Open Education in 2018 – Shifting Sands

This post provides a brief summary of my reflections and insights after an asynchronous discussion with the ONL181 cohort about the concepts of open education and sharing openly online.

As some of you may know, I have been involved with ONL for several years, and have blogged about my experiences as participant, co-facilitator and now as presenter on different occasions. You can read these reflections here, here or here.

This year, I once again have the honour of presenting Topic 2 with Alastair Creelman, and tonight we are presenting a webinar discussing the issues and ideas that have been raised by the participants in response to the introductory tutorial, which you may view here.

Since I became involved with ONL almost three years ago, quite a lot has changed within the open educational space. Not only has technology developed and changed, as one might expect, but it has become increasingly evident that the idealistic, inspirational ‘open web’ first imagined when the internet was born has not eventuated. Instead of presenting a frontier of choice and freedom, the web of 2018 has become a space dominated by huge international companies who control interaction and access through complex algorithms that feed into company profit. Manipulation, misuse and misrepresentation of data, as well as socio-political strategies employed by business and government to profit, polarize and promote have created an environment where doubt, fear and confusion reign.

The Internet and Privacy flickr photo by topgold shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

In addition, governments are implementing privacy legislation and copyright amendments aiming to protect personal and business interests from exploitation online. These changes, perhaps made with best intentions,  can also have unexpected or undesirable ramifications, as individual freedoms and many of the positive aspects of social technologies may be limited as a by-product. There is little wonder that some of the participants of ONL in 2018 are questioning whether open education is really worth pursuing in the face of such challenges.

The theme running through the asynchronous discussion which has been ongoing this week as we prepare for this webinar has been dominated by this question of value, in a variety of forms. This is not surprising and completely understandable. This is a time of tremendous change and upheaval, and the concepts involved with open education are neither straightforward nor easily answered. For those of you who are keen to delve more deeply into the area, I would encourage you to follow the work of Martin Weller, Catherine Cronin, Maha Bali, Mia Zamora and Chrissi Nerantzi. For my brief response to the themes that have been raised during this year’s ONL topic 2, please read on!

Despite the changing context of open education, I continue to believe that how we approach it revolves around two elements – how we understand the role of the educator and how we apply the flexibility of openness.

The role of the educator

Every educator has their own, individual way of understanding what it means to teach others. My understanding of my role as an educator is characterised by the lighting of a flame.

Image sourced from the Public Domain

As an educator, our role is to create and co-create knowledge and the environment for knowledge and learning to flourish. When we share what we know with others, and encourage others to share, what is known is not diminished – it grows exponentially.

I make this statement confidently, and believe that it is more important now, in 2018, than ever before. The context I described in my introduction – one of doubt, fear and confusion – is not only where educators exist; it is also the world of our students. As Catherine Cronin says:

In our increasingly open, networked, participatory culture of surveillance and distraction, all citizens require critical digital literacies, network literacies, and data literacies — as well as civic and educational institutions that work to ensure safety, fairness, and equity.

As open education is based upon the concepts of accessibility, sharing, transparency and interoperability, educators who model, scaffold and adopt open educational practices are leading their students to become responsible and well informed citizens and professionals regardless of discipline.

Of course, what is easy to say in theory is not always so easy to do in practice. This leads me to my second point:

The flexibility of openness

I see openness in education on a sliding scale. I do not suggest that it is a situation where we must choose to be either fully open,  or fully closed in our attitudes and practice. There are times when privacy must be ensured, when access must be limited and when students and educators must feel confident and safe to practice without the eyes of the world watching. We must continue to ensure the safety and comfort of students and teachers. At the other end of the spectrum, open practice can lead to improved transparency and accountability, as well as greater efficiency through sharing limited resources and avoiding repetition and duplication.

Somewhere in the middle is where most of the action happens, and the position on the sliding scale may change depending upon the context, the students’ or educators’ needs, the content or information being used or any number of other influencers. This is the flexibility of openness.

There are many ways to introduce openness into education without drastically changing your entire practice. The Open Pedagogy Notebook is a wonderful source of inspiration for teaching ideas, however, if you have never considered openness previously, perhaps a first step may be just to explore a repository of Open Educational Resources (OERs) such as one of the many listed on this Padlet below:


Another great point to begin your open journey might be to become familiar with your country’s Creative Commons organisation, and to learn more about how Creative Commons Licences allow for sharing content while retaining particular rights of the creator. Understanding what these symbols mean can make it easier to identify and use openly shared resources appropriately, and introducing these concepts into your teaching helps students to navigate the world of copyright more effectively.

Small steps are all that is needed to make great progress. The world of open education is one of constantly shifting sands, and while it is possible to become deeply involved (and I would encourage you to if you feel drawn to this area!), simply becoming aware of what open education is, and introducing small changes where possible can move us all closer to the shared ideals of accessibility, transparency, sharing and interoperability.

CatherineCronin.OER16 flickr photo by Beck Pitt shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

The world of open education is a huge one, that is constantly changing. Open education is important – to promote the social justice principles of equity and access and to leverage technologies to innovate and create. Openness can be a mindset, a practice and a policy – and each of us have the potential to contribute in at least one, if not more of these areas to further education and the global learning community.

2 thoughts on “Open Education in 2018 – Shifting Sands”

  1. Thank you Kay for the post and the webinar today! Lots of great input to my own and everyone’s journey out into the open! Speak soon at next week’s #onl181 tweetchat. /Jörg

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