The opposite of open is not closed; the opposite of open is broken. The more I think about it, the more this cogent observation, made by John Wilbanks, resonates with me.

It is true for scholarly publishing, wherein the farce that passes for tradition supplements public funding with generous dollops of (publicly-supported) voluntary peer review and editorial work, the taxpaying public are then asked to pay a third time to access the fruits of this labour, and institutions and researchers are expected to pay twice more, through article processing and database subscription fees, all to produce record profits for organizations like Elsevier.

It is also true for science, wherein tradition incentivizes trading off unsexy but cumulative research for flashy but non-reproducible findings, questionable research practices like p-hacking and withholding disconfirming data, and communicating in the least accessible style through the least accessible and impactful channels.

It is certainly true for pedagogy, wherein tradition sees instructors adapting their courses to map onto the structure of textbooks instead of the other way around, faculty continue to assign “disposable” assignments in which students produce work for one person and faculty take pains to provide thoughtful feedback that is read by almost no one, and we continue to teach in a manner that suggests our principal role is that of content delivery, despite living in an age of unparalleled access to information.

And it is true for higher education more broadly, which continues to assume that our students start and finish at the same place and at the same pace, that the modal student has unfettered access to required course materials, does not work full-time, will spend four years studying full-time at the same institution, and that a degree is so much more than just an offline badge.

This is why I bristle when I hear the old “if it ain’t broke, why fix it?” argument. For if it’s not open, it is broken, and that’s precisely why we must fix it.

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