I have just been to OER10 and it was clear from most of the papers about how everyone is trying to think hard about how OER influence practices. I wrote about this for Terra Incognita two years ago but as that site is now seemingly in hibernation and just in case you missed it here I go again with an updated version.

Education is a process that generally involves learners, teachers and sets of educational resources that can be mediating artefacts in the educational process, arranged in some structured way as I argued in this book chapter. It is a purposeful human activity where education is the main purpose. Learning can also occur in non-educational settings when it is better described as a purposive activity where it is useful to describe it as educational even though that may not be the primary purpose of that activity (lifelong learning or the University of Life?). In the latter case there are learners but no obvious teachers or educational resources as the learners draw upon many different people and things in their social or working environments.

I set out these thumbnail sketches of systems for describing educational experiences to pose the question what are the main properties of the components of such systems and the practices expected of people involved when we put open in front of them? What do we mean by open education, open learning, open teaching and open educational resources?

Open education has got a lot of attention lately with another in the long series of Open Education conferences later this year, the Cape Town Declaration on open education and recent books such as one I contributed to called Opening Up Education. Wikipedia defines open education as a collective term that refers to forms of education in which knowledge ideas or important aspects of teaching methodology or infrastructure are shared over the internet. That seems to rather dismiss pre internet activity and I go along with what I say in my chapter in the aforementioned book that openness has many dimensions but is about removing barriers to education.

Open learning has been a phrase used for some time as well with a Journal of Open and Distance Learning and the Open University basing its work on a supported open learning model. Again a significant aspect of open learning is about removing barriers to learners engaging with educational experiences and I have talked about that elsewhere.

Open educational resources are even more topical and talked about starting with the definition given at a UNESCO workshop through to the large funding program from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation (http://www.hewlett.org/Programs/Education/OER/) where they also see OER as being one way to help transform teaching and learning. A central feature of OER is an open licence that allows and encourages sharing, reuse and remixing (and probably influences the current Wikipedia entry for open education).

What has been less obvious is any discussion about open teaching (although the OLCOS materials at http://wikieducator.org/Open_Educational_Content do so to some degree) and it is open teaching that I want to focus on for the rest of this piece.

So what might constitute open teaching? Is it about creating teaching experiences that eliminate barriers to students taking part in those experiences or is it about (re)using OERs that are available to all? While we could have interesting debates about such definitions as with all aspects of openness, I think it more valuable to think about how openness changes the basic praxis of teaching from an essentially individual activity to a shared activity. Stereotypically most teachers work alone in constructing and delivering their teaching experiences. They may draw upon others similar work in this process and they may involve their students in co-creation or delivery of the experiences, but fundamentally they alone decide on a chosen path or lay out a new route map of resources and activities that constitute the educational experience. However, the arrival of OER has meant that both teachers and students are able to view in greater depth the teaching and learning experiences of others to inform their own praxis. They are also able to ‘teach’ more easily (and effectively?) around someone else’s resources and maybe activities. But even more than that, it is becoming possible to rework other people’s material and to even co-create such material with colleagues around the world.

The co-creation of educational resources and courses is a major feature of open and distance learning where teams of academics (supported by media professionals) develop and deliver the teaching and learning experiences, including our associate Lecturers who do ‘teach’ around the main, carefully crafted, proscribed educational materials. At the Open University there may be as many as a dozen academics writing for and commenting on other’s work in the same course team to develop these carefully crafted educational materials and associated activities. This is team teaching that can seriously challenge your thinking and has encompassed some of the most heated academic discussions I have ever witnessed! But it does produce high quality materials, albeit at high cost and in a clear institutional framework. So, can such synchronous or even asynchronous collaboration and co-operation occur between institutions and across borders and will (open) teaching become more of a collective than an individual activity in future?

Of course there are many barriers to open teaching or any changes in teaching practice as well discussed in the OLCOS Roadmap 2012 report and by Diane Harley in the Opening Up Education book I mentioned earlier, not least the lack of recognition of teaching compared to research in promotion and tenure. Nevertheless, just as much research has steadily moved from individual to team efforts and still been accounted for largely through peer review by their community of practice, open, collective teaching can be accounted for in similar ways. The openly published nature of the resources means that such scholarship is as evident as any research publication and the more open nature of the reviews of the resources and associated experiences means there is potentially more feedback than for most research and more ways to assess impact and contribution. In other words the very openness of teaching makes it more accountable than much research, it is just that we have to work out the ways that citation (e.g. numbers of reuse, numbers of reworking. etc), peer and user reviews can be factored into the rewards and recognition that academics receive (and of course eliminating the shameless self citation I did at the beginning of this piece!).

Such recognition and reward for teaching is practiced in the Open University for the same reasons that teaching success can be measured by peer review of the scholarship in authored materials and user reviews of its effectiveness and impact with learners and others. I have argued in Opening Up Education that successful supported open learning depend on the four Ps of support: pedagogic support as built into materials, personal support of the learner, peer support from fellow learners and the professional support provided by ‘teachers’ and that the latter is most important most of the time. But those professional teachers also need to feel, and actually be, supported if they are to make open education a mass rather than a niche phenomenon. The culture change that is needed lies mostly with institutional policies and practices, not teachers or learners. Perhaps, as with OER, this needs to happen first in the most prestigious institutions or be recognised by the most prestigious learned societies to demonstrate to everyone else that teaching matters as much as research.