Sharing and Openness

Photo by Sophie Elvis on Unsplash

In this blog post, I will consider a two things that, in my experience, prevent university teachers from sharing their teaching (materials) online and perhaps even prevent them from considering any such possibility. One is that there are many courses which are taught in the same way from one term to another, on the basis of materials created by predecessors. The other is that the staff of a particular department is often expected to behave in sync, meaning that everyone is expected to teach and share materials in approximately the same way regardless of topic and course contents.

If I am simply told to teach a course on the basis of pre-existing materials, I do not necessarily even know who has created those materials. That means that I do not know whose work I would be sharing if I made any of them available to a wider public. This kind of practice also effectively prevents me from being very creative to begin with. I know that I am expected to deliver my group(s) exactly the same information in exactly the same form as my colleagues do. Of course if I teach any such course several times, I begin to improvise to some extent and add information that was not originally among the materials I received. It also tends to be possible to discuss the teaching of these kinds of courses with colleagues, which in theory means that we could discuss whether we could make any of the materials open to the public or even turn the course to a MOOC.

Here I nevertheless come to my second point. Even if the course was entirely of my very own design, I would not dare turn it to a MOOC without discussing my decision with colleagues. It is likely that if I wanted to teach my course in a new way, the idea would be met with some resistance. It would thus be unlikely that I could simply proceed. Rather, I would need to prepare to defend my idea in detailed discussions with several people and still, the idea could be rejected. I know this because I have discussed the teaching of several courses with various colleagues and it is very important to some colleagues that we all have approximately the same approach to teaching. In my understanding, they think that if one of us does things in a different way, it creates pressure on others to change their approach likewise.

Consequently, even if I would like to share and be open, there is a limit to how open any single member of staff can be as long as the system does not favour openness. I am aware of other limits such as copyright of pictures, articles and books, and of further challenges to openness, but decided to limit my discussion to a couple of issues here. These issues could even be regarded as one and the same: the systems which I have experienced in two different countries seem to favour a rather traditional approach to teaching. This is something that can only be changed by people in power.

Blog 2: Topic 2