The Complexity and Importance of Open Educational Practices
The Virtual Symposiums (2017-2019) facilitated by Royal Roads University’s (RRU) Faculty of Education and Technology are a collection of powerful connections to digital learning environments, networks, and communities. The collection of presenters was drawn from a diverse and multi-sectoral panel of leaders and researchers in the field of education and technology. The speakers highlighted how far we have come as educators engaging with open educational practices, but more importantly, how far we still have to go in our efforts to embrace community learning, not just open as in content, but open as in learning — which is more fundamentally about the learning process (Cormier, 2017). It is student learning that guides most dedicated and professional educators (Ontario College of Teachers, 2019; Schmidt, 2012; ), and that is where our focus needs to be: how openness in K-12 learning environments drives student motivation and learning (Cronin, 2017). “Education is sharing,” and it is through embracing Lalonde’s (2018) three pillars of open education, Cronin’s (2017) advice on open educational practices, and Cormier’s exploration of rhizomatic learning and the connectivism theory of learning, that we can more effectively strive to meet the learning needs of today’s K-12 students (Wiley, as cited in Lalonde, 2018).
Lalonde (2018) identified three pillars of open education in his session on “Sharing and CC Licensing” as: open resources, open pedagogy, and open technologies. In the context of K-12 classrooms in Canada, open resources have been a part of education since the Internet became a part of our daily lives (Lalonde, 2018). However, open pedagogy and open technologies are still unfolding on various levels in our schools, and these two pillars stand to amplify student learning immensely (Siemens, 2005, p. 7). Open pedagogy involves a shift in thinking and professional sharing on the part of teachers (a bottom-up process); while open technology involves a shift in policy and action at administrative levels of school boards, or at the level of provincial ministries of education (a top-down process) (OPI & SF, 2007). Open pedagogy is effectively viewed through the lens of the 5Rs (Lalonde, 2018): reuse, revise, remix, redistribute, and retain. “This is a new space in open education, entering the field just over the last few years, involving instructional techniques that take place in the open and are only possible in the context of the free access and 5R permissions characteristic of OERs” (Lalonde, 2018). Open technologies facilitate collaborative, flexible learning amongst teachers and students alike, as well as open sharing that that speaks to issues such as equity and flexibility in many students’ learning (Lalonde, 2018; Open Society Institute and Shuttleworth Foundation, 2007).
In her session on “Choosing Open”, Cronin (2017) explored what it means to choose open, to engage in an open educational culture. She outlined how educators “need to help students to build bridges between the dichotomy of formal and informal learning” and how open online spaces can facilitate this powerful learning (Cronin, 2017). I most appreciated how Cronin identified four dimensions shared by educators using open educational practices (OEP) as two parts of a whole; the first half being educators valuing social learning, and balancing privacy and openness, and the second half of the whole being educators developing digital literacies with their students and challenging traditional teaching role expectations (i.e., sage on the stage to guide on the side) (Cronin, 2017).
If open resources, open pedagogy, and open technologies are the three pillars of open education, then rhizomatic learning and the connectivism theory of learning are what the three pillars support. Cormier’s virtual symposium session made rhizomatic learning appear to be much of the bridge that Cronin (2017) alluded to, as a need to connect students’ formal and informal learning. The concept of rhizomatic learning “as an open community that can be the curriculum, where the students’ learning is ‘the learning’, sees learning as a complex environment versus learning as ‘covering the curriculum'”(Cormier, 2017). Rhizomatic learning needs a “garden bed” or structure, but is open by nature, involving more problem-based learning (Cormier, 2107). In the context of K-12 learning environments (particularly at elementary level), often a more scaffolded or structured process is necessary to meet provincial curriculum expectations/outcomes; nonetheless, rhizomatic learning would be a part of differentiating instruction and assessment practices, versus a central part of a course template that it might be in higher education (Cronje, 2016). Open learning involves the rhizome (learner) expanding into its habitat; however, “we are sometimes bounded by our habitat”(Childs in Cormier, 2017). The learning theory of connectivism is rooted in open education; in fact, it evolved in direct response to the pivotal role of technology in learning today (Siemens, 2005). Previous learning theories did not incorporate open education practices, because technology was not the integral part of learning that it is today.
Open educational practices are revolutionary for teachers and students today; however, they involve fundamental shifts in pedagogical practices (OPI & SF, 2007; Latzke, 2018) as school systems start “seeing learning as a complex environment versus ‘covering the curriculum'” (Cormier, 2017). The three pillars of open educational practices are essential parts of the journey, embracing rhizomatic learning as professional educators and students, subscribing to the connectivism theory of learning. Cronin (2017) shared that “Practicing openness is complex, personal, contextual, and continuously negotiated.” Practicing openness is complex, and it is also vital to meeting the learning needs of today’s K-12 students.
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