Reframing Open in the context of the digital university – part 1 #oer16

Picture of a bridge

In preparation for our #OER16 presentation, this is the first of two blog posts where Keith Smyth and will build on our abstract and give a bit more detail and context around our current thinking. There’s quite a bit to pack into a 15 minute conference presentation so we hope that these posts will allow us to elaborate a bit more, ask some questions and hopefully get some feedback which we can take into the session itself. We’ll also follow up after the session itself.

For the past 3 years now, Keith, Bill Johnston and myself have been investigating and trying to unpack the notion of a digital university, and develop a way to move from what can be a very tech-centric, view of “the digital” to one which is more balanced and includes people, pedagogy, and wider societal factors. If, as we are starting to do, we take open as the lens to examine our conceptual matrix, then a number of questions arise. As our abstract states

”despite the early promise of open online education, including developments such as MOOCs, the Higher Education sector as a whole has fallen short in using digital spaces to provide equitable distribution of access to education.”

From the early openly shared evaluation from the University of Edinburgh, to more recent statistics from FutureLearn, the evidence shows that the majority of “learners” in MOOCs have a first degree and a significant proportion of those have a post graduate qualification. Instead of widening access to education, are we now in a situation where MOOCs, with their “massive” investment, unclear ROI, only served to preserve the status quo and create another elite measure of engagement? MOOCs may not have lived up to their disruptive hype (Siemens et al 2015), however the reverberations of the hype, the urban myths that have grown up around it continue to have an impact in the HE sector, and in the development of open education practice.As MOOCs become more established the already contentious “open” element of the acronym becomes even less significant, the platforms and licences become more closed.

For institutions like my own who didn’t ride the first, or second wave of MOOCs, is development of open educational practice going to suffer from the still widely held assumption that open education = MOOCs? Is our development of digital learning going to be predicated on the more “popular” templates of many MOOCs for example “high quality” video talking heads and MCQ quizzes?

Open falls of the agenda as we can’t justify the case for that level of investment without a clear ROI, and we look for more “legitimate” income streams from postgraduate/Masters level online programmes.“Digital learning” in turn becomes equated only with fully online experiences, the “digital” is something new, disruptive, that doesn’t need to be cognisant of past and current research and practice (Siemens et al 2015).

The obsession with global market share blinds us to the potential of the local. Discussions around digital environment forget the place of the physical and where institutional psychically sit within a community. The power of open, connected, student driven learning exemplified by the numerous examples of spontaneous face to face meet-ups is not being seen as something that Universities could capitalise on. Could this be the place, as we state in our abstract, where open education could “act as a bridge between formal institutional cultures and learning within physical and digital third spaces.”

Should we not be looking for ways for our physical campuses to become digitally enabled community hubs. Places that don’t empty after 6pm until 8am this next day, but are being used to create more informal, open learning opportunities which utilise the capabilities of our digital and physical infrastructures?

We need only look to our conference hosts, the University of Edinburgh, and their definition and use of “the common good” as a rational for their commitment to the support, development and sharing of OERs as a first stage in this type of engagement. My own institution’s 2020 strategy is predicated on our position as “the university for the common good”, yet we are still not able to articulate and use open education as cornerstone of this. Open is a “nice to have”, but still seen with suspicion (if at all) by many.

Instead of open being a means to meaningfully deconstruct the ivory tower and reintegrate it with wider society, the conflation with digital and online merely helps to reinforce the status quo. Those who can afford to be open do so in ways of their choosing, the rest of us still scrabble around for ways to be innovative which actually equates to making money. Open seems like common sense however, as one of my colleagues wisely said in a meeting this week common sense is not common practice.

This frustrating for many of us Yet again open educational practice can offer us a bridge at individual, organisational and sectoral level. Developing open, distributed curriculum is key part of this and something that Keith is going to explore more in part two.

9 comments

  1. Hi Sheila, very interesting and really sorry to miss this contribution. I am sure it will generate a lot of discussion. As you know my work is in this area and I have been experimenting and practising outside MOOCland for some years now… some interesting stuff is emerging through my research. Keith, my supervisor, knows 😉

    Have a fab conference,
    Chrissi

  2. Hi Sheila,

    I read your post again after reading Keith’s. The following stood out for me:

    “For institutions like my own who didn’t ride the first, or second wave of MOOCs, is development of open educational practice going to suffer from the still widely held assumption that open education = MOOCs? Is our development of digital learning going to be predicated on the more “popular” templates of many MOOCs for example “high quality” video talking heads and MCQ quizzes?”

    You raise some very important questions? What would be your answers? Would love to find out.

    Chrissi
    ps. I hope you had a good #OER16

    • Hi Chrissi, thanks for your comment. To be honest I don’t have any answers yet. We are trying to get people to think more creatively and about collaboration as the best form of interaction. It’s a work in progress but I will be exploring this more with Keith and Bill over the next few months.

      • Hi Sheila,
        Looking forward to finding out where your explorations will lead you. I am wondering if you would consider looking at some of the findings of my work? I am creating the outcome space at the moment of my phenomenographic analysis and then a framework for collaborative learning in open settings 😉 It will be something that needs to be tested.

        Enjoy the sunshine and speak again soon,
        Chrissi

  3. Premise: The Higher Education sector as a whole has fallen short in using digital spaces to provide equitable distribution of access to education
    Does it fall long/wide-anywhere?
    Is it worth thinking-might there be a nudge for more in the direction of what works, with amplified strategies to adapt systems.
    E.G
    We know online resources are available and used, we don’t have user voice as to how/what and why
    We know social media is now at boom point for sharing in Ed across all domains and affords cross-disciplinary engagement
    We know MOOCs for certain purposes do have useful impact e.g. add-on/top up for knowledge development (Computer Science domain for example)
    We know the open university has a successful template for Open…
    It seems in identifying what is: these things might be features for growth

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s