Analyzing Open

Analyzing Open

open edci614

Well, 'meeting' #1 of my PhD journey is done! As this is a seminar course focussed more on empowerment and conversation, our prof likes to call our weekly get-togethers 'meetings'. Ok.

As is standard in the first introduction to a course, there was the typical conversation about the course outline and where we would be headed and such things....

One of the key points of the meeting was the nature of a concept, and the concept we used as a first example was 'culture'. So in our little groups, we were tasked with analyzing the concept of culture.

  1. Definition: a group of people with a shared way of living
  2. etymology: we talked about how the word 'cult' (the old definition) gives a clue that there is a sense that a particular group of people are differentiated from another group of people in some meaningful way.
  3. Examples: grad students, schools, nations, etc.
  4. non-examples: individuals, non-living objects, artifacts generated by cultures
  5. Essential features: shared way of living
  6. accidental features: history, art, values, religion, spirituality, etc.

The point of this first exercise wasn't to determine a correct and complete analysis of the concept of culture, but to practice thinking about culture in a systematic way.

The real task is our first assignment, to analyze a concept related to our research interests. This post is a first go at analyzing the concept of 'open', at least as it relates to education.

I'll work through the steps of the analysis as outlined above on my own, then I 'll go back and consult some resources.

Here is v0.2

Openness in education

There is not one single concept that could be considered the definitive or authoritative definition of 'open'. The word is used in a wide variety of contexts to mean very different things. Examples include the idea of an 'open door' indicating that a physical object is in a particular position that allows entry into a building or room; or an 'open door policy' used to indicate that a person welcomes conversations with others; 'open for business' indicates that a particular business is currently welcoming customers; and an 'open relationship' indicates that partners in a relationship are free to pursue relationships with others that might otherwise be forbidden in an exclusive relationship.

This analysis specifically excludes discussion of these contexts in favour of the idea of 'openness in education', or 'open education'.


Open education is a system of beliefs and practices that seek to enable increased access (the capacity and the power to participate) to learning by reducing or eliminating barriers such as systems of oppression, cost, geographic distance, and institutional policies.


This is a difficult question for me to answer without outside assistance. I just don't know the history of the word itself.


Examples of open education might be conceptualized on a continuum from fully closed to fully open and include the use of open education resources (OER), adopting policies that reduce or eliminate course and program prerequisites, providing specialized support for marginalized individuals, providing multiple avenues of access to learning environments for those who cannot travel to campus, and providing opportunity for student work to be exposed to 'the public'.

Open Education Resources

OER are learning materials that are licensed under open licenses such as public domain or Creative Commons which allow users (students and teachers) to use the materials for free, and also enable users to retain copies, reuse, redistribute, remix, and revise the materials for their own use. While this reduction in costs (for students) represents a lowered barrier to accessing higher education, it also represents opportunity for teachers and institutions to implement practices which are directed towards increasing social justice for marginalized populations of students. Jhangiani and Jhangiani (2017) found in their study that higher textbook costs are more detrimental to economically disadvantaged students than to those who do not require a student loan or do not have to work while they are attending school. Even if nothing else changes in a course, if a faculty member assigns an open textbook to which all students have immediate access for free from the first class, then one barrier to accessing higher education has been lowered.

Multi-Access Learning Environments

Multi-access learning environments are those where students have flexibility and choice in how they engage in the course activities and meetings. Irvine, Code, and Richards (2013) describe four concentric spheres to represent four levels or tiers of access.

  1. Tier 1, the core sphere, is the traditional face-to-face classroom experience where students travel to a university campus and meet in a classroom or lab to engage in various learning activities with a group of other students who have done the same thing. This is likely what many people envision when they think about 'going to university', but it is relatively expensive for those who need to travel any significant distance.
  2. Tier 2, the next layer out from the core is still anchored in the traditional face-to-face classroom experience, but students do not need to travel to campus in order to participate in the learning experiences. Instead, they connect to the room via web conferencing tools while the rest of the students are gathered for their meeting. In this way, the barrier of distance is reduced or even eliminated because remote students do not need to expend their resources to participate.
  3. Tier 3 eliminates the geographical barrier and reduces the temporal barrier by allowing students to access recordings of the live classroom experience from their preferred location and at a time more convenient for them. An example of how this might be operationalized is the case of a student who may have the technological power to connect to the live classroom, but they are in a distant timezone so the meeting occurs when they are typically at work or sleeping. By recording the activities of the classroom, students who are both geographically and temporally remote are empowered to participate.
  4. Tier 4 is what Irvine, Code, and Richards call open learning, where learners are empowered to participate in learning activities on their own time, in their own preferred location, and for whatever reason they want. These learners may be people who do not need or want another credential, but want to continue learning throughout their lifetime, or they are simply curious about the topics of the course.
Institutional Policies


  • So-called 'inclusive access' deals between publishers and bookstores which may lower one barrier, such as cost, but which erect other barriers, such as rental books that are only accessible for the duration of the semester. Students who wish to retain their textbooks or who need them for more than one semester may be forced to pay twice for the same book. The lower up-front cost of textbooks in inclusive access deals can be sustained by publishers because they have a guarantee that the vast majority of students will not opt out of the deal and will be automatically billed for all of their books. In addition, publishers seem to be gathering data on student interactions in their digital books and homework platforms then providing that data to third parties to be included in databases of information used to target students with advertisements.
  • zero-tolerance course policies for adult learners who have busy lives and careers outside of school
  • reliance on standardized test scores for determining eligibility for university admissions

Essential Features

  • lead to increased access without negatively affecting learning outcomes

Accidental Features

  • open licenses
  • free materials


Jhangiani, R. S., & Jhangiani, S. (2017). Investigating the Perceptions, Use, and Impact of Open Textbooks: A survey of Post-Secondary Students in British Columbia. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning; Vol 18, No 4 (2017): Special Issue: Outcomes of Openness: Empirical Reports on the Implementation of OER. Retrieved from

Header Photo by Photo by Ian Keefe on Unsplash

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