Let’s pretend that you know two companies.
One company has active scholars and folks who have been long-term advocates of open education. You’ve met several of them. Talked on the phone. Collaborated via the magic of the Internets. Your teachers really like them. Teachers who are typically hard to please. Are happy. Kind of excited about that they do. You like this company because they talk about helping the poor. Making things easy for teachers. They seem like Good People to you. Your gag reflex was silent the entire time you were introduced to their company’s ethos. In fact, they’re kind of thrilling to watch. They use the word “learning” a lot.
Then imagine the opposite company. Imagine you felt ill during their entire introduction, the biographies of the people made you suspicious. Kind of nauseous. Imagine your department had no say so in the acquisition of a project yet your department’s reputation helped land a grant project. Imagine. This company is repackaging the openly licensed content already created with no stake, claim, or history with or among advocates of open education. What they call “open” isn’t open. Their main concerns are with the companies they have surveyed about job skills, skills gaps, and employers. Imagine their pitch upset the people you supervise. They know how little you agree with these types of companies. You’re livid, really. But there’s nothing you can do. You turned it into a joke and made fun of their company’s name. Your “expertise” (so you’ve been told) will help with the implementation of a style of learning you know doesn’t work. This company mentions the word “learning” very little.
Both companies–let’s pretend–connect to your day job—that you like to think is connected to meaningful teaching and learning. Imagine you’re involved with two grants involving the foundation of a certain couple from the Puget Sound who have been very successful with computers. Everyone tells you how great this is for your career. Your future. The lines on your CV. Amazing work, kiddo. Sounds important. [Gag]
Then. Get this. There’s more to this scenario.
Imagine that you try to contribute to group working on a very simple tool for writing and research. On your free time. Breaks between meetings. At night. On the weekends. Not nearly enough. Sometimes what gets written it about goes right over your head. Sometimes you think you get it. You don’t really know what they’re doing. You kind of lucked out with getting in on it. Sometimes you interact with the people working on this project and you’re surprised they don’t tell you to beat it. Like how an annoying flea can fly around the ears of a dog. I’m the flea. You understand it to be a volunteer effort, but you really have no idea. Somehow using this tool has helped you as a writer in ways you can’t even describe. You just like using the tool. The guys working on it are Good People. You can see ways to use it for teaching. You see how hikers and mountain bikers could use it for reporting trail conditions and trailwork.
Quick federated wiki digression: Imagine having the history of the trail by the day, the week, the season, the month, and the year. All by clicking on a series of boxes. All of the history of the trail in a series of tiny little symbols that have a narrative all their own. [[By The Season]] would be so useful and revolutionary to cyclists and hikers.
You mention the word “learning” every time you talk about it. You learn every time you use it.
So here’s the thing. Here’s the thing. My favorite blog transitional phrase, by the way. It does not work on paper. On the magic typewriter it does.
Here’s the thing:
The thing is open education. OER. It’s being repackaged. Prettied up. Marketable. Buzzwordy. Worthy of buzz. Praisable. Sorta shiny. Sorta the thing. Sort of not the thing. And holy hell, somebody trademarked the word OpenEd. I thought that was Friday Internet joke, by the way. Surely, I thought, nobody is that out of touch. Turns out they are. Wow.
Either way, everything concerning open education feels a bit misunderstood. So misunderstood. So misunderstood. So misunderstood.
This week I’ve returned to Wilco’s Being There as one of the albums I listened to during my soul-killing commute. I got to thinking this week that I’m rounding the corner to my 13th school year of commuting up and down the I-5 corridor for work. In my next life, I think I could be a long-distance truck driver. Or a bike commuter. Or a bald eagle who nests on the Skagit River. Maybe the river. Just not anything involving the I-5 Hwy. Unless it’s a road trip. Where was I? Commuting music, right.
Being There is an album I usually have in my car beginning circa 2004. And it got me thinking a bit about “Misunderstood”–one of my favorite songs from that album. Tied only with “Sunken Treasure.”
Could this song match the current moment of the OER movement as I understand it? Can I appropriate a song to explain how I feel about what I’m doing both personally and professionally? As I’ve mentioned, I’m pretty new to this gig. I have so little history.
Let me try to explain by remixing and rearranging lyrics and ideas.
First you have to listen to the first song:
The start of “Misunderstood” is so slow. Piano. Almost painful. Some of the lyrics make sense. Some don’t. Tweedy is singing so sweetly. At his best, thus far. For sure. Hope he ages like Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash. Not a huge fan of the stuff he’s doing with his son, but I think it’s cool. Tweedy looks happy rocking out with little Tweedy. Why not?
When you first hear this song, you think it’s a slow love song.
Guitar. Short on long-term goals. There’s a party there that we ought to go to.
When Wilco was writing “Misunderstood,” do you think Jeff Tweedy said: You know what? When we play this song live, I might scream “Nothing” 17 times towards the end of the song. Is that cool? I think it’ll make me feel better.
When I heard them play this song live, I smiled and laughed as Tweedy was somewhere on this 30th “Nothing.” Giggled like a toddler. I thought Tweedy was going to blow a vocal chord or shout his head off Scanners style. Wigging out on the stage yelling “Nothing” over and over again until it was making people feel uncomfortable. He went from beautiful sad song singer to fuck-up-your-hearing punk rock. It was awesome.
And this song is good. It winds up a bit like The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life” in the middle. Like Tweedy was having his own McCartney/Lennon split of creative vision with himself. Why not join two songs? Or is it one long song?
Even this audience didn’t know what was about to happen:
They start to applaud like the song is over. Then Tweedy wrinkles up his nose and face. Starts yelling. Transition from alt-country guitar sad song singer to punk-tastic screamer.
Thank you all for nothing at all comes into play and the whole song changes. I’d like to thank you all for nothing at all. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing at all.
And you see, remember those two companies that I mentioned above? One makes me feel like sweet sad Jeff Tweedy. I can see getting sloppy happy drunk on whiskey while watching their company evolve. I’d tell them I love them sometime around last call. I’d play whatever they wanted to hear on the jukebox. I understand them.
The second company (that I can’t link to because the press-release hasn’t come out yet) makes me want to wrinkle up my face and scream over and over. They make me want to bust out the whiskey and not talk to anyone. Glare at people. Be kinda mean and bitchy. Doubt the good in humanity. This company? You, so misunderstood. You love her but you don’t know why. I’d like to thank you all for nothing at all.
And the group working on the thing I don’t really understand that I mentioned above? Their work feels like the build-up of reverb, drums, and sounds of transition in the middle of this song. They’re like an outdoor festival of all of my favorite bands. That I wish I had more time for. I do what I can. When I can. I have no idea what the hell I’m doing. Take the guitar player for a ride. There’s a party there that we ought to go to.
Here’s the other thing: We have this amazing tool to share information. In this cultural moment. It’s fun. I want to see better uses of it. The “it” is the Internet. I love talking about the potential of online education. Yet all I do is defend it. Explain it. Justify it. Defend what I know is right. As I listened to Wilco, I thought about what Lisa Chamberlin brilliantly shared: “I’d like to plan for 2020 instead of reacting to 2010.”
What she said.
Here’s what I’d like to think about: Unstructured time for structured and aligned learning with the use of the magic typewriter that connects us all. Life-long learning when you’re motivated to spend some time with ideas.
Does that explain the Internet and the tools that we use to learn with it? Usually when I’m trying to sound brainy-like, I feel like I’m creating platitudes. And imagine. Wouldn’t that be great if you could create the future platitude about education? Something everyone will take for granted as commonplace someday?
How do we advocate for unstructured time for structured and aligned learning with the use of the magic typewriter that connects us all?
I don’t know. When somebody figures it out, will they trademark that idea? WTF.
All I know is when you talk about OER, it helps to mention students, learning, democracy, teachers, and The Public.
Not profits, the marketplace, capitalism, money, and the fortune to made from what’s in the heads of The People. All you touch turns to lead.
There is no sunken treasure/rumored to be.
These are people’s lives. This is about educating The Public. Not ownership. Not profits. Not about making a fortune with what’s in the heads of The People. So misunderstood. And here Tweedy helps me get to what I’d like to say to that second company and those who are tapping their greedy fingers together like Mr. Burns.
You look honest when you’re telling a lie.
Blog title credit: Jeff Tweedy/Wilco.