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Analyzing Open - Draft


Well, 'meeting' #1 of my PhD journey is done! As this is a seminar course focussed more on empowerment and conversation, our prof likes to call our weekly get-togethers 'meetings'. Ok.

As is standard in the first introduction to a course, there was the typical conversation about the course outline and where we would be headed and such things....

One of the key points of the meeting was the nature of a concept, and the concept we used as a first example was 'culture'. So in our little groups, we were tasked with analyzing the concept of culture.

  1. Definition: a group of people with a shared way of living
  2. etymology: we talked about how the word 'cult' (the old definition) gives a clue that there is a sense that a particular group of people are differentiated from another group of people in some meaningful way.
  3. Examples: grad students, schools, nations, etc.
  4. non-examples: individuals, non-living objects, artifacts generated by cultures
  5. Essential features: shared way of living
  6. accidental features: history, art, values, religion, spirituality, etc.

The point of this first exercise wasn't to determine a correct and complete analysis of the concept of culture, but to practice thinking about culture in a systematic way.

The real task is our first assignment, to analyze a concept related to our research interests. This post is a first go at analyzing the concept of 'open', at least as it relates to education.

I'll work through the steps of the analysis as outlined above on my own, then I 'll go back and consult some resources.

Here is v0.3

Open Education

The concept of open education has its roots in the broader context of distance education, which can be traced back to the 18th century in North America {Holmberg, 1995}, and also the open source software movement {Devries, 2013}{Hug, 2017}.

There is not one single concept that could be considered the definitive or authoritative definition of 'open'. The word is used in a wide variety of contexts to mean very different things. Examples include the idea of an 'open door' indicating that a physical object is in a particular position that allows entry into a building or room; or an 'open door policy' used to indicate that a person welcomes conversations with others; or 'open for business', indicating that a particular business is currently welcoming customers.

Similarly, 'education' is a very broad concept encompassing myriad different formal and informal contexts, philosophies, and cultures. For the purposes of this discussion, Holmberg's concise definition of education as "the acquisition of intellectual learning matter and cognitive skills" {p. 47} will suffice.

This analysis specifically excludes discussion of most of these contexts in favour of the more specific idea of 'open education'.


Open education as a concept is relatively new compared to other educational concepts, and consequently, there are few formal definitions in encyclopedic resources. Common to most definitions found in scholarly literature are the ideas that open education is a system of beliefs that lead to a set of practices, or pedagogies, and that those pedagogies are dependent upon the use of open education resources (OER). Open licenses applied to resources promote lowered barriers to sharing and adapting resources. Open education is seen as a way to increase access to educational opportunities to those who might otherwise be excluded from participation {Open Education Consortium, n.d.}{Open Education, n.d.}. Many definitions also include the idea that open education in practice ought to lead to improved learning outcomes for students {Cronin and MacLaren, 2018}.


The word open has roots in Old English, meaning "not shut, confined, or covered" {Hoad, 2003, "open"} and later, in the 14th century, "manifestly, publicly" and then in the 20th century, "public knowledge", or an "open competition" {"open", n.d.}.

This brief history of the word open shows its utility in describing a philosophy of education that is committed to not only the public sharing of knowledge, but also to increasing access to learning environments that might have otherwise been inaccessible.


Examples of open education might be conceptualized on a continuum from fully closed to fully open (although opening one avenue of access often entails closing another) and include the use of open education resources (OER), providing multiple avenues of access to learning environments for those who cannot travel to campus, adopting policies that reduce or eliminate course and program prerequisites, providing specialized support for marginalized individuals, and providing opportunity for student work to be exposed to 'the public'. This is far from a complete list, and space only permits the discussion of the first two examples.

Open Education Resources

OER are learning materials that are licensed under open licenses such as public domain or Creative Commons which allow users (students and teachers) to use the materials for free {Hewlett, n.d.}, and also enable users to retain copies, reuse, redistribute, remix, and revise (5Rs) the materials for their own use {Wiley, n.d.}. While this reduction in costs (for students) represents a lowered barrier to accessing higher education, it also represents opportunity for teachers and institutions to implement practices which are directed towards increasing social justice for marginalized populations of students. Jhangiani and Jhangiani (2017) found in their study that higher textbook costs are more detrimental to economically disadvantaged students than to those who do not require a student loan or do not have to work while they are attending school. Even if nothing else changes in a course, if a faculty member assigns an open textbook to which all students have immediate access for free from the first class, then one barrier to accessing higher education has been lowered.

Multi-Access Learning Environments

Multi-access learning environments are those where students have flexibility and choice in how they engage in the course activities and meetings. Irvine, Code, and Richards (2013) describe four concentric spheres to represent four levels or tiers of access.

  1. Tier 1, the core sphere, is the traditional face-to-face classroom experience where students travel to a university campus and meet in a classroom or lab to engage in various learning activities with a group of other students who have done the same thing. This is likely what many people envision when they think about 'going to university', but it is relatively expensive for those who need to travel any significant distance.
  2. Tier 2, the next layer out from the core is still anchored in the traditional face-to-face classroom experience, but students do not need to travel to campus in order to participate in the learning experiences. Instead, they connect to the room via web conferencing tools while the rest of the students are gathered for their meeting. In this way, the barrier of distance is reduced or even eliminated because remote students do not need to expend as many resources to participate.
  3. Tier 3 eliminates the geographical barrier and reduces the temporal barrier by allowing students to access recordings of the live classroom experience from their preferred location and at a time more convenient for them. An example of how this might be operationalized is the case of a student who may have the technological power to connect to the live classroom, but they are in a distant timezone so the meeting occurs when they are typically at work or sleeping. By recording the activities of the classroom, students who are both geographically and temporally remote are empowered to participate. Tier 3 is an example of one avenue of access opening (geographic) and another closing (in-person connections to faculty and fellow students).
  4. Tier 4 is what Irvine, Code, and Richards call open learning, where learners are empowered to participate in learning activities on their own time, in their own preferred location, and for whatever reason they want. These learners may be people who do not need or want another credential, but want to continue learning throughout their lifetime, or they are simply curious about the topics of the course.


In order to refine our conceptual model of open education, we might consider phenomena which may initially appear to be within the definition of open education, but upon closer examination, are not.

Inclusive Access

One such phenomenon is so-called 'inclusive access' deals between publishers and bookstores. These agreements are often touted as open education because they may lower one barrier, such as cost, but which erect other barriers, such as rental books that are only accessible for the duration of one semester. Students who wish to retain their textbooks or who need them for more than one semester may be forced to pay twice for the same book.

Openness which Excludes

The fact that many OER and open educational practices are dependent upon digital and networked tools means that some people will be excluded from participation. Sometimes, people will be excluded because they cannot afford to purchase the hardware required to connect to digital tools. Other people might be excluded because it would be physically unsafe for them to participate as themselves in the open. Some people, like tenured faculty, have much more freedom to share openly than others, like contingent faculty or others who may be precariously employed.

Essential Features

Essential features of a concept are those features which, if absent, would render a phenomenon a non-example of that concept. There is disagreement in the field about what are the essential features of open education. David Wiley argues that the term open education has been used so broadly and in so many contexts that it is almost meaningless. Instead, he offers the term OER-enabled pedagogy with the essential feature being that a particular pedagogy would be impossible without the ability of the students or faculty to be able to engage in the 5R rights {Wiley, n.d.}.

Accidental Features

Accidental features of open education include the use of materials that are free of charge. For example, open textbooks from the BCcampus Open Textbook Repository are available for free in digital formats, but they are also available in printed format for a modest fee. Open education may or may not be digitally mediated through networked technologies. Even though open education is often digitally mediated, openness can be practiced off-line as well.

Models of Open Education

There are many examples of open education in British Columbia and Canada. Thompson Rivers University Open Learning is an institution which has committed to lowering barriers to access through policy and the practice of using OER in their course designs when possible. Additionally, BCcampus has been entrusted to create, curate and support the BCcampus Open Textbook Repository. Kwantlen Polytechnic University has lowered barriers by introducing Canada's first two "Zed-Cred" programs which are credentials that can be completed for zero required textbook costs.


There are many variations of open education around the world. The focus in North America has typically been on lowering costs to students and improving learning outcomes through the use of open textbooks, European strategies typically emphasize open practices and inclusion, while institutions in the global south tend to emphasize lowering costs through the use of OER for the purposes of community development.


Cronin, C., & MacLaren, I. (2018). Conceptualising OEP: A review of theoretical and empirical literature in Open Educational Practices. Open Praxis, 10(2), 127–143.

Devries, I. (2013). Open Course Design and Development: A Case Study in the Open Educational Resource University. Simon Fraser University, Burnaby.

Hewlett, W. (n.d.). Open Educational Resources Hewlett Foundation. Retrieved from https://hewlett.org/strategy/open-educational-resources/

Hoad, T. F. (2003). open. Retrieved from http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780192830982.001.0001/acref-9780192830982-e-10477

Hug, T. (2017). Openness in Education: Claims, Concepts, and Perspectives for Higher Education. Seminar.Net, 13(2). Retrieved from https://journals.hioa.no/index.php/seminar/article/view/2308

Irvine, V., Code, J., & Richards, L. (2013). Realigning higher education for the 21st-century learner through multi-access learning. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 9(2). Retrieved from http://jolt.merlot.org/vol9no2/irvine_0613.htm

Jhangiani, R. S., & Jhangiani, S. (2017). Investigating the Perceptions, Use, and Impact of Open Textbooks: A survey of Post-Secondary Students in British Columbia. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning; Vol 18, No 4 (2017): Special Issue: Outcomes of Openness: Empirical Reports on the Implementation of OER. Retrieved from http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/3012/4214

open | Origin and meaning of open by Online Etymology Dictionary. (n.d.). Retrieved September 23, 2018, from https://www.etymonline.com/word/open

Open Education. (n.d.). Retrieved September 23, 2018, from https://sparcopen.org/open-education/

Open Education Consortium. (n.d.). Retrieved September 23, 2018, from https://www.oeconsortium.org/about-oec/

Wiley, D. (ND). Defining the ‘open’ in open content. Retrieved September 23, 2018, from http://www.opencontent.org/definition/

Wiley, D. (2017). OER-Enabled Pedagogy. Retrieved September 23, 2018, from https://opencontent.org/blog/archives/5009

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