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Open Education and Learning Design: Open Pedagogy in Praxis


Michael Paskevicius ,

University of Victoria, CA
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Valerie Irvine

University of Victoria, CA
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Beyond providing alternatives to traditional learning resources, there exists a gap in the literature in understanding how openness is impacting teaching and learning in higher education. This paper explores the ways in which educators describe how open education is impacting their pedagogical designs. Using a phenomenological approach with self-identifying open education practitioners, we explore how open educational practices (OEP) are being actualised in formal higher education in the context of British Columbia (BC), Canada. The findings suggest that OEP represent an emerging form of learning design, which draws from existing models of constructivist and networked pedagogy, while using the affordances of open tools and content to create and share learning in novel ways. Faculty members report finding ways to use open approaches and technologies to support and enable active learning experiences, present and share learners’ work in real-time, support formative feedback, peer review, and, ultimately, promote community-engaged coursework. By designing learning in this way, faculty members offer learners an opportunity to consider and practise developing themselves as public citizens, develop their knowledge and literacies for working appropriately with copyright and controlling access to their online contributions, while presenting options for extending some of those rights to others. Inviting learners to share their work more widely, demonstrates to them that their work has inherent value beyond the course and can be an opportunity for them to engage directly with their community.

How to Cite: Paskevicius, M. and Irvine, V., 2019. Open Education and Learning Design: Open Pedagogy in Praxis. Journal of Interactive Media in Education, 2019(1), p.10. DOI:
  Published on 10 Sep 2019
 Accepted on 13 Jun 2019            Submitted on 14 Feb 2019


A recent development in the field of education technology is the movement towards more open and accessible practices in education. The development of open and collaborative Internet technologies has been a major support for this movement and provides new methods and techniques for engaging with and contributing to knowledge as part of pedagogy. Various phenomena can be identified that encompass these changes, including the emergence of open educational resources (OER), discourses around increasingly open and flexible pedagogies, contributions to open access research, opportunities for increased personalisation, and the open sharing of educational experiences. This shift necessitates a change in the way we design teaching and learning, in order to engage fully with open access sources of knowledge, promote openness with our learners, and provide an opportunity for learners to engage as open practitioners themselves.

Recently, several open textbook initiatives have emerged, which provide educators with a familiar open resource to adopt in their teaching. In the context of British Columbia (BC), Canada, the BCcampus open textbook initiative has resulted in over 2,000 textbook adoptions by 435 faculty members, which equates to learners saving approximately 8–9 million Canadian dollars (£5–5.5 million British Pounds) in textbook costs (BCcampus, 2018). Open textbook projects are important initiatives that have garnered interest from learners, faculty, policymakers and governments. However, it has been argued elsewhere that many individuals now associate the open education movement with open textbooks (Blomgren, 2018; Jung, Bauer and Heaps, 2017). Beyond replacing traditional forms of knowledge resources, there is a need to understand how open access changes what an educator can do and how this might impact their pedagogical practice. This shifts the focus from the use or replacement of content (OER) to teaching and learning practices that are associated with open education (Deimann and Farrow, 2013). If open education is framed only as the adoption and use of OER or open textbooks, we miss an opportunity to consider how openness may also afford new modes and approaches to teaching and learning. This study uses the context of BC, where a significant number of adoptions of OER have taken place, to explore how faculty members describe changing the ways they conduct teaching and learning as a result of openness.

Relevant Literature

Overall, awareness of the availability and potential for using OER has increased steadily over the past five years (Seaman and Seaman, 2019). However OER, and the affordances they bring, represent new and largely optional technologies and learning design strategies for educators to integrate into their practice. Researchers have explored technology integration with educators at length, most notably finding that perceptions around usefulness and ease of use contribute most to the ongoing uptake of new technologies (Davis, 1989). Educators cite the challenges of locating relevant, high-quality and topical resources in their subject area as a significant barrier to more actively using OER and that integrating these resources into their curriculum is a time-consuming task (de los Arcos et al. 2014; Petrides et al. 2011; Seaman and Seaman, 2019). Allocating time to develop literacies for working with OER, as well as time to work with colleagues to develop and share practices, are cited as significantly important considerations for fostering more open practices (Kimmons, 2016). More theoretical research is needed on the time, effort and literacies needed to conduct these activities as well as their impacts on pedagogy (Beetham et al. 2012; Blomgren, 2018; Jhangiani et al. 2016; Littlejohn and McGill, 2016; Weller et al. 2015).

When faculty members do choose to use OER, researchers have found that their learners certainly appreciate freely accessible resources (Bliss et al. 2013). Further studies have shown that faculty members and learners perceive OER to be gradually increasing in quality (Jhangiani and Dastur, 2018; Ozdemir and Hendricks, 2017). Moreover, studies exploring the use of OER have found that their use does not have a negative impact on learning outcomes (Fischer, et al. 2015; Hilton, 2016). Faculty members also report that OER afford greater freedom when designing courses and learning materials, as OER can be adapted and revised as needed (Petrides et al. 2011; Pitt, 2015; Rolfe, 2017). These findings represent a significant shift that has impacted many learners and faculty members in positive ways by increasing learner access to resources and enabling greater faculty agency. How and if this translates to new forms of pedagogy is largely unknown.

Although faculty members are beginning to share examples of learning designs that use OER to enact more open and flexible pedagogies online, there is currently a gap in the literature that investigates the experience of educators who describe implementing openness in their teaching. Many educators who have adopted OER report simply replacing an existing commercial resource with no significant changes to pedagogical approach or practice (Pitt, 2015). It has been argued that further research is still needed on the pedagogical implications of openly accessible information on educator and learner practices (Banzato, 2012; Hood and Littlejohn, 2017; Kimmons, 2016; Knox, 2013; OPAL, 2011; Rolfe, 2017). Beyond replacing traditional forms of knowledge resources, there is a further need to understand how openness changes what an educator can do and how this impacts their pedagogical practice. In further exposing the potential pedagogical uses, emergent learning designs, and innovative approaches to teaching and learning enabled by openness, an opportunity exists for increased diffusion of open practices among faculty members. As the tools, resources and processes supporting these approaches are widely available, openness as a design approach provides a way of sharing practice, connecting with colleagues, as well as enabling faculty members to see and thus experiment with new pedagogical designs.

Research Context: Open Educational Practices in British Columbia

The study investigates how faculty members in BC describe the ways in which openness is impacting their teaching and learning practices. For many faculty members working in higher education in Canada, open access has become a familiar term and is increasingly a practical approach to sharing the results of academic research, largely due to a series of policies developed to promote open access to research. The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), and Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) have all confirmed their support for a Tri-Agency Open Access Policy (Government of Canada, 2016). However, the cultural shift around how we share and evolve teaching and learning practices, processes and information have been less well established, resulting in a grey area between open access and open education (McGreal, 2017). Only recently, educational consortia are starting to consider ways in which, working together collaboratively on developing teaching resources and pedagogical practice, we can do more with a goal of providing a richer educational experience for our learners. Notably, BC was the first province in Canada to implement a provincially supported open textbook project and several additional provinces in Canada are now establishing their own projects (Bates, 2018; McGreal, Anderson and Conrad, 2015). The purpose of this study is to further our understanding of how openness is impacting teaching and learning practices in formal higher education in BC.

An ongoing challenge in researching open educational practices (OEP) is the variety of ways that researchers and practitioners define openness in education. In the field, the terms used to describe these practices vary, and include OEP, open education and open pedagogy (Cronin and MacLaren, 2018). It would appear that OEP cover the most broad spectrum of an educator’s practice and may include engagement with open access research, open sharing of data, and open scholarship (Andrade et al. 2011; Banzato, 2012; Carey et al. 2015; Cronin, 2017; Hood and Littlejohn, 2017; Paskevicius, 2017; Rolfe, 2017; Stagg, 2014, 2017). Others have described OEP specifically in relation to learner activity, and how they afford greater personalisation, autonomy and self-regulation on the part of learners (Ehlers, 2011; Kaatrakoski, Littlejohn and Hood, 2017). OEP have also been defined as teaching and learning activities where both “resources are shared by making them openly available and pedagogical practices are employed which rely on social interaction, knowledge creation, peer learning, and shared learning practices” (Ehlers, 2013: 94). Open pedagogy appears to be more focused on the impact of openness on teaching and learning processes, essentially how we engage with learners (Hegarty, 2015; Hodgkinson-Williams and Gray, 2009; Wiley, 2017). Wiley (2017) and then more recently Wiley and Hilton (2018) offered the term ‘OER-enabled pedagogy’, describing the teaching and learning activities made possible only when using OER. The term ‘open educators’ has also been used to describe those that take up openness in various aspects of their teaching practice (Nascimbeni and Burgos, 2016). The shifting focus of discourses from OER towards open teaching and learning practices represents a positive advancement of the field, as this signifies a shift from focusing on developing and releasing OER to researching their impact (Weller et al. 2015). The present study seeks to explore how faculty members themselves are defining OEP and the ways in which this impacts their teaching and learning practices.


In this study, we investigate the lived experience of educators who describe actively changing their pedagogical practice due to their engagement with open education. A qualitative approach is used to capture the experiences of participants, to better understand meaning formation through and as part of culture, and to discover themes among this population through a process of discovery (Corbin and Strauss, 2008). We use an empirical phenomenological approach in this study to investigate the personal social construction and ‘lifeworld’ human experience of individuals engaging with OEP (Giorgi, 1997; Gray, 2014). This research was subjected to ethical review by the BC Ethics Harmonization Initiative and was approved before data collection.

Participants were selected through purposeful sampling based on their situational ability to reflect on their experiences relating to the phenomenon of interest, in this case their engagement with OEP (Creswell, 2012; Horsburgh, 2003; Kruger, 1988). Faculty members were invited to participate in the study based on research papers they had produced, personal reflections they had shared online, or through recommendations by colleagues. The invitation letter asked if they would be willing to talk about their engagement with OEP as enacted through their learning designs, including learning outcomes, the selection of teaching resources, and the planning of activities and assessment. In total 16 participants were invited to participate and 11 agreed to take part in the study. A summary of participants, their demographics, faculty and years of experience teaching is presented in Table 1. To ensure confidentiality in the presentation of the research, each participant was assigned a pseudonym.

Table 1

Interview participants’ demographics.

Name Age (years) Gender Faculty Years teaching

Alice 40–49 F Arts 15+
Robert 30–39 M Arts 10–15
Olivia 30–39 F Communication, Art, and Technology 5–9
Thomas 30–39 M Communication, Art, and Technology 0–5
James 30–39 M Education 5–9
Joanne 40–49 F Environment 0–5
Katherine 50–49 F Forestry/Land and Food Systems 15+
Patricia 20–29 F Humanities 0–5
William 40–49 M Science and Management 10–15
Margaret 40–49 F Social and Applied Sciences 15+
Tracy 60–69 F Social Sciences 15+

Participants were interviewed using the Zoom online synchronous meeting service. The interviews lasted on average for one hour and were audio recorded for transcription and analysis. Participation in the research was voluntary and participants were informed that they could withdraw from the study at any time. Interview transcripts were imported into NVivo for qualitative analysis. A full reading of all the transcripts was conducted twice, initially for a holistic analysis, then to begin thematic analysis. A structured analytical approach guided the analysis of phenomenological data, first through a process of bracketing in which the beliefs and assumptions of the researcher are articulated through rigorous self-reflection (Creswell, 2013; Hein and Austin, 2001). Throughout the analyses, several readings of the transcripts were conducted and qualitative coding was applied at each iteration using the constant competitive methodology (Glaser, 1965). This involves comparing codes iteratively as the data are analysed, integrating common and overlapping codes, then delimiting and contributing to a theory to explain the phenomenon. The thematic analysis was further reviewed by a more senior researcher to ensure inter-rater reliability.


All participants were actively working in the formal higher education system in BC at the time of the interview. All but two were working at research-intensive universities; six of the participants were working in research-focused faculty positions, whereas five maintained teaching-focused roles. Several of the teaching-focused roles were situated within research-intensive universities with the title of teaching professor, which now commonly exists within many research universities. Others were working in sessional positions or at teaching-focused institutions. Participants were asked how long they have been engaging with OEP and if they could identify a catalyst for the change to practice. This is visually summarised in Figure 1.

Figure 1 

Participant’s years of engagement with OEP and general catalyst for that change.

Participants in the study reported engaging with OEP for an average of seven years, with a minimum of two years and maximum of 15 years. When asked to identify a catalyst for their engagement with OEP, four cited a desire to increase access to knowledge, either specifically in their discipline, or more broadly. Three participants cited the availability of OER as a catalyst, two had been engaged with OEP in their graduate studies, one cited a desire to innovate their pedagogical approach, and one cited a desire to empower learners. Notably, several of the catalysts identified by participants were not directly related to an awareness of OER or open textbooks. Several of these catalysts are related to innovation, learner empowerment, and increasing access to knowledge more generally. While these individuals identified as open education practitioners, they did not necessarily cite OER as their starting point for integrating openness in teaching and learning.

Although a wide range of issues emerged during the interviews, we focus specifically on participants’ reflections on how open education is impacting their pedagogical approach. The analysis is guided by the main research question: how do faculty members describe the ways in which openness is impacting their teaching and learning practices? Nine broad themes emerged from the responses to this question. In keeping with the articulated definition of OEP that guided this study, the broad themes were clustered around aspects of teaching and learning design including the design of assessment, educational content, learning outcomes, and teaching and learning activities. The main themes included providing ways for learners to promote and share their work, enabling new modes and mediums of learner work, supporting personalised learning, reforming how we source and share content, promoting a diverse and interdisciplinary array of resources, promoting critical approaches to knowledge, developing open and network literacies, shifting roles and responsibilities, and fostering collaboration and peer review. A visual model of the themes is presented in Figure 2 and each theme is then discussed.

Figure 2 

Themes that emerged as faculty members described how openness is impacting their pedagogy.

Providing Ways for Learners to Promote and Share Their Work

Several interviewees shared a belief that there was value in considering how learners could share their work and creations more widely. Robert noted that encouraging learners to share their work widely was done to address their concern that “student undergraduate research ends at the professor.” Similarly, Tracy suggested that “I try to move away from doing things just for the instructor.” Many participants spoke of a desire to design assignments that could be relevant to broader audiences and invited learners to share their work more broadly with their classmates or community.

Furthermore, participants reflected on how inviting learners to work in the open increased the level of risk and/or potential reward and thereby motivated greater investment in the work. This was articulated by Patricia who suggested “the stakes might feel higher when someone is creating something that’s going to be open and accessible by a wider community” as well as Alice who stated “students will write differently, you know, if they know it’s not just going to their professor.” The practice of encouraging learners to share their work was perceived by Olivia to “add more value to their work,” by showing learners the work they do at university can “have an audience beyond their professors.” Several participants shared stories of student work being discovered by others due to it being shared openly, with cases of both praise and critique of their work. In all cases, these were used as learning and discussion opportunities.

Enabling New Modes and Mediums of Learner Work

The notion of supporting new modes and mediums for learners to represent their learning was frequently represented in the interviews, with many referencing the creation of reflective writing activities, podcasts, videos and other multimodal media projects. Tracy noted that promoting new forms of learner work also “acknowledge[s] all of the ways in which the academy, but also the community, contributes to knowledge.” As Robert reflected, this promotes the idea that contributing to knowledge is not only achieved by “publishing in a peer reviewed journal”, and learners can be creative and innovative in the ways they contribute to and create knowledge. Olivia described this as “thinking of alternative modes of knowledge production”, as she mentioned offering learners the opportunity to choose a format for their project while also considering the ways in which that material would be presented on the web.

Supporting Personalised Learning

Frequently mentioned throughout the interviews was the goal of allowing learners to explore their personal interests, culture and social context through assessment. Several participants sought to design assessment that allowed learners to tap into these aspects of their personal lives. Where learners could exercise choice and pursue projects of personal interest, a greater sense of ownership was observed. James commented that “they love the idea that they are in control of what they do”, when given more choice around assessment. Other participants suggested it was possible to have learners working on projects that could benefit their personal lives or professional trajectories as part of formal coursework. In her final assignment, Olivia provides the learners “absolute free reign in terms of what kind of a thing they produced.” Learners use their creative interests to develop resources for the course, as Olivia reflects “some opted for essays still, but other students created digital timelines, infographics, podcasts, comic books, videos.” Personalisation of assessment was suggested to allow learners to represent and situate themselves authentically and creatively through their work.

Reforming How We Source and Share Content

Participants shared how educational materials were deliberately selected to ensure free and open access to learning resources. While Joanne described her goal of reducing the “burden to [learners’] pockets”, Margaret suggested her intent to support “equity and access” through the use of open resources. OER were regarded by most as increasing in quality and viability over time and becoming viable resources for use in their classes. Alice noted her feeling that the use and sharing of OER were one of the “less threatening” components of OEP. She made this comment, while comparing OER use to other forms of open practices.

Katherine described how OER enabled her to provide learners with sustained access to their learning resources. She cited a fear that the resources provided during coursework are often only made temporarily available to learners via a restricted access Learning Management System (LMS), a significant feature of which is the temporal nature of access to course materials. While a course is active, learners have free access to their course resources. However, once a course concludes, depending on how the institution has the environment configured, learners may lose access to both the resources from the course, and any work they may have contributed in these online environments. Several participants found this problematic and this provided motivation to build course materials outside of the LMS that would be available to learners for the long term.

Promoting a Diverse and Interdisciplinary Array of Resources

Participants shared their commitment to ensuring diversity and multiple perspectives were being considered throughout the curriculum. Joanne suggested she seeks open resources with a goal of “facilitating student learning in ways that are diverse, in ways that take into consideration a variety of perspectives, a variety of disciplines.” This included sourcing resources from a variety of individuals, organisations and publishers in a range of formats representative of diverse global communities. Her goal was developing curriculum that brings together “different ideas and perspectives in theory and practice from around the world and I’m not just using North American [resources].”

Promoting Critical Approaches to Knowledge

Promoting a critical lens on knowledge production was also cited as a motivator for engaging with OEP. Joanne described OEP as an approach to “engage students with the information age, […] to engage openly in the knowledge society.” Robert reflected on his own philosophy for the critical interrogation of knowledge production, ownership and hierarchies:

I see […] top-down notions of knowledge and how knowledge is mobilised by the university as a tool of settler colonialism. And so being willing to, and ready to, critique those systems of knowledge and the way that knowledge moves is at the core of what it means to do de-colonial scholarship and to engage with my students in a way that I see as ethical and necessary.

Robert referenced OEP as an approach to getting learners thinking about knowledge structures and ways that they might themselves contribute. He described his belief that “open access is ideological. It needs to be critiqued” and took this as an opportunity to have learners critically interrogate ideas around openness by problematising modern knowledge production systems and encouraging learners to consider their participation in contributing to knowledge.

Developing Open and Network Literacies

As learners were tasked with reviewing, remixing or creating open resources, they inherently develop literacies for working more openly. The presence and development of open and network literacies was frequently cited as both an important consideration in preparing to engage learners with OEP, as well as a potential consequence of doing so. Several participants warned that although many learners may be eager to use digital and social media, they may not have a refined understanding of how to engage on the open web. One strategy for addressing this was to develop an understanding of how to work incrementally in the open. This was described as an understanding of the gradations of privacy, essentially how it is possible to transition from working in a closed way, unfolding to a small group, then making resources openly accessible. Working incrementally towards open sharing was described as a strategy to help learners find comfort working in this way. Gathering feedback to improve the work along the way allows a learner to improve and refine the work and prepare it to be shared more openly.

If the intention is to have learners share their work openly, the process by which they create needs to be done in an explicitly open way. Learners may need to change their workflows and practices for engaging with digital media to contribute resources appropriately. By starting this conversation and raising awareness about open and network literacy, William expressed a hope that learners would be more careful and considerate when engaging online in their personal and professional lives. He suggested, while it was possible to rely on fair-use principles, it is important that learners have an opportunity to practise working with open resources. Several participants shared the concern that open and networked digital literacies were not formally taught as part of the curriculum, and, in response, included them in their own course outcomes.

Shifting Roles and Responsibilities

Nearly all participants commented on a shift in power relations in their definitions of OEP. The nature of this power shift was articulated in several different passages. James remarked that this approach enabled them to “become less of the holder of knowledge and more of a conduit through which students can access that knowledge.” Others reinforced this idea, with Patricia suggesting that OEP “blurs the boundaries between instructor and student to create a more collaborative space.” Alice described this as “sharing responsibility between the professor and the students” and “power sharing within the course,” while Margaret cited “giving over that illusion of power” between faculty members and learners. Tracy described her approach as “being open to transcending boundaries between students and professors in terms of collaboration, participatory education.” This idea of sharing responsibility for the educational experience was further reinforced by Thomas, who uses “openness in the way that we practice the actual classroom dynamics, deciding on materials, [and] coming to agreements with the students around their evaluation.” Margaret described this as evoking “a constructivist and a constructionist stance; that notion that you’re co-creating and that there’s value in the co-creating and there’s value in that social negotiation that comes with learning in those spaces.” Thomas further commented “it’s openness in what we bring into the classroom, openness in what we take out of the classroom, and an openness between what happens between the students and myself and the students and each other in how we organise the classroom.” This statement surmises several of the themes already discussed and represents a holistic description of openness that considers the knowledge brought into the classroom, learner creations extending out of the classroom, and openness among participants while in the classroom.

Fostering Collaboration and Peer Review

Promoting greater openness among learners enabled them to access the variety of perspectives and interpretations their peers made regarding the course material. This was used as a source for debate and discussion around the course materials. In several cases, learners were required to maintain personal blogs and keep them updated regularly with reflections from the course. This enabled leaners to “tap into” the reflections and thinking of their peers and consider alternative ways of thinking about the course. Although comments could be made on the blogs, Thomas had begun using the web annotation tool to support emergent ways of providing more detailed feedback and peer review. The service enables the annotation of any web-based resource in much the same way as a word processor handles commenting. Unlike leaving a comment at the end of a blog post, this allowed feedback to be provided wherever the reviewer selected on a web page, enabling a reader to attach their comment to a paragraph, sentence word, or any form of multimedia. Thomas shared how this allowed “any other student could come in and also see the comments I’ve left on the other student’s essay.” Thomas further reflected “I’m not sure if in practice they look very carefully at other people’s essays to see what kind of comments I’ve given them, but the opportunity for them to do so is there.” Thomas described his intent to be open and transparent with his feedback to learners, stating “all of the feedback I give is also publicly available.”


This study confirmed that the term OEP carries with it many different associations and meanings for both practitioners and researchers (Bali, 2017; Cronin and MacLaren, 2018). Although all participants confirmed their awareness of the term, they defined it in relation to their teaching practices in various ways. Participants in this study were actualising OEP through the design of learning by inviting and providing opportunities for learners themselves to work more openly or engage directly with open education. This was done by involving learners in the building of collections of openly accessible course resources, engaging them in open scholarship with their own research, or by developing independent open coursework projects. Similar to the findings of Cronin (2017) and Nascimbeni and Burgos (2016), we found that participants in this study did not use OER as a prerequisite to their engagement with OEP. In fact, one participant was not even actively using or contributing to OER. These findings reiterate that OEP are not simply the use of OER. Although OEP draw on the affordances of OER, in that they are making teaching and learning activities more visible and accessible using open tools, they also result in emerging forms of teaching and learning practices. The study reinforces the importance of inviting learners to be creators and contributors to openly accessible public knowledge, while raising awareness of the stakes in doing so, and enabling learners to make informed decisions about engaging publicly. This compels the need to carefully consider how we teach open and network literacies to learners to ensure they may be successful as open practitioners.

Inviting learners to contribute their work openly may be daunting for learners and, in all cases, participants indicated that alternatives were provided for learners who did not feel comfortable sharing. However, as others have argued, faculty members can create opportunities and invite learners to contribute their work when appropriate (Wiley and Hilton III, 2018). Alice cautioned that we only encourage learners to share their best work and provide them a chance to incorporate feedback before it goes public. If we are asking learners to share their work so that it “can be a value to the world, you still have to help them make it better before it goes out.” Alice commented “if you can take the time to give feedback and have them make it better, then I think that actually does a service to the rest of the world, but that takes a great deal of time.” One strategy that emerged to address this involved working with learners on closed projects initially, then encouraging learners to share more openly as their work progressed and improved in quality. This was done by allowing learners to submit their work exclusively to the instructor, or only to their peers and class members initially. Another option cited was inviting learners to contribute their work with a pseudonym or without author information. This gives learners an opportunity to experience what can happen with open sharing, while not being directly attributed in the work. As Thomas described, inviting learners to share their work gives them a chance to see “what happens when you put stuff out on the web openly,” even if done so under a pseudonym in order to ensure anonymity.

Participants reported that learners feel more concerned about how they will be graded when they are given more choice around assessment and producing unconventional work. Thomas explained “when you try to give them more flexibility around these things or you try to get them to set their own standards, then you bump up against the institution.” Learners ultimately want to know how to be successful in the course and achieve high grades, so unfamiliar, multimodal and learner interest-driven projects may instil cause for concern. Untraditional work is unfamiliar, and learners expressed trepidation as it may not be clear what a successful project looks like. Two participants commented further on this issue. James reflected on receiving learner comments like “how is this going to affect my mark? […] you’re affecting my ability to get into [graduate] school. What are you doing?”, and Thomas suggested that learners “want to know, like, all of the parameters and rules about how to get an A.” This is a fair concern on the part of learners who want to achieve high grades throughout their courses. The issue of grading brings up a host of peripheral issues related to their validity and relevance, as a movement towards grading less, or at least differently, is emerging among scholars (Schinske and Tanner, 2014; Schneider and Hutt, 2014).

All participants in the study were inviting learners to engage with open education in some way. In the process, learners were also learning about digital media, open copyright models, contributing to knowledge communities, and web publishing. Therefore, emergent open and networked digital literacies were being built into the curriculum either implicitly or explicitly as a prerequisite in order for learners to work appropriately in the open. Whether this was articulated as a formal course learning outcome was not always clear. Participants in this study shared that although learners bring a variety of digital skills with them into the classroom, the development of open and network digital literacies often had to be added to their curriculum in order for learners to contribute as open practitioners. The learning designs represented in this study provided an opportunity for learners to practice critical approaches to assessing and creating knowledge and, in the process, develop open and network literacies. There is a growing need to establish literacies around open education, copyright, social media and networked learning as a foundational skill.

This study is limited in that it explores how OEP is being taken up by a small group of educators who are committed to OEP. However, as discussions around open pedagogy, open practices and open teaching continue to increase in the open education literature, it provides insight into how educators are putting these ideas into practice through their pedagogy. Our hope is that this research might provide inspiration or rationale for educators trying to bring openness into their own practice. Increasing openness among educators has been identified as a source of professional development and is often both supported by, and provides guidance towards, using open technologies (Borthwick and Gallagher-Brett, 2014; Weller et al. 2015). Further research should interrogate OEP enabled learning designs, learner perspectives on being engaged with OEP, and how and if OEP stimulates innovation in teaching and learning.


This research aimed to contribute to our understanding of the various ways in which openness is impacting teaching and learning in higher education. Faculty members reflected on how OEP is manifesting in learning design, largely drawing from existing models of constructivist and networked pedagogy that prioritise the interests and voice of the learner. Open technologies were used to support and enable active learning experiences, presenting and sharing learners’ work in real-time, allowing for formative feedback, peer review, and ultimately, community-engaged coursework. Engaging learners in this way promotes the development of open and networked literacies, now critical for success in the information age. By designing learning in this way, faculty members offer learners an opportunity to consider and practise developing themselves as public citizens. Further, OEP provides learners with an opportunity to develop knowledge and literacies for working with copyright and controlling access to their online contributions, while offering them options for extending some of those rights to others. Inviting learners to share their work widely demonstrates to them that their work has inherent value beyond the course, can be an opportunity to engage with their community and further contribute to open knowledge.

Data Accessibility Statements

A selection of the data from this study is available at


The authors would like to thank all of the faculty members who participated in in this study by offering their time, insight, and thoughtful reflections on their practice. We also wish to thank the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and insightful critiques on an earlier draft of this paper.

Funding Information

This research was partially funded by a research grant from BCcampus.

Competing Interests

The authors have no competing interests to declare.


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