All posts by Catherine Cronin


Conversations about Teaching & Learning

I’m a lover of a variety of podcasts — education, science, politics, arts & culture. I listen to learn, to laugh, to be moved (and, honestly, often to be transported elsewhere as I inch through another of Galway’s traffic jams). A wonderful find of the past year has been Teaching in Higher Ed by Bonni Stachowiak.

A recent episode with Clint Smith moved me immensely, and as a result I’m now reading Counting Descent. For this one podcast conversation alone I am grateful to Bonni. But there are others — Bryan Alexander and Mike Caulfield with their unique and expansive views of digital literacy, Bonnie Stewart on networked pedagogy and identity, Autumm Caines on digital citizenship, and deep considerations of teaching by Thea Wolf, Sean Michael Morris, and Gardner Campbell. I’ve many more episodes in the queue for listening.

Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to record a podcast with Bonni, exploring open education and social justice and more: the episode was posted yesterday. Bonni made this such a wonderful, enjoyable experience. I’m grateful for the opportunity to be part of a much bigger conversation in this field – I learn from so many. So thank you, Bonni, for your kindness and generosity to me and to educators everywhere. You’ve sparked more thinking and conversations than you’ll ever know.

As for other podcasts, here are some that are on my phone right now:

…any other suggestions?



Opening up Open Pedagogy

Many thanks to Maha Bali for organising tonight’s Open Pedagogy Hangout. Maha has curated a number of blog posts about open pedagogy and also started a Google doc to collect notes, links, etc: Thanks to all who have blogged and shared their thoughts. I’m grateful for the opportunity to participate and looking forward to tonight’s conversation very much.

I’ve blogged recently about my understanding of open pedagogy and OEP (considered together and separately) and also about how I’ve defined OEP (inclusive of open pedagogy) in the course of my PhD research. As I’ve explored both the history and current practice of open education, I’ve found it useful to note two broad strands of definitions of OEP/open pedagogy: those focused on OER (and the 5Rs) and broader definitions. I’m re-reading some of this work in preparation for tonight’s hangout. In reading some of my notes on the earlier open education literature, I’ve been drawn to particular ideas and quotes — not complete, not comprehensive, but catching my interest today. I share them here. (Please note: not all of these are available open source, but I will be happy to share PDFs with you if you’d like them.)

Postscript: I’ve made two updates to this post, 3 hours after first publishing it. Firstly, I’ve added a link to the Open practices: briefing paper (Beetham, et al. 2012) — a key source with respect to OER and OEP, mistakenly omitted in my haste earlier. Secondly, the list shared here is a selection of work published between 1975 and 2012. I’ve omitted later references as I don’t wish to pre-empt current thinking about this topic by those participating in tonight’s discussion and/or blogging about the topic this week. For current thinking by all engaged in this discussion, please see Maha’s curated list of blog posts and the Google doc — links at the top of this post. With thanks, as always, to Myles Horton and Paulo Freire: “We make the road by walking“.

Open education, open learning, open pedagogy, OER, OEP…

Open learning is an imprecise phrase to which a range of meanings can be, and is, attached. It eludes definition. But as an inscription to be carried in procession on a banner, gathering adherents and enthusiasms, it has great potential. For its very imprecision enables it to accommodate many different ideas and aims. (MacKenzie, 1975 in Keegan, 1990)

Open education in America is a manifest part of the liberal politics and the reform rhetoric that helped define an era in our recent history. The open classroom approach “arrived” in this country in the late sixties. As methodology, we primarily imported it from England, known widely as the Leicestershire Model, or the Integrated Day, or simply the informal classroom. A series of articles in 1967 by Joseph Featherstone in The New Republic ably publicized the innovative British practices, and educators like Lillian Weber made notable efforts to analyze and adapt them to American settings. (Mai, 1978)

Part of the problem of definition stems from the careless, if evocative, use of the term open by educators and the popular press to describe the wide variety of educational innovations which proliferated at the same time as open education classrooms were being developed. (Noddings & Enright, 1983)

Definition of open learning: increased flexibility and user choice over all aspects of the learning process. (Lewis, 1992)

The approach of the authors is based on the pedagogy of dialogue of Paulo Freire. Its aim is to point out some indications to establish a digital inclusion that transcends utilitarian limits and a merely operational access to machines and programs. That is, an inclusion that is also social, cultural, and political. (Corney, 2006)

New literacy practices are aligned with an “open pedagogy” that embraces collaborative knowledge creation, participatory education models, experiential practices, mentoring, and apprenticeships. (Corney, 2006)

The expanding global collection of open educational resources… contribute to making education more accessible, especially where money for learning materials is scarce. They also nourish the kind of participatory culture of learning, creating, sharing and cooperation that rapidly changing knowledge societies need. However, open education is not limited to just open educational resources. It also draws upon open technologies that facilitate collaborative, flexible learning and the open sharing of teaching practices that empower educators to benefit from the best ideas of their colleagues. It may also grow to include new approaches to assessment, accreditation and collaborative learning. (Cape Town Open Declaration, 2007)

The historically more certain boundaries – where information and communications were controlled by universities – is being lost. Institutions are struggling to make sense of how to operate in this changed and permeable space. The mind sets and frameworks of references that we have used hitherto are no longer adequate. Many boundaries have blurred: virtual and physical localities, professional and social lives, formal and informal learning, knowledge consumption and production. (Armstrong & Franklin, 2008)

A participatory culture is a culture with relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement, strong support for creating and sharing creations, and some type of informal mentorship whereby experienced participants pass along knowledge to novices. In a participatory culture, members also believe their contributions matter and feel some degree of social connection with one another. (Jenkins, Purushotma, Weigel, Clinton, & Robison, 2009)

Open pedagogy’ approaches involving collaborative, co-productive and more ‘equal’ roles between ‘teacher’ and ‘learner’ than hitherto implemented are both possible and made more effective by social networking technologies and social networking environments. (Cullen, Cullen, Hayward, & Maes, 2009)

While acknowledging the potential value of content, we contend, however, that it is the opening up of educational processes, which we are calling Open Pedagogy (OP) enabled by the Web 2.0 technologies that are set to play the more transformational role in the collaboration between students and lecturers… Even if the technological infrastructure exists to allow materials to be a button-click away, unless lecturers are willing to share their materials or pedagogy, the technological affordance will remain unrealised… the sharing of the pedagogical process, what we see as ‘open pedagogy’. (Hodgkinson-Williams & Gray, 2009)

The concept of ‘open pedagogy’ (Hodgkinson-Williams & Gray 2009) is in line with Conole’s definition of ‘open educational practices’ (OEP)… “the set of activities and support around the creation, use and repurposing of Open Educational Resources. It also includes the contextual settings within which these practices occur”… The move to incorporate ‘practice’ in the definition signifies the acknowledgement that content disembedded from its context is difficult to adapt without some understanding of the pedagogical and epistemological assumptions underlying the creation of the resource. The latter are of particular import as different views on what is considered ‘worthwhile knowledge’ are likely to increase with the ready access to materials from different parts of the world. (Hodgkinson-Williams, 2010)

Open teaching is described as the facilitation of learning experiences that are open, transparent, collaborative, and social. Open teachers are advocates of a free and open knowledge society, and support their students in the critical consumption, production, connection, and synthesis of knowledge through the shared development of learning networks. (Couros, 2010)

OEP are defined as practices which support the (re)use and production of OER through institutional policies, promote innovative pedagogical models, and respect and empower learners as co-producers on their lifelong learning path. OEP address the whole OER governance community: policy makers, managers/ administrators of organisations, educational professionals and learners. (Andrade et al., 2011)

Open educational practices, in light of JISC’s case studies and the Capetown declaration, seem to encompass all of the following: production, management, use and reuse of open educational resources; Developing and applying open/public pedagogies in teaching practice; open learning and gaining access to open learning opportunities; practising open scholarship to encompass open access publication, open science and open research; open sharing of teaching ideas and know-how; and using open technologies (web-based platforms, applications and services) in an educational context. (Beetham, H., Falconer, I., McGill, L., & Littlejohn, A., 2012)


Andrade, A., Ehlers, U.-D., Caine, A., Carneiro, R., Conole, G., Kairamo, A.-K., … Holmberg, C. (2011). Beyond OER: Shifting focus to open educational practices. Open Education Quality Initiative (OPAL).

Armstrong, J., & Franklin, T. (2008). A review of current and developing international practice in the use of social networking (Web 2.0) in higher education (Commissioned paper). London: Committee of Inquiry into the Changing Learner Experience.

Beetham, H., Falconer, I., McGill, L., & Littlejohn, A. (2012). Open practices: briefing paper. JISC, 2012

Calder, J. (2000). Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 1(1).

Corney, T. (2006). Youth work in schools: Should youth workers also be teachers? Youth Studies Australia, 25(3), 17.

Couros, A. (2010). Developing personal learning networks for open and social learning. In G. Veletsianos (Ed.), Emerging Technologies in Distance Education. Athabasca University Press.

Cullen, J., Cullen, C., Hayward, D., & Maes, V. (2009). Good practices for learning 2.0: Promoting inclusion (No. JRC 53578). Joint Research Centre, European Commission.

Hodgkinson-Williams, C. (2010). Benefits and challenges of OER for higher education institutions, OER Workshop for Heads of Commonwealth Universities. Cape Town, South Africa: Commonwealth of Learning (COL).

Hodgkinson-Williams, C., & Gray, E. (2009). Degrees of openness: The emergence of OER at the University of Cape Town. International Journal of Education and Development Using Information and Communication Technology, 5(5), 101–116.

Jenkins, H., Purushotma, R., Weigel, M., Clinton, K., & Robison, A. J. (2009). Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Keegan, D. (1990). Open learning: Concepts and costs, successes and failures. In OLNT’90 Proceedings. Curtin University of Technology, Perth: Australian Society for Educational Technology.

Lewis, R. (1992). Approaches to staff development in open learning: The role of a competence framework, Open Learning, November 2011, 20-33.

Mai, R. P. (1978). Open education: From ideology to orthodoxy. Peabody Journal of Education, 55(3), 231–237.

Noddings, N., & Enright, D. S. (1983). The promise of open education. Theory Into Practice, 22(3), 182–189.


#OER17: personal and political

So many important conversations, so much valuable work, so many new connections made and friendships celebrated. Thanks OER17.

Over the past 11 days or so since OER17 ‘The Politics of Open’ ended, I’ve read as many conference blog posts as possible. There are a remarkable number of interweaving stories and interpretations of the conference, all unique (see the list of OER17 posts). I’ve commented on many blogs but neglected to write my own post… so here I’ll link to some of the posts that have struck a particular chord with me, and add just a few thoughts.

One conversation immediately following the conference has stayed with me. I found myself in lively conversation with co-chairs from four OER Conferences: Martin Weller (OER15), Lorna Campbell (OER16), Josie Fraser (OER17), and Vivien Rolfe (OER18). Each (I think) has been involved since the very first conference. The conversation touched on the fact that each conference has pushed beyond the previous one in a considerable way, and indeed none would have been possible without the previous ones. This is something I have observed since I began attending in 2015, more so than with other conferences — most notably in the engagement with critical approaches to openness. This seems to apply to our work in open education also.

Many OER17 participants have remarked and/or written about the conference focus on criticality, equality, social justice. The conference created space for the personal and the emotional, described in wonderful posts by Sheila MacNeill, Kelly Terrell, Suzan Koseoglu, and Lorna Campbell. OER17 was also a conference of great generosity — in ideas as well as personal interactions. Maha Bali arrived from Cairo bearing gifts, and her keynote mentioned countless others whose words and work she has learned from and built on. She acknowledged and shared these while weaving her own unique story of openness. This generosity continued throughout the conference. Some presenters shared their slides before the conference, inviting feedback (e.g. Frances Bell & Suzan Koseoglu), and noting that comments and feedback helped them to develop their ideas even further. The work of Paulo Freire was referenced by many participants (e.g. see Javiera Atenas & Annalisa Manca) but so was the work of many other activists and educators, quite a few of whom were at the conference. Collectively, we knitted our ideas, publicly and generously, into a broader body of work.

OER17 keynotes: Maha Bali, Diana Arce & Lucy Crompton-Reid – photo by Josie Fraser, via Twitter

The strong and diverse voices of women were notable at the conference — from the 3 brilliant keynote speakers onward. Thank you, Maha Bali, Diana Arce, and Lucy Crompton-Reid. Helen Crump reflected on this in her thoughtful post, Thinking critically about women & care relative to openness. It was intentional that FemEdTech chose OER17 to share their/our collective and nascent ideas for an open network of feminists in edtech and open education, inviting conversation and participation. If you are interested in exploring, please check out current conversations at @femedtech and #femedtech and do get in touch.

All of these conversations move us forward: the tentative, the inviting, the declarative, the challenging. As David Kernohan notes in his brilliant post Roaming Autodidacts and the Neo-Reactionaries: “the will is as important as the tool… the will to collaborate, corroborate and develop”.

Finally, I want to thank all whom I collaborated with before, during, and after the conference.

I’d like to mention many, many more lovely conversations and thought-provoking sessions from OER17. Please check out the OER17 blog posts to explore some of these. These conversations will continue, there is no doubt. I am very grateful to two presentations in particular —  Beck Pitt and the OER Research Hub for illuminating international OEP and Sukaina Walji and ROER4D for exploring OEP in Global South contexts. You have sparked my thinking in new ways and offered exciting possibilities for collaboration. Thank you 🙂

Thanks finally to all OER organisers, keynotes, presenters, and participants. Every voice, every person, was part of creating this special happening. The ripples continue…

Image: OER17 Themes, CC BY 2.0 Beck Pitt



A domain of my own

A Room of One’s Own, CC BY 2.0 cogdog (Flickr)

At last! Thanks to modeling* and encouragement from so many of you, a friendly nudge from Jim Groom in Galway last week, and support from all the lovely folks at Reclaim Hosting, I have A Domain of My Own:

Welcome to my new home… more to come 🙂

* American English spelling, with apologies to all my Irish/UK role-modelling friends 😉



Grateful for openness

Post-#OEGlobal and pre-#OER17, my mind is on fire. At the end of Open Education Week and Brexit week; working on another draft chapter for my PhD, yet pulled in the direction of events in Ireland, the US, Mosul, Venezuela and more, my mind is on fire. I have many posts to write but I shall write one, in gratitude.

To my GO-GN colleagues, including the OER Hub team who pull it all together so beautifully, I thank you for an unforgettable week of scholarship and friendship in Cape Town earlier this month. Together we shared meals, our work, our worries, our stories, photos of our families, our dreams for the future. We worked for hours together, we walked in Cape Town together, and some of us visited Robben Island together. I thank each of you for giving and receiving so openly. I look forward to learning from and with you all in the future.

To all who shared your work, your ideas, and your feedback at OE Global, thank you. I’ve blogged already about my initial reflections; your work is still resonating with me.

To Lisa Marie Blaschke, thank you for inviting Lorna Campbell, Chrissi Nerantzi, Fabio Nascimbeni and me to participate in EDEN‘s #OpenEducationWk webinar this week to explore “being open” with educators and researchers — so enjoyable to share stories and resources.

To the #101openstories team, thank you for starting something beautiful this week. I loved the#101openstories I read by Frances Bell and Sheila MacNeill, and hope to read more. Thank you all.

To Jim Groom, thank you for accepting our invitation to come to Ireland! You’re in Cork today, heading for Galway on Monday. A warm welcome awaits you here, from 40 people bursting with curiosity and ready to explore Student as Partner, Producer and Assessor: Exploring Domain of One’s Own. Can’t wait 🙂

To Josie Fraser, Alek Tarkowski, and the ALT team, thank you for organising and meticulously planning OER17. The conference is already facilitating some incredible conversations and collaborations around the politics of open. Next week’s conference, with so many ways to participate (looking at you Virtually Connecting at OER17), promises to be something special. Muireann O’Keeffe, Laura Czerniewicz and I are grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the plenary panel Mapping the Politics of Open – we’ve been enjoying our conversations as we prepare for that.

Also, thanks Laura Czerniewicz for jumping into the unknown with me as we combine our thinking for our OER17 session: Critical pragmatism and critical advocacy: Addressing the challenges of openness. And Caroline Kuhn, thank you for modelling open and generous scholarship so deeply at  GO-GN and OE Global, and for our extended conversations about what we have learned in our respective PhD research studies, which we’ll share in our OER17 workshop: Towards open praxis: Storytelling and narrative inquiry in open education research.

And finally, thanks to my PLN, i.e. all the smart, generous, courageous human beings who inspire me every day to do and stay true to this work.

I am grateful for openness.

Image: Revolución a la Educación es Aquí CC0 by @cogdog

…and with that image credit (yes, I know it’s CC0, but still nice to acknowledge the creator 🙂 ) a final word of thanks to Alan Levine for embodying the spirit of openness and open learning so completely (and with joy). Thanks @cogdog.



Student as partner, producer, and assessor: Workshop with Jim Groom

Burren fossil CC BY-SA 2.0 catherinecronin

On Monday, April 3rd (one week from today!) Jim Groom will join us here at NUI Galway to facilitate a workshop: Student as Partner, Producer & Assessor: Exploring Domain of One’s Own.

The workshop is free to attend thanks to sponsorship from the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching & Learning in Higher Education. The workshop is part of the National Forum’s 2016-17 seminar series and also a key event in 2017 All Aboard (April 3-7) a week-long series of national and regional public events designed to build confidence in Ireland’s digital skills for learning.

Jim was previously the director of Teaching & Learning Technologies and adjunct professor at the University of Mary Washington (USA) and is the co-founder of Reclaim Hosting. He is a co-developer of the Domain of One’s Own (DoOO) initiative. Jim’s recent post Next Generation Digital Learning Environments gives a good idea of his work and his thinking. He is also excited to be visiting Ireland for the first time.

In the Student as Partner, Producer & Assessor workshop on April 3rd, we will explore participatory pedagogies, a partnership approach to teaching and learning, and agentic/authentic assessment. In addition, Jim will guide participants in creating their own domains and discussing how DoOO can be used in learning, teaching and assessment.

All are welcome to join the workshop. Eilis O’Regan, programme coordinator at NUI Galway and newcomer to blogging, recently shared her thoughts about the workshop in A nod to the Woolf:

I feel like the educational stars have aligned – I’m so excited about attending this workshop.

There are just a few places still available — please sign up if you’d like to attend (no workshop fee and lunch will be provided). We’d love to see you here in Galway.

Student as Partner, Producer & Assessor: Exploring Domain of One’s Own

Related reading:


OEP and open pedagogy: #OEGlobal reflections

I recently returned from 10 days in Cape Town, participating in the Open Education Global Conference and GO-GN seminar and working with fellow open education researchers at the Centre for Innovation in Learning & Teaching at UCT. All were deeply enriching experiences, both personally and professionally, in a place I’ve come to love after two visits in the past year.

For those who may not know, GO-GN is a global network of PhD students working in open education. The annual 2.5-day GO-GN seminar immediately precedes the OE Global conference, but this event is just part of a broader programme and network of mutual support. Chrissi Nerantzi and Martin Weller have written wonderful blog posts about the GO-GN Cape Town experience already; mine will follow. This post is a summary of some my reflections following the 3-day OE Global conference, particularly with respect to OEP and open pedagogy.

OE Global Conference, Cape Town

This was my first time attending #OEGlobal (after several years following online) and it was deeply worthwhile for the scholarship, friendship, and inspiration. The OE Global programme (with links to most presentations) is well worth exploring, as are the #OEGlobal tweets. Educators and researchers from 47 countries across 6 continents participated in the conference. The range and quality of work was stunning. A standout was the ROER4D project comprising 18 evidence-based OER research studies across the Global South with the aim of improving educational policy, practice, and research in developing countries. There were conference presentations by many of the 18 ROER4D studies as well as a report on the project meta-synthesis by Cheryl Hodgkinson-Williams: Adoption and impact of OEP and OER in the Global South.

ROER4D researchers at OE Global

Another standout for me was the discussion of work being done by many in the US community college sector to boost college access and completion for underserved and at-risk students through the creation of OER-based or Z-degrees. These efforts and the OER Degree Initiative were discussed in the OER Degrees panel.

A foundational theme of much of the work shared at OE Global was social justice. Many presentations foregrounded social justice as a core value of our work in open education. This began with the opening keynote by Narend Baijnath, continued with the Day Two keynote by Patricia Arinto, and was highlighted in numerous presentations (e.g. by OEPScotland, Preston Davis, Jamison Miller and myselflinks are to relevant slides/presentations). Engaging in these conversations in South Africa, following the recent #FeesMustFall protests, provided a powerful opportunity for each of us to consider our work in the context of calls for free and decolonised education. At the conference, Laura Czerniewicz summarised three aspects of decolonising higher education: recognising how power relations are enacted and instantiated in curricula and policies; foregrounding African/Global South content and contexts; and promoting and engaging in dialogue between different epistemic traditions (Global South & Global North). See also Sukaina Walji’s recent post: A role for open education in the #feesmustfall movement in South African higher education.

As always after such a rich feast of ideas, there are far too many strands to explore fully. However, one is closely related to my PhD research in open educational practices. There was much discussion at the conference about both OEP and open pedagogy. How do these concepts relate to one another? They overlap, but how exactly? There is a great deal of work going on in both #OEP and #openped at the moment, so how might we productively join some of these conversations?

OEP and open pedagogy

For some time now I’ve been paying attention not just to the nature of the work being done by many in the global open education community, but also to differences in emphasis across different sectors and regions. For example, much foundational work in open textbooks is rooted in and continues in North America (e.g. BCcampus Open Textbook project and Z-Degree programmes). More recently, a flourishing movement has emerged around open pedagogy (check out #openped) led by innovative educators such as Robin deRosaKaren CangialosiScott RobisonRajiv JhangianiDavid Wiley, and others.

In the UK, and to a certain extent here in Ireland, there is much work/discussion re: OER, less emphasis (though increasing) on open textbooks, and a deep and growing engagement with OEP and critical approaches to openness. These emphases will feature prominently in the upcoming OER Conference #OER17 ‘The Politics of Open’ (April 5-6), as they already do in projects and networks such as the Open Education Research Hub (who also support GO-GN), ALT’s Open Education SIGOpen ScotlandOEPScotland, and UK OER (the UKOER project officially ended in 2012 but the community continues via #ukoer and @ukoer – thanks to @dkernohan).

With its truly global scope, OE Global provided an opportunity to learn from and about a diverse range of research and researchers. I attended as many OEP and open pedagogy sessions as was possible and spoke with many, many wonderful open scholars. Following the conference, as part of my own research, I searched the conference programme and #OEGlobal tweets for terms related to OEP and open pedagogy. Despite these efforts, it’s likely I have omitted something important. Apologies in advance – and please do add a comment to this post if you wish to add some missing work or a different interpretation. Our work can only improve with multiple perspectives.

OEP and open pedagogy presentations at OE Global

The global scope of OEP work was very clear at the conference. Research explicitly mentioning OEP was shared by researchers from 11 different projects/studies based in South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Sri Lanka, Mauritius, Tasmania, Brazil, Canada, Scotland, and Ireland. A further 3 presentations focused specifically on open pedagogy, from projects based in South Africa, the US, and the Netherlands.

Many of the OEP studies referenced earlier foundational work in open educational practices. These key papers can be considered in three main groups:

i) work emerging from CILT (Centre for Innovation in Learning & Teaching), University of Cape Town — focusing on 5 dimensions of openness: technical, legal, cultural, pedagogical, financial.

ii) work arising from the Open Education Quality (OPAL) Initiative (2010-11) — espousing a definition of OEP linked closely to open pedagogy: “collaborative practice in which resources are shared by making them openly available, and pedagogical practices are employed which rely on social interaction, knowledge creation, peer-learning, and shared learning practices.”

iii) work arising from the UK OER Programme (2009-2012) — using an expansive definition of OEP including the creation, use and reuse of OER as well as open pedagogies, open learning, open access publishing, and use of open technologies.

In addition, 2 of the 3 open pedagogy presentations (and some OEP presentations, e.g. Gachago, et al.) referenced the 8 attributes of open pedagogy model:


The above gives an indication of the scope and nature of research shared at the OE Global conference in the areas of OEP and open pedagogy. While it might seem from the summary here that open pedagogy was a minor strand of the conference, the discussion of open pedagogy was not limited to the 3 sessions listed. Open pedagogy is, of course, a key element of OEP. Together, OEP and open pedagogy comprised a main strand of discussion at the conference: in the sessions, in the panel discussions, and in many informal conversations.

For those of us working in open education, myself included, the work shared at OE Global provides a strong basis for discussion, comparison, and potential collaboration. Some important areas which I would like to explore further, in my own research and in collaboration with others, are these:

  • Decentering northern epistemology. With global research funding, production, and dissemination skewed so heavily toward the Global North, it may be easy for many in the North to fail “to see” global inequalities in knowledge production. But see we must. Researchers in the Global North have a collective responsibility to deepen our awareness of epistemic traditions beyond our own, to challenge deeply held assumptions about knowledge and power, to promote and engage in South-North dialogue and collaboration, and much more. As noted by the ROER4D project during the conference, this is particularly important in open education.
  • The relationship between OER and OEP/open pedagogy. A growing number of research studies, across different contexts, reveal an increasingly complex relationship between OER and OEP/open pedagogy. In addition to OER opening the door to OEP/open pedagogy, the reverse may also be the case. This has emerged in my research (in Irish higher education) and in research studies by Czerniewicz, et al. (in South African higher education) and Penny Bentley (in Australian secondary education). I believe these findings are important and may be part of an inflection point in open education. What is emerging in other contexts?
  • Defining OEP and open pedagogy. One of the many benefits of attending OE Global was the opportunity to discuss these challenging questions with many of the people whose work informs and inspires my own. I know, for example, that David Wiley defines open pedagogy very precisely as “the set of teaching and learning practices that are only possible or practical in the context of the free access and 5R permissions characteristic of open educational resources”. My research focuses on how open educational practices emerge in contexts where open education/OER policies do not exist. David and I approach our work from different standpoints, but seek to address similar questions. At the conference, David and I discussed this. We both agreed that open pedagogy is a constituent of OEP. But the door is open for further discussion and work. What else is useful and important in building definitions and frameworks of open pedagogy and OEP?

This work continues.


As a postscript, here are links to the work that I shared at the OE Global conference: “Openness and praxis: Exploring the use of OEP in higher education” paper post-print (IRRODL, in press), presentation, and links to all papers referenced in my presentation.

My sincere thanks to the wonderful OE Global conference chair Glenda Cox, the programme committee and conference organisers, all of the conference presenters and participants, and to my inspiring GO-GN colleagues. Thanks to you all for an amazing week in Cape Town — the scholarship, friendship, music, drumming and dancing. Unforgettable.


GO-GN Cape Town (almost everyone)

GO-GN at work!

Images: all images CC BY-SA catherinecronin on Flickr


Open conversations at #OEGlobal & #GO_GN


Day 1, Cape Town – Flickr CC-BY catherinecronin

I’m currently in the final year of my PhD research study/journey/adventure, planning to submit my dissertation at the end of 2017. Over the next two months, however, I’ll be mixing up my writing time with a few much-needed opportunities to engage with other open education practitioners and researchers – in places slightly more convivial than my usual writing spaces. 🙂

#OEGlobal and #GO_GN

Firstly, I’ve just arrived in Cape Town for the annual Open Education Global Conference and GO_GN workshop. A long-time follower of #OEGlobal, I’m delighted to be able to attend the 3-day conference here on March 8-10. That sponsorship is thanks to the GO-GN network, organized by the OER Hub at the Open University. I’ll join 14 other doctoral researchers in the area of open education for a 3-day #GO_GN workshop immediately preceding the OEGlobal conference. I look forward to meeting and exchanging ideas and feedback with a global group of open researchers – some of whom I already know and others whom I look forward to meeting. Martin, Bea, Rob and Beck promise a busy few days. We are ready!

In preparation for discussions over the next several days, I’ve shared a post-print of a paper based on the first phase of my PhD research study: Openness and praxis: Exploring the use of open educational practices in higher education. The paper will be published this year in The International Journal of Research in Open and Distributed Learning. I welcome any feedback and/or suggestions.


I’ll also participate in OER17 in London next month, April 5-6th. The theme of the conference, “The Politics of Open”, resonates with many of our collective concerns right now, both within and beyond higher education. The programme contains a wonderful mix of sessions, focusing on issues including access, equity, balancing advocacy and criticality, working within and beyond HE structures, addressing politics at multiple levels, and moving forward in open education. I particularly look forward to the keynotes by Maha Bali, Diana Arce, and Lucy Crompton-Reid. I’ll be participating in a few different sessions. I’ll join Laura Czerniewicz for ‘Critical pragmatism and critical advocacy: Addressing the challenges of openness’, and Caroline Kuhn for a workshop on ‘Using the power of narrative research to illuminate open educational practice’. I’ll also partner with Muireann O’Keeffe and Laura Czerniewicz in a final plenary panel at the end of the conference.

Learning, Assessment, and Reclaim Your Domain

Last but not least, many of us in Galway are looking forward to welcoming Jim Groom on his first visit to Ireland. Jim will facilitate a one-day workshop at NUI Galway on Monday, April 3rd: Student as partner, producer and assessor: Exploring Domain of One’s Own. The workshop is part of a year-long seminar series sponsored by Ireland’s National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching & Learning in Higher Education. Jim has already blogged about his visit – and I will post again closer to the time. For now though, please check out the workshop description and Eventbrite link and consider making the trip to Galway, or following on Twitter on the day.

And now, first full day in Cape Town, I am off to meet Cheryl Brown, Laura Czerniewicz and many more of the wonderful team at CILT at University of Cape Town. Can’t wait…

Image: Day 1, Cape Town CC-BY catherinecronin


Openness and praxis (at #SRHE)


This blog post is a summary of my presentation at SRHE (Society for Research into Higher Education) in London on November 18, 2016. The event was organised by the SRHE Digital University Network, convened by Lesley Gourlay, Ibrar Bhatt, and Kelly Coate. The theme was Critical Perspectives on ‘Openness’ in Higher Education. Three of us shared our research: Muireann O’Keeffe, Rob Farrow, and myself. Sincere thanks to SRHE and DUN organisers for the kind invitation, to Muireann and Rob for their thought-provoking presentations, and to all who attended for sharing their ideas. Following is a short summary of my presentation.

I begin with a reflexive note. I first shared the above quote by Michael Apple during ALT-C in 2014, a conference held in the weeks immediately following the start of both the Black Lives Matter movement and Gamergate. We continue to live in uncertain – and for many, perilous – times. As educators, we face fundamental questions about education, democracy, and inequality. How are we developing digital and media literacies, data literacy, civic literacy, digital citizenship? What is the purpose of our work as researchers and educators? What is the role of higher education, and of public higher education? I am an open researcher as well as an open education researcher. I believe openness has the potential to increase access to education, to help to democratise education, and also to prepare learners in all contexts for engaged citizenship in an increasingly open, networked and participatory culture. But openness is not without risk. Openness can as easily exacerbate inequality as help to reduce it. We need more than good intentions. We must theorise openness and we require critical approaches to openness in order to realise the benefits in any meaningful way. This has been the impetus for my work and I begin my presentation with that reflexive framing.

The title of my presentation is ‘Openness and praxis: Exploring the use of open educational practices (OEP) for teaching in higher education’. I use the word praxis as Freire (1970) defined it: “reflection and action directed at structures to be transformed”. I’ll briefly describe the preliminary findings from Phase 1 of my PhD research study – a qualitative, empirical study exploring meaning making and decision-making by university educators regarding whether, why, and how they use OEP for teaching. It is a study not just of open educators, but of a broad cross-section of academic staff at one university. The purpose is to understand how university educators conceive of, make sense of, and make use of OEP in their teaching, and to try to learn more about, and from, the practices and values of educators from across a broad continuum of ‘closed’ to open practices. (A subsequent phase of the study will include the perspectives of students re: openness.)

Defining OEP

Overall, open education practitioners and researchers describe OEP as moving beyond a content-centred approach to openness, shifting the focus from resources to practices, with learners and teachers sharing the processes of knowledge creation. In their summary of the UKOER project, for example, Beetham, et al. (2012) explicitly define the project’s interpretation of OEP as practices which included the creation, use and reuse of OER as well as open learning, open/public pedagogies, open access publishing, and the use of open technologies. Ehlers (2011) defines OEP as “practices which support the (re)use and production of OER through institutional policies, promote innovative pedagogical models, and respect and empower learners as co-producers on their lifelong learning paths.”

Education researchers and practitioners have described and theorised some or all of the practices defined here as OEP using a variety of definitions and theoretical frameworks. These include open pedagogy (DeRosa & Robison, 2015; Hegarty, 2015; Rosen & Smale, 2015; Weller, 2014), critical digital pedagogy (Stommel, 2014), open scholarship (Veletsianos & Kimmons, 2012a; Weller, 2011), and networked participatory scholarship (Veletsianos & Kimmons, 2012b). All are emergent scholarly practices that espouse a combination of open resources, open teaching, knowledge creation and sharing, and networked participation. I have drawn from research in all of these areas to inform my work.

I use the following definition of OEP in my study: collaborative practices that include the creation, use and reuse of OER, as well as pedagogical practices employing participatory technologies and social networks for interaction, peer-learning, knowledge creation, and empowerment of learners.

The study

The goal of this first phase of the research study is to understand why, how, and to what extent educators use, or do not use, OEP for teaching. The study was conducted at one university in Ireland: a medium-sized, research-focused, campus-based university offering both undergraduate and postgraduate degrees. Openness was not one of the mission statements or core values of the university at the time of this study. I conducted semi-structured interviews with 19 educators across multiple disciplines. Constructivist grounded theory was used for sampling, interviewing and analysis.

Summary of findings

  • A minority of participants used open educational practices for teaching (8 of 19).
  • All participants who used OEP for teaching described being open with students, i.e. being visible online and sharing resources in open online spaces beyond email and the VLE. Each has an open digital identity and shared at least one of these profiles with students as a way of interacting and/or sharing information.
  • A small subset of participants who used OEP for teaching chose not only to be open with their students but explicitly to teach openly, i.e. to create learning and/or assessment activities in open online spaces beyond the VLE. Teaching openly took different forms: inviting students to make connections, interact, and/or share information on social media (e.g. Twitter), creating courses in open online spaces (e.g. WordPress blogs), and/or encouraging students to share their work openly.
  • Participants across the spectrum of ‘closed’ to open practices cited both pedagogical and practical concerns regarding the use of OEP for teaching. These included lack of certainty about the pedagogical value of OEP, reluctance to add to their already overwhelming academic workloads, concerns about excessive noise in already busy social media streams, concerns about students’ possible over-use of social media, and concerns about context collapse, both for themselves and for their students.
  • While many participants who were open educators acknowledged potential risks to using OEP for teaching, they considered the benefits to outweigh the risks. According to participants who used OEP for teaching, benefits for students included feeling more connected to one another and to their lecturer, making connections between course theory/content and what’s happening in the field right now, sharing their work openly with authentic audiences, and becoming part of their future professional communities.
  • Few participants mentioned OER or open licensing – unsurprising, perhaps, in an institution without an open education or OER policy. This suggests, however, that the relationship between OER and OEP might be more complex than sometimes conceived. In addition to OER leading to OEP, the reverse also may be true: use of OEP, specifically networked participation and open pedagogy, can lead to OER awareness and use.
  • By building a model of the concept ‘Using OEP for teaching’, it emerged that four dimensions were shared by open educators: balancing privacy and openness, developing digital literacies, valuing social learning, and challenging traditional teaching role expectations. These dimensions were shared by many participants – however all four were evident in each of the participants who used OEP for teaching. (I’ll explore these dimensions in more detail in a subsequent blog post.)

Thoughts for discussion

Openness is situated and relational. This study found educators’ use of open educational practices to be complex, personal, contextual, and continuously negotiated. Recognition of these complexities and the risks of openness and OEP, as well as potential benefits (for individuals, not just institutions) should inform higher education policy and practice. A growing body of research advocating greater theorisation and critical analysis of openness and open education is useful here (e.g. Bell, 2016; Czerniewicz, 2015; Edwards, 2015; Gourlay, 2015; Knox, 2013; Oliver, 2015; singh, 2015; Watters, 2014). In addition, attention must be paid to the actual experiences and concerns of staff and students; qualitative empirical research is essential (e.g. Veletsianos, 2015). The findings of this study suggest the need for institutions to work broadly and collaboratively to design appropriate forms of support for academic staff in three key areas: developing digital literacies and digital capabilities; supporting individuals in negotiating privacy and openness; and reflecting on the role of higher education and our roles as educators and researchers in an increasingly open and networked culture.

The research study described here is limited in scope; it explores the experiences of a  relatively small number of academic staff at one university. However, it is hoped that the results provide a small contribution towards understanding how and why academic staff use open educational practices, as well as offering opportunities for further research and collaboration. This study comprises Phase 1 of my PhD research study on OEP in higher education. Two further phases building on this work are currently in progress. Phase 2 is a survey of all academic staff at the same university. And Phase 3 follows two open educators from Phase 1, as well as their students, in exploring how educators and students interact and negotiate their digital identities in open online spaces.

Many thanks. I look forward to continuing the conversation with you all.

References & links



thanks @muireannOK & @philosopher1978  🙂


Exploring OEP at #NextGenDL

Today I’ll be joining educators and researchers from across Ireland (and beyond) at the Next Generation: Digital Learning Research Symposium in Dublin – we’ll be tweeting with the hashtag #NextGenDL. I’m looking forward to meeting scholars and researchers in the areas of digital and networked learning and open education to learn from one another, discuss the merits of different research lenses and methodologies, consider the collective challenges we face, and identify possibilities for future research and collaboration. It will be a privilege and pleasure also to hear keynotes by Sian Bayne, Grainne Conole and Paul Conway.

I’ll present a brief update on my PhD research study Openness and praxis: Exploring open educational practices (OEP) in higher education:


This initial phase of my research has focused on how university educators make sense of and make use of open educational practices for teaching. The next phase of the study will explore how both staff and students enact and negotiate their digital identities in the open, networked spaces where they interact with one another. I’ll write a longer post on my preliminary research findings before presenting at the upcoming SRHE event on November 18th – Critical Perspectives on Openness in Higher Education.

I’m shouting out also to the OpenEd16 conference this week (wishing I could be in two places at once!). I’ll be tuning into the #OpenEd16 hashtag and plan to participate in at least one @VConnecting session. May the connections and conversations commence…

P.S. My track record of including *at least* one image in each of my presentations from the wonderful Alan Levine continues. Thanks @cogdog for that amazing sunflower (shared via CC0 on Flickr)… a gorgeous image to use to talk openness, learning, connection and vulnerability.