Week 6 – Closed vs. Open Education

Our group works on its Prezi to discuss “Sharing and Openness”. My part is the investigation of closed vs. open education. Since my quite extensive text would be too long for our presentation, I share it here. First, I summarize the content of some pieces of literature I found useful, and try to place some main features of open and closed education in a table. Further, I try to locate ONL191 along the lines of openness and closedness. Finally, I share my final comments and list my sources.

 

open

 

Open education as emancipation

Weller (2012) provides an overview of the history of Open University in the UK (1969–), emphasizing how important it was to make HE accessible to anybody. According to Weller (2012), only 5% of the age cohort of 18–22 could go to university in the 1960s in the UK, while in 2008–2009 their proportion was 45%… Since the 1960s, the “openness” mantra has spread in academia (Open Source, Open Educational Resources, Open Courses, Open Research, Open Data, Open API, Open Access…), creating the concept of an Open Scholar who is widely visible and approachable (Weller 2012).

Lane (2016) investigates whether open education has been successful in emancipating people. He establishes that

“The phrase “open education” implies that there must also be closed education or education where there are restrictions or a lack of freedoms to exercise this fundamental human right. Legal restrictions are intentional restrictions in that they are purposefully designed to do so. Social and political restrictions can be a mixture of the intended and unintended flowing from the dominant societal structures and relationships and in particular matters of economics (Lane, 2013). For example, the participation rate in higher education in most countries has increased substantially in the past fifty years (OECD, 2015) as more higher education institutions were opened and more places within those institutions made available but this has led to significant debates and different policy responses as to who pays for this expansion of infrastructure and capacity and whether that includes students paying directly through tuition fees or indirectly, with most other citizens, through the taxes they pay; or effectively a mix of both through income contingent loans.”

Further, he adds:

“While, in principle, open education in its various guises can help people benefit from learning who may not have otherwise had the opportunity, in practice it may not be doing much more to emancipate people than closed education is doing. This is because prevailing social, cultural and economic norms still place greater value on education arising through the existing physical, political and legal infrastructures.”

These sources illuminate that Open Education is embedded into historical contexts and trends of academia. Open education as a concept has been around for c. 50 years now and, as the case of Open University in the UK (Weller 2012) shows, it was not originally linked to digital technologies since Open University first distributed books and other analogous media.

Touching on the quality of pedagogy in digital open educational resources, Weller (2012) distinguishes between different types of OERs: big OER (institutionally produced and quality assured) and little OER (created by anyone, quality might be anything between fantastic and useless):

“Big OERs are institutionally generated ones that arise from projects such as Open Courseware and OpenLearn. These are usually of high quality, contain explicit teaching aims, are presented in a uniform style and form part of a time-limited, focused project with portal and associated research and data.

Little OERs are individually produced, low cost resources. They are produced by anyone, not just educators, may not have explicit educational aims, have low production quality and are shared through a range of third party sites and services.”

It seems that openness in education also has a political agenda: a kind of distancing from the idea of authority in education. As the above distinction also highlights, anybody can produce OERs and the learners are considered central to the extent that they wouldn’t need instructors or teachers. A recent dissertation (Clements 2016) however calls attention to the fact that quality assurance is essential anyway: at least peers should do that if external experts are not involved. — even if not external / authority experts but rather peers do that.

 

closed

 

Open education vs. closed education: pedagogical challenges

Meiszner & Squires’ (eds. n.d.) report challenges the widespread notion that open education would inevitably lead to a radical renewal of learning. The report raises the question whether digital media only means a change of platform in some cases:

“6 Real Open Education – or just closed education for free?

A key accusation made against OER sites is that while they provide material for free they do not actually lead to OE. Indeed, some have been attacked for furthering “closed” models of teaching and traditional pedagogies. Khan Academy has been accused of promoting an updated form of rote learning, and creating “joyless test-prep factories” for “drilling and killing” (Thompson, 2011).”

Would then “open” be a form of education where learners work totally individually — saying that there’s no threshold at all, and anybody can get in? In contrast, “closed” education would then be a form of education where people need to get accepted / tutored / supported / instructed by a more experienced / certified / authority person. I find this dichotomy interesting as it brings quite central issues of agency into the picture. That is, this approach to closed vs. open raises the question: who actually teaches and who learns? And who can assess / certify that learning has happened? Vanasupa et al. (2016) also take an action-focused approach when stating that in open education the most important is that, in comparison to closed education, roles and activity types are substantially different:

“By replacing the publisher’s representative with the librarian, the closed-access text with an open education resource, and pre-packaged technological systems with tailored, personally designed points for student-teacher interaction, the OER educator closes the educational gap and opens possibilities for the university to function more as a community and less according to corporate models of educational banking.”

Below is a grid I created based on the literature and some thinking about what openness and closedness can mean. I couldn’t find so much literature on closed education, but I considered it as the opposite of open education (cf. Nyberg 2009). The table is pretty much exaggerating, in-between cases are not marked even though, I believe, most of the actual learning programs can be placed along a continuum between the two extremes.

 

Closed (extreme) Open (extreme)
Admission Certificates / diplomas proof previously gained knowledge

Entry exams, standardized tests and/or interviews

Certified examiners choose best applicants

No proofs of previously gained knowledge are needed

No formalized admission procedure
Only learner’s self-selection

Tuition fees Yes

(Some scholarship opportunities might be offered for compensation so that good applicants with low socioeconomic status can also enter)

No tuition at all
Supervision Certified experts with authority define, plan, lead and supervise the learning process

Peer support to  various extent

No external support at all, work based on individual work (?)
Materials Printed or subscribed online content Open Access, online content
Time frame Centrally dictated schedule and pace of learning (cf. curriculum and course structure); deadlines, pre-scheduled meetings, etc. Totally individual pace of learning, no time frame
Location On-campus meetings Online activities

 

The following table is about ONL191 as I see it:

 

Closed (extreme) Open (extreme)
Admission ONL191 is a mixed model with institutional and free learners — but no entry exam or systematic pre-selection of participants
Tuition fees Free
Supervision Here teachers… …are called facilitators
Materials Open Access
Time frame ONL191 is pretty closed and restrictive with 2 weeks given for studying a topic, requiring attendance at several pre-scheduled (and then continuously re-scheduled) group meetings, requiring assignments with tight deadlines but… …some lectures and seminars can be followed asynchronously as well)
Location Learners come from different continents even — pretty open

 

Making an in-service teacher education course open to all: a teaser 🙂 

Currently I lead an Erasmus+ in-service teacher training program “Everyday Creativity” for teachers from four countries (Romania, Hungary, Italy and the Netherlands; see https://creativeschools.eu/). We use blended learning as our frame. The course activities are built on freely available materials which we linked to tasks we designed systematically. From the very beginning, we have wanted to build on Open Access materials since we knew that later we would make this course open. We have developed the course with Erasmus+ funding so it is actually our contractual obligation to make the course open. But what elements can we make open from the original course? How does the nature of the course change while we are opening it to anybody? So what will we gain if the openly available material will be so much reduced and will not be able to provide the original course experience? These are the questions we will think about with my colleagues, Gomathy Soundararaj and Tea Kangasvieri with whom we will actually implement the “opening up”. At this moment, we are planning a conference presentation about this topic. We believe that the well-compiled Open Access sources and the insightful tasks will help people in self- or group-reflection, and make them think about the teaching profession.

 

Conclusion

All in all, despite widespread celebratory discourses on Open Education, I believe that Closed Education has been out there for a reason: learner selection, certified experts, reliable and checked materials, purposeful planning, deadlines, etc. help the learners to go through a study path which is custom designed and which benefits them. Of course the extreme version of closed education is harmful as it increases power imbalance and is anti-democratic in many ways. However, extremely open, fluid and flux education leaves the learner without relevant support (e.g. supervision, time frame). As my above reflections on ONL191 show, courses include elements of both open and closed education. Shifting from closed to open might induce a substantial change in quality and learner experience both to good and bad direction (e.g. great flexibility vs. less support from experts).

 

References

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