragmatic, practice ones. I may have had a small hand in that, and have to thank Alan Levine again for his explanation of porous and permeable.

I always feel that although I can’t make a huge difference in my institution I can do small things that can start to help model changes in practice of others. One of the reasons I am drawn to open communities and other open practitioners is that it is a way for me to explore, share, have fun outwith my institutional context. Being part of the open education community, fills me with inspiration, joy, hope and hospitality.

I have been trying to think of a simple way to express and share some of the ideas from the  two days. I’m still working on it but for now, based on some of the feedback from one of the group discussions about the elements of open practice, I am thinking about the open table and what we need to add to it.  What would you bring?

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4 comments

  1. Thanks for sharing your experience Sheila, I do agree with much of what you say in relation to DOING more than TALKING with a rather complicated language. But sometimes that is the beginning, that is how some academic start to shape an idea and the more it gets talked the simpler it will become. Hopefully!! I had the event on my radar but it was a bit far for me. Is there any repository where the videos are or the written elements of the discussion. I am very interested. Also at your table is one ingredient I am looking at more closely, namely, students’ agency in digital spaces. Is there anything relevant to agency in the discussion? Lovely to read you, Sheila!!

    • Thanks Caroline. I thinks the OEPS project is pulling all the resources together from the event – and there are some on the event page too. Agency was definitely on the table but it was one of many ingredients that needs much more exploration so I look forward to reading more about your work in this area.

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