Karen Cangialosi

Professor of Biology, Keene State College

Towards a Practice of Open as Commoning

When I saw this tweet from Robin DeRosa quoting President Freeman Hrabowski of UMBC (University of Maryland Baltimore County) it inspired me to write an #OpenEd17 reflection which I hadn’t been planning to do. It’s not that the idea of the primary role of universities as preparers of citizens is new, but somehow in the madness of the (manufactured) higher ed “crisis” it has gotten lost. (Or maybe it’s how we are defining ‘citizen’ these days. Has that word been co-opted to mean “worker”?). This connects me back to Henry Giroux’s statement (one of many that I quoted in my ‘reclaiming disruption’ post):  “…education is central to politics…a democracy cannot survive without informed citizens.”

So we have two very important truths here:

  1. Our very survival as a democratic society depends on informed citizens.
  2. The most important role of a university is to prepare citizens.

We have a responsibility to govern.

But are we cognizant of this enormous responsibility in every single step we take as shapers of higher education? All the OER, open pedagogy, open practices, teaching, learning, critical digital pedagogy, diversity, inclusion, etc. discussions all come back to this. Are we keeping this responsibility in mind when we talk about these things?

To me, the most important keynote speaker at #OpenEd17 was David Bollier. Because he was talking about Commons as practice, and as different from Open, at least for how Open is mostly thought of and practiced currently. More significantly he contends that the “…commons paradigm offers a refreshing and practical lens for re-imagining politics, governance and law.” In his recent piece, Re-imaging Politics through the Lens of the Commons, Bollier explains how the rise of right-wing nationalist movements around the world are “… evidence of the dwindling options for credible change….”  Is Open Ed one of these scarce options? Bollier’s ideas inspire me to dream that the Open Education movement can become part of an alternative commons vision that we are in desperate need of as a society of global humans. He writes “The commons, briefly put, is about self-organized social systems for managing shared wealth.”  How can Open Education be about this?

What could happen if we unite our creation and use of resources, our pedagogies and our teaching philosophies under a vision and practice of Open as commoning? Through teaching Open, can we model the value of knowledge as commons in a way that shifts our thinking and practices towards the sharing and maintenance of all commons such as water, forests, soil, air and seeds?

I believe that conceiving of Open as Commons has immense potential for higher education as we earnestly play our role as the shaper of citizens that can transform the world. As open educators with a commons vision, some questions might include:

How might a higher ed vision of resources as commons function to provide the fertile ground for students to actively seek and create solutions that address social problems in conjunction with the publics outside of their classroom?

How do we acknowledge our students as whole human beings embedded in these commons, with respect for all the diversity that they exhibit, and not just talk about, but model the value of each individual’s importance by supporting EVERY student’s access to become an informed and empowered citizen?

How do we give our students the freedom and the resources (including time and encouragement, not just OER and tools), to imagine a brighter future, and to grapple with the difficult questions of how to work together to create “self-organized social systems”?

How do we provide our students with skills that allow us to maintain the integrity of the knowledge commons? (I think this looks much like the work of Mike Caulfield and the Digital Polarization project).

How do we support and inspire our students to not just be able to get a job, but to envision a way to eventually create new jobs that are part of this alternative vision of commons as a governing structure?

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2 Comments

  1. Karen: this post, and other posts of your own and others that you link to here are so valuable to me. I’m now realizing how much thinking we shared in our conversations at #OpenEd17 (http://xolotl.org/opening-public-institutions/) around an area I’ve been calling “opening knowledge practices” (http://xolotl.org/okp/). I’ve also made some more detailed annotations above using Hypothesis. Thank you for sharing your thinking on this!

    • admin

      October 22, 2017 at 8:43 am

      Nate- Thanks for your comment here and for your annotations on hypothes.is! I really appreciate your feedback so much. I love your use of the term ‘opening knowledge practices’ and your post on this. I especially appreciate your suggestion that “…focusing on activities where knowledge is central can have a greater (or maybe even the greatest) positive effect on fostering human agency to improve our common life.” Exactly. Let’s keep this conversation going.

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