Open Education – the importance of a critical approach

As Bayne, Knox, Ross (2015) highlight in their paper, there has been a continuing trend towards ‘openness’ in many walks of life. My own experiences in this space have largely been in open technology, and the use of this within education/training. There’s certainly a lot of positivity about it: it’s seen as low-cost, tapping into a wealth of expertise, and something that integrates well with other open source technologies.

But open source technology isn’t the panacea it’s often portrayed as. ‘Crowd-sourced’ technology can often be bloated, and this can make it expensive to maintain. Given technical developers are usually at the core of designing and building the software, I’ve also found that this often comes at the expense of the user-experience (more specifically experience for the student).

Take Moodle as an example. This is largely designed from the perspective of an administrator’s point of view. Although there has been significant progress made to make it a better experience for students, it still follows the block format and poor design. I’ve found that many people using Moodle often don’t see the inherent flaws in the student experience, but I think that’s largely down to becoming accustomed to its nature.

Open source technology has also been championed as it’s been seen as wrestling control away from private vendors, and creating something ‘for the people’. However, the downsides of this approach are often overlooked.

In many ways, Bayne, Knox, Ross (2015) echo this from the perspective of open education. They suggest that a critique of open education is well warranted, and their paper aims to provoke discussion around this.

The first things that came to mind when ‘open education’ was brought up were the Open University and MOOCs. The paper argues that ‘open’ is largely defined as negating the hierarchical, economic and geographic aspects of ‘closed’ education – the Open university certainly aims to reduce geographical and financial boundaries, and MOOCs perhaps all three. However, the paper argues that these three pillars are not the only ones that should be considered.

There are many recurring themes in this paper from some of the previous readings:

  • The term ‘open’ needs tightening. This ambiguity has created a tendency to focus on the more attractive aspects of ‘open’, and not necessary given the critique it warrants. This echoes Bayne (2015), when discussing the terminology of ‘Technology-enhanced learning’ and that the choice of terminology has quite far-reaching consequences. In the same way, open education is framed by the fact that it is ‘not closed’, and again the subtleties, richness and complexities could be missed by taking this perspective.
  • An increasing neoliberalistic influence on education is being manifested through open education. This focus on efficiency has been mentioned several times, Biesta, G. (2012) being of particular note.
  • The role of the teacher is also under flux. Selwyn, N. (2011) discusses this from the perspective of new technologies. While open and technology are not the same, there is an inherent link here, and therefore the same issues are apparent.

I’m glad this paper picks up on some of the themes of the self-directed learner. Most of the discussion in this area has been largely focussed on the role of the teacher, and not how things have changed from a learner’s perspective. I find this is at the core of the many flaws around ‘elearning’ (if this term is to be attributed to the self-taught style that is commonplace). It assumes that the role of the teacher can be baked into the content and that the user is self-motivated enough to complete this without any interaction. I particularly like the phrase that “such openness is only a solution for the imagined autonomous subject”.

I’m looking forward to digging into these themes over the rest of the week!