New article published: Open education: Common(s), commonism and the new common wealth

Mike Neary and I had an article published recently that offers a critique of ‘the commons’ with particular reference to open education and open educational resources. It was published by Ephemera and can be downloaded directly from this link [PDF].

The article began as a paper for the 7th annual Open Education conference, held in Barcelona in 2010. The conference is international in scope and size and seen as the “annual reunion of the open education family.” Our paper was unusual in that it was one of very few attempts at the conference to offer a critique of the central tenet of open education: the commons. The response to our paper was mixed, but there seemed to be an appetite among some delegates for further critique from the perspective of critical political economy.

The paper begins with an outline of the open education and open educational resources movement, situating it within the ‘free culture’ movement, which has grown out of the free software movement of the 1990s. This connection with the world of software and other intangible goods, throws up questions around how the apparent freedom of the digital commons can be traversed to the physical world of public education and its institutions. We remain unconvinced that “revolutionary” transformations in how digital property is exchanged can effect revolutionary change in the way we work as educators and students and that the ‘creative commons’ of the free culture movement is open to much of the same critique that its liberal foundations can be subjected to.

The majority of the article offers such a critique, beginning with an examination of how the ‘commons’ has been recently articulated by Marxist scholars. Here too, we remain unsatisfied with the consumerist focus on the redistribution of resources (i.e. exchange), without resolving the issue of production (i.e. labour). In response, we argue that the sites and structures of production, our institutions, should be the focus of critique and transformation so that knowledge as a form of social wealth is not simply shared, but re-appropriated to form a new common sense that is capable of questioning what should constitute the nature of wealth in a post-capitalist society.

Hacking the Academy

An article I wrote with Mike Neary for the Guardian was published last week. It relates to my recent note about Hacking as an Academic Practice and is part of a longer journal article that I’m hoping to have finished by the end of the year about the importance of university culture to the history of hacking.

The publication of the article was nicely timed to coincide with DevXS, the national student developer conference we’re hosting next month. Last week there was a surge of registrations and we’re now fully booked. It should be a great event.

Hackers are vital to the university culture of openness and innovation

Have you noticed anything missing from the ongoing phone hacking scandal involving the News of the World? There are no hackers involved. This is the latest example of hacking’s troubled history with the mainstream media, which confuses the “playful cleverness” of expert computer programmers with the malicious meddling of computer crackers and criminal journalists. With this confusion, the rich and fruitful history of the true hackers is diminished and a thriving intellectual culture focused on problem solving, self-directed learning and the free exchange of knowledge is undermined.

Much has been written about hackers and hacking, but rarely is it contextualised as part of the scholarly tradition. Yet careful reading of the history of hacking reveals that it is very much a part of the work and values of universities and that the hacker ethic is shared, in part at least, by most academics working today.

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A Pedagogy of Excess: Interventions in the poverty of student life

Below is an abstract that I’ve just submitted, to be considered for the special issue of Critical Studies in Peer Production. I was drawn to the call for papers for three reasons: 1) One of the co-editors, Johan Soderberg, wrote an excellent book, Hacking Capitalism: the free and open source software movement (it’s expensive to buy but worth it. His PhD thesis is here); 2) One of the ways I frame our new LNCD group, is around peer-production of technology for education by students and staff; 3) I’ve been planning to write this paper anyway but could do with a deadline. It’ll get written before the end of the year, one way or another. There’s just so much happening at the moment, I could do with a deadline.

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A Pedagogy of Excess: Interventions in the poverty of student life

Despite the increasing marketisation of higher education, the generous practices of peer production have long been a characteristic of university life, giving rise, for example, to the emergence of the Free Software, Open Access and Open Education movements. These practices point towards a state of abundance that is not simply a Utopian vision but a real possibility of conditions already in existence within higher education where needs and capacities can be brought together (Kay and Mott, 1982). This possibility of abundance is at the heart of a critical political tradition that the University of Lincoln (UK) is engaged with through its institution-wide Student as Producer initiative (, articulated through a ‘pedagogy of excess’ (Neary and Hagyard, 2010) where students are more than just students and become producers of their own social world.

The possibility of a state of abundance in university life has been partially recognised by both the State (e.g. Lammy, 2009) and educators (e.g. Weller, 2011). In the world of Web 2.0, universities are being positioned as ‘edgeless’ resource providers through the funding of Open Access institutional repositories and and Open Educational Resources (Winn, 2011a). Student as Producer both challenges and leverages this abundance of open resources by articulating a pedagogy of excess, whereby the student is encouraged and supported in being not just a student-consumer but rather a critical, productive, social individual. In practice, a pedagogy of excess attempts to re-orientate the roles of staff and students against the marketisation of university life, to become producers of a really existing Utopian university and creators of social wealth (Neary and Winn, 2010).

This paper will introduce the unique approach of Student as Producer at the University of Lincoln and the ways in which we are actively supporting the re-establishment of a ‘hacker culture’ within the university where students are invited to share their ideas, mash up university administrative data and build prototypes that improve, challenge and positively disrupt the research, teaching and learning landscapes of further and higher education. In doing so, I will discuss the theoretical and practical articulation of a pedagogy of excess in terms of the peer-production of technology for education (Winn 2011b) as well as highlight the limits of our approach within a capitalist social universe.

379 words.

Kay and Mott (1982) Political Order and the Law of Labour. The Macmillan Press.

Lammy (2009) The Edgeless University.

Neary, Mike and Hagyard, Andy (2010) Pedagogy of Excess: An Alternative Political Economy of Student Life. The Marketisation of Higher Education and the Student as Consumer. Eds. Molesworth, Scullion and Nixon. Routledge.

Neary, Mike and Winn, Joss (2009) The student as producer: reinventing the student experience in higher education. The future of higher education: policy, pedagogy and the student experience. Continuum, London.

Neary, Mike (2010) Student as Producer: A Pedgogy for the Avant-Garde. Learning Exchange,Vol 1, No 1.

Neary, Mike and Winn, Joss (2010) Education Beyond the Property Relation: From Commons to Communism. Presented at the Open Education 2010 Conference, Barcelona, November 2010.

Weller, Martin (2011). A pedagogy of abundance. Spanish Journal of Pedagogy, 249 pp. 223–236.

Winn, Joss (2011a) Open Education: from the freedom of things to the freedom of people. In: Towards teaching in public: reshaping the modern university. Continuum, London. (In Press)

Winn, Joss (2011b) Technology for education: A new group.

Wikileaks and the limits of protocol

I recently contributed a chapter to the book, Face the Future: Tools for the Modern Media Age. The Internet and Journalism Today. My chapter is called Wikileaks and the limits of protocol and can be downloaded from our research repository. Here’s the abstract.

In this chapter, I reflect on Wikileaks and its use of technology to achieve freedom in capitalist society. Wikileaks represents an avant-garde form of media (i.e. networked, cryptographic), with traditional democratic values: opposing power and seeking the truth. At times, appears broken and half abandoned and at other times, it is clearly operating beyond the level of government efficiency and military intelligence. It has received both high acclaim and severe criticism from human rights organisations, the mainstream media and governments. It is a really existing threat to traditional forms of power and control yet, I suggest, it is fundamentally restrained by liberal ideology of freedom and democracy and the protocological limits of cybernetic capitalism.