The Open virus

(Another short snippet from the upcoming Battle for Open book, not sure about this, so trying it out on you lot).

One way of viewing the open approach is to think of it as analogous to a virus. Once adopted, it tends to spread across many other aspects. In personal practice, once an academic publishes a paper under an open access license, then there is then an incentive to use various forms of social media to promote that paper, which can positively impact upon views and citations. Similarly, although the free cost is the initial driving factor for the adoption of open textbooks, once these have become established, the ability to adapt the material to better suit their particular needs becomes an important factor for educators. Likewise, when educators and institutions begin to use OERs in their own teaching material, then the question arises as to why they are not then reciprocating and sharing back. As we've seen with OER Research Hub work, this practice is not guaranteed, and may be slow to penetrate, but the act of sharing becomes legitimised by the adoption of materials from high reputation institutions.

It is no coincidence that many of the MOOC pioneers had also been early adopters of open access, active bloggers, and advocates of open licenses. Creating open courses seemed the next logical step, because they were interested in the possibilities that openness offered and had seen the benefits elsewhere in their practice. This spread of the open virus is by no means guaranteed, many practitioners remain immune, and for others the open practice remains limited to a very specific function. But it does seem to be a pattern that is repeated across all aspects of open practice. It is significant in the context of the book, because if we are now entering a transition period when open practice enters the mainstream, then (to stretch the metaphor) the number of people ‘exposed’ to the open virus increases dramatically and it becomes a pandemic. It is also significant because it requires individuals to be the agents of action. The compartmentalising of openness into specific projects or outsourcing it to external providers creates a barrier that isolates individual educators from exposure. The impact of openness is thus contained.


  1. Mark:
    The thinking here seems right-on, although I always struggle whether to use viral/infection metaphors due to the negative connotations, even when such metaphors are a perfect fit.
    Reading your snippet, I was immediately thinking of how the “open virus” has spread to larger realms in the “collaborative economy”…maybe there’s another point to make about that vector 😉
    On a related note, I was doing some viral analysis of the #OER community and the math behind it tells us that if one wanted to “infect” the OER community with a really infectious idea, one would only need to get that idea shared by the following short list of 8 folks to get it in front of the most-connected 1,000 members of the OER community.

  2. Hi Martin
    Like this analogy a lot and think/hope I am bit of a virus in my institution – there still seems to be a lot of resistance but I am a stubborn little b*gger. Also very surprised to feature in the twitter list in Mark’s comment. There are some names missing that I would have thought would have been in there, but maybe that’s the point I’m not completely in the “inner circle”. Looking foward to the book.

  3. @Xolotl – yes, you’re absolutely right about the negative connotations, which is a shame because otherwise it fits very well. Interesting list – I think it would depend on the topic, and that’s obviously a very UK centric list, but you’re right, one or two significant retweets can change the dynamic of how something is shared.
    @Sheila – you are on of my favourite viruses! I think persistence and also an undogmatic approach are important. In a virus analogy maybe it’s easy to resist the big surge (ie the evangeliser), but more difficult the persistent strain.

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