Figure 12.4.1 Current landscape of Open. Image: Paul Stacey, 2018

12.4.1 What is open pedagogy?

David Wiley (2013) originally defined open pedagogy as:

that set of teaching and learning practices only possible in the context of the free access and 4R permissions characteristic of open educational resources

It will be seen later in this section that Wiley has since (2017) recanted on this definition and indeed questions the whole idea of an open pedagogy. However, this definition was influential in framing the more recent discussion of open pedagogy around the use of OER (see DeRosa and Jhangiani, 2017, for an excellent discussion about open pedagogy, its origins, and its development since 2013).

Indeed, even in 2019, BCcampus still defined open pedagogy as follows:

Open pedagogy, also known as open educational practices (OEP), is the use of open educational resources (OER) to support learning, or the open sharing of teaching practices with a goal of improving education and training at the institutional, professional, and individual level.

However, it is now realised that for open educational resources to be widely adopted, as well as to change teaching practice, OER need to be embedded in a much broader ecology of teaching and learning, of which open pedagogy is a critical component. The following definition from the University of Texas Arlington Libraries represents this thinking:

Open pedagogy is the practice of engaging with students as creators of information rather than simply consumers of it. It’s a form of experiential learning in which students demonstrate understanding through the act of creation. The products of open pedagogy are student created and openly licensed so that they may live outside of the classroom in a way that has an impact on the greater community. Open projects frequently result in the creation of open educational resources (OER). OER are free teaching and learning materials that are licensed to allow for revision and reuse. They can be fully self-contained textbooks, videos, quizzes, learning modules, and more.

I like the above definition because it focuses on student behaviour, where open educational materials are a by-product of their learning, rather than the starting point, although open pedagogy can also embrace OER as a starting point.

Hegarty (2015) describes eight attributes of open pedagogy:

  • participatory technologies: socially constructed media such as blogs, wikis and other ‘sharing’ social media;
  • people, openness and trust: students’ willingness to learn is fragile, with participation and interactions unlikely to flourish unless an element of trust can be built (Mak et. al., 2010);
  • innovation and creativity: finding new models of teaching and learning that better exploit OER and more emphasis on choosing digital technologies and methods that encourage the sharing of knowledge and resources;
  • sharing ideas and resources: an open pedagogy needs peers to share willingly within a connected and trusting and professional community;
  • connected community: a technologically linked community with common interests;
  • learner-generated: this requires ‘opening up’ the process to empower students to take the lead, solve problems, and work collectively to produce artifacts that they share, discuss, reconfigure, and redeploy
  • reflective practice: when students and teachers collaborate in partnerships, it facilitates deeper pedagogical reflection
  • peer review: Conole (2014) sees learners as publishers and users of a range of open tools, with peer interactions and critique embedded in the learning experience.

Hegarty also makes the point that it is almost impossible to separate the components of an open pedagogy into neat, segregated dimensions. Components in each of the eight dimensions overlap in many ways.


Figure 12.4.2 Hegarty’s Attributes of Open Pedagogy. Image: Hegarty, 2015

DeRosa and Robison (2017) set out the key idea of open pedagogy in the following:

By replacing a static textbook — or other stable learning material — with one that is openly licensed, faculty have the opportunity to create a new relationship between learners and the information they access in the course. Instead of thinking of knowledge as something students need to download into their brains, we start thinking of knowledge as something continuously created and revised. Whether students participate in the development and revision of OER or not, this redefined relationship between students and their course ‘texts’ is central to the philosophy of learning that the course espouses. If faculty involve their students in interacting with OER, this relationship becomes even more explicit, as students are expected to critique and contribute to the body of knowledge from which they are learning. In this sense, knowledge is less a product that has distinct beginning and end points and is instead a process in which students can engage, ideally beyond the bounds of the course.

12.4.2 Examples of open pedagogy

There is a close connection between networking, social media such as blogs and wikis, which enable students to create open educational resources, and open pedagogy.

Jon Beasley-Murray’s course where students created a Wikipedia entry on Latin American literature is a good example, as is the Math Exam Resources created by graduate students at UBC (see Chapter 10, Section 8.8.3). This approach is particularly valuable for partly redressing cultural and historical bias, through the organization of Wikipedia edit-a-thons. For two examples, see Women in Red/Indigenous Women. and Indigenous Literature Edit-a-Thon.

The Universidad de Guadalajara (Mexico) has an interesting web site (in English) that provides a number of examples of open pedagogy from around the world, related to its Agora project.

Another practice of open pedagogy are textbook-free degrees, called Zed Creds or Z-degrees but also ZTC (zero textbook cost). Royal Roads University’s Master of Arts in Learning and Technology is the first master of arts degree in Canada to go textbook-free. Students can access all of the course materials through open educational resources, e-books, journal articles and other free digital resources. These types of courses aim to improve access to education and enhance student outcomes.

Many more examples of open pedagogy in practice can be found in Jhangiani and Biswas-Diener (2017) and in the Open Pedagogy Notebook.

Lastly, there is a related movement around open educational infrastructure and technology that challenges educational institutions and students to think about who owns the technology and data being used for teaching and learning and how open education practices can be enabled by open educational technologies (see, for example OpenETC.)

11.4.3 The need to provide a framework to support open educational resources

The search for a pedagogical and organizational framework to support the use of open educational resources has been driven partly by the relative slowness of adoption of OER. To give a simple example, instructors are reluctant to move away from expensive commercial first year textbooks, because these books often come with a wide range of support materials, such as interactive web sites with sample exam questions and answers, multiple-choice questions, and alternative reading. Open textbooks need to come with similar supporting materials, student activities and a wider ‘network’ of support to compete with commercial textbooks.

Paul Stacey, the Director of the OEGlobal, has mused (2018) that too much focus is given to licensing and content development, and not enough to collectively managing open resources so that they are sustainable and dynamic. He argues that OER, to be effective, need ‘commoning’, which reflects the management and sustainability of common, shared resources and services. He argues for:

  • a social system for the long-term stewardship of resources that preserves shared values and community identity;
  • a self-organized system by which communities manage resources (both depletable and and replenishable) with minimal or no reliance on the Market or State. Simply having a community and pool of resources is not enough. There needs to be a set of protocols, values and norms devised by the community to manage its resources.

Open pedagogy could provide an important pedagogical part of such a framework, but Stacey seems to be suggesting that support needs to go beyond pedagogy to a social and management structure.

11.4.4 Is open pedagogy a useful construct?

Some of you may feel like Molière’s Bourgeois Gentilhomme after a lesson from his tutor: ‘I have been speaking prose for 40 years and never realised it.’ The concept of ‘open pedagogy’ has been around for a long time, even if it has seen a revival resulting from the development of OER.

Lord Crowther, in a speech presenting the charter of the British Open University in 1969, defined the Open University as:

  • open to people: “We took it as axiomatic” said the Planning Committee “that no formal academic qualifications would be required for registration as a student…Anyone could try his or her hand, and only failure to progress adequately would be a bar to continuation of studies.”
  • open to places: “This University has no cloisters – a word meaning closed. We have no courts – or spaces enclosed by buildings….Wherever the English language is spoken or understood, or used as a medium of study, and wherever there are men and women seeking to develop their individual potentialities beyond the limits of the local provision – and I have defined a large part of the world – there we can offer our help.”
  • open to methods: ‘Every new form of human communication will be examined to see how it can be used to raise and broaden the level of human understanding.”
  • open to ideas: “It has been said that there are two aspects of education, both necessary. One regards the individual human mind as a vessel, of varying capacity, into which is to be poured as much as it will hold of the knowledge and experience by which human Society lives and moves. This is the Martha of education – and we shall have plenty of these tasks to perform. But the Mary regards the human mind rather as a fire that has to be set alight and blown with the divine efflatus’.

I am not sure that open pedagogy is the divine efflatus, but Crowther’s understanding of openness in methods is much wider than modern concepts of open pedagogy.

Claude Paquette, following the cultural revolution in Québec, wrote in 1979:

Une pédagogie ouverte est centrée sur l’interaction qui existe dans une classe entre l’étudiant et l’environnement éducatif qui lui est proposé….Il s’agit d’une façon de penser et d’une façon d’agir. L’éducateur aura donc pour rôle premier de contribuer à l’aménagement de cet environnement éducatif.

[My translation: Open pedagogy is focused on the interaction within a class between a learner and the educational environment that is created for him. It is about a way of thinking and a way of acting. The primary role of the teacher then is to contribute to the management of this educational environment.’

Note that there is no mention of free or open educational resources, and the quote could have come straight from Rousseau’s ‘Emile’ (1972). It is the basis for the whole of Chapter 6 in this book.

David Wiley (who was the originator of the term ‘open educational resources’) writes (2017):

“Open” …. does not have anything to say about the nature of learning. …you can’t actually build a pedagogy on a foundation of open (well, not one that isn’t incredibly impoverished). Your foundational commitments in terms of pedagogy should be to an understanding of how learning happens. Once we have made fundamental commitments in terms of a theory of learning, then we can add open to our list of facilitating methods in order get better leverage.

I wonder if it isn’t nonsensical to talk about “open pedagogy” at all …… Perhaps we should only use open as a modifier for other pedagogies, like “open constructionist pedagogy” or “open connectivist pedagogy” or “open constructivist pedagogy.” It’s clear in each of those cases how open gives you better leverage in terms of supporting learning.

Although many of the practices associated with open pedagogy have been around long before open educational resources were created, OER nevertheless make such practices much easier to implement and more powerful. But does this make a new pedagogy?

Morgan (2017) raises this issue with respect to the project she worked on for the Universidad de Guadalajara’s Agora project.

The Agora design process was focussed on what an open design would actually be a means to which can be summarized as:

  1. Open as a means to facilitate a faculty culture of collaboration across the university and across disciplines
  2. Open as a means to connect with a broader, global community
  3. Open as means to challenge and expand existing understandings of student centre learning
  4. Open as means to challenge ways of doing, in this case,  the options and possibilities of digital technology and mobile learning
  5. Open as a means to make the lives of faculty easier in their pursuit of better teaching and learning
  6. Open as a means to create a sustainable approach to faculty development

Ultimately we did create content that fits quite nicely with the 5Rs, but the goal of our open pedagogy design process was not to create OERs as a means towards or even as an essential component of open pedagogy. The Agora was alternatively all of the ‘isms –  behaviourism, connectivism, constructivism, constructionism – but the ism doesn’t really matter.  Importantly, the open pedagogy design was at times technology-enabled and at times it didn’t use technology or the internet at all.  OERs didn’t allow us to practice a different pedagogy, rather the open pedagogy of the Agora was a bricolage of activities and practices that at times resulted in OERs and at times didn’t.

Pedagogy is primarily about practice: what teachers or learners do. Obviously, practice is and should be driven by ideas and beliefs, but it is different from philosophy. Learner-centred teaching or learners creating knowledge (with or without OER) is a pedagogy; ‘open’ is more of an idea and a value. In other words, looking at the quotations above, open is more a philosophy, a way of thinking, that informs practice, rather than the practice itself. However, this is a somewhat academic distinction. OER is enabling changes in teaching practice. However, I prefer a broader vision for teaching in a digital age than one so closely tied to OER.

12.4.5 Another vision for pedagogy in a digital age

The increasing availability of high quality open content is likely to facilitate the shift from information transmission by the instructor to knowledge management by the learner. Also in a digital age there is a need for greater focus on skills development embedded within a subject domain than on the memorisation of content.

The use of open educational resources could enable these developments in a number of ways, such as:

  • a learner-centered teaching approach that focuses on students accessing content on the Internet (and in real life) as part of developing knowledge, skills and competencies defined by the instructor, or learners managing their learning for themselves; however, content would not be restricted to officially designated open educational resources, but to everything on the Internet, because one of the core skills students will need is how to assess and evaluate different sources of information;
  • a consortium of teachers or institutions creating common learning materials within a broader program context, that can be shared both within and outside the consortium. However, not only would the content be freely available, but also the underlying instructional principles, learning outcomes, learner assessment strategies, what learner support is needed, learner activities, and program evaluation techniques, so that other instructors or learners can adapt all this to their own context. This approach is already being taken by:

Overall, such developments are likely to lead to a severe reduction in lecture-based teaching and a move towards more project work, problem-based learning and collaborative learning. It will also result in a move away from fixed time and place written examinations, to more continuous, portfolio-based forms of assessment.

The role of the instructor then will shift to providing guidance to learners on where and how to find content, how to evaluate the relevance and reliability of content, what content areas are core and what peripheral, and to helping students analyse, apply and present information, within a strong learning design that focuses on clearly defined learning outcomes, particularly with regard to the development of skills. Students will work mainly online and collaboratively, developing multimedia learning artefacts or demonstrations of their learning, managing their online portfolios of work, and editing and presenting selected work for assessment.

This is a far broader vision of pedagogy than that built around the use of OER.

12.4.6 Conclusion

In summary:

  • increasingly, educational resources are becoming more freely and more openly available for teachers and learners;
  • OER open up the possibility of greater student participation in the creation as well as the selection of learning materials;
  • it is essential to embed OER within a robust and appropriate teaching framework or pedagogy that exploits the potential of OER;
  • OER may lead to a new, open pedagogy, but more likely will lead to the greater adoption and adaptation of existing teaching methods that benefit from the potential of OER;
  • it is also essential to create organizational environments or management frameworks that encourage and support the development and use of high quality open educational resources; they cannot successfully exist in a vacuum;
  • what should drive open educational practices and use of OERs should be a broader vision of teaching and learning that focuses on the knowledge and skills students need in a digital age. OER should be embedded in a wider concept of pedagogy than just ‘open’ pedagogy.


Conole, G. (2014) The 7Cs of Learning Design – a new approach to rethinking design practice 9th International Conference on Networked Learning, Edinburgh

Crowther, G. (1969) This is the Open University, London, UK, 23 July

DeRosa, R. and Jhangiani, R. (2017) Open Pedagogy, in Mays, E. (ed.) A Guide to making Open Textbooks with Students, The Rebus Community

DeRosa, R. and Robison, S. (2017) From OER to Open Pedagogy: Harnessing the Power of Open in Jhangiani, R S. and Biswas-Diener, R. (2017 Open: The Philosophy and Practices that are Revolutionizing Education and Science London: Ubiquity Press.

Hegarty, B. (2015) Attributes of open pedagogy: a model for using open educational resources Educational Technology, July-August

Jhangiani, R.  and Biswas-Diener, R. (eds.) (2017) Open: The Philosophy and Practices that are Revolutionizing Education and Science London: Ubiquity Press.

Mak, S. et al. (2010). Blogs and forums as communication and learning tools in a MOOC  in L. Dirckinck-Holmfeld et al. (Eds.), Proceedings of the 7th International Conference on Networked Learning 2010 (pp. 275–284)

Morgan, T. (2017) Reflections on #OER17 – From Beyond Content to Open Pedagogy Explorations in the Ed Tech World, 13 April

Paquette, C. (1979) Quelques fondements d’une pédagogie ouverte Québec Français, Vol. 36

Rousseau, J.-J. (1762) Émile, ou de l’Éducation  (Trans. Allan Bloom). New York: Basic Books, 1979

Stacey, P. (2018) Global Education Commons Steward Musings on the Ed Tech Frontier, February 8

Wiley, D. (2013) What is Open Pedagogyimproving learning, October 21

Wiley, D. (2017) When opens collide, iterating toward openness, 21 April

Activity 12.4 Contemplating Open Pedagogy

  1. How does open pedagogy differ from other teaching methods such as experiential learning or problem-based learning? What makes open pedagogy unique, if anything? Does it matter?
  2. Look at one of the modules or topics you are currently teaching. How could you re-design it to reflect an open pedagogical approach? What would be the advantages and disadvantages of doing this?
  3. What support beyond your commitment and time would be necessary for you to be able successfully to integrate OER into your teaching?

Again, no feedback is provided by me – this is for reflection on your own practice


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Teaching in a Digital Age: Third Edition - General Copyright © 2022 by Anthony William (Tony) Bates is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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