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What do we mean by Open Education?
At its core, Open Education is about removing barriers to Education. It is a movement benefiting from the potential for technology and new media to enable cheaper and more widespread access to educational resources and outputs.
Open Education encompasses resources, tools and practices that are free of legal, financial and technical barriers and can be fully used, shared and adapted in the digital environment. (SPARC, ‘Open Education’, last accessed 24/02/2016)
The global Open Education movement has risen to prominence in Higher Education in the last decade or so with an increase in policy, strategy and programmes dedicated to opening up content and making it freely available, where ‘content’ might be teaching resources, data, software, research publications etc. This coincides with developments in the field of licensing – notably, Creative Commons licensing – that allow for more widely understood mechanisms for legally sharing, adapating and reusing free content.
In Open Education, for a resource to be fully open, it is generally accepted that it must be both ‘gratis’ (zero cost, no barriers to access) and ‘libre’ (no barriers to reuse). You must be able to access the resource free of charge and have the legal rights to reuse, revise, remix and redistribute the resource and/or adaptations of the resource. In other words, Wiley’s 5 ‘R’s of Open should be easily and legally achievable.
Open Education refers to more than just opening up access to content however. In his oft-cited Tedx talk, David Wiley proffers that while the nouns may differ – open content, software, research, policies etc. – the action and principle remains the same; it is fundamentally about sharing. It’s based on the premise that Education cannot exist without openness since it is inherently an enterprise of giving or sharing (of knowledge). Watch Wiley’s talk below for an introduction to the principles of Open Education and its place in our future:
David Wiley, TEdxNYD, Open Education and the Future, June 2010.
So, when speaking of Open Education and Open Education Principles, advocates speak of a wider movement and cultural shift towards greater collaboration, equality and a community of sharing. With the advent of new media and platforms we also have the means to share, and thus educate, like never before.
The most obvious benefit of Open Education is that it opens up information and knowledge to those who might not have had the means to access educational opportunities. Making educational materials openly available for others to share, reuse and remix can reduce the cost, language and format barriers to learning. The most publicised example of freeing content and opening up access to online higher education has been the rise of the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). Recent years has seen a proliferation of universities and individuals developing short, free, large-enrolment courses across different languages, some of which are available for others to reuse, adapt and re-run in their own context.
Within formal education, tutors can also reduce resource costs for students by developing modules around pre-existing or self-developed open resources and open textbooks. According to Creative Commons’ 2015 State of the Commons Report, open textbooks have saved students $174m to date, with $53m more projected savings in the 2015/16 academic year. Openly available materials allow students to explore a subject before enrolling or arriving in the classroom, and can also allow learners to develop their own informal means of study support, provided they are supported to develop their critical skills for evaluating resources.
There are benefits for the educator, researcher and educational institution too.
- Studies confirm that making research openly available online rather than behind a publisher paywall, results in a higher citation impact for that research. Hajjem, Harnad & Gingras’ (2005) cross-disciplinary comparison of 1,307,038 articles concluded that open access articles have a higher citation impact of between 36%-172%. If you’d like to know more about the Open Access Citation Advantage, SPARC Europe maintain a list of relevant studies.
- Making your outputs and your processes open for scrutiny and collaboration facilitates continuous quality assurance. Contributing to a community of open educators for review and comment means you have a free, virtual pool of peer observers or reviewers with whom you can adapt and improve your work.
- A follow-on from this are the opportunities for collaboration and career development that can result from opening up your work. The more available your work and your name, the greater the possibility of making meaningful connections and attracting invitations for conference talks, or teaching and research projects.
Those are all arguments for contributing to the Open Education community, but what about the benefits as a recipient in the Open Education? Even if you don’t make your own resources freely available, no doubt you have evaluated others’ when researching a topic, or designing a lecture or resource. Has this helped you to improve your own work? Reassured you that you were on the right track? Have you used freely available and editable software as part of your work (hint! Moodle and Mahara are open source software!)? Have you directed students to freely available resources online, saving you the time and effort of reproducing them yourself? There! You’ve already benefited from Open Education!
The picture isn’t all rosy, of course. There are challenges around sustainability, particularly in the area of Open Educational Resources (more on these tomorrow), where projects receive initial funding to develop resources but sustaining those resources is underfunded. Are they left to become outdated, links broken, formatting incompatible etc.? Or more problematic, what happens when support for entire resource repositories is withdrawn, as has happened with one of the UK’s largest OER repositories, JORUM.
The issue of quality assurance is a double-edged sword. Whilst the Open Education community can itself contribute to quality improvement by reusing, adapting and building upon existing work, there is not always an overall editor or final gatekeeper for freely available material. Who provides final assurances on quality or accuracy? It’s important to note here that this is not always the case. For example, most Open Access research journals adhere to the same rigorous editorial and peer review processes as traditional, subscription-based journals.
You might well be wondering where intellectual property rights fits in with all of this sharing and openness? Well we’ll look at licensing openly available work on Day 3, but you’re right: understanding and protecting your rights and the rights of other educators can be an initial barrier to people making and reusing open educational resources, and to publishing open access research.
Reusing an open/free educational resource does not necessarily mean a cost-saving for the user when the hidden costs of reuse are considered. For example, in reusing OERs the cost of one’s time and possibly software to adapt, update or localise a resource should be weighed against using paid-for content or creating a replacement resource from scratch.
Finally, there’s a challenge of misappropriated terminology and debates about degrees of openness. Cable Green (Director of Open Education at Creative Commons), speaking at last year’s OER15 Conference (Cardiff), drew interesting comparisons between ‘Greenwashing‘ in the environmental sector and the rising number of organisations, companies, individuals etc. promoting a course or resource as ‘open’ for marketing purposes when, in reality, it doesn’t meet the criteria of an OER. Highlighting Audrey Watters’ definition of ‘Openwashing’ (see tweet), he cited Udacity’s Open Education Alliance which has drawn criticism for being ‘open’ only insofar as users can view materials freely, but restrictive licenses mean remixing and redistributing the materials is forbidden. Similar criticisms are emerging in the field of open badges, where commentators like Doug Belshaw are criticising educational companies such as Pearson for co-opting popular open education initiatives for commercial gain.
Róisin Cassidy (Technology Enhanced Learning),
Ruth MacMullen, Ruth Mardall and Clare McCluskey-Dean (Information Learning Services)