Open education has a pivotal role to play in the unprecedented times of COVID-19. The pivot to online teaching and learning has brought to the fore profound inequities. Open education has the power to reduce these inequities through culturally relevant and inclusive content and the use of open source technologies that encourage technological autonomy and provide ways for students, faculty, and institutions to own and control their own data (Open ETC).
While open education began with OER — and in particular, open textbooks — it has expanded in recent years to include open textbooks, open pedagogy, open educational infrastructure, open research, open data, and open science, the sum total of which can be defined as open practice.
Open practice refers to moving beyond a content-centred approach, shifting the focus from resources to practices, with learners and teachers sharing the processes of knowledge creation. Open educational practices (OEP) is a broad descriptor of practices that include the creation, use, and reuse of open educational resources (OER), as well as open pedagogies and open sharing of teaching practices (Cronin).
Instructors, departments, and institutions need to focus on the practice of open education. No longer are we able to separate OER from open pedagogy from open research. Now is the time to focus on the practice of open and how each institution is reducing barriers to access so students can be successful.
The adoption of open practice across institutions will be effective if there is a focus on research, content creation with pedagogical supports, policy adaptation, and the inclusion of open source technologies.
Early open education research demonstrated that the use of OER does result in cost savings to students (Hilton). It also showed that students performed as well as or better in courses using OER versus courses using commercial resources (Hilton). Research is needed to better understand how the use of open practices leads to improved student learning and engagement (Cronin).
OER content creation needs to be inclusive, culturally relevant, and accessible (Prescott). Alongside content creation, institutions need to start investing in instructor manuals, tools to support learning and the pedagogy behind that content. In other words, focus on curriculum development support.
Policies will need to shift so that practice of open education is no longer off the side of one’s desk, but is rewarded as a standard practice of one’s tenure and promotion process. Institutions are asking instructors to pivot online, and with this pivot comes a responsibility to provide the most accessible materials to students as possible. Access to educational resources has never been more threatened by inclusive access programs that are temporarily offering free services to students and instructors in our post-secondary institutions: although having access now is great, what happens when the “free trial” ends? Open source technologies — the infrastructure that enables access to open education platforms — will have to be considered as viable options in the future for institutions and IT departments trying to address the growing need for technological solutions for their communities (Morgan). Open source educational technologies provide a more sustainable ed tech infrastructure for post-secondary education that gives institutions more control over their tools. Institutions are currently at the mercy of vendor pricing, upgrade cycles, and exit strategies. This puts institutions at a certain degree of risk when there are changes to any of the variables beyond their control. Open source approaches reduce the risk to institutions in this regard (Open ETC).