Mongolian Landscape

The scope of open education gets ever broader, from the production, use and reuse of open textbooks, to the use of open educational resources (OER) for teacher education in developing countries, to the use of Creative Commons-licensed content in some MOOCS. But are these activities driven by and infused with a ‘spirit of open’ – an ethos connected with the use, adaptation and reuse of OER that is distinctive and which can be identified amongst educators, learners, academics and institutions?

In his book The Art of Community, Ubuntu Community Manager Jono Bacon expresses ‘an excitement about what is possible when you get a group of people together who share a common ethos and a commitment to furthering it’ (Bacon, 2009: 3). Having pondered why people with otherwise satisfying, full and rewarding lives will devote time and energy to participating in communities such as the free and open source software (FOSS) movement Bacon identifies a sense of ‘belonging’ as a powerful incentive, resulting from community interactions and contributing to ‘a social economy’ in which ‘we are the product and the capital [generated] is respect and trust’ (Bacon, 2009, 5).

Bacon’s ‘excitement about what is possible’ is clearly detectable within the open education movement, alongside both mutual respect and trust and a sense of ‘belonging’. All of these things are difficult to measure though and if we intend to discover whether a ‘spirit of open’ really does exist then thought needs to be given to how to do so.

I’ve spent the past month finding my feet in my new role as a Research Associate with the OER Research Hub, based at The Open University in the UK and one of my early tasks has been mind-mapping the relationship between the 11 OER-focused research hypotheses we will be investigating in collaboration with eight OER projects in the UK, US and India.  I’ve reached the initial conclusion that investigating our key hypothesis B – ‘The open aspect of OER creates different usage and adoption patterns than other online resources’ – could include exploring the following aspects of a ‘spirit of open’ (the letters indicate related OER Research Hub hypotheses):

  • The belief in education as a human right rather than a financial transaction (C – ‘Open education models lead to more equitable access to education, serving a broader base of learners than traditional education’)
  • An emphasis on widening participation and achieving more equitable access to education (C)
  • A recognition that everyone has something to contribute (C)
  • Increased critical reflection by educators (E – ‘Use of OER leads to critical reflection by educators, with evidence of improvement in their practice’)
  • Increased willingness of educators to share, re-use, adapt and mashup resources (E)
  • Pedagogical innovation by educators and in learning design (E)
  • Educators’ reduced emotional/intellectual attachment to self-produced resources (and to copyright protection) and willingness for such resources to be adapted by others (E)
  • A shift of emphasis from competition to collaboration with peers (E)
  • An increased emphasis on crowd-sourced knowledge
  • An increased emphasis on research and data transparency

The factors above are most likely to be demonstrated by educators and individual academics. However, there’s no reason why the ‘spirit of open’ should not become apparent at an institutional level.  In a recent article Tony Coughlan and I speculated on the possibilities for a ‘benevolent academy’ whereby educational institutions support ‘public-facing open scholars’ in extending open practice to benefit communities outside higher education. We’ll be presenting a paper on this at OER13 in March and are looking forward to exploring with colleagues whether a ‘spirit of open’ amongst educational leaders and policy-makers could be conducive to institutional benevolence.

For now, it would be great to get a conversation going right here regarding what a ‘spirit of open’ might comprise and how it might be measured. Over to you…

[Reblogged from]