How to go about Open Educational Practice: Reflections on #UCLOpenEd

University College London (UCL) held a fantastic afternoon symposium last week on Open Education at UCL. The symposium “explored different approaches to Open Education and how these are practiced by staff and students at UCL.” This was a well thought out event with speakers discussing many important issues such as the ethics of open data, policy and organisational frameworks for opening up HE, pedagogy, and student and staff experience.  

One interesting thing I learned at the symposium was UCL’s Connected Learning Curriculum (Fung, 2017), and how this pedagogical framework/vision gives directions and purpose to Open Educational Practices (OEP) at UCL. According to the UCL website, “Connected Learning Curriculum is at the core of UCL’s Education Strategy 2016-21 and UCL 2034, the university’s 20-year institutional strategy.” In connection with opening up UCL, one objective of the strategy is:

We will provide a distinctive digital  infrastructure to connect students with each other, with staff, with research and with the outside world to support networked, research-based and interdisciplinary education.

You can see the six dimensions of Connected Learning Framework below, from Leo Havemann and Jo Stroud’s presentation, “Open Educational Practices for a Connected Curriculum.”

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What was interesting to see in Havemann’s talk and throughout the symposium was the intersection between Open Education and Connected Learning Curriculum in the form of open practice at UCL, such as opening up assignments and the use and production of Open Educational Resources (OERs). 

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One example for this would be the collaborative and interdisciplinary Wikibooks writing project presented by  James Everest and a group of students: Guy Phillips, Constance Grave, Kseniia Panteleeva, and Andrei Andronic: 

As Havemann and Stroud noted in their presentation, “Connected Curriculum and Open Education propose that students create assignments for real audiences, rather than traditional, ‘disposable’ assignments.” The Wikibooks project very clearly showed the audience (1) how educators can create assignments for real audiences, and (2) how designing an OER is not just about producing Open Access content. First, students and their teacher created a set of learning objects, which can be defined as “a collection of content items, practice items, and assessment items that are combined based on a single learning objective” (I have added this bit for Martin Weller, if he is reading). Some examples would be the sandboxes students worked on, their final wiki chapters, and the rubric James Everest used to assess this assignment. Second, students learned many valuable meta skills during this process such as “copyright, referencing and awareness of quality of resources/ sources to be used in academia,” open licences and media literacies, and “working collaboratively” with others. And I think they enjoyed the process and were happy to share their experiences with us.

Then at the end of the day we heard from Martin Weller on OEP. Weller started his talk by saying how there is an abundance of definitions/views on OEP, which also shows there isn’t a consensus on the meaning of the term.

This was bit amusing to hear as Aras Bozkurt and I also provided a definition for OEPs (as a research descriptor) based on an extensive literature review we did last year. We built on expansive views of OEP (see Helen Beetham, Catherine Cronin and Ian MacLaren, and Som Naidu) and kept the definition intentionally broad (not limited to OER or collaborative practice) and inclusive of non-digital practices. Martin Weller’s talk aligned with the expansive view of OEP, as he encouraged the audience to think about OEP on a personal level and gave many examples from his practice at his talk.

The symposium, especially what Leo presented on Connected Learning Curriculum and Weller’s session on OEP made me think:

  • OEP, as a term, suggests a broad range of practices but  it doesn’t tell us how to go about those practices. It cannot suggest a clear roadmap, as “open” or “openness”  doesn’t have single meaning (Leo has written/talked this about many times). In the UK/European open education community OEP might be understood as collaborative practices around OER but as Aras Bozkurt and I found in our extensive review, and as practice shows, this isn’t always the case. In addition, if we are going to talk about “the” philosophy of open, who decides that?
  • Since OEP alone cannot specify a way of doing things, we can talk about many different pedagogical approaches and visions for open practicecollaborative open practice, critical open practice, self-driven open practice, democratic open practice, feminist open practice, etc.
  • Such pedagogical approaches present a WHY for OEP and provide multiple, sometimes contested, conceptual and practical roadmaps.
  • Just like the use of ed tech tools, we can argue that definitions are place-based resources (Prinsloo, 2015) too. They are situated in practice, whether that’s research or teaching. There should be multiplicity in the way we see OEP simply because of this reason. It is an umbrella concept that needs to be contextualised for any discussion.

To sum up, UCL is doing a fantastic job with using the Connected Curriculum Framework as a roadmap for their open practices. It was inspiring to see on the day how institutional vision and pedagogy can lead to open practices that are meaningful for both students and teachers – thank you UCL for the great organisation.

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