In the open sunlight or a bit hidden in the shades?

Research, teach, and reach out to the public. Do you recognize yourself in this job description? And if so, do you put your different tasks in this order? For most of us with this job description, we think of the first and third task as a unit – we do research and we share this new understandings and knowledge with the science community and occasionally with the public. Sometimes, media approach us and ask us questions about our studies – if they have some public interest. Some might want to interrupt me here and say: “Hey, wait a minute, shouldn’t all research be of public interest?” And the answer might be something like: “Well, maybe this is to expect too much, but at least all research should be useful one way or the other.”

Openness about new research results does not seem to be much of a problem. This is what we strive for – to share the knowledge to a greater crowd and hopefully it will be useful for society. This task is usually referred to as the third task or third mission of the universities, and usually also including the idea of collaborations with society; enterprises, authorities, municipalities, organisations etc.

So, what about the second task? Many would probably stop me here and say that this is the first task because it is the most important task you have if you hold a position as a lecturer at a university. Of course, I agree but argue that to some point also the knowledge shared in the classrooms (no matter what format) are linked to research. This leaves us with three tasks so intertwined that we cannot separate them from each other, and definitely we cannot prioritize them. Therefore, the logic of this may be that the openness of education is obvious, just as it is with research results. It is just the sharing that differs, from writing articles (for different audiences) and participating in media, to teaching in an open environment and for a different crowd than the students signed up for the courses.

When I started to work at a university back in the 1990’s, we had “open lectures” once a month. They were always organised in the early evenings and everyone was welcome. Most of the time the content was related to topics included in the courses for the enrolled students. However, the context was somewhat different, even if the location was the same. Or maybe I am wrong. This is where I would like to bring in the discussion of the nature of academic knowledge and rely on Bates (2019:91) in his description of four “fundamental components”, namely “transparency, codification, reproduction, and communicability”. Now, here comes the real challenge to the openness in education, because Bates is very clear about the following: “Thus it is not sufficient just to teach academic content (applied or not). It is equally important also to enable students to develop the ability to know how to find, analyse, organise and apply information/ content within their professional and personal activities, to take responsibility for their own learning, and to be flexible and adaptable in developing new knowledge and skills” (Bates 2019: 93). We can share our content but how do we connect the knowledge into the next step of interactions and encouragements to make the best sense of the content? Open resources and excellent digital tools as part of the context are parts of the answer. Also, as Cormier describes the MOOC in the film What is a MOOC?, it is based on the idea of participation and networking.

I have in my statement of this blog promised some references to the scholars of the Toronto school when appropriate. I wasn’t surprised to find references to McLuhan in Bates’ work because the idea of the medium as the message has relevance in the discussion if knowledge is changing due to the rapid development of technology. So instead, I add to this reflection, McLuhan’s own stretch of the message to a massage: “Learning, the educational process, has long been associated only with the glum. We speak of the ‘serious’ student. Our time presents a unique opportunity for learning by means of humor – a perceptive or incisive joke can be more meaningful than platitudes lying between two covers. ‘The Medium is the Massage’ is a look-around to see what’s happening. It is a collide-oscope of interfaced situations.”(McLuhan & Fiore 1967:10). Maybe not clear as a bell, but from the perspectives of the digital age, it may include an interpretation that have something to do with content and context.

To conclude, researching and teaching are both linked to the third task of sharing knowledge. So far, the openness of research has been more obvious but we are moving fast into open education and become more familiar with the concepts of the digital tools and open resources easily provided on the internet. It may take some time before this is a natural part of the workload at universities and that colleagues are working together to create open resources in forms of lectures and textbooks. But a good start is to use the endless resource already produced, films and textbooks,  and this way show students that there is an open learning society out there.

Bates, A.W. (2019). Teaching in a Digital Age – Second Edition. Vancouver, B.C.: Tony Bates Associates Ltd. Retrieved from 

Cormier, D. (2010). What is a MOOC?

McLuhan, M. & Fiore, Q. (1967). The Medium is the Massage. An Inventory of Effects. Toronto: Bantam Books.

To stay in the open – content, context, and connections