“Openness is the absence of restrictions, so ultimately about freedom” Rob Farrow #OEGlobal #go_gn

The above phrase by Rob @philosopher1978 stayed with me… such simple words that mean so so much! This is why we need philosophers!!!


Is this what we are after?


… or do we prefer this and what does this mean in the context of OER and OEP?

It was the first time I experienced the Open Education Global conference and it was truly fascinating to find out about open ed projects that were happening in different parts of the world and most importantly connect with some of the people associated with these.

The conference started with the Open Ed scene in Poland while during the conference I had the pleasure to meet and chat with Dr Tomasz Boinski a lecturer in Computing from Poland. We started talking after our contributions and I could sense that he was keen to make a real difference in his institution through opening-up practices. We started talking about our open source app we are developing at the moment and he offered to help us with finding the right licence for this and forwarded extensive resources around these which will be extremely useful for our project. On the last day, Jaroslaw Lipszyc, a polish poet, emphasised that he sees open as free, and therefore he claimed, that we don’t need the word ‘open’. But open doesn’t come without a cost attached… there is the human cost, time and resources etc. Even if for the learner the “open education product or experience” is free or freely available, the process of making this happen can be costly and rarely calculated in especially when we talk about non-funded projects and funded projects usually have a funding time frame which doesn’t go on for ever… some might.


I felt that there was still a strong focus on content at the conference and many seem to be working on the production of OER, including film format. We are creating more and more such resources, not just universities but also private providers. Are we reducing learning in the open with watching videos?

While we talk about active learning, many do watch videos for hours and I can see this with my own children. We often reach out to YouTube to learn a new skill or find a new recipe or activity. It is not just children… My youngest started video production and shares his films via YouTube with others. He shares Minecraft stuff. It is an interesting development and I haven’t asked him yet why he is doing it. Looking at it from my perspective it almost feels as if he wants to give something back, as if he wants to connect through his work with others, he loves it when others leave feedback on his clips. So I think it is more than just watching videos, it might be more about connecting with others in a very humane way and non personal at this stage as he is only 12 and he is using a pseudonym. So the social interaction he has are at a somehow removed level.

My eldest, 14, seems to have great fun watching science films and funny stuff on YouTube.He hasn’t got a channel and doesn’t leave digital traces behind. He doesn’t share the stuff he creates, except some clips we added to my YouTube channel a while back now.  I often hear him laughing loudly and there seems to be emotional engagement when he watches the clips, it is really fascinating. Sometimes the boys watch YouTube video on telly… My eldest also started coding and he can do this for hours,he is searching for help to develop what he wants without interacting with anybody online… As far as I can see. We haven’t got any firewall but both seem to have a maturity when navigating through the video jungle. Two very different behaviours which make me think about learners more widely and there is something there that reminds me of the digital residents and digital visitors model by Dave White and Alison LeCornu and other stuff that might indicate that change is happening. Both are autonomous and know where to look when they need help.

… I only have snippets of their digital behaviour and habits  and maybe this is problematic especially as they are still children. Do we trust them too much? Is this freedom good for them or not?

Back to my world… still thinking about resources… While I recognise the need for putting together course resources it would be useful to further explore opportunities using inquiry-based models of learning which would I think free us from racing to produce new content. We have done this in different open initiatives such as FDOL, BYOD4L and FOS as well as #creativeHE. Could we shift the purpose of creating resources for  teaching to capture the process of (co-)constructing learning? After all we learn so much more through experiencing and making stuff. Is this another reason why OER are not used that widely? As we want to create our own resources as educators since we recognise that the process of making helps us engage deeper with our subject that we will help others understand? Is it also about academic ownership? And what about context? De-contextualised resources with global reach… how valuable are these? I am now wondering if the real potential of resources is actually (c0-)creating these as part of the learning process? Could the resources actually be more valuable for the creator and what does this mean about sharing? Are resources more ephemeral than we think? If we talk about authentic learning, could we instead use open data as Dr Javiera Atenas invited us to keep learning and teaching fresh, fully contextualise and create the conditions for an inquiry-rich environment for learning through discovery?


As an open practitioner with a focus on work that sits outside MOOCland, I was interested to hear at the conference how things have progressed within it. In some cases making available resources equated to course design in a MOOC context. This was very problematic for me… I was looking for a pedagogical rationale but couldn’t see it. Some called this platform pedagogy. Not sure what this is… There were some cases and I had read about them and included in my Literature review were MOOC organisers recognised the need for social learning including learning in groups and collaborated with other institutions or colleagues in other institutions to facilitate these. One of these projects was introduced by Alannah Fitzgerald and it was fascinating to hear their exploration into using facilitators in a MOOC as well as groups and the difficulties they experienced with both but also with the technology, the team tool from EdX. Alannah mentioned “platform education”. Is this similar to teaching from within a VLE or LMS? I shared with her some information about our work in this area outside the MOOC world and the Open Facilitator Project. I would have loved to find out more but in the end we didn’t manage to get together again. At scale the challenges are amplified, of course, require big investments in time and resources, but also a robust pedagogical scaffold, I would say. The support scaffold is vital but often missing.

The conference didn’t help me understand “massive”. I am still confused why we need and often start with massive. Somewhere I read “what we mean by massive, is the potential, the potential is massive”… But  does massive work? Businesses start small and in nature things grow from a seed… Does the education world know better? What is the rationale for massive and global? And what are the real expectations? What are we trying to achieve and what is happening in reality?

The more I think about it the more I see grey zones in open education. Maybe I see them more as red zones, zones that are alarming. We all have different motivations, of course, why we are in it, in open education. If only we could collect authentic and honest responses, I think that might be eye opening… Would there be any surprises? Philosopher Dr Rob Farrow, highlighted that some of us see Open Education as a moral mission. What about everybody else? The OER Hub invited us to think big… how big can we think? And how can we make our thoughts and ideas reality? And what would we change through these if we could make them happen?

My own research reveals that learning with others and being supported by facilitators makes a big difference, feeling part of a community that fosters online and offline interactions shape our engagement in open learning with others who are like us and very different from us. Like-minded people create a sense of belonging and other-minders people stretch us intellectually. Above all, we flourish when there is variety… Variety of people, variety of approaches and freedom to make our own choices.

Learning has always been personal. How can we think that technology would change this? We are still seeking personal connections. Technology actually can strengthen such opportunities and create new ones. I have used this example before… The party. And I have a question for all of us: when we go to a party, do we chat and dance with everybody? Does it depend on the size of the party? How many people are there? How confident we are etc. etc? But I am sure if there are loads and loads of people there, we wouldn’t even attempt to interact with all in a personal way. Or would we? But we would reach out to a few, or one other individual nearby perhaps? But then again, sometimes we go to the party with somebody and stick with this person throughout. Are there parallels? Something to think about…


What really matters are the conversations, the collaborations and feeling and being part of what is happening around us, nearby and sometimes further away. We humans always had a need for belonging as social beings and social media can be useful tools that help us connect with others in the digital jungle. Open practitioners as I mentioned already use a variety of tools and platforms, including social media. Dr Leigh-Anne Perryman and Tony Coughlan shared some findngs from their Facebook project and it was lovely to hear that the emphasis was on community. Educators and learners are appropriating social media for learning, teaching, professional development and research and they have become valuable spaces to be to meet peers and keep up-to-date with what is happening in our area. I had a very interesting conversation during the conference with Tony Coughlan about social media and open practice. Are they compatible, we were asking ourselves with open practices? Dr Ronald Macintyre in his contribution about the “hidden tariffs” also talked about the fact that open educators might be exploited by others economically… I have felt uncomfortable about this for some time now, despite the fact that I am using social media regularly and the open projects I  have initiated are all built using these. There are open practitioners out there who stay away from social media, not because they don’t like to be with others and share but because of the commercial character of social media. The poet Jaroslaw Lipszyc mentioned that we can learn loads from the open source community.Tony Coughlan has written a post about the conference and included some thoughts around this too.

“In distance education the equivalent space is owned by network providers and proprietary platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, whose primary motivation is commercial rather than educational, so their environments are designed for commercial benefit.

The open education movement has some experience of this type of challenge, as open textbooks and journals have been challenging commercial publishers with similar priorities.” (Coughlan, 2016)

I am just wondering what we could do about this as an open community… some ideas are emerging…

Very pleased I went to the OER Hub action lab on the last day where we got some insights into the very first voices that come through the survey that was shared recently. All data will be open data and I am looking forward to reading some of this. With Viviene Vladimirschi, a PhD student buddy from Brazil, we actually would like to do a tiny bit of work on some of the data linked to the action lab we participated and hope this will be possible. One of the key outcomes for me from this action lab was that we need frameworks into open pedagogical practices. I am working on one of them for collaborative learning in open settings. So that was good to hear that my work might be of interest to others. Hopefully others will test it in practice and develop it further.

logo-gogn-blue2-e14393890788191A big thank you to the GO-GN  and the OER HUB team, Prof. Martin Weller, Dr Bea  de los Arcos, Dr Rob Farrow, Dr Beck Pitt, Natalie Eggleston  for supporting this trip and enabling me to share the work we do within the Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching at Manchester Metropolitan University with many colleagues from my own and other institutions in the area of open education and related PhD research. A big thank you also to all colleagues PhD students part of GO-GN who were present and others who engaged online as well as Prof. Robert Schuwer and Prof. Fred Mulder for their camaraderie.

@GOGN_OER Days in Krakow, Poland 10-11 April 2016

logo-gogn-blue2-e14393890788191Day 1 of our GO-GN event arrived! It all started with a lively icebreaker. It really was a lovely way to help us start talking with others and spot connections and specific interest hot spots, personal and research ones. I had the opportunity to chat with Beck Pitt who I knew through her open courses and Twitter and we discovered that we both love photography. I wish I could say that I am a keen runner like Beck is… It is always strange, but in a nice way, when we finally meet somebody we have been “talking to” in the digital jungle. It is not always possible. So I feel fortunate to have met her, finally 😉 And Natalie too, who has been fantastic in supporting us and making sure that we would get here in one piece and Bea, of course too and all the rest of the GO-GN team too.

From the introductions I could see we are a multi-cultural mix of people doing research in the area of open education around the world. Prof. Martin Weller mentioned some numbers too. See image below.


Prof. Martin Weller in action showing us the GO-GN map so to speak

Bea invited us to reflect on being an open researcher and why open research is actually good for us, for others and society. For me personally it is about the opportunity or opportunities, I should say, to connect with others and share. Share ideas and dilemmas and find ways to initiate and continue conversations but also debate. To extent our own little world and feel less lonely and get a sense of belonging. However, it is not just about, or it shouldn’t be just about seeking like-minded people. Of course, we all love to have people around us who sort of agree with us and we can just be ourselves with all the craziness and silliness this comes… at least sometimes.

While we often seem to emphasise that through open and social practices, we can connect with like minded people elsewhere and this is indeed a huge benefit for all of us, I feel that it is equally important to “expose” ourselves and our ideas to other-minded people. And social and open practices enable this too. This is where we are really challenged, stretched intellectually and start thinking much deeper about what moves us, what upsets us and gain deeper insights into what we stand for and why. Criticism and critique are valuable, even if it can be painful at times as emotions are part of this process. We are not machines.

When we keep an idea for ourselves it dies very quickly. Therefore there is no value in ideas that remain in the dark, locked away in the cupboard. They turn to dust! Ideas need oxygen and feeding to grow and evolve and people to look after them. People not just one person. One person is not enough. There is an African proverb that is very powerful “On our own we can go fast, with other we can go further”. This doesn’t just apply to our individual journeys but also our ideas and their travels.” So share freely, I would say, as giving will not just make you feel good but also give something back, as I am sure others have helped you too.

None of it can happen if there is no sharing and/or closed-mindedness. Can we be half-open or half-closed?  Is there such a thing as wide-open or open unlimited? I think we all sit somewhere on that open-o-meter and see it more as a dynamic continuum depending on the situation, circumstances and context. There is personal and professional judgement that we make each time and we decide what is appropriate and what isn’t. And sometimes, of course, we get it wrong…

I think we could say that it is a fact that the world of open wouldn’t be there, wouldn’t exist without sharing, full stop. So the people are the driving force, the force that makes things happen and change things. Glenda Cox @glencox talked on Monday about her PhD work and I got really interested in social realism (Archer). It didn’t take me long to realise what type I am… and how this translates into what I do and how I operate. We will of course have to be careful, I think, how we use that information as I wouldn’t like us to fall into another learning styles trap… I will do some more reading into social realism to better understand what this is all about and what this could mean for people, practices and innovation too, this is what interests me most.

Throughout the two days, it has been fascinating to meet other PhD students in open education from around the world and find out about their research. We were all at different stages in our journey and this was extremely valuable as we

  1. could see that we have similar challenges and dilemmas
  2. depending on where we are on our journey, we could position ourselves in relation to others and create a map looking back and ahead at the same time in what is still to come.

And this can be extremely motivational! There was no sense of competition. In the contrary, the atmosphere was very open and inclusive with a focus on individual and collective growth. After presenting our work, we were invited to respond to critical comments as well as comment on the work of our peers. It wasn’t easy at times, but then this was the point. Thinking deeper and into new directions and thinking the unthinkable is what we need to make surprising links that might lead us to new discoveries. Learning is also being in a state of discomfort… and being challenged. This is how it felt.

There were so many great learning opportunities for all of us, through each other’s work!

Jamison from the US is on a PhD programme that reminded me of a Professional Doctorate that we have in the UK. After completing his study modules he is now ready to put a proposal for his research together and start working on the thesis. My understanding is that this will be based on three papers. He shared some of his initial ideas and thoughts with us and I am really looking forward to how these will evolve and where they will take him. Jamison showed an interest in using a learning and teaching lense and his strength are the theories. Paco from Spain, is looking at MOOCs and accessibility within these, while Viviene from Brazil is going to carry out research into teacher’s professional development linked to OER and one of her outputs will be a CPD course for them. I was wondering if she could re-use an existing course that is already out there and contextualise maybe? Bernard, from Rwanda, is almost at the finishing line. He carried out research into how OER could supplement learning at HE within Rwanda where access to electricity and therefore the internet is extremely low. What stood out for me from his research is the emphasis study participants paid to policy and I kept wondering if this had to do with local and national socio-political culture(s).


Bernard Nkuyubwatsi’s work and reminder of the challenges in some African countries

Glenda from South Africa who is now waiting for the decision by three external examiners (there is no viva in South Africa, the final thesis is submitted to the external examiners), did research in the area of quality and OER from the perspective of academics. A very interesting piece of work that also made me think about the digital residence and digital visitors model (White & LeCornu) while Sujata from India is looking at OER use within an Open University in India from a student and staff perspective; Nicolai from the Netherlands and his work has a focus on medical education and exploring OERs through the lense of eco-systems and complexity theory for sustainable implementation and Jin from China discussed the 5-minute micro-lessons which is a  government initiative which invites teachers to create short films as learning resources that are shared with learners and other teachers via the web. It wasn’t clear to me if these would be made available under a creative commons licence and I didn’t ask.

The two days were extremely fruitful. It was really lovely to see that the GO-GN organisers, Bea, Beck, Rob, Martin, Nats as well as the two fathers of GO-GN, Fred and Robert,  showed a genuine interest in our work and felt that our plans were worthwhile pursuing. For me, this event, really helped me feel part of a community and I am looking forward to staying connected and growing what we started in Krakow during the last two days. It requires feeding… in other words commitment but if we feel that it would be worthwhile for all and benefit us all, the only way to go, is together, right?

A massive thank you to the whole GO-GN team for creating this fruitful opportunity for all of us and all PhD students who were there with me for their openness and collegiality.


Monday evening GO-GN meal: Great company and mushroom soup in bread!


… as you can see, I wasn’t the only one taking bread soup pictures 😉


The storify from our tweets during our time in Krakow can be accessed here a visualisation can be seen below.