The Open Web, Care, and Digital Literacies…by Christian Friedrich


With the theme “The Care in Openness”, the OER conference organisers, chairs, committee members and attendees are addressing issues of invisibility. Most of the care that goes into relationships and most of the care it takes to run and maintain a certain process or product are invisible and go unnoticed until that care goes missing, usually with great surprise among its beneficiaries. In relation to workplace environments and employees’ satisfaction, Herzberg coined the term “hygiene factors”. Simply put, one notices that certain factors are missing only when they go missing, much like hygiene. And while I do not wish to draw too many parallels between a theory attempting to describe factors for employee satisfaction and the theme of Care in Openness, the hygiene factors of Open can probably be best identified by those who are doing the work that goes unnoticed so often. Care in Openness is a hygiene factor.

We have been working on a new strand of our work at Wikimedia Deutschland. We have always cared about fostering environments for Open Educational Resources and Open Practices. And while we do plenty of policy work, trying to argue for more a more open and free web and for regulation that enables and fosters open participation, we have also always been interested in the ways in which individuals use the open web as their ecosystem for work, for learning, representation, communication and community building.

Over the last year, we have taken a closer and more systemic look at the connections between Openness and an individual’s use of the web as an ecosystem. There are plenty of competency frameworks to find, but we found Doug Belshaw’s eight elements of Digital Literacy most useful as a basic framework to describe our ideas around this.

Openness fosters Digital Literacies, and vice versa

Our hypothesis, and this is certainly not our original idea but an iteration of the work of many others who marked this as important before us, is that open collaboration, open content, open software and hardware on the one hand, and Digital Literacies of individuals on the other hand, strengthen and reinforce one another. Claiming a piece of content, a space on the web or a software, tinkering with it, making it something of your own, communicating and working with others on the web; all of these activities foster an individual’s Digital Literacies, their capabilities and competences as well as their self-efficacy and their confidence. This is especially so if they happen in open environments where communities and individuals can choose when and how to open or close down access, visibility, when they negotiate privacy and security and actively choose when representation and communication should happen.

This statement may seem a bit obvious to many attendees of #OER20, many open advocates and activists have brought versions of this argument forward. This statement, by itself, is also quite ignorant of power structures and it needs to be contextualised to reflect individual circumstances, different contexts and environments. Being aware of this is especially important if we continue with our argument that Openness, combined with Digital Literacies is crucial for participation in society.

Participation in society is happening on the web, if we like it or not

Political and societal discourse and decision-making, for better or worse, are happening on the web. There are plenty of painful examples for this, but there is also a more hopeful perspective: The #Fridays4Future movement, in its current form, would have never been possible without a web that is open on some dimensions. They might not have been successful in the end, but much of the European protests around copyright reform in early 2019 would have never been possible without individuals’ Digital Literacies, without – at least on some levels – ways to openly position and represent one’s opinion, to connect with others and join forces. (Also, just think of the fact that 200,000 protesters took something as dry as copyright reform to the streets.)

Still, it would be naive to proclaim that Openness in itself is a force for good. Open, much like the digital, can show and amplify the ugly as much as it can show and amplify the good. Hatred, misogyny, racism and sexism have been part of Open communities the past and are still part of Open communities today. Sometimes, they appear as symptoms of unknown biases and ignorance. Sometimes, though, the ugly is actively promoted and given a spotlight. Especially when we work to promote Openness, it matters who we reference, what work we cite, it matters what kind of society we strive for. Openness is political, the theme of #OER17 gave space for many to actively define what they wanted their Open work to stand for.

With all of that in mind, it becomes even more important to not only link Openness with Digital Literacies. This work, facilitated at Wikimedia Deutschland, will matter most if we also define why we aim to link Openness and Digital Literacies in the first place, if our vision includes a positive picture of a society we would like to be part of.

We aim to foster a Collective Impact initiative of many different partner organisations in Germany who are committed to work on issues that relate to Openness, Digital Literacies and participation in society. We have been in conversations with many organisations, small and large, with activists, librarians, journalists, researchers and educators to create an environment that lets us jointly tackle issues that relate to Openness, Digital Literacies, and participation in society. We aim to do this with a pluralistic and democratic society in mind, where individuals can actively partake with their skills, knowledge, and personal values.

I was hoping to present our thoughts and ideas at this week’s Open Edudation Global Conference for feedback from Open educators and to learn from their experiences. But when the opportunity came to partner with ALT and jointly invite some of the most fabulous people in Open and technology to our offices at Wikimedia, I withdrew my registration and hope to discuss some of our questions there instead. Once the recordings of this small event in Berlin are online, we aim to host a Virtually Connecting session to include other voices, who cannot be in Berlin this week, as well.

Coming back to my introductory statement that care in Openness is a hygiene factor, this very much goes for this work on Openness, Digital Literacies and participation as well. In our conversations, we have found that many of the organisations who are already doing great work in this realm go unnoticed. They are the ones whose funding most regularly seems to be cut off, and their work and care will become noticed only when it is too late, when they stop doing this invisible labour of care. This makes the labour around care even more precarious than many other work in Open. Any ideas and thoughts on this, any good examples where concepts around Openness, Literacies and participation intersect are much appreciated. Let’s chat if this resonates with you at all.

The past OER conference themes have always struck a chord with me. The Politics of Open, Open to All, Recentering Open – the OER conference always managed to hit a nerve in Open communities. I admit that it took me a little longer to see “The Care in Openness” as a consequential continuation. But the more this conference theme settles in, the more it relates to much of the good work we see in Open Education and in Openness in general.

For our small event on Wednesday this week, we just had to ask Bryan Mathers if he would contribute some of his thinkery, and I could not resist to include it in this post. All images in this post with kudos and huge thanks to Bryan Mathers and the Visual Thinkery under a CC-BY-SA 4.0 License.

Christian Friedrich, Education and Science Advisor at Wikimedia Deutschland:


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