Open Education

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1 Introduction

Open Education (OE) is an umbrella term as Open Science is. It is thus diverse and connected to many fields and domains, all having in common the “Open” aspect.

Understanding "Openness" is an on-going process tackled from many perspectives. Baker (2017) suggests an operational definition of openness as possessing freedom and transparency. The remaining values of sharing, agency, ubiquitous ownership, etc. unfold from these fundamental two. We deliberately take the position of dissociating Open values from technology: openness far exceeds technology.

Over and over, it is said that critical thinking is a needed skill for the XXIst century. When much has been said about openness in OE, what about education? How should education be understood? Should education be revisited? Just a short glimpse into recent history shows that educational sciences are very young and that after the second world war, it underwent a determinant turn. For instance reflecting about the fact that UNESCO was created in 1945 with a pacifist objective and that in 1957 an economic objective was added to this initial objective to support development, recommending countries to put 5% of their PIB into schooling might open new avenues (Laot & Rogers 2015). Other food for thought example: In the years 1940-1950s, several supra-national organisations dedicated to promoting education and scientific research in education emerge or become concerned with education - the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement, OECD and NATO. They decide to stimulate economic progress through education, training and qualification of the working-class population. At the same time philosophy and history of education, which were prevalent in universities with regard to the domain of education, were replaced by scientific approaches inspired from the natural sciences, e.g. experimental methods (Roshtock, 2015).

2 History of OE

"Open Education has been conceptualised in the Global North. It may exist in indigenous cultures under a variation of forms but we are not aware of any source that goes in that direction yet. Being in the decade of indigenous languages, which slogan reads “Nothing for us without us”, interesting knowledge in this regard may emerge (UNESCO, 2020). At present, we are restricted to Western-centred writings on OE history. It is principally on the basis of three sources that we summarise the story of openness in education from the Middle Ages to the present day, focusing on values and not on enabling technologies (Baker, 2017; Peter & Deimann, 2013; Weller, 2014).

In 1373, as the population became more literate, in Florence, people asked for public lectures on Dante. The universities of Paris, Bologna, Oxford and Cambridge thus emerged, shaped by their students and their demands for lectures. At this time, openness was driven by internationally mobile students and scholars and was based on a growing curiosity and awareness of the value of education. In addition, in the years 1450, the book was socially perceived as a way to bypass state and religious authority, which allowed the printing press to develop rapidly.

By the late 1500s, access to knowledge and study was quite different and restricted. The pope and the king changed the nature of the university to a controlled institution under their authority. A transfer of power took place in addition to collecting fees from students. Universities became increasingly tied to a permanent location and a state, gradually losing their international scholars and students.

In the 17th century, cafés were places where knowledge was shared and discussions on science, religion, economics and literature took place. In these places, ideas related to the scientific revolution spread, while universities continued to teach the old doctrines. This discrepancy gave rise to a distrust in public institutions.

The 18th century was characterised by men’s increasing literacy. Among the lower social classes, mutual education was established, which gave rise to self-learning associations. It is in this social context that in 1836 the University of London opened its courses to all social classes, without distinction, to disseminate liberal education. From the end of the 19th century until the end of the Second World War, miners established “workmen’s institutes” (Peter & Deimann, 2013, p. 10) in each village, with a library as central place. And “the 20th century continued to see education “open” as the belief in the people’s right to access society’s knowledge grew” (Peter & Deimann, 2013, p. 10).

In the late 1960s, the concept of Open Education surfaced strongly in the United States. Openness and freedom guided discussions about the role of education in society because public school was seen as oppressive and perpetuating racism, elitism and other authoritarian social norms. In the 1960s and 1970s, the classroom was a place under the authority of the teacher who had full power. An open society was called for in which all cultures would be nurtured. The mainstream approach is that learners learn in interaction with others and their environment. In addition, learners' interests should dictate their own education and they should be trusted and encouraged to think by themselves. By the mid-1970s, the open movement had lost momentum for a number of reasons – e.g. confusion about the approach, unaligned research results, scholars promising results beyond reality.

In the 1980s, technology starts to override values. It is in those years that an acceleration of change has been observed, driven in particular by technological developments. In various reports of leading organisations, e.g. World Bank, OECD, WEF, changes are systematically presented primarily as the product of digital technology and capitalist economy. This agenda is today reinterpreted as the one of a small group installing “digital feudalism” (Morozov, 2016 quoted by Deimann, 2020).

Throughout these 700 years, we can see periods of freedom and transparency in the dissemination of knowledge animated by empowered learners alternating with periods of public and/or ecclesiastic control on knowledge. Technology, e.g. print, railway, computers, internet, played a role in both movements – freedom and control" (Class, 2022).

In terms of scholars who are said to have contributed to the OE paradigm, we can mention (non exhaustive list): Maria Montessori, Paulo Freire, Ivan Illich, Jacques Rancière.

3 Reflecting about potential underlying epistemologies of OE

3.1 Questioning the dominant model

How academic knowledge was gained and research conducted in the recent past (approximately two centuries) is questioned today. It is questioned because it considers the dominant model of positivism – that advocates for objectivity and neutrality of knowledge to be generalised – as the sole valid one (Brière, Lieutenant-Gosselin & Piron, 2019). Several research domains - e.g. social studies of sciences, history of sciences, decolonising studies – criticise it for conveying “institutional positivism” (Piron, 2019). The gaining interest of epistemic justice as a research and social topic is an example of this movement (e.g. Eve & Gray, 2020; Kidd, Medina & Pohlhaus, 2017) against prevalent scientific knowledge production models.

UNESCO (2021)’s recent Open Science definition is also very insightful in this respect. It stresses the importance of acknowledging the diversity of knowledge: "open science is defined as an inclusive construct that combines various movements and practices aiming to make multilingual scientific knowledge openly available, accessible and reusable for everyone, to increase scientific collaborations and sharing of information for the benefits of science and society, and to open the processes of scientific knowledge creation, evaluation and communication to societal actors beyond the traditional scientific community. It comprises all scientific disciplines and aspects of scholarly practices, including basic and applied sciences, natural and social sciences and the humanities, and it builds on the following key pillars: open scientific knowledge, open science infrastructures, science communication, open engagement of societal actors and open dialogue with other knowledge systems".

3.2 Epistemologies available in research methods textbooks

Research method textbook commonly cite positivism, constructivism, the transformative view and pragmatism as the main epistemologies (e.g. Creswell & Cresswell, 2018). The transformative epistemological assumption gives centre stage to meaning of knowledge seen from diverse and multiple socio-economico-cultural-etc. lenses and power inequities (Mertens, 2017). The transformative paradigm gained increased interest in the last part of the XXth century and seeks to advance both a research and a societal agenda. Linguistically speaking, it is interesting to notice that the transformative worldview is the only epistemology commonly cited in textbooks that is not composed in an -ism form. -ism suffix “is used in the composition of words designating philosophical or political schools of thought. Many of these words were created in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to name the vast movements of ideas that built and accompanied these two centuries. Their radical can be an adjective (heliocentrism, chauvinism, colonialism), a common noun (anarchism, cubism, centrism), a proper noun (Gaullism, Darwinism, Marxism). ”

This is our own translation of, “Le suffixe -isme est très productif. Il entre dans la composition de mots désignant des courants de pensée philosophiques ou politiques. Nombre de ces mots ont été créés aux dix-neuvième et vingtième siècles pour nommer les vastes mouvements d’idées qui ont bâti et accompagné ces deux siècles. Leur radical peut être un adjectif (héliocentrisme, chauvinisme, colonialisme), un nom commun (anarchisme, cubisme, centrisme), un nom propre (gaullisme, darwinisme, marxisme). L’abus de ce suffixe pour former des néologismes peu clairs témoigne le plus souvent de paresse dans la recherche de l’expression juste. » http://www.academie-francaise.fr/construction-en-isme

3.3 Sociomateriality, epistemologies of the link, humanness and sociology of absences and emersions

Less well-known epistemologies - because they are considered to be part of one of the main above-mentioned families, because they are not Western-thinking-centred or for some other reasons may be interesting to understand underlying values of the Open paradigm. We particularly think of epistemologies related to the network which are largely used and accepted (e.g. actor network theory as stated by Callon, 2006; Latour, 2006). Epistemologies of the link (Piron, 2019) or epistemologies of Ubuntu, humanness (Nabudere, 2005; Ramose, 1999).

For a very brief overview of these epistemologies, let us mention that Actor-network theory (ANT) is part of sociomateriality. Sociomaterial approaches share three common components. First, they study the system as one entire entity, composed of entangled human and non-human action and knowledge. Second, they focus on interactions and mediations - not on individuals or artefacts. Third, they consider knowledge and learning as embodied and embedded in actions and interactions (Fenwick, Edwards & Sawchuk, 2012). No hierarchy exist and certainly no privileged position for the human over the non-human. Binary categories such as usually discussed - agency-structure; subject-object; theory-practice - are considered not appropriate. The purpose of sociomaterial approaches is related to boundary-making processes and featuring out those which create knowledge. Key technical terms of this approach are assembling / reassembling, dynamics of entities, and, connections, with the aim of tracing how knowledge is produced. ANT in education research addresses flows, connections and interactions between human and material objects enacted for the purpose of learning with the aim of understanding how knowledge is produced (Fenwick, et al., 2012).

Epistemology of the link is inspired from Edgard Morin’s concept of “reliance” (from the French “lier”, linking). It is characterised by thinking in interaction with the human mankind to prevent isolation and considers thinking as an endeavour to make sense in interaction with others. It is on the move, interpretative, connecting, linking and is totally different from dogmas learnt by heart and repeated. It calls upon social and epistemic justice for a humanising science that makes sense in our world and connects ideas and beings (Piron, 2019). It is a call to cease the injunction of separation between the researcher and the object of research that is prevalent in Western epistemic traditions. It is an epistemology in the making that relies on Santos (2016 cited by Piron) call for an ecology of knowledge, an ecosystem in which diverse types of knowledge, without hierarchy, are in dialogue (Piron, 2017, p. 46).

Epistemology of Ubuntu, translated as humanness, “suggests both a condition of being and the state of becoming, of openness or ceaseless unfolding”(Ramose, 2015, p. 69). Ubuntu considers “the universe as a complex wholeness involving the multi-layered and incessant interaction of all entities” (Ramose, 2015, p. 69) – human beings, physical or objective nature. The three driving insights of Ubuntu are: 1) constant motion of “wholes” from generation to death to regeneration; 2) human dignity; 3) mutual care and sharing between human beings and physical nature (Ramose, 2015).

The sociology of absences and emersions is an approach suggested by Boaventura de Sousa Santos. “Sociology of absences focuses on social experiments to explore what exists of the South that is independent from the North/South constructed dichotomy. It is about researching, with non-modern mindsets and epistemologies what exists beyond the abyssal line (Santos, 2016, p. 251 and following). Sociology of emersions aims to symbolically increase the importance of knowledge, practices and actors to identify future trends, on which it is possible to increase the probability of hope against the probability of frustration. It acts on possibilities (potentials) and capacities (legitimate authority, power) and focuses on care, without being deterministic” (Class, 2022).

3.4 From epistemologies to theories

From these epistemologies, theories engaging in totally new worldviews and opening new horizons for learning are (re)emerging. The main one is the theory of abundance. It moves away from scarcity and its keyword is “enough”. Enough open and quality networks, resources, institutions, etc. to learn from and be able to grow as a responsible citizen in a knowledge economy in all the places on earth (Caron, 2020; Hoeschele, 2010).

In terms of learning theories, those which are most suited for OE are the following ones (non exhaustive list):

  • connectivism (Siemens, 2005; Downes, 2007)
  • rhizomatic learning (Cormier, 2010)
  • social theories of learning like communities of practice (Lave & Wenger, 1991; Wenger, 2018)
  • multiple approaches to understanding (Gardner, 2018).
  • experiential learning (Usher, 2018)

3.5 Conjecturing: underlying epistemologies of the Open paradigm

My conjecture is that the Open paradigm, consciously or unconsciously, takes its roots in transformative epistemologies and in constructiveness. We deliberately call it constructiveness and not constructivism in reference to the above-mentioned reflexion on -ism concepts and to Ramose (2015, p. 69)’s explanation: “It [humanness] is thus opposed to any -ism, including humanism, for this tends to suggest a condition of finality, a closedness or a kind of absolute either incapable of or resistant to any further movement”. In addition, constructiveness is derived from constructive and defined as 1) declared such by judicial construction or interpretation; 2) of or relating to construction or creation; 3) promoting improvement or development, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/constructive

Major technological advancements happened in the 1960s-70s-80s-90s, in part thanks to the free software movement. My conjecture is also that technology, such as the creation of the Internet in the 1960s and the world wide web in the 1990s (cf. https://home.cern/science/computing/birth-web) , permitted to revive essential features of scientific communities, i.e. transparency, freedom, sharing. Indeed, it is hardly known that scientific articles were public goods until the 1900s (Dulong de Rosnay & Langlais, 2017) and that scientific knowledge circulated freely beforehand. Thus, values of the free software movement, making free software a public good, converged with pre-existing values in scientific communities, resulting in open circulation of knowledge. It is not clear whether Internet is a public good today but originally it was created in that spirit. It is also acknowledged that the web opened a myriad of possibilities, it “became central to public access to the internet and also enabled the creation of a global knowledge network” (Harasim, 2017, p. 26).

Finally, let us keep in mind that it was in the late 90s that the Bologna reform was adopted in European higher education to build the knowledge society and the knowledge economy (Huisman, Adelman, Hsieh, Shams & Wilkins, 2012). It was also in those years that the Creative Commons project was being prepared to offer sustainable legal solutions to openly shared content. Finally, it was in those years that the free operating system Ubuntu was created and disseminated worldwide (cf. https://ubuntu.com/community/mission).

4 Open paradigm in higher education

Today, in higher education, almost any scholar has heard of Open Science or Open Educational Resources.

Contemporary Open Education (OE) is in the making. Several milestones have been set, as for instance, the core underlying principles of education considered as a commons and including design for access, equity, agency, ownership, participation, distribution, innovation and sustainability (Blessinger & Bliss, 2016; Stacey & Hinchliff Pearson, 2017). Its concrete implementation in higher education is still to be invented but a guiding framework has been suggested (Inamorato dos Santos, Punie & Castaño Muñoz, 2016) and different research projects have experienced some parts of OE or some parts of the framework (e.g. Open book project; OpenMed; Open Game; Encore+).

Concerning core teaching and learning activities, OE is discussed in terms of Open Educational Resources (OER) – how to produce, adopt and adapt them (Stracke, Downes, Conole, Burgos & Nascimbeni, 2019; Weller, Jordan, DeVries & Rolfe, 2018). In terms of OE practices, it is teaching openness (Nascimbeni, Burgos, Campbell & Tabacco, 2018) and conceptual perspectives (Cronin & Maclaren, 2018) which are discussed. Issues of open admission, open recognition, open assessment and open credentials are discussed at the theoretical level (Wiley, 2017) and at the cultural change level (Chiappe, Pinto & Arias, 2016). Return of concrete experiences are starting to be shared (García-Holgado, et al., 2020). Concerning quality, a first OE quality framework, in reference to ISO/IEC 40180, has been suggested (Stracke, 2019). At the strategic and leadership levels, major identified OE enablers are i) a clear policy priority assigned to open education; ii) an awareness-raising on open education, targeting leaders and educators; and iii) capacity-building in open education for educators and other stakeholders (Inamorato dos Santos, et al., 2017). Concerning technology, projects like QualiChain (cf. https://qualichain-project.eu/ ) work on smart open badges solutions and a reflexion on technological compliant solutions is on-going (Coëtlogon, 2019). In addition, Daniel Burgos and colleagues have issued several valuable books on OE with many insights (e.g. Burgos, 2020; Burgos & Olivier, 2021; Burgos, Tlili & Tabacco, 2021).

5 Thinking about the lifecycle of an OE course

OE can be discussed at different levels of granularity and has the immense advantages of possibly happening outside of academia and being acredited with micro-credentials (Clements et al. 2020; Ehrenreich, 2020; West et al. 2020). OE can also happen in academia and the diagram below shows one such possibility. The big changes reside in the fact that: i) the teacher does not design the course on his own; ii) evaluation takes the form of renewable assignements. Several scholars research Open Educational Practices (Cronin & Maclaren, 2018) that also entail personal learning networks (Neelen & Kirschner, 2018).

OE course lifecycle
OE course lifecycle

6 External links and resources

Open Education on Wikipedia

Introduction to Open Education https://www.edx.org/course/introduction-to-open-education 2018 course by George Siemens and David Wiley

Open Education, https://www.open.edu/openlearn/education-development/open-education/ 2018 course by the Open University UK

Open Education Handbook, https://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Open_Education_Handbook 2014

What do we mean by ‘open’ in education? https://www.tonybates.ca/2015/02/16/what-do-we-mean-by-open-in-education/ 2014, Tony Bates

Using Open Content, https://www.jisc.ac.uk/guides/technology-and-tools-for-online-learning/using-open-content 2016, JISC

European Distance and e-Learning Network, Open Education week, https://www.eden-online.org/eden_conference/oew-summary/ 2017-2021

Open Education Global, OE week, https://oeweek.oeglobal.org/ 2022

Master in Leadership in Open Education > programme and course contents https://www.ung.si/en/schools/school-of-engineering-and-management/programmes/2NVOI/

Open Education for a Better World, https://oe4bw.org/

Becoming an open educator https://www.open.edu/openlearncreate/course/view.php?id=2274 2016, Open University

Aspects of the Open: The evolution of the meaning of open education https://www.open.ac.uk/research/news/aspects-open-evolution-meaning-open-education 2019, Martin Weller

OER Hub http://oerhub.net/ Open University

GO GN (Global OER graduate network) https://go-gn.net/ Open University

Open Education Policy Hub, https://www.oepolicyhub.org/ , project of OER worldmap, https://oerworldmap.org/resource/ , Open University involved.

Chaire UNESCO REL IA (OER and AI), in French, https://chaireunescorel.ls2n.fr/, Université de Nantes

Open Educational Practices whitepaper (work in progress), multilingual, https://houseofcommons.ch/wiki/index.php?title=Open_Education

7 References

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