My definition is this

Magnifying glass

I was at OER17 last week (I have another post about the evolution of the OER conference coming up – but in short, great work everybody). I have a couple of posts now in an attempt to fuse together some strands that came out of that and subsequent discussions, particularly around the topic of Open Educational Practice.

The first strand is around definitions. Beck gave a good overview of definitions of OEP in her talk, which led nicely into a presentation from Catherine Cronin and Laura Czerniewicz on the use of critical pragmatism to address issues in OEP. Laura and Catherine took a fairly broad approach to what constitutes OEP, and a member of the audience raised the question that could lead to openwashing, if you have a loose definition then it becomes easy for someone to claim they are doing it. At the same time there was a post from David Wiley, who really attempted to pin this down with regards to ‘open pedagogy’:

open pedagogy is the set of teaching and learning practices only possible or practical in the context of the 5R permissions. Or, to operationalize, open pedagogy is the set of teaching and learning practices only possible or practical when you are using OER

This led to an almighty Twitter discussion, particularly from Mike Caulfield, who suffers from being way more intelligent than most of us and therefore bringing more to bear on any topic than I can usually accommodate. I certainly began to lose the will to live reading this thread (sorry Mike). It began to remind me of the old “learning object” definition debates. Remember how much we enjoyed them? Or even better the “all day debate” between Downes and Wiley from 2009 (I believe there are some alternate universes where this is still going on). Jim Groom blogged that he felt uneasy with this push to define OEP so tightly:

I am not interested in the strict rules that define open; open is not the ends, it is one means amongst many. But, I do wonder at the push to consolidate the definition beyond OERs into Open Educational Practices. Seems to me there is an attempt to define it in order to start controlling it, and that is often related to resources, grants, etc

I think this is where I’m coming around to – OER has benefitted from a tight definition, and so we thought OEP would also. But that tight definition works for content, not practice. We should stop focusing on OEP definitions and instead look to a general opening up of practice. And hey, if some things get a bit messy around the edges, we’ll have to live with that. So, in order to combat the need to define things, I’m going to offer, erm, a definition. This is roughly what I have in my head when we talk about OEP, and is broad enough to include interesting stuff:

Open educational practice covers any significant change in educational practice afforded by the open nature of the internet

That’s it. You don’t have to have the same definition, but that’s what I’m going with. And if that leaves too much room for doubt, then as Douglas Adams said “We demand rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty!”

And here are the Dream Warriors to tell us about My Definition of a Boombastic Jazz Style


  1. Hi. I think the sentiment of the post is right, there is little be gained by over defining OEP except for the purpose of taking control. Personally, I think your definition is also far to restrictive in tieing it to the Internet, I would be happy with ‘a collection of practices and intentions that seek to make content and and learning freely available’ or something like that…

    1. admin says:

      Hi Stephen – I thought someone would push back on the internet part :) My reason for making that explicit is that really that’s what we’re talking about. I can take people to the museum, or hold a talk in a coffee shop, but it’s the online aspect of OEP that really differentiates what we can do now. For me anyway.

        1. admin says:

          haha – we don’t need another acronym :)

  2. Doug Belshaw says:

    I don’t understand. Why would a fixed definition of OEP/OER stop openwashing?

    1. Maybe it won’t stop it but it might allow to be recognised

    2. admin says:

      I guess the point is if you have a tight definition there is less wriggle room. It is difficult for people to claim something is an OER for instance if they don’t give it an open licence, as this is a core part of the definition

  3. CogDog says:

    Stephen took my comment. I’m not convinced open as a mindset, value necessitates internet.

    I might suggest something like “exemplified by the open nature of the internet”?? (WTF am *I* doing wading into definition land). I would say the practices, the strategies associated with the way things happen on the internet (networked, connected, decentralized) could be used offline.

    Openwashing? I got some grimy OERs, so could use a hose… While I know it happens and that many people are vigilant about it, I don’t find that aspect all that motivating or interesting.

    I employ OEP because I want to teach and have others learn better, not because I am fighting the dark side.

    1. admin says:

      You are _all_ about the definitions Alan :) You are quite right – the best way to get people to engage with OEP is to do really cool stuff that students like doing

  4. actualham says:

    I agree with cogdog, though I would change his final sentence a bit…”not
    to “and”…

    1. admin says:

      Cogdog – fighting the dark side since 2005

  5. actualham says:

    I agree with cogdog, though I would change his final sentence a bit… “not”
    to “and”…

  6. gardnercampbell says:

    The revolution may not be televised, but the Internet is essential to what I think of as open educational practices, as this very post and comment trail demonstrate. So, er, OEP and QED and John Naughton for class wizard.

  7. Paul says:

    My favorite thing about this post is how looking up Dream Warriors’ And Now the Legacy Begins on Youtube sent me down a rabbit hole of other golden age hip hop that I somehow managed to miss back in the day.

  8. Simon says:

    Whilst I understand why we would seek to research “open” in order to gain insights into its impact & value I really hope this does not lead us to developing restrictive definitions that begin to exclude people from being open.

    Trying to engage my academic colleagues in “open” is challenging enough already without then having to conform to a tight definition (I’m also highly critical of Wiley trying to define it so tightly).

    I see open as a continuum, which might mean simply starting with searching for CC licenced images in Flickr, through to Open Pedagogy where my entire curriculum is developed from open content, openly accessible & openly licensed.

    I think we risk isolating open, rather than mainstreaming it if we have such a narrow view of open. I want my colleagues to feel that they are being “open” when they search for CC licenced images and not just grab the first one they find in Google.

    In terms of the “internet” aspect in your post, I think this is also perhaps too prescriptive (although I understand why you might have identified with it). For example, some colleagues at work have “openly” shared their work internally for others to use for many years. This work is not on the internet, but i would say it is on the continuum of open.

    Finally I wanted to just throw Creative Commons into the mix. For me this is perhaps one defining feature of “open” in identifying that materials are licensed in an open way. By default, materials produced are considered to be copyright, so the CC licence is an important indicator of their “openness” (although I suspect Jim Groom would also consider these licences as too prescriptive).

    I have previously argued that open is messy & I think this is a positive, not a negative.

    The broader the definition the more inclusive it will be & the more likely to be considered mainstream.

    1. admin says:

      Thanks Simon (and for persevering through my spam filter). I agree about a continuum, although that sometimes implies a judgement eg it’s better to move along the continuum.

  9. Oh my — bookmarked this post to return to and then Easter/family/stuff happened, sigh. Anyway, still would like to chime in for what it’s worth :)

    Thanks for picking up this thread and starting a great discussion, Martin. I only peripherally followed the Twitter debate but I did read Jim’s post. This haggling about definitions obviously touches a few nerves, so it must be getting at the heart of something. I agree with the spirit of your definition (non-definition?) and I think many open educators would. In the course of my research I’m exploring the use of OEP in HE, and it’s most definitely emergent, messy, and fuzzy around the edges. I’ve had the temerity to propose a definition 😉 for a few reasons. Firstly, I sought to stretch some of the existing definitions (i.e. OEP not strictly limited to OER or the 5Rs); secondly, I wanted to describe what I observed in practice, the ‘state of the actual’ (Selwyn & Facer); and thirdly, if research in OER/OEP/open pedagogy/open education is to inform policy it is useful to be able to define, at some level, what we mean by it.

    I don’t see a conflict between a non-definition or value statement about OEP (like yours & Alan’s) and a lower-level definition like mine. I see this as Both/And. Your high-level definition works (I might change ‘covers’ to ‘describes’). But I think more specific definitions are useful when working with different audiences (e.g. those struggling/coming to terms with what open is/does/can be) and for different purposes.

    Just thinking out loud… thanks.

    1. admin says:

      Hi Catherine, thanks for the comment. Sorry, I should have it to hand, but what was your definition? I think in your case when you’re doing in depth research in this area, a definition is essential, partly for limiting your scope. It says “I’m looking at these things and not these things”. But I think on a more everyday application we probably shouldn’t get too bogged down in a definition (and I would definitely advocate for one that is looser than David’s). So I think that means I agree with your final point about Both/And

      1. Ach, meant to paste my definition into that comment. My working definition of OEP is this: collaborative practices which include the creation, use and reuse of OER as well as pedagogical practices employing participatory technologies and social networks for interaction, peer-learning, knowledge creation, and empowerment of learners.

        Very much a working definition and I will blog again before it’s ‘finalised’ (for purposes of the thesis). But in general, I use OEP as an umbrella term inclusive of OER and open pedagogies, but bigger than either and not absolutely requiring either (closer to UKOER/Beetham et al definition than Wiley definition). Adapting and using OER? OEP. Using open tools for teaching? OEP. Sharing teaching ideas on your blog? Also OEP.

        OK, I don’t want to hijack your comments here, but thanks for offering the space to think. I’ll blog, for sure. And I take your point re: my need to define this as part of my research. That’s the hat I’m wearing at the moment, most definitely. Thanks :)

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