The idea of openness is abstract…

I have found openness the most difficult topic to reflect on because it is so wide and abstract and at the same time concrete to my online teaching practice.

The idea of openness is wide and abstract, because how could I even go about opening up courses? And what would it mean? In this course, much of the emphasis on openness has been on that courses and their resources are being made available and that openness should lead to collaboration – at least if we want open learners to learn something. Openness is seen as a state of mind when it comes to teaching, rather than a practical way to go about changes.

What I have found most relevant to my own practice is the discussion on OER (Open Educational Resources). In Weller (2014) reusable learning objects are discussed as part of open education. These objects have taken longer to develop compared to for example MOOCs (Weller, 2014) but they are an essential part of open education. These objects are built as an almost self-contained piece of a course, and can be re-used in setting outside specific courses or settings.

A such the reusable learning objects is on one hand already similar to how I think about course structures, especially when designing the LMS interface. I use almost exclusively Canvas as an LMS and there I aim to construct separate modules for each part of a course. In the context of online courses, my students work mainly asynchronous, and I have found that structuring the material in a way that makes it easy for them to put together what they need and when has strong benefits on their learning. By literally posting the reading instructions, mini-lecture, knowledge quiz and examination together, I can ensure that the students to not need to think about where to find certain things or information. At the same time, this limits their opportunity to learn and explore, because I decide what chapters in a book or articles that are relevant for a specific examination and consequently exclude others.

What I do not know, is how a wider idea of openness would affect my current modules or how I would change them to adapt them to a more open education. Weller (2014) brings up that using free online sources correlates with higher test scores because easily available and free resources lowers the hurdle for students to access the material. This would probably be one way I would need to change, to find open access material that is suitable to the objective and to the objectives of the course. That does seem cumbersome, but doable. That is one concrete way to embrace openness as an abstract idea.

The idea of openness has an essential aspect of fostering social equality and justice through education. As mentioned by Weller (2014) open access to education and educational materials lead to more equitable access, and this serves a broader base of learners than traditional education. This is even mentioned as the third (of 11) open educational resources’ key beliefs. I think this is one of the more important reasons to take on openness as a teacher. I do however find that combining lowering hurdles to make my teaching more accessible is difficult to combine with an aim of social justice. By serving a broader base, I also fear missing out on the communal aspect of learning that I have now. This because, I think the first step to more equitable access in my courses would be to eg install open enrollment (in addition to the open access materials I’ve managed to find and organize in learning objectives). And I think that open enrollment would make group assignments and work more difficult. If I compare my online courses to ONL, I think that the open enrollment here is partly possible because of the deep and genuine engagement by the facilitators. And I am not sure I could sustain that for my online courses.

This means that in some ways finding more openness in my existing online courses is possible, and in other ways I find openness more difficult to achieve. This does not mean that it is impossible, just that I haven’t thought of them yet!



Weller, M. (2014). Battle for Open: How openness won and why it doesn’t feel like victory.London: Ubiquity Press.

One response to “The idea of openness is abstract…”

  1. You state that the topic of openness was a difficult one to reflect upon. Then you choose to focus on OERs as one more practical part of open education. You compare this with the module-based design you have in your courses. This makes me wonder if you also share these modules with colleagues. Or with other users of Canvas in Canvas Commons? This is for me the “Open” part of the Open Educational Resources. You also declare that the clear structure you have chosen for your course could be somewhat contra productive as the students don’t decide on what to read or learn themselves. Do you see any similarities/differences/experiences here from this ONL course?

    You also see that you could probably include some existing OERs in your courses, but, if I understand you correctly, you also think that it will take some time. Here I wonder about student agency: What could you engage them to do on their own?

    You also mention that in your online courses, students mainly use asynchronous communication. This makes me curious: Why is that? And would your students benefit from more community building? Where I think synchronous meeting is one way of helping this.

    You finish off with the broader perspective: Open education for the greater good and social justice. You discuss whether your courses could have open enrollment. You think this will be difficult. But I wonder if that should be the goal? What would you, your students, and the university gain from this? Probably a broader perspective on things, as well as benefits for those who would join. And of course, here we also find our dilemma: What is our mission as teachers? As a university? And how can we reach our mission?

    And maybe we can start smaller: To share some pieces of your courses with other colleagues? In Canvas commons? And to let students search for resources?



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