On Open Education: A Study in Disruption, by Pauline van Mourik Broekman, Gary Hall, Ted Byfield, Shaun Hides, and Simon Worthington

On Open Education: A Study in Disruption, by Pauline van Mourik Broekman, Gary Hall, Ted Byfield, Shaun Hides, and Simon Worthington

Open Education: A Study in Disruption is a critical examination of the Open Education trend, with a focus on the United Kingdom. Throughout the book, Pauline van Mourik Broekman, Gary Hall, Ted Byfield, Shaun Hides, and Simon Worthington consider the capitalist model and neoliberal ramifications of Open Education, as well as its creative possibilities. They argue that Open Education has the power to displace mid-sized universities through a process of outsourcing instructional labour; lessening the importance of students being physically present on a campus; building global university systems akin to industrial mergers; and defunding infrastructural and human resources costs related to bricks-and-mortar institutions. They also argue that Open Education, as it is developing en masse in North America, will not necessarily benefit the world’s general population, as it is purported to do; rather, it will line the pockets of academic-aligned corporations who are already making substantial profits at the expense of academic institutions. van Mourik Broekman et al. oscillate between the opportunities and pitfalls of Open Education throughout the book:

it is the way institutions engage with the expansion of Open Education, as well as the manner in which they handle some of the profound contradictions inherent in the Open Education movement, that may present them with not just the greatest opportunities, but also the greatest threats. Our argument in this book is that, as well as providing a chance to experiment, critically and creatively, with the institution of the university, Open Education also represents a direct challenge to the future of the academic institution. (22)

This is the crux of disruption, a keyword in the book’s title: the idea of disrupting academic institutions is exciting in all of its patriarchy- and boundary-breaking glamour, but it is also threatening, as universities and the people who make them may stand to lose a great deal in the process.

van Mourik Broekman et al.’s argument is apt in its assessment of the dangers of Open Education, primarily related to the corporatization of the university and the increasing loss of job security that such a path of action will inevitably bear. They also herald the utopian vision of Open Education, and the value of exploring new systems of education that make knowledge more accessible to more people. To my mind, what is lacking in Open Eduction: A Study in Disruption are concrete ideas about what a (positively) disrupted future academic institution would look like, despite the authors’ claim early in the book that “The aim [of the book] is to produce a counter-model to the becoming business of the contemporary university and to what Bill Readings referred to as the ‘University of Culture'” (15, emphasis theirs). Where is this counter-model? van Mourik Broekman et al. state, “The challenge as we see it is to invent and institute approaches to Open Education that are pragmatic yet critical, ambitious about their visibility yet creative and experimental, willing to take risks and be surprising — not least by keeping open the question of what Open Education actually is and can be” (75), and in response, the authors provide a persuasive list of “speculative principles” for fostering critical open education. Regardless, I’d be curious to see the pragmatic manifestation of such speculative principles. What do alternative Open Education models look like, on the ground, especially those that follow the creative, affirmative, open, and social values that van Mourik Broekman et al. espouse throughout the book?


Work cited

van Mourik Broekman, Pauline, Gary Hall, Ted Byfield, Shaun Hides, and Simon Worthington. 2015. Open Education: A Study in Disruption. London and New York: Rowman & Littlefield International.

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