What does it mean to be an open education practitioner?

Given the breadth of activities and approaches that open education practice encompasses, it’s hardly surprising that OEP is highly contextual.  That is, it depends on the individuals engaging in that practice, both teachers and learners, it depends on their context, e.g. within the academy, within their communities and within society more widely, it depends on their lived experience of education, and it depends on their position in relation to privilege and power, or lack thereof.

Open Practice Case Studies

These short case studies illustrate how colleagues engage with open education practice around the University. The first thing to be aware of is that you don’t need to be a teaching academic in order to be an open education practitioner.  We all participate in and contribute to the process and practice of higher education, and there are many different ways that open practice can manifest in our work.

Dr Tim Fawns, Fellow in Clinical Education, Edinburgh Medical School

I teach on an online postgraduate programme in clinical education. I mix open and closed practice in a range of areas. For example, I almost always use creative commons images with attribution in presentations (which I then share with attendees and related networks), (closed) virtual learning environments, on my research blog (open to the public but hosted by a private company), and course blog (open to public but with a closed cohort of students as authors). I use Twitter to disseminate research and academic writing, which I publish as either open access (in journals or blogs) or not, depending on what I am trying to achieve. I am yet to pay to publish open access. Where I produce materials, sometimes I remember to attach a creative commons licence so that others can use them and sometimes I forget. For me, decisions about open educational practices come down to the context and purpose of what I am doing, who else is involved, and how much time and head space is available.

Francesca Vavotici, Gender and Equality PhD Intern, Centre for Research Collections

Even though my work is mainly based on archival sources and documents, I do believe it also requires a great deal of involvement in open education initiatives and practices. In fact, a large portion of my job is geared toward identifying photographic materials that would be appropriate for digitisation and release under open licence, to be used for both academic and non-academic educational purposes. I have myself been engaged in projects specifically invested in utilising these newly released images, and I have personally run an International Women’s Day event whose aim was that of employing these open source materials to raise awareness of diversity and gender equality within the University of Edinburgh. I maintain a blog under a University of Edinburgh domain, where I share more archival stories and release additional images, again under an open source licence whenever possible. I also seek to make use of these stories to contribute Wikipedia entries for underrepresented groups.

Dr Naomi Appleton, Senior Lecturer in Asian Religions, School of Divinity

I have always been committed to the idea that everyone should have access to the broadest possible scholarship. I have blogged on my own WordPress site since 2012, and use that space to share my experiences of academic life, and reflections on teaching and research. I also post research notes, draft translations and other resources for the use of colleagues and students. In addition, I have been involved in projects creating open educational resources for school teachers of religion. These resources, hosted by the School of Divinity and Open.Ed, were designed in collaboration with teachers, and have been made available for free. I hope to create many more open access materials in future.

Anne-Marie Scott, Deputy Director of Learning Teaching and Web Services

I try to share what I do via my blog and I use a Creative Commons license to allow what I write to be syndicated to a number of other openly licensed blogs. I run Wikipedia editathons and make contributions to Wikipedia, Wikidata, and Wikimedia Commons. I use Twitter regularly to share my practice, engage with colleagues, and discover new resources. When I work with commercial suppliers I advocate for release of as much material as possible under open licences. I also serve on the Board of the Apereo Software Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation who steward a number of open source software projects specific to education. I advocate for the use of open source software in education, support my team to release their work as OSS where possible, and champion various organisations who support this aim (ESUP-Portail, OpenETC etc). I’ve embraced open educational practices outside my institutional work too, most notably around the work I do for the Mansfield Traquair Trust where I’ve used Wikimedia projects to share resources openly about a building at risk.

Dr Jen Ross, Co-director, Centre for Research in Digital Education

A lot of the openness I practice in my role as senior lecturer in digital education is in my teaching: finding creative ways to invite students to produce work and assignments that have a life and a purpose beyond assessment. On Digital Futures for Learning, students make Open Educational Resources. On the E-learning and Digital Cultures MOOC, participants blogged, and made visual and multimodal representations of key concepts and shared these online. I also find that my research reaches a wider audience, in a more sustained way, when it is open access. Our ‘manifesto for teaching online’ was published with a Creative Commons license, and has been remixed and reused in a number of different – often fascinating – ways.

Lorna M. Campbell, OER Service, Information Services Group

Although I’m not a teaching academic, I do regard myself as an open education practitioner, and this is what my personal open practice looks like.  I own my own domain on Reclaim Hosting, an independent company that builds on the principles of the open web. I maintain a blog on this domain, Open World, which I use to reflect on my work and the open education initiatives I’m involved in. My blog also acts as an open record of my practice and it’s where I host my professional CMALT portfolio. I maintain an active twitter account which I use to communicate and collaborate with my peers. I ensure that all the resources I produce are released under open licence, I try to reuse open licensed content whenever possible, and I contribute to Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons when I can.

Other ways that you might engage with open education practice include publishing in Open Access journals, creating Open Data sets, participating in Open Science initiatives, setting open assignments for students, developing open online courses, creating open source software and applications, enabling students to co-create their own learning experiences, creating or contributing to open text books.

Open practice is personal and contextual, and every individual’s experience of open practice will be unique to them.   However arguably the most important aspects of open education practice are willingness to reflect openly on your experiences, sharing that reflection with your peers, and engaging in continuous collaborative learning.

Reflective Blogging as Open Education Practice

Maintaining a professional blog is an ideal way to share your reflective practice with your peers, and indeed much of the scholarship around open education practice is shared through academic blogs.

Blogs provide a space to think out loud, to explore and develop new ideas, to reflect on your practice and gain feedback from your peers and colleagues.

“I enjoy the opportunity for reflective writing that it gives me and for thinking ‘out loud’ about ideas I am still forming or testing before they become formal work positions or plans. I see blogging as part of open practice in sharing ideas but also giving insight into the thinking behind some of the decisions I make in my leadership role.”

~ thinking about things, Melissa Highton, Light Out For The Territory Ahead Of The Rest

“My brain works non-­stop and is full of ideas. The reason I write them is to clarify them for myself and develop them. The reason I share them is to kick-start a conversation with other people and develop the ideas further through that conversation.”

~To blog or not to blog? The academic blogging question, Maha Bali, Reflecting Allowed

Blogs allow you to manage and curate your professional identify, experiment with different writing styles and hone your craft as a writer.  In addition, blogs can also be used to facilitate public engagement with education and research, with can be another important aspect of open practice.

The University of Edinburgh has a  Academic Blogging Service that provides staff and students with a range of different blogs to support professional development and learning, teaching and research activities.  The Academic Blogging Service supports a number of platforms that host different types of blogs including Learn, Moodle, Pebblepad and the centrally supported WordPress service, blogs.ed.ac.uk.  The service also runs digital skills development workshops, including one on Blogging to Build Your Professional Profile, a seminar series featuring talks from academic blog users around the University, and a Teaching Matters Mini Series exploring different aspects of academic blogging.

Further Reading


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[Featured Image: –open–, Jeremy Brooks, CC BY-NC, flickr]