learning | reflecting | sharing

A new home…

As of April 14th, 2017, this website has moved to a new home:

All of the content of this blog has been moved to my new site. Please do visit or follow – I look forward to seeing you there 🙂

Many thanks to the great folks at Reclaim Hosting for support in creating my new domain and for moving my blog to its new home: a domain of my own.


Image: Detour CC BY 2.0 CodyJung (Flickr)

grateful for openness

Post-#OEGlobal and pre-#OER17, my mind is on fire. At the end of Open Education Week and Brexit week; working on another draft chapter for my PhD, yet pulled in the direction of events in Ireland, the US, Mosul, Venezuela and more, my mind is on fire. I have many posts to write but I shall write one, in gratitude.

To my GO-GN colleagues, including the OER Hub team who pull it all together so beautifully, I thank you for an unforgettable week of scholarship and friendship in Cape Town earlier this month. Together we shared meals, our work, our worries, our stories, photos of our families, our dreams for the future. We worked for hours together, we walked in Cape Town together, and some of us visited Robben Island together. I thank each of you for giving and receiving so openly. I look forward to learning from and with you all in the future.

To all who shared your work, your ideas, and your feedback at OE Global, thank you. I’ve blogged already about my initial reflections; your work is still resonating with me.

To Lisa Marie Blaschke, thank you for inviting Lorna Campbell, Chrissi Nerantzi, Fabio Nascimbeni and me to participate in EDEN‘s #OpenEducationWk webinar this week to explore “being open” with educators and researchers — so enjoyable to share stories and resources.

To the #101openstories team, thank you for starting something beautiful this week. I loved the#101openstories I read by Frances Bell and Sheila MacNeill, and hope to read more. Thank you all.

To Jim Groom, thank you for accepting our invitation to come to Ireland! You’re in Cork today, heading for Galway on Monday. A warm welcome awaits you here, from 40 people bursting with curiosity and ready to explore Student as Partner, Producer and Assessor: Exploring Domain of One’s Own. Can’t wait 🙂

To Josie Fraser, Alek Tarkowski, and the ALT team, thank you for organising and meticulously planning OER17. The conference is already facilitating some incredible conversations and collaborations around the politics of open. Next week’s conference, with so many ways to participate (looking at you Virtually Connecting at OER17), promises to be something special. Muireann O’Keeffe, Laura Czerniewicz and I are grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the plenary panel Mapping the Politics of Open – we’ve been enjoying our conversations as we prepare for that.

Also, thanks Laura Czerniewicz for jumping into the unknown with me as we combine our thinking for our OER17 session: Critical pragmatism and critical advocacy: Addressing the challenges of openness. And Caroline Kuhn, thank you for modelling open and generous scholarship so deeply at  GO-GN and OE Global, and for our extended conversations about what we have learned in our respective PhD research studies, which we’ll share in our OER17 workshop: Towards open praxis: Storytelling and narrative inquiry in open education research.

And finally, thanks to my PLN, i.e. all the smart, generous, courageous human beings who inspire me every day to do and stay true to this work.

I am grateful for openness.


Image: Revolución a la Educación es Aquí CC0 by @cogdog

…and with that image credit (yes, I know it’s CC0, but still nice to acknowledge the creator 🙂 ) a final word of thanks to Alan Levine for embodying the spirit of openness and open learning so completely (and with joy). Thanks @cogdog.


Student as partner, producer, and assessor: Workshop with Jim Groom

On Monday, April 3rd (one week from today!) Jim Groom will join us here at NUI Galway to facilitate a workshop: Student as Partner, Producer & Assessor: Exploring Domain of One’s Own.

The workshop is free to attend thanks to sponsorship from the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching & Learning in Higher Education. The workshop is part of the National Forum’s 2016-17 seminar series and also a key event in 2017 All Aboard (April 3-7) a week-long series of national and regional public events designed to build confidence in Ireland’s digital skills for learning.

Jim was previously the director of Teaching & Learning Technologies and adjunct professor at the University of Mary Washington (USA) and is the co-founder of Reclaim Hosting. He is a co-developer of the Domain of One’s Own (DoOO) initiative. Jim’s recent post Next Generation Digital Learning Environments gives a good idea of his work and his thinking. He is also excited to be visiting Ireland for the first time.

In the Student as Partner, Producer & Assessor workshop on April 3rd, we will explore participatory pedagogies, a partnership approach to teaching and learning, and agentic/authentic assessment. In addition, Jim will guide participants in creating their own domains and discussing how DoOO can be used in learning, teaching and assessment.

All are welcome to join the workshop. Eilis O’Regan, programme coordinator at NUI Galway and newcomer to blogging, recently shared her thoughts about the workshop in A nod to the Woolf:

I feel like the educational stars have aligned – I’m so excited about attending this workshop.

There are just a few places still available — please sign up if you’d like to attend (no workshop fee and lunch will be provided). We’d love to see you here in Galway.

Student as Partner, Producer & Assessor: Exploring Domain of One’s Own

Related reading:

Image: CC BY-SA Burren fossil by catherinecronin

OEP and open pedagogy: #OEGlobal reflections

I recently returned from 10 days in Cape Town, participating in the Open Education Global Conference and GO-GN seminar and working with fellow open education researchers at the Centre for Innovation in Learning & Teaching at UCT. All were deeply enriching experiences, both personally and professionally, in a place I’ve come to love after two visits in the past year.

For those who may not know, GO-GN is a global network of PhD students working in open education. The annual 2.5-day GO-GN seminar immediately precedes the OE Global conference, but this event is just part of a broader programme and network of mutual support. Chrissi Nerantzi and Martin Weller have written wonderful blog posts about the GO-GN Cape Town experience already; mine will follow. This post is a summary of some my reflections following the 3-day OE Global conference, particularly with respect to OEP and open pedagogy.

OE Global Conference, Cape Town

This was my first time attending #OEGlobal (after several years following online) and it was deeply worthwhile for the scholarship, friendship, and inspiration. The OE Global programme (with links to most presentations) is well worth exploring, as are the #OEGlobal tweets. Educators and researchers from 47 countries across 6 continents participated in the conference. The range and quality of work was stunning. A standout was the ROER4D project comprising 18 evidence-based OER research studies across the Global South with the aim of improving educational policy, practice, and research in developing countries. There were conference presentations by many of the 18 ROER4D studies as well as a report on the project meta-synthesis by Cheryl Hodgkinson-Williams: Adoption and impact of OEP and OER in the Global South.

ROER4D researchers at OE Global

Another standout for me was the discussion of work being done by many in the US community college sector to boost college access and completion for underserved and at-risk students through the creation of OER-based or Z-degrees. These efforts and the OER Degree Initiative were discussed in the OER Degrees panel.

A foundational theme of much of the work shared at OE Global was social justice. Many presentations foregrounded social justice as a core value of our work in open education. This began with the opening keynote by Narend Baijnath, continued with the Day Two keynote by Patricia Arinto, and was highlighted in numerous presentations (e.g. by OEPScotland, Preston Davis, Jamison Miller and myselflinks are to relevant slides/presentations). Engaging in these conversations in South Africa, following the recent #FeesMustFall protests, provided a powerful opportunity for each of us to consider our work in the context of calls for free and decolonised education. At the conference, Laura Czerniewicz summarised three aspects of decolonising higher education: recognising how power relations are enacted and instantiated in curricula and policies; foregrounding African/Global South content and contexts; and promoting and engaging in dialogue between different epistemic traditions (Global South & Global North). See also Sukaina Walji’s recent post: A role for open education in the #feesmustfall movement in South African higher education.

As always after such a rich feast of ideas, there are far too many strands to explore fully. However, one is closely related to my PhD research in open educational practices. There was much discussion at the conference about both OEP and open pedagogy. How do these concepts relate to one another? They overlap, but how exactly? There is a great deal of work going on in both #OEP and #openped at the moment, so how might we productively join some of these conversations?

OEP and open pedagogy

For some time now I’ve been paying attention not just to the nature of the work being done by many in the global open education community, but also to differences in emphasis across different sectors and regions. For example, much foundational work in open textbooks is rooted in and continues in North America (e.g. BCcampus Open Textbook project and Z-Degree programmes). More recently, a flourishing movement has emerged around open pedagogy (check out #openped) led by innovative educators such as Robin deRosaKaren CangialosiScott RobisonRajiv JhangianiDavid Wiley, and others.

In the UK, and to a certain extent here in Ireland, there is much work/discussion re: OER, less emphasis (though increasing) on open textbooks, and a deep and growing engagement with OEP and critical approaches to openness. These emphases will feature prominently in the upcoming OER Conference #OER17 ‘The Politics of Open’ (April 5-6), as they already do in projects and networks such as the Open Education Research Hub (who also support GO-GN), ALT’s Open Education SIGOpen ScotlandOEPScotland, and UK OER (the UKOER project officially ended in 2012 but the community continues via #ukoer and @ukoer – thanks to @dkernohan).

With its truly global scope, OE Global provided an opportunity to learn from and about a diverse range of research and researchers. I attended as many OEP and open pedagogy sessions as was possible and spoke with many, many wonderful open scholars. Following the conference, as part of my own research, I searched the conference programme and #OEGlobal tweets for terms related to OEP and open pedagogy. Despite these efforts, it’s likely I have omitted something important. Apologies in advance – and please do add a comment to this post if you wish to add some missing work or a different interpretation. Our work can only improve with multiple perspectives.

OEP and open pedagogy presentations at OE Global

The global scope of OEP work was very clear at the conference. Research explicitly mentioning OEP was shared by researchers from 11 different projects/studies based in South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Sri Lanka, Mauritius, Tasmania, Brazil, Canada, Scotland, and Ireland. A further 3 presentations focused specifically on open pedagogy, from projects based in South Africa, the US, and the Netherlands.

Many of the OEP studies referenced earlier foundational work in open educational practices. These key papers can be considered in three main groups:

i) work emerging from CILT (Centre for Innovation in Learning & Teaching), University of Cape Town — focusing on 5 dimensions of openness: technical, legal, cultural, pedagogical, financial.

ii) work arising from the Open Education Quality (OPAL) Initiative (2010-11) — espousing a definition of OEP linked closely to open pedagogy: “collaborative practice in which resources are shared by making them openly available, and pedagogical practices are employed which rely on social interaction, knowledge creation, peer-learning, and shared learning practices.”

iii) work arising from the UK OER Programme (2009-2012) — using an expansive definition of OEP including the creation, use and reuse of OER as well as open pedagogies, open learning, open access publishing, and use of open technologies.

In addition, 2 of the 3 open pedagogy presentations (and some OEP presentations, e.g. Gachago, et al.) referenced the 8 attributes of open pedagogy model:



The above gives an indication of the scope and nature of research shared at the OE Global conference in the areas of OEP and open pedagogy. While it might seem from the summary here that open pedagogy was a minor strand of the conference, the discussion of open pedagogy was not limited to the 3 sessions listed. Open pedagogy is, of course, a key element of OEP. Together, OEP and open pedagogy comprised a main strand of discussion at the conference: in the sessions, in the panel discussions, and in many informal conversations.

For those of us working in open education, myself included, the work shared at OE Global provides a strong basis for discussion, comparison, and potential collaboration. Some important areas which I would like to explore further, in my own research and in collaboration with others, are these:

  • Decentering northern epistemology. With global research funding, production, and dissemination skewed so heavily toward the Global North, it may be easy for many in the North to fail “to see” global inequalities in knowledge production. But see we must. Researchers in the Global North have a collective responsibility to deepen our awareness of epistemic traditions beyond our own, to challenge deeply held assumptions about knowledge and power, to promote and engage in South-North dialogue and collaboration, and much more. As noted by the ROER4D project during the conference, this is particularly important in open education.
  • The relationship between OER and OEP/open pedagogy. A growing number of research studies, across different contexts, reveal an increasingly complex relationship between OER and OEP/open pedagogy. In addition to OER opening the door to OEP/open pedagogy, the reverse may also be the case. This has emerged in my research (in Irish higher education) and in research studies by Czerniewicz, et al. (in South African higher education) and Penny Bentley (in Australian secondary education). I believe these findings are important and may be part of an inflection point in open education. What is emerging in other contexts?
  • Defining OEP and open pedagogy. One of the many benefits of attending OE Global was the opportunity to discuss these challenging questions with many of the people whose work informs and inspires my own. I know, for example, that David Wiley defines open pedagogy very precisely as “the set of teaching and learning practices that are only possible or practical in the context of the free access and 5R permissions characteristic of open educational resources”. My research focuses on how open educational practices emerge in contexts where open education/OER policies do not exist. David and I approach our work from different standpoints, but seek to address similar questions. At the conference, David and I discussed this. We both agreed that open pedagogy is a constituent of OEP. But the door is open for further discussion and work. What else is useful and important in building definitions and frameworks of open pedagogy and OEP?

This work continues.


As a postscript, here are links to the work that I shared at the OE Global conference: “Openness and praxis: Exploring the use of OEP in higher education” paper post-print (IRRODL, in press), presentation, and links to all papers referenced in my presentation.

My sincere thanks to the wonderful OE Global conference chair Glenda Cox, the programme committee and conference organisers, all of the conference presenters and participants, and to my inspiring GO-GN colleagues. Thanks to you all for an amazing week in Cape Town — the scholarship, friendship, music, drumming and dancing. Unforgettable.


GO-GN Cape Town (almost everyone)


GO-GN at work!


Images: all images CC BY-SA catherinecronin on Flickr

Open conversations at #oeglobal #go_gn


Day 1, Cape Town – Flickr CC-BY catherinecronin

I’m currently in the final year of my PhD research study/journey/adventure, planning to submit my dissertation at the end of 2017. Over the next two months, however, I’ll be mixing up my writing time with a few much-needed opportunities to engage with other open education practitioners and researchers – in places slightly more convivial than my usual writing spaces. 🙂

#OEGlobal and #GO_GN

Firstly, I’ve just arrived in Cape Town for the annual Open Education Global Conference and GO_GN workshop. A long-time follower of #OEGlobal, I’m delighted to be able to attend the 3-day conference here on March 8-10. That sponsorship is thanks to the GO-GN network, organized by the OER Hub at the Open University. I’ll join 14 other doctoral researchers in the area of open education for a 3-day #GO_GN workshop immediately preceding the OEGlobal conference. I look forward to meeting and exchanging ideas and feedback with a global group of open researchers – some of whom I already know and others whom I look forward to meeting. Martin, Bea, Rob and Beck promise a busy few days. We are ready!

In preparation for discussions over the next several days, I’ve shared a post-print of a paper based on the first phase of my PhD research study: Openness and praxis: Exploring the use of open educational practices in higher education. The paper will be published this year in The International Journal of Research in Open and Distributed Learning. I welcome any feedback and/or suggestions.


I’ll also participate in OER17 in London next month, April 5-6th. The theme of the conference, “The Politics of Open”, resonates with many of our collective concerns right now, both within and beyond higher education. The programme contains a wonderful mix of sessions, focusing on issues including access, equity, balancing advocacy and criticality, working within and beyond HE structures, addressing politics at multiple levels, and moving forward in open education. I particularly look forward to the keynotes by Maha Bali, Diana Arce, and Lucy Crompton-Reid. I’ll be participating in a few different sessions. I’ll join Laura Czerniewicz for ‘Critical pragmatism and critical advocacy: Addressing the challenges of openness’, and Caroline Kuhn for a workshop on ‘Using the power of narrative research to illuminate open educational practice’. I’ll also partner with Muireann O’Keeffe and Laura Czerniewicz in a final plenary panel at the end of the conference.

Learning, Assessment, and Reclaim Your Domain

Last but not least, many of us in Galway are looking forward to welcoming Jim Groom on his first visit to Ireland. Jim will facilitate a one-day workshop at NUI Galway on Monday, April 3rd: Student as partner, producer and assessor: Exploring Domain of One’s Own. The workshop is part of a year-long seminar series sponsored by Ireland’s National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching & Learning in Higher Education. Jim has already blogged about his visit – and I will post again closer to the time. For now though, please check out the workshop description and Eventbrite link and consider making the trip to Galway, or following on Twitter on the day.

And now, first full day in Cape Town, I am off to meet Cheryl Brown, Laura Czerniewicz and many more of the wonderful team at CILT at University of Cape Town. Can’t wait…

Image: Day 1, Cape Town CC-BY catherinecronin

Openness and praxis (at #SRHE)


This blog post is a summary of my presentation at SRHE (Society for Research into Higher Education) in London on November 18, 2016. The event was organised by the SRHE Digital University Network, convened by Lesley Gourlay, Ibrar Bhatt, and Kelly Coate. The theme was Critical Perspectives on ‘Openness’ in Higher Education. Three of us shared our research: Muireann O’Keeffe, Rob Farrow, and myself. Sincere thanks to SRHE and DUN organisers for the kind invitation, to Muireann and Rob for their thought-provoking presentations, and to all who attended for sharing their ideas. Following is a short summary of my presentation.

I begin with a reflexive note. I first shared the above quote by Michael Apple during ALT-C in 2014, a conference held in the weeks immediately following the start of both the Black Lives Matter movement and Gamergate. We continue to live in uncertain – and for many, perilous – times. As educators, we face fundamental questions about education, democracy, and inequality. How are we developing digital and media literacies, data literacy, civic literacy, digital citizenship? What is the purpose of our work as researchers and educators? What is the role of higher education, and of public higher education? I am an open researcher as well as an open education researcher. I believe openness has the potential to increase access to education, to help to democratise education, and also to prepare learners in all contexts for engaged citizenship in an increasingly open, networked and participatory culture. But openness is not without risk. Openness can as easily exacerbate inequality as help to reduce it. We need more than good intentions. We must theorise openness and we require critical approaches to openness in order to realise the benefits in any meaningful way. This has been the impetus for my work and I begin my presentation with that reflexive framing.

The title of my presentation is ‘Openness and praxis: Exploring the use of open educational practices (OEP) for teaching in higher education’. I use the word praxis as Freire (1970) defined it: “reflection and action directed at structures to be transformed”. I’ll briefly describe the preliminary findings from Phase 1 of my PhD research study – a qualitative, empirical study exploring meaning making and decision-making by university educators regarding whether, why, and how they use OEP for teaching. It is a study not just of open educators, but of a broad cross-section of academic staff at one university. The purpose is to understand how university educators conceive of, make sense of, and make use of OEP in their teaching, and to try to learn more about, and from, the practices and values of educators from across a broad continuum of ‘closed’ to open practices. (A subsequent phase of the study will include the perspectives of students re: openness.)

Defining OEP

Overall, open education practitioners and researchers describe OEP as moving beyond a content-centred approach to openness, shifting the focus from resources to practices, with learners and teachers sharing the processes of knowledge creation. In their summary of the UKOER project, for example, Beetham, et al. (2012) explicitly define the project’s interpretation of OEP as practices which included the creation, use and reuse of OER as well as open learning, open/public pedagogies, open access publishing, and the use of open technologies. Ehlers (2011) defines OEP as “practices which support the (re)use and production of OER through institutional policies, promote innovative pedagogical models, and respect and empower learners as co-producers on their lifelong learning paths.”

Education researchers and practitioners have described and theorised some or all of the practices defined here as OEP using a variety of definitions and theoretical frameworks. These include open pedagogy (DeRosa & Robison, 2015; Hegarty, 2015; Rosen & Smale, 2015; Weller, 2014), critical digital pedagogy (Stommel, 2014), open scholarship (Veletsianos & Kimmons, 2012a; Weller, 2011), and networked participatory scholarship (Veletsianos & Kimmons, 2012b). All are emergent scholarly practices that espouse a combination of open resources, open teaching, knowledge creation and sharing, and networked participation. I have drawn from research in all of these areas to inform my work.

I use the following definition of OEP in my study: collaborative practices that include the creation, use and reuse of OER, as well as pedagogical practices employing participatory technologies and social networks for interaction, peer-learning, knowledge creation, and empowerment of learners.

The study

The goal of this first phase of the research study is to understand why, how, and to what extent educators use, or do not use, OEP for teaching. The study was conducted at one university in Ireland: a medium-sized, research-focused, campus-based university offering both undergraduate and postgraduate degrees. Openness was not one of the mission statements or core values of the university at the time of this study. I conducted semi-structured interviews with 19 educators across multiple disciplines. Constructivist grounded theory was used for sampling, interviewing and analysis.

Summary of findings

  • A minority of participants used open educational practices for teaching (8 of 19).
  • All participants who used OEP for teaching described being open with students, i.e. being visible online and sharing resources in open online spaces beyond email and the VLE. Each has an open digital identity and shared at least one of these profiles with students as a way of interacting and/or sharing information.
  • A small subset of participants who used OEP for teaching chose not only to be open with their students but explicitly to teach openly, i.e. to create learning and/or assessment activities in open online spaces beyond the VLE. Teaching openly took different forms: inviting students to make connections, interact, and/or share information on social media (e.g. Twitter), creating courses in open online spaces (e.g. WordPress blogs), and/or encouraging students to share their work openly.
  • Participants across the spectrum of ‘closed’ to open practices cited both pedagogical and practical concerns regarding the use of OEP for teaching. These included lack of certainty about the pedagogical value of OEP, reluctance to add to their already overwhelming academic workloads, concerns about excessive noise in already busy social media streams, concerns about students’ possible over-use of social media, and concerns about context collapse, both for themselves and for their students.
  • While many participants who were open educators acknowledged potential risks to using OEP for teaching, they considered the benefits to outweigh the risks. According to participants who used OEP for teaching, benefits for students included feeling more connected to one another and to their lecturer, making connections between course theory/content and what’s happening in the field right now, sharing their work openly with authentic audiences, and becoming part of their future professional communities.
  • Few participants mentioned OER or open licensing – unsurprising, perhaps, in an institution without an open education or OER policy. This suggests, however, that the relationship between OER and OEP might be more complex than sometimes conceived. In addition to OER leading to OEP, the reverse also may be true: use of OEP, specifically networked participation and open pedagogy, can lead to OER awareness and use.
  • By building a model of the concept ‘Using OEP for teaching’, it emerged that four dimensions were shared by open educators: balancing privacy and openness, developing digital literacies, valuing social learning, and challenging traditional teaching role expectations. These dimensions were shared by many participants – however all four were evident in each of the participants who used OEP for teaching. (I’ll explore these dimensions in more detail in a subsequent blog post.)

Thoughts for discussion

Openness is situated and relational. This study found educators’ use of open educational practices to be complex, personal, contextual, and continuously negotiated. Recognition of these complexities and the risks of openness and OEP, as well as potential benefits (for individuals, not just institutions) should inform higher education policy and practice. A growing body of research advocating greater theorisation and critical analysis of openness and open education is useful here (e.g. Bell, 2016; Czerniewicz, 2015; Edwards, 2015; Gourlay, 2015; Knox, 2013; Oliver, 2015; singh, 2015; Watters, 2014). In addition, attention must be paid to the actual experiences and concerns of staff and students; qualitative empirical research is essential (e.g. Veletsianos, 2015). The findings of this study suggest the need for institutions to work broadly and collaboratively to design appropriate forms of support for academic staff in three key areas: developing digital literacies and digital capabilities; supporting individuals in negotiating privacy and openness; and reflecting on the role of higher education and our roles as educators and researchers in an increasingly open and networked culture.

The research study described here is limited in scope; it explores the experiences of a  relatively small number of academic staff at one university. However, it is hoped that the results provide a small contribution towards understanding how and why academic staff use open educational practices, as well as offering opportunities for further research and collaboration. This study comprises Phase 1 of my PhD research study on OEP in higher education. Two further phases building on this work are currently in progress. Phase 2 is a survey of all academic staff at the same university. And Phase 3 follows two open educators from Phase 1, as well as their students, in exploring how educators and students interact and negotiate their digital identities in open online spaces.

Many thanks. I look forward to continuing the conversation with you all.

References & links



thanks @muireannOK & @philosopher1978  🙂

Exploring OEP at #NextGenDL

Today I’ll be joining educators and researchers from across Ireland (and beyond) at the Next Generation: Digital Learning Research Symposium in Dublin – we’ll be tweeting with the hashtag #NextGenDL. I’m looking forward to meeting scholars and researchers in the areas of digital and networked learning and open education to learn from one another, discuss the merits of different research lenses and methodologies, consider the collective challenges we face, and identify possibilities for future research and collaboration. It will be a privilege and pleasure also to hear keynotes by Sian Bayne, Grainne Conole and Paul Conway.

I’ll present a brief update on my PhD research study Openness and praxis: Exploring open educational practices (OEP) in higher education:


This initial phase of my research has focused on how university educators make sense of and make use of open educational practices for teaching. The next phase of the study will explore how both staff and students enact and negotiate their digital identities in the open, networked spaces where they interact with one another. I’ll write a longer post on my preliminary research findings before presenting at the upcoming SRHE event on November 18th – Critical Perspectives on Openness in Higher Education.

I’m shouting out also to the OpenEd16 conference this week (wishing I could be in two places at once!). I’ll be tuning into the #OpenEd16 hashtag and plan to participate in at least one @VConnecting session. May the connections and conversations commence…

P.S. My track record of including *at least* one image in each of my presentations from the wonderful Alan Levine continues. Thanks @cogdog for that amazing sunflower (shared via CC0 on Flickr)… a gorgeous image to use to talk openness, learning, connection and vulnerability.

#OER16: a critical turn


I’ve been thinking about OER16: Open Culture since the conference ended just over four weeks ago. I’m reflecting now not just through the lens of those few weeks but also the other conferences and workshops which I attended immediately afterward, namely the C-DELTA project in Cape Town and the Networked Learning #NLC2016 doctoral consortium and conference in Lancaster. It has felt like a few months’ worth of sharing and discussing research and engaging in wonderful conversations condensed into a few short weeks – a great privilege. So, late as this may be, I want to share a few notes and impressions from these events, beginning with OER16.

As several others have already written, and beautifully (collection of blog posts below), OER16 was both enjoyable and thought provoking. I’ve long considered myself an open educator and I’m currently doing research in the area of open educational practices, so this is a community in which I feel at home. My main takeaway from the conference was that OER16, and the open education community more generally, is growing, changing and evolving. There was a strong strand of critical research shared and enthusiastically discussed during and after the conference.

My keynote: “If open is the answer what is the question?”

I was honoured to be asked to give one of the conference keynotes by the co-chairs, Lorna Campbell and Melissa Highton. I sometimes struggle with the idea of conference keynotes. I know that plenary speakers can be a powerful (and sometimes provocative) way of exploring conference themes. Yet I find myself wrestling with ways of providing that focus while also including other voices and perspectives, and including space for conversation and discussion. My approach for OER16 was to share my thoughts and questions in a blog post well before the event, inviting ideas, feedback and discussion. That post If ‘open’ is the answer, what is the question? led to several weeks of discussion before the conference; I shared this in the keynote. During the keynote I focused on 4 key ideas:

  • Noting the vital connection between networked participatory culture and openness, using as an example Ireland’s 2015 Marriage Equality referendum.
  • Exploring definitions, interpretations and levels of openness in education, highlighting openness as a complex phenomenon (technical, social, cultural and economic).
  • Arguing for the importance of a critical and reflexive approach to openness. Openness can help to address issues of access and inequality but it can also bias those already privileged. I highlighted work by Richard Edwards (2015), sava singh (2015), Laura Czerniewicz (2014), Cheryl Hodgkinson-Williams (2014) and others who are doing critical research – including several people who also presented their work at OER16. (Full keynote bibliography included at end of post.)
  • Sharing work from my own PhD research. In my study of open educational practices in higher education, openness is characterised as individual, complex and contextual. For academic staff in my study, openness is: (i) closely linked with identity, (ii) negotiated continually and at multiple levels, and (iii) both a personal and collective decision.

Here is a Storify of tweets from the keynote, a video recording, and my presentation slides:


Thanks to Beck Pitt for her amazing visual notes…


CC BY Beck Pitt (Flickr)

And thanks to Stuart Allan for his concise summary of the issues and challenges we face:

Having a clear, value-driven vision for openness based on ideas of sustainability, civic responsibility and social justice, as advocated by Catherine Cronin and others, represents the very best of what higher education can be (or should be). But when it comes to implementing this vision in a specific context, there are tensions at work between political values, educational aims and pragmatic concerns. These will have to be negotiated with courage and no little skill.


Presentations, workshops & keynotes

There were many, many dilemmas in choosing sessions to attend at OER16 – the programme was rich and varied. A few highlights for me were:

  • sava singh discussed her PhD research in a session entitled: Open Wounds: The Myth of Open as a Panacea – this work also is explored in some depth in sava’s recent blog post The Fallacy of Open. sava reminded us of some blunt truths about our own privilege as social media users, e.g. being an early adopter is a privilege; being able to complain about how Twitter “used to be” is a privilege. She highlighted the tension between the discourse of open access and reputational politics in academia. There is a growing ‘be open’ diktat in academia (e.g. for many PhD students) yet for individuals who are marginalised within higher education in various ways, e.g. by race, gender, precarious or otherwise low employment status, etc., sharing work and being open can be risky. sava reminded us to ask ourselves important questions about risk, power, inequality and surveillance when advocating openness.
  • Viv Rolfe and Dave Kernohan presented Open education: “Runnin’ with the Devil” (their presentation begins at 41 minutes), asking whether the open education community is being critical enough in its evaluation of its progress. Viv discussed her systematic review of studies describing the impact of open education on learning and teaching. Then Dave turned the focus to blogs – “I’ve heard it said that all the good stuff is published in blogs” – talking us through his process of generating semantic blog citation metrics. This is fascinating work which I hope Viv and Dave will continue to develop.
  • Sheila MacNeill and Keith Smyth shared the results of their ongoing collaboration in two detailed blog posts before the conference: Reframing Open in the context of the digital university – part 1 and part 2. In their work, Sheila and Keith use the concept of Third Space (neutral, collective, inclusive spaces) to theorise the Digital University. I’m particularly intrigued by the concept of digitally distributed curriculum which they are exploring in their work, and I look forward to watching this work as it develops.
  • I participated in a lively workshop facilitated by Christian Friedrich and Shaun Hides entitled: Are we openness ready? Towards an Open Learning Scale. The workshop built on work by FemTechNet and Liz Losh, which used rapid feminist prototyping to identify “drivers of openness”. Christian and Shaun began by sharing the thinking behind the six drivers of openness; then we identified three to develop further in a “maker-style” workshop – fun and thought-provoking.
  • I felt honoured to attend the session in which Margaret Korosec described the amazing Stolen Lives project. Stolen Lives is a collaborative open educational project with the aim of increasing awareness of modern-day slavery; as Margaret described, “using OER to combat modern slavery”. Facts: 35 million people are enslaved worldwide and there are 13,000 people in forced labour in the UK today. During two days in which inequality and social justice were invoked by many, this work is a touchstone for what is possible. This project deserves to be shared widely.

Finally, if you are at all interested in openness, OER and/or OEP, please do check out the blog summaries written by many (listed below) and videos of the excellent keynotes by Emma Smith, John Scally, Jim Groom and Melissa Highton:

  • Emma Smith, a Shakespearean scholar, spoke honestly and humbly about her ‘open’ journey. Beginning with the decision to record audio podcasts of her lectures for the sake of students who might miss a lecture, she moved on to the realisation that releasing her lectures openly had “completely transformed my teaching”. Emma’s CC-licensed podcasts “Approaching Shakespeare” are available on iTunes and on the University of Oxford website.
  • John Scally, National Librarian at the National Library of Scotland (NLS) spoke about the digital strategy of the library and the challenge of balancing tensions between preservation and access. John believes that the library needs to go further than widening access, however: it needs to promote equity.
  • After years of quoting Jim Groom in my own presentations, I finally got to hear him in person 🙂 (and meet his lovely family who had travelled to Scotland with him). As Jim describes in his own blog, he brought us on the magical, mystery tour that is DS106 and Reclaim Hosting. He lifted the focus from OER and even OEP/open pedagogy to open technical infrastructure. The keynote was an awesome summary of work done by Jim and a great many people whom he mentioned throughout – including DS106 students and participants. As Jim reminded us “most of the work that students have done [in DS106] is still there”.
  • Finally, conference co-chair Melissa Highton concluded the conference on a high note, speaking in her capacity as Director of Learning, Teaching and Web Services at the University of Edinburgh. In her thoughtful and inspiring keynote, Melissa reminded us what it means to be open in an institutional context, highlighting the university’s OER policy: She used the concept of ‘copyright debt’, analogous to technical debt, to make a strong case for open. Melissa’s take home message: “Not being open is a risk and not being open costs us money.”

OER16 blog posts

(apologies to anyone whose posts I may have missed!)

…and finally

Many thanks to Lorna Campbell and Melissa Highton, wonderful co-chairs of the conference and inspiring women in tech. Thanks also to the talented ALT team who supported us – before, during and after the event. Special thanks to Martin Hawksey and John Johnson, an incredible team; through their efforts the conference was made open via live audio and video streams, video recordings and audio interviews. And thanks to all who shared their work and participated in the conference; you made the two days very special…


Bibliography (from my keynote)


Initial thoughts… Exploring OEP in higher education


CC BY 2.0 woodlewonderworks (Flickr)

The working title of my PhD research study is Exploring open educational practices in higher education. I’m currently at a ‘pausing point’ between phases – so I plan to write a few blog posts to capture my findings and thinking so far and where I’m heading next. This is the first of those posts.

The starting point

I began the PhD journey wanting to find out more about what happens when students and educators meet, interact and learn together in open online spaces, beyond the confines of the classroom and the VLE. As defined by danah boyd, networked publics are simultaneously “spaces and the imagined collectives that emerge as a result of the intersection of people, technology, and practice”. So what happens when those collectives are comprised of educators, students and others – blogging and using social media tools (e.g. Twitter, Hypothesis, etc.), adapting, creating and sharing OER, learning together, and sharing their learning? As an open educator for some time I had joined my students in such activities and could easily describe my own motives and experiences, and share student work and reflections. But I wanted to learn more. What motivates educators to engage in learning and teaching in open online spaces? Why and how do students respond to and engage with staff (or not) in open online spaces? How do students and staff construct and enact their digital identities in networked publics? What learning happens in those spaces and imagined collectives? What else happens? How can institutions support staff and students engaging in open educational practices? And how are learning, and institutions of learning, being re-imagined as a result?

Translating this to a coherent PhD study took some time. 😉 I divided the research study into two phases. I’m close to finishing the first phase and preparing for the second. In Phase 1 I’m exploring academic staff meaning-making and decision-making regarding why, where, and how they interact with students online; their use of open educational practices; and the construction and negotiation of their professional and digital identities. It has been a privilege to explore these ideas with academic staff, and to develop a greater understanding of the complexities of these processes. In Phase 2 I will explore student perspectives also, i.e. whether, why, and how students engage with academic staff and others in open online spaces, and the construction and negotiation of their digital identities across online spaces and contexts.

The terms ‘openness’ and ‘open education’ describe a wide range of beliefs, practices and initiatives ranging from open admission policies to open educational resources (OER) and open educational practices (OEP). The broadest interpretation of open education is OEP. Education researchers across many domains have described and theorised all or some of the practices characterised as open educational practices using a variety of definitions and theoretical frameworks. These include open scholarship (Veletsianos & Kimmons, 2012a; Weller, 2011), networked participatory scholarship (Veletsianos & Kimmons, 2012b), connected learning (Kumpulainen & Sefton-Green, 2012) and networked learning (Dirckinck-Holmfeld, et al, 2012). All are emergent scholarly practices that espouse combinations of networked participation, sharing and openness. For this research study, I’m using a broad definition of OEP which includes the creation, use and reuse of OER, open access publishing, the use of open technologies, open learning, and open/public pedagogies in teaching practice, with the goal of enabling learners and teachers to share the processes of knowledge creation (Beetham, et al, 2012; Ehlers, 2011).

Following are the main ‘raw’ findings from Phase 1, prior to further analysis and comparison with the literature.

Phase 1: methodology

The empirical setting for the study was one higher education institution (without policies regarding open education). Participants were members of academic staff, defined most broadly as those employed by the university whose responsibilities include teaching – regardless of their terms of employment, i.e. permanent, temporary or no contract; full-time or part-time. I felt it was essential that the voices of permanent as well as precariously-employed staff were included in the study. A constructivist grounded theory approach (Charmaz, 2014) was used for sampling, interviewing and analysis. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 19 members of academic staff. All 19 participants teach undergraduate students; some also teach postgraduate and adult learning students. None of the participants taught fully online courses; all teaching was face-to-face or blended learning.

Phase 1: interim findings

Among the 19 participants, fewer academic staff used OEP for teaching than for either learning or research. There were three identifiable categories of ‘using OEP for teaching’. In order of decreasing prevalence these were:

  • Choosing to be visible and share resources with students in open online spaces – These academics have open digital identities (e.g. Twitter, blog) and share these with students as a way of exchanging information and/or engaging in conversation. This was often, but not always, accompanied by the use of a module hashtag(s) to curate module-related resources and conversations.
  • Creating learning activities in open online spaces – These academics created open learning activities for students, e.g. inviting or requiring students to use a Twitter account, engaging in live Twitter chats during class, blogging and/or creating courses in open online spaces (e.g. WordPress blog with Creative Commons license).
  • Encouraging students to share their work openly – These academics encouraged students to share their digital media projects, e.g. in a public Facebook group.

Participants who used OEP for teaching described various pedagogical advantages of their open practice. These included students feeling more connected to one another and to their lecturer, students making connections between the course theory/content and what’s happening in the field right now, students sharing their work openly with authentic audiences, and students becoming part of their future professional communities. Many participants also expressed caution regarding the use of OEP for teaching. These included staff who did not use open practices, as well as those who did but who engaged in the practice while reflecting on both its risks and benefits. Participants who expressed caution discussed both pedagogical and practical concerns, e.g. lack of certainty about the pedagogical value of open practices, concern about students’ possible over-use of social media, worries about their own additional workload, concerns about excessive noise in already busy social media streams, and concerns about context collapse, both for themselves and for their students.

Using the constant comparative method of analysis, four interrelated processes were identified as being associated with using OEP for teaching: valuing social learning, balancing privacy and openness, growth mindset re: digital literacies, and challenging role expectations. All four processes were evident for each of the participants who used OEP for teaching. In addition to these, environmental factors operated as enhancers or inhibitors, strengthening or reducing the likelihood that academic staff may use OEP for teaching. Below is a short summary of each of these processes.

Valuing social learning

Many academic staff value social learning. Some participants explicitly identified their teaching philosophy as social constructivist, while others described moving away from lecturing, efforts to encourage more student discussion and engagement, the importance of creating a learning community, and engaging in co-construction of knowledge along with their students. Not all of these participants used OEP in their teaching; many created social learning activities in their classrooms and some also tried to do this within the VLE. While it was clear that all educators in this study who use OEP for teaching valued social learning, the reverse was not necessarily true.

Balancing privacy and openness

Striving for a balance between privacy and openness is a key factor contributing to the use of OEP for teaching. None of the participants said that they did not value privacy. However, those who engaged in OEP for teaching managed to strike a balance between protecting their privacy, to the level that they wished, and seeking to gain the benefits of openness for themselves and their students. Regarding privacy, most participants stated that they make a clear distinction between what is personal and what is professional and also that it is important to maintain a clear staff-student boundary. The definition and management of those boundaries varied widely, however.

Many participants reflected on their personal and professional identities/activities online, with some participants happy to blend the two and others wanting a clear distinction. Some participants, for example, worried about context collapse, i.e. mixing streams of conversations about work, family life, social activities, sports, politics, etc. For those participants who want to distinguish between their personal and professional online activities, the most challenging boundary to manage is often with their immediate colleagues. This was most often expressed as the dilemma: will I accept this friend request from my colleague/work acquaintance on Facebook? Across all participants, there was recognition that personal-professional boundary keeping is an individual decision. Participants who wished to maintain this boundary described various ways of managing it, e.g. use of privacy settings, maintaining different Facebook presences for professional and personal activities, using different tools for different purposes (typically Facebook for private/personal, Twitter for public/professional), or non-use of social media altogether.

Likewise, while many participants spoke of the importance of supporting students, most described the importance of keeping a staff-student divide, both online and offline. This was expressed most often as keeping a professional distance: “I don’t like being too palsy with undergraduates”; “it crosses the line of creating a non-professional relationship”. Participants offered different reasons for not wanting to interact with students outside the bounds of email or the VLE. Online boundary keeping was described either in terms of controlling what students might see (e.g. personal comments, family photos) or controlling what staff themselves might see (e.g. student comments). Again, across all participants, there was recognition that connecting with students on social media is an individual decision: “I have personal rules for that”; “there’s no hard and fast rules”. There was an overwhelming tendency by participants not to connect with students in private online spaces, but in open online spaces only – if at all. This was evident in the number of participants who said they do not friend students in Facebook, although some staff have created Facebook pages/groups (or professional Facebook profiles) to work around this. Twitter, seen as open and public, was considered more acceptable by some as a tool for staff-student interaction. Managing this staff-student boundary, as with the personal-professional boundary, was considered by many participants to be a constant challenge: “you’re negotiating all the time”.

Growth mindset re: digital literacies

Academic staff who value social learning and who balance privacy and openness might be predisposed to using open educational practices for teaching. However, another necessary factor is having digital literacies, or perhaps more specifically, having a growth mindset re: digital literacies. [I am not completely happy with this description at present, but it is a placeholder for now.] Having a growth mindset re: digital literacies includes being aware of a range of digital and open tools; understanding how to use various tools, both technically and pedagogically; keeping abreast of changes in the landscape of digital and open tools; and most importantly, feeling confident about learning and experimenting with new tools and new features. For the participants in this study, this expertise and confidence was often described in connection with peer support and/or professional development, either within or outside the institution (see Enhancers/ Inhibitors below). Having a growth mindset re: digital literacies relates to the previous process: balancing privacy and openness. Staff with highly-developed digital literacies are more likely to have the confidence and skills required to manage privacy settings, negotiate various social media tools, and operate with agency in complex social media ecosystems.

Not all participants with a growth mindset re: digital literacies used OEP for teaching. Some who are proficient users of social media teach their students about social media and digital literacies, yet choose not to connect with students in open online spaces. As one participant described: “I don’t mind if students follow me and if they find stuff that I’ve written online. But I just don’t encourage it as part of the teaching, or their relationship with me as their teacher.” Several participants did not have a growth mindset re: digital literacies – some said they lacked the time or inclination to keep abreast of the rapidly changing landscape of social media and open tools, others used a ‘digital natives’ discourse (Prensky, 2001). The digital natives discourse, i.e. believing that younger rather than older people tend to be experts in using social and digital media, has been discredited (Lanclos, 2016; White & Le Cornu, 2011), yet the narrative continues to resonate with many, including some educators and students. [Much more to say on this – will include in next blog post.]

Challenging role expectations

All participants who used OEP for teaching described various ways that they challenged  expectations of them in their role as lecturers. Many challenged their role as ‘the expert’ — or the sole expert, at least. These participants spoke of being learners as well as teachers and of seeking to create and be part of a community of learners.

“So instead of really only knowing you for 45 minutes twice a week for 12 weeks… at least they think, ‘oh, maybe she actually cares’, or ‘oh, I could actually ask a question if I needed to’. Whereas email, it takes a lot of nerve for a first year to write an email and send it to what they call a professor. They just feel inhibited no matter how nice you are. I think it maybe allows them to feel like you’re more approachable. And if nothing else, that would be good.”

“I do think in order for me to create the conditions that people can learn in, I have to create a community of people here. I have to make sure people are comfortable interacting with each other; I have to make sure they’re comfortable interacting with me. So that idea of a community of learning would underpin my philosophy of teaching.”

Enhancers/inhibitors to using OEP for teaching

In addition to the processes defined above, participants described various environmental enhancers and inhibitors which served to act as lenses to increase or decrease the likelihood that they might choose to use OEP for teaching. Enhancers included institutional support and/or recognition, professional development opportunities (within or outside the institution) and peer support (e.g. personal learning networks or PLNs). Inhibitors included stress or anxiety experienced by individuals, particularly in connection with their institutional roles (e.g. workload, departmental or institutional culture). [Very much more to be said here, particularly in relation to work by Richard Hall on ‘The university as anxiety machine’]

While this first phase of the research study has been focused on academic staff, the next phase of the study will be a smaller study engaging both students and staff to explore why and how they interact in open online spaces and how they enact and negotiate their digital identities in those spaces.

I’ll continue to blog as my thinking develops and analysis proceeds. I hope that this sharing of raw findings and thoughts might spark a few conversations – I’d welcome your feedback.



Beetham, H., Falconer, I., McGill, L., & Littlejohn, A. (2012). Open practices: Briefing paper. JISC.

Charmaz, K. (2014). Constructivist Grounded Theory (2nd ed.). London: Sage Publications.

Ehlers, U. (2011). Extending the territory: From Open Educational Resources to Open Educational Practices. Journal of Open, Flexible and Distance Learning, 15(2).

Hall, Richard (2014, March 19). On the University as anxiety machine. Richard Hall’s space. [blog]

Kumpulainen, K. & Sefton-Green, J. (2012). What is connected learning and how to research it? International Journal of Learning and Media, 4(2), 7-18.

Dirckinck-Holmfeld, L., Hodgson, V., & McConnell, D. (Eds.) (2012). Exploring the Theory, Pedagogy and Practice of Networked Learning (pp. 3-24). New York: Springer.

Lanclos, D. (2016). The death of the digital native: 4 provocations from DigiFest speaker Dr. Donna Lanclos. Jisc.

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the Horizon, 9(5).

Reed, P. (2013). Hashtags and retweets: Using Twitter to aid community, communication and casual (informal) learning. Research in Learning Technology, 21.

Rolfe, V. (2012). Open educational resources: Staff attitudes and awareness. Research in Learning Technology, 20.

Veletsianos, G., & Kimmons, R. (2012a). Networked participatory scholarship: Emergent techno-cultural pressures toward open and digital scholarship in online networks. Computers & Education, 58(2), 766–774.

Veletsianos, G. & Kimmons, R. (2012b). Assumptions and challenges of open scholarship. The International Review Of Research In Open And Distance Learning,13(4), 166-189.

Weller, M. (2011). The Digital Scholar: How Technology Is Transforming Scholarly Practice. Basingstoke: Bloomsbury Academic.

White, D.S. & Le Cornu, A. (2011). Visitors and Residents: A new typology for online engagement. First Monday, 16(9).

Image source: CC BY 2.0 woodleywonderworks (Flickr)



Road to Hope

Screen Shot 2016-04-05 at 23.11.02

photo by Maeve Kelly

Today I started writing a blog post about openness, inequality, and the complex reckonings we make about our digital, networked identities. But tonight I’m finding I can’t write anything until I write this.

I’m just back from a meeting with two wonderful people here in Kinvara. Maeve Kelly and Pete Brazier are part of a small team who are about to make their third trip to Greece to assist refugees there. In two weeks Maeve and Pete will return to the island of Chios to work alongside residents of the island, other volunteers and NGOs to offer welcome, care, and whatever support they can to people who are fleeing violence and terror — from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and beyond. Maeve and Pete call themselves Road to Hope, saying simply: “that’s all we can offer”. They inspired us with their generosity and their simple plea: please share what’s happening and please lobby our elected representatives to do more to address this humanitarian crisis. To find out more about Road to Hope and/or to make a contribution to their generous efforts, check out their page:

Thanks for reading this. And humble thanks to Maeve and Pete, to Brendan Smith, and to all who see what is and just get on with building roads to hope.