Wearing Purple

Guest Blog: “Warning and Wearing Purple #OER19” by Helen Crump

Image: Pixabay

This post is my lead into OER19. It outlines my own presentation at the conference and also introduces the work of Irina Rets. I thought it would be a good idea if ahead of the conference people could find out a little bit about the work of others, someone that they’re not familiar with, and introduce them as a form of ‘community-enquiry’. I’m glad to say that Lisa O’Neill has already bitten the bullet on this one in her pre-conference post.

OK, so what’s with the “Warning” title of this post?

Warning is a poem by Jenny Joseph. It’s twice been voted Britain’s favourite modern poem and has been referred to as an ‘ode to non-conformity’. No surprise then that it’s one of my favourite poems. The poem starts

When I am an old woman I shall wear purpleWith a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me

The poem then goes on to list a pile of things that the author is going to do later in life, such as spend her pension on brandy and summer gloves; run her stick along public railings and go out in her slippers in the rain – all to make up for the sobriety of her youth and her current life-phase of duty and conformity that requires her to “set a good example”. The poem finishes with the author looking forward to the later stages of her life and actively planning for the transformation she envisages. In fact, she rationalizes that she ought to rehearse a little bit now.

Maybe I ought to practise a little now?So people who know me are not too shocked and surprisedWhen suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

Well, this is a bit like how I feel ahead of OER19. Perhaps I ought to practice a little now so people in the Open Education community won’t be too shocked and surprised when I, metaphorically speaking, start to wear purple. That is when I start to say I’ve more questions than answers about openness in education and that I really wonder about the role openness plays in the digital and networked transformation of not only education but society in general. And when I, and hopefully others, really start to take up critical perspectives and interrogate whether there is a ‘rhetoric and reality gap’ in open education. A bit like Sheila MacNeill when she asks “Is openness an act of conformance or defiance?” or when Mariana Funes and Jenny Mackness pose a “counter narrative” for Open Education.

My research is making me think really hard about the role of sharing in open practices, and how sharing has, to date, largely passed by un-problematized as it transitions into online spaces. After all, sharing is an economic mode of transfer that entails both social and economic dimensions. Moreover, sharing enables “others to access what is valued” (Widlok, 2017, p. 1) and it refers not only to the ‘sharing out’, or distribution, of physical resources but also to the ‘sharing in’ of life’s experiences. In turn, what exactly is being shared is making me think about how value is created in our practices and the labour that this involves. Here’s my conference abstract, ‘Enacting the Value of Openness by Sharing‘. All being well, I’ll post the transcript of my presentation at a later date.

So, that’s me. Looking through the OER19 draft programme I was surprised by the range of initiatives and contexts covered by Open Education. I was equally surprised to see so many names that I recognised from The Open University – all doing aspects of Open that I’m not that familiar with. A case in point is the work of Irina Rets. Can you believe Irina is a PhD research student in the same department as me but I honestly know very little about her research. So, an email and a coffee later, this is what I discovered.

OER Accessibility to English Non-Native Speakers – Irina Rets

Irina’s study explores the accessibility of open courses in terms of the level of English language proficiency required. The OER literature identifies a high demand for education provision from developing countries, which in turn translates to a high demand from non-native English speakers. So, in line with the equitable aspirations of OERs, it might reasonably be expected that this is taken into account and the level of language used in course materials is appropriate, or differentiated, to the level of the course itself. I’m not going to give away the details of Irina’s study ahead of OER19, just to say that I found our discussion very interesting. It illuminated an area of Open Education that I’d not really thought about before, but at the same time it touched on a lot of very similar questions that I’ve been wondering about when it comes to all things ‘Open’. I’m sure this research will make an important contribution to the discussion around ‘Recentering Open’.

I’m totally looking forward to OER19. I’m looking forward to discovering more about the different facets of open in education and the people working in it, as well as engaging in the project of ‘Recentering Open’ and really taking into account critical and global perspectives.

Reference: Widlok, T. (2016) Anthropology and the Economy of Sharing, Routledge.

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