Open Med EU fund project

Participants at the Open Education day in Marrakech, Morocco, Dec 6-8, 2016, with the support of the OpenMed project

Sábado, 10 diciembre 2016

50 shades of openness

It hits me so often and so hard how different the same word can elicit so many assorted meanings depending on the person that writes or reads, or even the moment in which the same person writes or reads.

This sort-of polysemy in regular, traditional words like chair, suit, watch and others becomes shocking when we talk about new concepts, adopted from the regular language, but applied to this World 2.0 that contaminates us 24/7. The educational community is not impermeable to this situation.

In the project there are 50 people (at least) involved, and 50 notions of “openness”.

Teacher, learner, classroom, textbook and other well-consolidated terms along the centuries turn into a new, reinvented and redefined meaning, from 20 years ago until now. Internet shows the paradox of making people feel closer although they are in separate spots of the World, and at the same time, making people feel isolated when they focus on the mobile screen instead of chatting with the others surrounding, just one physical feet away. Internet also reverses the stress into the learning chain. The learner does not seem to be the enrolled student, the teacher does not seem to be the docent in a payroll, and the resources do not seem to be just the aged, full-of-dust textbook, beaten up year after year.

In this context, the winning word of this last part of the year is “openness”, as in the combined term “open education”. We can find not just 1 or 2 meanings out of the same word, but 50 shades to make “openness” one of the most obscure, intriguing, hopeful and conflictive words of recent years. At UNIR Research we carried out a number of initiatives around this token: the project Open Educators Factory, the ICDE Chair in Open Educational Resources and the OpenMed project are just a few.

This last project gathers together partners from several sides of the Mediterranean Sea in order to design, boost and foster how much good open education can do for universities, schools and people, at large. And yet, the dialectic starts. Every culture in the project (Arabic, South-European, British) shows a different understanding about what “open education” means. Even better, Morocco and Egypt, Jordan and Palestine, do not agree at 100% about this term. United Kingdom and Italy seem to think alike, but Spain shares some vision with Jordan, although they are split between North and South, public and private. To make this semiotic maze even more thrilling, people in the same team provide also some deep insights about their shades on the matter. In summary, 50 people (at least) are involved, and 50 notions of “openness” there are.

Our approach, both in OpenMed and at UNIR Research, to this welcome nightmare is to look for the common ground, using a fuzzy-logic approach: if we just say yes or no, 1 or 0, 100% or 0%, it will be quite difficult to meet half-way. Maybe 85% is as good as 100%. This means that we take that grey area between 85% and 100% to meet somehow. 50 shades, again, at rescue.

So, in our elaborated but simple logic, we agree on a bunch of specific foundations, under the umbrella of the UNESCO’s 2012 Paris OER declaration: “Teaching, learning and research materials in any medium, digital or otherwise, that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits no–cost access, use, adaptation and redistribution by others with no or limited restrictions”. OpenMed emphasizes the idea of breaking boundaries and building bridges that expand the opportunities for any citizen to benefit from universities as a source of knowledge without having to become fee–paying students. This goes comprises Open Access, Open Data, Open Content, Open Licenses and Open technology. We might qualify these declarations with some hints about the distinction between Open, Universal and Free.

A long way to go, indeed, but a good foundation and lots of good-willing to take it over.

Daniel Burgos. Marrakech, Morocco. Thursday, December, the 8th, 2016