These past two ONL weeks went fast! After a short phase in which we collected information and exchanged ideas, we decided to channel our thoughts about the new topic into a mini series of short narrative videos – the journey of a teacher going “open”. I am absolutely thrilled with how these turned out (thanks to Lynette, who, as it turns out, is an amazing storyteller!), and I can’t wait for us to share them with the community. But how about my personal reflection on the topic, then?

I remember my reluctance when we first started on this topic. Not because of a lack of enthusiasm for open learning, but rather the contrary: This matters to me, personally, because I believe that freely available access to education is one crucial step on the way to more equality in a much more general sense. There are few things that are quite as fundamentally important as this, and I have no doubts whatsoever about this: Going open is the right (and the only responsible) thing to do. I immediately fell in love with a metaphor that somebody from our group brought up on our discussion board: Knowledge can be seen like the flame of a candle: Using our own to light another person’s does not take away from what we have. It only helps to make the world a brighter place (this metaphor is famously used by Thomas Jefferson in a 1813 letter that is well worth reading in full). So yes, I am all for sharing knowledge, and – given a fair use of reference when it comes to intellectual property – see no reason whatsoever NOT to share. In my happy little corner of the world (and my subject area, maybe), being generous with what we have to share in both teaching and research is actually rewarded with respect from the academic community and generally not punished or restricted.

But. A lot of what we were reading and hearing about in this topic was more or less directly connected to the pros and cons of making course material freely and openly available (online) instead of selectively providing a chosen few students with the relevant information through learning management systems and/or “face to face” classroom seminars. And here, things are getting complicated: My background is in the Humanities, and I teach mostly courses about literature and languages. In these, I believe that the essence of what my students take away is not “book knowledge” in a traditional sense. Yes, they learn some things that could also be read up in textbooks, but from my experience, a good class involves developing new perspectives, exchanging ideas in a group and getting engaged in discussions that open up new horizons. My role as a teacher is often that of a facilitator: I create a safe space where everybody feels that they are welcome to contribute and do not need to hold back, I guide and encourage, I provide input where it is needed to keep discussions going. And yes, I provide the material on which the discussions are based, and the guidelines and rules for scientific engagement with it. But share this as I might, the mere material and tasks used in my classes will not allow “free learners” to get the same effect out of them. They will lack the community, the exchange, the encouragement and feedback – aside from the many non-academic rewards that make being a student so worthwhile. Sitting at home and reading a free book is better than not having the book you couldn’t afford to buy. But real equality would mean so much more! It requires infrastructure, which costs money to create and maintain, and teachers like myself are in for real, time-consuming engagement outside of their safe, comfortable, just a little bit fenced-off campus communities. I wish I could say that I have no doubts about investing that much. I wish I could say I have the capacities. But sometimes I am all drained after a session with my rather small groups of students – doing what I do feels good, and it works. But can this kind of thing be done on a really big scale? Can I do it? And how open am I really if I can’t say for sure if I could?

"We are open" – or are we, really? (Topic 2: Open Learning – Sharing and Openness)