Reflections on openness

As part of the EVOLVE/Educamp series I gave a talk online last Monday about openness in education. You can access the recording of the Elluminate session here, and below are my slides:

Some of the slides may be familiar to you. I set out how the Open University had been founded around the mission of being open to people, places, methods and ideas. I emphasised that the founders had shown great foresight, or got lucky, with the choice of name. Imagine how dated The University of the Airwaves (or some similar name) would sound now. But 'open' is a term that has both evolved, and gained in currency in education. If I were setting up a university now and i wanted to portray it as leading edge in terms of pedagogy, technology, and approach then 'Open' would be my term of choice.

I then went on to talk about openness in scholarly practice, referencing Gideon Burton's use of the term 'open scholar.' The thrust of my talk here was a familiar one – that sharing is the key action that both defines the digital/open scholar and is also the fuel which drives the reciprocity economy.

The question session afterwards was really variations on one question – how do you practice being open if your institution doesn't encourage it/reward it/puts obstacles in the way?

I think there are several answers to this, which those of us who promote open education could take as a challenge for research over the next few years:

  1. Make the economic case – there are of course lots of other reasons why you might want to be open as an academic, but I believe if we could make some economic case, it would go a long way to easing the fears of decision makers. This type of case would be multi-layered: for example, an individual can have efficiency savings by having access to a network for support; courses can be produced quicker by using open access material; reputation can be enhanced by participating in global networks without the need for costly travel and time away; etc. I am not arguing that the economic case is the only, or most important, one, but the proprietary approach has an easy way of measuring economic factors (eg sales of items), and this is less clear with openness, so adding clarity would be a good start.
  2. Create robust reward schemes – in my work on digital scholarship, I've talked about how we might adjust promotion criteria to recognise open type of outputs. As I've mused before, metrics might form part of this too.
  3. Set out the benefits – a lot of work has been done here, but by carefully explaining and demonstrating the benefits to an individual academic of being open, and allaying some of their doubts, then we increase the bottom-up drivers.
  4. Provide easy routes in – this gets easier all the time, but providing different ways of engaging with new technologies and therefore experiencing the benefits of a largely open approach is again part of our responsibility.

I've set up a discussion area in Cloudworks, so if you'd like to continue this discussion, add content, call me a moron, then that's the place to do it (you can do the last one here too).


  • Mark Smithers

    Hi Martin,
    I’m sorry I didn’t really want to have to sign up to Cloudworks to make a comment. It is interesting that you mention the economic case. I was just looking at @leighblackall’s blog this morning where he has a post decribing how an ROI case might be made for developing OER.
    I think cultural change regarding attitudes to open resources will come from generational change, new methods of assessing promotion and the increasing tendency of would-be employers to view a candidate’s public contributions before employing them.
    With regard to practicing openness when the institution doesn’t encourage it I would say; go ahead, be open, there will be benefits in new opportunities for collaboration externally, enhancd reputation that may possibly eventually lead to promotion or better opportunities elsewhere. In the meantime you get to feel good about being part of the biggest exercise in resource generation for the common good ever undertaken.

  • Mark Morley

    Hi Martin,
    Your post got me thinking, and I typed something out, but it turned a bit lengthy for a comment, so I posted it up on my blog
    I do have one minor comment though:
    As you have the audio recording from your presentation, I’d find it useful if you made a slidecast on Slideshare of your talk, rather than having to laborious start up Elluminate. You even mention this approach at approx. the 13min mark in your presentation.
    Many thanks

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