A primer on Open Education, its history and benefits

Open Education Week will take place March 5 to 9 and it focuses on raising awareness about the myriad of free and open educational opportunities that exist for everyone, everywhere, right now. It is devoted exploring the potential of the resources, tools and practices, and the power of open sharing, to improve access to education.

Open Education as a concept has fundamentally influenced the ways in which we teach, learn and operate as an institution. Awareness and knowledge of Open Education Resources (OERs) improves our ability to navigate the continually evolving landscape that surrounds best pedagogical practices in teaching and learning at the university level.

Increasingly, higher education institutions are embracing eLearning and OERs, but many people have questions about Open Education. Specifically, what is Open Education? How it can be used within the university setting? Can it play a key role in teaching, learning, and potentially in student recruitment and retention?

The term “Open Education” refers to both a philosophy of learning and to a concrete set of instructional materials. The underlying idea is simple, as human beings interacting in a community, we each strive to accumulate knowledge and experience that will help us to grow and learn from one another. Open Education asserts that all people should be afforded every opportunity to do so, regardless of financial limitations or other obstacles.

Open Education deconstructs barriers by making educational content readily available (for example printed pamphlets, online documents, podcasts, and more) for public consumption. In turn, this public consumption facilitates the betterment of society through the realization of a more educated, skilled population.

Some milestones in the history of Open Education

In modern times, the rise of widespread Open Education had its beginnings in the United Kingdom with the founding of the Open University in 1969.  Prior to this, in an unprecedented move during the 19th century, the University of London became the first institution to spearhead distance learning opportunities through correspondence courses. Continuing in the same pioneering British spirit, the Open University was established originally for students who either could not afford a university education or were not able to attend university full time due to work, family or other commitments.

In the ensuing decades, the success of Open University initiatives inspired organizations in countries such as Canada, the United States, China, India, South Africa, Portugal, Turkey and Japan, to step into the arena of Open Education to create resources and explore new modes of delivering content. In 2002, there was a revolution in Open Education when the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) digitized its courses and made the course material available online for free under MIT OpenCourseWare (OCW).

Following MIT’s dramatic move, many universities mounted online open course materials. In the late 2000s, the term Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) was coined. The first MOOCs were offered in Canada in 2008 and were known as cMOOCs.  The ‘c’ was meant to portray that these courses stressed connectivity between course participants over traditional, lecturer-as-expert pedagogies.

More conventional lecturer centric MOOCs, or, xMOOCs, were started in 2011 by Stanford University and are still offered widely today by both universities and organizations such as Coursera, Udemy, etc.

A distinction can be drawn between MOOCs and OERs. A MOOC often utilizes OERs to create a community of practice among students where automated self-testing, peer review and the earning of certificates can occur (Mulder, 2015.) The active and unrelenting development, utilization and reuse of OERs is in the best interests of any university for the following reasons:

  • Materials are accessible but protected under Creative Commons (CC) licensing. This increases the university’s public visibility and serves directly as a testament to its quality of education.
  • All research and intellectual property is retained by faculty due to CC licensing, yet material is reusable and adaptable for a wide range of courses.
  • OERs effectively function as a university’s “audition material” and act as powerful recruitment and retention tools for prospective and current students.
  • The quality and diversity of a university’s OERs can attract an international student base who might otherwise not consider or be unaware of the university’s existence.
  • Enrolment is naturally enhanced as students are much more likely to enroll for courses for which they do not have to purchase expensive textbooks.

Based on past and current developments in teaching and learning, it is clear that Open Education is beneficial for students, faculty, universities, and ultimately for society. Applying the Open Education philosophy to wedge “open” the door for all to higher learning and general knowledge has had profound impact and will likely continue to evolve as technology evolves.

A full discussion of milestones in the history of Open Education and their implications exceed the scope of this article. A graphical summary and point form write up of major developments in Open Education can be found at http://bit.ly/2C1RFre.

This article is an edited version of a Teaching Commons Blog post written by Jerusha Lederman, postdoctoral visitor in the Teaching Commons

References and further reading

Kernohan, David and Amber Thomas (2012). OER – a historical perspective

Mulder, F. (2015). Open(ing Up) Education … boosted by MOOCs? in C.J. Bonk, M. M. Lee, T. C. Reeves, T. H. Reynolds (Eds.). The MOOCs and Open Education Around the World. New York: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group

Wiley, D. (2015). Defining the “Open” in Open Content

Open Education Timeline – the interactive online timeline created by the Open Education Working Group

Open Courseware Consortium Toolkits page for addressing concerns, making the case, getting an OCW project off the ground

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