Does Open Pedagogy require OER?

I recently had the opportunity to attend a student showcase of Digital Humanities projects, put on by the Digital Pedagogy Network. The Digital Pedagogy Network is a collaborative project between the University of Victoria and Simon Fraser University.

The context of the event was to give Digital Humanities students an opportunity to showcase the DH projects they have been working on to fulfill the requirements of their various undergrad/graduate level DH programs at UVIC and SFU. I am grateful to SFU Digital Scholarship Librarian (and Whitecaps soccer fan) Rebecca Dowson for suggesting that I attend. I am very happy that I did.

First and foremost, the student projects are fantastic. These are students that are working hard to capture and preserve significant, but often overlooked, pieces of our cultural heritage, like the Fred Wah archives. Fred Wah is a Canadian writer and Parliamentary Poet Laureate. His online archive is a DH project by English student Deanna Fong. Then there is the Wosk–McDonald Aldine Collection a digital preservation project being worked on by DH students and made available on the open web which celebrates the work of Aldus Manutius, “the Renaissance’s most innovative scholarly publisher”. There is a curated digital exhibition that explores authorship and readership of Victorian-era pornography created by BA students Erin Huxley, Keirsten Mend, Donna Langille and Leah de Roy, and a cultural mapping exhibition of the legends that are included in E. Pauline Johnson’s 1911 text, Legends of Vancouver,  which is based on the narratives of Chief Joe Capilano of the Squamish nation (and which prompted a great discussion around the tensions involved with non-Indigenous people researching and mapping Indigenous territories).

All of these educational resources, created by students and available on the open web. But none openly licensed.

Which made me consider open pedagogy and the way in which open pedagogy is defined. Granted, that term “open pedagogy” is fairly new and evolving. My first exposure to the term was in a 2013 (was it really 4 years ago?) blog post from David Wiley where David defines open pedagogy as being directly connected to the (at the time) 4R permissions of OER (emphasis mine).

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.

So, with that definition, the assignments that these students have done are not open pedagogy. While some of them do use open access resources (mostly public domain resources), none of the students have released their material with an open license, and, in fact, some resources are made available with full copyright and only under academic fair use policy.

But yet publicly available. On the open web. Students working on the open web, on meaningful projects.

But yet, not open pedagogy, at least by David’s definition.

Which made me wonder: is open pedagogy only possible if the work by a student meets the 5R open licensing criteria? Or is what makes open pedagogy open is that students are working in the open with their work on display to the world? Is that the defining feature of open pedagogy?

Don’t get me wrong. Encouraging students to release meaningful and significant work they do with an open license is the best possible outcome as it enables the widest possible distribution and application of their work. But if a student creates a meaningful piece of work and simply makes it open access on the web without actually assigning and open license to the work, does that make it a less meaningful and impactful open pedagogy experience?

To the students who created these projects, I would say the answer is no. In a Q&A I asked them to talk about working in the open and how they felt as students to have their work in the open and view-able to the world.  Their responses were that they felt it was important to have their work in the open; that they felt the work they were doing needed to be open and accessible to the wider world, and the world needed to know about this work. Not one said the reason they wanted their work open was to have it reflect favourably on them, or that it would look good as part of a digital resume/portfolio. They felt an urgency that their subject matter be made available to the broader pubic.  It mattered to them, and that motivated them. They wanted to do justice to their subject matter.

To me, this is open pedagogy. The motivation that it gives to students that what they do matters in the world. That they are contributing to something bigger and greater than themselves. That the work is meaningful. Yes, it would have an even greater impact if this work was released with an open license, but the fact that this work is not openly licensed doesn’t make it any less of an open pedagogy exercise to me.

As I was expressing this point on Twitter, Tannis  Morgan at the JIBC sent me a link to a wonderful blog post she wrote that made me realize that, despite having a French-Canadian last name, I should have paid closer attention to French class.  In the post, Tannis digs into the history of the term open pedagogy and finds traces of it in the linguistic culture wars of a 1979 Canada with Quebec educator named Claude Paquette.

Paquette outlines 3 sets of foundational values of open pedagogy, namely:  autonomy and interdependence; freedom and responsibility; democracy and participation.

In her post, Tannis wraps up with an astute observation

In other words, open pedagogy is currently a sort of proxy for the use and creation of open educational resources as opposed to being tied to a broader pedagogical objective.

Which begs the question; what is the broader pedagogical objective of open pedagogy? Does open pedagogy only exist when it is connected to the use and production of OER’s?

Addendum: After I wrote this, I realized that I had read an excellent 2014 interview with Tom Woodward in Campus Technology where Tom spoke at length about open pedagogy as a broad and holistic set of values and approaches.

Looking at open pedagogy as a general philosophy of openness (and connection) in all elements of the pedagogical process, while messy, provides some interesting possibilities. Open is a purposeful path towards connection and community. Open pedagogy could be considered as a blend of strategies, technologies, and networked communities that make the process and products of education more transparent, understandable, and available to all the people involved.

I think this holistic view of open pedagogy as a messy space where the values of openness inform teaching and learning practices is one that appeals to me.

Photo: BCOER Librarians by BCcampus_news CC-BY-SA


Clint Lalonde

Just a guy writing some stuff, mostly for me these days on this particular blog. For my EdTech/OpenEd stuff, check out


22 thoughts on “Does Open Pedagogy require OER?

  1. Hi Clint,

    Really interesting and timely post and comments. We brought it in to a discussion today (with Will Engle and Lucas Wright – here at UBC) – we were grappling with the question “what counts as open pedagogy?” and we ended up thinking again about open practice as a spectrum of activities from adoption to connection. Tannis’ question “what does open pedagogy facilitate?” seems particularly relevant for us as we are looking for a way to draw attention to the incredible work faculty, staff and students are doing in the open – which is less quantifiable than cost savings on textbooks but valuable as a contribution to the community.

  2. I have found open licences to restrict many educators’ natural desire to share their work publically. Despite the good intentions, it can be another legalistic hurdle that gets in the way. I find very little evidence that the re-use principal helps lower costs – educators will take ideas but typically make their own materials from scratch. And enjoy doing it!

    Few have the time to maintain and use repositories of raw materials, no matter how well intentioned the repository is. Nor do they have the technical skills to remix. We must stop focussing on the digital materials, just more educator developed stuff. Focus on the tasks and what the students do, and the spirit of collaboration and sharing, no matter what form or tech.

    Lastly, not only does open pedagogy not require OER, nor does the widening participation or social justice agenda. My PhD is uncovering plenty of inspiring pedagogy supporting cohorts of disadvantaged learners with all manner of supports wrapped around lots of different open techs including xMoocs and other free but not 5Rs OERs. It’s a thumbs up from me.

  3. I’m still working my way through this discussion and the literature to get to grips with open pedagogy. In this European report the definition offered for open pedagogy is: 5.1.3 Pedagogy “Openness in pedagogy refers to the use of technologies to broaden pedagogical approaches and make the range of teaching and learning practices more transparent, sharable and visible. ” so a broad spectrum of activities would be included, and that connected made by Clint to the meaningful nature of the learning – creation for an audience, contribution to a real problem solving effort, collaboration …actually Clint you are our open pedagogue right here, but given the definitions I find for the word pedagogue I think I prefer open practitioner 🙂

  4. I absolutely love this discussion! I have been wondering about this myself. My two cents are that public display of student work is incredible educational practice. Is it technically “open”? No. My question is, does it really matter? In practice, what is the extra value of the 5Rs in this context? we might find that there is a very high value, in which case this distinction is important. Or, maybe as you point out, from the student perspective it really doesn’t matter. Great conversation I love hearing people’s thoughts.

  5. I wonder if you could also consider appropriation to be open practice, especially when it has a political motivation. For instance, certain kinds of satire that have a political document as a starting point could be open to collaborative enhancement. The original source may not be openly licensed, but others take it and expand upon or annotate that original work. Yes, participants could be tracked down and sued, but that wouldn’t change the nature of the collaboration or open expansion of the original materials.

    Certain memes, for instance, might work this way.

    1. Really like this example, Marc, as it speaks to the rights that I believe our current copyright laws give us. Satire is a legitimate form of Fair Dealing. An activity that sees students create a satirical adaptation of a copyright work and then share it publicly would likely be considered open practice, but not open pedagogy. And maybe that is ok. Maybe we should reserve the phrase open pedagogy for those activities that are strictly enabled by 5R rights. Or perhaps open pedagogy should more rightly be called OER pedagogy?

  6. I often wonder if a focus on materials to support learning, and resources created by learners (which they can decide how to license), gets in the way of our thinking about open pedagogy. It reminds me of the days when we spent heaps of energy on learning objects and metadata. Whew.

    I appreciate Bronwyn Hegarty’s Eight attributes of Open Pedagogy model based on Grainne Conole’s work, and refer to it often:

    I also refer back to Paul Stacey’s ‘University of Open’ and ‘Year of the Open’ posts (2011) that include open pedagogies in the bigger framework of open practices, with some examples.

    1. That is useful, thanks for sharing that Sylvia. Interesting in that model, there is nothing explicit about open licenses other than a general “sharing ideas and resources”.

  7. So many interesting takes on this. As I read the comments, some of my thoughts on this are a bit more clear. I think of licences – and even pedagogy – as tools that facilitate some aspect of open. But what is that aspect? Licenses allow the creator to declare an intention behind their creation. Licences do facilitate open pedagogy. But what does open pedagogy facilitate? This is where I don’t think there is agreement. For Paquette, it facilitated learner emancipation and was embedded in a larger socio-historical context or movement. I’m curious about what the 2017 version of open pedagogy is trying to do?

    1. I think in David’s original and subsequent posts, he connects the 5R model open pedagogy to effective practices based on Hattie’s Visible Learning work. So, in that model I see an explicit connection between 5R open pedagogy and improved practice grounded in Hattie’s principles. But it is a good question – what is open pedagogy trying to do? I find that, what drew me to open pedagogy (like what drew me to OER and open education) is that it is a positive response from higher education to the Internet. How is the core mandate of higher education – teaching & learning – responding to this massive societal change and engaging with it? For me, that is the larger scoio-historical context that I place open pedagogy in, and what I hope that new and emerging pedagogies like open pedagogy attempt to do – respond to the Internet.

  8. Thanks for this timely and thoughtful post, Clint. While I think the terminology will continue to evolve as we keep pushing the boundaries of this space; I do think we need to reserve the use of the term “open” to refer to practices that bestow the 5R permissions. This is increasingly important with OER, where advocates customarily define OER in terms of free + permissions, but are then guilty of spending the rest of their time emphasizing the “free” part (i.e., cost savings).

    My personal take is that non-disposable/renewable/valuable assignments (or whatever you wish to call these) are the prototypical form of open pedagogy; however, one can also design a non-disposable assignment that does not meet the definition of open pedagogy. For example, when my students write op ed articles, this is valuable, authentic public scholarship that is accessible to anyone who have access to the web. However, I don’t see that as falling within a strict definition of open pedagogy.

    Taking a step back, I see the term open educational practices (OEP) as being the broadest one we have, and encompassing the adoption, adaptation, and creation of OER, the use of open pedagogy, and even open course design and development (e.g., like at the OERu).

    I welcome your feedback.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Rajiv. I hope this is a worthwhile and constructive conversation, although one that I find difficult and somewhat ill-equipped to push. I am not as deeply immersed in the OEP world as I once was, so there has likely been much more work done on defining open pedagogy that I am not up to speed on.

      Defining terms is important, but one I find fraught with both benefits and challenges. Defining a term help to clairfy what we mean by that term, which then aides with helping us understand the term. Definite benefit.

      But defining a term also restricts, which, while beneficial because it clarifies, it is also a challenge because it may leave something unintended or unarticualted out of the definition. So, while I agree that 5R’s are an important piece of open pedagogy (helps clarify), I worry that it then starts to restrict activities that, I think, are open pedagogy.

      I suppose these definitions are fluid and can change, but I know that once an idea or term takes off, it is hard to put the genie in the bottle. Which is one of the reasons I wanted to write this post – in the hope that I can add a consideration to the definition of what open pedagogy is or could be, which is engagement with the the world outside of the immediate classroom in a way that benefits both the learner and the world. I think that students working in the open has some benefits in that it adds motivation and (hopefully) meaning for the student in that they feel like their work is connected to something bigger.

      I would actually consider the op-ed activity that you talk about as an open pedagogy activity because it has the student actively engaging with the world in a meaningful way, despite the fact that there are no 5R permissions associated with it. It is almost a service learning approach, of which I think shares much in common with open pedagogy (as does authentic learning).

      And, just to be clear, I don’t think open pedagogy is a universal solution in ever instance. It needs to be thoughtfully and purposefully applied by the instructor in the right context, so open pedagogy is likely a mix and match approach even within a single course.

      Your warning about reserving open in education is for 5R activities is a valid point, especially when you consider how much open-washing occurs. I’m not sure how to respond to that, other than I share your concerns about muddying the waters, which could potentially open the door for more open-washing. Which is, in itself, an important argument for defining our terms. If we as a community don’t define, than others surely will.

      Jack Dougherty raised an important point on Twitter about the intentionality of application by the instructor. In the examples in the post, I don’t know if the faculty working with these students were explicit about working in the open, or if open was an important pedagogical consideration in the design of the activities. It got me thinking that the explicit stating of “open” as an outcome or goal of the activity might be a key piece of what makes open pedagogy open pedagogy.

      Thanks for engaging.

      1. Thanks Clint and Rajiv, a very insightful discussion about protocol in using Open as a modifier in a 5R’s Open Community. “I do think we need to reserve the use of the term “open” to refer to practices that bestow the 5R permissions _ Your warning about reserving open in education is for 5R activities is a valid point” _ Defining terms is important, but one I find fraught with both benefits and challenges _ So, while I agree that 5R’s are an important piece of open pedagogy (helps clarify), I worry that it then starts to restrict activities that, I think, are open pedagogy.

        Is the defining feature of open pedagogy “all activities that open up access to educational opportunity [via] online content and services” – Helen Beetham 2012 _ _

        Among the earliest reference I found was an ‘open pedagogy’ article published Mar 23, 2011 _”In the pursuit of increasing access to education, has recently launched an interview series with OpenCourseWare (OCW) providers around the world. _The University of Southern Queensland “USQ also runs the Australian Digital Futures Institute, which is working on an open pedagogy designed to advance learning literacy for a digital age. Open pedagogy is the basis of our OER University initiative as well. We believe that teaching in the digital age has got to be significantly different from conventional pedagogies. It has to put the learner at the center of the resources that are readily available. We’re working on foundation courses that will enable a shift in the pedagogies across a range of disciplines.” _ _

        Clint recalls Elizabeth Childs recent webinar and talking about their Master’s Program Students’ experience with open pedagogy in a new program context [Listen to the recording [link:_ ] from the Jan. 31 Webinar by Elizabeth Childs of Royal Royals University re: a design thinking approach to Open Education within their Master’s degree in Learning and Technology]

      2. Hi Clint, thank you for this wonderful post and the thoughtful discussion! I was wondering the same thing – did the instructor cover open licensing, suggest it as an option, provide support to students in understanding how to add an open license, etc? Creating assignments where student work is shared in real-world public settings doesn’t necessarily include scaffolding around copyright and licensing. This sounds like an engaged group that might be open to outreach on this topic (from a librarian if the instructor needs additional expertise in the room). Again, thank you for sharing your thoughts.

        1. Thanks Amy. My feeling is that yes, this group would be receptive. And I will be attending another event in May with them at which time I am hoping to speak with them about open licenses and whether that was ever explicitly mentioned or discussed.

  9. A fascinating post and ond I shall mull over more deeply as I am currently condidering open educational practice. Would you consider open pedagogy as a form of open practice or a synonym for it?

    1. That is a good question, and one that is hard to answer because I am still struggling to define open pedagogy for myself.

      I think I would add a third option in there where open pedagogy encompasses open practice. That is, is open pedagogy what occurs when we adopt open practices? Pedagogy is, by definition, the theory and practice of teaching and learning, so open pedagogy should reflect both the theory and the practice.

      So, I think I lean towards thinking of open pedagogy as what occurs with you undertake open practices which are informed by theories of open learning.

  10. An informative and timely post, Clint. I’ve been thinking about the preoccupation with licenses since I listened to Rolin Moe talk about it at Open Ed ’15. I think that meaningful learning can happen on the open web regardless of what the license is. However, I think that open licenses just make a lot of that work easier — whether it’s archiving, derivative works, annotation, or any of ways that digital projects, at least in the humanities, often take shape. And if students think about how inconvenient it is to work with proprietary materials in their projects, then they should also realize how inconvenient it will be for someone else further down the line to build something based on their work. In other words, the problem gets skirted down the road, which somewhat defeats the purpose of open.

    However, if a student wants to build a comprehensive digital project — basically a website — from lecture materials and PDFs from free and open scholarly databases, but the product can’t be “open” in its license, that work certainly isn’t disposable and is a valuable learning opportunity.

    I would venture a guess that over 90% of the faculty and champions working in open education now were classically trained, without much technology or knowledge of “open” as it exists now. And yet those people have the skills and education to undertake these projects now, so we should also be careful about the divide between “disposable” and valuable work. Not a single paper I wrote during my BA or MA is on the internet, but I still have the skills that I learned from doing that work, and I’m grateful for the old-school lectures and assignments I had because they taught me how to think.

    Basically, there are many ways to learn, and we shouldn’t let an agenda affect how we think about learning that’s happening already, even with the frustration of noticing that students’ work could contribute to knowledge systems used by the whole world.

    1. Thanks for this response Trent, full of many good points. My comments are mostly to agree. I agree – open licenses are able to remove a lot of friction when it comes to reuse, and for students that experience that friction for themselves as they work on a project is a good teachable moment opportunity.

      Also agree on the dangers of drawing a hard divide between disposable and valuable work, just as I think there is a risk of equating valuable/non-disposable assignments exclusively with “on the Internet”. Like you, many of my most memorable and important assignments were not open pedagogy assignments but instead very closed and judged by one set of eyes only – my teacher.

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