Putting open on trial: my response

For one of my MSc Digital Education modules I wrote an essay and put it out in the open for ‘marking’ for want of a better word: Turning to the community: my open learning journey. This is my response* to all those people who took time not only to read it but to comment and critique it.

*I did write a draft shortly afterwards but four months of full time work, studying for two masters modules and three super lively little-ish ones took its toll and I curled up in a mental dark room before hitting ‘publish’. When I emerged #domains17 was kicking off and I rethought where this post and indeed my own blog should live – more on that below.


First of all, I want to be clear that for me having my work in the open and putting it out in the open are two very, very different things, literally the difference between a whisper and a shout through a loud speaker. I initially Tweeted my essay and got wonderful responses from my personal Twitter community of friends, colleagues and fellow students. However, after two days I felt that this was a dis-service in some ways to truly questioning open and potentially reaping the benefits of open. So I took the plunge and sent it directly to one of the jury members, Maha Bali. This did indeed change things, entirely, and it was quickly distributed to many people in her network and feedback came thick and fast. Many questions prompted me to think more critically and ponder my verdict and the construct. I have tried to address these questions below.

The metaphor: strengths and weaknesses

Having had the idea of a trial, I knew I had to make a decision on an outcome and therefore my role had to be that of judge. Ideally, I would have wanted to be the lawyer defending my case and presenting my own evidence, as that would have made more sense. As it was, I next needed two lawyers and therefore, two key texts. Martin Weller and Neil Selwyn fitted the bill well as prominent critical voices on EdTech but of course in reality both texts held balanced arguments regarding the overall narrative and I was simply picking the relevant quotations from each, to fit my narrative.

It was also quite shaky to shoehorn my reflections in amongst the evidence but I couldn’t see a way around that one, I couldn’t simultaneously be a witness and the judge, yet I needed to have a continuous, flowing narrative.

The jury was straightforward when I discovered the video discussion on Open Pedagogy as this was to some extent this was the inspiration of the trail idea. To find that there were twelve people listed was a definite lucky bonus. The weakness arose that the jury should have simply returned a verdict and I the judge would have passed sentence – this didn’t fit the critical essay at all. So I had to be a bit creative and extracted the jury’s comments that supported my verdict, in some ways providing more evidence.

This takes me to, in my mind, the biggest weakness – the verdict. I knew that in a masters level essay I was required to present an argument and then make a personal decision however, in the world of education situations are not neatly black and white. Again in an ideal world I would have opened it for comments then made documented changes accordingly but life is too messy and I had no time to implement it in this order.

In reality ‘beneficial’ isn’t a binary yes or no, that is much too simplistic and, as a few of the reviewers pointed out, much too contextual. Did it benefit my mark? Did it benefit my practice? Did it benefit the depth of learning of the course content? Did others benefit from my openness? If they did but I didn’t, would it still be perceived to be beneficial? The reality, like all learning, is complex and a unique experience for each individual. Perhaps an acquittal verdict would be more appropriate.

Final musings

Taking the risk of being in the open is not to be taken lightly, either as a learner or a practitioner. Whilst I am more than happy working in the open, I am very uncomfortable of speaking up and out in the open (I had a least one nightmare during which someone on Twitter took the essay to shreds). Despite that I learned a lot from many different people and even though ‘beneficial’ can be debated I certainly did not lose anything. I feel enriched from the whole experience.

Domain of One’s Own: I completely agree that having a domain is the key factor for all, whether it is rented or bought or a blend of both with adverts thrown in. Since writing the essay I have had this very discussion with a colleague. We are starting a new small module and instead of us dictating the space for students, we are thinking that this could take the form of a task during which they will select the domain themselves after debate – whether institutional or personal. This would allow for digital literacy integration as well as a level of autonomy.

Trying to keep up with all the discussions on the domains hashtag coincided with working through the frustrations of dealing with the WordPress decision to remove iframe functionality – which is fair enough. Requiring me to upgrade to a paid account to install free plugins – is not fair enough. It was time to move to my own domain! So this response is my first new post on this exciting space of my own, which hopefully allows me more control. I have successfully brought over all my posts, including comments so I think all that is left is to check any remaining iframe content. In fact, the hardest bit was deciding on and committing to a domain name – I know that I will come up with a more catchy one next week but getting lost and finding new ways through EdTech seems the right for me just now!

My final concern about the entire exercise is something that I don’t think anyone queried and that is the problem of the echo chamber within our communities of practice. Everyone, who read and interacted with it provided critical perspectives but when it comes down to it, and I’m sure I will be corrected if I am wrong, all are passionate about open. Is this important/are some echo chambers positive? Should I be concerned by the lack of input from those who are against learning in the open?

As always, in an attempt to answer questions I have ended up asking even more and even more after trying and failing to keep up with #DigCiz ….

Thank you all so much for contributing so warmly to this mini-experiment. I have tried to list everyone by creating the Wakelet as the best means to personally say a huge ‘thank you’, I feel I have in this case well and truly benefited. (updated August, 2018 to replace the defunct Storify with Wakelet)

Find out all about my Masters course at their website, Masters in Digital Education, the University of Edinburgh, I cannot recommend it enough.

This seems a timely sign off for the end of the academic year, have a happy summer break everyone.

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