OER14: What does openness mean to you and me?

At the end of April I attended the OER14 conference in Newcastle in the UK to present on our work at Siyavula within the context of building communities of open practice. This was the first time anyone at Siyavula had attended this specific conference, and I found it really insightful into what is happening in open education in the UK and in Europe. Although the focus was mostly on higher education and developed countries, I found that I could add a crucial dynamic to the discussions and themes due to our work at Siyavula within the school (K-12) space and in a developing country. I feel it is really important that we at Siyavula continue to connect with people and developments in open education around the world, not only to learn from others, but also to share what we are doing. I am always encouraged by the enthusiasm with which people want to know about and learn from our work within South Africa.

Catherine Ngugi, Project Director of OER Africa (CC-BY OER14)
Catherine Ngugi, Director of OER Africa (CC-BY OER14)

To kick off the conference, we had Catherine Ngugi, the Project Director for OER Africa, deliver the keynote speech. One thing that Ngugi said which really resonated with me, is that Africa is no longer just a consumer, but also a provider. This can be applied to many different disciplines and fields where Africa is leveraging the technology and resources most appropriate to us to come up with unique, innovative solutions, which the rest of the world can actually learn from. Importantly, we are creating our own educational resources which suit our specific needs and circumstances. You can download Ngugi’s slides here to find out more about OER Africa.

One experience which I particularly enjoyed at the conference was taking part in the LEGO Serious Play workshop on “Communities of Open Practice”. I was really intrigued as to what we were going to do with LEGO. Walking into the room, two tables with piles of LEGO in the middle were waiting for us.

All the potential in our pile of LEGO, just waiting to be released!
All the potential in our pile of LEGO, just waiting to be released!

My LEGO duck.

It’s amusing how as soon as we all sat down, everyone just could not keep their hands off the blocks and started to fiddle and play and build things without even thinking about it. To get the “playshop” going we were each given the same set of yellow and red blocks and told to make a duck in 1 minute. I was amazed to see the diversity in our little yellow ducks all sitting on the table at the end of a minute! This was just a taste of things to come.

The whole idea of using LEGO is that it provides a way to express your thoughts and ideas physically through playing and acts as a instigator for discussion.  There is so much that we can learn through play, which is a topic I have been exploring for awhile, especially using creative play as a learning tool in children. (Read my previous blog post on creative learning with Scratch.)

The next step was to now build an “open” duck, drawing on the pile of LEGO from the middle of the table in another 2 minutes. I spotted a LEGO piece which looked very much like a wing and then found another, and so I gave my duck wings to make it open. I feel that when something is “open”, for example if an educational resource is openly licensed, you give it wings to fly. It is no longer constrained by physical barriers.  Being open means that something can travel to new places, be influenced by other people, be used by other people, benefit other people. Being open allows something to be dynamic, living, evolving. You increase its reach, impact and potential, far beyond that which would be allowed if it had no wings and was left to stagnate on the ground.

We went around the table and shared our reasons for how we had created our open ducks. Check out the video below for some ideas on what openness meant to all of us. Collectively, I think we presented a very comprehensive description of what openness means. But what I find interesting is how different parts of open appeal to different people which affected how we each created an open duck to express our idea physically.

IMG_4753In light of the theme for the conference, “Building communities of open practice”, we then went on to create a LEGO model of an open community. The insect-looking model on the right was how I represented an open community. The treasure chest in the middle represents the community that has come together. It is filled with different jewels, each representing the variety of skills, attributes, resources, personalities, that all come together in a community of people, highlighting that everyone has a role to play and has something to offer. There are then different paths coming together to form the community as people meet up along the way and the community grows. And there are paths leaving the community to represent first physical paths as people learn and grow within the open community and then go on to do something else taking with them what they have accomplished and learned, to share in new places. The colours of the paths are also symbolic to me, changing from black to yellow. Although black may seem a bit dramatic and ominous, I see the colours representing how people become enriched by being involved in a community, especially an open, collaborative one where ideas and resources are shared. I have seen this in our work at Siyavula using a collaborative model with a diverse group of volunteers to produce our open textbooks. This acts as a seed for the development of an open community as people start out with a common goal, each helping out in the area in which they can contribute their skills most efficiently, and inherently becoming part of a larger, growing community as they share and learn.

Our unique experiences of openness and communities shape and influence what we in turn think of and need from open communities.
Our unique experiences of openness and communities shape and influence what we in turn think of and need from open communities.

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to others around the table explain their models for an open community. It was a revelation for us all to see the diversity. I think this highlights how our individual paths to openness and the communities that we have been involved in have shaped our ideas around open and what it means to each of us. And when we take a step back and view all of these ideas, models and interpretations on the the table, we can start to comprehend the potential for open communities and the act of sharing.

All of our individual ideas seen together as one great model for an open community.
All of our individual ideas seen together as one great model for an open community.



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