Open Education: A Developing Understanding Wrapped in Questions

I have spent time exploring the topic of Open Educational Resources (OERs) this week. My current understanding is very much ‘developing’. Today, I aim to summarize the key understandings I have gained through a handful of sources.

Image found here

Summarizing Key Concepts

I began with some of the videos available on Vimeo shared by Alec in class. The first, Why Open Education Matters, does an excellent job of bringing light to the fact that education is not created equally around the world, or even from school to school. Issues of the availability of resources and the continued battle to keep up with changing information means that many schools never have enough resources. This impacts a teacher’s ability to do their best work and limits the full potential of students. This video describes open education as “A global movement that aims to bring quality education to teachers and students everywhere!” What a beautiful concept!!

The idea is that schools will no longer be limited by where they are or how much money they have through OERs. The benefits of this include:

  • Availability of top notch learning materials on the web for all to use,
  • Resources available for anyone to add to, revise or improve,
  • Up to date information and resources, and;
  • Free licensing to adapt and improve.

Another video titled Why Open Education Matters by ilka, further emphasizes that the internet shifts the balance of power by making copying and distributing both free and possible. The authors of this video argue that copyright in fact limits the ability to make education truly free. They finish by emphasizing the potential of OER to “democratize education.” Education Without Limits: Why Open Education Matters by Rhythm Refuge Productions, extends on the ideas presented by focussing on the potential of learning with today’s tools. The goal is to put the tools in the hands of upcoming professionals who are willing to make it their own. The speaker, Mitchell Levy, brings up the idea that open education does not necessarily mean free, though leaving me wondering if it is truly open. He also addresses the digital divide and the fact that many do not have access to any technology, an issue that has become very clear in North America over the last twenty months since Covid changed the world. Levy points out that we must get technology in the hands of those who can’t afford it. My first question though is, how? My second is with regards to whether this is referring to all the children of the world or only those in developed countries?

Found here.

In my search for resources to expand my understanding, I found a few podcasts with a focus on OERs. The first was an interview with Carolee Clyne of the BCcampus by Loui Lord Nelson. Carolee talked about her work at BCcampus and her efforts to reduce the barriers for students. She emphasized that open education policies go beyond reducing barriers. In order to gain further understanding of what she meant, I checked out the BCcampus OpenEd resources. Here I found a journal article demonstrating a correlation between student achievement and OER as well as a list of what OER can really do. This included such things as accelerate learning, reduce faculty preparation time, generate cost savings and enhance quality, among other things.

The podcast, Teaching in Higher Ed showcased Canadian Terry Greene in episode 364 titled Creating and Extending Open Education. Terry has his own podcast, Gettin’ Air with Terry Greene, containing 141 episodes focussed on technology enabled open learning practices. Greene is a strong believer in the need to increase joy and openness in education. He sees open education as one way to do this but is critical of the sometimes rigid view of what OER actually is. For him, it is all about the benefits of sharing!

The Impacts of Open Educational Resources written by Oliver Dreon, Ph.D. (2018), is an interesting summary of the ongoing struggle of trying to get faculties to adopt an OER approach. Dreon admitted to primarily promoting OER resources to faculty because they are free and will help more students to be able to access what they need to learn. He has found that efforts to get staff buy in have not had the impact he’s been hoping for though. In his experience, many faculty members continue to resist their use, arguing that OER resources are lower quality and actually have a negative impact on students. While he continues to point out to faculty that many students go without any resources because of the burden of a pricey textbook, the resistance continues. However, the power of his argument shifted when he discovered this journal article explaining the results of a large scale study involving 21 822 students. The research compared the use of OERs to traditional resources, scattered over 8 different courses, spanning 13 semesters. Each of the 8 courses were offered both with and without open resources throughout this time period. The results clearly indicated that across the board, students performed better in courses that used open educational resources, decreasing the number of failing grades and increasing their final marks!

I am certainly able to see the potential of OERs in creating a world in which educational opportunities are more equitable across the globe. However, throughout this learning journey, I have continually found myself wondering about how open the resources really are when we know that the ability to access technology is not equal. This has been the only big con in my eyes. Felician University Libraries provides a clear summary of the pros and cons of Open Education Resources, bringing light to some other issues that I had yet to consider. The benefits include the ability to access for free, the potential to reach far audiences quickly and efficiently, the ability to modify, personalize and adapt, and the potential for collaboration among staff. The negatives include issues with the quality of resources and the potential for them to become quickly updated. Technology issues aside, something I admit had not crossed my mind is the cultural and/or language barriers which may in fact make it difficult to consider these resources accessible by all. Are we in fact pushing our own cultural beliefs and bias on others by naïvely expecting that students all over the world could benefit from the sharing of our resources? Is something better than the nothing that so many are receiving? Can these resources really reach all when we know there is no technology available in many of the most undereducated countries?

Graphic found here.

As I sat down to write this, I realized I still really wanted to watch Dean Shareski’s work, Sharing the Moral Imperative. This was made in 2010 yet continues to be very relevant. Many of the resources I came across, like this one, are quite old by the standards of technology, yet the messages continue to be not only relevant, but under utilized and scarcely implemented. Dean shares some really powerful messages in this video including. . .

“Sharing is the work of teaching.”

“It’s okay that I can’t take credit for anything. That is the antithesis of a teacher.”

We should all be “Sharing online and sharing regularly. You need to be helping others to do likewise…because you owe it to others to teach students beyond your classroom.”

Final Thoughts

I am inspired by the potential of OERs and full of questions about why this is not a universally understood concept yet! Dean’s message about our responsibility to reach beyond the walls of our own classroom is so powerful. Ultimately, it is the reason I have made the choice to go into administration despite my deep love for the classroom. I have never been able to keep my focus within my four walls and have continually wanted to make greater change than I can make with my students alone. While I see their potential to change the world as well, I want to see MORE happening for kids within my school, my community and across the world!

The intent behind Open Education Resources is so important. After synthesizing the information from various readings, videos and podcasts, I feel that the desire to share resources far and wide, collaborate, create and reach more students and educators, is at the core of the work that advocates of OER are doing. Yes, there will be some resources of poor quality that come along, and not every resource will be suited to every teacher or classroom, but the idea that we could be sharing so much more is spot on!! It frustrates me to see teachers not sharing within a school. It angers me to see great things happening within a division that no one is even aware of!

We did become teachers because we wanted to teach and make a difference. Was it ever really about impacting only a certain group of students? I am thinking your answer was probably “NO!” So why the heck is sharing not a core component of teaching for every-single-teacher?! I agree with Dean! It is my moral imperative to share and teach others! I also want to learn from other adults and classrooms! I love helping another teacher to improve their instruction with a new idea or resource, or just making the extremely complex job of teaching a tiny bit easier by eliminating the need to create everything. I have done some of my best work because of what I have learned or was inspired to do by the actions of another. I really do think there needs to be more effort put into breaking down the invisible and unnecessary borders that exist between classes, schools and communities. We can do better together!

I could honestly go on! I am full of questions and I am having a hard time getting my head around why this idea has been so slow to take root in Education. I am still shocked that the concept of open education has been around for as long as it has, yet with so little progress! There is a time and a place for copyright, but I don’t think Education is it.

I am left pondering how we address the issue of technology inequity in order to be able to remove barriers to education. Are there movements with a focus on bringing technology and internet access to schools across the globe? Even if it seems nearly impossible, I still want to hope with all my heart that ideas like the power of open education to reach all corners of the world is a possibility. For now, I want to see this idea become more of a standard for education right here in Saskatchewan and Canada! How do we make that a reality??

Thanks so much for sticking with me today,

Gillian 🙂

5 thoughts on “Open Education: A Developing Understanding Wrapped in Questions

  1. Gillian,

    As always, a well-thought out and put together post!

    I appreciate that you highlight some of the potential issues associated with OERs. In general, I think there are lots of positives about them, but you raised some interesting considerations. The pieces that stuck with me from your blog post were in regard to the digital divide, the poor quality of OERs, and the potential for these resources to be updated so quickly.

    To be honest, I’ve found some OERs that have not been very good, so I do agree that this is something to consider. Ahhh, the digital divide… This is such a tricky barrier to overcome because so much of this is beyond our control. Although gaining access to a device could be problematic, having OERs readily available removes one more barrier. You also mention the cultural piece, “Are we in fact pushing our own cultural beliefs and bias on others by naïvely expecting that students all over the world could benefit from the sharing of our resources?” Really interesting point here! I suppose the flip side of this could be that if educators worldwide begin collaborating with each other resources could include multiple perspectives and become adaptable for different contexts.

    In response to the questions you posed, I found an ISTE article that had some ideas. Of course, bridging the digital divide is a collaborative effort and a large undertaking. However, the article offered some interesting ideas! Food for thought!

    1. Thank you for taking the time to read all my thoughts Leigh!
      I absolutely agree about the issue of quality being real, but yet I don’t really understand why it is used as an excuse. I can think of some really terrible resources that have been made and shared through TPT or my school division. However, I can also think of some amazing and inspiring examples. We are always going to need to consider the value and relevance of any resource. I think this leads to your point about how the more collaborative and global the use of OER becomes, the more likely that culturally relevant resources will become available. It all comes back to the need for more buy in by educators everywhere!
      Thank you so much for sharing this article on here. I will definitley be coming back to it in the future! I am in awe of the way this community brought all the different stakeholders together to meet a need. I bet there are way more examples of this out there too!!

  2. Hi Gillian, what an insightful post! I especially liked your infographic in the middle that visually drew my eyes to the contrasts of OER’s. You are totally right about the love of the classroom, but how it extends further than the four walls that constrict the space. And sharing is the vehicle to which we extend that learning to others around the world! I love that you bring that perspective and passion as an admin. I would love to hear more how that looks for you each day!

    Thanks for sharing!

  3. Hi Gillian,

    I enjoyed reading your thoughts on OER. I can definitely see the spark you have to create change and I think it sounds like administration would be a great next step for you 🙂

    When researching and reading about OER myself, I also questioned the technological aspect. People can say that these resources are open and available, but what happens when there is no access to devices or internet? I agree that this seems like more of a possibility as something up and coming in well developed countries as opposed to world wide.

  4. Gosh, Gillian, your post is so insightful and lovely! I really appreciated reading it. I really resonated with the part when you talked about loving the classroom but how our jobs extend far beyond the walls of our classroom and the hours of our prescribed workday. What we are expected to do as a teacher keeps growing year in and out, and it intensifies with each new program we are expected to use or the some of the students we are supposed to educate without the help of EAs or additional programming. One of the answers to this ongoing issue is sharing, and working together. I like how you bring an admin voice to your posts and share what keeps you going. I think it’s sometimes easy to forget what we are doing when we are so overwhelmed with the demands of the job. I bet your staff feels pretty lucky to have you!

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