Open Education is about reducing barriers to education. The movement tackles and empowers questions of cost, access, and power as related to the delivery of knowledge or as I prefer to frame it, the facilitation of learning.
Open education matters because “education is the cornerstone of liberty” (Eleanor Roosevelt). Because “everyone has the right to education”, “shall be free”, and “accessible to all” (Article 26, Universal Declaration of Human Rights).
Open educational resources (OER) are openly licensed (most commonly through Creative Commons) to enable creators to retain copyright while licensing and stating endorsement of remix and reuse of their content.
Cost. Textbook costs are a leading driver behind the open education movement in North America. Open content such as textbooks reduce costs to students and provide instructors the opportunity to customize their instructional material and practices. However, the challenge of textbook costs is not necessarily the core reason for all stakeholders, nor the primary benefit on a global scale.
Power. The fact that openly licensed content can be a linchpin to unlock freedom and creativity in the classroom and empower instructors and educational systems alike to address the considerations of power dynamics in educational settings in a tangible way is nothing short of revolutionary. Sharing of one instructor’s knowledge, teaching practice, and experiences progressively alleviate the competitive culture among educators and scaffolds collaborative practice. As instructors explore how the use of OER can empower their own teaching practice, their engagement with students, and the students’ engagement with learning material, there is an opportunity for yet another shift in power: from instructors to students.
The practice of open pedagogy (aka OER-enabled pedagogy, aka open educational practices) is defined in various ways that are influenced by studies in critical pedagogy and democratization of learning. Simply using OER in place of a textbook and other proprietary learning material opens the door for student agency in how they consume this material (for example, students may re-format the content in a way that is more palatable to their learning style), and provides the opportunity for non-disposable assignments, also called renewable assignments (Wiley).
“The true power of open comes not from a resource being free of cost but rather from the freedoms to reuse, retain, redistribute, revise, and remix content. These freedoms empower both students and faculty while widening access and supporting the democratization of education.” (Jhangiani).
In the context of global and societal impact, OER and the Open Education Movement is positioned to enable further decolonization of educational materials by decentralizing the ownership, edit rights, and use. Localization of content allows educators to increase relevancy and ensure inclusivity. By publishing educational material “in the open” with open licensing, global perspectives are increasingly accessible and available to both formally enrolled students, informal, and lifelong learners.
Access. Open access (OA) is of major influence to the open education movement. Although research journals are differentiated from open educational resources or educational material, the development of OA is integral to open culture and the adoption of open educational practices. OA addresses the barrier of access imposed by traditional research publishing. Creating the systemic change toward open access journals is a developing landscape. As an example, the Tri-Agency Open Access Policy on Publications mandates funded research to be openly licensed within one year (simplified here). The more open educational policy is developed and reinforced, the more frequently we will see open practices recognized in the academic culture and ultimately, an expected norm.
Open Education also benefits accessibility (the design of products, devices, services, or environments for people who experience disabilities) and accessible education (the process of designing courses and developing a teaching style to meet the needs of people from a variety of backgrounds, abilities and learning styles) by allowing content creators, instructors, and students to customize resources freely to meet their unique needs.
In closing, open education matters because it is one of the solutions to address barriers to education (cost, access, power, and more). It is our responsibility as educators to address these barriers and create equal and equitable access to education.