What is Open Pedagogy?

I was invited to contribute to the Year of Open’s April Open Perspective: What is Open Pedagogy? published by the Open Education Consortium under a CC-BY license (10 April 2017). Below, you can read my contribution and you can also find it in context with the other diverse, fantastic pieces from David Wiley, Mali Baha, and Robert Schuwer on the Year of Open website.


What is Open Pedagogy?

At its core the term “open pedagogy” expresses the aspiration to improve learning processes through more open teaching practices. So, I believe open pedagogy encapsulates the theories and the innovative, applied strategies that support that aspiration.

That being said, I am not sure that open pedagogy can be neatly defined. There are, for example, at least two contemporary understandings of open pedagogy. One contemporary definition focuses on the use of openly-licensed content in tandem with open, effective teaching strategies, while another focuses on a more general philosophy of openness in all elements of the teaching process including open planning, open products, and open post hoc reflection. As well, in the 1960s and 1970s the term open pedagogy was also used to refer (interchangeably with “open education” and open classrooms) to learner-centered teaching approaches that were inspired by theorists such as John Dewey and Jean Piaget .

While each of the above definitions of open pedagogy has radical value in that they each advance the core aspiration of open pedagogy, I find the greatest fidelity with and utility in David Wiley’s definition of open pedagogy as the use of open education resources (OER as defined by the 5Rs) in tandem with open, effective teaching strategies.

Why is it important?

Open pedagogy is the present and future of teaching and learning. Open pedagogy is the natural progression of integrating socially just principles of human relations and the potential of current technology into the educational system. If we believe education leads to human flourishing and that education is a right, then the use and creation of OER in tandem with effective teaching and learning strategies (that is, open pedagogy) is required to establish and protect that right. Open pedagogy fulfills one of the core commitments to a democratic system by cultivating an informed, educated, and engaged electorate.

On a more personal level, open pedagogy has become not just important, but fundamental to my own approach to teaching. My engagement with open pedagogy focuses on revolutionizing the pedagogical relations between learners, learning facilitators, the production of knowledge, and the societal contexts in which we learn, teach, and live. In fact, my theoretical approach to teaching draws directly from critical pedagogy which emphasizes the awakening of a critical consciousness. Critical pedagogy questions the institutions and practices of education by supporting an approach that emphasizes teaching as a political act, learner-centered practices, praxis, the co-production of knowledge, and the educator as a facilitator. I believe practicing contemporary critical pedagogy requires engaging with OER and therefore leads naturally to experiments in open pedagogy.

What changes do you hope it will bring (for your country/region)?

I think open pedagogy has ripple effects. So, what I outline below are what I would describe as direct impacts of open pedagogy that I can see in the first couple of “ripples”, though I am sure other positive, possibly more indirect impacts (gender opportunities, environment stewardship, etc.) might occur. When open pedagogy is more widely adopted, I believe we will see the following changes within our regional education systems:

  1. Students and faculty working on creating and updating openly-licensed educational materials that are locally adapted.
  2. Learners contributing novel ideas and original research to pressing contemporary problems.
  3. Better retention and completion rates in post-secondary education due to lower costs and more engaging and efficient teaching strategies.
  4. A more critical, informed, and engaged electorate.
  5. Higher human capital and performance in creative applications of principles from natural and social sciences, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

What is the future of Open Pedagogy?

The future of open pedagogy is experimentation and adaptive management.

I see parallels between open pedagogy and the evolution of thought among environmental scientists regarding uncertainty and adaptive management. When my colleagues and I teach about environmental management and complex environmental issues, we believe one of the first things that students must grasp is that there is not a solution to every problem. Many complex environmental problems require adaptive management – that is, constantly using scientific principles and experimentation to find and adjust optimum conditions in the face of complex uncertainty. These problems require not only expertise in environmental science, but an understanding of the constraints and opportunities of human institutions that mediate our relationship to our environment. As well, engaging in adaptive management sometimes means a change of paradigm to re-conceptualize stubborn problems as possible opportunities.

Open pedagogy describes that same approach for the future of education. Education poses innumerable complex problems. If education is a right, then providing access to human knowledge becomes a societal obligation. There is not one teaching style that can magically address that obligation or all the complex issues involved in education. However, open pedagogy provides the tools, resources, and framework to adaptively manage and find the optimum conditions for education in many different contexts. If accessing the educational materials that everyone needs to succeed is a problem due to costs or other constraints, then it is also an opportunity to teach people about the systems that produce knowledge and how to create and share educational materials. If our institutional and professional practices in education encourage locking knowledge behind paywalls, then it is an opportunity to create communities of co-production of knowledge wherein data is shared and the learning process happens in the open accessible to many people at many levels. Our growing understanding of the science of how people learn, creative legal innovations such as Creative Commons, and the vast affordances of the internet all provide new, exciting opportunities to manage and turn enduring challenges into opportunities within our educational systems. We live, perhaps unaware, in the playground of open pedagogy.

I believe that disciplines, institutions, and departments are beginning to awaken to the potential of open pedagogy. I see exploration of how to encourage and support open pedagogy practices through new policies at all these different levels. So, I sincerely hope that effective learning strategies that involve using and making OER become the default rather than an afterthought or secondary option.

What cannot be denied is that the future of open pedagogy entails the creation of relationships, tools, and processes that allow us to improve learning processes through more open teaching practices.

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