Is Openness a Privilege Multiplier

An issue that is striking me as we continue our Innovation research here at SNHU is whether Open access is equitable to all. Wayne MackIntosh – the OERu lead has spoken of success as working for 1% of the 100 million who need access to higher education. A concern would be that this 1% are actually the privileged 1% and as Mike Caulfield (of Keene State College) writes on his excellent blog Hapgood:

On the online side, it’s worth confronting the openness as a privilege multiplier question now, rather than later. It’s comforting to think of these experiments as an addition to the current range of options available to students, and therefore existing outside the normal ethical space of college. The approach to OER so far has been well, it works for some people, and not for others — we don’t worry about the failures, we just headcount successes. It’s been education as bonus points, or worse, education as a Google product — hey, we gave it to you for free, if it doesn’t work for you, lump  it.

That was fine during the broad experimental period of Open Learning. As Open Learning becomes posited more and more as a broadly applicable solution, however, such nonchalance becomes more dangerous. Any system of education can “succeed” if student failure is seen purely a reflection on the student and not the learning design. But if Open Learning is pitched as a solution to the current economic crisis of higher education, we need to do whole a lot better than that.

I confess to having been living in the “this won’t work for everyone” mindset, but it will be of concern if, in attempting to serve the underserved, we create a new “1%” As we continue to connect with third parties and discuss their constituents’ needs, I hope that it’s something we will keep firmly in mind.

 

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