The Open Research Agenda

Here are the slides I’ll be using today for my presentation at the CALRG Annual Conference.  The Open Research Agenda is an international consultation exercise focused on identifying research priorities in open education.

You can read more about the project here:

The Open Research Agenda (2)

The Open Research Agenda (1)


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 – Catherine Cronin keynote at #altc #altc2014

For one day only I’m at The University of Warwick for the ALT-c conference where I’m speaking on OER Impact Map.   (You can access my slides for today here.)

Catherine Cronin (National University of Ireland, Galway) – Navigating the Marvellous: Openness in Education

Catherine began with a quote that illustrates her view of eduction:

“Education is inherently an ethical and political act.” (Michael Apple)

Catherine spoke about growing up in New York and the political milieu in the 1960s (including the assassinations of Martin Luther King and John F. Kennedy that helped her to grow to political awareness and the role of education for supporting healthy political life.  Different people have different parts to play in the political process.  Education thus conceived necessitates criticism of what exists, pointing to what has been lost, and identifying possible futures.

Openness: Catherine identifies this with sharing resources and thoughts in a freely available way.  Lots of resources that claim to be ‘open’ aren’t necessarily licensed in appropriate ways, and open practices should be understood as a more radical level built on top of this.

“Openness is an ethos, not just a license.  It’s an approach to teaching and learning that builds a community of learners” (Jim Groom)

Catherine was keen to identify openness with a kind of humility rather than the hubris of seeking greater attention for one’s work:

“I don’t think education is about centralized instruction anymore; rather, it is the process [of] establishing oneself as a node in a broad network of distributed creativity.”  (Joichi Ito)

As networked individuals, we need to overcome the distinction usually recognised between formal and informal learning.  Students come with different expectations and experiences that they bring to the spaces within which they learn.  Couros (2006) refers to the ‘networked’ teacher who makes use of a range of digital technologies.

from Couros, A. (2006). Examining the open movement: possibilities and implications for education. (Doctoral thesis, University of Athabasca.)

Learning spaces can be physical or online, and tend to be bounded in different ways. Different spaces can facilitate community building to different degrees, but in any space there will be some voices that are privileged and some which are excluded.  When online we experience fewer markers of identity, with differing ideas about the effects of presence and telepresence on pedagogy.  Open online spaces tend to disregard institutional, national or physical barriers to entry and so facilitate greater sharing and connectivity.

The network is the organising principle of open online spaces – but how should this work in practice?  Openness here refers not to licensing but to the practice of facilitating this connectivity.

When students enter institutions, we can ask them about the tools they use and their views on transparency, privacy, and experimental pedagogies.  These discussions can be open, and help to form a shared understanding and expectation.  Open discussions can take place on social media which draw on the idea of networked learning. Students should be encouraged to connect across cohorts and levels to build community and learning skills.

We can minimise the power differential between student and teacher through open approaches, though it should be noted that some students worry  about being judged for thoughts and contributions shared in the open.  Identity is key to understanding these concerns because identities are constructed through dialogue and sharing.  Students should be supported in building and trying out different identities because so doing will help build digital skills and confidence.  Online identity doesn’t so much transform one’s own sense of self but it can help us become more aware of the contingent and contextual nature of our identities, and help us to see possibilities for being otherwise.

We can see open learning spaces as ‘third spaces’ which are neither formal nor informal but draw on both the skills of formal learning and the informal identities that have a kind of authenticity.  One risk with developing e-learning is in believing in a kind of subjectless learner who does not bring their own identity to  their learning.  We need to recognise difference: gender, race, religion, disability and other potential sources of ‘Otherness’.  Open practices are a brilliant first step towards this.

Open Research into Open Education #calrg14

Here are my slides from today’s presentation: feedback welcome as always.

The project website is and the OER Impact Map is available at

A Battle for Open?

Martin Weller has a thought-provoking editorial in the latest issue of JiME.  He argues that many of the battles for open education have been won but that the movement now faces the challenge of balancing all kinds of different aims and aspirations.  Is openness about freedom?  Is this an argument about business models or a philosophy of education?

These questions are couched in a wider narrative about finding pathways through times of change (especially rapid change or revolution). We often only see the underlying patterns of historical forces in retrospect:  as the philosopher Hegel tells us, the owl of Minerva ‘flies only at dusk’.  Not only are the issues complex and conflated; there is also the small matter of the education publishing industry that is keen to protect billions of dollars of revenue.  With all this is mind it can be hard to focus on the more prosaic problems we face on a day-to-day basis.

Martin appeals to the same ‘greenwashing’ analogy that Hal Plotkin used when I spoke with him in Washington DC earlier this year.  Nowadays environmental friendliness has penetrated the mainstream so successfully it can be hard to recall the way many corporations and lobbyists fought against a small environmental movement.  Brands are more than happy to present themselves as ‘green’ where before they denied the value of such a thing.  Their redefinition is known as ‘greenwashing’ and shows how a message can be co-opted by organisations which would appear at first to be excluded.  Can we say the same thing about open education as commercial providers become ‘providers of OER’?

Martin does a great job of showing why ‘battle’ might be an appropriate metaphor for what’s going on.  In the case of open access publishing, for instance, incumbent publishers want to preserve profits but open models have allowed new entrants into the market.  These new publication models are immediately thrust into challenges of scale and sustainability that can make it hard to preserve the openness that was the original impetus.

I won’t try to present any more of the argument here – it’s well worth reading in full.  But here’s the conclusion for the gist of it:

Openness has been successful in being accepted as an approach in higher education and widely adopted as standard practice. In this sense it has been victorious, but this can be seen as only the first stage in a longer, ongoing battle around the nature that openness should take. There are now more nuanced and detailed areas to be addressed, like a number of battles on different fronts. After the initial success of openness as a general ethos then the question becomes not ‘do you want to be open?’ but rather ‘what type of openness do you want?’ Determining the nature of openness in a range of contexts so that it retains its key benefits as an approach is the next major focus for the open education movement.

Open approaches complement the ethos of higher education, and also provide the means to produce innovation in a range of its central practices. Such innovation is both necessary and desirable to maintain the role and function of universities as they adapt. It is essential therefore that institutions and practitioners within higher education have ownership of these changes and an appreciation of what openness means. To allow others to dictate what form these open practices should take will be to abdicate responsibility for the future of education itself.

Reading: Open Education

I’ve been meaning to spend a bit of time trying to better understand the open education movement of the 1970s and how it relates to contemporary developments in academia.  A useful summary of some key texts is over at but I’ve copied the bibliographic details here just in case it goes down or I can’t find it again.  I’m particularly interested in getting my hands on the Nyberg (for obvious reasons).

Easthope, G. (1975) Community, Hierarchy and Open Education, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Nyberg, D. (ed.) (1975) The Philosophy of Open Education, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Puckrose, H. (1975) Open School, Open Society, London: Evans.

Sharp, J. (1973) Open School. The experience of 1964-70 at Wyndham School, Egremont, Cumberland, London: Dent.

OER13: Report & Slides

I’ve spent the last couple of days here in Nottingham at OER13, where I presented yesterday on the OERRH project and about some of the issues surrounding research synthesis.  Here are my slides:

In addition to presenting and generally taking part I’ve been liveblogging some of the sessions for our project website.  Here are some links to these entries:

#oer13 live blog – keynote by Doug Belshaw
#oer13 liveblog – Policy Recommendations
Critiques of Open Education
#oer13 live blog – Keynote by Toni Pearce
#oer13 live blog – Welcome by Alan Ford