38 A Reflection on Open: An Open Reflection

Tutaleni Asino

Originally published in this volume on August 12, 2020

My entrance to open was not about textbooks. It was and remains about equity and representation. For most of my life, I have been finding myself in a world that regularly implies and sometimes explicitly states that I do not belong. This has motivated me in multiple ways. It is the reason I wanted to study film because the representation I saw of me as an Afrikan village boy in movies, I could not recognise. It is the reason I pursued media studies and political science as a university student, because I was regularly seeing images of kids that look like me on television while living in New York City, that could be fed for only one dollar a day. It is this same pursuit that drives me when it comes to intellectual endeavour; a fight to not beg for legitimisation from those who do not recognise my being, but a form of elbowing my way into the room and at the table of humanity where I know I belong. In all of these experiences, I have had to sit across people who reviled my presence, some of whom were mentally spitting in my face and could only breath when I’ve left the room.

So, when at the OpenEd19 conference, where I was on the planning committee, a panel with commercial publishers was proposed, I supported the idea. I saw it as a chance to sit across those who I cannot entirely agree with; but perhaps I did not fully grasp the opposition to the panel from the community, because for me again the entry into OpenEd was never about textbooks. Textbooks are an important cause, but they were not my primary issue. This is because I have seen open textbooks that are only open in terms of access but closed in terms of representation and diversity of thought. Some of the same people that were writing expensive textbook are still the same writing free open textbooks. The same persons who were saying Afrika has no culture, no history of innovation in for-profit textbooks, could now say it in an open textbook. The same people who omitted certain persons in their citations when they wrote for profit textbooks are excluding them in the open textbooks.

I saw the open education movement of which OER is a part as a response to one of my favourite Afrikan proverb…“until lions have their own historians, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.” My attraction to the open movement, in summary, 1) was driven by a belief that it will give lions and lionesses the chance to tell their own stories, and have them heard; 2) it was based on the idea that no one person, no one culture has superior knowledge and 3) that human knowledge cannot be complete if it does not include all humans or if some are dehumanised at the expense of some extolling their knowledge structures. I often saw my way of knowing on the margins, and I saw Open as a way to stop the marginalisation.

My experiences with the OpenEd19 conference as a planner made me realise that the gate through which I entered was different from many of the people who I was conversing with. The idea of talking with for-profit publishers for some tantamounted to a betrayal. I respect that perspective. Unfortunately, a lot of the conversation was wrought with too much dehumanisation and personal attacks that it made me question how open some of the people in the open movement are.

I think disagreements can be good. They can afford an opportunity for advancing a field or a conversation. I think we still have many conversations that we need to have. In addition to open textbooks, the other topics that are of interest to me as they relate to open include the following:

  • Indigenous knowledge and open – I spent the last seven years as chair of the Indigenous Knowledge and the Academy SIG in the Comparative International Education Society. One of the many benefits of open relates to publication and making knowledge available to the masses, but it also has me thinking about what that means to indigenous knowledge. There are a lot of questions in this space, especially as it pertains to ownership, commodification and appropriation that need exploring.
  • The Open Paradigm – I believe open is still anchored around or in a western paradigm. My friend Dr. Phil Tietjen put this best in a recent conversation that the Creative Commons itself is rooted in a Western legal framework, and so are the licensing. So, for someone who decentralisation of knowledge or decolonisation is a focus, this paradigm could be problematic or at least, worth problematising.
  • Nature of knowledge – We haven’t really discussed much about the nature of knowledge in the open education space. We focus on the nature of ownership, but not much on the nature of knowledge or whose knowledge is being owned. As Maha Bali has said in the past, whose knowledge is being opened?
  • The Kraaling Dilemma – when you put a framework on something you control who enters, and have a say on who who stays in. As we continue to present frameworks related to open, we also have to examine and problematise the very frameworks we are creating and the exclusions they (re)introduce.

There are many gates through which people enter the open house. It is okay for those many different gates to exist. After all, as the great Nigerian scholar, Chinua Achebe eloquently puts it, “No man should enter his house through another man’s gate” [No person should enter their house through another person’s gate]. The challenge for those of us in Open is to recognise and respect the variance of those many gates, especially when they can bring in people who have been relegated to the margin for far too long.

About the Author

Tutaleni I. Asino, is an Associate Professor of Educational Technology and Director of the Emerging Technology and Creativity Research Lab at Oklahoma State University’s College of Education and Human Sciences. His research agenda includes Comparative and International Education, mobile learning, diffusion of innovations, Open Education and how culture, agency and representation manifest themselves and interplay in learning settings. He is an active member of the Association for Educational Communications and Technology where he served as president of the Culture, Learning and Technology Division and the Comparative International Education Society where he served as Chair of the Indigenous Knowledge Special Interest Group.

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A Reflection on Open: An Open Reflection by Tutaleni Asino is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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