Divergent innovation and notions of openness

Kathrine Jensen and myself continue to reflect on David Wiley’s 5Rs of Open Educational Resources and how well suited they are to underpin thinking about the spirit of openness in higher education. The ‘spirit of openness’ is what I observe and feel in connectivist contexts. However, in other respects we will challenge those 5Rs.

We are presenting at OER16 on ‘Finding the open in the in-between :  changing culture and space in higher education’. The slides have been going to-and-fro over the last days and I was encouraged and excited to see Kathrine do two things:

  • Point at Wiley’s 5th R as an important focus for discussion – “Retain – the right to make, own, and control copies of the content”
  • Acknowledge explicitly a list of the people who have been most present and active in our thinking (“Inspired by the work of Catherine Cronin, Frances Bell, Maha Bali, Bonnie Stewart, Martin Weller, Dave Cormier and others whose work include critical perspectives on openness, digital scholarship, networked identities/practices and connected learning”) on those slides where we have been churning round our thoughts (we have used the conference as a context to think differently).

Let me also mention that Kathrine and I are not co-located. Our thinking and interests are for the moment intersecting and I expect our ecological scholarly paths will meander and diverge as is the natural way with scholarship. But we did share a train journey for an hour or so where our attention turned to the 4Rs (Wiley added the 5th, see The Access Compromise and the 5th R, March 2014).

Both of the thoughts in the bullets above converge and the brief train journey between Sheffield and Huddersfield (our respective institutions) stands as some sort of metaphor for the rhyzomatic or ecological idea of scholarship and learning that informs what we are doing.

What follows about ‘expected divergent innovation’, however, is my response to Wiley’s ‘Retain’. Kathrine and I bashed away through Twitter yesterday trying to clarify a response to his statement in readiness for our presentation on Tuesday. I think we are on the same page, though it doesn’t matter either way (that’s the point of ‘expected divergent innovation’ in relation to scholarship as I’ll explain here!). But what we have, I think, is an opportunity for discussion and personal construction within the social context of the conference. So, this mad thinking is my fault and may not represent Kathrine’s position! I’m not sure to be honest! I did say to Kathrine I’d blog to clarify, so perhaps Kathrine will have a chance to respond, develop, contradict, reposition, or whatever.

Retain – the expectation of divergence


Let’s take another look at Wiley’s 5th R in his definition of OER so I can explain the problems I have with it.

“Retain – the right to make, own, and control copies of the content”

Literally retention is about holding onto something. Implicitly it suggests the right to retain ownership of something and Wiley goes on to explain this in his expansion. I don’t want to get distracted by a lengthy critique of this, so my response in bullet point form:

  • “right” – we only have rights to construct our own knowledge and to change our minds when we learn more;
  • “own” – why do we need to own knowledge personally? We must be responsible (i.e. critical) in our thinking, so there is something important about owning and owning up responsibly to what we say and do, but otherwise I do not understand why we assume knowledge should be owned;
  • “control” – control is quite alien to me. I am an anarchistic at heart and pragmatically I value social connection and responsibility. Control is only of interest in ensuring that as scholars we are responsible ethically;
  • “content” – this is a relatively meaningless concept. I am not aware of anyone who who has presented a commonly accepted definition of ‘content’. It is highly subjective in all ways, yet we seem to hold so much store in the concept of ‘content’, as we do in the concept of ‘resource’. What do these things mean to you, to me, to us?
  • “copies” – this is the interesting word here because it presents the dilemna inferred by the need for Wiley’s 5th R. This is not new, we know we cannot actually retain something any more (see other 4Rs in the digital conext). But we never could because actually many understandings of knowledge or content or resources have the pretext that such things are more than representational. No, we have only ever been able to represent knowledges. This does not need to be repeated here, but the idea of commons undoes ideas of rights and ownership as being outmoded and undesirable artefacts of an industrial age. We no longer need to commoditise knowledge in the digital social age in the ways that were necessary before.

Now read back that 5th R. It makes me feel very uncomfortable.

But Kathrine and myself are interested in Wiley’s 5Rs. They have some traction. They have a use to us in a connectivist context, even if that use is not as was intended. We will explore this in our session and update, in our own ways, in our respective blogs later.

Retain – innovation/scholarship through the common expectation of convergence and expected divergence

This is my take on the idea of ‘Retain’ or retention – keeping hold of something. It notes retention as something that is ephemeral. That seems to be a self-contradiction, but actually, at least in my mind, it is quite an important way of thinking about knowledge, scholarship and innovation in a digital social age. Let me unpack it a bit.

‘Keeping hold of something’

There is a time element in this, albeit unspecified. Whether it is grasping or nailing down knowledge representation, there is something fundamental and pragmatic about momentarily anchoring thinking and understanding. But it can be an abstracted notion of pausing long enough to share a ‘good enough’ idea with one or more others. Why share with ‘others’, and why do so in the context of a philosophy of openness? It is about validation, but more than this it is about scholarship and/or innovation within the context of convergence and divergence.

Innovation and/or scholarship

Thinking, learning or making something new (to you, or to or with or for others).


Ecologically, convergence is about coming together, but more in the sense of finding a common, ‘good enough’ intersection of likemindedness that has the potential to generate new thinkings. The idea of thinkings, ideation or conceptualisation acknowledges the importance of multiple legitimate passing/transient understandings. But this idea of convergence acknowledges how the social context is critical to thinking because of the implicit, tacit acknowledgement of others. Even here, in this blog, I am thinking in a social context. Nobody may ever read it, but then others (you?) may read it. I am trying to get it right for you as a way for me to get it ‘right’! It is a self-legitimising or self-validation device because we need to think in a context that may matter to others, otherwise the quality of our thinking lacks authenticity and credibility. It becomes worthless to you, but also worthless and undermining to me.

Expected divergence

We are autonomous, yet we are social. We validate each other and wittingly or unwittingly provide each other with a context for thinking. We serve each other a purpose for scholarship and innovation therefore.

But while I am constructing my momentary understandings, I know I will not stop listening, observing and thinking. The world provides only uncertainty and a dynamic context for anything we know. Therefore fixed ideas of content, as representing knowledge, are only of pragmatic use. Universities, for example, are pragmatic because we agree to suspend reality by representing the world as a relatively abstract and static, rather than dynamic, concept (despite such places being full of scholars and innovators!). (An aside: hence my interest in authentic learning and authentic media).

But we know knowledge is essentially a convenient abstract idea and that tomorrow our contexts will be different and the fit of knowledge will be uneasy.

Ecologically, my path will take what I have known in my directions, and you will take what you have known in your new directions. Our paths may cross again or they may stay aligned for a while, or we may never share a thought together again. They will almost certainly diverge and from our coincidence our respective paths and convictions will hopefully empower us.

Conclusion on rethinking retention of open educational resource

As we will discuss, Kathrine and I will be looking at OER as meaning Open Educational Relationships. It’s a playful activity with a serious point. We will ask colleagues to reassess ideas of OERs in the context of connectivist thinking and use the root words of the 5Rs to do this. (I think we both agree that ‘relationships’ is there because it begins with R, but otherwise a better expression would be needed).

There is something I am unsure of (well, everything of course!), but something that may be helpful. In my notes to Kathrine I have commented, with reference to Wiley,  “that is so masculine!” I’m not well-versed in feminist philosophies (or philosoiphy in general as you may have noticed), but my comment and my thinking in general comes from a lifelong lack of faith in binarist thinking and the oversimplification of ways of being to serve a dominant group (hence my reference anarchism earlier). I have a strong social constructivism rationale that continually situates my thinking as a co-operator. I am clear (in my mind – of course only within my mind!) that co-operative principles are the only approach to worthwhile innovation. This notion of convergent and expected divergent innovation, therefore, is only another representation of that set of personal philosophies, yet it says something about co-operation too (and fundamental emanations of co-operation like collaborative working). It says that co-operation can also only be understood as an ephemeral concept. We can’t assume too much of each other. For the moment then (!), I am very much enjoying co-operating in mind with others about open education and I look forward to OER16 this week.



About amiddlet50

Educational developer working in academic innovation in higher education in the UK
This entry was posted in Academic Innovation, Academic Innovation and Possibilities, Learning Space and Place, Open Learning and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Divergent innovation and notions of openness

  1. Pingback: Open Relationships: people and/or networks? | Tactile

  2. Hi Andrew,

    Relationships in the open indeed very important, my own research shows how these impact engagement, motivation and development. Have a fun time at #oer16.

  3. kshjensen says:

    One of the things that I want to keep at the forefront of the ‘reimagining’ of Wileys 5Rs, that we are playing with, is that openess and open education has numerous interpretations.

    This is exactly what I like about the work of Catherine Cronin, Frances Bell and others.

    As Catherine says in a post on her PhD research:

    “The terms ‘openness’ and ‘open education’ describe a wide range of beliefs, practices and initiatives ranging from open admission policies to open educational resources (OER) and open educational practices (OEP). The broadest interpretation of open education is OEP. Education researchers across many domains have described and theorised all or some of the practices characterised as open educational practices using a variety of definitions and theoretical frameworks” see

    And so this makes me hesitant about notions like ‘spirit of openess’ as this seems to imply uncontested shared assumptions forming a basis for developing open education.

    As Andrew writes we have been playing around with re-imagining Open Educational Resources framework as Open Educational Relationships and what this might mean in terms of the R definitions outlined by Wiley:

    This reimagining was in response to the OER conference theme of Open Culture and my view that culture points to a new focus on people and practices rather than the content focus that the term OER implies.

    So we are in a process of redefining the 5Rs from the standpoint of open being about spaces, identities and networks rather than content.

    The question then is what does Retain stand for in this reimagined framework, as it is no longer related to ‘rights to/control of content’? Well, in my view the thinking behind Retain still has relevance as a way to highlight how control/access/power structures are highly relevant to our interactions in spaces, construction of identities and network activities. In a recent #LTHEchat, participants were asked to think about how we negotiate and navigate openness. And so ‘open practitioners’ must consider what the risks and rewards are as well as being aware that this differs according to who you are and how you are positioned in any number of ways.

    Perhaps this is not the best way to reinterpret Retain but this is my take on it.

    As a side note, we recognise that the term Open Educational Relationships is perhaps not the best substitute but we were playing around with alternative Rs. As I was reading my way through the OER conference programme and seeing that the term Open Educational Practices was increasingly used (as Catherine Cronin also points out in the post I quoted above) I can’t help thinking that perhaps it might be useful to reimagine that term as Open Educational Partnerships…but I digress

    I am really looking forward to OER16 and learning more about Open Education.

  4. amiddlet50 says:

    I agree and like that “the terms ‘openness’ and ‘open education’ describe a wide range of beliefs, practices and initiatives ranging from open admission policies to open educational resources (OER) and open educational practices (OEP).” This underpins my use of the word spirit – as in there is something indefinable that is strong because it is felt, ambiguous and different. There is a trust in this communal difference.
    I am working my way through the abstracts and I see several people picking up on related ideas especially in the ‘Converging or diverging cultures of openness’ theme.
    The idea of Open Educational Partnerships is OK, but I wonder if we ought to leave the Rs and the Ps behind and seek an idea that works. For me a good letter is C! For Connection, Co-operation, Community, Communal, Culture etc.

  5. Pingback: #OER16 Open Culture – exploring spaces | kshjensen – always learning

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s