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Open is a noun, verb, adjective…and an attitude

Open (noun)

  1. Open or unobstructed space; an exposed location.
    I can’t believe you left the lawnmower out in the open when you knew it was going to rain this afternoon!
  2. Public knowledge or scrutiny; full view.
    We have got to bring this company’s corrupt business practices into the open.

Open (verb)

  1. To make something accessible or removing an obstacle to something being accessible.

Open (adjective)

  1. Which is not closed; accessible; unimpeded; as, an open gate.
    Turn left after the second open door.
  2. Receptive.
    I am open to new ideas.
  3. Public; as, an open letter, an open declaration.
    He published an open letter to the governor on a full page of the New York Times.

(an edited list of open definitions from Wiktionary list)

I’ve been thinking about how we define “open” in education. For some (like Coursera, Udacity and other MOOC providers) the “open” in Massive Open Online Courses is primarily about open registration. Anyone can register to take these MOOC’s, but after that the open door shuts pretty fast and solid.

Another way the word “open” is used in education revolves around sharing resources, as in Open Educational Resources (OER’s) – discrete pieces of content (courses, learning objects, media, etc) made available with licenses that allow for reuse and remixing.

For some in education, “open” is sometimes (wrongly) equated with free, as in open source software, like Moodle.

But the word “open” can be something more; something broader than these definitions. As Gardner Campbell pointed out in his excellent OpedEd keynote (updated with link to archive), open is an attitude.

Open is a way of thinking and being that runs deeper than these three examples. Open is a  willingness to share, not only resources, but processes, ideas, thoughts, ways of thinking and operating. Open means working in spaces and places that are transparent and allow others to see what you are doing and how you are doing it, giving rise to opportunities for people who could help you to connect with you, jump in and offer that help. And where you can reciprocate and do the same.

Thanks to a prompt from Brian Lamb, I went back to do a bit of reflection  on the HackJam event I was involved in earlier this spring and look at it through this “open” lens to see if I could identify specific instances where “open” may have lent a hand with the event and subsequent event echo.

This spring, my colleague Emma Irwin and I were chatting at work one day about our kids, and how we could prepare our kids to become engaged and thoughtful digital citizens. Emma asked me if I had ever heard of Hackasaurus, and an event was born. We quickly decided we wanted to do a HackJam event for kids age 9-14 that would teach kids the basics of web programming, while introducing them to digital concepts like remix and reuse.

So, what role did “open” play in our HackJam?

  • Open Win #1. Mozilla freely shared the tools the developed (X-Ray Goggles, Thimble), tools which make it easy to tinker with the code of a website.  If they didn’t do that, our little event would have probably been over before it began.
  • Open Win #2. Mozilla shared the Hacakasuarus curriculum and event planning guide. We used and customized this quite a bit as we developed our event.
  • Open Win #3. On their branding site, Mozilla shared images with a Creative Commons license that allowed for remix. I was able to take that image and make a jigsaw puzzle out of it, which we used as an icebreaker for the event (more on this in a couple bullet points)
  • Open Win #4. Twitter is an open space. Conversations on Twitter are transparent and visible to anyone on the web. A  Twitter conversation between Emma and myself trying to find space to host the event was “overheard” in that Twitter open space by Dr. Valarie Irvine of the TIE lab at UVic. She contacted me on Twitter with an offer to use some of her computer lab space for the event. Open got us a venue.
  • Open Win #5. We took photos of the event (with signed consent forms from the parents of the kids involved) & shared those on Flickr with a CC license. One photo I took was of the jigsaw puzzle I created. Doug Belshaw in the UK saw the photo, contacted me & used the jigsaw in his own Hacksaurus event in London.
  • Open Win #6. Scott, Emma and myself wrote blog posts about event. Because these were published to the open space of the web, they were found easily by Mozilla. The day after we wrote our posts, Mozilla highlighted our event on their Facebook page and on a number of Mozilla blogs, complete with pictures of our event from our Flickr feed, putting our event in front of thousand of people.
  • Open Win #7. Because our event became known to Mozilla (partly through the open blog posts and photos of the event we shared), Emma has been invited to speak at the upcoming Mozilla Festival in London. Mozilla is flying her out to London to do a presentation about our event (so well deserved because Emma is really the driving force behind our small #yyj Webmaker community).
  • Open Win #8. Our (open) blog posts were passed on to someone at our provincial Ministry of Education, who then sent a rep to the second HackJam event we hosted this fall to see if there was anything that we were doing that might translate to the k-12 classroom.
  • Open Win #9. One of our open volunteer calls brought me Helen, someone who I later hired in our department as an elearning tech, based in large part on her work organizing the HackJam. Open got her a job :).
  • Open Win #10. We opened up higher ed to the community and broke down the ivory tower just a little bit. We invited kids into our physical space. For some, it was the first time they were in a University and, with any luck, they went away from our event with a feeling that University is a fun place to be; that all those buildings at that end of the city are places for everyone in our community.

At every turn in this project, open exerted its influence. Sometimes in small ways, but there nonetheless.

Now, open alone isn’t the only factor in making all the things on this list possible. I hired Helen because she is a highly skilled person. Valerie offered the room to us because she knows who I am from other professional interactions (often interactions we have on Twitter). However, without open pulsing along in the background, this list would be a lot smaller, or non-existent.

Open is a noun, verb and adjective. But above all, open is an attitude. Where sharing and transparency are the default; deeply embedded in our actions, where open becomes automatic and part of who we are, not just a handy vowel to complete the acronym. By adopting an open attitude, we enable wonderful things to happen in our networked world.

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