Will 2015 be the year of open? For me, New Year marks the beginning of a countdown to completing my PhD research which I hope to finalise before this time next year. I began this blog in January three years ago with the intention of recording my PhD journey, and it has become more of a reflective, sharing and learning tool than I ever imagined – a journey into open.
Formality versus open
A common tension I’ve experienced during the course of my research is the open and informal nature of shared connections and learning on social networking sites and the relative formality and rigidity of academic learning within a University context. In the blogosphere, learning is shared peer-to-peer in the spirit of collaboration. In an academic paper or a chapter in a book there is both a formal style to comply with and access constraints in the shape of a subscription or purchase. In the blogosphere feedback is instant and ideas built upon ideas; in the formal arena writing is produced as finished and polished. I appreciate the rigour of formal research and peer review whilst I enjoy the emergent nature of learning through social networks. They are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but I do wonder if open has more transgressive possibilities.
Open as a way of life
I’m currently reading David Price’s Open: how we’ll work, live and learn in the future and his critique of formal learning resonates with the tensions I describe above. With audacious optimism, he argues that:
“going ‘open’ is a social revolution that represents a fundamental challenge to the established order of things … the winners are ourselves, happily connecting and collaborating through global networks of friends, colleagues and online acquaintances. We are powerfully motivated by the easy access to ideas and information, and the informality, immediacy and autonomy it brings. The losers are our formal institutions: businesses, schools, colleges and public services that are failing to grasp the enormity of the change taking place. Most dramatically, the losers are governments around the world that are now confronted by citizens who will no longer tolerate secrecy and deception” (2014: 3)
Price describes how teacher-driven didactic learning in school or the workplace is characterised by transmissive teaching, in which rote learning alongside memorising and reciting facts, remain at the core. This approach continues, in part, because it can be easily measured. I learnt early in my NHS career through a CHI review that if it isn’t recorded or measured then it may as well not have happened – a world away from the tactic, emergent and collaborative learning afforded by social networks.
Whilst detractors may criticise the apparently casual nature of Twitter, amongst the informal chatter I routinely discover and am offered gems of knowledge – the current book I am reading came through a Twitter recommendation; my teenagers teach themselves songs on the piano by following YouTube clips uploaded by their peers; my 10 year old spends hours in immersed in self-directed learning to improve his Minecraft skills. Technology doesn’t make this happen but it does afford seemingly limitless possibilities for those of us with the resources and the skills to engage with it (digital exclusion is a whole other blog post).
Open in the NHS
Whilst academia may be variously resisting or adapting towards open, so is another great institution, the NHS. I blogged earlier this year about how we are consciously endeavouring in the mHealthHabitat to build shared and open learning into the fabric of what we do and how we do it day to day. This feels very different to how we’ve done things in the past. I spoke about our approach at EHI Live last year alongside Teresa Chinn who has achieved something remarkable in establishing WeNurses to bring the nursing community together on Twitter. There are many people within the NHS increasing openness, transparency and accountability through practices on social networking sites and if Price’s vision is realised, then this will only build momentum.
Straddling two worlds
According to Price we are part of a seismic shift towards open and I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling like I’m straddling the old world of formality and the new world of collaboration – it’s often uncomfortable and almost always frustrating. In the spirit of open learning, I’d like to share this TedTalk from MIT Media Lab founder Nicholas Negroponte in which describes an experiment in informal learning in which tablets were given to Ethiopian children with no explanation of how to use them; the results are fascinating [you will find this section towards the end of the talk]:
Thank you to Emma Bearman for sharing the TedTalk link on Twitter (another example of generous sharing by people which is made possible by online social networking). I hope 2015 will see further embrace of open collaborative learning and that I finally finish my PhD…