Open Educational Practices (OEP) constitute the range of practices around the creation, use and management of open educational resources with the intent to improve quality and innovate education (OPAL, 2011).
This definition is simple, yet the concept is more complex than realised at first. What are these open education resources (OER) and how did they come about? What is their potential for learning and teaching? How can they be created, used and managed in our educational organisations? Why could they potentially improve quality and innovation in education? What are the benefits and what are the barriers? Who should be doing this? This series will hopefully assist you to identify the meaning of open education practices and find answers to these questions.
To understand what the terms Open Education Resource (OER) and Open Education Practice (OEP) mean, it is necessary to look back at how the concepts has arisen. The arrival of the Internet probably triggered the widespread use of this term because it was considered a disruptive technology when it landed on our educational doorstep many years ago. This “global platform” disrupted or changed how learners and teachers could access and share information and materials, and encouraged a new culture of learning. A culture where learners could access any materials they needed with or without the help of a teacher, and share anything and everything (Thomas & Seely Brown, 2011).
A term attributed to electronic tools that change the way we think, act and work. The Internet has led to significant changes in society and is therefore regarded as disruptive as are many technologies associated with it.
In the mid-2000s, when Web 2.0 tools and approaches emerged as a phenomenon, they enabled global sharing of information, knowledge, ideas and also the materials that educators created (Brake, 2013). According to Conole, de Laat, Dillon and Darby (2008) the arrival of “new forms of mobile, internet and social software technologies” enabled “distributed collaboration” and a new direction for learning and the way we could “consume and produce new artefacts’ (p. 511). This changed the status quo. Teachers and learners could now interact more easily, share their work and collaborate in the learning environment. This disruption, or as some practitioners believe, innovation, led to the Open Education Resource (OER) movement and the Cape Town Open Education Declaration inviting managers and practitioners to engage with open educational resources (Open Society Institute & Shuttleworth Foundation, 2007 – http://www.capetowndeclaration.org/). Presently, 2712 signatories have contributed to the Declaration.
Otago Polytechnic signed the declaration in 2008 when educational development work at the organization was foremost in international efforts for Open Education (Blackall & Hegarty, 2011).
In the declaration, open education is described as more than open educational resources and is regarded as a mechanism that makes use of open technologies to “facilitate collaborative, flexible learning and the open sharing of teaching practices that empower educators to benefit from the best ideas of their colleagues” (para 4). It also has the potential to change not only how we teach and learn but also how we assess.
How has history changed Open Education Practices?
Disruptive technologies are the foundation of open education resources and practices. They can be a good thing for pedagogical innovation and act as a catalyst to transform practice (Conole, de Laat, Dillon & Darby, 2008). However, the changes may occur too fast and exceed the rate at which teachers can adopt them confidently or before the infrastructure of an organization is prepared enough to manage them. Ruth Jelly has compiled an overview of the literature and therein presents a number of case studies describing the evolution of the open education movement in Open Education Practices: A User Guide for Organisations and Individuals written by Leigh Blackall and edited by Bronwyn Hegarty (2011).
Out of the disruption caused by open education resources, web-based social learning and informal learning was born. Participation is the core component of social learning. Knowledge and understanding is constructed through the conversations and interactions learners have with others, generally about issues and actions (Brown & Adler, 2008). The focus shifts from what is learned to how people learn, and the connectivity amongst learners is enhanced.
In the new culture of learning, the “stable infrastructure of the twenty-first century” has become a more dynamic infrastructure where technologies are changing constantly (Thomas & Seely Brown, 2011, p. 17). Even so, learning environments in this new culture do need boundaries and structure. These need to be designed to inspire the learner to move freely within the educative opportunities provided, regardless of whether this occurs in formal education or in everyday life (Thomas & Seely Brown, 2011).
This new wave of learning is considered by Thomas and Seely Brown (2011) to be “arc-of-life learning”, where play, questioning and imagination are pivotal to the continual quest for knowledge (p. 19). The key is that learning occurs seamlessly between the classroom and everyday activities. Most importantly the concepts of ‘play’ and ‘tinkering’ are encouraged so that learning throughout life becomes more like a game; it is fun. This new culture of learning requires two things, according to Thomas and Seely Brown (2011), firstly, ready access to a network of information and secondly a “bounded and structured environment” with unlimited scope to experiment (p. 19). To facilitate this, open and collaborative networks and communities and openly shared repositories of information that are readily accessible and in which anyone can participate are essential. In the new culture of learning, engagement in the process is key (Thomas & Seely Brown, 2011).
Having “time and permission to play, openness and learning from play” were key themes that emerged from case study research conducted into digital information literacy by Jeffrey, Hegarty, Kelly, Penman, Coburn and McDonald in 2011 (p. 394). For participants, engagement in accessing open digital web-based networks and platforms led to a transformation in how they learned and in their personal development.
Keeping openness in mind when designing learning is also discussed by Conole (2013) and she acknowledges several challenges associated with this, for example, the varying definitions and lack of agreement on what the term means. Some aspects of openness were explained in part one of this series using a model for Open Education Practices.