Open – by default

I had a great conversation with a person this week who I consider one of the people that really pushed me to be more open, sharing, and connected.  It was so long ago that this happened that I can even recall the date.  The tools that we had were so primitive by today’s standards but we made it work.

The conversation was private so I can’t name names or quotes but the message is still important all the same , worth paraphrasing, and adding my additional thoughts.

It wasn’t that I wasn’t open, didn’t share, or wasn’t connected at the time.  It was just different but he couldn’t see it.  I’d written articles for computer magazines as a classroom teacher, produced a monthly newsletter when I became a consultant, and took this newsletter digitally when it became realistic (and affordable).  I think that the problem was that I was perceived to be standing still.  I was happy with what I was doing – it wasn’t always received positively – I remember a blistering email that I got for my tutorial on how to use Visicalc to organize marks.  I guess it was just that my sharing only reached a certain element.  He encouraged me to go further.

The context of our discussion was around licensing of products in Ontario by the province and school districts.  His observations were that many people who were once very visible had gone underground.  In fact, the platforms in use force people to put everything behind an “educational paywall” by default.  This default for sharing wasn’t just limited to those inside the paywall, it was further limited to individual classroom units.  So much sharing and visible learning had, in effect, gone missing.  What are you modelling for students?  Is working behind a paywall just a digital version of sitting in rows, opening the textbook to page 34 and then doing the odd numbered questions from 1-37?

Of course there are reasons to protect tests and assessments from the general public.  We both get that and support the concept 100%.  What has gone missing is the free range learning that marked the success that we have always enjoyed.  We mused that this was the new reality for many.  It used to be that “PDF is where good ideas go to die” and now it’s “LMS is where good ideas go to join the PDF”.

Case in point – I was invited to talk a look at a consultant’s website the other day.  I was quite interested and went to the address provided.  You guessed it.  It was not available to the world.  You had to log into her domain to see it. Pass.

I think of the great sense of community that we had where learning was continuous.  We took pride in the fact that the learning wasn’t on a single topic.  When one of our colleagues found an interesting read or a new resource or a unique approach to a topic, we jumped into the learning with enthusiasm.  Any time, anywhere.

Now, to the defence of those who continue with this spirit.  You know who you are and we appreciate your efforts and everything that you do.  But, when you go to your place of employment, take a virtual walk through the halls.  How many of these folks are indeed learning online but keeping it to themselves?  How much richer could we all be if they jumped in and shared their learning with others?    When you think about it, isn’t professional learning behind a paywall similar to student learning?  You’re in a big room watching a speaker click through a Powerpoint presentation with no worldly interaction.

Why the change?

Some hypotheses:

  • there are so many new to technology that they don’t know or understand what’s possible
  • working behind a paywall is viewed as the only way to work electronically – there are no other tools or platforms
  • there’s the fear of being jumped on by trolls
  • there are no champions within their learning unit to provide guidance or push
  • those who should be modelling success aren’t
  • there’s a fear of making a mistake
  • the active and progressive professional learning has become passive and conservative

Think of your professional organizations.  Are they practicing what they preach?  If they aren’t, do they need to change or do you need to move on?

There definitely are things that need to be protected from other’s eyes.  We get that.

But, shouldn’t your learning be open by default?

A couple of reads to get you thinking…



  1. Your post makes me think of some online discussions I’ve had recently with Donna (@fryed). Sometime I think people feel as though they’ll be judged for what they share, or they figure, if they are sharing, they would like to be paid for their work.

    I wonder though, how many people are sharing (walled garden or not)? I think it varies a lot by school. I’ve worked with many principals recently that share publicly: some tweet and some blog & tweet. I’ve seen a lot more teachers sharing in this way at their schools. Do admin help model this for teachers? I think there’s something to be said for this modelling. Curious to hear what others think.



  2. We were thinking alike, Doug!

    I was prompted (again) by a different situation, but I have been writing about the importance of working “open” for some time now.

    I am very excited to see so many resources now shared completely openly on sites such as EDUGAINS Mathies and The Learning Exchange

    As well, I don’t think that teachers are aware that when they are required to sign into a site for resources, their usage is being tracked, and there could be an underlying agreement that anything they share back can be sold to third parties.

    I have left a list of resources on my site here that you might enjoy reading.

    Thanks for promoting good practice!


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