Open Learning: A Reflection on Sharing and Openness Among Educators

Nadya Shaznay PATEL
Centre for English Language Communication (CELC)

Nadya takes a look at open education resources (OERs) through the lens of her practice and reflects on what draws her towards and away from fully embracing OERs in her teaching.

Source: Synonyms for Openness to Change. (2017). Retrieved 2020, November 13, from https://thesaurus.plus/synonyms/openness_to_change

To open something, it must first be closed” (Mishra, 2012). I thought about this quote recently while participating in the Open Networked Learning course1. How poignant is this quote when we think about how closed education systems have been in the past (some would argue it still very much is!).

Lately, discussions on the concept of openness have revolved around the need to increase access to information and knowledge equitably in society. Academic staff are encouraged to collaborate on the reuse of resources because of time and financial pressures. Why reinvent the wheel?

In June 2012, UNESCO convened the World Open Education Resource (OER) Congress and released the OER Paris Declaration endorsing that OERs promote lifelong learning, contribute to social inclusion, gender equity and education for learners with special needs, and improve cost-efficiency and the quality of teaching and learning.

Perhaps I am unable to engage with the concept of openness and OER creation as much as I would like to at an institution level. So, I reflected on my own teaching practice. How open am I as an educator? How open is my teaching, and my pedagogy?

Personally, I have only had experience developing teaching resources including documents, videos, coherent ‘learning objects’, and short courses. I created these for myself and my own teaching and never really thought of making them “freely” available to others. On the contrary, I am open to the resources I created for the department or the university being reused, revised, remixed, and redistributed.

This led me to reflect on the motivations and inertias for my openness.

I thought that, if given the platform and opportunity to share my teaching materials, I would do so with altruistic motivations. Like many, this is inspired by the premise that everyone has a right to education and therefore access to learning should be available to all. Stacey (2007) argues that openness in education will ultimately benefit learners as access to more resources consequently motivates and spur them to independently explore further. However, there are some who might work towards more openness for commercial motivations. Academic staff are either paid or rewarded for their efforts in creating OERs that help to raise the institution’s visibility thereby enhancing its branding (Johnstone, 2005). Indeed, there is a strong marketing incentive to creating OERs.

On the other hand, concerns from academic staff experiencing their own inertias for not moving towards openness in their practice are just as valid. Personally, I am my worst critic and tend to question if my materials are “good enough”. Perhaps academic staff shudder to think of the sheer amount of effort and time required to prepare materials that are to be made open, i.e. public. Additionally, the majority of freely available content consist of asynchronous active learning, which excludes the involvement of the original content creator. This means the creator will not have the chance to interact directly with participants. I find it especially difficult to let go of my teaching without the opportunity to connect with my learners.

Sure, there are always quizzes and activities available to self-assess learning; but what about the value of instructor feedback? How can I be certain that learners are benefitting and learning from my materials? This is especially challenging when I teach courses and facilitate workshops on communication skills. For example, I often use role-play to ensure my students internalise the communication theories and principles as applied in varied professional and/or community contexts. It does not seem like the “dialogic dimension” of my instruction can be easily “transferred” when my teaching and learning activities are made into open resources.

My teaching philosophy stems from a sociocultural perspective. I subscribe to a dialogic pedagogy, where my students and I critically interrogate the topic of study, express and listen to multiple voices and perspectives, and create respectful and equitable classroom relations. In fact, I believe that with talk, I can engage students cognitively in an effective and sustained way, and scaffold their understanding. As I reflect deeply on the concept of openness, I believe I would have to meaningfully make sense of it while staying true to my teaching philosophy. With the dialogic pedagogy that I adopt, I could design an OER that includes cognitive, instructor, and social presence so that student interaction, critical interrogation and collaboration can still be promoted. Despite the online environment, students’ sense of self (as well as mine) as an authentic real person can also be promoted. Easier said than donebut maybe as a start, I must learn, unlearn, and let go.

Nadya Shaznay PATEL, an Assistant Professor at the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT), and previously taught critical thinking and writing, community leadership, engineering leadership and English for academic purposes with the Centre for English Language Communication (CELC) at NUS. She conducts consultancy training for professionals and executives on business communication, effective communication for leaders, communicating your personal brand, and interview, presentation and leadership skills. Her research interests include classroom discourse, conversation analysis, dialogic scaffolding, multimodality in the areas of English in Disciplines and communication studies.

Nadya can be reached at Nadya.Patel@SingaporeTech.edu.sg.

Endnote

  1. Open Networked Learning (ONL), an open online course, is offered as a freely available open course as well as continuation course in higher education pedagogy for teachers at the collaborating institutions.

References

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Johnstone, S. M. (2005). Open educational resources serve the world. Educause Quaterly, 28(3), 15-18. https://er.educause.edu/articles/2005/1/open-educational-resources-serve-the-world

McAndrew, P. (2006). Motivations for OpenLearn: The Open University’s Open Content initiative [Workshop session]. OECP Expert Workshop, Barcelona, Spain. http://www.oecd.org/education/ceri/38149250.pdf

McAndrew, P., Santos, A., Lane, A., Godwin, S., Okada, A., Wilson, T., Connolly, T., Ferreira, G., Buckingham Shum, S., Bretts, J., & Webb, R. (2009). OpenLearn research report 2006-2008. The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK. http://oro.open.ac.uk/17513/2/Research_forWeb.pdf

Mishra, S. (2012). Openness in education: Some reflections on MOOCs, OERs and ODL [Keynote presentation]. International Council for Open and Distance Education (ICDE) Standing Conference of Presidents (SCOP). Commonwealth Educational Media Centre for Asia (CEMCA). http://oasis.col.org/handle/11599/1038

Mossley, D. (November, 2013). Open educational resources and open education. The Higher Education Academy. https://www.advance-he.ac.uk/knowledge-hub/open-educational-resources-and-open-education

OCW Consortium & SCORE Team (2012). Proceedings of Cambridge 2012: Innovation and Impact – Openly Collaborating to Enhance Education. The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK. http://oro.open.ac.uk/33640/5/Conference_Proceedings_Cambridge_2012.pdf

Stacey, P. (2007) Open educational resources in a global context. First Monday, 12(4). http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue12_4/stacey/index.html

Wiley, D. (2006). On the sustainability of open educational resource initiatives in higher education. OECD’s Centre for Educational Research and Innovation: Open Educational Resources Project. https://www.oecd.org/education/ceri/38645447.pdf