Must Read for anyone keen in understanding Open Education

I had quite an eventful week. I attended my first yoga class (thanks to ,NUS wellness festival 2022), had a ,discussion with Dr Cleveland-Innes on “Blended Learning”, a discussion with my PBL04 team mates on “topic 2 assignment”, a webinar with ,Dr Maha Bali on “openness & social justice” and a reflective writing seminar with ONL course instructors. So much to reflect on, so little time. Ultimately, the battle for this week’s blog post goes to… none of the above!

The surprise winner of this week’s reflection post is on a book that was in ,topic 2’s recommended reading list. “,The Battle for Open” by Prof Martin Weller brings us on a captivating journey of Open Education’s journey from the middle ages to post-modernism.

Must Read for anyone keen in understanding Open Education

This book has so much to unpack. Every chapter was a gem. Starting with why ,Open Education (OE) is a public good (duh!), the problem of not defining “Openness”, to how OER got usurped by MOOCs and what the future holds for Open Education.

The book segments OE into 4 main areas, namely:

I feel it’s important to understand the differences that each area brings to the overall OE movement. Having a common understanding of what each means also makes it easier when we engage in conversations with other educators on this topic of OE.

With that out of the way, let’s move on to my favourite parts of the book.

Reusability paradox

Why have learning objects (LO) not been more widespread? Especially since digital content can be duplicated at no loss? This phenomenon can be explained through the Reusability paradox. Basically, it means that there is an inverse relationship between reusability and pedagogical effectiveness. Plainly put, the better your LO is (pedagogically), the harder it will be to be reused.

The revisability paradox (note: Prof Weller refers to this as the reusability paradox)

“The Revisability Paradox” by David Wiley is licensed under CC BY 4.0

An oversimplification would be to use lego bricks as an analogy. You take different LO like small lego pieces and combine them together. Viola! You created a new LO! Alas, if only it was that simple…

If this intrigues you, Who better to explain the ,reusability paradox than the original author himself? You are welcomed.

Disruption can be good, but be wary of excessive claims

As I read through the chapters in sequence. I sensed a growing anger within the author. Culminating at the chapter on “…the Silicon Valley Narrative”. Fortunately, by the end of that chapter, the tone calmed down and he warned us to be wary of those who make excessive claims (e.g. touting MOOCs as a revolutionary thing, underestimating the cost of creating quality bespoke elearning content) but also be open to change.

Trice, the works of the late Professor Clayton Christensen, author of “,The Innovator’s Dilemma” was referenced – to drive home the point that disruption can be a good thing, and we would be wise to embrace it. As the world evolves into more VUCA territory, so too must learners and educators, if we are to stay adaptable to tackle the unknown challenges ahead of us.

Side bar, I had the honor of seeing Prof Christensen LIVE in person while working at TTSH. I read his book prior to his visit but nothing beats seeing him in person explain the famous milkshake analogy. He was humble but had a magnetism and stage presence that captivated the audience. He is sorely missed.

Had a front row seat to see Dr Christensen deliver his talk!

Permission NOT required, just do it!

Prof Weller shared that educators are now empowered to take things into their own hands. We no longer need permission. In the current day context, so many tools are available, e.g. ,Open Journal Systems (OJS), building apps, sharing public writings via a blog. Educators are encouraged to Do-it-Yourself and to do it now! Just like the NIKE slogan.

“Just Do It” by Unknown, NIKE is in the Public Domain

The “Just Do It” approach stemmed from the software development world, “,Guerrilla Research”.

Guerrilla Research has the following characteristics:

  • It can be done by one or two researchers and does not require a team.
  • It relies on existing open data, information and tools.
  • It is fairly quick to realise.
  • It is often disseminated via blogs and social media.
  • It doesn’t require permission.

In a nutshell, it’s a faster, more cost effective way to do research. Throw in an iterative loop, and you even have a built-in quality assurance. ,Product developers for years have already been using this approach to stay competitive, so why shouldn’t higher education?

Problems with Openness

Openness in Education has come a long way since the middle ages to post-modernism. As much as we want to laud and champion “Openness”, it does not solve all the problems and comes with a dark side.

“Openness is not a Panacea.” (Cormier, 2009).

“Visualisation of the History of Openness in Education “ by Ines Gil-Jaurena is licensed under CC BY 4.0

I like to see my glass as half-full rather than half-empty. That said, we should not sweep aside the possible problems that come along with Openness. Prof Weller warns the danger of not addressing them is that it may come back later to bite us or worse, discredit the entire Open Movement.

Some other problems he highlighted include:

  • The Gold route for open access leads to unequal publishing opportunities
  • Forcing students to adopt open behaviours that they may be uncomfortable with
  • The low completion rates of MOOCs
  • The ­long-­term sustainability of OER projects
  • The unequal access to OER

Adding onto the last point, Prof Weller shared that (at the time this book was published) OpenLearn’s OER repository is primarily used by ­well-­educated, ­well-­qualified, employed informal and formal learners. Data showed that it’s mainly privileged people who are accessing OER, which defeats the original democratic aim of making content free and accessible to all. It just screams unfairness and injustice and further backs the concerns raised by ,Dr Maha who touched on Economic injustice, Cultural injustice & Political injustice (this session by Dr Maha alone is worth its own blog post for another time).

All is not lost

Looking on the bright side, this book was published in 2014. OER awareness could have raised much in the years since. Relating my own experience, I heard about OER but only recently relooked into it due to my affiliation with NUS (does that make me a Tertiary OER user?). There was no barrier to entry. “Most” of the information I needed was freely available.

Why did I use “most” and not “all”? Ah ha! Prof Weller also wittily pointed out that there are still some research articles that address open education but require you to pay a premium for it. Isn’t that ironic? Nonetheless, there are still tons of free resources that should more than suffice the average reader.

Topping it off, my recent experience with LTLO MOOC was very positive. It did not happen by chance. LTLO designed its course around the COI framework and ensured that all 3 components, i.e. social, cognitive and teaching presence contributed to the learning experience. When you have completed the LTLO course, you still get to access the course in its entirety. Truly open access. In my opinion, LTLO is a MOOC done right. I would not be surprised if many other participants completed the MOOC as well.

The Open virus

Likening the adoption of OE practices to a virus spreading, the author feels that the “Open” virus has not yet reached pandemic (so apt during COVID times) proportions. I wish to build upon his metaphor by saying that for those of us who decided to take the COVID vaccine, have you done your part to inform or encourage others to take it?

Similarly, there may be educators who are using OER but choose not to share their content are akin to taking the vaccine, benefiting from it but not reciprocating to help spread the word to achieve herd immunity faster. This brings back fond memories of how TTSH Kampung came together to fight COVID and protect the community.

Protecting our healthcare workers and patients together.

In summary, I enjoyed reading this book. It gave me insights on the hard work done behind the scenes and what lies ahead for OE. My blog post will not do justice to this book. You really have to read it (not just chapters 4 & 5) to appreciate all the nuances that are embedded in it. Only then can you sense the author’s passion in championing Open Learning. I hope this post encourages you to check out the book in its entirety. I would love to hear your views. Happy reading!

Benedict Chia

22 Oct 2022


The Battle for Open