complex network” by david mcchesney is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Navigating the Marvellous

Catherine Cronin
Sep 9, 2014 · 10 min read

Openness in Education

Summary of my keynote at ALT Conference 2014 #altc

Education is inherently an ethical and political act. — Michael Apple (1990)

Learning spaces

One way of thinking about learning spaces in higher education is simply to consider the different spaces where students and educators interact: physical spaces, bounded online spaces, and open online spaces. Physical spaces might be classrooms, seminar rooms, labs, maker spaces, etc. Bounded online spaces are members-only spaces, e.g. courses set up in Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) or Learning Management Systems (LMSs), Google+ communities, closed wikis, or any other members-only space. Open online spaces are any open, permeable, online spaces in which people can communicate and interact, e.g. open wikis, blogs, Twitter, etc. What happens in these different spaces? What is possible in these different spaces? When and why might we and our students choose bounded or open spaces for specific learning activities?

Networked educators meeting networked students” by Catherine Cronin is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Young 101” by Infidelic is licensed under CC BY-ND-SA 2.0
ne da se mi” by Tadej is licensed under CC BY-ND-SA 2.0


Interaction in open online spaces allows us to cross many boundaries: temporal and spatial as well as boundaries of geography, culture, institution, education sector, community, and power level. But all of this depends on our values as networked educators and networked learners. To the extent that there is any leveling of power between students and educators, this is dependent upon a commitment to mutuality and dialogic pedagogy by educators, and trust between and among educators and students. Open practices offer possibilities for students and educators to engage with one another as co-learners. This is not simple, but it is the core value which drives initiatives such as #iCollab.

Openness as breathing space

From my perspective as an open learner and open educator, openness means many things: using open resources, creating and sharing my work and my thinking openly, and supporting students in doing the same. At the most basic level, open can simply mean “available for free”. This is the definition used by many institutional MOOCs, for example. Most of these resources are not openly licensed, however, so they cannot be remixed, repurposed, reused, or reshared. The next level of openness is open licensing, i.e. use of Creative Commons licenses. A further level of openness is the development of open practices — open learning and teaching, open sharing and networking. Ultimately, I would describe openness as embracing a spirit of openness. I have learned a great deal from open educators like Howard Rheingold, Jenny Mackness, Bonnie Stewart, Dave Cormier, Alan Levine, Jim Groom, Helen Crump, my iCollab partners, and many more, who describe openness, variously, as a state of mind, a way of being, an ethos, or a political act. But why do those who identify as open educators make these choices? Jenny Mackness (2013) sums this up beautifully:

Education is Changing” by Bryan Mathers is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

    Catherine Cronin

    Written by

    Open educator, open researcher, and Strategic Education Developer at @ForumTL. Thinking andtalking about open education and social justice. #oer19 #go_gn