6. Open Pedagogy

6.4. 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 realized 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).

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 to 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 – behaviorism, 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-centered 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.