06 SES 05, Open Education: Debating theories and frameworks
Digital devices and technologies are steadily becoming commonplace in the majority of educational sectors. Nowhere is this as clear as in Open Education (OE), a generic term for a collection of practices that seek to broaden the access to education through digital means. OE is a booming sector that has received uptake and enthusiastic adoption from various corners. From a policy perspective, OE has been promoted by various organizations such the European Commission (Commission, 2013), UNESCO (Butcher, 2015) and the OECD (Orr, Rimini, & Van Damme, 2015), which all have put the aim of ‘opening up education’ high on their educational policy agendas. The most established forms of OE are, at present, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and Open Educational Resources (OERs). Over the last five years or so, MOOCS have not only become increasingly prevalent; equally platforms such as Coursera, edX, Udacity, and Open Education Europa have arisen, which seek to centralize and/or curate these MOOCs. Next to open education in the form of massive courses (mainly) constructed by universities and disseminated through such platforms, open education equally comprises the putting online of a variety of educational materials, available for everybody to download and use. These OERs have been around for a longer period of time (the digital educational repository MERLOT, for instance, already being in operation since 1997) but still catch substantial attention of individual educators and more large-scale institutions the like (Downes, 2007; Yuan & Powell, 2013).
As often happens with the advent of new emerging technologies, initial responses of early OE adopters were very enthusiastic and at the same time often somewhat exaggerated and disparaging vis-à-vis more traditional educational practices. OE, it was proclaimed, would revolutionize the educational field in an unprecedented manner and ‘fix’ the problems with contemporary education. Technological solutionism has variously conceptualized OE as a revolution in education and learning more attuned to the times we live in (Tuomi, 2013); a democratizing tsunami due to its universal access (Comeau & Cheng, 2013); a disruptive innovation or avalanche that will inevitably and radically transform the traditional higher education market (Barber, Donnelly, & Rizvi, 2013; Yuan & Powell, 2013); and so on. All in all, from the moment of its inception up till today, the OE field has been characterized by a lot of enthusiastic yet largely unreflexive rhetoric, grand speech and hyperbole (Knox, 2013; Weller, 2014).
This paper aims to offer a critical perspective on this current OE-configuration. In order to do so, the paper will draw on systematic (critical) inquiries of the OE field that have already been undertaken. Especially over the last couple of years, more theoretical accounts have arisen that generally probe the OE field as a whole or that scrutinize concrete OE practices in an up-close manner (e.g. ibid.; Bayne, Knox, and Ross 2015; Moe 2015). This growing body of critical approaches towards OE has started to demystify some of the prevailing arguments and hyperboles circulating in contemporary OE discourse. More particularly, these critical studies seek to analyze how the introduction of digital technologies and devices that profess to be at once ‘open’ and ‘educational’ not only brings about new technological functions and opportunities, but equally renders other dimensions less important, puts them out of the picture, or simply has effects that are contrary to stated intentions (Edwards, 2015; Selwyn, 2016). In a similar vein, the general objective of this presentation is to focus on the theoretical underpinnings of the original OE movement, and more specifically to investigate whether or not these underpinnings are still in operation today.
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