The Digital “Open”: Revolutionary or Reactionary?

With the support of mentors in the Technology & Innovation department at Davidson College, I had the pleasure of attending “OpenEd18” from October 10th through October 12th, 2018. Open Ed is an annual conference that focuses on scaling traditional higher educational materials to be available online. During the conference, I presented my research on the differences in the breadth and depth of participation between conversations in public and private online classrooms.

Throughout the conference, I was repeatedly reminded of our class discussions concerning the technological imaginary. Part of this was, of course, because with every technological conference comes technological sponsors trying to convince you to become an early adopter of their newest tech product. This technological excitement was an easy link back to our conversation about the “electrical promise” that comes with new technologies. However, this was not the sole cause. Throughout the conference, I was left wondering: alongside rational, universal, time-saving… Might we also put “open?” What does it truly mean to be “open” in our online endeavors? In my time in chilly Niagara Falls, I set out to parse a clearer meaning for this word.

Luckily, in one way or another, every session I attended took a stab at that same question! Certain panels seemed to project a sense of “open” which I had no hesitation in supporting. The use of the term OER (open educational resources) seemed to predominantly refer to grassroots attempts to create and share resources outside of their typical paywalls. In other instances, however, “open” seemed to project the glorified imagery of technology as a decentralized, but also, notably uncredited network. Coming from twenty two years of lived experience as a woman, I have long known first-hand the experience of creating something and never seeing the credibility or recognition that men have happily enjoyed. Even worse, like many of my politically minded woman and nonbinary friends, I’ve experienced the gut-wrenching feeling of trying to be “open” for the sake of politics just for a man colleague to turn around and present the work or findings of our team as if it were his own. In all of these conversations about best open practices, the archivist in me couldn’t help but think: who are the architects of these projects? Stepping aside from the question of intellectual “property,” who can answer to the decisions of design in these projects? In contrast to industry norms which are so clearly accredited and thanked, how can I trace the development of these ideas without a citation, or at least a name to question and thank?

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