From OER to Open Pedagogy: Next Frontier in Learning

Steven Bell, Associate University Librarian, Temple University

Imagine a jet plane cruising down a road. It’s possible, though a clear case of underutilization of the technology. Now take that imagery and apply it to Open Educational Resources (OER). While they are available for adoption by faculty as learning content, the full potential of OER goes underutilized. How so? At the Open Ed ’16 Conference, held November 2016, I learned how faculty are taking on that challenge and finding new ways to create and use OER.

A keynote and multiple sessions explored open pedagogy as the next frontier in achieving a culture of openness in higher education. While the majority of faculty are just beginning to discover OER, as is often the case with advances in learning and the adoption of educational technologies, we can be inspired by the experiences of early adopters. At Open Ed ’16 those pioneers shared their insights into and experience with the open pedagogy movement.

In his keynote, Gardner Campbell challenged attendees to adopt pedagogical practices that engage students in a “eureka hunt” which means creating assignments that put students in a position to have a unique discovery or an “aha” moment. He referred to this as “insight-oriented education” and educators achieve it when they equip students to take responsibility for their own learning. Our work, said Campbell, is not to graduate more students, but to enable students to graduate themselves. Though Campbell’s talk could be described as more conceptual than practical, he was followed by David Wiley and three faculty who shared how they are using open pedagogy to do exactly what Campbell advocates.


Wiley, organizer of the Open Ed Conference, has, to an extent, told us what he means by open pedagogy in a 2013 blog post (the source of my plane analogy). He encouraged faculty to shift from what he calls “disposable assignments” to “renewable assignments”. Disposable assignments are the ones students hate to do, faculty hate to grade and are quickly forgotten. Think ten-page term papers. Renewable assignments are insight-oriented. They engage students in their own learning. More importantly, they are renewable in the sense that the next class of students will inherit them. Future students will both learn from and build upon them as an act of creating new, open learning content. As an example Wiley described his “Kung-Fu” assignment that requires students to take old video sequences and replace the dialogue with a new soundtrack that describes a contemporary technology challenge. He shared a student’s “Blogs vs. Wikis” video to demonstrate what students can accomplish when challenged.  

This is how students work with faculty to create OER. Robin DeRosa, professor of interdisciplinary studies at Plymouth State University, shared an equally powerful example of open pedagogy.  Working with her students, together they created the open textbook The Open Anthology of Early American Literature. She explained the technology behind the project and how the students were involved to identify and organize the content. Admittedly, DeRosa told the audience, this project required more effort than any of her previous assignments. She felt it was among the most rewarding because the students created the textbook as they learned the subject matter. The open textbook gave the students the satisfaction of sharing their work with future students.

If DeRosa’s textbook project seems like an overwhelming place to begin exploring open pedagogy, consider something on a smaller scale but with similar outcomes. In the talk “Free and Freedom” Rajiv Jhangiani, open learning advocate and psychology professor from Kwantlan Polytechnic Institute, suggested that faculty try a “public scholarship” project where students work collaboratively to create content that is publicly accessible and sustainable. One of Jhangiani’s example was the Wikipedia research project in which students work together to either update or enhance an existing Wikipedia article or write an entirely new one (I write about the virtues of these projects in more detail here). Students typically use the institution’s primary and secondary research resources to gather the information used to update or write the entry, serving the added valuable function of building their research and writing skills.

For faculty not yet ready to take on a textbook project like DeRosa’s, the Wikipedia research project is a good first step to achieving “renewable” assignments. Though a drastic departure from a traditional essay or research paper, Wikipedia offers multiple guides for faculty wanting to experiment with open pedagogy. Students find it more challenging, but express appreciation for the opportunity to create a Wikipedia article that lives beyond the end of the course. It also gives them a far better understanding of how information becomes available for Internet consumption. They learn firsthand that anyone can create Internet content, which offers a valuable lesson in why evaluation is a critical skill.

My big takeaway from Open Ed ’16 is that the OER conversation is evolving beyond the basics of what are open educational resources, where they are found, how they are incorporated into courses and how to advocate for their use. While all of those issues are still important to discuss, there is new thinking about the benefits of OER for students when we involve them in their own learning through the practice of open pedagogy.


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