Maha, the Path to OER-Enabled Pedagogy, and Technological Determinism

Maha has written a brief but powerful post about how people’s contributions can go unacknowledged. Even though it paints me in a fairly poor light, I recommend that you read it. Among other things, the post discusses her role in my decision to abandon the phrase “open pedagogy” and adopt the phrase “OER-enabled pedagogy.” And as I will explain below, it is totally and completely accurate to say that Maha played an important role in that decision.

You can see the evolution of my thinking on the topic reflected in my blog posts over the years. While the term “open pedagogy” appeared with some frequency on my blog for a number of years (Google site search link), I believe these posts show the important contours of how my thinking evolved:

  • What is Open Pedagogy (2013), where I first “introduce” (more on that below) and define the term
  • Evolving ‘Open Pedagogy’ (2014) extends the definition discussion by briefly meditating on the ubiquitous, smothering role of copyright in our lives
  • Open Pedagogy: The Important of Getting in the Air (2015) uses the driving an airplane down the road metaphor (which I believe I first heard Richard Culatta use?) to describe a situation in which something is used in a way that far under-appreciates its capacity
  • Notes on Open Pedagogy (2016), a response to some writing by Mary Burgess and Amanda Coolidge. This is where I first try to articulate what would eventually become a five-point justification for why we should care about open pedagogy
  • “Open” Educational Resources vs “Open” Pedagogy: Why Meanings Matter (2016) in which I complain for the nth time about why definitions matter and we should all strive to be more precise
  • Toward Renewable Assignments (2016) in which I offer renewable assignments as the quintessential example of open pedagogy, and make a first attempt at articulating a related research agenda
  • Quick Thoughts on Open Pedagogy (2017) in which I respond to Clint Lalonde and make my first attempts at explicitly connecting open pedagogy with Papert’s constructionism
  • How is Open Pedagogy Different? (2017) in which I go on about definitions again and how “words should mean something.” Here we finally get the five-point justification in its current form. Though it’s hard to remember exact timelines, this post certainly appears to be a response to what I recall as a growing list of different definitions of open pedagogy, as well as some early conversation along the lines of “maybe having a fixed definition is a bad idea.” It looks like it was also around this time that I first learned that the phrase “open pedagogy” had been used before by others (more on this below).
  • When Opens Collide (2017) in which I respond to Mike Caulfield, Robin DeRosa, Maha Bali, Clint Lalonde, Jim Groom, Rajiv Jhangiani, Bronwyn Hegarty (and “others”) with reflections about how the adjective “open” means different things depending on the noun it modifies and the tradition the speaker is coming from (e.g., the open web, open educational resources, etc.)
  • Wandering Through the “Open Pedagogy” Maze (2017) in which I reflect on the Hangout conversation organized by Maha (without crediting Maha as the organizer) in a not at all organized fashion
  • OER-Enabled Pedagogy (2017) in which I reflect on the large collection of writing on open pedagogy and open educational practices curated and collected by Maha, an unconference session at a Hewlett grantees meeting, and long (separate) walks with  John Hilton and Rajiv Jhangiani, and announce that I have given up on the phrase “open pedagogy” and would be adopting “OER-enabled pedagogy”

Maha writes:

Many people mention his new term OER-enabled pedagogy but no one ever mentions the process by which he adopted it (bold in original)

To make this easier for future scholars looking for a (relatively) short description written from my own perspective, here is the tl;dr of the process by which I adopted the term “OER-enabled pedagogy.” (For more detail, reference the blog posts listed above.)

  1. In 2013 I made the incredibly stupid mistake of choosing the phrase “open pedagogy” to describe something without doing a proper literature review first to see if the phrase already had a history and definition.
  2. I eventually learned that the phrase “open pedagogy” already had an existing history and definition, and realized that there would always be confusion in the literature about “which open pedagogy” one was talking about. For someone who cares as much about definitions as I do, this was the beginning of the end.
  3. In early 2017 there was a flurry of writing, tweeting, and talking including all the people named in the review of blog posts above which led me to understand that (1) many people were glad that there were multiple, conflicting definitions of “open pedagogy,” (2) there was no hope of achieving consensus about a definition of “open pedagogy” and (3) there were people who felt strongly that achieving consensus around a definition would both (a) be antithetical to the idea of open and (b) be harmful to the field.
  4. My original intent had been to pick a novel phrase and define it with clarity. After it became clear that was never going to happen with the phrase “open pedagogy,” I decided to abandon on the phrase.
  5. After reflecting on the definition I had been refining for four years, and searching both Google and the literature to make sure I was choosing a truly uninhabited set of words, I chose “OER-enabled pedagogy” to describe “the set of teaching and learning practices only possible or practical when you have permission to engage in the 5R activities.”

Maha was right at the center of much that happened in step 3, as the final blog posts in the list above demonstrate. So when people tell the story of how the term “OER-enabled pedagogy” came to be they should absolutely include Maha in it. Perhaps she, more than anyone, persuaded me that I was on a fool’s errand hoping to build consensus around a definition of “open pedagogy.”

It appears that Maha’s post was prompted by a recent article titled Changing our (Dis)Course: A Distinctive Social Justice Aligned Definition of Open Education by Sarah Lambert. (Hopefully Maha will correct me if I’ve gotten that wrong.) In the article, Lambert provides a one paragraph summary of “Wiley’s adoption of the new term ‘OER-enabled pedagogy'” as a description of a single event in a larger timeline. She writes:

Wiley adopts a new term as a response to the way OEP had broadened the field towards constructivist online learning. “OEP enabled pedagogy” reifies the technologically deterministic account of technical re-use as central to change. An alternate view would be that organisational culture and investment in people wrapped around OER technical systems are the cause of the change.  Such “people power” seems to be present in the actual collaborative work Wiley and his projects engage in but is absent from the cited and discussed blog posting texts.

So yes, to Maha’s point, she (and many others) are definitely omitted from the discussion here about how the term came to be.

But there are two points I want to make in response to this paragraph. First, “constructivist online learning” had nothing to do with my adoption of the new term. As I hope to have clarified above, I adopted a new term because “open pedagogy” means twenty different and conflicting things. (And I haven’t mentioned yet that those twenty things overlap with fifteen of the things meant by “open educational practices.”) I adopted a new term because I wanted to create clarity around a specific thing I was specifically interested in talking about, thinking about, and researching about.

Finally, Lambert makes what is unfortunately becoming a common mistake in the way OER-enabled pedagogy is characterized: “‘OEP [sic] enabled pedagogy’ reifies the technologically deterministic account of technical re-use as central to change.” (Nate Angell has made similar comments in the past, as have others.) OER-enabled pedagogy does nothing of the sort. It foregrounds the critical role of rights (or, as Stallman would say, freedoms) in enabling us to engage in a new family of pedagogical practices. Without “permission to engage in the 5R activities” these pedagogical practices would be illegal. OER-enabled pedagogy invites us to stop and ask the question, “given these newly granted rights (that I received when I adopted OER instead of traditionally copyrighted materials), what creative and imaginative and awesome things am I free to do now that I wasn’t free to do before?” That’s not techno-determinism. That’s encouraging people to deeply understand their rights, pause to ponder the full implications of their rights, and then exercise their rights powerfully in the support of student learning.

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