Any time someone asks this question, it requires some deep thinking and honest reflection. It’s not always an easy question to answer. My students struggle with this question each year in the course that I teach. It’s dependant, in part, on what story your listener is looking forward to hearing. Some stories come easily because there is a recognizable sequence of events. Some stories are easier to tell because there is a memorable beginning, middle and end. The plot line is logical. Some stories are not so easy because the storyline doesn’t really start or end, and the plot is mired in mist. So when you ask someone to tell their story, it’s truly an individual thing. My story is not your story and my efforts to tell the story are uniquely mine.
So asking me what my story is about how I became an open educator really sent me on a reflective journey. I’ve been traversing some murky thoughts these past few days, spiralling down the rabbit hole. I’ve come to realize that this story doesn’t have a distinct beginning or end. This story doesn’t begin with a specific event or a catalytic moment. This story doesn’t have an ending since I’m still pondering my next steps toward openness, as the due date for next year’s course syllabus looms ahead. My openness as an educator just IS…… it’s my default mode. My story, then, needs to focus on the steps I’ve taken toward being ‘open by default’ and how it has transformed the ethos of my teaching practice.
I’m a farm girl, born and raised in the open – fields, forest, times, and spaces. Not to say there weren’t clear boundaries, but openness was an inherent quality of my upbringing. Hard work and strict requirements bounded the times of free play and open roaming. Seasons and weather dictated the schedule – planting, harvesting, sun and snow – each determined whether it was time for open exploration or closed to get the job done. Open times to engage in dreaming, imagineering (engineering ideas with imagination), alone or with my siblings was always dependent on getting the work done first.
As I started teaching, it was never about the materials or methods found in textbooks. I would fill my classroom with resources and methodologies that would reach and engage the children. The text was only one way to accomplish the learning tasks. Looking back, it was student centered pedagogy that was open to multiple means of expression, representation, and engagement; UDL at heart (Universal Design for Learning). My default way of teaching was open right from the start (open pedagogy & content) but I was not necessarily confident to open my classroom door to share with others. Becoming open in education is not like flipping a switch on/off. It’s shades of open, variations on open and stepping forward toward open. (Pomerantz & Peek, 2016)
With an increase in the integration of computers, I could open the classroom to contexts and people that enhanced learning opportunities for my students. Technology became the open window to a wider world for the small school communities in which I taught. I see now that the ideas of open access, opportunity, transparency and entry were part of my motivation to open access education (Weller, 2014). Open became a mission and responsibility for me as an educator. Building doors into the brick walls of administrivia would open options for my students, so I became an advocate for open. Technology became the way I could engage students in open spaces, through these open doors I’d pushed to create, and a way out – out of being disenfranchised, disconnected, disregarded or dismissed.
I’ve climbed that mountain! Twice! The mountain I’m referring to is Huayna Picchu. It’s captured in many images from Machu Picchu and it can only be achieved one step at a time while managing the physical barriers of altitude, physical endurance and braving the risks. But I’m also referring to my learning journey completing two Masters programs which can also only be completed by taking learning and course work one step at a time.
My passion for open was solidified through the MET (Master of Education, UBC) program where I experienced the power and potential of what David Wiley calls the 4 R’s – reuse, revise, remix, redistribute (Weller, 2014). The fifth R – retain, ensures that there is a legacy of learning in the open. These are core elements throughout the MET tasks I accomplished as evidenced in the culminating, openly published portfolio of learning – My Renovations. Open was expected, encouraged and required. Through this process, I gained confidence in working openly, alone and with others. Open meant experimentation, open to any audience, open to participate in any way possible (Weller, 2014). Explorations of open Web 2.0 tools and resources expanded my understanding of what it means to be a user/generator, a creator of content. My confidence grew as I created and shared in open digital spaces – blogs, wikis, videos, podcasts and more. I’ve taken intentional steps to reach the open air as you can see in several blog posts but specifically Awaken the Dragon. I’ll never forget my excitement when Alan Levine (aka @cogdog) commented at length on one particular blog post where I explored ME in MEdia. It was affirmation and encouragement to continue stepping out into open digital spaces. I now try to do the same for others who are beginning their open journey.
As I started teaching at the Faculty of Education in a local university, I began to teach the way I was learning within MET – in the open. My courses were and continue to be dual layered within the walled gardens of shared spaces within learning management systems (LMS) and within open spaces found on the open web. Iterations of course designs become a repository for my students or anyone interested in learning about Media and Digital Literacies. Because these are reused and remixed each time I teach the course, the content on the web sites becomes a living document, co-created as we learn. You can see these courses at DTL3239 Digital Teaching and Learning, MDL4000 – Media and Digital Literacy, and CDL3239 – Critical Digital Literacy.
My focus in open education continued to shift after I completed the MET program as I stepped out further to find more. I became ‘moocified’ – I call it my year of the MOOC. I started with Digital Pedagogy’s MOOCMOOC, moved into Rhizo15, then on to CLMOOC which led to the HumanMOOC and Design Thinking MOOC through IDEO. Throughout this ‘moocification’ experience, I became aware of Virtually Connecting and have been actively engaging in open dialogue through conference conversations with VC folks for a couple of years. It’s also when I became aware of how Creative Commons applied to my contributions on the web. My default mode became more open but it was still motivated by what it could do for my teaching practice and how it would be a model for my students. I focused on building communities of inquiry within affinity spaces for meaningful knowledge production. For me, it’s about building relationships and joining conversations. I continued to push, nudge, promote and advocate for open learning opportunities with my colleagues and the teacher candidates in the Faculty.
My motivation didn’t necessarily focus on my own reputation, revenue or audience but those became increasingly important as I talked about digital spaces since this impacts the future of my students (professional identity, future job prospects, partnerships with parents, collaboration with colleagues). I model and share, as well as search out other educators who model and share in the open, so my students can learn by ‘lurking and learning’ from others with experience. I push myself further into the open so my students can see the risks and rewards. Now I try to frame the open so my students can be grounded and bounded as they explore the open for their own benefits. The iterations of my open practice now includes an increased presence in open educational scholarship – pushing myself further into the open by writing beyond blogs.
Steps toward open educational pedagogies and resources are not done by standing still or walking alone. Networks of practice are an essential component of open education. This year, I have the benefit of joining others as an OEORanger – Open Educators of Ontario. With support from eCampus Ontario, I’ll be able to connect and collaborate in open digital sandbox spaces with others across the province and around the world. Together we’ll push, pull, create and advocate for open educational content and practices within higher education in Ontario. Together, there will be stories to be told, journeys to be shared, mountains to climb.
Stories about becoming an open educator are stories of iterations and adaptations. They are created one step at a time, a story with no perceived beginning or apparent ending. Yet, as you write your story, you’ll come to understand, as I did here, that the beginnings and endings become evident. They are only part of the whole story. Like climbing a mountain – take it one step at a time, stop along the way to breath and enjoy the view, enjoy the open space at the pinnacle of the climb, don’t rush the trip down and share the journey with others. There’s always another mountain to climb tomorrow.
Weller, M. 2014. What Sort of Open?. In: Weller, M, Battle for Open. London: Ubiquity Press. DOI: https://doi.org/10.5334/bam.b Retrieved from http://www.ubiquitypress.com/site/chapters/10.5334/bam.b/
Images in order of appearance:
Doodle-A-Day #9 by Helen DeWaard
Personal photo at Machu Picchu by Helen DeWaard
OEORangers for Doodle-A-Day #28 by Helen DeWaard