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Tag: oep

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  🙂

#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)


If open is the answer, what is the question? #oer16

How would you answer the question above?

Please join the conversation by tweeting your response (using the #oer16 hashtag) or adding to the comments below.


From the New York Public Library (public domain)

Whether we consider ourselves to be open education practitioners or researchers, advocates or critics, wonderers or agnostics, our motivating questions regarding openness are likely to be different. For example, you may find that open educational resources (OER) and/or open educational practices (OEP) help you to address one or more of the following (very different) questions:

  • How can I help to minimise the cost of textbooks?
  • How can I help students to build and to own their content and portfolios?
  • How might we support and empower learners in building their digital identities and making informed choices about digital engagement?
  • How might we build knowledge as a collective endeavour?
  • How can we broaden access to education, particularly in ways that do not reinforce existing inequalities?

Or perhaps you’ve found that OER and/or OEP lead to further questions, particularly about institutional policies and practices.

Along with many others, I hope to discuss some of these questions at the Open Educational Resources conference next month — #OER16: Open Culture. I’ll explore these questions, and others, in my keynote and in conversation with Lorna Campbell and Viv Rolfe in an OER16 preview webinar hosted by ALT later this week.

Have you found open practices to be useful, for you and/or for your students? What does it help you to achieve? If open is the answer, what is the question? What is your question? Please join the conversation.

Postscript 11-March-2016: Many thanks to all for participating in this discussion, both in comments here in the blog and on Twitter (summarised here in Storify). I look forward to continuing the conversation with you all at the conference.

Postscript 23-May-2016: I shared a summary of this discussion in my keynote at OER16 – links available here.

Image: public domain image from the New York Public Library




Ready & open for #altc 2015

CC BY 2.0 cogdog

CC BY 2.0 cogdog

Last year at this time I was busy preparing for my first visit to the ALT Conference #altc. This year, as I pack my bags, it feels like I’m returning to visit a wonderfully engaging, animated and inspiring group of friends and colleagues, and I can’t wait. Once again I’ll meet many Twitter friends — some for the first time and others who have become colleagues and friends. One of these is Vivien Rolfe, with whom I’ll be collaborating for a session on Thursday, September 10th. Our session “Go Open” addresses the conference theme of open educational practices (OEP).

Here’s an excerpt from our updated session description, and our video introduction (Viv’s idea 🙂 ):

Considering the diverse array of educational approaches now claiming to be open, it has been suggested that the term ‘open’ has lost its way – or at the very least, means radically different things to different people. Perhaps, as Audrey Watters (2014) has suggested, this loss of focus has created confusion in the minds of those wishing to embrace open approaches. Multiple studies in Ireland, the UK and the US have shown a relatively low level of awareness of open educational resources (OER) among academic staff in higher education, a growing desire to use open materials, and a desire for clarity over copyright, ownership of academic work, and technical guidance (Alan & Seamen, 2014National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching & Learning in Ireland, 2015; Reed 2012, Rolfe 2012). So, what can educators in higher education do to gain a foothold in understanding OER and to further develop their open educational practices, for themselves and for their students? In institutions without adequate policy and supporting strategies, how can people get ready to ‘go open’ — both within and beyond their classrooms?

Our session emerges from the perspectives of two open educators, both committed practitioners and researchers of ‘open’ – not only in their individual teaching and learning practice, but also in championing openness as a necessary and democratic practice for education, at all levels. Emerging themes and conflicts regarding openness, OER and OEP are identified. These themes have informed the design of an open wiki which can be used by educators at all points on the openness continuum, from those just learning about openness and OER, to those wishing to enhance their open practice and effect wider change. The wiki shared at the conference is simply a starting point. All contributions are welcome.

Please do have a look at the wiki: This is very much version 1.0. We would love your thoughts and ideas — via Twitter, our blogs, or by contributing to the wiki itself. All you need to become a contributor is a WikiEducator account — simple to create if you don’t have one already. If you’ve created or edited pages in Wikipedia, MediaWiki, FedWiki, etc., then you already know all you need to know in order to edit pages. If you haven’t done any of those — then this is a great wiki place to start 🙂

Viv and I have had many fascinating conversations already as we’ve prepared for this session. We look forward to engaging with many at #altc and beyond this week, both onsite and online. Please join us!

@catherinecronin  and  @vivienrolfe

Image: CC BY 2.0 cogdog