Rajiv Jhangiani, Ph.D.

Open Education, SoTL, Psychology

Openness, Gateways, and Agency

Consider the following personas:

First, picture a faculty member who has just learned about the existence of open educational resources. Imagine that this faculty member then also learns about how many students (including by extension their own) are unable to afford required course materials. Assuming they are able to locate a relevant, good-enough quality, and openly-licensed resource, they may adopt OER in order to dampen the relationship between affordability and performance, motivated by concerns for student access and success. They may learn lessons from this first foray that—if not overly negative—may lead them to make incremental changes to their practice in all of their courses, such as how they assign required readings. Given a positive experience with this first adoption they may go on to adopt OER in as many of their courses as they can locate relevant, good-enough quality, openly-licensed materials for. They may even act as an advocate for OER within their department or discipline.

Now picture a different faculty member, one who is not especially aware of issues pertaining to student access, but who is motivated to create authentic learning experiences for their students. This faculty member may learn about open pedagogy and feel inspired to redesign a single course assignment to help their students contribute to an OER. They may begin with a type of assignment they have learned about, for which there is a path to follow, a model to exhibit, a rubric to adapt. They may learn lessons during this initial experience that—if not overly negative—lead them to make incremental changes to their practice in all courses, such as in the kinds of support they provide students. Given a positive experience with this first instance they may go on to adopt open pedagogy in as many of their courses as they have freedom to do so. They may even act as an advocate for open pedagogy within their department or discipline.

Each of these personas illustrates practices that reflect specific motivations, shaped by both experience and constraints. But of course they are not mutually exclusive. The former faculty member may enter the world of OEP though the gate of OER and later adopt open pedagogy while the latter may enter through the gate of open pedagogy and later adopt OER. Yes, one can easily serve as a gateway to another. Yet neither gate should be described as a gateway drug. You see, openness is about more agency, not less. More agency for faculty, who may adapt educational resources to better suit their context, and more agency for students, who may be empowered through meaningful, renewable assignments.

But beyond being inaccurate, the drug metaphor also sends the wrong message. After all, we as open advocates are not in the business of handing out free samples, limited-term pilots, sponsorships, or kickbacks in the hopes that the faculty we work with will grow dependent on these trappings. We don’t control the periodic release of new product into the ecosystem, concocting artificial scarcity in order to manufacture demand. We don’t pass on the burden of cost to our most vulnerable constituents. We don’t report to shareholders and profit is not our motive. So if you are an advocate for open, please be careful with the metaphors you employ. We are not trying to infect people with a virus, this is not a crusade, and this is certainly not about drinking any Kool Aid. Openness supports democratization over corporatization and recovers previously-ceded ground in the battle for academic freedom. It is not a drug. It is rehabilitation.

1 Comment

  1. There are several reasons why the notion of ‘gateway drug’ doesn’t work accurately as metaphor for OER or Open Pedagogy. Chief among them is the fact the OER leads usually to something good whereas a gateway drug usually refers to a drug which leads later to a negative outcome consisting of further and more acute addictive drugs.

    A better notion to consider is that OER are a type of invention or innovation which can and often does lead to further inventions or innovations, but such further inventions or innovations are not a requirement for the validity of the original OER.

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