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The #OEP jigsaw pieces are out of the box, or is that #selfOER?

There’s nothing for it! I’m gonna have to blog messy – confused and conflated as I resume my passion for open learning and rejoin the conversation on all things open and education. Well, actually, as I try and firm up a PhD research proposal and, fingers crossed, get down to the business of carrying it out – as an open researcher, possibly.

I’m a full-time research student funded on a 1+3 deal, which means that I had to undertake a Research Master’s before embarking on the PhD proper. The good news is I passed my MRes. I received final confirmation just last week. The thing is, although I gained valuable skills, I think the exercise dealt me something of a curve-ball with regards to my relationship with open learning. No, what I really mean is learning in the open. It served to funnel me into an institutional programme of prescribed assignments and to undertake a dissertation at breakneck speed. There was no time to learn outside of these parameters and, once the programme had commenced, no time to reflect on the implications of decisions made for pragmatic reasons. Any way, I’m now in a position to reflect on my experience and to plan the way ahead – back on the open road 🙂

Originally, I responded to a call for research proposals under the theme of ‘Literacies for Learning in a Digital Age’. I proposed something relating to literacies and professional learning in open networks. However, from the get go (interview) the question was “what professionals?”, “what context?”, to which my non-plussed answer was “professionals, people, in networks, the Internet”. And then the momentum of the MRes programme kicked in and there was no time to unpack my thinking and to take this forward. But now that I can go back, I see where the impasse occurred. There was much that was conflated.

The call itself was conflated. Areas suggested for investigation were conflated across contexts for learning and across the disciplines of Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) and literacies studies. These are disciplines that I’m conflated over myself as I have a subject specialism in Adult Literacy and a Master’s degree in Technology, Learning, Innovation and Change, which presents equally a source of synergy and challenge. There are different epistemological and methodological approaches associated with each respectively, and the uneasy relationship this causes is well-documented (Goodfellow & Lea, 2013; Gourlay, Hamilton & Lea, 2014; Lea, 2016).

I’m further conflated across contexts. I often fail to distinguish between everyday learning, lifelong learning, personal learning and professional learning, informal learning for continuing professional development and informal workplace learning. I’m also conflated across roles, or identities. Am I a learner, an educator, a researcher, learning support or learning technologist? Furthermore, am I positioned inside the academy or outside? Maybe I’m just me: living and learning, and liking it all the more when I’m participating in open networks.

It’s fair to say that I don’t easily recognise boundaries. There can be little doubt that I’m “a boundary creature [that] inhabits more than one world” (McGinnis, 1999, p.61). I think this is due in part because of my familiarity with network technology and learning in networks. Also, because the ability to adapt across contexts with the requisite change of identity is fundamental for a literacies practitioner so that they can support literacy as situated social practice wherever they’re deployed. Thankfully, the ability to perform work around boundary objects in interdisciplinary teams is an acknowledged imperative relative to TEL (Scanlon and Taylor, 2016), so all is not lost.

Given all this, and in terms of moving forward, I’m mindful of Maxwell’s (2013) advice that a conceptual framework for research is something that you build, not something that exists ready-made, and that the most productive ones often bring in ideas from outside traditionally defined fields and/or integrate different approaches or lines of investigation, or theories that hadn’t been previously connected.

It’s here that Actor Network Theory (Latour, 2005 and Law & Hassard, 1999) speaks to my sensibilities. ANT does not countenance binary concepts and plays down context in favor of contextualization. To counter technological determinism and social determinism, it takes a relational view that sees boundaries between the social and the material as emerging from the strength of  relationships between human and non-human actors. This relationship is manifested, or enacted, in everyday practices.

It seems that Actor Network Theory might be a useful way to investigate Open Educational Practices (OEP). I provide the definition of OEP advanced by Ehlers and Conole (2010), although it must be noted there’s no singularly agreed definition.

‘Open Educational Practices (OEP) are the use of open educational resources with the aim to improve the quality of educational processes and innovate educational environments.’

Actor Network Theory would enable OEP to be framed as sociomaterial practice and to highlight the literacy practices and use of learning technology that OEP embeds.

I mean, how does OEP get done? What does it look like? What components hold it together as a practice – texts, tech, policies etc. etc. How does it hold together to become a recognizable practice? In terms of the relationships that hold it together, what are the relative strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats?

O.K, but the question still remains, where is this OEP; where are the open education practices situated that I hope to research? In the network, of course, in the network of practices that pertain to Open Scholarship (Weller, 2011), or Networked Participatory Scholarship (Veletsianos & Kimmons, 2012), and given ANT’s proclivity towards the symmetry of  human and non-human actants, the recent conceptualization of the self as OER (Koseoglu and Bali, 2016), indeed a human OER (Funes, 2014), seems an almost irresistible prospect to research from such a perspective.

“Open educational practices as resources for others to use” (Koseoglu and Bali, 2016).

That is, the informal everyday activities that arise out of the relationships and motivations of individuals participating in open networked activities such as blogging and Tweeting.

So, along with a range of concepts, the OEP jigsaw pieces are out of the box, or maybe the self-OER or human OER jigsaw pieces are out of the box, who knows. And who knows, as I progress my research ideas, how they’ll be assembled and what picture they’ll present.


Ehlers, U. and Conole, G. (2010) ‘Open educational practices: Unleashing the power of OER’, UNESCO Workshop on OER in Namibia [Online]. Available at (Accessed 14 January 2017).

Funes, M. (2014) ‘A human OER’, doublemirror [Online]. Available at (Accessed 6 February 2017).

Goodfellow, R. and Lea, M.R., 2013. Literacy in the digital university: Critical perspectives on learning, scholarship and technology. Routledge.

Gourlay, L., Hamilton, M. and Rosalind Lea, M. (2014) ‘Textual practices in the new media digital landscape: messing with digital literacies’, Research in Learning Technology, vol. 21, no. 0 [Online]. Available at (Accessed 14 January 2017).

Koseoglu, S. and Bali, M. (2016) ‘The Self as an Open Educational Resource [1091]’, #OER16 [Online]. Available at (Accessed 6 February 2017).

Latour, B. (2005) Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press

Law, J. & Hassard, J. (1999) Actor Network Theory and After. Oxford, England: Blackwell

Lea, M. R. (2016) ‘Academic literacies: looking back in order to look forward’, Critical Studies in Teaching and Learning (CriSTaL), vol. 4, no. 2, pp. 88–101.

Maxwell, J. A. (2013) Qualitative Research Design: An Interactive Approach., 3 edition. Thousand Oaks, Calif, SAGE Publications, Inc.

McGinnis, M.V. (1999) Bioregionalism. Cited in Adams, A., Fitzgerald, E. and Priestnall, G. (2013) ‘Of Catwalk Technologies and Boundary Creatures’, ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction, vol. 20, no. 3, pp. 1–34.

Scanlon, E. and Taylor, J. (2016) ‘Is technology enhanced learning an interdisciplinary activity?’, [Online]. Available at (Accessed 14 January 2017).

Veletsianos, G. & Kimmons, R. (2012). Assumptions and challenges of open scholarship. International Review of Online & Distributed Learning, 13(4), 166-189.

Weller, M. (2011). The Digital Scholar: How technology is transforming scholarly practice. Basingstoke: Bloomsbury Academic.

Image: Erdenebayar

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My Open Tour: a critical turn

Amongst several concepts of openness that Open Knowledge MOOC has turned its attention to recently is that of open scholarship, asking us to consider how the new principles of openness, as facilitated by digital means, affect the way in which knowledge is produced, published, disseminated and reviewed and entreating us to think about the limits, or tensions, that ever greater openness may bring. This segues nicely with the material that I’ve just covered in the Open Research course from OER Research Hub and the new MOOC on the block, Networked Scholars #scholar14.

One of #okmooc’s core readings was ‘Assumptions and Challenges of Open Scholarship‘, co-authored by George Veletsianos and Royce Kimmons (coincidentally, George Veletsianos is the ‘main man’ over at Networked Scholars). Anyway, I enjoyed reading this article, the dual aim of which was to identify the assumptions of open scholarship and to highlight the challenges associated with open scholarship’s aspirations for broadening access to education and knowledge.

Identifying assumptions and highlighting challenges.

Most notably, I enjoyed reading the paper because it called out the edtech community for being overly optimistic when stating technology’s roll in educational transformation and displaying a lack of critique of open educational practices.

 such critiques are largely absent from the educational technology field, as members of the field tend to focus on the promises of educational technologies, rarely pausing to critique its assumptions (Selwyn, 2011, pp. 713).

Veletsianos and Kimmons’ paper went on to declare a pressing need for the understanding of educational technology narratives and their unfulfilled potential. Citing Hall (2011, pp. 11) they said,

in order to understand our present position, and to develop alternatives that matter, we need stories and metaphors and critiques of where we are.

Such a challenge made me think of Audrey Watters‘ recent and awesome keynote speech at altc, entitled Ed-Tech’s Monsters. Indeed, it really is “a [fascinating] romp through literature and the cultural history of ed-tech” that, by retracing connections through narratives and counter-narratives, talks about teaching machines and monsters and also serves to inspire a re-examination of the Luddite cause as a critical starting point.

The inherent assumptions Veletsianos and Kimmons identify within Open Scholarship are:

  1. Ideals of Democratization, Human Rights, Equality, and Justice
  2. Emphasis on Digital Participation for Enhanced Outcomes
  3. Co-Evolutionary Relationship between Technology and Culture
  4. Practicality and Effectiveness for Achieving Scholarly Aims

Here, two things caught my attention. First, relating to the assumption concerning the co-evolutionary relationship between technology and culture, mention was made of the phenomenon of  ‘homophily’. I must confess, I’d never heard of this term before but basically it’s the tendency to connect with similar or like-minded individuals. Therefore, in actuality, social media mightn’t after all foster the diverse spaces for knowledge exchange and negotiation that we think they do, instead leading to the creation of ‘echo chambers’: a situation in which we share knowledge and perspectives with individuals who already share the same views as ourselves. This is vitally important to recognize when developing a personal learning network (PLN). As Howard Rheingold is credited with saying,

 “if your network isn’t offending you, you’re stuck in an echo chamber.”

Well, may be not offending you exactly, but definitely singing from different hymn sheets, which brings me to the second thing that caught my eye, that is the assumption that Open Scholarship is ‘capable of achieving socially valuable scholarly aims’. Here, the work of Robin Goodfellow comes to mind, a scholar whose work is in the field of new technology in teaching and learning, yet who chooses not to engage in social networking practices such as those exemplified on Twitter.

Referring to the complexity and interplay between openness, scholarship and digital technology as ‘an impossible triangle‘, he’s sceptical of Open Scholarship’s ability to deliver the aforementioned ‘socially valuable scholarly aims’. He points out that

particularly confounding is the tension between digital scholarship and open knowledge, where the former is focused on the creation by specialist communities of knowledge of a stable and enduring kind, whilst the latter is characterized by encyclopaedic knowledge and participation that is unbounded by affiliation or location.

Further, he says

that the enduring importance given to objectivity and the ‘scholarly record’ is often in tension with ideas about democratizing scholarly knowledge.

On which note I’ll sign off. It’s been worthwhile taking the time to think about open knowledge practices and the assumptions and tensions relative to Open Scholarship. It’s certainly taken me some time to think about this and get round to posting this blog. The reading was flagged up in week 6 of Open Knowledge MOOC and it’s now week 9 or something. Doh!!


  • Selwyn, N. 2011. Editorial: In praise of pessimism—the need for negativity in educational technology. British Journal of Educational Technology, 42(5), 713-718.

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#ocTEL ends with a leisurely dip.

Before #ocTEL rolls out of town, I spent a couple of pleasant hours today looking over some of the course materials and posts from the last couple of weeks. Although I’ve been deleting the daily newsletter for the last couple of weeks because I wasn’t able to engage sufficiently with the course material, or do justice to the discussions, today I did have some time so I took a peak at what’s been going on.

The first item that caught my eye was James Little’s blog post evaluating his participation. The opening line certainly struck a chord, “I’m finally joining in at the end”. Ditto. Importantly though, his post articulated the reality of balancing, or juggling, the requirements of MOOC participation while daily life goes on unabashed. Here, he rightly called attention the philosophy of the course designers, who from the outset gave advice on “how to keep calm in the face of abundance”, advocating selectivity and that participants pace themselves and indeed, take time out. All the same, I have to say that I’ve been a bit bothered by how my own engagement in this course has panned out, and I can’t honestly put my finger on (i) why I’m bothered and (ii) why it was so patchy. I suppose I just have to acknowledge that maintaining engagement and holding a steady course isn’t always possible, or indeed expected and that dipping in and out will do just fine, if that’s how the cookie crumbles.

Taking a dip
Taking a dip

Any way, after that I then tracked back to last week’s “if you only do one thing” activity which offered a paper by Tim Cochrane as an examination of why TEL, or more accurately mLearning, projects fail and what might be learnt when they do. I enjoyed reading this paper and was especially interested to learn of the researcher’s affinity with the PAH Continuum, pedagogy-andragogy-heutagogy (Blaschke  2012;  Luckin  et al. 2010), which he uses as a critical framework to measure how much pedagogical change a project achieves; that is, a change in pedagogy from teacher-directed pedagogy to student-centred andragogy and ultimately to student-directed or negotiated heutagogy. Equally, I was interested to learn of the researcher’s advocacy for establishing, prior to the deployment of a project, supporting Communities of Practice [COPs] that include all of key tutors, or lecturers. Useful article.

I wasn’t able to complete the task set with the reading; it asked that I think of a project I’ve been involved with or have experience of and write down a list of points relating to the “key successes” and “key failures”. However, I did take a look in the discussion forum where I enjoyed reading and learning of the experiences of others, especially the fact that they were all able to powerfully learn from experiences that might not strictly be deemed as having been successful.

Moving on to read the final week’s activities, I was able to look back over the course and reflect further on my participation. Actually, I was quite surprised how much I did in fact cover, but what really stood out for me the most was the hour or so that I spent in week 5 watching the webinar in which Martin Hawksey gave a run-through of the #ocTEL platform and the technology needed to host a course along the lines of a connectivist style MOOC. Awesome stuff, and strangely I’d quite like to understand this technology some more. Viewing this webinar gave me a real insight into the power of technology, but at the same time it left me with the sense that I was somehow powerless and that without a better understanding or level of skill in terms of “writing the web” then, for better or worse, I’m at the mercy of others. Intriguingly the course ends with the question “Finished ocTEL? What’s next?”. Indeed, what next?

Actually, there’s mention of #ocTEL 2.0, which is something I’ll definitely look out for as I’d like to do this again. There’s much to learn.

Finally, a big thanks to the #ocTEL team. The opportunity to “take a dip” is appreciated.

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