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Day Five: ‘Nothing new’ or radical reality? Putting openness into practice.

Open Education: From Resources to Practice

Written by Adrian Stagg and Emma Power, University of Southern Queensland

Image source: CC0, downloaded 27/10/17

Welcome to the last day of our second Coffee Course on open education.  During this week, we’ve highlighted a few areas of practice that are specifically enabled by open practices, and the possibilities that arise when one moves beyond simply providing access. Many of you would have realised by now that it is an area fraught with hidden complexity, and that OEP is a broad term that tries to capture a number of behaviours and activities. Any one of the facets of OEP could in fact be expanded into its’ own course, but the most interesting part of the discipline is that practitioners globally are attempting new ideas and pushing the boundaries and refining an understanding of openness.

Today, we’ll tie together the topics that have been presented over the first four days and give an opportunity for reflection.

The Role of Context

The priorities for action that were reused from Susan D’Antoni’s work in 2008 are now almost a decade old. The open educational resources movement celebrated fifteen years earlier in 2017. However, the priorities for action still remain very similar despite the passage of time and neither OER, nor OEP enjoy mainstream adoption across the sector.

The themes at a global level – mirrored by the OE Global conferences – have shown a desire to change this.  In 2016, practitioners at the conference heard the message ‘from advocacy to action’ from all geographic areas and researchers; this year the call to action became ‘from action to accountability’, reflecting a need for open education to demonstrate value and accountability in practice. In either case, an uncritical acceptance of openness as a ‘societal good’ – as many of the earliest research articles were presented – is not acceptable; evidence and examples of repeatable practice become the currency of openness.

In order to gain traction globally, open education resources, and OEP need to focus on enabling reuse and repurposing for localisation of education. Creative Commons and Public Domain licencing remain key levers for this process, but providing resources in non-proprietary formats (rather than assuming access to software) is an essential part of a sustainable movement. The considerations that drive repurpose-enabled resource and learning design only arise from a combination of awareness-raising and regard for the context of other practitioners. Discounting the role of context in open education, however, implicitly empowers a very different, marginalising agenda.

Learning Activity 9:

Based on what you have read this week, what has been the one concept or idea that you have found either most interesting, or most surprising, about openness, and why?

Radical Realities?

When describing the complexity of open practice, I’ve used the work of Urie Bronfenbrenner, especially his ‘Theory of Human Development’. In short, Bronfenbrenner sought a divergent path to other development psychologists by stating that phenomena not only need to be observed in natural settings rather than the laboratory, but also that environment (at a number of levels) was experienced uniquely by each human being. The environment (which he referred to as the ‘Ecology of Human Development’) differed for each person based on their experiences, the constraints and affordances of their local area, the norms of one’s culture, and experiences beyond the control of the individual (in higher education, for example, we are all affected by Federal government educational policy, but the individual doesn’t have a lot of control in shaping said policy).

Image source:
CC0, downloaded 27/10/17

I bring this up because it has the potential to help us understand engagement with open educational practice.

Firstly, if we accept the integral role of context in not only OEP, but in education globally, it is accompanied by a commitment to the notion that each educator and learner applies their own experiences, assumptions, knowledge, and values to an educational encounter. Paolo Freire’s pedagogy of the oppressed (1996) notionally rejects education as ‘banking’ – that is, that students are ‘empty accounts’ that are enriched only when the teacher makes a ‘deposit’ (of knowledge). Freire argued that accepting the banking metaphor was tantamount to ‘dehumanising’ the learner by actively discounting and devaluing their existing knowledge and experience in favour of prevailing information (which he linked to education as a tool of the oppressor).

Secondly is the somewhat problematic nature of semantics in the open education discourse.  ‘Adoption’ of open practice has become part of the vernacular to describe the process whereby a practitioner accepts (‘adopts’) OEP; with an implied outcome of transforming practice to include openness. A more realistic description would be ‘engagement’; wherein a practitioner explores OEP through the lens of their own context. If we accept that ‘student engagement’ focuses on ‘time on task’ and willingness to apply time and skills to a task, then perhaps in OEP, we can repurpose the same definition for practitioners, namely:

‘the time and effort that [practitioners] put into their teaching practice, that leads to experiences and outcomes that constitute success, and the ways an institution allocates resources and organises [professional learning opportunities] and support services to induce [staff] to participate in, and benefit from such activities’ (adapted from Garrison & Vaughan, 2013, p. 27).

So, if context needs recognition for not only the learner, but also the practitioner, then we also need to seriously consider how OEP is presented. Often OEP is heralded – as we’ve previously mentioned – as a self-evident force for good. When challenging, or reshaping existing realities, this is simply not enough. Again we turn to Bronfenbrenner, for inspiration.

Bronfenbrenner was influenced by Piaget’s notion of child development as a series of rationalisations between the self-constructed imaginative world and the ‘constraints of objective reality’ (Bronfenbrenner, 1979, p. 10), and that this internal environment is in a constant state of refashioning to become more compatible with achievable reality. The highest form of development, he argues, is the ‘growing capacity to remould reality in accordance with human requirements’ (1979, p. 10). This stance is mirrored by Gadamer (1989) in the construction of ‘the lifeworld’ (that an individual is the product of history and culture) that he asserts exists not only as an individual reality, but as part of a communal whole. The lifeworld is therefore influenced by, and able to influence, broader reality. A concurrent, cyclical development process is thus possible as the individual undertakes internal development (such as capacity – and knowledge-building that may alter values and priorities) that allows greater agency for external development within the achievable reality. That is, new realities are more achievable as a result of internal development processes.

The role of individual and communal realities is an important touchstone for OEP as it is not just the individual’s ability to conceive changes to their reality (and the means by which to achieve them), but also the positioning of openness. It could be argued that if openness is presented as a too radically ideological reality, it dis-incentivises engagement. Presenting OEP in combative terms (i.e. ‘the battle for open’) or as a ‘disruptive’ idea that will lead to the destruction of traditional education systems may be counter-productive to gaining traction in higher education.

A more strategic approach for OEP to gain a significant foothold in higher education is one designed around achievable, local aspirational realities, coupled with opportunities for professional learning and support – all of which requires contextual understanding for success implementation.

Image source:
CC0, downloaded 27/10/17

I want to leave you to consider this position about context and reality (a heavy topic for just one cup of coffee – I’ll understand if you, like me, go for a second cup). In many ways, uncritical approaches, and terms like ‘battle’ and ‘disruption’ have done more to hamper OEP than provide reasons for change. During this week, we’ve had a chance to be critical through the discussion in the Comments, and identify key points where OEP is not always the best fit. My belief is that practitioners need to consider OEP as one possible approach in their ‘learning and teaching toolkit’, in the same way that we consider the integration of technology, different theories of learning, and even modes of study. In some cases, OEP will be a good fit, but just like technology more harm than good comes from trying to ‘make it fit’.

Learning Activity 10:

As the last word for this week, I’d like you to consider one aspect of OEP that you might integrate into your own practice. What is the concept, and how might you use it? It’s certainly okay if you can think of more than one.

I’ll be keen to see what you’re taking away, and will see you in the Comments. Thank you all for joining us this week to learn more about and discuss OEP.


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.


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

D’Antoni, S. (2008).  Open educational resources: the way forward.

Deliberations of an international community of interest.UNESCO.Retrieved from

Friere, P. (1997).  Pedagogy of the oppressed, revised edn. London: Penguin.

Gadamer, H. (1989).  Truth and method, 2nd revised edn.  London: Continuum.

Garrison, R. & Vaughan, N (2013).  Institutional change and leadership associated with blended learning innovation: two case studies, Internet and higher education, 18, pp. 24-28.




7 thoughts on “Day Five: ‘Nothing new’ or radical reality? Putting openness into practice.

  1. The one thing I have found most surprising about OER is the naivety of proposals by academics. Education is a business. Even not-for-profit educational institutions have to find income to pay for the development of educational materials. Any proposal for OER has to answer the question of where the money to develop the materials will come from and how the activity will be sustained in the long term. Education in Australian universities is mostly done by part-time and casual staff on short term contracts, so the question needs to be answered as to how these people can be motivated to create and use OER. Appeals to idealism and sharing are not sufficient when you are paid by the hour to teach students for one semester. Also the opportunity seems to be missed to promote OER as part of the change currently taking place in education, with the move from classrooms to on-line. I will be discussing some of this at the EdTechPosium 2017 educational technology conference, UNSW Canberra on Monday.

    1. Hi Tom,
      I both agree and disagree. Some academics are naive, some are not, and there are oodles of us in the middle. I earn $$ as a faculty member, but I also give a huge amount of time to my professional association for free and am a journal editor (yes, an open access journal ) for free. The two can co-exist. The $$ from one allows me the freedom to do the other for free.
      Education is the same – much of it is a business, but not all of it is a business. And I think the two can co-exist, and that they do even if it is sometimes an awkward co-existence. In New Zealand we have ambulance officers, some paid a full salary and some volunteers, and they work side by side in the same ambulances, doing the same high level of work with the same qualifications. (I’m married to one of these). Staff are not always happy about it, but it works. And the public benefit, and the service is sustainable. Things may of course change at the drop of a hat, but the two do co-exist, and for now, it works.

  2. One aspect of OEP I might use is the idea of the students as creators of educational content, not just consumers of it. However, this will take a lot of work, by the instructor to set up. An example of what can go wrong is a university forum I am on, which has been flooded this week with “Thank you for your presentation” messages. These were so similar I reported it as a possible cyber attack. But it was just a course where the instructor asked the students to post feedback on each others presentations. Unfortunately the students don’t appear to have been given instruction on what good feedback looks like, or where to post it. Having students create OER runs a similar risk of a flood of of cookie-cutter low quality material.

    1. Agreed. Providing peer feedback is one of those approaches, like teamwork (in my opinion) that is not always well scaffolded in courses and results in surface-level results. There is almost an expectation that we ‘already know how to do it’ and so it isn’t taught, rather it’s accepted as a an implicit skill set already developed before university. Just the same as these skills need to be taught (with opportunities for students to demonstrate them), openness needs to be approached as a developmental skill set. The ramifications of open sharing need to be explained to students so that they can make an informed decision, and can choose how they wish to engage, so any type of OEP needs very serious thought in the design process, and if possible, a bit of reality testing.

  3. Activity 9.
    For me, the systemic character of openess, might be because this debate took place in the right moment.
    Some days before this course, I was “sketching” a plan for an article, considering that a course could be understood as a cibernetic system, and I wanted to classify virtual courses based on how much “openness” they have, particularly, where control structure was located, in an open or in a close environment. Now I have wider aims, trying to connect “openess” of different structural moments (components) of learning activity, with already known concepts, like learning networking, m-learning, u-learning PLE, flipped classroom, and others, where openness is clearly present, in some or other way.

    1. Good to hear that this course took place just at the right time for you Rey. Thank you for participating this week and contributing to the discussion here. Best wishes for your article.

  4. I think the most surprising concept for me was the fact that so much could be included in OEP. In hindsight it is really obvious, but previously I had only thought of OEP as including teaching resources — mostly in the form of worksheets. I had thought about open research, but had not connected that to OEP.

    In my own practice, I will probably consider creating and making more of my own content available. There is a gap in my field in teaching resources, and I think that OEP is the right way to contribute to filling that gap sustainably, as I need the resources for my own teaching anyway. I have also been carefully reminded throughout this course of correct licensing and attribution of online resources, which is definitely something I will be more careful about from now on.

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