Is there such a thing as “too open”?

With my recent thinking about openness, I’ve found myself starting to channel an internal devil’s advocate voice… This post does not represent my personal beliefs, but if we’re going to talk about open education, we need to explore all sides of it…

Is truly open education a desirable goal? Is the eradication of all barriers to access something that would have positive outcomes? If we follow open education in one logical direction – where every individual is able to tailor their own educational experience in breadth, depth, and scope, will we be able to make sense of the products of such experiences? Degrees and diplomas, at least in the conventional sense, would become diluted to the point of being essentially meaningless. If each individual can for all intents and purposes be their own university, how do we properly value this? Can everyone claim to have an open PhD from MeU?

One way to value and make sense of such a truly open education would be to shift from institution-based credentials (degrees, diplomas, certificates) to performance-based credentials (portfolios, professional boards, guilds). That’s not a simple shift, but there are precedents – medicine and law operate in similar ways now.

Then there are the arguments against educational and cultural imperialism. If the primary producers and arbiters of open education are in the West, then promotion of these resources into other contexts is tantamount to (gently) forcing Western philosophy and ideology on other cultures. Those who refuse to adopt the resources are branded as backward, and those who do adopt them are assimilated.

7 thoughts on “Is there such a thing as “too open”?

  1. It is an interesting set of questions … I struggle with it as well. I am part of a growing group of people at my institution who values open education, but we are all still trying to figure out what that really means. Trying to define (if one can) the boundaries of openness is a very strange thing to do. I don’t know where the good of the community ends and the walls of the business of educating people begin and end … again, I know that sounds strange, but there are so many who are bound by either real or imagined issues with open education. In a time of shrinking state and federal appropriations, a conversation that appears to take more dollars away from the University is a tough one to have.

    I think time is changing peoples’ perception of the situation, but traction is tough. The conversations are happening and that is something I didn’t expect to see this early on my campus. It is encouraging, but it will be a long journey.

  2. I think these are important and unanswered questions. The answer(s) may always lie along a spectrum between the two radical ends, but they can’t be overlooked.

    Some kind of education purposefully uses a “weeding” effect to great advantage, I think– med school, law school, some select philosophy programs. I’m sure there are others. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. There’s a lot of value in knowing that someone we are interacting with has received a specific and known set of credentials even if we know that sometimes those credentials don’t mean as much as we’d like…

    I have serious questions about the idea of open accreditation and such (though much of that depends on which kind of open education, of the hundreds of variations we are talking about). I’m sure the skeptical side will have a lot of backers, but it doesn’t hurt for everyone along the line to keep them in mind!

  3. I have been thinking about these questions a lot lately, especially since I have been following CCK08 and more recently, in following the open accreditation posts. I do believe there is a too far open and this is in some ways a danger for advocates of openness in education, to become too radical to the point of senselessness. At the same time, sometimes it may be a good strategy to stretch the possibilities (e.g., open accreditation models) so much that it causes the other extreme to react to the left.

    I have been thinking a lot about the ideas of open accreditation, but mostly have been pushing back at the idea. It strikes me that once we move into that sphere, we move away from the question of “what it means for society to have educated citizens” to “education as a means to better employement”.

    Thanks for your thoughts as always, D’Arcy.

  4. One thing I think of when this comes up is the idea of “merit badges”. A merit badge is a badge that says hey, we know you can build a fire because we watched you build a fire.

    As long as merit badges are not fraudulent and are not forked into a million varieties, they are useful. You can’t grant too many.

    Merit badges are sort of like gold in this respect, tied to a reality that prevents sudden loss of value.

    The bad thing that can happen with merit badges — if you create 30,000 varieties, the credential becomes meaningless. The building a fire in the woods on a moderately dry day with bamboo and switchgrass badge? Really? So what does that tell me, the employer looking at hiring someone in rainy and switchgrass free Washington State?

    But the problem with general degrees, like BA’s is that they are more like currency, at least as used in the current system. We set our goal to produce more degrees in our current system, and in the process we caused the value of a high school diploma to be worthless. The result (or at least the result i see on more more morbid days) — the perpetuation and expansion of a large underclass, and a middle-class increasingly burdened by tuition debt — a burden that puts them at the mercy of the corporate system when they graduate — they can’t take some years to goof off in their basement on a project — they have to get a job immediately to pay off massive debt (at least this is true in America).

    So, in some sense, although we like to think we are inventing access, we are in many ways fixing the problems of the last access movement.

    Those problems — tuition that is destroying the possibilities of our graduates and killing thier potential, and for those that don’t go to college, a permanent membership in the underclass.

    I think that should give us pause, to see the law of unintended effects at work there. I think the fact those problems are so prevalent should also be significant impetus to keep us moving forward.

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