#SRHE Critical Perspectives on ‘Openness’ in Higher Education

Last week I was in London for the event Critical Perspectives on ‘Openness’ in Higher Education as part of the SRHE’s digital university series. Catherine Cronin, Rob Farrow and I were the main speakers, sharing our research findings on various topics and contexts of openness

Catherine Cronin discussed the complexity of open education practices as personal, contextual and continuously negotiated and that higher education needs to provide more support for developing digital identities in increasing participatory cultures. Rob Farrow wrote a live blog with more details here. Rob presented on the OER Research Hub project and I found it interesting that OER textbooks could have cost-saving impact on the cost of education in the United States where textbooks are expensive and publication is big business.

Then I got the chance to talk about my research – there should be a podcast available soon from the SRHE, but for the moment the slides are here

My Doctoral research was very much exploratory and initially with a view to investigating what kind of learning was going on for professionals on Twitter. However through investigation of Twitter profiles and subsequent interviews I soon became very aware that participation differed greatly and that professionals had reasons for outward participation or peripheral participation in Twitter spaces. Some of my participants described cautiousness in using open online spaces, their stories highlighted their potential vulnerability online, thus they avoided establishing social presence via Twitter, which in turn affected the development of identity among others in online spaces.

Participants mentioned ‘more knowledgeable others’ claiming that they felt others were more professionally knowledgeable than them and this feeling restricted them from finding affinity with others online.

Overall a lot of rhetoric exists on the benefits of openness, of developing a digital identity for professional reasons. But my findings show the very real stories of people who feel less comfortable about participating in these spaces. These findings link with Catherine Cronin’s call for more research into the concerns and actual experiences of staff using online open spaces and how privilege supports or inhibits open education practices or participation in open online spaces. Indeed, Beetham declares on the topic of gender privilege “participating online feels different if you are a woman” (Neary & Beetham, 2015, p. 98) and Sava Singh asserts that open online platforms “were designed with specific people in mind, and those people were rarely people of color, minorities, women, or marginalized folks” (Singh, 2015).

(Neary & Beetham, 2015, p. 98) and Sava Singh asserts that open online platforms “were designed with specific people in mind, and those people were rarely people of color, minorities, women, or marginalized folks” (Singh, 2015).

So it seems there that participation and establishing belonging online is not a simple and easily manifested activity. However if we are working in an ever-increasing digital era – How can we as educators support students and those we work with across education contexts to develop capacity to use online spaces and develop digital identities that support and help development? More and on-going critical conversations are needed with all involved in learning and teaching contexts on this growing complex topic.

Neary, M., & Beetham, H. (2015). The Nature of Academic Space. In J. Lea, Enhancing learning and teaching in higher education: engaging with the dimensions of practice (pp. 83-102). Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Singh, S. (2015). The Fallacy of “Open”. Retrieved May 20, 2016, from savasavasava: https://savasavasava.wordpress.com/2015/06/27/the-fallacy-of-open/


About Muireann O'Keeffe

I am an educational developer currently working at DCU. I have a passion for researching and evaluating technology that can support and enhance learning. In the past I have taught on Masters programmes (Msc Applied elearning & Postgraduate Diploma in Third level Learning and Teaching) as well as Leadership development programmes.
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1 Response to #SRHE Critical Perspectives on ‘Openness’ in Higher Education

  1. Pingback: Openness and praxis (at #SRHE) | catherinecronin

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