Archives for the month of: March, 2012

It’s International Women’s Day.

One of the most important concepts I learned in my Sociology A Level at South Notts College was from Ann Oakley in “the Sociology of Housework” (1974). It is the concept of unpaid work.

I’ve been thinking about that a lot recently.

In the UK we’ve had news stories around internships, unpaid enforced labour for jobseekers. Underlying the concept of the Big Society is a reliance of volunteers. My own cousin is doing fantastic work with charities and NGOs, but largely unpaid. Her career is a different sort of world entirely from the one I had at her age.

Meanwhile in the sectors I work in: education and technology, we have concepts like cognitive surplus , we have a culture of overtime, of knowledge economy work that crosses the boundaries between personal and professional. We all bring our work home with us in our heads.

While I’m at work supporting this world, my children are looked after by a childminder (one is full time, the other is with her outside of school hours). From my salary, I pay another woman to look after my children. Quite a few women in my position rely on their mothers to play that role, and usually without payment. For very good reasons, that would not be a suitable solution for me. But it does make we wonder about the real economics of childcare.

And thinking ahead … with women of my generation having babies later and later … and having to work to a late retirement … will I ever be able to help with caring for my own grandchildren? I doubt it very much. So I’m guessing that will we see a big change in women’s the pattern of work, semi-retirement and old age. For every well paid “career woman” (whatever that means) there will be a woman (or man) paid to look after her children. It’s a strange economy.

But then I stop and remember that salaried labour is a very recent invention in human history. For most societies that have existed, people have roles, they work, they barter, they live, and the question of salary, income and wages doesn’t come into it so much.

So what am I saying?

Be mindful to the possibility that some of the directions we are going in are propped up by unpaid labour. We can’t play the game of costs/benefits, balance sheets and economic growth without recognising that a lot of the work that is taking place is not counted as jobs. It’s too easy to have only a partial view of “work”. That goes for health and social care, education, technology … the nature of work has changed over history, and we would do well to remember that.

That’s it really. Just a plea to remember that.


It’s Open Education Week, so I last week I worked with my colleague David Kernohan to describe the way JISC-funded work is contributing to developing this space. I started by looking for a definition of open education and was surprised to find that most of the definitions are really about open educational resources. It wasn't what I expected: surely there is a lot more to the concept of open education than that? And fundamentally, I thought we’d got past a content-centric view of learning? Content is important to learning: it reflects practice, enables practice, it feeds practice and is produced by practice: this much I was trying to say in a blog post about process and product. But content is just part of learning and teaching, surely? If so much of the interest around content is its relation to practice and new learning opportunities, where is the clear articulation of this as the focus of open education?

Luckily, one of the few good definitions is on the open education week website:

"Open education is about sharing, reducing barriers and increasing access in education.  It includes free and open access to platforms, tools and resources in education (such as learning materials, course materials, videos of lectures, assessment tools, research, study groups, textbooks, etc.).  Open education seeks to create a world in which the desire to learn is fully met by the opportunity to do so, where everyone, everywhere is able to access affordable, educationally and culturally appropriate opportunities to gain whatever knowledge or training they desire." (source URL)

What's not to like?

That's the question, really. My picture of the space is that it is full of tensions and risks. The definition doesn't quite capture the space as I see it: the vision is lovely, but the reality might be bloodier. Feedback suggests that my Story of (O)pen (a blog post on my team's work blog) doesn't surface the difficulties of open, or explore the ways in which open approaches might challenge the status quo. That's very true, so perhaps I should share a more nuanced view of openness. It's very much in my mind that open isn't always easy, and perhaps I should try to state that more clearly. It’s the new business models for providing learning opportunities that concerned me in a previous post: Why Open Education is Dangerous. Are the ideals of open education a trojan horse for commercial interests to undermine publicly funded institutions? What is driving the interest, is it on the inside or the outside of "education"? Am I a reactionary for wanting to preserve some of the strengths of a public education system? In other words, I see there are opportunities, but what are the threats? Is education on the edge of the abyss, or the edge of a reformation? If the castle of "education as we know it" is under seige, is “openness” in education the dragon or the knight in shining armour?

I wanted to share these questions with other people this week. I like visuals and diagrams and infographics so I sat down to draw my own picture of the open education space.

Here is my first attempt:

openedspace ambrouk 1


It takes as its starting point that the digital era changes the time and place that learning happens and that learning providers are having to adjust. It's the adjusting, redesigning, reorchestrating that is important here.

I shared it with David, who then pointed out that whilst mine told one kind of story, it didn’t show the changed experience of the learner. So he developed his own picture.

And then David and I decided there might be something useful we could do here, so I sent both our pictures to another colleague, Lawrie Phipps. And then, while Lawrie was thinking, I made another picture that built on David’s.

openedspace ambrouk 2


This tried to more explictly show the economic angle: when money changes hands between learners, providers and educational employers. And it starts to hint at the issues that concern me around of unpaid labour, volunteering and moonlighting educationalists … though I would need to do a lot more to draw that out. Perhaps that's another picture.

In the meantime, Lawrie made his own picture. It bore some uncanny resemblences to my reworking of David's picture, like blurring the distinction between resources and connectivity.

This was getting interesting now. It seems we three do see the open education space in a similar way, but have differences about the important features and what the story is worth telling. We all discussed our pictures on skype. I realised from Lawrie that my first image wasn’t specifically about open education, it tells the story of the changes in education, and mentions of openness could be left out at this stage. And I was still thinking about what David had raised about what difference this makes to the learners.

So I revised my first picture again to be more explicit about what I mean, and particularly to draw out that I think there are threats as well as opportunities in this space.

openedspace ambrouk 3


It doesn't have the learner at the heart, but I realised that is not where I see the tensions. I think the learner benefits from the openness, and indvidual educators have choices in how they react. The area of most difficulty is in how established educational institutions respond to the opportunities and threats in this space. In fact, that is the subject of four new case studies I have overseen on institutional approaches to openness. Now I feel I'm getting to a picture that really expresses how I see the open education space.

So …

Apparently the phrase “eat your own dogfood” is not a good advert for practising what you preach, so my colleague Josh tells me, these days it’s all about drinking your own champagne.


This photo is (c) Lawrie Phipps.

The hand apparently belongs to Simon Ball. Not sure of the brand of champagne. Sure looks good though.

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Would you like to join us in our toast to the benefits of thinking in the open, by joining in? Make your own picture of openedspace and blog and tweet it!

If you want to reuse any of my pictures please do! You would make me a very happy lady, after all, I am excitable about being citeable

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#openeducationwk #openedspace

Images are Creative Commons BY. You can cite me as ambrouk

and they are on flickr: 1, 2, 3 or your can Download the files here: Openedspace_ambrouk_123