Digital Content

Open Educational Practice Day 5: Join the Dark Side

By Adrian Stagg and Emma Power, USQ

It’s been a big week of discussion and exploration, and today we’ll wrap up the course – and build an OER.

Join the Dark Side: we have openness

Stormtrooper making some coffee by renatomitra, used under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike Licence from:

Open education has been positioned as by some authors as ‘disruptive’ (and many other education ‘buzz words’), even to the extent of claiming that within the next fifty years MOOCs will reduce the number of universities worldwide to ten.  As we wrap up the course, I want to add a few critical perspectives and encourage you to reflect on how openness can be positioned in higher education, and to illuminate the ‘dark side’ of open education.

2012 was named the ‘Year of the MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) as universities globally offered free courses, sometimes with hundreds of thousands of students.  The MOOC structure was heralded as a way to scale education in response to the millions of new university places required for the increasing global demand for education.  However, there are some major challenges with MOOCs.

In most cases, MOOCs are free, but not open. The average MOOC is free to join (although you do need an account to view the content), free to access the content, and free to engage with other learners. Most MOOCs – despite the presence of the word in the acronym – are not open.  By now you’ll know that open education is predicated on sharing and reuse (the 5Rs from yesterday), and most MOOCs are built with proprietary content that is ‘protected’ under a licencing agreement.  Some providers stipulate that once content is written for the MOOC is becomes company intellectual property, and clauses in the contract forbid its use in fee-paying courses.  This means that if you write a MOOC, and then want to use it as part of a degree program at your university, you’ll need to purchase the rights to your own content.

Returning to the claim that MOOCs would make higher education ‘obsolete’ and reduce the number of institutions to ten, one needs to examine the list.  The proposed list was dominated by North American and European universities; no mention of Africa, Asia, India, or Australia.  In such a proposal, white Western institutions are positioned as ‘educating the world’ – essentially using open education as a vehicle for neo-colonialism.  One of the most powerful statements against this ideal is in the mission of OER Africa, citing the need to build ‘capacity, and join emerging global OER networks as active participants who showcase Africa’s intellection property, rather than passive consumers of knowledge produced elsewhere’ [emphasis added]. You can read a bit more about MOOCs in our previous ‘espresso’ course.

The research role in open educational resources provides an imperative for action.  Over the last five years, there have been increasing calls from conferences such as OER Global for a more critical perspective.  This lack of rigorous critique is ‘perhaps unsurprising when the concept of OER presents itself as such a self-evident social ‘good’ (Glennie, Harley, & Butcher, 2012).  The challenge for open education researchers is one of critical reflection and research design.

Lastly, one needs to consider the reality offered by open education.  If one subscribes to Bronfenbrenner’s development theory (1979), humans engage in development activities as a response to a change in role (whether real or perceived), but it is underpinned by an individuals’ ability to imagine the ‘new reality’.  When open education advocates actively communicate the concept in adversarial terms with existing norms of higher education, or claim that open education will drive the current system to obsolescence, they present a reality too radical for commitment.  For open education to be successful, advocates and practitioners need to understand how open education might already be part of their teaching and research practice, and how open principles align with and contribute to existing educational goals.  Open education will gain traction when it is situated in existing disciplinary practice and when it presents an achievable and attractive reality.

Activity 8

Below are two of the videos from the 2012 Why Open Education Matters contest (we watched another video from this series earlier).  When you watch these, apply the ideas above to the presentations.  Did either video resonate with your views of education, and your reality?  Did they present open education in a manner that was jarring, or confrontational?  Lastly, would you have any advice for revising the content?

OER (Open Educational Resources) Introduction II by Brendan Walsh, used under a Creative Commons Attribution Licence from:

Why open education matters by Degreed, used under a Creative Commons Attribution Licence from:

Building resources collaboratively

The power of open education resources lies in the ability to reuse and revise; this will be the focus of the last activity of the course. On Day One, you were asked to examine the OER Tree image from the Open Education Consortium.  It depicts the three ‘roots’ of open education, namely Access, Opportunity, and Equity, and shows the ‘fruit’ of openness on each branch.

Today, we’ll engage with this image, revise it using this learning community as the lens, and in the coming weeks re-release a newly-licenced version for global use.  It will have a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Licence, and I’ll be sure to let the OER Consortium know about the work.

Activity 9

Revisit the OER Tree.  If you were to remix this for your own discipline, what would be the most important ‘roots’ of openness, and which ‘fruits’ do you believe are most important? If you can think of any part of the tree that should be added to, deleted, or modified, make your suggestions below.

Emma and I will then collate the responses and forward them to our colleagues in USQ Graphics who have agreed to design and develop the OER.  Once completed, we’ll provide a follow-up post so that everyone has access to the new version.

Thank you very much for engaging with the course and participating in the daily discussions.  This has been a great experience, and creating a resource with you all will be a rewarding experience – and something that this course can offer (freely and openly) to open educators.  If you would like to continue the conversation, or have ideas for collaboration, please do reach out to us, but also look for staff in your own institutions who can support you (librarians, copyright officers, learning designers).  Best of luck in your own open projects.


The text of this work is made available under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Licence.  All images and videos retain their respective licences.


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Bronfenbrenner, U (1979).  The ecology of human development: experiments by nature and design.  Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Glennie, J., Harley, K., Butcher, N., & T, v. W. (2012). Open educational resources and change in higher education: reflections from practice Perspectives on open and distance learning Vancouver, Canada. (p. 7)





26 thoughts on “Open Educational Practice Day 5: Join the Dark Side

  1. Now we come to the last day of the course. We’ll spend today looking at a range of topics, and you’ll have the opportunity to contribute to an OER – an asset developed from this course.
    Yesterday was an overview of Creative Commons and the types of activities that are supported in a free and open environment. I noticed that some of you were already considering how to incorporate this knowledge into your own practice (Katie), highlighting CC Licences for students (Michael), levels of openness (Alison) afforded by the licences, and commercialisation opportunities allowed by Creative Commons (Jill & Dan).

    Remember that we’ll have the in-person coffee today, so if you are available door by and meet up with Emma. I look forward to today’s discussions, and wanted to thank you all for being so generous with your time and experience in the course. It’s given me fresh perspective on a few issues, and given me more to think about. I said at the beginning that I enjoy facilitating PD when I learn something too – and this has been no exception.

    See you in the Comments!

  2. For me in clinical medicine and interested in research access with open data and research are my important ones. In my area there are a lot of smaller studies and trials done. Access to original data of these would allow a great opportunity to combine. Patient confidentiality and consent will always be an important issue to consider when doing this.
    Thanks for the interesting week.

    1. Michael, the issue of confidentiality in Research Ethics is a major one when you are talking about open data. I know a number of folk who have undertaken the approach of wanting open data sets and needed to then educate their own Ethics Committee about the subject. I was recently pleased to see that Otago Polytechnic has changed their Ethics Approval forms to include a question about intent to make the data open, so institutions are slowly beginning to support the notion.
      Anonymity is paramount, so I would imagine that there would be studies where the data simply couldn’t be made available, or even that the data is re-identifiable due to the characteristics of the sample (the ABS omits data from tables already when this happens).
      It would be interesting to see if this has already been the subject of conceptual papers, or research papers in your field. If you do find anything, feel free to post a link.
      Thanks for your engagement this week – it’s been a great conversation.

  3. Hi All,
    Activity 8 – oh, those videos. The first one looked like a generic Saatchi & Saatchi advert, where it was all words, pre-prepared and could ave been about anything. I let it run its length but I’m not sure actually listened to the second half – certainly don’t recall anything from it now, and won’t use that video for anything. [Was this a video of what not to do in making a video?]
    The second one was about people, and process, and had a point. This one delivered content for me, while the first one didn’t.
    Am interested to know if/how the others in the class felt about these – maybe different?

    1. Hi Alison, I can see already that others shared the same view as you. I deliberately didn’t add any of my own opinions in the learning activity as I didn’t want to influence the outcome, but I am glad that a contrast was apparent. Despite this contrast, they were both selected for places in the ‘Why Education Matters’ competition. I agree that the first one is very impersonal and felt like (as someone further down mentioned) propaganda.
      The second one (in my opinion) does a slightly better job, but still has some flaws. I’ll address those in the comments further down as others picked out some very good talking points.

  4. Hi everyone,

    Activity 8:
    Here are my views, which serve to challenge the content of the videos (I’m glad, after reading Alison’s post, that I’m not alone in having a few points to criticize).

    The first video does not mention anything about accreditation. Having access to the best non-accredited content is of limited value if you need an accredited degree.

    In the second video, education is equated to sharing. I agree with this point in that the very act of educating is a sharing of knowledge. That does not mean that the way the sharing is done is in the best interests of the learners. For example, children don’t have much of a say about how they are educated. Maybe some kids would excel in a music class, but that subject often has very little time dedicated to it in a school schedule. There are also issues with funding cuts to special needs services. When I was a teacher in Ontario, gifted students did not receive any special needs services at all. And it was not a part of initial training to learn to adapt courses for gifted students. There were likely Additional Qualifications courses available for working teachers. But those courses are often expensive and done on the teachers’ time. All of this is to say that there is sharing, but it is not fully designed and delivered for the good of the learners, regardless of the intentions.

    With regards to both videos, there is a lack of understanding about inclusion. The first video assumes that everyone has access to a computer of some sort with free Internet access. Sometimes, there are libraries or community centres that offer these services, but that can’t be assumed. The second video shows only one image of a woman, who is a teacher. It would be nice if videos like this, which are attempting to promote progressive actions were more progressive in their presentation style.

    There are more points that I could touch on (including strengths of the videos), but I’ll leave it at that for now.

    1. Dan, accreditation is an important point. Apart from it being important to the student, it just about doubles the cost and complexity of producing and delivering a course. Also access to the Internet is still an issue, even in a developed country like Australia.

      Tom W.

      1. Dan & Tom,

        All good points, and I think there was a missed opportunity for accreditation here. As the is increasing rhetoric about the need for university places (I read an article about the National Open University Nigeria recently that stated roughly two hundred thousand students miss out on university places as there is simply no currently scalable method of accommodating that many learners – this is a terrible figure and only represents one country), so open education could have models to offer that recognise the role of open informal learning that translates into credit. Recognition of Prior Learning is certainly not a new concept for universities, and many have policies and procedures for this.
        As for inclusion and diversity, I’ll go back to my point about Sebastian Thrun’s ’10 Universities’. I think that open practitioners need to be very critical about their own assumptions (and especially assumed values) when discussing open education – whether it be about including everyone as potential sources of knowledge and practice, or how we represent the value of openness. If you’re interested in one way of approaching this, check out some work a colleague of mine at Charles Darwin University has done via their project page: and the interview I did with Johanna at:

        Thanks Tom and Dan for your generosity in spending both time, and illuminating your experiences during the week – it’s been appreciated.

  5. Hi All,
    Re the Tree – my field is Library and Information Studies – which is all about connecting people with the information and resources they need for whatever purpose they have. In the light of this:

    **The roots of the tree would have Access as the middle ‘root’ of the tree with the other two on the sides. Opportunity can come later, but access is central and without that, absolutely nothing happens. e.g. the old ‘digital divide’was about people not having access…

    **Re ‘Open Textbooks’ at the top right of the tree – why is it just ‘Open Textbooks’? This should include Open Journals, Open Books, etc as well.They are noticeably missing.

    **I would change the order of ‘Collaboration’ and ‘Open Access’ on the bottom right. Open Access seems more fundamental, and the qualities and actions (such as collaboration, inclusiveness, accessibility innovation, efficiency etc) should all be on the outer edges of the tree.

    **I would change the colour of the tree top so that it is not clearly divided into three sections, as these sections all relate to each other. A constant change of colour (what’s that called? A morph? Fade? Flux?) across the tree top might be better, or have an autumn colour added in the outer edges to highlight those qualities/actions as a group.

    Couldn’t get a copy that I could change easily to show this, so that list will have to do.

    It’s been a great course – thanks very much everyone – lovely to meet you all and talk about these things!

    1. Hi Alison, these are al great points, and I’m rolling these into the design brief for our Graphic Team. I’ll see what they can do to make this a reality and hopefully it will be good for re-release very soon.
      I also wanted to thank you for your involvement this week, I’ve enjoyed speaking with you and also learning from your perspective.

  6. Thank you to everyone who was able to make it to the face-to-face coffee meet-up today! It was great to meet you all and discuss how OEP and OER could work within your institutional context at ANU, along with hearing your learning and reflections on the course content.

    Also, a huge thank you to everyone who has (and continues to) contributed to the discussion on the forum here, it is great to hear your ideas, challenges and views regarding OEP and OER. We really appreciate your engagement with the coffee course! I hope that we’ve assisted you in generating some ideas and resources to use in future practice.

    Last but most importantly, thank you to Katie and Janene for all thier hard work organising, developing, moderating, and hosting this coffee course (plus the wonderful coffee today, and all the other work you’ve put into this course). I’ve really appreciated the opportunity to collaborate with you both and visit your beautiful campus here in Canberra.

    1. Thanks for joining us Emma! It was great having you and I know my team and I learned a lot. I am hoping we can provide more avenues for fostering OEP at ANU as a result. Enjoy the rest of your time in Canberra!

  7. Activity 8: Why Open Education Matters
    Sorry but I could not stand more than 20 seconds of the first video: “OER Introduction II by Brendan Walsh”. This was too much like propaganda, or a late night TV advertisement for a potato peeler.
    I got 35 seconds into the second video “Why open education matters by Degreed” before giving up at: “… in the past the only way for teachers to share with students outside their classrooms was to capture their knowledge and skills in physical artifacts like books … but the Internet changes this equation …”. This is incorrect: we had education via radio and TV decades before the Internet. MOOC proponents have failed to learn from this history and made the same mistakes again. I found it amusing to read how MOOC research “discovered” that many doing the courses already had university degrees, or that these students were forming spontaneous face-to-face study groups. These are things already discovered fifty years ago by a TV university (later known as OU UK).
    The prediction in the notes about MOOCs resulting in ten universities reminds me of Thomas Watson, president of IBM, who in 1943 said: “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers”.
    If 2012 was the ‘Year of the MOOC’, then I suggest 2017 is the year of the end of the MOOC, when it became clear these are not really massive, or open, or on-line, or courses.
    Tom W.

    1. I agree with you. The second video contains serious historical errors. “Sharing knowledge” outside the classroom has been done through much more means than books. The video also omits correspondence education.

      1. Noemi and Tom, I certainly agree. Some folk are very happy to claim that open education started fifteen years ago when the term OER was coined, but this is blatantly false. In some professional learning that I ran internally this week, I used the sacking of the castle at Toledo during the Crusades as one example – Toledo was a Moorish city and a very learned one at that as they had a massive library containing works that had been considered ‘lost’ since the fall of Rome about six hundred years before that. When scholars discovered the contents of the library a call went up for any scholar in Christendom (not very inclusive) to come to the library, copy any texts they wanted and then go out into the world to do as they wanted with them. Secular education received quite the boost. Imagine a library nowadays saying ‘come along and copy anything we have and take it away to do as you please’ – it’s hard, isn’t it? It’s one of many examples that show that sharing openly (like the TV and Radio lectures) isn’t new.
        Correspondence was a mode that continues to impress me. I found out a while ago that the OU UK had a correspondence course in the 1960’s on perfume making. As a former educational designer, that boggled my mind. If you can successfully run a course like that (with the tactile and olfactory learning required) at a distance, then almost anything is possible.

  8. Activity 9: Pruning the OER Tree.
    The metaphor is a bit mixed: you don’t “remix” a tree.
    “Access” I suggest is the taproot of open education. Opportunity and equity sprout from that.
    Flexible learning, Innovation and Efficiency, I suggest, are the most nutritious fruit.
    Pedagogy is the trunk, keeping the tree strong.
    Coffee in the ANU School of Arts courtyard, under a brilliant blue autumn sky today, was very thought provoking. Open Educational Practice is a challenge for academics used to small scale, bespoke teaching, as practiced at research orientated universities, like ANU. My discipline of computing, with its depth of experience in Open Access software development, may be able to provide some useful approaches. This includes not only techniques for cooperating across organizational boundaries on large scale projects, but how to convince stakeholders with parochial, profit orientated goals to fund open access.

    1. 🙂 Agreed, Tom, remixing a tree sounds a little destructive (like feeding it through a wood-chipper) which certainly isn’t the intent. I’ll certainly add your suggestions for ‘pruning’ (or is this a form of topiary?).
      Also, very glad to hear that enjoyed the face-to-face coffee session (despite, I hear, a fire drill).

  9. Activity 8: Like Tom said, I felt like both videos were a bit like propaganda (though the second one less so). I don’t disagree with the points they made, but felt that they missed some important points. The focus on the internet was a big one for me. For sure the internet facilitates sharing of knowledge, particularly of OER, these resources can also be shared without the internet, right? I don’t think that a lack of internet would diminish the value of OER. Maybe I’m missing something here though! Personally, I’ve participated in several MOOCs and, while I’ve mainly enjoyed and learnt a lot, I don’t see them as a replacement for Universities in any way.
    Activity 9: My field is evolutionary ecology. I wouldn’t change the roots of the tree – I think these are relevant and important to any discipline. Open data is definitely a big one here, and is something that is supported (sometimes enforced) by a lot of journals – both open and “closed”. Open source software is also really important and, luckily, readily available. On a teaching side of things, I think that open textbooks/other books, and the “efficiency” and “inclusiveness” fruits would be the most important. A lot of the learning in this area is “hands-on” – in the lab or out in the field. I don’t know how feasible it would be to make this aspect free and open, but sharing of the resources (e.g. the design and implementation of field-based workshops) would be a great thing!

    1. Rachel, your points about the role of the internet are well-made. I was having a similar discussion with a group yesterday when I ran some professional learning sessions here on campus. We looked at a report from 2008 which listed the priorities (then) for OER internationally and interesting respondents from ‘developed’ countries listed ‘technology tools’ last (as opposed to ‘developing’ countries who list the same item as third place). We discussed whether the respondents simply assume access to technology (which even in Australia I would state is highly problematic), and whether OER needs technology.
      I would agree with you that the value proposition remains the same even without technology. I would however, be inclined to think that without technology to facilitate sharing, the impact is diminished. We have plenty of historical evidence to show that scholars shared knowledge effectively pre-internet, so it would be a conceit to to assume that post-internet societies have a monopoly on good sharing. In some ways, it can even be argued that the internet has given us new ways of excluding people, as well as including them.
      I like your suggestions for the tree, they are being collated with the others for the design brief.

  10. Activity 8
    – I don’t agree with the definition of “Education” as “passing of knowledge through time”. This definition lacks a historical, pedagogical and epistemological perspective. What I do agree regarding the first video is that technology enhances the ability to share knowledge. However, we need some steps before. Technological tools will not be of great help if the educational resources are only information repositories and created to be commodities. We need to design pedagogically supported resources and prioritise sharing over profits.
    – Regarding the second video, beyond the historical mistakes, I agree that education is sharing. I would add that sharing does not only mean “giving” but is a process in different directions. In the case of OERs, I visualise the process as a network that creates learning communities in which the resource is used, appropriated, modified and re-circulated.

  11. I consider that the root “Access” is the result of an ideal equitable educational model that offers equal opportunities to everyone worldwide. So, the goal would be to achieve free and open access to educational resources for all. But there are social and technological barriers that currently prevent such access. One result that I do not see in the tree is the institutional recognition of knowledge. Not having access to that kind of ‘official validity’ halts both, the motivation to self-managing learning; and competitiveness in the labour market.

    (Sorry for the delay. Looking forward to seeing the follow-up post).

    1. Hi Naomi,
      What a complex area! I had taken a different meaning of ‘access’ which is the ‘ability to’, not the ‘act of’. e.g an estranged father who has ‘access’ to his children means he is permitted to see than at regular intervals, but has the personal choice of whether or not to make that contact. If it is the meaning I think you have, then access would be the specific points when he does see his children.
      So to me access is the thing that will get to to the other side of the river, i.e. a bridge. Can’t get anywhere without the bridge, so that is fundamental. ‘Opportunity’ to use that bridge is another matter….
      So that is probably why there are so many viewpoints and no agreement on this type of thing – we give different meanings to the same words. Such obstacles!

  12. Hi All

    I’m doing some catching up! It has been a very interesting week and I’m glad to have been in this course.

    Both videos have similar themes and style aside, I think they both strongly emphasise the benefits or positives of OER without looking at the challenges (which I think we’ve done a better job of this week!!). Both videos also emphasised that OER are free…but from what Adrian says in the blog post, this isn’t always the case. The internet is also central to both videos, and I think the example in video 1 of Haiti wasn’t well-chosen (all that did was bring attention to the fact that many places in the world STILL won’t benefit from OER because of poor or no internet, including regional Australia).

    Thanks again everyone for a stimulating discussion.

    Best wishes

    1. Thanks for being involved Melissa, you’ve certainly given me some issues to think about during the week. I’m glad that you have explored the challenges of OER this week – my intent was to present a balanced view of the topic and to highlight the complexities of a type of practice that is often presented very simplistically, to it’s own detriment (such as in these videos). We need to acknowledge that OER is one potential approach among many (and I think it works best when combined with other approaches and initiatives) to meet the needs of our students.
      Thanks once again for participating, and I am glad to hear that you’ve found it useful.

  13. I am in Linguistics, and there are several ‘fruits’ that would be especially important. Open source software is definitely one of them. Some of the widely-used software for linguistic analysis are open-source: Praat for acoustic analysis, Elan for transcription. Collaboration is another. Collaboration is often a driver of research for me, so the more we can share with each other, the more we can all grow.

  14. If I were to remix the OER tree for Educational Technology (my discipline), I would have Access, Equity and Flexible Learning as the important roots of the tree. Every educational technology aims to be able to enable access to education and resources and make flexible learning possible. The end goal is to achieve equity in terms of access and opportunities. I would retain all the fruits but make the following bigger – accessibility, innovation, opportunity, inclusiveness and efficiency. I would make accessibility the biggest fruit because technology is always seen as an enabler, which is true. But it is also the biggest barrier in accessing digital information if the tools and resources are not designed with accessibility in mind.

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