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7 June 2013 / erikduval

Something cannot be bad when it’s open – or not for a very long time…

Openness is a recurring theme in much of what I do.

But let me first make clear that openness is not the only thing that matters: I do not believe that open bad courses are better than closed good courses, or that open source software or content is always better than closed source content or software. In fact, I worry sometimes that open advocates use the openness of their content or software as an excuse for not making it better: ‘this tool may be difficult to use, but you should use it nevertheless, rather than the tool you are currently using, and which works better for you, because it is open’ – as if there were some sort of moral imperative to suffer for using Open Stuff.

Yet, when something is open, it becomes more difficult to have it be bad for a long time. If I write a new wikipedia article, and there is sufficient interest in the topic, then, even if the original article is not very good, it will get better over time. If I teach in an open way, and my course sucks, then this will be apparent to all who care about my course, and I will get questions about what I do, which provides me with an opportunity to improve it. Or word will get out and students will take another course. If I write nonsense about someone or something on an open social network, then someone will react. Etc. Etc.

Compare this with closed systems, where low quality and abuse can continue for a long time. In the old days (i.e. when I was a student), a professor could do whatever he wanted in his courses. (Yes, ‘he’ and ‘his’ – academia was a rather masculine environment…) Some did Great Stuff. Some not so. And some did awful. But there was such absolute trust in professors, that those in the latter category could continue to “teach” until they retired.

Similarly, if I spread lies to you about a common friend, late at night in a pub, then you may never check whatever I said with anyone else, and my lies may influence your impression about our common friend for a very long time… Another obvious example is the multitude of scandals that have come to light related to the catholic church: as long as authority enabled the organisation to impose a closed culture, much of this abuse could take place without challenge. Another, even more uncomfortable example: most child abuse takes place at home, because parents can create a closed environment where that kind of behaviour does not ‘leak out’ and thus remains unchallenged.

This is why I favour an open society: an open arrangement makes it much more difficult to conceal abuse. Thus, abuse will be challenged – a first step to stopping it. And that is one of the reasons why I favour open learning…

How about you?


Leave a Comment
  1. Dario Incalza (@h4oxer) / Sep 2 2013 4:16 pm

    First off, nice article, enjoyed reading it. Got my 2 cents though..

    “Yet, when something is open, it becomes more difficult to have it be bad for a long time.”

    Now, this sentence bothers me a bit. Because this implies that the quality or correctness of a certain topic/course/article that is open to the community, is dependent on the amount of interest of the community. Also, how are we sure that for example a Wikipedia article on the Syrian war is not only edited by pro-war people.

    So I don’t think that something that is open, is also automatically the best because the community has edited and influenced it in a certain direction. There’s no way to tell that the community does a good job on the topic if the community does not represent the different opinions on a topic/course in equal amount.

    • erikduval / Sep 3 2013 12:44 pm

      I didn’t actually imply that ‘something that is open, is also automatically the best’, but rather that ‘when something is open, it becomes more difficult to have it be bad for a long time’, as it will be noticed that it is bad… It is more difficult to hide the badness of something when it is open😉

      BTW, I also don’t think that we need to ‘represent the different opinions on a topic/course in equal amount’: some opinions are more relevant, of higher quality, etc. than others…

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