An unstated
bias rooted deep in Australian life seemed to wish that “real”
Australian
history had begun with Australian respectability – with the flood of
money from
gold and wool, the opening of the continent, the creation of an
Australian
middle class.

This quote
from Robert Hughes’ The Fatal Shore
(1988, p xi), a book I read many years ago, but picked up again during Easter
and got stuck in, has helped me figuring on the place and projection of open
education as of today. We might perhaps not compare convict transportation
history with current education, but what caught my mind is the issue of denial,
of wanting to present something as to fit well to our lack of vision of a
future ahead.

Higher
education is deeply rooted in how we see our social world. Our ideas of what is
good and respectable education are rather fixed in our concepts of modern day.
We are, in higher education, as stuck to an industrial production idea as is
the schooling system as such. We chase research money, we claim evidence based
teaching methods, we protect our freedom of thought, and more. In so doing we uphold,
actually strengthen, the cage in which we are trapped. Particularly so in our
quest of showing what makes research findings, using scientific methods, rather
better than other ways of gaining knowledge.

I am in the
midst of this too. I am no different. I teach research methods and I supervise
students in their endeavours of doing scientific research. I am following suite
and try to publish things as to have a chance to show scientific production and
count publications (and ranking). If you have not seen yourself caught yet,
well think again. “gold and money” from the quote above is the explosion of
consumption (or perhaps unread publications and time spent hunting grants), “open the continent” is the
ongoing quest for economic growth in society, but – what are we to be respected
for in retrospect

We
are, if we agree with Joakim Israel (1982), deemed to see ourselves “inflating
a balloon from within”, we are not able to stand outside the balloon and view
what is happening. Still we might ask ourselves What is actually going on here? and of course we might set out to
change the world – What should actually be
going on here?
in quite a pragmatic way inspired by John Fagg Foster (Tool,
1989). Marc Tool describes how he became an “institutionalist” from having had
Foster as a teacher. He remarks on four main attributes (p. 328) illustrating
such a process:


The
Fosterian legacy highlighted how social values are inherent in all attempts to
reason efficiency and necessity. Tool (p. 331) reflects on the issue: “What was
most novel and important for me was his exposition of the normative criterion
of “instrumental efficiency” as an integral part of institutional economics.” His didactical ideas were argumentative, searching coherence and example. The
social value principle led to effective teaching by avoiding making any
invidious difference on relative human worth (power, income, gender, …) as
criteria of merit. Tool remembers how “His assault on efforts to give the mores
principle a normative standing – to convert the existing cultural matrix into a criterion of what ought to be – was
especially memorable.” (p. 332, italics in original) Foster shared John Dewey’s
belief in that when an inquiry is set in motion we do not really know where it
will end up – there is no real way to fully predict the outcome. In so doing
Forster argued that democratic ways of determining rules and restraints are
most efficient to arrive at social judgements. It ignites interest in finding
answers about the world as is and as ought to be, to find solutions to real
problems. But it also fosters ways of realising and handling limits and
responsibilities. For me in the social policy field this is of course a
necessary component in education. Not any rules, and for sure not powerful
elites’ or other self-imposed influential groups’ rules, but a setting were
conventional wisdom is questioned and rules formed in a democratic fashion
including those beings they actually might impact. “A university that does not
promote heterodoxy has abandoned one of its primary instrumental functions.”
(p. 330)

It matters to
allow for ideas and emotions to play as motivating force in inquiry as well as in
education. In ONL171, a pedagogical course on Open Networked Learning, we shaped
the opportunity to discuss this in considerable length. Emotions became for us
something reflecting restrictions to the opportunities of open access e-learning. How to
make digital tools sensitive to emotions, not merely allowing for shallow
expressions of smileys, likes, +es?

At times
changes appear that might allow us to actually see things different, thus
challenge the status quo of the times we are living. I think we most often
judge change potential of what is
from a value judgement of what ought to
be
based in what is rather than in
the more risky unknown potential of trial and risking an error. It might be
easier to take on a provided model than to question it and abolish or revise it
to make difference. An example from education in scientific method is rather
illustrative. I am not saying that such education is unimportant, far from, but
I would argue that unnecessary boundaries of what is acceptable and what is not
should be avoided. An example is the divide between qualitative and
quantitative methods – a rather complex, but also suspect, division (see e.g.
Åsberg 2001). We need numbers and we need words as data, so let us reason data
and get to conceptualise this data to solve real world problems, problems that
have some relevant meaning to people, relevant to those it concerns. A main
concern as Barney Glaser (2010) would call it.

Then, is
open access e-learning this new blessing, the new challenge allowing for a leap forward, or
will it, as so many other things, be snared by an academic conscience of what is as standard of what should be
important? Well if the latter, the moment will be lost in translation. That is my
guess. Many articles, a lot of discussion, beautiful rhetoric and policy
statements …..

However, if
we believe in the former, if we place value in the opportunity of actually
making higher education something available to the many, then there might be a
chance. Then we might take on the world, not merely confirm it as John Dewey might have argued. As with
democracy, which is never won, but an ongoing political struggle, the values of
education in a Fosterian legacy will request from us to battle for not just the
intellectual freedom, but for the democratic order and the right to use
relevant methods set in social values lifting the main concerns for the many,
not a singled out elite. Then we might become respectable, and then we might
actually refer our history to those in the making of it – to Us (all of Us).

Glaser, B
(2010), Att göra grundad teori,
Sociology Press (Swedish edition: Thuleducare)

Hughes, R
(1988), The Fatal Shore. A history of the
transportation of convicts to Australia, 1787-1868
. London: Guild
Publishing.

Israel, J
(1982), Om konsten att blåsa upp en
ballong inifrån
. Göteborg: Bokförlaget Korpen.

Tool, M
(1989), “An institutional legacy – Remarks upon Receipt of the Veblen-Commons
Award” Journal of Economic Issues Vol
XXIII, No. 2, p. 327-336

Åsberg, R
(2001), “Det finns inga kvalitativa metoder – och inga kvantitativa heller för
den delen. Det kvalitativa-kvantitativa argumentets missvisande retorik”. Pedagogisk forskning i Sverige, Vol 6, No
4, pp. 270-292.