Critical approaches and reframing of Open Education

For my first conference as a PhD student, NERA2019, I took the opportunity to present a brief review of critical approaches to Open Education. The conference nicely coincides with Open Education week.

I picked up the special issue of Learning, Media and Technology on Critical approaches to Open Education from 2015. The issue is edited by Siân Bayne, Jeremy Knox and Jen Ross and it is packed with relevant commentary for the broad Open Education field.

Half of the publications are concerned with, what I call, conceptually reframing Openness in education (Edwards, 2015; Gourlay, 2015; Jones, 2015; Oliver, 2015). Two articles deal with specific instances of Open in education; networked scholarship in social media (Stewart, 2015) and commercial and branded online content, e.g. Khan Academy, (Moe, 2015). Two more articles approach issues with Openness in education from the position of political economy (Hall, 2015; Winn, 2015).

I find that they all demonstrate a genuine grasp of Open Education and address significant theoretical issues, such as binaries, reduced complexities, and the idealised learner. Several authors call for, what I call, ’realistic research’ in order to remedy some of the observed theoretical imperfections of Open Education. This is signaled by bringing the ‘actual’ learner or scholar to the fore in response to the rhetoric of Open Education which, they argue, regularly idealises those involved in the day-to-day realities of formal and informal education.

Reframing Open in education

I’ve paid particular attention to the reframing proposals, of which some are more explicitly proposed than others. Here are some of the directions they are taking and I’m keen to follow up on how they can continue to inform my coming research in critical education technology.

Author Reframing
Edwards (2015) A continuum of interplay of open/closed, where certain openness comes with certain ‘closed-ness’. “The question is not whether to make education more open, but what forms of openness and closed-ness are justifiable.” (p.255)
Gourlay (2015) Sociomaterial assemblages where the digital is entangled with the material. […]”participants never appear as freefloating, fully autonomous subjects, but are instead always entangled in networks of situated, unfolding practice in complex interplay with nonhuman actors, space and temporality.” (p.319)
Oliver (2015) A challenge to the homogeneous assertions of open is the permeability of education. “An alternative focus is needed, one which draws attention to the ways in which boundaries around education and learning are both constructed and overcome – in other words, to their permeability.” (p.373)
Jones (2015) Hybrid assemblages composed of technology, society, politics and economics. “Openness is an outcome of this assemblage of complex and dynamic conditions which nevertheless have the appearance of being a relatively stable context.” (p.333)


… with list of references.

Featured image: Universitshusets tak by Ann-Sofi CUllhed CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons