Tag Archives: openness


#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



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.


#OER16: a critical turn

Screen Shot 2016-05-22 at 21.57.07

CC BY-ND Bryan Mathers http://bryanmmathers.com/participatory-culture/

I’ve been thinking about OER16: Open Culture since the conference ended just over four weeks ago. I’m reflecting now not just through the lens of those few weeks but also the other conferences and workshops which I attended immediately afterward, namely the C-DELTA project in Cape Town and the Networked Learning #NLC2016 doctoral consortium and conference in Lancaster. It has felt like a few months’ worth of sharing and discussing research and engaging in wonderful conversations condensed into a few short weeks – a great privilege. So, late as this may be, I want to share a few notes and impressions from these events, beginning with OER16.

As several others have already written, and beautifully (collection of blog posts below), OER16 was both enjoyable and thought provoking. I’ve long considered myself an open educator and I’m currently doing research in the area of open educational practices, so this is a community in which I feel at home. My main takeaway from the conference was that OER16, and the open education community more generally, is growing, changing and evolving. There was a strong strand of critical research shared and enthusiastically discussed during and after the conference.

My keynote: “If open is the answer what is the question?”

I was honoured to be asked to give one of the conference keynotes by the co-chairs, Lorna Campbell and Melissa Highton. I sometimes struggle with the idea of conference keynotes. I know that plenary speakers can be a powerful (and sometimes provocative) way of exploring conference themes. Yet I find myself wrestling with ways of providing that focus while also including other voices and perspectives, and including space for conversation and discussion. My approach for OER16 was to share my thoughts and questions in a blog post well before the event, inviting ideas, feedback and discussion. That post If ‘open’ is the answer, what is the question? led to several weeks of discussion before the conference; I shared this in the keynote. During the keynote I focused on 4 key ideas:

  • Noting the vital connection between networked participatory culture and openness, using as an example Ireland’s 2015 Marriage Equality referendum.
  • Exploring definitions, interpretations and levels of openness in education, highlighting openness as a complex phenomenon (technical, social, cultural and economic).
  • Arguing for the importance of a critical and reflexive approach to openness. Openness can help to address issues of access and inequality but it can also bias those already privileged. I highlighted work by Richard Edwards (2015), sava singh (2015), Laura Czerniewicz (2014), Cheryl Hodgkinson-Williams (2014) and others who are doing critical research – including several people who also presented their work at OER16. (Full keynote bibliography included at end of post.)
  • Sharing work from my own PhD research. In my study of open educational practices in higher education, openness is characterised as individual, complex and contextual. For academic staff in my study, openness is: (i) closely linked with identity, (ii) negotiated continually and at multiple levels, and (iii) both a personal and collective decision.

Here is a Storify of tweets from the keynote, a video recording, and my presentation slides:

Thanks to Beck Pitt for her amazing visual notes…


CC BY Beck Pitt (Flickr)

And thanks to Stuart Allan for his concise summary of the issues and challenges we face:

Having a clear, value-driven vision for openness based on ideas of sustainability, civic responsibility and social justice, as advocated by Catherine Cronin and others, represents the very best of what higher education can be (or should be). But when it comes to implementing this vision in a specific context, there are tensions at work between political values, educational aims and pragmatic concerns. These will have to be negotiated with courage and no little skill.

Presentations, workshops & keynotes

There were many, many dilemmas in choosing sessions to attend at OER16 – the programme was rich and varied. A few highlights for me were:

  • sava singh discussed her PhD research in a session entitled: Open Wounds: The Myth of Open as a Panacea – this work also is explored in some depth in sava’s recent blog post The Fallacy of Open. sava reminded us of some blunt truths about our own privilege as social media users, e.g. being an early adopter is a privilege; being able to complain about how Twitter “used to be” is a privilege. She highlighted the tension between the discourse of open access and reputational politics in academia. There is a growing ‘be open’ diktat in academia (e.g. for many PhD students) yet for individuals who are marginalised within higher education in various ways, e.g. by race, gender, precarious or otherwise low employment status, etc., sharing work and being open can be risky. sava reminded us to ask ourselves important questions about risk, power, inequality and surveillance when advocating openness.
  • Viv Rolfe and Dave Kernohan presented Open education: “Runnin’ with the Devil” (their presentation begins at 41 minutes), asking whether the open education community is being critical enough in its evaluation of its progress. Viv discussed her systematic review of studies describing the impact of open education on learning and teaching. Then Dave turned the focus to blogs – “I’ve heard it said that all the good stuff is published in blogs” – talking us through his process of generating semantic blog citation metrics. This is fascinating work which I hope Viv and Dave will continue to develop.
  • Sheila MacNeill and Keith Smyth shared the results of their ongoing collaboration in two detailed blog posts before the conference: Reframing Open in the context of the digital university – part 1 and part 2. In their work, Sheila and Keith use the concept of Third Space (neutral, collective, inclusive spaces) to theorise the Digital University. I’m particularly intrigued by the concept of digitally distributed curriculum which they are exploring in their work, and I look forward to watching this work as it develops.
  • I participated in a lively workshop facilitated by Christian Friedrich and Shaun Hides entitled: Are we openness ready? Towards an Open Learning Scale. The workshop built on work by FemTechNet and Liz Losh, which used rapid feminist prototyping to identify “drivers of openness”. Christian and Shaun began by sharing the thinking behind the six drivers of openness; then we identified three to develop further in a “maker-style” workshop – fun and thought-provoking.
  • I felt honoured to attend the session in which Margaret Korosec described the amazing Stolen Lives project. Stolen Lives is a collaborative open educational project with the aim of increasing awareness of modern-day slavery; as Margaret described, “using OER to combat modern slavery”. Facts: 35 million people are enslaved worldwide and there are 13,000 people in forced labour in the UK today. During two days in which inequality and social justice were invoked by many, this work is a touchstone for what is possible. This project deserves to be shared widely.

Finally, if you are at all interested in openness, OER and/or OEP, please do check out the blog summaries written by many (listed below) and videos of the excellent keynotes by Emma Smith, John Scally, Jim Groom and Melissa Highton:

  • Emma Smith, a Shakespearean scholar, spoke honestly and humbly about her ‘open’ journey. Beginning with the decision to record audio podcasts of her lectures for the sake of students who might miss a lecture, she moved on to the realisation that releasing her lectures openly had “completely transformed my teaching”. Emma’s CC-licensed podcasts “Approaching Shakespeare” are available on iTunes and on the University of Oxford website.
  • John Scally, National Librarian at the National Library of Scotland (NLS) spoke about the digital strategy of the library and the challenge of balancing tensions between preservation and access. John believes that the library needs to go further than widening access, however: it needs to promote equity.
  • After years of quoting Jim Groom in my own presentations, I finally got to hear him in person 🙂 (and meet his lovely family who had travelled to Scotland with him). As Jim describes in his own blog, he brought us on the magical, mystery tour that is DS106 and Reclaim Hosting. He lifted the focus from OER and even OEP/open pedagogy to open technical infrastructure. The keynote was an awesome summary of work done by Jim and a great many people whom he mentioned throughout – including DS106 students and participants. As Jim reminded us “most of the work that students have done [in DS106] is still there”.
  • Finally, conference co-chair Melissa Highton concluded the conference on a high note, speaking in her capacity as Director of Learning, Teaching and Web Services at the University of Edinburgh. In her thoughtful and inspiring keynote, Melissa reminded us what it means to be open in an institutional context, highlighting the university’s OER policy: http://open.ed.ac.uk. She used the concept of ‘copyright debt’, analogous to technical debt, to make a strong case for open. Melissa’s take home message: “Not being open is a risk and not being open costs us money.”

OER16 blog posts

(apologies to anyone whose posts I may have missed!)

…and finally

Many thanks to Lorna Campbell and Melissa Highton, wonderful co-chairs of the conference and inspiring women in tech. Thanks also to the talented ALT team who supported us – before, during and after the event. Special thanks to Martin Hawksey and John Johnson, an incredible team; through their efforts the conference was made open via live audio and video streams, video recordings and audio interviews. And thanks to all who shared their work and participated in the conference; you made the two days very special…

Bibliography (from my keynote)



Taking a broader view at #ALTC

CC BY-SA iliasbartolini

CC BY-SA iliasbartolini (London, September 12th, 2015)

Many of us talk of “blurring boundaries” in education — between online and offline, our classrooms and the world, formal and informal learning, the roles of learner and teacher, research and practice, etc. Yet at last week’s ALT Conference in Manchester, UK, another boundary was challenged. Thanks particularly to two excellent keynotes by Jonathan Worth and Laura Czerniewicz, we were invited to move beyond our immediate areas of focus as educators and researchers, and ask of ourselves: how can we renew the discussion and practice of education, particularly open/online/connected education, to address broader issues of injustice and inequality?

There will have been many experiences of ALTC. A few hundred people attended in-person and even more participated online — via the live stream, Twitter and/or Virtually Connecting. Maha Bali has written of her experiences at ALTC, Alan Levine of his story of connection, and Frances Bell of her experience of connection & disconnection. Some may view ALTC as a tech-focused conference, but this was not my experience. I attended for two of the three days and, as with any conference, could attend only a fraction of all the sessions. Yet the overall tenor of conference — judging from the two keynotes, the sessions I attended, and conversations with many others — was, to quote Donna Lanclos, one of people and pedagogy. And more than that, many speakers and participants discussed the challenging issues of power, ownership, agency and inequality with respect to further/higher education. In the face of current global humanitarian crises, these are urgent issues for us to address, both as educators and as citizens.

Jonathan Worth set the tone with his Day 2 keynote, acknowledging the vulnerability of learners and speaking openly of his own learning and vulnerability. Early in his career, Jonathan actively defended the copyright of his work. As digital photojournalism and the associated business models evolved, he began to see the difference between images (data, experiences) and photographs (physical artefacts). As he wove together ideas and stories, Jonathan drew a powerful connection between Photographers and Teachers. Both used to be considered one-to-many arbiters of meaning — but no longer. Yet both hold positions of relative power within Photographer-Subject and Teacher-Student relationships. As educators, we must acknowledge this and ask ourselves: “how can I empower people to tell their own stories?”. The most powerful part of this keynote was Jonathan’s honesty and humility about not only what he’s learned, but what he has yet to learn. His experience with Phonar helped him to realise that “learners together are more powerful than learners apart”, so he shared his questions with us, much food for thought:


Laura Czerniewicz‘s keynote on Day 3 was one which I will return to again and have already shared with others. In Considering Inequality as Higher Education goes Online, Laura noted how inequality pervades the entire landscape and she challenged us to create more inequality-informed practice, research, policy and advocacy. Drawing on Robin Mansell’s definition of two social imaginaries and Therborn’s Killing Fields of Inequality, Laura built a compelling picture of structural and global inequality. We require shared solutions to the challenges of inequality — particularly in further/higher education where, Laura noted: “the brutality of competition has opened a new era of global apartheid”. There are no simple solutions. We must do no less than reclaim the networked society. Education must be de-conolonised, in both face-to-face and online spaces. We should strive for more equal partnerships between the global North and global South. Open licensing and open practices provide some of the tools for this, but our main work is developing a deeper understanding of inequality and committing ourselves to challenging it, in all our work.

I highly recommend reading Jenny Mackness’s post The Micro and the Macro of the EdTech World in which she reflects on both keynotes. There’s also an extended comment from Jonathan Worth here — well worth reading.

Though not physically present at the conference, the important work of Audrey Watters, Kate Bowles and Paul Prinsloo was discussed during they keynotes and throughout the conference, as well as a recent blog post by George Siemens — all highlighting issues of trust, care, and equity/inequality. Other conference sessions which touched on these themes included:

These were just a few of the highlights of the conference for me. I missed other sessions I would have loved to attend by Helen Beetham, Steve Wheeler, Terese Bird, Andrew Middleton, Paul Gormley, Sheila McNeil, Sue Beckingham, Chrissi Nerrantzi, and others. In-person, online, and hybrid conversations (looking at you, Maha Bali and @VConnecting!) enriched the conference in so many ways. Warm thanks to all.

Image source: CC BY-SA Ilias BartoliniOne world, Refugees welcome (Flickr)


Ready & open for #altc 2015

CC BY 2.0 cogdog

CC BY 2.0 cogdog

Last year at this time I was busy preparing for my first visit to the ALT Conference #altc. This year, as I pack my bags, it feels like I’m returning to visit a wonderfully engaging, animated and inspiring group of friends and colleagues, and I can’t wait. Once again I’ll meet many Twitter friends — some for the first time and others who have become colleagues and friends. One of these is Vivien Rolfe, with whom I’ll be collaborating for a session on Thursday, September 10th. Our session “Go Open” addresses the conference theme of open educational practices (OEP).

Here’s an excerpt from our updated session description, and our video introduction (Viv’s idea 🙂 ):

Considering the diverse array of educational approaches now claiming to be open, it has been suggested that the term ‘open’ has lost its way – or at the very least, means radically different things to different people. Perhaps, as Audrey Watters (2014) has suggested, this loss of focus has created confusion in the minds of those wishing to embrace open approaches. Multiple studies in Ireland, the UK and the US have shown a relatively low level of awareness of open educational resources (OER) among academic staff in higher education, a growing desire to use open materials, and a desire for clarity over copyright, ownership of academic work, and technical guidance (Alan & Seamen, 2014National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching & Learning in Ireland, 2015; Reed 2012, Rolfe 2012). So, what can educators in higher education do to gain a foothold in understanding OER and to further develop their open educational practices, for themselves and for their students? In institutions without adequate policy and supporting strategies, how can people get ready to ‘go open’ — both within and beyond their classrooms?

Our session emerges from the perspectives of two open educators, both committed practitioners and researchers of ‘open’ – not only in their individual teaching and learning practice, but also in championing openness as a necessary and democratic practice for education, at all levels. Emerging themes and conflicts regarding openness, OER and OEP are identified. These themes have informed the design of an open wiki which can be used by educators at all points on the openness continuum, from those just learning about openness and OER, to those wishing to enhance their open practice and effect wider change. The wiki shared at the conference is simply a starting point. All contributions are welcome.

Please do have a look at the wiki: wikieducator.org/GoOPEN. This is very much version 1.0. We would love your thoughts and ideas — via Twitter, our blogs, or by contributing to the wiki itself. All you need to become a contributor is a WikiEducator account — simple to create if you don’t have one already. If you’ve created or edited pages in Wikipedia, MediaWiki, FedWiki, etc., then you already know all you need to know in order to edit pages. If you haven’t done any of those — then this is a great wiki place to start 🙂

Viv and I have had many fascinating conversations already as we’ve prepared for this session. We look forward to engaging with many at #altc and beyond this week, both onsite and online. Please join us!

@catherinecronin  and  @vivienrolfe

Image: CC BY 2.0 cogdog


Navigating across boundaries: openness in higher education #OER15

The OER15 Open Education Conference held in Cardiff last week may be over, but the reflections, connections, and tweets (#oer15) are still simmering. For a flavour of the conference, excellent summary blog posts by Marieke Guy (Window boxes, battles, and bandwagons) and Grainne Conole (The OER15 conference) are well worth reading, as is Viv Rolfe’s post (with screencast): Open education: sustainability versus vulnerability and Sheila MacNeill’s account of her excellent keynote: Airing my open washing. The title of my session at OER15 was Navigating the boundary between formal and informal learning in higher education. Following are the slides and a short summary. I’d welcome your comments, either here in the blog, on Twitter (@catherinecronin), or in the Padlet I created to gather feedback during the session.

Slideshare: Navigating the boundary between formal and informal learning in HE


I’ve been a long-time advocate and practitioner of open education and now am engaged in PhD research in the area of open educational practices in higher education. Although the context of my current research is HE, I’m exploring learning beyond the bounds of the institution, focusing particularly on the boundary between formal and informal learning, and how educators and students navigate this boundary.


As networked individuals we continually engage in informal learning – any time, anywhere – based on our interests, our curiosity, and our passions. Through our informal learning practices we develop our own, necessarily personal, learning networks, communities, and identities. These networked and open practices often sit uneasily within formal education. As education professionals, many of us have found ways to integrate (to a greater or lesser extent) our open networked practices with our institutional roles. Bonnie Stewart has explored the complexities of this process in her recent PhD research:

… few scholars inhabit a solely digital, networked, or open educational sphere; many engage in networked scholarship while simultaneously working towards institutional academic goals and careers. This means navigating multiple sets of expectations and legitimacy standards at the same time, as well as negotiating institutional relationships with peers, superiors, and students for whom the participatory set of terms may be invisible or devalued. (Stewart, 2015)

But what about our students? How do students in higher education navigate these boundaries and complexities? Connected Learning is one approach that focuses on fusing informal and formal learning practices.

Connected Learning is a model of learning that holds out the possibility of reimagining the experience of education in the information age. It draws on the power of today’s technology to fuse young people’s interests, friendships, and academic achievement through experiences laced with hands-on production, shared purpose, and open networks. (http://connectedlearning.tv)

Although its roots are in the K-12 sector, #connectedlearning principles and pedagogies increasingly are being adopted in higher education. A recent example is Connected Courses or #ccourses, a course offered openly online in autumn 2014, as well as “an emerging community of practice tied to an open network”. Another example is the Academic Learning Transformation Lab at Virginia Commonwealth University, or #vcualtlab, with the tagline “connected learning for a networked world”. This concept is explored by Laura Gogia, graduate fellow at VCU ALT Lab in The case for connected learning. And, of course, an exemplar of open, networked and connected learning in higher education is DS106 at the University of Mary Washington, and the larger project around Reclaim/Domain of One’s Own. It was a delight to meet Brian Lamb at OER15, who spoke about some of this work: The spaces of open educational experience. All of these open, networked, connected learning initiatives are focused on learner autonomy, with students as co-creators of both learning spaces and knowledge. However, these examples are by no means representative of higher education practice in general. As part of the recent Visitors and Residents research project across multiple higher education institutions in the US and UK, David White, et al, found that many tutors, lecturers, and other members of academic staff are openly sceptical about the academic use and validity of non-traditional online resources such as Google and Wikipedia, and as a result students often mask their informal learning practices.

This furtive thinking and behaviour around open-web resources such as Wikipedia masks the level of use of non-traditional resources and also masks the methods learners use to increase their understanding of subjects… The point at which learning takes place is often not being discussed because either explicitly or implicitly learners are being told by their educational intuitions or perceive that the educational institutions view that their information-seeking practices are not legitimate. (White, et al, 2014)

When educators advise students against using ubiquitous open tools such as Google, Wikipedia, and social media, or do not engage with students to find out what tools they already are using, and how – for finding information, for sharing information, for connecting with others – a valuable opportunity is lost. Without acknowledgement of the actual learning practices of students (the “state-of-the-actual” as described by Selwyn and Facer (2013)), we cannot support students in connecting their informal/personal learning practices, networks and identities with their formal/institutional learning practices, networks and identities. Building these connections is an important step towards learner independence and autonomy, as described by Richard Hall:

Developing the connections between formal and informal learning networks and spaces moves us towards an acceptance of a personalization and ownership of the learning process that coalesces within a range of spaces, networks and applications. In this way, there is hope that learners can develop agile agency in deploying new learning or literacies, within new contexts, and as a result enhance their outcomes. (Hall, 2009)


At OER15, I posed a question: to what extent do openness and open educational practices help students to navigate the boundary between formal and informal learning? Within the open education community, and at a gathering such as OER15, there is a shared understanding not just of the signifier ‘open’, but of its educational value. This is also my stance as an open education practitioner. However, as a researcher, and indeed as critical practitioners with a goal of “mainstreaming open education” (the theme of OER15), we must be prepared to theorise openness and to engage with critiques of open education. I summarised a few definitions, interpretations, and critiques of openness in my presentation, before concluding with my plans for future research. As a starting point, four distinct definitions of ‘open’ (as in ‘open education’ and ‘open educational resources’) were identified:

  1. open access/admission – available to all
  2. free – available at no cost
  3. openly licensed – available in the public domain or with a Creative Commons license (OER)
  4. open educational practice (OEP), characterised by sharing OER and ideas, working across open networks, and supporting students in doing the same

These definitions can be seen also as successive levels of openness, with each level building on the previous ones. Only level #3 and beyond are considered to be truly ‘open’ within the open education community – as it is these practices which enable legal reuse and repurposing of resources by others (see the 5 Rs Framework). To claim to be open while continuing proprietary practices (i.e. definition #2) has been identified as openwashing by both Michelle Thorne and Audrey Watters, i.e.having an appearance of open-source and open-licensing for marketing purposes, while continuing proprietary practices. As a straightforward example, most institutional or xMOOCs use definition #2, while connectivist or cMOOCs use definition #3 . When considering claims or critiques about openness in education, it is essential to identify which definition or level of ‘open’ is being used to make the case. There are further complexities, however. In general usage, the word ‘open’ has multiple definitions (oxforddictonaries.com). One definition is as a descriptive adjective, i.e. ‘open’ defined as ‘available’, ‘accessible’, or ‘receptive’. In this case, open is not a binary construct; one can discuss a continuum of openness, i.e. the degree to which, or the conditions under which, something is open. However, another definition of ‘open’ is as a state. In this case open is a binary construct, defined in relation to its opposite: e.g. not closed, not blocked, or not restricted. So which definition is correct when discussing open education, open educational resources (OER), or open educational practices (OEP)? In practice, both definitions are used. Again, it is essential to identify the definition being used in order to understand and assess any claim or critique of openness. David Wiley, for example, rejects the open/closed dichotomy, espousing the continuous construct:

‘Open’ is a continuous, not binary, construct. A door can be wide open, completely shut, or open part way. So can a window. So can a faucet. So can your eyes. Our common-sense, every day experience teaches us that ‘open’ is continuous. (Wiley, 2009)

Yet, even among those who may agree that openness is a continuous construct rather than a binary state, there remain further differences. Richard Edwards has identified the interplay of openness and closed-ness in all educational practices, whether digital or face-to-face. A useful question to consider: do all forms of openness entail forms of closed-ness?

Openness is not the opposite of closed-ness, nor is there simply a continuum between the two… An important question becomes not simply whether education is more or less open, but what forms of openness are worthwhile and for whom; openness alone is not an educational virtue. (Edwards, 2015)

There are additional recent critiques of openness which I will explore in the course of my research, including Knox (2013) and Oliver (2015). All analyses will include an examination of the specific interpretation of openness being used, as well as the theoretical underpinning of the respective arguments.


In my ongoing PhD research, I explore open educational practices in higher education. The two main research questions are:

  1. For all members of academic staff (full-time and part-time, permanent and adjunct) at one higher education institution: Why and how do academic staff use online tools and spaces (bounded and open) for research, learning and teaching?
  2. For selected members of academic staff who use open educational practices in their teaching, and their students: Why and how do students and staff interact in open online spaces in higher education, and how do individual students and staff enact and manage their digital identities in these spaces?

I await ethical approval for the study and am currently engaged in writing a literature review encompassing learning theories, open education, connected learning, networked learning, and Third Spaces — as well as searching for similar studies of academic staff and students. I will continue to write here in the blog to document thoughts and ideas, and to request feedback. Many thanks for reading this; your comments are very welcome. Postscript: Notably, each of the four keynotes at OER15 was excellent: Cable Green, Josie Fraser, Sheila MacNeill, and Martin Weller. All of these videos are available on in one playlist. Sincere thanks to the OER15 co-chairs, Haydn Blackey and Martin Weller for a wonderful conference and community gathering.


Edwards, Richard (2015). Knowledge infrastructures and the inscrutability of openness in education. Learning, Media, and Technology (online). Gogia, Laura (2014). The case for connected learning. VCU ALT Lab. Hall, Richard (2009). Towards a fusion of formal and informal learning environments: The impact of the Read/Write web. Electronic Journal of e-Learning, 7(1), 29-40. Knox, Jeremy (2013). The forum, the sardine can and the fake: Contesting, adapting and practicing the Massive Open Online Course. Selected papers of Internet Research. Oliver, Martin (2015). From openness to permeability: Reframing open education in terms of positive liberty in the enactment of academic practices. Learning, Media and Technology (online). Selwyn, Neil & Keri Facer (2013). The Politics of Education and Technology: Conflicts, Controversies, and Connections. Palgrave MacMillan. Stewart, Bonnie (2015). Open to influence: What counts as academic influence in scholarly networked Twitter participation. Learning, Media, and Technology, 40(3), 1-23. White, David, Lynn Silipigni Connaway, Donna Lanclos, Erin M. Hood & Carrie Vass (2014). Evaluating digital services: a Visitors and Residents approach. JISC infoKit. Wiley, David (2009, November 16). Defining “Open”. iterating toward openness. [blog].


Workshop: considering openness

I facilitated a workshop with academic staff at GMIT (Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology) last week in which we considered, mostly through group discussion, openness as educators. Carina Ginty invited me to share some of the ideas from Navigating the Marvellous: openness in education as a prompt for the discussion. The following slidedeck summarises some of the concepts we explored and the activity used to kick off the discussion.



The academic staff who participated in the workshop were from a wide range of faculties: engineering, IT, business, marketing, tourism and arts — as well as the library. In addition to their discipline-specific work, all of the lecturers teach a skills development module Learning and Innovation Skills for first-year students, with the goal of “empowering students with the skills to be successful in third level education and the workplace”.

After initial discussion and exploration of our definitions of openness, OER, copyright and Creative Commons,  I asked participants to work in small groups to map their open practices on a scale from Low to High, using this colour code:

Slide1Each group created a different map of their current practices — here is one of the maps produced:


This activity was a quick and engaging discussion-starter. There were lively conversations in small groups, and afterward in the large group, about openness, privacy, use of social media, and how academic staff are — and are not — protected when working in open spaces.

Not surprisingly, all of the the participants had used or adapted Open Educational Resources (OER) when designing their own teaching activities and materials. However, there was little experience, across the group, of creating and licensing OER, or supporting students in publishing their work openly. This was noted by the group as an opportunity for future development. We discussed a few of the many different social media tools that can be used by students and educators to create, share, and publish work openly, e.g. various blogging platforms, Twitter, Scoop.it, Wikipedia, Google Drive, Google maps, etc. A few examples can be found in this great post by Debbie Morrison: How-to Use Social Media Platforms to Create Meaningful Learning Assignments, and in the CT231 blog post: A Module Ends, A Networked Community Continues.

Apart from using this as a simple group exercise in considering openness, many of the academic staff participating described how they might adapt the simple “coloured dots” activity in their own learning activities with students. Like any workshop with educators: always many levels of teaching and learning happening 🙂

My thanks to Carina Ginty and all of the participants for a thought-provoking session — and for an outstanding lunch afterward, cooked and served by students from the College of Tourism & Arts at GMIT.

Image: CC BY-SA catherinecronin “considering openness” on Flickr


Connecting with #ccourses

Connect Do ShareI’m jumping into the Connected Courses adventure — here goes!! #ccourses popped onto my radar during the early summer, through Twitter and Flickr feeds (thanks @heloukee 🙂 ) The blog posts and videos and tweets which followed whetted my appetite further. I identify as an open educator and feel deeply not only about helping my students to develop their learning networks and networked learning skills, but about about sharing my ethos with students, and finding out about their practices, preferences, and values. That’s the heart of learning for me — whether it’s IT or poetry or history. I shared some of my thinking about this at #altc last week and here in Navigating the Marvellous, a summary of some thoughts about open learning and education, connecting across boundaries, and power relationships in education.

I participated in one of Howard Rheingold’s courses in 2011 (#mindamp). Howard, you modeled so much of what all of this is about, with humour and great insight. Thank you. I still share Howard’s adage with students whenever one of our learning experiments doesn’t go quite, er, as planned: “If you’re not falling off, you’re not on the edge.” I love that Howard addresses all of his students as Esteemed Co-learners.

Now for the confession. I’m been blogging for awhile here… but my blog is in need of some major rework. I’d like also to create a self-hosted WordPress blog. I’m immensely grateful for the advice and suggestions from Click, Link and Embed (priceless, guys!) and had hoped to get down to this during this pre-course week, but start-of-semester pressures mean that’s not been possible. So I’m taking a deep breath and just getting started in #ccourses with my blog as is — but stating my intention to get under the hood of my blog later during #ccourses.

So, thanks to you all — organisers, participants, readers of this post — for bringing #ccourses to life. I’m heading in with open mind and open heart… see you there 🙂

Image: Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0 catherinecronin