Forging  futures: how the concept of the social imaginary can help make  open access education a movement worth supporting

Year: 2013

Author: Peter, Sandra, Farrell, Lesley

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Open educational resources (OER) are driving a fundamental shift in how we understand education. Starting with MIT’s OpenCourseWare, they have been the major open education movement of the past decade.  However, since Stanford’s Artificial Intelligence course gained public attention at the end of 2011, massive open online courses (MOOCs) have emerged as the new trend. Commercial start-ups (e.g. Coursera) have entered the scene, promising free access to anyone, anywhere at any time. The New York Times called 2012 “The Year of the MOOC” (Pappano, 2012) and many commentators claim that we are in midst of an unparalleled revolution in education. Media coverage and public discourse of open education provide a particular challenge to research as the new ‘education revolution’ is in the process of transforming, fragmenting, reorganising itself.
If we wish to influence the way this trend develops we need to understand what kinds of phenomena we are dealing with, and where the points of productive intervention might be. We argue that the juggernaut of Open Access is at least as much a social phenomenon as a technological one and that we need to employ appropriate conceptual resources to engage with it. In this paper we explore how the notion of social imaginary can provide a useful metaphor/framework for examining this newest manifestation of emerging open access. We draw on some of the work done by Taylor (2002), Castoriadis (1975), Lacan (1966) and Althusser (1971). We sketch out the imaginaries around open access and examine how they are currently being shaped in the media in conversations around MOOCs, ongoing debates around the meaning, role, value and future of higher education as well as ideas of openness and globalisation.

We show how the media coverage surrounding MOOCs is re-framing previous initiatives as inferior or even re-writing history to exclude previous forms altogether. We examine how the reconstruction of ‘open’ has the potential to obscure OER and undermine their benefits not only for institutions, but particularly for individual lifelong learners.  We analyse the unsettling paradox that current developments have the potential to on the one hand to greatly increase access by forming and informing the imaginings and life practices of potential learners, on the other to put us on a path to a more closed education system. We conclude by addressing how we can conceive of the current time as a moment of intervention and consider challenges for future research.