If There Was Ever a Time for Open Education to Thrive . . .

*Header image from Bet_Noire, Getty Images/iStockphoto

Calling all educators, administrators, policy makers, and lovers of education! Below is a guest post about online education by Dr. James T. Cook, Dean of the Center for Transformative Learning at Forsyth Technical Community College. Now’s the time to think about open education for the future.

Books spelling OPEN from Creative Commons

Open education is the umbrella term for describing the resources, practices, and policies that supports free and universal access to learning and knowledge (Creative Commons, 2020; Hewlett Foundation, 2020). The Creative Commons website provides readers with additional information about open education which includes a video from Blink Tower, an organization that describes itself as one that translates concepts into “terms anyone can understand” (Vimeo, 2020). I highly recommend watching their video because it does a great job with explaining the concept of open education and why it is critical in providing a quality learning experience.

Creative Commons also discusses open educational resources (OER) which are “teaching, learning, and research materials that are either (a) in the public domain or (b) licensed in a manner that provides everyone with free and perpetual permission to engage in the 5R activities.” (Creative Commons, 2020). The 5R activities (i.e., retain, reuse, revise, remix, and redistribute) describe functions or permissions allowed when engaging openly-licensed material (ex. printed or digital) or assigning a license to content that you create and share with the public. If there was ever a time for this philosophy to thrive, it would be now.

As we live in a world that’s been transformed because of COVID-19’s impact, it is difficult to access most things. Toilet paper, paper towels, and disinfectant wipes are three examples of limited consumer products. And if you consider the access issues that exist in education today, occupying the physical classroom space represents one of these challenges. Since March, I witnessed several faculty and trainers transition face-to-face (F2F) classes into the online environment. When reading discussion forums and listservs, I observed comments about the successes and challenges of going through this process. I benefitted from opportunities that various vendors provided schools when they extended lengthy free-trial options for using their products. The most rewarding experience was to have access to several free webinars that shared F2F transition strategies. The webinars were delivered by organizations who I consider leaders in academia. And although we appeared to have met the transition challenge head on, the harsh reality is that people who were unfamiliar with teaching and learning online were catapulted into a very different educational experience, whether they were ready or not.

When reflecting on what some are calling pandemic pedagogy, I do it under the context of the often-used “new normal” concept. If the results of this work are part of our “new normal,” what does that mean for education moving forward? One could say that we will likely transition back into our previous norm where F2F courses reconvene and the need for social distancing guidelines lessen throughout time…so this could be a non-issue. However, that philosophy has the likelihood to place us back into a comfort zone to where the rug can be pulled from under us again if another pandemic were to occur. In my opinion, as we move forward, it is time to conduct a needs analysis to assess what our educational toolkits should be under the mindset of “control.”

What can we “control” as educators? Here are a list of things that we cannot control:

  1. Textbook updates (new editions);
  2. Cost of educational tools;
  3. Timing of pandemics, acts of God, or anything that impacts business continuity;
  4. Availability of supplies;
  5. Clinical or internship site regulations;
  6. Among other things…

We can, however, control how we design learning experiences and to do that, I feel we should look at the use of OER as a potential solution. First and foremost, if you teach F2F classes, but did not utilize the online environment prior to COVID-19, this is the most logical step to take. I highly recommend considering the potential value of developing an online learning hub to support your F2F class. More than likely, you transitioned your F2F class online to deliver remote instruction. Increase these efforts by developing your course further into a learning hub for continuous access to course materials at all times. If another pandemic disrupts education, the transition is seamless.

You may be asking, “What’s a learning hub?” It’s the way I describe the result of flipping your classroom. Vanderbilt University has a great webpage about flipped classrooms. A major takeaway from their webpage is their description of flipping your class through the framework of Krathwohl’s proposed revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy:

…students are doing the lower levels of cognitive work (gaining knowledge and comprehension) outside of class, and focusing on the higher forms of cognitive work (application, analysis, synthesis, and/or evaluation) in class, where they have the support of their peers and instructor. (Vanderbilt, 2020)

Those that have already flipped their F2F classrooms should consider the use of Web conferencing platforms like Zoom or Blackboard Collaborate to conduct class meetings in real-time. When you combine this strategy with the use of OER, the result is the creation of a learning hub that is not reliant on some of the things we cannot control such as textbook updates, for example.

Take this opportunity to collaborate with your colleagues to design and develop a learning hub using OER. I’ve heard feedback from some who adopt or create OER content about the pride they feel when going this route. This will get learners in the habit of becoming more familiar with navigating the online environment. Also, make sure that your learning hub is universally designed for all learners. You can create accessible PDFs so they can be printed for offline viewing. The more you do to rethink course design with the use of OER, the more you and your colleagues will flourish and become the epitome of business and educational continuity. If there was ever a time for open education to thrive, now would be the time.

For more information, see the following references:

William and Flora Hewlett Foundation: www.hewlett.org/strategy/open-education/

Creative Commons: https://creativecommons.org/

BlinkTower: https://vimeo.com/blinktower

Brame, C., (2013). Flipping the classroom. Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching. Retrieved May 26, 2020 from http://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/flipping-the-classroom/.

Universal Design for Learning: http://udlguidelines.cast.org/  

Dr. Cook

Dr. James Cook is Dean of the Center for Transformative Learning (CTL) at Forsyth Technical Community College in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Through CTL, Dr. Cook and his team work with faculty and staff on best methods for instruction and learning, along with best practices for course design, programming design and implementation, student access, and more. Dr. Cook can be contacted at jcook@forsythtech.edu.

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