Defining ‘open’ in the context of education.
This piece was originally posted as a feature on the University of Edinburgh’s Teaching Matters site.
Open education has been my passion for a number of years now so when I was invited to write a short piece on why open matters for Teaching Matters I was happy to oblige.
Before trying to explore this question, let me explain what I mean by open education. Open education is a broad catch-all term that includes open education resources (OERs), massive open online courses (MOOCs), open education practice, open assessment practices (e.g. Open Badges), and other approaches.
In the context of education it can be difficult to pin a single definition on the word “open”. The open in open educational resources, is different to the open in massive open online courses.
Open educational resources are digital resources used for teaching and learning (e.g. course material, images, multimedia resources) that have been released under an open licence (e.g. Creative Commons) so they can be reused and repurposed by others. The ability to change and adapt resources is an important aspect of the openness in OER.
MOOCs on the other hand may be free for anyone to join, but frequently the content cannot be accessed or reused outside the course. This sometimes leads to accusations of so-called “open washing”; claiming something is open when really it isn’t.
But why does “open” actually matter in education? This question is addressed by the Scottish Open Education Declaration produced by Open Scotland, a voluntary cross sector initiative supported by the University of Edinburgh as part of their wider commitment to open education and OER. Open education in general and OER in particular are part of a worldwide movement to promote and support sustainable educational development. Open education can expand access to education, widen participation, create new opportunities for the next generation and prepare them to become fully engaged digital citizens.
There is also a sound economic case for open education. Releasing publicly funded educational resources under open licences represents a return on investment on public spending. Institutions are already being mandated to publish publicly funded research outputs under open access agreements; surely there is a strong moral argument that publicly funded educational resources should be published under open licences?
I recently had an opportunity to write a more personal reflection on why I believe open matters in a contribution to the open book Cost of Freedom which aims to raise awareness of the disappearance of detained Syrian internet volunteer and open knowledge advocate Bassel Khartabil.
I believe there is huge creative potential in openness and I believe we have a moral and ethical responsibility to open access to publicly funded educational resources. Yes, there are costs, but they are far outweighed by the benefits of open.
Open education practice and open educational resources have the potential to expand access to education while at the same time supporting social inclusion and creating a culture of collaboration and sharing. There are other more intangible, though no less important, benefits of open. Focusing on simple cost-benefit analysis models neglects the creative, fun and serendipitous aspects of openness and, ultimately, this is what keeps us learning.