How Is Open Pedagogy Different?

UPDATE: For my latest thinking on open pedagogy, see the post When Opens Collide. The post below will remain here for archival purposes.


I feel like words should mean something.

Especially the word “open.”

Specifically, I’m deeply concerned about the way many have begun using “open” in the context of “open pedagogy,” because I can’t tell what it means.

For many years we have seen openwashing among companies working in the education space, in which they either knowingly or accidentally attempt to equate “open” with something other than a free grant of the 5R permissions. If left unchecked, these attempts would dilute and weaken the meaning of open and, consequently, the community rallies against them.

Now we are seeing something related happening within our own community with “open pedagogy” – where the previously clear and specific meaning of “open” is expanding rapidly to incorporate everything from peer review to reflective practice. In some ways, it seems like we’re confusing “synergizes with open in powerful ways” with openness itself. In others, it seems like we’re taking effective pedagogical practices, bundling them together in novel ways, and labeling them “open.” Because “open is good” in the popular narrative, there’s apparently a temptation to characterize good educational practice as open educational practice.

But that’s not what open means.

As I’ve argued many times, the difference between free and open is that open is “free plus.” Free plus what? Free plus the 5R permissions. While almost the entire internet is free to watch, read, and listen to, only a small slice of the internet is open – licensed in a way that grants you the 5R permissions. These permissions are the distinguishing feature of open, whether you’re talking about open educational resources, open source software, open data, or a range of other open things.

If open is fundamentally about permissions, what then does it mean for a pedagogy to differ in terms of it’s assumptions about copyright permissions? In a nutshell:

  1. We learn by the things we do.
  2. Copyright restricts what we are permitted to do.
  3. Consequently, copyright restricts the ways we are permitted to learn.
  4. Open removes these restrictions and permits us to do new things.
  5. Consequently, open permits us to learn in new ways.

In other words, open pedagogy is the set of teaching and learning practices only possible or practical in the context of the 5R permissions. Or, to operationalize, open pedagogy is the set of teaching and learning practices only possible or practical when you are using OER.

That’s how open pedagogy differs from other pedagogies. And because that difference is quite narrow and specific, it may only make sense in the context of broader pedagogical traditions:

How would open behaviorist pedagogy differ from behaviorist pedagogy?
How would open cognitivist pedagogy differ from cognitivist pedagogy?
How would open constructivist pedagogy differ from constructivist pedagogy?
How would open constructionist pedagogy differ from constructionist pedagogy?
How would open connectivist pedagogy differ from connectivist pedagogy?

What does open add to each of these existing pedagogies? As the simplest possible example, take constructionism. While a constructionist pedagogy only encompasses “learning by making,” an open constructionist pedagogy also encompasses “learning by revising” and “learning by remixing” – things you can do only when working in the context of OER and the 5R permissions.

There are many wonderfully engaging, motivating, and effective pedagogical practices that can be enacted in the context of traditionally copyrighted resources (regardless of whether they are free or expensive). While these practices may powerfully support learning, it is counterproductive to characterize them as open. While some of these practices may powerfully synergize with open, it is counterproductive to characterize them as open.

When you hear someone describe an “open pedagogy,” ask yourself if the specific pedagogical features they’re describing can be enacted in the context of traditionally copyrighted educational resources. If nothing they describe requires the 5Rs, they may be describing effective pedagogy but they I don’t think they’re describing open pedagogy.

Why does it matter? Why argue over terminology? Because we desperately need to hold the line on what open means or, before we know it, it will mean nothing at all.

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