“Open Is as Open Does”


I used quotes in the title of the post because that was the title of the presentation Jim Groom and Martha Burtis from the University of Mary Washington did here at VCU last week as part of our openVCU series. There is a recording of the session, but the audio is not great; Jim also blogged about the presentation. After the session, Jeff Nugent, Tom Woodward and I retreated with  Jim and Martha to our new, awesome incubator/experimental classroom. We explored the space largely because Jim, Martha and the rest of the DTLT team will be moving soon to a new space in UMW’s new Convergence Center. During our time in the VCU space, Martha talked about how they are excited to move into the new space but they also how the space they currently occupy informs the work they are able to do. Thankfully, Martha just blogged about “The Bullpen” that DTLT occupies and what it means for their work.

Today, as Tom and I were leaving Gardner Campbell’s office, he mentioned a conversation he had recently about moving the needle on technologically-inflected learning innovation. He had to hurry to another meeting, but he said that he had told a university (not VCU) stakeholder that it could very well start with one key internal stakeholder blogging. I’m not exactly capturing the tenor of what Gardner says, but his point was something about modeling what we want people to consider doing.

Earlier in the day, Tom and I had the good fortune of attending VCU Brandcenter’s Friday Forum where Kevin Proudfoot spoke about his work with Google Creative Lab. Kevin showed lots of videos about creative endeavors that the Lab had undertaken; he told stories of the stories they created for marketing purposes. In some of those videos, you could see the workspace at Google Creative Lab and it’s quite clearly an open space. There were no individual offices. Also, he spoke of just openly making/doing stuff; there were no pitches or committees or task forces…

Taken together, these events/posts/conversations have me thinking about what we’re trying to do by way of promoting (OPEN) online learning (and learning innovation more generally) at VCU. Specifically, there are at least two things that I’ve concluded. First, we have to be (somewhat shameless) documentarians of our processes. We have to openly document what we are doing so that people can not just learn from us, but so they can learn with us as we learn. Tom is doing an incredible job of sharing the learning he’s been doing since he started working here. I need to step up my game. This, I believe, is what Gardner was getting at and part of the message that Kevin Proudfoot was sharing. We need to do stuff and tell the story of doing stuff. When we document our work, others can learn with us and can help us work through challenges and opportunities.

The second thing I’m thinking about is our current workspace. We all have our own offices in two long corridors. It’s very, well, academic. Working in these closed spaces doesn’t lend itself to collaboration and creativity. Tom and I had discussed this yesterday and decided to just sit in one of the open workspaces we do have on our floor. We worked in an open work area and decided to say hello to people who walked by. When we did that, the folks who walked by responded with something to the effect of “Oh, I thought you were having a meeting; I didn’t want to interrupt.” That’s understandable, but it’s also symptomatic of the culture of most academic units. We need to be more open in the way we physically work and willing to “interrupt;” to say, “Hey, I see you’re doing X; have you considered Y?…”

Starting next week, I’ll be stepping out of my office more and working in our lovely open work areas. I’ll invite members of my team and others who live here with us to do the same. I’ll write more about what we’re doing. And, here too, I’ll invite members of my team and others who live here with us to do the same.

Because open is as open does.

7 thoughts on ““Open Is as Open Does””

  1. Jon,

    I agree that doers have far more influence than sayers. Good advice.

    I’m a little stuck, though. What does “technologically-inflected learning innovation” really mean?

  2. I totally agree, but might also caution that just raking down the walls and putting people in the open space may not work. I know people who work in those open spaces where no one owns a space, they can work anywhere, and it drives them nuts.

    So you have to consider and adapt to the first reaction to the lost of quiet contemplation, but also, to have some ownership of the space. You see that at DTLT where Jim has his collection of toy figures, Tim his piles of 3D printed Timmmyboy heads, etc.

    This reminds me of a series we ran back at Maricopa in 2001-2003 called “Technology Visioning” (I must boast, there were some great speakers, sessions http://web.archive.org/web/20100610043130/http://www.mcli.dist.maricopa.edu/ocotillo/tv/) but the one I am thinking is the first when we had an architect Philip Parsons speaking on what became “learning space design”

    He was big on the informal spaces, and had great examples iof walkways, entrance ways, things that encouraged and impeded the social flow outside the classrooms and buildings.

    But what stuck with me, and popped up when I read your post, was this video he showed of what he suggested was an ideal space. He had taken a video camera held by his side at waist height, and walked through a Harvard studio art space just to give a sense of the sound, feel, and spacing of the place.

    And thats what DTLT felt like to me- an artist studio. There is an energy given off when you are working in some proximity of others (in a vert Steven Johnson-y fashion), even if you are solidly focussed on tasks. It recognizes both are nature as social creatures as well as ones that need some bubble, and what we lose inside our separate walled cube cages.

    I’ve had artist friends describe this atmosphere in co-op studios. There is some social norming (such as the lady who blares too much music, and the sculpter who does not bathe enough), but working in proximity has a generative effect; even as much when a few folks gather to geek out on their laptops in the same room.

    It’s like ideas in the air.

  3. Darren, the language I used in that part was ugly/messy. I don’t know the exact context of Gardner’s comments. I do know, though, that he is the Vice Provost for Learning Innovation and Student Success. So, I did purposely use the word innovation. Whether Bud Hunt wants me to or not…

    Cogdog, I’m part of a committee (*sigh*) that had a chance to do the “programming” for a new School of Education building. It was a great committee that was almost entirely on the same page. The one area where we disagreed was on “officing” (an architectural term). I pushed for open offices. There was much pushback. There was even pointing to research on the negative effects of open offices (“People get sick a lot!”). I’m with you on the generative effect. I will now go check out the links you shared. Rock on!

  4. Good points, all. Joyce, Yin and I have been doing some of our consultations out in the Cafe…but it would not hurt to do more. Just gotta figure out how to drag my desktop and dual screens out there….

  5. It seems there almost needs to be an overtly declared desire for interaction/openness in the meetings in that space- otherwise I think people assume you’re just meeting there and don’t want to be interrupted.

    By meeting here you are offering an invitation to interact (rather than interrupt) . . . defaulting to open . . . that kind of thing. Otherwise I think you’re just end up meeting in a different location that doesn’t happen to have a door.

    If dual monitors are really the sticking point, maybe we just need to buy a few monitors and put them out there.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.