Pearson and the Big Winner

In a recent interview, Pearson CEO John Fallon said:

“Education like every other sector and sphere of life is going through this digital transformation. There is going to be a big winner in the transformation in education. We are absolutely determined to make Pearson that winner.”

This is perhaps the clearest statement I’ve ever read of the fundamentally wrongheaded view of the traditional publishers. The only way to survive “this digital transformation” is to be absolutely determined to make learners the big winners. Only the organizations that make this commitment a core value will remain standing when all is said and done.

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Quick Thoughts on Open Pedagogy

Dumping out some thoughts here so I can return to them when I have more time.

There’s been some fabulous writing over the last month or so about whether or not open licensing is important to open pedagogy, beginning with Clint Lalonde’s Does Open Pedagogy Require OER? (read the comments, too). Reading this has prompted me to do some additional thinking which is helping me clarify what I mean by “open pedagogy.” I realize there are people who use the term “open pedagogy” in different ways than I do, and even some who are actively advocating for it to be defined in different ways (e.g., Hegarty, 2015). That’s fine. My goal here is to bring greater clarity to my own thinking.

Since I started using the phrase back in 2013, I’ve framed open pedagogy in terms of the permissions granted by open licenses:

What makes this assignment an instance of open pedagogy instead of just another something we require students to do? As described, the assignment is impossible without the permissions granted by open licenses. This is the ultimate test of whether or not a particular approach or technique can rightly be called “open pedagogy” – is it possible without the free access and 4R permissions characteristic of open educational resources? If the answer is yes, then you may have an effective educational practice but you don’t have an instance of open pedagogy. Open pedagogy is that set of teaching and learning practices only possible in the context of the free access and 4R permissions characteristic of open educational resources. (emphasis added)

(Yes, I’ve been writing about this for so long that there were only 4Rs when I started.)

If you allow yourself to get caught up in an “open = good; everything else = bad” way of thinking, it can become highly desirable to want to describe a broad range of effective practices as open pedagogy. (We might call this a “desire to affiliate with open.”) But that just makes “open” a synonym for “effective,” and that only muddies the meaning of open that so many of us work so hard to define and defend.

As I’ve reflected more on the recent writing on open pedagogy, it’s led me to trace some of it’s intellectual heritage to constructionism. And while I realize that I’m significantly under-characterizing constructionism by saying so, and I apologize in advance for those of you who are more familiar with the work, if you’re not familiar with constructionism you might think of it as “learning by making.” When learners work to create artifacts that have real value in the real world, awesome things happen – and that awesomeness has nothing to do with open. But you can add the awesomeness of open to the awesomeness of learning by making to get a multiplier effect. Here’s specifically how I’m thinking about it (today):

Learning by making… Society gets to build on…
in the classroom. nothing.
in public (e.g., the artifact is posted on the web). the ideas expressed in the artifact.
in the open (e.g., the artifact is posted on the web under an open license). the ideas expressed in the artifact as well as the artifact itself.


There’s an almost infinite expanse between public and open when it comes to teaching and learning. There are literally thousands of publicly available college-level textbooks, and everyone in the world is free to build on the ideas contained in them. But how much more can you do with a collection of OER on the same topics when you have the added permissions necessary to build on (revise/remix) the artifacts themselves? Lots, lots more.

And that brings me back to the basic logic underlying my interest in and excitement about open pedagogy:

  1. We learn by the things we do.
  2. The permissions granted by open licenses make it practical and legal for us to do new things.
  3. The ability to do new things will likely lead to new kinds of learning.

Evolution vs Revolution

I love everything Rajiv is saying in his recent, excellent essay Pragmatism vs. Idealism and the Identity Crisis of OER Advocacy and I’m really looking forward to the discussion we’ll have when he presents this paper early next month. This is a critically important topic and I think he has identified all the right dots, even if I would connect them slightly differently.

Rajiv makes a distinction between pragmatism (which advocates for an evolutionary approach to open in education) and idealism (which advocates for a revolutionary approach to open in education.) He then reminds us of Erikson’s eight-stage theory of psychosocial development, and in that context writes that the simultaneous OER advocacy efforts toward “evolution and revolution are each symptomatic of a psychosocial crisis within the OE movement that pits pragmatism against idealism.”

Much has been said (and tweeted) about which side of this battle is the “right” one to be on. Rajiv’s quote from Robin is representative:

As Robin DeRosa, an open educator who clearly favours revolution over evolution, puts it, “Fundamentally, I don’t want to be part of a movement that is focused on replacing static, over-priced textbooks with static, free textbooks.”

Rajiv goes on to provide an integrated framework for thinking about these two competing visions of OER advocacy, and it is absolutely worth reading. I want to share the way I think about the relationship between these two perspectives here as a complement to his framework.

I believe the “which form of advocacy is best – pragmatism or idealism?” framing of the question backs us into an intellectual corner. Here’s why – in almost two decades of advocating for open in education my experience has been that the overwhelming majority of people begin as evolutionaries and, given time and opportunity, go on to become revolutionaries. They “come for the cost savings and stay for the pedagogy,” if you will.

In this light, rather than a static framing like “what kind of advocate should I be?,” I think a more useful framing would be dynamic, like “as I’m advocating for open with this specific faculty member, should I advocate for an evolutionary approach to open (knowing that it will be a longer road to revolution for this person), or should my advocacy go straight to revolution?” My goal as an advocate is to get faculty to revolution as quickly as possible. For some, that means going straight to revolution. But for many of them – for most of them – the path to revolution will start with evolution and “evolve” from there. For these faculty, an unyielding “let’s have a revolution” conversation will be the last conversation they ever have about open. Because if you equate open with revolution, and they’re unable to go straight to revolution, then they’re done with open. (Yes, I’ve done this in the past; and no, you don’t ever want to experience it.) And that’s the most #epicfail you can have as an advocate – not only are you unpersuasive in that moment, but you poison the well for future conversations, too.

In his essay Rajiv also shares one of my favorite proverbs: “if you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” I interpret this slightly differently in the context of OER advocacy than he does. I would read it as follows. If you want to go quickly to revolutionary pedagogies and other uses of open, you need to be ready to go alone. Very, very few faculty are going to be able to come with you. It’s true that the few who do come will do absolutely amazing things – but their stories will remain isolated anecdotes. If you want to go far in terms of sustainably transforming the entire system, you have to be willing to go slow enough to bring everyone along – you have to go together. To me, that means unapologetically meeting faculty where they are and setting them on the (often slow) road to revolution.

I know many people are critical of my work (I’m certainly not implying this criticism is in Rajiv’s essay, I’m responding here to comments I see and hear people make in other settings) because I’m all to happy to help people adopt OER without engaging the 5Rs or changing their pedagogy. For me this willingness has always been about meeting faculty where they are and just getting them moving – no matter how small the first step may be. If we have to go straight to revolution (that is, if anything less than revolution is unacceptable), far less than 1% of faculty will be able to make the journey with us. However, if we give faculty a viable path to revolution – one that starts with a small step and can be followed by steps of any size, large or small – we can help the majority of them transform their teaching through open.

I guess the tl;dr for me is this: instead of asking “what kind of advocate should I be?” it’s probably more productive to ask “what kind of advocacy will best help this person?” You’re almost always better off when you shift the focus away from yourself and onto others.