My first reaction when I saw the theme of Topic 2 was that this would be an easy one. Of course, we should be open and share, how hard can it be? But, as usual, things eventually grew a little less straightforward.

There are (at least) three aspects of openness in education:

  • Sharing knowledge with students.
  • Sharing education resources with colleagues.
  • Performing the education itself in an open way.

The first point should be uncontroversial. As David Wiley so eloquently pointed out, education is really a process of sharing knowledge. As for the others, I find the second easier to grasp than the third. In short, you should be generous when you can, but I have little experience with open education, and feel uncertain what it means.

But to start easy, is there any reason not to share your education material? In most cases, I think not. Does it always happen? I hoped so, but some comments in the tweet chat suggested that this was perhaps somewhat optimistic. So, what’s the problem? I understand that for private education companies, course material can be valuable property, that needs to be kept safe from competitors. And perhaps some academic teachers feel the same, although that seems harder to defend (wasn’t the work paid for by tax money?). But it might also be that the devil is in the details.

As for myself, I would mostly feel flattered if someone showed interest in my material, and I would only be glad if it could come to use elsewhere. In the course where I teach, the lecture slides are made available to the students in a somewhat obscure webpage, so I didn’t really expect anyone else to find them. But Google is powerful. My brother in law once searched for some statistical explanations, and bumped into my slides (and actually started reading them!). So even a very simple form of publishing is better than none.

Working as a statistician, it is natural to think also about open source and open data. Open source code is amazing. I use the statistics program R, which is 100% open source, and where lots of people contribute. This means that not only can I use ready-made packages for most analyses. If something goes wrong, I can also check the code to see exactly what happened, and modify if needed. Open data seems much more problematic though. The idea is still great, and I know that lots of data are shared. But the data I have worked with so far (radar data from the Swedish defense, and clinical patient data) are both confidential, and simply cannot be shared (or I might end up in prison).

So what about the details, where the devil might reside? First, you obviously need to know how and where to share (digital literacy again!). With time, this might be easier due to standard websites (e.g. Github for source code), although it might still be a hurdle for some. Second, you might be concerned about letting it fly; what if someone abuses your stuff? I much appreciated learning about the Creative Commons initiative, with the possibility to share under restrictions of my choice. Third, it may not always be that easy to use other people’s material. A colleague of mine once took over a course and inherited a set of slides. One of them read

It wasn’t entirely easy for him to guess what interesting things the former teacher might have said to this…

What then about open education? As I mentioned, I am not sure exactly what this means, and my experience is limited. I have taken part in some online courses, and even a MOOC. The formers were kind of like reading things on the internet yourself, only someone had organized the information for you. Depending on the quality of this, I found the courses anything between quite helpful and useless. The MOOC also left me with mixed feelings. The idea was fascinating, only the leader, a world-famous statistician, turned out not to be such a great speaker. But I do understand that these things are here to stay, and that, well used, they can be of tremendous value. Maybe I am a little spoilt, having spent my life in Sweden, where high-quality education is free. In another culture, access to a MOOC could perhaps make all the difference.

Now, there are of course many ways of running a course that are something in-between traditional classroom lectures and a 100% online course. And I understand that here lie great opportunities. I just haven’t seen how it works, and therefore, I have some difficulty visualizing it. High-level discussions like Weller et al don’t help me much; I merely feel overwhelmed by the mass of abstract notions.

Connected to the question about open learning is the accessibility of knowledge. Certainly, knowledge has a universal value, and should be made as available as possible. Does this imply that anyone should be able to study anything at any time? I guess the answer depends on who pays the bill. In Sweden, university education is free, meaning that the state (the citizens) invests money, and has the right to expect something in return. And a scenario where everyone is, say, a journalist is probably not what the sponsors had in mind. So maybe restrictions to education (e.g. limiting the number of students at a certain educations) serves a balancing purpose for our society.

Now, these are special times, and I actually realise that it was a close shot this year. The course where I do my teaching runs twice a year, in February and October. Had it been April instead (corona!), we would most likely have been forced to do it in an open way somehow, like it or not. So the ideas of open pedagogics are obviously important for all teachers. And I now, at least I know a little more.


Open education and the future, Lecture by David Wiley,

Creative commons,

Weller, M., & Anderson, T. (2013). Digital resilience in higher education. European Journal of Open, Distance and E-Learning, 16(1), 53.

Reflections on sharing and openness