• A Call for Openness in Education

Finding a path to openness in online and blended learning

As highlighted in the below paradigm shifting talk delivered by David Wiley, at the core of the art of teaching is sharing and openness. As educators, we simply cannot impart our knowledge to our students without sharing what we know. Our learners also cannot benefit from each other without the transfer of knowledge. Every strategy, approach, methodology and tool for teaching hinges on this fact. Without sharing, teaching would not exist. Everything we know and understand about the world around us would have to be acquired firsthand. We would all simultaneously stumble through our lives in parallel silos, besieged by insurmountable challenges.

Of course, in reality we can share. We can share our successes and failures, our insights and perspectives, and all of the knowledge that we have acquired over the span of our lives; and one day, when we are no longer here, we will have contributed to the collective knowledge of the human race. We will have moved the ball ever so slightly forward, easing the struggle for future generations. What’s more, our knowledge and expertise, and our unique skills and abilities, can all be shared without ever being given away. We cannot give away what we know, but we can use what we know to enrich the lives of the people around us. When we teach, we tap into this limitless resource.

In education, however, a striking contradiction exists which throttles the full potential of sharing. Although educators are happy to share their knowledge with their students, and although they encourage openness among their learners, they are apprehensive about doing the same with their own peers. Teachers often share offices and desks, photocopiers and hard drives, but rarely are willing to share their teaching materials. Instead, they work in parallel silos. They design materials for their lessons alone, while their peers do the same nearby. At an institutional level, this is even more extreme. Lesson materials are owned and copyrighted, and used to cleave students away from competing schools.

This of course, is a massive waste of time. In an ideal world, we could all be working together. Rather than building all of our course materials from the ground up, we could be working with one another. We could be moving the ball forwards for our peers and they could be doing the same for us. This would free up our time for better, more reflective teaching. Imagine how much our students would benefit if we had the force of every teacher in our field behind our lessons.

This paradox also exists in online and blended teaching scenarios. Digitizing learning materials is time consuming, especially when these materials include interactivity, audio and video, and other design elements. Meanwhile, new options can be found online every day which promise to make teaching materials even more dynamic and engaging. Online tools allow students to access materials from their own devices and phones, to collaborate in real time, to compete with one another, and to make the learning process autonomous and rewarding.

Around the world, well intentioned educators are working hard to include such materials in their courses, but rather than sharing them, they are locked away behind passwords and copyrights. Materials are hidden behind a password protected LMS or behind a subscription paywall and can only be accessed by a select few paying students.

As stated by Wiley in this video, it is time to end this paradox, and find a better, more inclusive way forward.

A Way Forward

In most cases, complete openness in a course is unfortunately not possible. Educational institutions have overhead expenses, and educators have a reputation to uphold and require a salary. Without paid enrollments and financial incentives, many learning materials would never have even been created in the first place. On the other hand, there is very little information being shared in a lecture hall that cannot also be accessed for free online. Students are attracted to educational institutions for more than just information. They enroll for the guidance offered by good educators and good teaching, for a learning community, and for a structured environment in which their development can be nurtured.

If we can accept this, then perhaps we can open our courses up ever so slightly to the rest of the world, and trust that our students will attend our classes for more than just the learning materials that we use. Like any aspect of education, the amount that we can open our courses exists on a gradient. While some courses and their students’ contributions are ideal for complete transparency, others will require some discretion. In most courses, there are probably opportunities for sharing, even when materials are confined to an LMS. How then, should we as educators move forward?


Share Within Your Institution. Within your institution, look for commonalities between your colleagues and synergies with differing learning goals. When unrelated interdisciplinary courses are woven together successfully, the results can be surprising. Aim to develop fruitful relationship within your institution by being generous with your time and the materials you develop, and in no time your efforts will pay off in spades.


Share beyond your institution. Whenever possible, make an effort to share the material you create beyond your institution as well. Make it free for use, but include your institution’s logo as well as your name. Not only will this help others to use your materials for their own purposes, but also this will improve the reputation of your institution. Of course, first check with your institution first regarding their sharing policy.


Learn about Creative Commons. When you make your materials available, make sure you make it legal for other to use them. You can do this by including the correct Creative Commons logo in your materials. Similarly, materials which include the creative commons logo can be appropriated into your courses as well! See the video below for more information.


Learn how to use your LMS to its fullest potential. Once you have started sharing your own materials, you will also begin finding resources which can be repurposed for your own courses. Find creative ways to weave these materials into your blended or distance education course by using your school’s LMS to its full potential.