The open education movement and the creative commons support universal access to knowledge. They are intentionally democratic movements (Capetown OED 2007, Creative Commons 2015). So the challenge that open education presents to established modes of teaching and learning, scholarship and knowledge production, should go beyond local organisational ‘disruptions’ to global issues of educational capital and social justice.
There is contradictory evidence as to whether open education has reduced inequalities of outcome (OpenEducationEuropea 2014). But this paper focuses on injustices closer to home, asking whether open practices have made any headway against some of the inequalities embedded into academic work. These include:
- the growing precarity of academic employment and its differential effects on women and BME staff (Lopes and Dewan 2016);
- inequalities in how academic labour is valued and rewarded, especially in the different economies of research/publication and teaching/student support;
- relatedly, who gets to claim ‘intellectual property’ and how those claims are legitimated;
- the differentiated value of academic labour in the global North and South (e.g. Czerniewicz and Goodier 2014).
Open practices could offer a challenge to how knowledge is valued inside the academy, and a commentary on how power is enacted there (e.g. Stewart 2015, Hall 2016). Open knowledge crosses over from established institutions to more fluid, mutable, unregulated spaces. It demands new ways of working and depends on broader (potentially global) assessments of benefit and cost. But the knowledge sharing economy is highly dependent on the economics of existing universities, and the risk is that it simply replicates established relationships of power and distributions of benefit.
Starting from an analysis of divisions of labour and cost/benefit arguments in the production of OER (McGill et al. 2011), this paper considers how academics who practice openly may be depending on the hidden labour of people who are unable to trade on the reputational or collegial benefits. Open content and courses can reproduce oppressive relations between the teaching and the taught; might their conditions of production also reproduce inequalities between high- and low-value academic work? The paper also considers the risk that open practices may allow the economic imperatives of the ‘open market’ – rather than the values of the commons – to further penetrate educational institutions.
The paper then considers whether open practices could be reframed and re-energised using an idea from feminist and indigenous philosophy: the economy of the gift (Fenway et al. 2006). The gift is used to build mutual relationships rather than individual capital. Gifting has been used in feminist economics to explore ‘womens’ work’ outside of the exchange economy, and in indigenous studies to explore notions of collective benefit. The paper will propose that gift economies exist within academic economies of exchange and that open digital networks offer new ways of gifting, of building collective benefits, and of experiencing personal reward in collective projects outside of/against established transactional structures.
Capetown Declaration on Open Education (2007ff): available online http://www.capetowndeclaration.org/ and http://www.capetowndeclaration.org/faq.
Creative Commons (2015), The State of the Commons. Available online http://stateof.creativecommons.org:8080/report/
Czerniewicz L and Goodier S (2014) Open access in South Africa: A case study and reflections. South African Journal of Science 110 (9-10). Available online: http://www.scielo.org.za/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S0038-23532014000500010
Fenway, J., Bullen, E., Fahey, J. and Robb, S. (2006) The Gift Economy. In Haunting the Knowledge Economy. London: Routledge: pp 53-74.
Lopes, A. and Dewan, I.A. (206) Precarious Pedagogies? The Impact of Casual and Zero-Hour Contracts in Higher Education. Journal of Feminist Scholarship 10 (Spring 2016). Available online: http://www.jfsonline.org/issue7-8/articles/lopesdewan/
Hall, R. (2016) Another world is possible: The relationship between open higher education and mass intellectuality. In M Deimann and MA Peters (2016) The Philosophy of Open Learning: Peer Learning and the Intellectual Commons.
McGill, L., Falconer, I., Beetham, H. and Littlejohn, A. (2011) JISC/HE Academy OER Programme: Phase 2 Synthesis and Evaluation Report. Available online (this link to specific section on benefits and impacts): https://oersynth.pbworks.com/w/page/40291776/UKOER-Impact-Model
Open Education Europa (2014) Does technology make learning more or less equal? Available online: https://www.openeducationeuropa.eu/en/blogs/does-technology-make-learning-more-or-less-equal.
Stewart, B. (2015). In abundance: Networked participatory practices as scholarship. International Review of Research in Open & Distributed Learning, 16(3).