The belief that the world’s knowledge is a public good is widely accepted as the philosophical underpinning for openness in education and research (Geser, 2012). An additional, pragmatic, underpinning lies in the need to ‘[optimise] the possibilities for the advancement of knowledge … to tackle the increasing complexity and scale of the world’s questions for research’ (Van der Vaart et al., n.d., p. 5). Together, these standpoints can be seen as a compelling case for openness to be the ‘default approach’ (ibid.) of universities in both education and research.
This paper investigates the ‘big question’ whether openness should be the default approach to education, by exploring the perspectives of teaching staff in a large research-intensive university (the University of Oxford) which is also a provider of OER. It reports data from a study in which semi-structured interviews were conducted with 14 academics, covering the sharing and reuse of OER and the characteristics of ‘open’ pedagogic models.
Interviewees unanimously endorsed the concept of knowledge as a public good, but discussed it primarily as a motivation to share research outputs, rather than teaching materials – a discrepancy that some ascribed to the higher status of research over teaching. In addition, academics’ readiness to share their teaching materials may be a function of personal disposition. For example, they may consider their teaching to be both personal (to themselves) and personalised (to their students), and need to have confidence that their materials are of value to others.
Reuse is often coupled with sharing as a marker of open practice. However, the interview evidence suggests that a teacher’s reuse of a third-party resource is driven primarily by questions of quality and suitability to the immediate pedagogic need, rather than by the legitimacy that an open licence confers on its use or the potential for repurposing and redistributing it as a new resource.
In discussing open pedagogic models, interviewees recognised characteristics such as the ‘flattening’ of the teacher-student relationship and students’ responsibility for their own learning in the university’s model of individual and small-group teaching. However, they questioned how far conceptual growth can be achieved when students learn primarily as a community of peers without the support of a more experienced partner, as envisaged in some open models (e.g. Geser, 2012).
Overall, this single-institution study suggests that openness is neither constant nor uniform, but comprises a ‘diverse landscape’ of ‘patterns and configurations of educational practices’ (Ehlers, 2011, p. 6) that may be more, or less, open at any one time. Therefore, the ‘big question’ may be not be whether openness should be the default approach in teaching and learning, but whether it can be, and whether an institution should therefore aim for optimal, rather than maximal, engagement with openness.
Ehlers, U-D. (2011). Extending the Territory: From Open Educational Resources to Open Educational Practices. Journal of Open, Flexible, and Distance Learning, 15(2): 1–10.
Geser, G. (2012). Open Educational Practices and Resources: OLCOS Roadmap 2012. Salzburg, Austria: Salzburg Research/EduMedia Group.http://www.olcos.org/english/roadmap/.
Van der Vaart, L., et al. (n.d.). e-InfraNet: “Open” as the default modus operandi for research and higher education. http://e-infranet.eu/output/e-infranet-open-as-the-default-modus-operandi-for-research-and-higher-education/.
|Affiliation||Academic IT Services, University of Oxford|