Bryan Behrenshausen's public notebook. Updated irregularly.

A Guide for Educators

The open organization community at just released its latest book, The Open Organization Guide for Educators, which Aria Chernik, Ben Owens, and I have been editing since May. We’re delighted to see it published in electronic and paperback forms—under a Creative Commons license, of course.

I wrote the book’s preface, which I’ll reproduce below.


One of this book’s proposed subtitles was “Revolutionizing teaching and learning for a more collaborative future.” It certainly was compelling. Who doesn’t love a good revolution?

But like “The Simpsons’” Nelson Muntz staring disappointedly at the cinema marquee for “Naked Lunch,” co-editors Aria Chernik and Ben Owens mulled our work and said, “I can think of at least two things wrong with that title.”

The Open Organization Guide for Educators features stories from teachers, administrators, and students who certainly have embraced a collaborative, iterative, transparent, inclusive—and, in a word, more open—approach to building educational organizations. As they’ve all demonstrated, it’s an approach to education with the power to create classrooms that are more engaging and learner-centered, faculty meetings that foreground meritocracy and accountability, lessons that are open to anyone’s feedback and modification, assessments that empower rather than punish, and teaching communities built first and foremost on trust and a propensity for sharing.

And nothing about it should seem revolutionary.

In fact, referring to it that way risks giving the impression that it’s some kind of radical or eccentric set of ideas about teaching and learning. But the possibility that someone might perceive it as such should give anyone pause. After all, the authors in this volume don’t sound like revolutionaries. They sound like dedicated advocates for an education system that’s in sync with its technical, social, economic, and ethical contexts; that’s preparing people to act not only effectively but also humanely in those contexts; and that’s capable of responding adequately when those contexts inevitably shift.

Education doesn’t need revolution. It needs a thoughtful, careful, and deliberate upgrade for the 21st century.

So that word had to go. And disappear it did—in favor of something that emphasized open education’s transformative power.

One final matter, then, was “the future.”

The reality is that educators aren’t advocating greater openness as a way of preparing students for the future. They’re doing it to help them participate in the world as it is today. Increasingly, modern organizations are more dynamic and nonhierarchical. They’re filled with people intrinsically motivated by visions and values that transcend the profit motive. And they’re more porous, connecting more readily with external partners and communities. Authors of the forthcoming pages want to align educational organizational structures with the ones students can expect to someday enter—and participate more thoughtfully, ethically, and influentially when they do.

So a book promising tools and tactics useful “for the future” isn’t urgent enough. The one you’re reading now is much more timely, more immediate. Forget tomorrow; you’ll need these essays today.

Because tomorrow might be different—but then again, this book might be too. Building it was its own kind of lesson, practical instruction in the art and craft of collaborative writing-at-scale, in engaging a globally distributed community of experts whose enthusiasm for open education turned it from idea to artifact in less than a year.

The book that materialized from all this creative energy is dvided into three parts. The first, “Visions,” features essays on the power and promise of open educational organizations—incisive analyses of the situation in which “open education” finds itself today, discussions of the challenges it faces, and forward-reaching insights into how we might nurture it. The second section, “Case Studies,” reads like notes from the field; it’s a collection of project reports and personal reflections from open-focused teachers, students, and administrators working every day to hone their craft. And in the final section, “Exercises,” educators share their step-by-step instructions for replicating some of their own successful techniques for creating more open classrooms, schools, departments, and campuses.

And the book remains open—to distribution and remix, thanks to the Creative Common license we’ve affixed to it, but also to new futures and new possibilities, since, like open source code, it’s less a static text than an ever-evolving codex, a snapshot of a discussion-in-progress. You’ll find its source code on GitHub.

We hope you’ll join us there to continue the conversation about an open approach to education so desperately necessary right now—and then, more importantly, to help us keep building it.

# September 10, 2019