1 Open Pedagogy

Robin DeRosa, director of interdisciplinary studies at Plymouth State University & Rajiv Jhangiani, University Teaching Fellow in Open Studies at Kwantlen Polytechnic University

There are many ways to begin a discussion of “Open Pedagogy.” Although providing a framing definition might be the obvious place to start, we want to resist that for just a moment to ask a set of related questions: What are your hopes for education, particularly for higher education? What vision do you work toward when you design your daily professional practices in and out of the classroom? How do you see the roles of the learner and the teacher? What challenges do your students face in their learning environments, and how does your pedagogy address them?

“Open Pedagogy,” as we engage with it, is a site of praxis, a place where theories about learning, teaching, technology, and social justice enter into a conversation with each other and inform the development of educational practices and structures. This site is dynamic, contested, constantly under revision, and resists static definitional claims. But it is not a site vacant of meaning or political conviction. In this brief introduction, we offer a pathway for engaging with the current conversations around Open Pedagogy, some ideas about its philosophical foundation, investments, and its utility, and some concrete ways that students and teachers—all of us learners—can “open” education. We hope that this chapter will inspire those of us in education to focus our critical and aspirational lenses on larger questions about the ideology embedded within our educational systems and the ways in which pedagogy impacts these systems. At the same time we hope to provide some tools and techniques to those who want to build a more empowering, collaborative, and just architecture for learning.

“Open Pedagogy” as a named approach to teaching is nothing new. Scholars such as Catherine Cronin[1], Katy Jordan[2], Vivien Rolfe[3], and Tannis Morgan have traced the term back to early etymologies. Morgan cites a 1979 article[4] by the Canadian Claude Paquette: “Paquette outlines three sets of foundational values of open pedagogy, namely: autonomy and interdependence; freedom and responsibility; democracy and participation.”

Many of us who work with Open Pedagogy today have come into the conversations not only through an interest in the historical arc of the scholarship of teaching and learning, but also by way of Open Education, and specifically, by way of Open Educational Resources (OERs). OERs are educational materials that are openly-licensed, usually with Creative Commons licenses, and therefore they are generally characterized by the 5 Rs[5]: they can be reused, retained, redistributed, revised, and remixed. As conversations about teaching and learning developed around the experience of adopting and adapting OERs, the phrase “Open Pedagogy” began to re-emerge, this time crucially inflected with the same “open” that inflects the phrase “open license.”

In this way, we can think about Open Pedagogy as a term that is connected to many teaching and learning theories that predate Open Education, but also as a term that is newly energized by its relationship to OERs and the broader ecosystem of open (Open Education, yes, but also Open Access, Open Science, Open Data, Open Source, Open Government, etc.). David Wiley, the Chief Academic Officer of Lumen Learning[6], was one of the first OER-focused scholars who articulated how the use of OERs could transform pedagogy. He wrote in 2013 about the tragedy of “disposable assignments”[7] that “actually suck value out of the world,” and he postulated not only that OERs offer a free alternative to high-priced commercial textbooks, but also that the open license would allow students (and teaching faculty) to contribute to the knowledge commons, not just consume from it, in meaningful and lasting ways. Recently, Wiley has revised his language to focus on “OER-Enabled Pedagogy”[8], with an explicit commitment to foregrounding the 5R permissions and the ways that they transform teaching and learning.

As Wiley has focused on students-as-contributors and the role of OERs in education, other Open Pedagogues have widened the lens through which Open Pedagogy refracts. Mike Caulfield, for example, has argued[9] that while OER has been driving the car for a while, Open Pedagogy is in the backseat ready to hop over into the front. Caulfield sees the replacement of the proprietary textbook by OERs as a necessary step in enabling widespread institutional open learning practice. In that post, Caulfield shorthands Open Pedagogy: “student blogs, wikis, etc.” We might delve in a bit deeper here. Beyond participating in the creation of OERs via the 5 Rs, what exactly does it mean to engage in “Open Pedagogy?”

First, we want to recognize that Open Pedagogy shares common investments with many other historical and contemporary schools of pedagogy. For example, constructivist pedagogy, connected learning, and critical digital pedagogy are all recognizable pedagogical strands that overlap with Open Pedagogy. From constructivist pedagogy, particularly as it emerged from John Dewey and, in terms of its relationship to technology, from Seymour Papert, we recognize a critique of industrial and automated models for learning, a valuing of experiential and learner-centered inquiry, and a democratizing vision for the educational process. From connected learning, especially as it coheres in work supported by the Digital Media and Learning Research Hub[10], we recognize a hope that human connections facilitated by technologies can help learners engage more fully with the knowledge and ideas that shape our world. And from critical digital pedagogy[11], as developed by Digital Humanities-influenced thinkers at Digital Pedagogy Lab out of educational philosophy espoused by scholars such as Paulo Freire and bell hooks, we recognize a commitment to diversity, collaboration, and structural critique of both educational systems and the technologies that permeate them.

If we merge OER advocacy with the kinds of pedagogical approaches that focus on collaboration, connection, diversity, democracy, and critical assessments of educational tools and structures, we can begin to understand the breadth and power of Open Pedagogy as a guiding praxis. To do this, we need to link these pedagogical investments with the reality of the educational landscape as it now exists. The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights[12] asserts that “higher education shall be equally accessible to all.” Yet, even in North America in 2017, “the likelihood of earning a college degree is tied to family income” (Goldrick-Rab)[13]. For those of us who work in higher ed, it’s likely that we have been casually aware of the link between family income and college enrolment, attendance, persistence, and completion. But for those of us who teach, it’s also likely that the pedagogies and processes that inflect our daily work are several steps removed from the economic challenges that our students face. Even though 67% of college students in Florida and 54% of those in British Columbia[14] cannot afford to purchase at least one of their required course textbooks, we more readily attribute their inability to complete assigned readings to laziness and entitlement than to unaffordability. This is precisely why the push to reduce the high cost of textbooks that has been the cornerstone of the OER movement has been a wake-up call for many of us who may not always have understood what we could do to directly impact the affordability of a college degree.

When faculty use OERs, we aren’t just saving a student money on textbooks: we are directly impacting that student’s ability to enroll in, persist through, and successfully complete a course[15]. In other words, we are directly impacting that student’s ability to attend, succeed in, and graduate from college. When we talk about OERs, we bring two things into focus: that access is critically important to conversations about academic success, and that faculty and other instructional staff can play a critical role in the process of making learning accessible.

If a central gift that OERs bring to students is that they make college more affordable, one of the central gifts that they bring to faculty is that of agency, and how this can help us rethink our pedagogies in ways that center on access. If we do this, we might start asking broader questions that go beyond “How can I lower the cost of textbooks in this course?” If we think of ourselves as responsible for making sure that everyone can come to our course table to learn, we will find ourselves concerned with the many other expenses that students face in paying for college. How will they get to class if they can’t afford gas money or a bus pass? How will they afford childcare on top of tuition fees? How will they focus on their homework if they haven’t had a square meal in two days or if they don’t know where they will be sleeping that night? How will their families pay rent if they cut back their work hours in order to attend classes? How much more student loan debt will they take on for each additional semester it takes to complete all of their required classes? How will they obtain the credit card they need to purchase an access code? How will they regularly access their free open textbook if they don’t own an expensive laptop or tablet?

And what other access issues do students face as they face these economic challenges? Will they be able to read their Chemistry textbook given their vision impairment? Will their LMS site list them by their birth name rather than their chosen name, and thereby misgender them? Will they have access to the knowledge they need for research if their college restricts their search access or if they don’t have Wi-Fi or a computer at home? Are they safe to participate in online, public collaborations if they are undocumented? Is their college or the required adaptive learning platform collecting data on them, and if so, could those data be used in ways that could put them at risk?

OERs invite faculty to play a direct role in making higher education more accessible. And they invite faculty to ask questions about how we can impact access in ways that go beyond textbook costs. At the very least, they help us see the challenges that students face in accessing higher education as broad, as severe, and as directly related to their academic success, or lack thereof.

So one key component of Open Pedagogy might be that it sees access, broadly writ, as fundamental to learning and to teaching, and agency as an important way of broadening that access. OERs are licensed with open licenses, which reflects not just a commitment to access in terms of the cost of knowledge, but also access in terms of the creation of knowledge. Embedded in the social justice commitment to making college affordable for all students is a related belief that knowledge should not be an elite domain. Knowledge consumption and knowledge creation are not separate but parallel processes, as knowledge is co-constructed, contextualized, cumulative, iterative, and recursive. In this way, Open Pedagogy invites us to focus on how we can increase access to higher education and how we can increase access to knowledge–both its reception and its creation. This is, fundamentally, about the dream of a public learning commons, where learners are empowered to shape the world as they encounter it. With the open license at the heart of our work, we care both about “free” and about “freedom,” about resources and practices, about access and about accessibility, about content and about contribution. This is not a magical thinking[16] approach to digital pedagogy. It’s an honest appraisal of the barriers that exist in our educational systems and a refusal to abdicate responsibility for those barriers.

To summarize, we might think about Open Pedagogy as an access-oriented commitment to learner-driven education AND as a process of designing architectures and using tools for learning that enable students to shape the public knowledge commons of which they are a part. We might insist on the centrality of the 5 Rs to this work, and we might foreground the investments that Open Pedagogy shares with other learner-centered approaches to education. We might reconstitute Open Pedagogy continually, as our contexts shift and change and demand new, site-specific articulations. But if we want to begin “open” our courses, programs, and/or institutions, what practical steps can we take to get started?

OEP, or Open Educational Practices, can be defined as the set of practices that accompany either the use of OERs or, more to our point, the adoption of Open Pedagogy. Here are some simple but profoundly transformative examples of OEPs:

  • Adapt or remix OERs with your students. Even the simple act of adding problem sets or discussion questions to an existing open textbook will help contribute to knowledge, to the quality of available OERs, and to your students’ sense of doing work that matters. The adaptation of the open textbook Project Management for Instructional Designers[17] by successive cohorts of graduate students at Brigham Young University provides an excellent example of this approach.
  • Build OERs with your students. Though students may be beginners with most of the content in your course, they are often more adept than you at understanding what beginning students need in order to understand the material. Asking students to help reframe and re-present course content in new and inventive ways can add valuable OERs to the commons while also allowing for the work that students do in courses to go on to have meaningful impact once the course ends. Consider the examples of the open textbook Environmental Science Bites[18] written by undergraduate students at the Ohio State University or the brief explainer videos[19] created by Psychology students around the world and curated by the NOBA Project.
  • Teach your students how to edit Wikipedia articles. By adding new content, revising existing content, adding citations, or adding images, students can (with the support of the Wiki Education Foundation[20]) make direct contributions to one of the most popular public repositories for information. Indeed, more than 22,000 students already have, including medical students at the University of California San Francisco[21]. More than developing digital literacy and learning how to synthesize, articulate, and share information, students engage with and understand the politics of editing, including how “truth” is negotiated by those who have access to the tools that shape it.
  • Facilitate student-created and student-controlled learning environments. The Learning Management System (Canvas, Moodle, Blackboard, etc.) generally locks students into closed environments that prevent sharing and collaboration outside of the class unit; it perpetuates a surveillance model of education in which the instructor is able to consider metrics that students are not given access to; and it presupposes that all student work is disposable (as all of it will be deleted when the new course shell is imported for the next semester). Initiatives such as Domain of One’s Own[22] enable students to build “personal cyberinfrastructures[23] where they can manage their own learning, control their own data, and design home ports that can serve as sites for collaboration and conversation about their work. Students can choose to openly license the work that they post on these sites, thereby contributing OERs to the commons; they can also choose not to openly license their work, which is an exercising of their rights and perfectly in keeping with the ethos of Open Pedagogy. If students create their own learning architectures, they can (and should) control how public or private they wish to be, how and when to share or license their work, and what kinds of design, tools, and plug-ins will enhance their learning. It is important to point out here that open is not the opposite of private.
  • Encourage students to apply their expertise to serve their community. Partner with nonprofit organizations to create opportunities for students to apply their research or marketing skills[24]. Or ask them to write (and submit for publication) op-ed pieces[25] to share evidence-based approaches to tackling a local social problem. Demonstrate the value of both knowledge application and service by scaffolding their entry into public scholarship.
  • Engage students in public chats with authors or experts. Platforms such as Twitter can help engage students in scholarly and professional conversations with practitioners in their fields. This is another way that students can contribute to—not just consume—knowledge, and it shifts learning into a dialogic experience. In addition, if students are sharing work publicly, they can also use social media channels to drive mentors, teachers, peers, critics, experts, friends, family, and the public to their work for comment. Opening conversations about academic and transdisciplinary work—both student work and the work of established scholars and practitioners—is, like contributing to OERs, a way to grow a thriving knowledge commons.
  • Build course policies, outcomes, assignments, rubrics, schedules of work collaboratively with students. Once we involve students in creating or revising OERs or in shaping learning architectures, we can begin to see the syllabus as more of a collaborative document, co-generated at least in part with our students. Can students help craft course policies that would support their learning, that they feel more ownership over? Can they add or revise course learning outcomes in order to ensure the relevancy of the course to their future paths? Can they develop assignments for themselves and/or their classmates, and craft rubrics to accompany them to guide an evaluative process? Can they shape the course schedule according to rhythms that will help maximize their efforts and success?
  • Let students curate course content. Your course is likely split into a predictable number of units (fourteen, for example) to conform to the academic calendar of the institution within which the course is offered. We would probably all agree that such segmenting of our fields is somewhat arbitrary; there is nothing ontological about Introduction to Psychology being fourteen weeks long (or spanning twenty-eight textbook chapters, etc.). And when we select a novel for a course on postcolonial literature or a lab exercise for Anatomy and Physiology, we are aware that there are a multitude of other good options for each that we could have chosen. We can involve students in the process of curating content for courses, either by offering them limited choices between different texts or by offering them solid time to curate a future unit more or less on their own (or in a group) as a research project. The content of a course may be somewhat prescribed by accreditation or field standards, but within those confines, we can involve students in the curation process, increasing the level of investment they have with the content while helping them acquire a key twenty-first century skill.
  • Ask critical questions about “open.” When you develop new pathways based on Open Pedagogy, pay special attention to the barriers, challenges, and problems that emerge. Be explicit about them, honest about them, and share them widely with others working in Open Education so that we can work together to make improvements. Being an open educator in this fashion is especially crucial if we wish to avoid digital redlining,[26] creating inequities (however unintentionally) through the use of technology. Ask yourself: Do your students have access to broadband at home? Do they have the laptops or tablets they need to easily access and engage with OERs? Do they have the supports they need to experiment creatively, often for the first time, with technology tools? Do they have the digital literacies they need to ensure as much as is possible their safety and privacy online? Do you have a full understanding of the terms of service of the EdTech tools you are using in your courses? As you work to increase the accessibility of your own course, are you also evaluating the tools and technologies[27] you are using to ask how they help or hinder your larger vision for higher education?

These are just a few ideas for getting started with Open Pedagogy. Most important, find people to talk with about your ideas. Ask questions about how OERs and the 5 Rs change the nature of a course or the relationships that students have to their learning materials. Look to programs and colleges that are widely accessible and which serve a broad variety of learners and ask questions about how their course designs are distinct or compelling. Ask your students about meaningful academic contributions they have made, and what structures were in place that facilitated those contributions. Try, explore, fail, share, revise.

Open Pedagogy is not a magical panacea for the crises that currently challenge higher ed. That being said, we both feel that Open Pedagogy offers a set of dynamic commitments that could help faculty and students articulate a sustainable, vibrant, and inclusive future for our educational institutions. By focusing on access, agency, and a commons-oriented approach to education, we can clarify our challenges and firmly assert a learner-centered  vision for higher education.

A portion of this article was remixed from “Open Pedagogy and Social Justice” by Rajiv Jhangiani and Robin DeRosa, available under a CC-BY 4.0 license at http://www.digitalpedagogylab.com/open-pedagogy-social-justice/[28].

Robin DeRosa is director of interdisciplinary studies at Plymouth State University, part of the university system of New Hampshire. Her current research and advocacy work focuses on Open Education, and how universities can innovate in order to bring down costs for students, increase interdisciplinary collaboration, and refocus the academic world on strengthening the public good. She is also an editor for Hybrid Pedagogy, an open-access, peer-reviewed journal that combines the strands of critical pedagogy and digital pedagogy to arrive at the best social and civil uses for technology and new media in education. 

Rajiv Jhangiani is the University Teaching Fellow in Open Studies and a faculty member in the Department of Psychology at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. He also serves as an Open Education Advisor with BCcampus and an associate editor of Psychology Learning and Teaching. Previously he served as an OER Research Fellow with the Open Education Group, a faculty fellow with the BC Open Textbook Project, a faculty workshop facilitator with the Open Textbook Network, and the associate editor of NOBA Psychology.


  1. Catherine Cronin, "Opening Up Open Pedagogy," Catherine Cronin's professional website, April 24, 2017. http://catherinecronin.net/research/opening-up-open-pedagogy/.
  2. Katy Jordan, "The History of Open Education", shift+refresh (blog), June 19, 2017, https://shiftandrefresh.wordpress.com/2017/06/19/the-history-of-open-education-a-timeline-and-bibliography/.
  3. Vivien Rolfe, "OER18 Open to All," Vivien Rolfe's professional website, http://vivrolfe.com/books-and-publications/.
  4. Tannis Morgan, "Open Pedagogy and a Very Brief History of the Concept," Explorations in the EdTech World (blog) Tannis Morgan's professional website, December 21, 2016. https://homonym.ca/uncategorized/open-pedagogy-and-a-very-brief-history-of-the-concept/.
  5. David Wiley, "Defining the open in Open Content and Open Educational Resources," Opencontent.org, http://opencontent.org/definition/.
  6. Lumenlearning.com, http://lumenlearning.com/about/mission/.
  7. David Wiley, "What is Open Pedagogy," iterating toward openness, October 21, 2013, https://opencontent.org/blog/archives/2975.
  8. David Wiley, "OER-enabled Pedagogy," iterating toward openness, May 2, 2017, https://opencontent.org/blog/archives/5009.
  9. Mike Caulfield, "Putting Student-Produced OER at the Heart of the Institution" hapgood, Mike Caulfield's professional website, Sept. 7, 2016. https://hapgood.us/2016/09/07/putting-student-produced-oer-at-the-heart-of-the-institution/.
  10. Digital Media and Learning Research Hub, https://dmlhub.net/.
  11. Jesse Stommel, "Critical Digital Pedagogy: A Definition," Digital Pedagogy Lab, Nov. 18, 2014, http://www.digitalpedagogylab.com/hybridped/critical-digital-pedagogy-definition/.
  12. "Universal Declaration of Human Rights," UN.org, http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/.
  13. Sara Goldrick-Rab, Paying the Price: College Costs, Financial Aid and the Betrayal of the American Dream (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2016).
  14. Rajiv Sunil Jhangiani, Surita Jhangiani, "Investigating the Perceptions, Use, and Impact of Open Textbooks: A survey of Post-Secondary Students in British Columbia," The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning 18, no 4 (2017).
  15. John Hilton III1, Lane Fischer2, David Wiley3, and Linda Williams, "Maintaining Momentum Toward Graduation: OER and the Course Throughput Rate." International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning 17, no. 6 (December 2016), http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/2686/3967.
  16. Nicole Mirra, "What Do We Mean When We Talk About 21st Century Learning?" dmlcentral, https://dmlcentral.net/mean-talk-21st-century-learning/#.WSb0VJg29TQ.twitter.
  17. Wiley, et al., Project Management for Instructional Designers (2016). https://pm4id.org/.
  18. Kylienne A. Clark, Travis R. Shaul, and Brian H. Lower, eds., Environmental ScienceBites (Columbus: The Ohio State University, 2015).
  19. "2016-17 Noba + Psi Chi Student Video Award Recipients," NOBA, http://nobaproject.com/student-video-award/winners.
  20. "Teach With Wikipedia," Wiki Education Foundation, https://wikiedu.org/teach-with-wikipedia/.
  21. Eryk Salvaggio, "For Wikipedia, the Doctor Is in … Class," WikiEdu, April 5, 2016, https://wikiedu.org/blog/2016/04/05/medical-students-wikipedia/.
  22. Domain of One's Own, http://umw.domains/
  23. Gardner Campbell, "A Personal Cyberinfrastructure," EduCause Review 44, no. 5 (September 4, 2009), http://er.educause.edu/articles/2009/9/a-personal-cyberinfrastructure.
  24. Lori Rosenthal, "Research for Community Action," Action Teaching, http://www.actionteaching.org/award/community-action.
  25. "Assignment Type: Op-Ed," Kent State Online, http://onlineteaching.kent.edu/library/online_assignments/OpEd_Handout.pdf.
  26. Chris Gilliard, "Pedagogy and the Logic of Platforms," Educause Review, July 3, 2017, http://er.educause.edu/articles/2017/7/pedagogy-and-the-logic-of-platforms.
  27. Jesse Stommel, "Critically Evaluating Digital Tools," Digital Studies 101, https://dgst101.com/activity-critically-evaluating-digital-tools-3f60d468ce74.
  28. Rajiv Jhangiani and Robin DeRosa, "Open Pedagogy and Social Justice," Digital Pedagogy Lab, June 2, 2017, http://www.digitalpedagogylab.com/open-pedagogy-social-justice/.

Comments are closed.