I have been thinking and writing about “open pedagogy” since 2015, and with each year that passes, I become more unsure about the definition of that slippery term, “open.”
In 2015, I was just beginning to articulate my discomfort with the focus on reducing the costs of textbooks that dominated the conversations around open in North America. It seemed limiting to me then to reduce open to an artifact, to valorize its product rather than its process, since what excited me most about working with openly licensed materials was how it enabled me to rethink the work that my students and I were doing together. What if the project of education was less about encountering knowledge and more about interacting with it? What would it mean for my students, my institution, my community, my world if we thought about education as a collaborative endeavor, and built architectures that encouraged a commons-oriented approach to learning? Surely this would mean making learning materials affordable, but surely it wouldn’t mean only that.
As the years passed, I became more convinced that open is a shift in mindset more than a shift in cost. And at times, this shift in mindset has even left me with doubts about whether “open” is the shape of the new terrain I am gesturing toward in my own work in education. Feminist and indigenous scholars, in particular, have pointed out the ways in which “open” is not necessarily aligned with values that support sustainable, diverse, and equitable knowledge communities. And privacy advocates have critiqued the notion that public spaces are spaces in which privacy must be forfeited. So what does “open” mean for an educator driven less by a license and more by a vision for learning that honors the humanity and contributions of every learner?
This collection is intentionally attentive to the relationship between teachers and librarians, and this interstitial space between colleges and libraries is one place I look to when I try to think about the architectures that support open. My first job was in a public library, and what I most loved about it had little to do with the work: hours and hours of shelving (and a stolen hour here and there reading when I should have been shelving). What I most loved was the delicious mix of freedom and privacy. I could open the oak drawer of the card catalog and look for information about whatever secret world was calling me–some terrifying and some intoxicating. I could duck between the stacks and read with my friends and neighbors all around me and it was like I was the only person on earth. My first experiences in the public library were wrapped up in what I now believe was the feeling of having my privacy respected; the crowded silent reading room was like a metaphor I felt in my bones for the ways that public spaces could enable private ones.
My first job was in a library and my current job is in a library, but I am not a librarian. And mostly what librarians tell me when I wax poetic about the freedom and privacy that libraries provide is that ensuring those freedoms and that privacy is a bloody business, exhausting and often demoralizing. This is because like “open,” libraries make a promise that they can’t keep, because these promises are so often decontextualized from the political realities that define and constrain us. No place that purports to be equitable can be a utopia, since equity demands the kind of frank interventions that make power dynamics visible. And in today’s world, these power dynamics are so often occluded or semantically inverted by the most powerful voices; it falls to those of us committed to social justice to lean away from any tendency to represent our visions as pure and untouched by society’s violence.
So if open is not a panacea and libraries are not an escape, then why do I continue to invest my time and energy? I go to work every day in the Open Learning & Teaching Collaborative, located in the Lamson Learning Commons, the library of my public university in New Hampshire. The reason, for me, is hope. Hope is the thing that acknowledges the flaws, scars, barriers, and pain, but that envisions a way of flourishing in spite of, or after, or alongside, or underneath all of the trauma. For me, open is a way for us to unflinchingly name the ways that our students and our colleagues are prevented from exercising their ideas, contributing to the shape of knowledge, and changing the structures of an academy that insidiously validates the status quo. And open is a way to highlight a thorny path to something better. Libraries are not a site of escape, but a set of flares along the path–a space that calls us to the work, as bloody as it might be.
This collection is everything hopeful about open. It’s the entangled voices that gather in our shared spaces to talk about what’s wrong, and what could be better. We don’t have to agree on what open is. We don’t need a particular license or a common set of resources. What we need is the courage to walk into conversation. When I think about open now, I think of collections and collectives. Of collaborations and collaboratives. Of the commons, in all of its painful fractures and all of its points of connection. I hope we enter this collection the way we enter our best conversations: ready to open our futures to something bigger and more complicated than we imagined before. Like most libraries, a commons isn’t a safe or static place: it’s a public constantly renegotiating its parameters so that resources can be shared. To do this work, we need to rethink our structures, exercise our creativity, face our abuses, illuminate our margins, listen to learners as they describe the experiences they bring to learning. We don’t need to be sure about open; open is not a thing to achieve, as much as a way to hope. We need to be open to the hard work of hope. I invite you into this collection, where the work–and the hope–goes on.
Many scholars and teachers and thinkers and learners have influenced my ideas here, especially Jessica Chretien, Chris Gilliard, Audrey Watters, Maha Bali, Tara Robertson, Jim Luke, Don Goodman-Wilson, Kim Christen, Michelle Pacansky-Brock, Shirley Lew, Fobazi Ettarh, and Kieran Egan.