Having just attended the Open Education Global Conference 2018 (OEGlobal 2018) in Delft, The Netherlands, I was struck by the buzzwords that kept popping up in presentations, discussions, chats, and the like. Looking at some of these - Transformation, Stigma, Sustainability, Policy, Movement - helps us understand the major themes and threads of the conference.
One feature of Open Education that has always appealed to me, and which appears to appeal to many others as well, is its ability to transform education. The conference theme put transformation front and centre, as if echoing the belief of @SusanHuggins who argued with regard to the Year of Open campaign (but perhaps this applies to OE more generally) that there is a need to be “less informative and more transformative.” Time to explain less and do more, in other words?
Those of us who are keen on exploring OEP in our work do so because we think that education needs to change. In the higher education sector the divide between research and teaching has become ridiculously wide, and the disproportionate benefits accruing to the research side of the ledger only serve to weaken interest in teaching. Open education almost by definition requires that educators become more deeply involved in teaching and the dissemination of knowledge. This is a good thing, but it runs counter to a culture where teaching is often seen as a necessary evil, one to be avoided or at the very least made as rudimentary and unobtrusive as possible so that it does not interfere with a professor’s “real work.” But the sense that openness can transform the education we provide runs deep in the open education community, and it motivates many to continue their work.
That there is a stigma attached to Open Education strikes many as absurd. But it’s true: educators who produce open educational resources often get very little respect or recognition for their efforts. This is related to the general stigma attached to teaching in higher education: research is king, all hail research!
At OEGlobal 2018, some presentations addressed OE stigma. @ProfJasmine has undertaken a study that identified some of the attitudes preventing faculty members from getting involved in OEP. Prestige, image management, and professional identity are the leading causes, which in effect creates what in German is known as a Teufelskreis (“devil’s circle”): that there’s a stigma attached to participating in OE practices perpetuates the stigma attached to OE practices.
Another related topic was that peer review would help alleviate the stigma. Perhaps this would gain recognition for those who create OER. But how would it help those who practice OE in their teaching? We don’t really do much peer review of teaching practices generally. Sure, there’s the obligatory classroom observation when someone is up for tenure or promotion, but rigorous examination of teaching practices tends to be highest during the job search, and on a steady downward decline after one is appointed to the position. (There is, of course, a lot of variety from institution to institution, but I think this holds true as a summary of higher ed practices generally.)
That the stigma stems from a sense of a lack of rigor in OE strikes me as generally true. But it’s also a sign of ignorance. Those involved in OE content creation know that there is a lot of quality work being done. This stigma can only be countered by making more people aware of that quality work. OE practitioners, especially faculty members, need to share their work, not just among the initiated, but with those who know little about it.
With the amount of discussion around the notion of sustainability, I came to the conclusion that, for many, Open Education is at a crossroads. There is a sense of real growth in the field - the 300+ attendees at OEGlobal 2018, over double the number who attended OEGlobal 2017, is evidence of that. But with growth comes questions: can the growth be maintained? Does the trajectory need to take different directions? Should there be a pause for stocktaking, or should the pace of growth be accelerated?
I don’t think there’s a need to fear that open education isn’t sustainable. But whether it can compete in a landscape where technology and commerce are changing so rapidly remains an open (ha!) question. A key takeaway from the conference, a term that was on everyone’s lips, and to which I hope people are paying more than just lip service, was collaboration. Open education thrives on collaboration. Sharing forms the basis of open education, and it is the collaboration built on sharing that will provide the sustainability of this educational approach.
Top-down versus bottom-up. At first, I thought people were just describing different ways of consuming alcohol. They were attending a conference, after all. But it’s really a vexing issue in the OE world. There is a general desire that OE practices be adopted by more people, and that those practices become recognized for their valuable contributions to education. But there is opposition to OE, from publishers who fear a loss of sales, from colleagues who fear a loss in prestige, from administrators who don’t understand the point of the whole enterprise in the first place.
That’s why “policy” was another buzzword of OEGlobal 2018. UNESCO is considering the adoption of an official Recommendation on open education (you can learn more about that here: https://www.oercongress.org/unesco-oer-recommendation/). Numerous presenters described their efforts to influence or establish OE policy-making at their institutions. The general consensus was that both bottom-up and top-down approaches were required, depending on institutional context and other circumstances. But certainly policy development was seen as key to improving the visibility of OE on the educational landscape and to removing the stigma associated with OE practices.
There’s a lot of talk about the Open Education “movement” at conferences like OEGlobal. Participants were excited about being part of a movement; it gave them a sense of community and belonging, especially in the face of the obstacles that face anyone trying to open up educational practices and make them more inclusive.
But movements make me uncomfortable. They are political and ideological in nature. They develop orthodoxies that become litmus tests, but conformity to accepted dogma strikes me as being at odds with the nature of openness generally. How many political or religious movements have been hobbled by their squabbles, fights, and sometimes internecine warfare over interpretations of what belongs, or doesn't belong, in their movement?
I also think that speaking of open education as a movement might be off-putting to those who haven’t yet drunk the kool-aid of openness. It turns Open Education into a club of which you’re either a member, and therefore enlightened, or not a member, and therefore still living in the dark ages. Shouldn’t the point be about empowering all educators to make use of the open approach to improve their practice? Let’s keep things practical and grounded by avoiding the use of the term “movement.” It’s exclusionary, and it can actually distract us from the goal of the enterprise.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
eCampusOntario operates the Open Education Fellows program, faculty members and instructional designers who are exploring the uses of open education in their pedagogical practice. Five of them attended the OE Global conference in Delft. Here are their reflections on the event:
- @NurseKillam has written an interesting pot about how OE GLOBAL 2018 has influenced her thinking on OE as it pertains to nursing education.
- @hj_dewaard gives us insight into the open movement's role in furthering social justice.
- @MGtheID provides a list of invitations to transform our educational practice.