OPEN EDUCATION

#liveblog: Critical Perspectives on ‘Openness’ in Higher Education #srhe

Today I’m in London for the Digital University Network Seminar at the Society for Research into Higher Education. Lesley Gourlay began proceedings by noting that openness is an area which needs to be looked at in the context of the ‘digital university’ series.  Here are my notes on the presentations by the other two speakers.

Openness and praxis: Exploring the use of open educational practices for teaching in higher education

Catherine Cronin (National University of Ireland, Galway)

Catherine’s talk was focused on how actors in higher education make sense of OEP. She emphasized that “education is inherently an ethical and political act” (Michael Apple). As educators we face fundamental questions about the role of higher education in the future, and the kind of skills and literacies we are trying to develop. She believes we need more criticality, more theoretical work and more focus on privilege.

In her PhD work the focus is on the ethos of transparency and sharing. Some of the learning spaces in higher education are experiencing changing boundaries, becoming more networked and less bound by physical space. In ‘open’ spaces different voices and interactions are emphasized. Much has been published on openness. There are many different interpretations, but there are few empirical studies, or studies that adopt a critical approach. How do people make choices around the benefits and risks? It was noted that openness cannot it itself be considered an educational virtue.

OEP are perhaps even harder to define than OER. Some approaches include open pedagogy, critical (digital) pedagogy, digital scholarship and networked participatory scholarship. Further complexity is added by the different levels of application (from individual to institutional, for instance). Catherine’s research looks at shared values, the use of OEP in teaching and way that decision-making about OEP adoption takes place. A constructivist grounded theory approach is taken (Strauss & Corbin, 1990) with analysis that acknowledges the subjective and interpretivist understandings of individuals (Charmaz, 2014).

So far it has been found that it is hard to determine who qualifies as an “open practitioner” because there is a wide spectrum of practices and pedagogical choices. A minority of participants use OEP for teaching (e.g. social networking, open VLE, use & reuse of OER, . Most perceive potential risks with OEP. Findings include:

  • 2 levels of OEP use identified:
    • “Being open”
    • “Teaching openly”
  • 4 dimensions shared by educators
    • Balancing privacy and openness
    • Developing digital literacies
    • Valuing social learning
    • Challenging traditional teaching

Catherine suggests that these are intimately connected. For instance, it is impossible to effectively manage online privacy without developing digital literacies. Valuing social learning involves implicitly challenging traditional learning approaches.

Some educators talk about openness as a kind of ethos or way of being. Others see it as a distraction, or as a pragmatic approach. These differences can be observed as the nano, micro, meso and macro levels. Most guidance is offered at the macro level, but the day-to-day decisions are smaller and less well supported. Other issues that were highlighted were the anxiety and stress experiences by individuals who feel that by being open they are inviting observation and possibly controversy; and the sense that institutions are not providing adequate support.

Some general conclusions:

  • OEP use is complex, personal, contextual and continuously negotiated
  • More evidence is needed on the actual experiences and concerns of staff and students
  • Open education strategies need to reflect the real benefits and risks
  • HEIs should provide support for developing digital identities, navigating tensions between privacy and openness, and spaces to reflect on changing roles in a more participatory culture.

 

Exploring higher education professionals’ use of Twitter for learning: issues of participation

Muireann O’Keeffe (Dublin City University)

Muireann’s research focused on use of Twitter by 7 HE professionals. Martin Hawksey’s TAGS explorer was used to collect data. Semi-structured interviews followed – these underwent thematic analysis. Some important theoretical influences:

  • Eraut (2004) identifies three factors for informal learning: feedback; challenge; confidence/commitment.
  • White & Le Cornu (2010) on ‘spaces’ rather than communities of practice and the distinction between ‘visitors’ and ‘residents’ (http://firstmonday.org/article/view/3171/3049)

‘Visitors’ tended to be information gatherers, with little social presence. They tend not to ask questions of others.

  • Barriers for this group include time, cautiousness, vulnerability, capacity to participate, confidence
  • A tendency to lack confidence in their own knowledge
  • Tendency to think of themselves as an observer rather than participant
  • A belief that the platform was designed for someone else – not them
  • Feel marginalized and excluded

‘Residents’ positively experience questioning, challenge, and other forms of academic debate on Twitter. They engage in non-educational commentary.

  • Unlike the ‘visitors’, this group tended to speak in terms of enablers
  • They are confident with Twitter etiquette: playfulness, tone, etc.
  • They were more likely to have a professional confidence, and a capacity to participate
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The Open Research Agenda #opened16

Today at Open Education 2016 I presented the provisional results of a research consultation exercise we have been doing at OER Hub over the last year.  Several people asked for copies of the slides, which are available here and on the OER Hub SlideShare account.

All feedback welcome.  You can still take part in the project by completing the form at tinyurl.com/2016ORA.

Open education and critical pedagogy

I have a new publication entitled ‘Open Education and Critical Pedagogy’ upcoming with Learning, Media and Technology.  Here’s the abstract.

This paper argues for a revaluation of the potential of open education to support more critical forms of pedagogy. Section 1 examines contemporary discourses around open education, offering a commentary on the perception of openness as both a disruptive force in education, and a potential solution to contemporary challenges. Section 2 examines the implications of the lack of consensus around what it means to be open, focusing on the example of commercial and proprietary claims to openness commonly known as ‘openwashing’. Section 3 uses Raymond’s influential essay on open source software ‘The Cathedral and the Bazaar’ as a framework for thinking through these issues, and about alternative power structures in open education. In Section 4, an explicit link is drawn between more equal and democratic power structures and the possibility for developing pedagogies which are critical and reflexive, providing examples which show how certain interpretations of openness can raise opportunities to support critical approaches to pedagogy.

Keywords: open education; OER; MOOC; critique; evidence; critical
theory; critical pedagogy; discourse analysis; openwashing

The paper is available online but it unfortunately behind a paywall. I have an author’s link that allows free downloads for the first 50 requests, so if you’d like a copy then redirect your browser to http://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/YtPXqFkVSmteYfbgURJc/full.

[If you try the link and all the free copies are gone, let me know and I’ll send you a pre-print version.]

Who are the open learners? #opened15

Here are my slides from today’s presentation at Open Education 2015.  As ever, all feedback welcome!

Ethics, Openness and the Future of Education #opened14

By popular demand, here are my slides from today’s presentation at Open Education 2014.  All feedback welcome and if this subject is of interest to you then consider checking out the OERRH Ethics Manual and the section on ethics (week 2) of our Open Research course.

Liveblog: David Kernohan at Open Ed 2013

David began by running out of the room (to jump in the chilly outside pool) only to be followed on camera in a segue that led to a video documentary (‘The Avalanche That Never Happened’) about the ‘deliverology’ which vexes UK education.  In the UK, in the mid 1990s Michael Barber (then a professor at the University of Keele) was invited by the government to consult with a view to improving literacy and education.  He advocated the replacement of public schools with private institutions, notably at Hackney Downs.  At the time both major political parties were keen to present themselves as the party of education.  This led to a change in the culture of British education which came to emphasise ‘targets’ and processes which were determined for the ‘front-line’ by ‘the top people’.

The obsession with setting and meeting educational examples led to an endemic manipulation of metrics across the public sector:  education came to be a matter of passing tests and passing tests alone.  Despite mounting criticism and evidence that Barber’s reforms may have been detrimental to education, the management culture he typifies remain dominant in British education despite the fact that those who espouse this approach are not themselves educators.

In more recent times a number of entrepreneurs – Jobs, Gates, Zuckerberg, Branson, many of them college dropouts – have supported the idea that there remains something inadequate about traditional approaches to education.  Educational (and teacher training) models have increasingly emphasised flexibility and profitability across the world.   The new model of the privately run school has become prevalent worldwide.  Barbers’s recent reports continue to perpetuate this view – but he’s only an example of a class of decision makers who have real influence.

Intellectual property laws have come to play a central part in this process, spreading from the west to Asia in order to protect the rights of private companies and to gather large amounts of data about markets.  Dressed in the language of ’empowering students’ and ‘globalisation’ one could see all this as the UK flavour of a wider, utopian trend.  The private sector remains the only admitted source of innovation and improvement in this view of the world.

Open education exists as a genuine threat to this orthodoxy:  it can provide a more personalised experience which can derive from genuine learner interest rather than the imposition of external frameworks of assessment.  However, we need to move away from the culture of measurement, which is a feature of this ideology:  we shouldn’t care so much about how many people use courses, what kinds of grades they get, etc.  We should resist standardisation which is carried out in the name of ‘choice’.

References and more information about the film are available at http://followersoftheapocalyp.se/opened13/.  The film itself (which is a pretty impressive production) is available from http://vimeo.com/78431114. (password = avalanche)

[Reblogged from http://oerresearchhub.org/2013/11/07/oer13-keynote-david-kernohan/]