A wall, a bothy and open.

Just prepping for #OER17 and a wall is an odd image to use to represent open, but this is a special wall.

Side gate “Wayside”, Kearsney Court near Dover. CC BY Viv Rolfe

We were guardians of this wall once. Our house was behind it. It was the Victorian kitchen garden designed by Thomas Mawson at Kearsney Court. This was the side door from the kitchen garden into the main park. We never locked it. And it was wonderful on occasions when inquisitive people from the park would just open it and walk into our garden. Walls can be open too.

“And through Wall’s chink poor souls they are content”
(A Midsummer Night’s Dream, William Shakespeare).

What I like about these memories is that we were guardians of these walls, and the amazing conservatories, terraces, ponds, steps and pathways within it. We never own houses do we – they seem to own us for that short period of time. I feel the same about our education system – those of us that work there are passing through it at this moment in time, and I can’t help but feel we aren’t providing the nurturing and attention it needs.

Kearsney Court

Back gate “Wayside”, Kearsney Court near Dover. CC BY Viv Rolfe

In the 1987 hurricane, when the insurance company came around to inspect the damage to the roads and driveway caused by innumerable trees having been blown down, I remember the man’s face froze in horror when he saw the wall. He said that it would bankrupt the company if it was damaged. It was a miracle that although trees were blown down on all four sides, the walls were untouched.

One memorable Saturday night after I had left home, the family were having a bonfire in the garden which got slightly out of hand. The next thing they knew was a fireman peering over the wall. My mum climbed the wall to explain that everything was under control. He checked that there was nothing more he could do, and Muvva explained – “well you can get your ladders, I’m stuck on this wall”.

Kearsney Court

Peeking In “Wayside”, Kearsney Court near Dover. CC BY Viv Rolfe

There were more types of apple trees, plum trees, pear trees than I could ever name or remember. There were lilacs of every colour. Each main wall had remnants of fruit cages, metal frames and brackets to ensure early and late crops growing on the South-facing and North-facing walls. There was a vinery and melon pit. The ornamental pond was a land mark on German World War II maps to indicate the flying route from Dover up to London. There were acres of daffodils in the spring and a clematis in every corner.

It was a truely shared space. Ducks from the park used to make nests to hatch their ducklings. There were rabbits, foxes and badgers. A green woodpecker spent the best part of a day creating a hole in one of the apple trees. He pecked for hours and hours. Misses Pecker came to inspect the next day, and to no avail. The hole was clearly no good. They never returned. We looked at what he had created and it was the smoothest and most perfect hole in the tree that you could imagine.

It was a wonderful house – well, quite small bungalow really. It originally was the gardener’s ‘bothy’. It looked along the Alkham Valley and you couldn’t see another single roof. How lucky was I spending some of my time there. My parents stretched themselves financially, and the snooty local estate agent frowned when they turned up to view it in a battered old Morris Minor. The intention was that my Nan could live with us – but sadly she never made it. I used to so regret not being able to walk her round the garden to savour the different plants, and being blind, it would have been the most amazing sensory garden for her. She never made it away from the horrors and fumes of the A13 in Essex where she lived for most of her life.

Walls can be wonderful if you can peep over them or walk through them. Humans turn them into barriers. You need the walls to protect and cultivate the things within. Openness in education needs to be nurturing, hopeful and touchable. But ultimately what is the point if people can’t freely come in and you choose not to share beyond the walls?

Open Quotes






Open Education 1972. CC BY Viv Rolfe

Quotations from:
Resnick LB (1972). Open Education: Some Tasks for Technology.” Educational Technology 12(1), 70-76.
Katz L G (1972). Research on Open Education: Problems and Issues.

Photographs taken in 2015 as part of Muvva’s 80th Birthday ramble.

ALT-C 2015 reflections: a heffalump in the auditorium?

In summarising my trip to the Association of Learning Technology 2015 Conference I find myself asking “why am I doing this”? Not in the sense of “why haven’t I won the lottery yet”, but I suddenly find myself questioning the motives behind my on-going work in open education. During the conference Martin Weller wrote about the “angst of the digital scholar” from the perspective of privacy and security, but I think there is another heffalump in the auditorium.

ELEPHANT By Godot13 (Own work) CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons and CONFERENCE by Chris Bull CC BY NC SA 2.0) via Flickr

ELEPHANT By Godot13 (Own work) CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons and CONFERENCE by Chris Bull CC BY NC SA 2.0) via Flickr

Elephant by Godot13 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

Conference shot by Chris Bull CC BY-NC-SA 2.0, CB_ALT_090915_010, via Flickr.

Please see Flickr for all the shots of the conference this year or go to Chris’s webpage for more information.

For ALT-c, Catherine Cronin and myself wanted to explore openness in its current state, and pull together existing resources and ideas to provide folk with critical frameworks for expanding and challenging their practices. Knox in 2013 writes how open educational theories have been slow to emerge despite the activity, and offers some areas of critique as a starter for the community. Our idea came to light as we were both thinking how could people become involved in open education for the first time, and how they could start sharing and creating open educational resources (OERs) if their institutions had no policy or supporting culture? How can people get ready to ‘go open’?

Personal Image - CC BY

Personal Image – CC BY


But I now find myself in the Bermuda Triangle of openness. (Queue Yacht Rock music thank you David). I’m questioning not just openness by my motives behind wanting to contribute to it.

  • What motivates academics and teachers to get involved in areas of practice that are NOT supported by their institutions?
  • Why invest even longer hours in supporting educational practice? My dentist doesn’t give me free root canal treatment outside of work?
  • Why personally finance conference attendance and travel, and what are the implications of this for the education sector?
  • What is in it for those willing to ‘go open’?

So what are some of the personal attributes of open educators? Here are some of my guesses.

Are we nice?

Much of the foundation of OER activity I believe was based on altruism and it tapped into people’s fundamental beliefs, and the very obvious idea of sharing teaching resources and ideas, just had legs. I recall over the three years of working on UKOER that only one conversation with potential collaborators and contributors received a resounding ‘no’. Industrial partners, NHS services and laboratories, academics and retired professionals, and even family members of academics who had previously published, all bought into the “spirit of open”.

We heard even more compelling arguments at the conference about our motivations that might also be fuelled by social injustices and inequalities within education, and far more than just being nice, we want to be socially responsible global citizens. Catherine reflects on Laura Czerniewicz‘s keynote lecture and suggests open practice may be a vehicle for change.

Are we rebellious?

I sense in the UK and perhaps elsewhere a rising backlash against the marketization of education and the diversion of academic time toward satisfying league table positions – as suggested at the SRHE 2014 conference last December, “add the shoe sizes of VC’s into league tables! Would be just as accurate“.

Engaging in open education unites us with the deeper underlying reasons why we came to academia in the first place, and gives us the opportunity to maintain some of our dignity, and actually, expand our knowledge and enrich our teaching practice beyond how to address the languishing responses to Question 22. Knox talks about “the desire to move away from institutional control” for some subsets of academics, but I wonder how much this is now just becoming the norm. Because with open, we can?

Are we just wanting more autonomy and freedom?

As pedagogy seemingly falls within the realms of administrative – architectural and technological decision making, we end up in a situation where our best teaching approaches are policy-driven and not people-driven. The role of the ‘teacher’ is very underplayed, and the talent, passion and energy required to be an outstanding and dedicated educator gets distilled down into the delivery of content. That is a bit like the head of MGM studios telling Fred Astaire that he could dance a little. We end up feeling that we can teach a little. We’ve seen this with MOOCs where the content became everything, except as we soon came to realise, that the avalanche promised just about mustered up the energy to create a snowball from which “the icy water of the postulated disruption trickles down the collective institutional neck “ (Kernohan 2015). Beautiful.

Open education again gives us the opportunity to reconnect with ourselves and regain our autonomy. We talk about independent learning – but what we increasingly see is independent teaching or independent educating. Jonathan Worth was asked in his keynote whether the proposed UK Teaching Excellence Framework TEF might lever our education processes and whether this was a safe development?

Jonathan answers: TEF could be an

“award for people who are really trying to do something that is challenging… are doing it for intrinsically rewarded we are never going to be extrinsically rewarded for the work that we put in as teachers …all that time we don’t spend with our family…you can’t pay someone enough to reward them for that….but if you attribute them, say they’ve done a good job, give them autonomy….that will make them want to do more….”.

Are we Guerilla academics?

We’ve heard the term relating to research from Martin Weller – people operating outside of their institutions and funding streams, and again tending to be those committed to the cause, or maybe those retired choosing to still pursue their interests? Just as the Guerilla researcher is driven by the desire to question, so is the Guerilla academic is striving to experiment and interact in new ways.

Of course there is a downside to all of this as we challenge the technical, ethical and pedagogic boundaries of openness without any critical reflection. Martin writes about feeling like the “baddie” when we know the element of risk we are thrusting on our students and colleagues when we are encouraging them to work out in the open?

Are we all conditioned lap-dogs?

Within our academic cultures, maybe we are so fundamentally driven by the reward structures that we don’t even know it? The system is based around work, publish and reward. Has the reward of our behind-the-ear tickle-publication-system resulted in us pursuing these goals at whatever cost, and that working in the open, offers a solution? I see teachers hosting and participating in open courses, people producing open educational resources, technologists designing openly available software and gizmos, and open researchers working beyond their institutional walls, or not on permanent contracts. Are we sacrificing to much for an ear tickle?

The future of open?

Martin (2015) writes about the future of open like a virus – permeating and perpetuating across all faces of academia. With any virus will come a personal cost, and I wonder what is the human cost behind much of what goes on in the open community? Something is going to give at some point – what happens when 20% of global teaching goes on outside of an institution? What are the implications of an educator or technologist is working 30% extra time beyond their institutional roles?

Knox concludes:

“Two differing models of OER learning are being promoted: one which maintains the restricted provision of the university and another which proposes independent study, preserving the institution only for assessment and accreditation”.

I would add, education might need to consider the implications of a three-tier education system which encompasses the university PLUS independent study AND independent teaching. Our critical reflections of openness are a start in thinking about this and how the system is disaggregating.

What is in it for me personally? I’m a nice, rebellious, autonomous lap-dog who likes to adopt Guerilla tactics. The concerns over being REF-able or TEF-able are sad deflections from the bigger questions raised at ALT-C about social inequality and our ethical conduct in the open. The big questions on openness captured by Catherine Cronin beautifully in her blog.


Kernohan D (2015). Digital Futures. Edited by Martin Hall, Martyn Harrow and Lorraine Estelle.

Knox J (2013). Five critiques of the open educational resources movement. Teaching in Higher Education, 18:8, 821-832. Available: https://www.academia.edu/2651447/Knox_J._2013_Five_Critiques_of_the_Open_Educational_Resources_Movement._Teaching_in_Higher_Education

Weller M (2015). The Battle for Open. Ubiqutiy Press.


BLOG POSTS RELATED TO THIS (added 28th September 2015)
There have been some amazing comments and conversations linked to this blog post, including thoughts from more seasoned open educators. Here are some links.


Mariana Funes “Virtues and Vices
Jenny Mackness “Questions about Online ‘Openness’
Jenny Mackness “The Benefits and Risks of Academic Openness
Frances Bell “The Paradox of Openness