Open universities and the broader open narrative

Today Martin Weller gave a really nice talk at the OU that was streamed for a global audience that was no doubt numerous. I’m told there’s a recording that will be posted for those who have missed it.

There was a lot of rich information in his talk but Martin punctuated a few big points for me:

  • Open universities were a higher education innovation and continue to be an innovation (I wholeheartedly agree). In fact, “innovation happened around an idea of openness”, which ensures its relevance.
  • The Open University has been innovating open and ed tech for a long time (they were early adopters of Moodle and the biggest contributor to Moodle’s code base). The OU’s first online course in the 1990s had 15k students.
  • The OU explores all the various tentacles of open including the great work and exemplar practices of the OER Research Hub.

Of course, tangled in all this – which Martin gets into – is that at some point some open universities ceased to control their own narrative. (This is a screen capture of what he actually said, and I hope I’m not taking too much liberty with my interpretation):

For me, this was the most important slide of the talk (other than the one of his dog, of course). Somewhere in our excitement for the new world of open, we dissected it into pieces – MOOCs, textbooks, OER, technology, publications – and lost the thread that ties all of the goodwill of open to a social innovation that continues to actually change lives.

Whose lives are they changing? Canada has three open universities with an approximate combined enrolment of 75,000. At TELUQ 70% of the students are women, and 1 out of 2 would not study at university if it wasn’t for TELUQ.

You can read about Athabasca and TRU’s facts and figures respectively or a more student oriented perspective on why attend an open university over here.

But here’s the thing: how many people in the OER community in North America even know that Canada has three open universities, all of which were modelled after the UK Open University? And to what extent are open universities in Canada visibly inserting themselves into the broader open movement? How strong are those ties? When we talk about open as a social good, or the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion, or open as innovation, shouldn’t we be connecting these ambitions with a well established entity that shares them?

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