Collaboration and the Possibilities of Open

a white and orange neon side that reads open

As I write this, I am making the final preparations for my upcoming trip to Toronto to attend OpenCon 2018 – a conference for early career researchers from a wide array of disciplines and from across the globe. While the event is designed to bring together advocates from open access, open education, and open data to share expertise, it centers action and collaboration as its primary outcomes. Building upon the work from previous years, inclusion is at the heart of the conference.

As a woman of color at a predominantly white institution, I am hopeful about these efforts and the opportunities they provide the open community to dig deeper into the reasons how “equity” without action is exclusion. These are not easy or comfortable conversations to be had. But, I appreciate that space is being made at the center of the open community for them to occur. Additionally, I appreciate that the Open Textbook Network awarded this scholarship for me to attend.

To this conference, I bring with me my community’s Open Questions, my commitment to and respect for the challenges of collaboration, and my enthusiasm to represent the Open Textbook Network in their efforts to build equity into the foundation of open textbook creation and distribution. It is for these reasons that this site was created, in collaboration with other early career scholars whose work demonstrates a deep commitment to just research practices and the power inherent in equitable collaboration. You can view our intents and goals on our Vision page. Today, I would like to take a moment to share both the tensions and possibilities I see in the work of openness and equity.


Collaboration and “Collaboration”

Collaboration is something I have valued since my first days as a graduate student. There is just something powerful about not having to figure everything out on your own. Imagine that. As a composition instructor, I am reminded of this every time my students have the chance to work through ideas together. The concept of a singular “genius” working alone to enlighten the world with a completely original idea begins to fade away. In turn, this clears a path for meaningful work not caught up in the fear of going it alone or the ego of having to always be right.

In openness, we value collaboration. The licensing systems we attach to our work strive to encourage a sort of extended collaboration process across the world – one that will ideally continue on and on. When we engage in open pedagogy, we ask students to learn, write, and think collaboratively – not in isolation. When the open community works through challenges together, much like we will in the coming week, we expect collaboration and free sharing of ideas to be the default.

Yet, collaboration is deeply informed by power. When power is not evenly distributed, collaboration becomes a subtext of negotiation between who has the power to speak and who has not been invited to speak at all. Between who has the power to claim ownership of ideas and who has the expectation to proffer forth those ideas for sharing. Between who is remembered for having spoken and who has had their ideas appropriated. Between who has the power to decide and who has the power to “participate.”

This is a profound challenge not simply present in education, but anywhere people work together. I do not think there are any simple answers out there, and I hope that we can push past design thinking to find practices that challenge us all to work together in new ways.

Increasing Access

This is often the first idea mentioned in conversations about the possibilities that openness can provide researchers, educators, and, above all, students. If we can remove enough barriers to information, equality and empowerment will follow. Yet, we’ve had the Internet for long enough to know that access to information and access to the means to use that information are not the same thing. We also know that we cannot expect the digital to solve problems of infrastructure.

Instead, I hope that we can explore the ways in which access is the first step towards inclusion. All participants must have access before we can begin the process of meaningful collaboration. I look forward to seeing the ways in which we can redefine access to mean more than the existence of a resource.


Open Pedagogy

Perhaps what excites me most about open education is open pedagogy. It is complex and messy and everything that I would hope a good composition course would be for my students. Open access redefines the way in which knowledge is produced in the scholarly community. Access to information acquired through public funding becomes accountable to the community who supported it and to the larger community of scholars who can build upon it in ways that make it useful for more people.

Open pedagogy includes students in this process. That is nothing less than revolutionary.

Open pedagogy provides us with an opportunity to clear the way for voices that have been historically marginalized. It offers us the opportunity to include contingent labor in the practices of scholarship. It offers us a new way to create knowledge and understand. It offers us a new way to determine who has the authority to speak and the chance to redefine and question authority in ways that are inclusive.

There is a nuanced, challenging, critical pedagogy emerging here – one that I hope we can explore together. Welcome.