Networked practitioner: open or closed practice?
Networked practitioner: open or closed practice?

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Networked practitioner: open or closed practice?

2.1 Benefits of an open approach

Listen to the following audio recording (8 minutes) in which Martin Weller, Professor of Educational Technology at The Open University, talks about the benefits of being open.

Download this audio clip.Audio player: h818_u2_martin_weller.mp3
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Martin Weller
Hello, this is Martin Weller, Professor of Educational Technology at The Open University. I’m going to talk on the benefits of being open.
First of all you might ask ‘what do you mean by openness?’. It’s a very broad term.
A formal definition might be that you plan to release material under a creative commons licence say. But I want to take it and have a more general view about this. So for me it’s about your practice as an educator or researcher or practitioner. That might involve sharing content, might involve engaging with networks online or involve using variety of resources like going to blogs.
The key is taking on board the open possibilities offered by digital and networked technologies to operate in a more open manner. I’m going to try to give five benefits of openness from my own perspective and experience and then leave you with some questions maybe.
The first benefit I’d say is that your content goes further. I wrote a book recently called The Digital Scholar. About half of that book is a bit of a rant against the formal publication process, so I felt I couldn’t go the normal publishing route. So I published with Bloomsbury Academic and they created an online version that was released under a Creative Commons non-commercial licence so that anyone was free to read it, adapt it as they wanted to.
And that’s been really good and I can compare that with having written two books where that wasn’t the case as I’ve seen it take on a different life compared to a normal book. I’ve written two. So for instance, people have taken my book and used it for staff development because they can just link to it without having to buy 40 copies.
Similarly I’ve done online forums and been able to say to people ‘I’ve written a chapter on this’ and been able to point people at it without feeling like I’m trying to sell them something so I felt more comfortable about that. I think it’s had more citations as a result if that’s something you’re interested in, so that more people reference your work but just a broader dissemination of your work.
As long as you accept that as an academic you’re never going to make any money from academic publishing and actually what you want most of all is get your ideas out there as widely as possible then open access publishing is really the way to go. Why wouldn’t you go open access?
My second reason to be open is that it leads to unexpected outcomes. Often this can be a simple thing like you might take a photograph in one context and someone uses it in a blog post for a completely different context that you hadn’t thought of but because it’s open they can take it and use it.
An example I like to give is when I got that when I went to India last year. I was invited to give a key note talk over there (around the subject of MOOCs). And it really came about because I’d been blogging for about 6 years and I’d made contacts with other bloggers one of them was George Siemens, from Canada. George was one of early pioneers of these open courses, these MOOCs. And one of the students on that was a guy called Viplav Baxi from Delhi. He wanted to organize a conference in India about MOOCs so he contacted George to get together a few of us to go and talk to them.
And that’s a neat example of how when I started blogging people said ‘Where do you find the time to blog?’ and ‘Doesn’t that conflict with your other things?’. So you can think of all the negative things but it’s very hard to think of these very positive outcomes or these unusual outcomes. You wouldn’t have said ‘Start blogging and you’ll end up with a nice trip to India’. But you might have thought that ‘I won’t have the time to fit it in among other things’.
So by being open and allowing people to take your stuff and use it and do different things with it then unexpected things will occur. They may not always be positive but they will be unexpected.
My third reason is about networking and here I’m going to talk about something that isn’t really related to education. I used a site called Blipfoto where you upload a photo every day. It’s a nice site, you can follow other people and they follow you. People use it as a photo journal. It’s a really good way of connecting with people. And you see that all the time – I’m a big user of Twitter and I write a blog and I’ve formed a real global network of peers. Previously that use to be a really difficult thing to do – you had to be on the conference circuit for a really long time, talking to people and that meant that you were away from the office. And now you can do that kind of peer networking while you’re having breakfast in the morning. I think that’s really valuable and I think one of the key things we can do is become good networkers and a good member of the community – that means contributing to that network and making it work for us and using it as a filter. I don’t often read lots of blogs because I know that if something interesting is coming out then my social network will act as a filter and surface it for me.
My fourth one is reciprocity. When I was writing my previous book before the creative commons version one, it was a very different process. I relied on very formal publications, going and sitting in the library, where as when I wrote the new one it was post social networking. My social network was a really important factor in writing that book. I would do things like I would put a out call for help, asking people if they had examples, and people would contribute to me. Or I would ask for feedback on early chapters. I could only do this because having been online for years people saw me as a useful member of that community. It’s very difficult to come in a just start asking stuff of the community you won’t get much of a response but if you are seen as valuable and have contributed to that community then people are prepared to reciprocate. At that point your investment to the open network begins to pay off. Initially it takes time to network and gather connections but after a certain point where it begins to work for you. Certainly when I was writing my new book having the social network was a timesaving device for me and really began to be beneficial.
My last reason for being open is that it is beginning to offer interesting ways around teaching and education. I work a lot on open educational resources and it’s interesting to see people take these and adapt them for their own context – I don’t think we do enough of this actually.
I think we’re only beginning to understand what it means to take content from different places and sequence it together in different ways and add an overarching narrative. It means you can create courses fairly quickly and for different audiences by piecing stuff together.
Many of you will have heard of MOOCs (massive open online courses). There’s a lot of hype around them being the complete future of education and I don’t really want to go into that. I think what’s interesting about them is that by being open you can fulfil different functions and reach different audiences in that overall learning environment. So some people want to do formal education and some people want to do informal education. What MOOCs help do is to blur the distinction, so you might do one or two MOOCs then decide you want to do a formal course at the university. So by being open you get a different type of learner and you can do different things.By having these things called open boundary courses, people can studying on a formal course (we do this with H817 at the Open University), but at a certain point get to mix with everyone.
There’s a course out of Coventry called Phonar by a guy called Jonathan Worth. This is a photography course. He made it a completely open course, because he wanted his formal students to experience the critique and engage with the wider photography community. Anyone can take that course but they mix with the formal students too.
So concluding, you’ll see that I’ve put a deliberately positive spin on the benefits of being open and ignored some of the negatives. You may be able to think of some others.
Also can you think of any potential negatives to open practice and do these outweigh the benefits?
End transcript
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Activity 2

Timing: Timing: 5 minutes

Martin Weller describes five benefits of openness. Which of the following is not one of the benefits he describes?


Openness can increase an academic author’s income.


Openness can help an academic’s content increase its reach.


Openness can assist with increasing an academic’s network.


Openness can aid with reciprocity.

The correct answer is a.


This is the correct response. Martin Weller says that publishing openly is unlikely to increase an academic author’s income.


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