The future is OPEN for learning

The introduction to open education practices (OEP) provided by Verena Roberts during our class this past week had my mind going into overdrive.  Following the end of the class I realized that as a teacher over the past few years, I had conceptualized the idea of OEP in my mind but could never describe it and develop my thoughts in a way to make the concept comprehendible and logical.  Now that I’ve had time to read and reflect on the subject, I feel like I have at least acquired a basic understanding of OEP and have also been able to untangle the mess of ideas that I had retained in my brain over the past few years into more succinct and concrete terms.

Roberts describes OEP as follows:

Open educational practices (OEP) in K-12 learning contexts can describe an intentional design that expands learning opportunities for all learners from formal to informal learning environments. Individualized open readiness can be demonstrated contextually, as a result of  teachers and students co-designing for personally relevant learning pathways where learners can collaboratively and individually share their learning experiences, that encourages communication of meaning through multiliteracies, that blends curriculum and competencies and that promotes community and networked interactions with other learners and nodes of learning from multiple cultural perspectives in digital and analog contexts (Roberts, 2019).

What strikes me the most form the description from Roberts is how OEP “expands learning opportunities from formal to informal learning environments.”  When we as humans develop in the first few years of our lives, our learning environments are mostly informal.  We learn from the environment that surrounds us and from the people that care for our wellbeing.  Once we get to school age, we enter a formal learning environment in school while retaining the informal learning environment at home.  Once most people are done their formal schooling, many turn towards the workplace to start their careers and start building their professional lives.  From my experience as a lifelong learner, I’ve come to conclude that no matter the amount of preparation in a formal learning environment like a traditional classroom, the most valuable and the most effective learning conditions seem, in most cases, to be in informal learning environments. This is why I’m so intrigued by OEP.  Bringing more informal learning environments to schools seems like a logical approach to helping prepare our students for the world which is inherently an informal.

I’m reminded by the classic Sir Ken Robinson TED talk where he is critical of the structure of the current educational system and highlights the inability for students to follow their interests and their curiosities in the fields which interests them.  As a result, our current education system seems to be producing effectively unidimensional learners that have difficulty expanding their knowledge in the unstructured learning environment after formal schooling.  The world of the internet and social media seem to be fostering a renewed influence on the population at large by being an excellent medium for the transmission of ideas.  As much as it pains me to admit, social media is influencing the way we live our lives by providing a mechanism that renews our intrinsic thirst for knowledge and information.  How many of us have been inspired by 30 second videos on Instagram or Facebook that shows an interesting fact or initiative?

The influence of social media on our culture was highlighted following the 2016 American Presidential election.  The ability to interpret sources of information and data in a critical and effective manner requires skills that do not come naturally to many people.  Consequently, we cannot be amazed when people can be easily influenced by seemingly credible false information that is controlled by entities with hidden agendas.

OEP provides a mechanism and a structure to help develop critical minds become lifelong learners.  As Loreli highlighted in her blogpost, Exploring Open Educational Practice: Week 9 Blog Post:

A major benefit of OEP is the engagement of the learner in a learner-centered environment, and provision of authentic learning experiences.  The level of engagement will positively affect the level of learning.  Learning becomes transparent and obvious to both the learner and the teacher.

I would add that the line between learner and teacher becomes somewhat blurred in an OEP as learners become teachers through the sharing of their exploits while the teachers become learners as they relinquish the role of being sources of knowledge and become co-learners in assisting their students in navigating the world of information.  As it is mentioned in Open Education: Practices, “OEP have the potential to empower students to be engaged, active participants in more authentic learning than they might otherwise undertake.  Further, OEP go a step beyond active learning by engaging the learner in creating and revision OER (Open educational resources) and hence contributing to the learning of the students who come after them.”  With such promise and potential, how can a teacher not consider shifting their pedagogical practice towards OEP?

Still being new the idea of OEP, I’m still uncertain in how to approach this shift in my own educational practices.  Although I acknowledge the benefits of OEP, the challenges remain, in my own context, a large preoccupation.  The digital divide is always a reality in my context as our school has only 38 computers for over 170 students.  Gaining access to the computers is a challenge as they are not always available, and their locked down nature makes them difficult to use and inflexible when new software or web applications need to be used.  In addition, we have a considerable population of students who have difficult socioeconomic realities where they don’t have ready access to computers or even smartphones at home.

Apart from the technological challenges, there is also a language barrier in my context as the availability of resources in French online is only a fraction of the diversity and quality of those available in English.   Although difficult, this situation might present an excellent opportunity for my students to develop their own OER, thus helping future generations or students.

Another challenge I foresee is the how to integrate OEP with the curricula I must teach.  Sciences from grade 7 to 11 could be quite easily adapted to OEP as their outcomes are well structured for exploration and remixing.  Grade 12 sciences could also be amenable for OEP, however, the need to prepare my students for Departmental examinations that have a value of 40% of their final grade, limits my ability as a teacher to deviate from what is on the test.  As an unaccredited teacher, I feel stuck in a corner where I have to teach to a test which is a revolting idea when thinking of OEP.

How might OEP look in a francophone high school science class?  For me, the obvious place to start would be within the context of a science fair project.  Having students openly share their learning progress with their communities while exploring scientific knowledge and processes from across the world though the use of social media and technological tools is quite alluring.  As demonstrated by Lile Audris in his Rube Goldberg Video, opening ones learning to the world can provide excellent results.

Finally, as a teacher, evaluation always remains a challenge due to the diverse nature of the work students can produce in the context of OEP.  Verena Roberts provides an excellent start with her rubrics in her document on Open Readiness & Open learning Assessment Rubrics.

The transition from my current educational practice to an OEP might never be complete, but I’m convinced it’s well worth the investment in that it will hopefully allow me to foster more effective learners in a world bombarded by unlimited amounts of data and information.  My thirst for more knowledge related to OEP is large.  I think we can all take cues from Dean’s educational practice as a starting point towards such a transition.  How does OEP look in your classrooms?  What kind of OEP do you aspire to integrate in your classroom?

3 thoughts on “The future is OPEN for learning

  1. I am honoured that you reference my practices in your post. I had the good fortune to interview Dr. Roberts and it was encouraging and humbling when she recognized some of my work as well. One of the main reasons I got into teaching was that I love to learn too so I love those blurred lines you mentioned. Love the Sir Ken Robinson Ted Talk … also love this one with the sketch noting that goes with it (makes a lot of sense especially with what we are learning). Keep fighting the good fight my friend.

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