One of the issues I have been talking about lately in a variety of contexts is the digital and physical practices of students and staff in the pursuit of teaching and learning.
I’ve been coming at it from slightly different angles each time, for example, talking about institutional gatekeeping within higher education and the potential of openly networked spaces, and about the mess of everyday practices and corresponding implications for institutions.
It’s something we are also looking at for the Jisc digital leaders programme – a pilot that’s part of the Jisc co-design work on supporting digital capabilities. We asked participants in higher education (HE) and further education (FE) not only to map their individual digital practices but also to attempt to visualise the digital practice of their institutions.
Visualising digital engagement
We used the group map version of visitor and resident mapping to help us visualise the different digital channels we engage with and to identify how we might want to change our modes of engagement. As I've said before, you can’t change things if you don’t know the shape of the situation to start with.
The group map has a column in the middle for institutional content that can only be gotten to if you have an institutional affiliation, and the right passwords.
Open or closed?
During the workshops I’ve conducted since this group map exercise was devised, the question comes up: What is happening in that closed-to-the-outside middle column? And then: How much of that actually needs to be closed?
In the same way that I asked what would happen if London universities opened themselves to each others’ students, I would like to ask what would happen if the default in institutional digital footprints was also open.
Moreover, we can ask that question about specific systems - for example, virtual learning environments (VLEs). What could be discovered about universities, about students, about teaching and learning, if all of the processes were not behind a login? How powerful would that be, for prospective students to see what is being taught, and how; for fellow practitioners to get a sense of shared or unique practices?
Taking a balanced view
There are, of course, things that it does make sense to require logins for.
For library resources, this is because the contracts they sign for paid-for resources require logins to limit access. This limited access is, of course, part of the argument for more open access (OA) resources so that a far wider range of people than just those within institutions could have access to the research and teaching products of universities.
The rationale for closed “stuff” could also be to provide spaces for teachers and learners to try out ideas without being exposed or judged. I am not trying to make an argument that all things should be open all the time, but in a context where it seems the assumption, the habit is still locking down content and interaction in institutional systems, the question is worth asking.
Questions to consider
If systems as well as buildings were more open, more searchable, less hemmed in by institutional logins, what would people see of the work of academia?
And how might it affect perceptions of access, of relevance, of belonging, of responsibility?
What would it look like?
What would happen?
How might that move policy towards a better understanding (and possibly even, support) of the work of education?
What if the default were open?
What do you think?
I’d love to hear your opinions about open and closed networks.