What do we mean when talking about “Open Education”?

Laura Sillanpää from the Finnish Institute in London blogs about Open Education Week held 11–15 March 2013. 

The second annual Open Education Week took place last week 11–15 March. Several free webinars and local events were held worldwide varying from introductions and toolkit working groups on online communities and MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) to presentations and webinars on Open Educational Resources (OER) and open policies. The purpose of the week was to raise awareness of the global Open Education movement and opportunities it creates in teaching and learning worldwide. The movement strives for accessible high quality education through opening and sharing educational resources.

Before we can successfully promote open education (OE), according to Markus Deimann, researcher at the FernUniversität in Hagen, we need to know exactly what we mean when talking about “open”. In his webinar on the philosophical foundations of open education, Deimann reminded that the definition and meaning behind open education has changed much over time. In the 1970s, which marked the rise of the open education movement, open education was about emphasising student participation and individuality as well as flexible practices in the implementation of everyday education.

According to Creative Commons the underlying idea of open education, as we understand it today, is that by opening and sharing educational resources and spending public resources wisely can high quality and affordable education become accessible by everyone. The basis of open education lies nowadays much in the technological and digital development. However, open education should not be paralleled merely with open educational resources (OER). According to the definition given by Higher Education Academy, “open educational resources are digital materials that can be used, re-used and repurposed for teaching, learning, research and more, made freely available online through open licenses such as Creative Commons”.

Open education refers above all to the wide set of practices that promote high quality and accessible education. According to Deimann we have recently witnessed a shift from focusing on OER to emphasising open educational practices (OEP), which is linked to the perceived need to focus more on the entire learning process. Open educational practices can be defined as a range of practices that support the production, use and reuse of open educational resources focusing on everyone involved in the process, that is policy makers and administrators as well as teachers and learners alike.

An example of OEPs are open policies. Cable Green, Director of Global Learning in Creative Commons, held a webinar on Open Education Week during which he talked about open policies as an important factor in increasing the amount and quality of education.  Open policy refers to the use of publicly financed resources in an increasingly efficient and effective manner. Open policies, in other words, promote open licensing of resources funded publicly in the field of e.g. education, research, libraries, museums, data and software in order to maximise the impact of investments through the use and reuse of these resources.

According to Green open policies are currently implemented in a very de-centralised and fragmented manner. This is due to insufficient support for those open policy advocates, policymakers and organisations who wish to realise open policy practices as well as ignorance of the benefits that open licensing of resources brings about. Green states that governments can’t cope by themselves in creating, adopting and implementing open policies. Open Policy Network was created under Creative Commons to answer to this need of support. It strives for publicly funded resources becoming “open” by default as “closed” resources would be the exception.

Open education, on the whole, can be seen to increase more opportunities for people to learn. However, this does not happen automatically, Deimann reminds. Open education is a special form of learning and requires new competencies not everyone may possess. Therefore, we need more carefully designed training and education to provide people the tools and competencies with which to immerse in open education as well as policies helping to implement these practices.

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