By @choconancy Nancy White

In 2012 I attended the Open Ed conference in Vancouver , provocatively titled Beyond Content.  This was the same conference where Gardner Campbell captured our hearts with his infamous quote “this is not what I meant at all” , mirroring a sentiment that open was being co-opted by corporate interests and heading down a slippery slope of open-washing and dubious learner benefit.  But what also struck me about this particular Open Ed conference was that  the sessions weren’t really about Beyond Content in the way I had anticipated…the session archive shows that we were still very much talking about OERs, open courseware, and beginning to explore open textbooks. In other words, content was still how we framed open at this point in time.

Flash forward 5 years and I’m still buzzing from #OER17, a well timed conference framed around the Politics of Open. This particular event, with tightly and masterfully curated keynotes and sessions, was able to demonstrate without a doubt that we are beyond content.  The keynotes and sessions I attended fearlessly tackled a range of topics around open that I’m not even sure I heard the word OER once over the course of the two days.  There are already so many great summaries written up and collected over here, but it was the first time I felt that we were truly moving our conversations beyond content.

I, along with my colleagues who travelled from Mexico presented on an evaluation of a faculty development program – lovingly known as the Agora – designed around open pedagogy and it was fortuitous to catch a blog post by David Wiley and subsequent tweet storm prior to our last day, last session time slot.  David’s post outlines a number of good provocations about How is Open Pedagogy Different? but ultimately niggled me in a way I found difficult to articulate.  The crux of the argument was that the open pedagogy needs to be defined by the 5Rs, because if not, how was open pedagogy different from just plain old pedagogy.

Let me begin by saying that my own institution has benefitted greatly from OERs.   We participate in developing and reusing open textbooks and are three years into developing a Zed Cred/Zee Degree, we have adapted two CC BY courses provided to us from Athabasca University, and we have without a doubt been able to innovate because others have been willing to share their open content.  And we have to acknowledge that the 5Rs – which in my reading are framed around content but is something that is contested in in the tweet storm – provide good clarification for what open is in the context of OERs.

But I had to ponder whether OERs and the 5Rs have anything to do with open pedagogy.   In other words:

  • Is content essential to open?
  • Can you have open pedagogy without OERs?
  • Is content what defines pedagogy?

And if we do assume that OERs are essential to open pedagogy, can we ever really move Beyond Content?

Back to our open pedagogy presentation.  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 –  behaviourism, 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.

If OERS and open content is a way for us to open the door a little bit more, then great. But it’s not the only way to open, and is not even a requirement in my view.  And if I took anything away from #OER17, it’s that there are so many directions to explore, critique, challenge when we talk about open.