Open teaching and learning

openlearningSource of image 

My work in July has been more face-to-face than I have been used to in recent years. This has been a pleasure and illuminating in many respects, and has caused me to reflect once again on the meaning of ‘openness’ in teaching and learning.

I have been supporting tutors in the development of modules for an online Masters programme to be delivered in Blackboard. In my last post, I wrote about some of my frustrations with Blackboard  and this hasn’t changed, but I realize that a lot of my frustrations result from having worked outside an LMS for the past 10+ years, i.e. out in the open. I am now used to working in the open; as such Blackboard feels very ‘closed’.

The tutors I am working with are, mostly, not used to working ‘in the open’, for example in Twitter or on personal blogs, such as this one. They are used to working within Blackboard, uploading resources and using some of the Blackboard tools, such as discussion forums and the Blackboard blogs.

The problem with an LMS is that it’s easy for the tutor to be invisible and for modules to become repositories for resources. We have been discussing how to increase tutor ‘presence’ in Blackboard by creating and posting videos, engaging in discussion forums, blogging, and engaging synchronously with students. Research has shown (for many years) that tutor ‘presence’ promotes student engagement online. Increasing this presence can be made easier by using tools outside Blackboard, in spaces such as Google Hangout,, Skype, Twitter and on a personal blog. (Thanks to my colleague Mariana Funes for pointing me to I think this will be a very helpful tool).

But being ‘in the open’ raises security alarm bells for some tutors. What if their students post the less than perfect (in their eyes) videos they have made on Facebook? What if synchronous sessions with students, which are not intended to be viewed by anyone other than the student group involved, suddenly find their way onto the open web? What are the risks? Even creating ‘unlisted’ videos in YouTube is no guarantee that they won’t find their way on to the open web. A student might (with no intended malice) post the link in a public place.

I can sympathise and empathise with these tutors’ concerns. I have been on the end of online ‘unpleasantness’ when in the open, so I know how it feels and I know the threats that this can pose to my reputation as a consultant, tutor, researcher and scholar. I know what an ‘ugly’ place the open web can be. I know the risks of openness.

But I also know the values. I wouldn’t be where I am today, working with wonderful research collaborators, having access to a diverse range of people and online resources and constantly having access to stimulating learning opportunities, if I hadn’t been prepared to ‘put myself out there’, at least to some extent.

If I Google myself I find a whole host of sites where I am referenced. I do have an online presence. Occasionally I find things that make me cringe and that I wish weren’t there in the open. For example, like many of the tutors I am working with, I don’t like seeing myself on video; I do not think this is a personal strength – but whilst I might cringe, I am not ashamed. I don’t think I have done, and I hope I never will do, anything of which I am personally ashamed on the level of professional or personal integrity.

For me this is the bottom line. Of course we will all make mistakes when working online, just as we do face-to-face, but strangely being open online can serve to make us more responsible and accountable than we might be in other offline spaces. For example, years ago I used to regularly travel to another part of the country to run teacher in-service training sessions. I remember at the time finding this a relief. All my other work was teaching face-to-face in classrooms, where if I made a mistake one day, I had to face the same students the next day or week. For the in-service training in another part of the country, I knew I would never see those participants again, so I felt under less pressure, although of course I made the same efforts to avoid making mistakes as when working face-to-face.

You would think that working online would offer a similar level of distance and obscurity, but if you come out of a closed space such as Blackboard, the opposite is the case. In working online in the open, we leave a record of our activity for all the world to see, should anyone be interested. The benefit of this is that we become acutely aware of our responsibilities and accountability to our students. In this sense, openness could be seen as positive professional development, despite the risks.

I have written lots of posts about openness in the past, exploring the advantages and disadvantages (see for example search results for ‘open learning’ , ‘how open are you?’ and ‘openness’). Overall, I would always recommend that a tutor gives it a go, even if only in a small way to begin with.

What I haven’t quite sorted out in my own head is how we can ensure that students adopt the same levels of responsibility and accountability as their tutors, so that no-one needs to worry about what might be revealed in the open; that we have a shared understanding of what responsibility and accountability mean when working in the open.


Someone who has been exploring these issues for years with her tutor team is Lisa Lane. Lisa voluntarily (i.e. beyond the remit of her job) runs an open Programme for Online Teaching and supports tutors in the development of their online teaching skills through the programme and sharing of an extensive bank of open resources.

Last year Lisa also invited bloggers from her own institution and outside to contribute a post which reflected their interest in and understanding of online learning. Many different perspectives were shared and these have now been collated into a booklet which Lisa will share with her faculty. This seems like another great way to promote open teaching and learning.

See – POTPedagogyFirstbook

15 thoughts on “Open teaching and learning

  1. Laura Gibbs July 26, 2015 / 11:54 pm

    [comment may appear twice; I got an error when I tried to log in with G+ so now I am trying Twitter]
    Thanks for this post!!! I am a big advocate of working out in the open since the real fear is in the question itself: if you go on to answer the question “What if…?”, the answer is usually not a big deal. Sure, you might feel uncomfortable at first, but if we are going to help our students be adventurous learners who are not paralyzed by self-criticism, we need to embrace that same attitude for ourselves and set aside what is no more than personal discomfort and perfectionism (I say that as a recovering perfectionist myself, ha ha). I’m doing a lot of audio right now for my students (I just discovered the joys of embedded SoundCloud), and audio is a great example of a medium that is not very forgiving — I can go back and fix typos, but fixing audio is not so easy… and not all that important! If the choice is between “what if I gave my students audio where I occasionally stumble or cough or have to pause to drink of water…? and “what if I didn’t give my students audio at all because it is not perfect…?” then I would say the answer is obvious: if I give my students audio with warts and all, that will encourage them to do audio too! fearlessly! But if I don’t give my students audio, then I lose that potential channel of learning AND I lose the opportunity to encourage them to experiment also.
    My audio experiments here, warts and all:
    And THREE CHEERS for Lisa Lane!!! She has been a champion of openness for forever. We are all in her debt! 🙂

  2. Lisa M Lane July 27, 2015 / 7:32 am

    Hi Jenny – thanks for sharing the blog collection, and for writing for it! 🙂

  3. jennymackness July 27, 2015 / 8:12 am

    Hi Laura – thanks so much for your visit and comment. I’m interested that you are using SoundCloud and thank you for sharing your reading of an Indian story, which is a lovely illustration of how to use SoundCloud. You have a lovely reading voice.

    So I will definitely have a look at SoundCloud. I’m wondering whether it will be easy to use and embed in Blackboard. Video creation and embedding has been causing us hassle – but we are finding work arounds.

    I completely agree about not bothering to correct stumbles in your audio. We wouldn’t do it face-to-face. The only time it would be necessary would be if it changed the sense of what we were trying to communicate.

    Thanks Laura. I am going to experiment with SoundCloud in Blackboard and Voicethread, which Mariana pointed me to some time ago.

  4. jennymackness July 27, 2015 / 8:12 am

    Hi Lisa – my pleasure. You do such great work 🙂

  5. jennymackness July 28, 2015 / 6:51 am

    Hi Alan – thanks for sharing the link to your ‘True Stories of Openness’ site.

    I did include reference to your site for a presentation I did for Oxford Brookes University a couple of years ago ( see at 18.25).

    It’s good to know that you are still collecting stories.

  6. catherinecronin July 29, 2015 / 11:17 pm

    Hi Jenny – thanks so much for this thoughtful post. I remember us speaking about this project a couple of times over the past few months. The questions you raise here are so interesting. I consider myself an open educator, intentionally using and modelling open practices while also maintaining a critical perspective. Like you I’ve benefited in many ways but I’m aware of the downsides too. I’ve been inspired by and learned much from you, and from all the wonderful open educators included above 🙂 Laura, Lisa, Mariana, Alan & more.
    I’m currently in the first phase of my PhD study, engaging with educators at one HEI (permanent & adjunct; part-time & full-time; across all disciplines) about why and how they use online tools and spaces, both bounded and open (and all flavours in between!). The intention is to try to understand the complexity of those choices. In the 2nd phase I’ll engage with both students and educators who are using open educational practices, to deepen that analysis. Your post struck me because you are having conversations across this space also, i.e. an open educator collaborating with educators working within an LMS. The myriad of factors affecting those choices is illuminating — it’s not simply a matter of “if only they knew… [e.g. how good/powerful openness could be]”. Individual concerns may relate to privacy, personal/professional identity, use of personal data by 3rd parties, and/or structural issues such as lack of time/training/support. I’m wondering… is a multiple approach the most effective path to change? e.g. listening, engaging in discussion about these issues/concerns (with both educators & students), and sharing stories of open practice.
    P.S. I absolutely love @cogdog’s Stories of Openness (& am chastened to remembered that I promised Alan I’d record one of these!). And I’m indebted to you for sharing the wonderful #potcert collection from Lisa Lane. Thank you so much, once again 🙂

  7. Laura Gibbs July 30, 2015 / 12:15 am

    I just saw this post making the rounds at Twitter: excellent! So glad to see open getting talking about… in the open!

    Michelle Pacansky-Brock has so many ideas about VoiceThread; I think she did an ebook about it if I am remembering correctly…?

    And Mariana has inspired me in SO MANY WAYS. I wonder what kind of great new things we will all be doing this coming school year…??!?! 🙂

  8. jennymackness July 30, 2015 / 9:33 am

    Hi Catherine – many thanks for your comments. The conversations we had earlier in the year were very helpful to me. They made me aware that a significant factor in whether or not educators and students embrace open online learning is the institution’s ethos and approach. If the institution is ‘afraid’ of open learning and puts up lots of barriers for whatever reason, then this can be very demotivating.

    I am also just about to make a post about another factor that I have become aware of – and that is access. As open educators it’s easy to make assumptions that students and colleagues will have everything they need to be open educator and learners, things that we may take for granted.

    Your question about the most effective path to change is an interesting one and I think depends on whether the change is being promoted from the top down or coming from the bottom up. Ideally there would be both, but so often it seems to be one or the other. The problem with the latter approach and the multipath approach on their own is how slow the change can be – but perhaps this is the reality.

    I will be following your progress on your PhD with interest. Did you see that ‘thesis whisperer’ is offering a MOOC on how to survive your PhD?

  9. jennymackness July 30, 2015 / 9:35 am

    Hi Laura – thanks so much for coming back again and your mention of Michelle Pacansky-Brock who I didn’t know about.

    I have looked her up and have found a great resource site which I will explore further

    Great ! That’s really helpful.

  10. catherinecronin July 30, 2015 / 12:09 pm

    Thanks Jenny – yes, I’ve signed up for Inger’s MOOC. Looking forward to it! Lots of interesting thoughts & resources mentioned here in the comments – thanks for starting the conversation 🙂

  11. Laura Gibbs (@OnlineCrsLady) July 31, 2015 / 12:45 am

    Yes, that’s it exactly: Michelle’s blog is a treasure-trove of all kinds of ideas, and VoiceThread is something she has explored with lots of success!
    Happy blogging AND talking! 🙂

  12. katemiller December 3, 2015 / 8:53 pm

    Hi I’ve really enjoyed this post and discussion. I’m grappling with similar issues trying to introduce more openness to my teaching and coming up with all these issues but also looking forward to seeing the benefits. I’ll check out these resources further now. thanks

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