Reflections on #OER17 – From Beyond Content to Open Pedagogy

By @choconancy Nancy White

In 2012 I attended the Open Ed conference in Vancouver , provocatively titled Beyond Content.  This was the same conference where Gardner Campbell captured our hearts with his infamous quote “this is not what I meant at all” , mirroring a sentiment that open was being co-opted by corporate interests and heading down a slippery slope of open-washing and dubious learner benefit.  But what also struck me about this particular Open Ed conference was that  the sessions weren’t really about Beyond Content in the way I had anticipated…the session archive shows that we were still very much talking about OERs, open courseware, and beginning to explore open textbooks. In other words, content was still how we framed open at this point in time.

Flash forward 5 years and I’m still buzzing from #OER17, a well timed conference framed around the Politics of Open. This particular event, with tightly and masterfully curated keynotes and sessions, was able to demonstrate without a doubt that we are beyond content.  The keynotes and sessions I attended fearlessly tackled a range of topics around open that I’m not even sure I heard the word OER once over the course of the two days.  There are already so many great summaries written up and collected over here, but it was the first time I felt that we were truly moving our conversations beyond content.

I, along with my colleagues who travelled from Mexico presented on an evaluation of a faculty development program – lovingly known as the Agora – designed around open pedagogy and it was fortuitous to catch a blog post by David Wiley and subsequent tweet storm prior to our last day, last session time slot.  David’s post outlines a number of good provocations about How is Open Pedagogy Different? but ultimately niggled me in a way I found difficult to articulate.  The crux of the argument was that the open pedagogy needs to be defined by the 5Rs, because if not, how was open pedagogy different from just plain old pedagogy.

Let me begin by saying that my own institution has benefitted greatly from OERs.   We participate in developing and reusing open textbooks and are three years into developing a Zed Cred/Zee Degree, we have adapted two CC BY courses provided to us from Athabasca University, and we have without a doubt been able to innovate because others have been willing to share their open content.  And we have to acknowledge that the 5Rs – which in my reading are framed around content but is something that is contested in in the tweet storm – provide good clarification for what open is in the context of OERs.

But I had to ponder whether OERs and the 5Rs have anything to do with open pedagogy.   In other words:

  • Is content essential to open?
  • Can you have open pedagogy without OERs?
  • Is content what defines pedagogy?

And if we do assume that OERs are essential to open pedagogy, can we ever really move Beyond Content?

Back to our open pedagogy presentation.  The Agora design process was focussed on what an open design would actually be a means to which can be summarized as:

  1. Open as a means to facilitate a faculty culture of collaboration across the university and across disciplines
  2. Open as a means to connect with a broader, global community
  3. Open as means to challenge and expand existing understandings of student centre learning
  4. Open as means to challenge ways of doing, in this case,  the options and possibilities of digital technology and mobile learning
  5. Open as a means to make the lives of faculty easier in their pursuit of better teaching and learning
  6. Open as a means to create a sustainable approach to faculty development

Ultimately we did create content that fits quite nicely with the 5Rs, but the goal of our open pedagogy design process was not to create OERs as a means towards or even as an essential component of open pedagogy. The Agora was alternatively all of the ‘isms –  behaviourism, connectivism, constructivism, constructionism – but the ism doesn’t really matter.  Importantly, the open pedagogy design was at times technology-enabled and at times it didn’t use technology or the internet at all.  OERs didn’t allow us to practice a different pedagogy, rather the open pedagogy of the Agora was a bricolage of activities and practices that at times resulted in OERs and at times didn’t.

If OERS and open content is a way for us to open the door a little bit more, then great. But it’s not the only way to open, and is not even a requirement in my view.  And if I took anything away from #OER17, it’s that there are so many directions to explore, critique, challenge when we talk about open.






  • francesbell

    I have realised that some of what I said here is just as relevant to this post so I will weave some of it into this reply 🙂
    I am so sorry that I missed your presentation. I particularly liked that you acknowledged earlier work on openness in education, and this is something on which I have been reflecting recently. When commenting on a Jim Groom post, I decided to search Google Scholar to find sources that influenced my own HE philosophy/pedagogy in the late 1980s/ early 1990s . Apparently a journal changed its name to ‘Open Learning’ in 1986 and there was argument over the misuse of terminology in 1990. I realised that an important element of my approach was the activity of the student. In designing (rather than prescribing) activity by providing prompts and encouraging engagement with resources and people. And that’s why I take issue with Tony Bates’ assumption that is also quite common in ed tech circles that educators are all wedded to transmission approaches and jealously guard their materials. Tony was talking about online learning and I have little experience of fully online learning, having worked mainly in campus-based education. I have worked with many colleagues who would be reluctant to openly share their resources according to 5 or 6 Rs but would already be modelling at least some of the 6 excellent aspects of open that you describe in your post. I find the Ground Zero approaches to Open to be problematic in at least two ways. Firstly, it can exclude people and their rich, lived educational practices; and secondly it can exclude valuable knowledge that falls outside the parameters of ground zero. A good example of this is in my mind is the excellent SI edited by Sian Bayne, Jen Ross and Jeremy Knox . Only one of articles is ‘open access’ but several of the others are available as pre-prints or by ingenuity via one’s network. Does that mean that the wealth of knowledge available by reading and discussing the articles should be excluded from consideration of OER and open educational practice. I don’t think so.
    A very good example of how to weave earlier ideas into emerging practice was a site that I remember but seems to be lost – it was site where people collected resources from Vygotsky’s work inlcuding the Zone of Proximal Development and re-examined its relevance in web-based environments. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

  • T Morgan

    Thanks Frances, I appreciate your thoughtful comment. The article you pointed to is exactly what I needed to read right now as I’m trying to do a better job of a lit review of this topic. I’m not sure if you’ve seen a blog post where I delved into open pedagogy history ( – it was actually prompted by the OER17 reviewers – and as somebody who is constantly referencing distance education and open university history when we talk about open, I realized that I’ve become quite lazy about digging more deeply into the past literature about some of these topics. I think that both you and I agree that there is more work to do in connecting to past scholarship?

    As an aside, I’ve been digging into the higher ed reforms of the late 60s and early 70s and I have to admit that the scale of ambition of that time that resulted in some pretty significant social and structural changes have put into perspective for me just how much farther we could/need to go with ‘open’ as currently constructed. But of course, we first should to be able to be clear on ‘for what’ and ‘for whom’. (I hope this is adds to your comment, it feels like a discussion that would work so much better in person:-))

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