Redefining Open: From Open Source to Open Education

Beginning the MALAT program with a virtual symposium has been a thought-provoking opportunity to step beyond my scope of understanding and learn about the wider open educational space. As an open source developer, openness and collaboration have had a profound impact on my personal and professional life. Looking beyond my experiences, I can see that open source is just one of the many facets of openness. For example, Cormier (2017) highlighted three broad aspects of open: Open to, looking at increased access to content; open by, looking at openness as a gift from creators; and open for, looking at how openness can positively affect learners. Reflecting on my definition of open alongside each new definition helped illustrate that “openness is a continuously negotiated space” (Childs, 2019, 20:46). Throughout the virtual symposium, it was necessary to synthesize the ideas presented and redefine my understanding of open.

In seeking to expand my definition of openness, it was important to understand how wide the concept of open is. In her slide “Complexity = Multiple Definitions of Open”, Childs (2019) highlighted several aspects of open, from open scholarship and access to open policy. This overview provided a great perspective of how my current open source work fits into a much larger view of openness across different sectors. Cormier (2017) described the complexity and growth of open as a rhizome, “capable of spreading on it’s own, bounded only by the limits of it’s habitat.” With this wide-angle view, of both the scope and complexity of open, I could begin to form an idea of openness as a whole concept.

Focusing my definition of openness towards the education space, Lalonde (2018) highlights three pillars of open education: Open Educational Resources (OER), Open Pedagogy, and Open Technology. I realized that entering into the symposium my definition of open had been constrained to the pillar of open technology. As a software developer, it was inspiring to learn about the ideas surrounding these two other pillars, and look for ways that open technology can support them. Watching the presentations, I found myself wondering: “How could open source help make OER materials more reusable,” and “how can open technology enable educators to try new pedagogies and share them?” I believe each of these pillars can work to support each other:

“Open education is not limited to just open educational resources. It also draws upon open technologies that facilitate collaborative, flexible learning and the open sharing of teaching practices that empower educators to benefit from the best ideas of their colleagues.” (The Cape Town Open Education Declaration, 2007, para. 4)

In selecting presentations to attend, I looked for topics that could deepen my understanding of openness. Among these, I was intrigued by Cronin’s (2018) ideas surrounding the risks of adopting open educational practices. She introduces these ideas with a quote: “It has never been more risky to operate in the open. It has never been more vital to operate in the open” (Weller, 2016). It gave me pause to consider the risks surrounding my own work. The idea of an open source school information system can make many administrators and educators uneasy, based on the perception of security, support, and longevity of open source (Rooij, 2007). By advocating for an open source solution and putting this idea into practice, my school has helped model to other schools that this level of open technology is possible. Cronin expressed that practicing openness is not without tension; it’s complex, personal, contextual, and continuously negotiated. “Our work as educators is to try and negotiate that tension, not just for ourselves but for our students and the institutions that we work in” (Cronin, 2018, 05:53). It was encouraging to see that the MALAT program has also been built on this principle of not only teaching openness but modelling it through the design of the program itself (Childs, 2018, 16:02). I think by modelling openness, and by understanding the tensions and risks involved, it’s possible to develop greater empathy for those who are new to the idea of open. With this in mind, I’m keen to look for more opportunities to share openness within my network of peers and educators.

Through the course of the virtual symposium, I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to continuously redefine my understanding of openness: starting with a narrow scope focused on open technology, and expanding it to a broader view of open education as a whole. I began the MALAT program as an advocate of open source, and I hope to leave as an advocate of all things open.


Childs, E. (2019). Openness and networked learning in a MA degree [Video file]. Retrieved from

Cormier, D. (2017). Intentional messiness of online communities [Video file]. Retrieved from

Cronin, C. (2017). Open culture, open education, open questions [Video file]. Retrieved from

Lalonde, C. (2018). Sharing and CC licensing [Video file]. Retrieved from

Rooij, S. W. van. (2007). Perceptions of Open Source Versus Commercial Software. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 39(4), 433–453.

The Cape Town Open Education Declaration (2007). Retrieved July 15, 2019, from

Weller, M. (2016, December 13), The paradoxes of open scholarship [Blog post and Webinar]. Retrieved from

Photo by James Sutton on Unsplash

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