This autumn we have been surrounded by the beauty of trees festooned in deep reds, yellows and browns. I’m told that the weather conditions this year have produced such a fabulous sight. I have tried to make the most of any opportunity to get out and enjoy wandering through the local parks and the campus at work, drinking in the autumnal colours set against blue skies and morning mists. It was during one of these walks, shortly after the recent Open Education SIG webinar on Wikimedia that I found myself thinking about open practice.
In the morning I had read this post by Alyson Idrunas which deals with the messy and sometimes unwelcome business of open practice and licencing. Of course Alyson writes from within a US context -expensive education built on casual labour, little job security for those responsible for student learning. She recounts an example in which a clearly devoted practitioner questions why he would wish to make his work available to others under CC licence. The discussion is interesting – it all comes down to what feels fair.
Walking through the park, surrounded by beauty which is shared with me at no cost and few restrictions it seemed to me that the world is a very fair place. Nature gives restorative care to us despite the very little time and support we offer in return, despite the few choices I am able to make in order to mitigate climate change. I don’t recall doing anything to contribute to the fabulous array of colours this season! I also watched as the squirrels hunted for tasty treats for the winter and hurriedly took them to their hiding places. Easy to think that they, like us, were benefiting from the seasonal bounty for their own pleasure.
Suddenly a new picture emerged that I had failed to see before. The messiness of multiple actors (squirrels, bear with me) randomly burying their treasures across the countryside, out in the open. Not hoarding, hiding for later. They were doing their work and unaware, contributing to the sustainability of their environment. Some of the buried acorns, long forgotten, would grow to replace older trees in time, others would be found by fellow nut eaters or reabsorbed into the soil – all of which makes a contribution to the health of the wider ecosystem.
Take this analogy to open practice and we see that applying a CC BY licence to his work Alyson’s lecturer would ensure that his profile could be raised within the wider teaching community. In contrast, there is no guarantee that his current employer would wish to protect his profile, after all he may become more expensive to employ. The appeal of institutional “open” repositories is overstated in this picture. If you create digitally in order to teach effectively do so in the spirit of sharing with your profession but with the wisdom of knowing that ultimately you must look after your own career. The requirement for good teachers will not disappear, believe in your work and share it in multiple discoverable locations (CC BY of course) keeping a copy yourself just in case. Squirrelling away your work in this way contributes to a sustainable ecosystem which will adapt and survive despite the potential crises that may be coming down the line (austerity, government failures, student debt, need I say more?). It will also help hone your skills and provide a network you can work with. Fair is when each part of the ecosystem can achieve it’s objectives without constraining the others, fair is as fair does.