Openness as a Value

Several months ago I received an invitation to contribute a brief Foreword to a book Patrick Blessinger and TJ Bliss were editing. Open Education: International Perspectives in Higher Education is now available in print and online under a CC BY license.

I’m excited to share the Foreword with you now that the book has been published. These few paragraphs sum up my feelings about openness, perhaps better than anything else I have written.


The last several decades have seen dramatic changes to education. Our fundamental accounts of learning have broadened from purely behavioral explanations to include cognitive, social, constructivist, and connectivist perspectives. The tools we use to support learning have broadened from books, paper, and pencils to include computers of all shapes and sizes, networks, and a wide range of static and interactive digital resources. The institutions we use to support learning have broadened to include those that are public and private, large and small, accredited and not, online and on campus. The values of the institutions that support learning have broadened as well, including a new recognition of the critical role diversity plays in a facilitating a vibrant, evolving ecosystem of ideas and benefits to society.

Where do we position openness in a narrative of the evolution of education? Openness has little to contribute to our fundamental accounts of learning. The foundational role of open licenses in open education might suggest that openness be considered a tool we use to support learning. The inclusion of “open” in the names of institutions might suggest that openness describes a type of institution. However, these simplistic, impoverished views underestimate openness, confusing its everyday implements with its deeper nature.

When properly understood, openness is a value – like diversity. In fact, I believe diversity is one of the best metaphors for understanding the place of openness in education. Decades ago, the value of diversity in the educational enterprise was deeply underappreciated and education was the worse for it. Over a period of years, we have slowly improved education’s recognition of the crucial contributions of diversity through a coordinated effort comprised of campus conversations, workshops, trainings, initiatives, and a range of other memetic vehicles. Where administrators, faculty, staff, and students have truly internalized the value of diversity, they act in ways that allow everyone around them to enjoy the benefits of diversity.

As I ponder the core beliefs embodied in openness (considering openness as a value), I return again and again to sharing and gratitude. I share because others have shared with me, and sharing with others seems the most appropriate way to express gratitude for what I have received. Like Newton, I recognize that if I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants. Should I then, from my heightened station, fight to prevent people from standing on my shoulders? Or do I have an obligation to those before and after me to leverage every means available to me, including modern technologies and open licenses, to enable as many people to stand there as possible? And is it not true that the more people we can help make their way atop our shoulders, and the faster we can enable others to climb atop theirs, the sooner we can solve global wicked problems like poverty, hunger, and war that threaten all humanity?

When administrators, faculty, staff, and students embrace the value we call openness they create, share, and use open educational resources. They publish their research in open access journals. They employ open pedagogies and other open educational practices. They reward and recognize those in their institutions who engage in these behaviors and others that embody the ideals of sharing and gratitude. They work to remove barriers, remove obstacles, and remove friction from pathways to learning for all. Out of their deep gratitude for what others have shared with them, intellectually and in other ways, they do everything in their power to share with others.

The importance of openness in education is only now beginning to be appreciated, and I hope this volume can increase the pace of its spread. This volume contains stories of people and institutions around the world acting in accordance with the value of openness, and relates the amazing results that come from those actions. I hope it will inspire you. I hope that as you read these stories you will feel an inward stirring of gratitude for what you have received from those giants who went before us, and that out of the rich soil of that gratitude will grow a commitment to share – a commitment to openness.