Alternative views of open #OpenEd19 Panel with Kim Grewe

OpenEd19 Panel led by Kim Grewe

(For accompanying YouTube video:

How is open evolving and who is evolving it?

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“Open” via remediate.this

I’m Viv and I worked in higher education as an open educator for many years. I now head up herbal research for a tea company called Pukka Herbs and am more engaged in open science. I’m going to aim to explore the question of how open is evolving, and who is evolving it.

I’m not going to go into the debate of ‘what is open’ – in Irwin de Vries recent paper he provides references to definitions of access, resources and practice. Rather, I’ll think about the ‘open movement’ in its entirety through looking at our research and publication habits.

If we go back in time for a moment and think about the open sharing of knowledge – that isn’t at all new. We could go back thousands of years to when for example plant medical knowledge used to be passed down the generations. The advent of the silk roads and trading routes from the Far East to Europe brought with it new knowledge and new plants. Consider the humble stinging nettle, brought to the UK by the Romans, – people used to whip their legs to relieve arthritis; ingesting the leaves and roots are a diuretic – used for cleansing and flushing the kidneys – when cooked hugely nutritious rich in vitamin A and C. The knowledge however became valuable and powerful – books were published and professions built up around the knowledge that were expensive to access…so ultimately our traditional use of herbs and plants dwindled.

Going back to the question – how open is evolving. One way looking at it is to review the published literature. Any subject area or community of practice is defined by shared history of that practice surely? And our publications are our legacy to future generations – as projects / initiatives come and go subject to funding, sometimes the only thing left are our papers.

In OpenEd2016 I reviewed the open education published literature to look at how critical we were as a field of study. In doing so I came across historic works from the 1960s and 1970s that were exploring open pedagogies and practices in schools (Rolfe 2016, SLIDE 11). There were references to an open education movement, the teacher as a facilitator of learning with the children having access to the resources to direct their own learning. I was surprised as I hadn’t come across this before – maybe others had, but they hadn’t referred to it.

I did a citation analysis of ‘open’ education papers – I looked at who was citing who, in what subject areas, geographical areas and what journals etc. I found subjects tended to stick together, not referencing works from other areas…and even worse, citing papers from within the specific journal in question (which we know is often encouraged at the point of reviewing!)

In Katy Jordan’s work from 2018, she uses more advanced techniques than manually plotting citations like I did in 2016; she identified 8 different sub-areas of ‘open’ that had emerged over time, and as I’d found, earlier bodies of work were separated from recent research. (See figures 4 and 5). Also these sub-areas of open work emerged as ‘islands’ without the tendency to refer between them. Katy says an “absence of shared knowledge”.

So to summarise, so far I’ve highlighted two potential problems relating to how the open movement has evolved:

  • It has evolved by limited reflections on its past history – we might have learned from why the 1970s open movement died?
  • The perspective I’ve taken suggests it has evolved through remaining entrenched within geographical and subject boundaries.

But there are further consequences to remaining an island – whether this is the open community or any subject community.

As an open education community – or any research community – the poor searching and citing of the literature is one of several factors behind the creation of inequalities in knowledge production, which we see between richer and poorer countries, as discussed by Laura Czernowitz in 2016 (SLIDE 5 and onwards globe resized according to country of origin of papers on Web of Science).  We tend to cite others we know and from their locality. We all know how citation has become a currency for promotion – failure to cite the work of others hinders people in other areas from getting their research off the ground.

(The problematic use of citations in this way is being addressed by the SF DORA declaration – “the need to eliminate the use of journal-based metrics, such as Journal Impact Factors, in funding, appointment, and promotion considerations” (SFDORA 2019)).

In another piece of research I’m doing right now I’ve analysed citations and publishing habits within the field of Ayurveda – a traditional Indian medicine system that partly involves the use of which is popular in around the globe. (This is as yet unpublished). Three key points again relating to remaining an island when it comes to research:

  • Scientists – whether east or west – don’t tent to cite or read beyond their communities. Many botanical and medical details are therefore omitted altogether.
  • Open access publishing is making this more problematic. Many non-western scientists did not publish openly – and we know that openly available papers tend to be more cited. I would suggest this isn’t helped by ‘gold route’ publication fees now upward of 2 thousand dollars / pounds.
  • Many relevant eastern journals not indexed on western bibliographic databases. In herbal research, many relevant papers are from China and India and I have to come up with totally different search strategies to find them.

In Andy Nobes excellent 2017 blog post in which he reflected on OpenCon 2017 in Berlin and the work of Thomas Hervé Mboa Nkoudou and Florence Piron, he describes how open access perpetuates a “one-way knowledge exchange” rather than  “genuine reciprocal exchanges of research knowledge”. Andy Nobes quoted Florence Piron saying “open access can instead become a neo-colonial tool” – (Nobes 2017). 

So two more points to summarise here that are not just relevant to the open community:

  • Island thinking creates knowledge gaps and global inequalities. It also reduces the quality of our research.
  • Open access drives a further wedge restricting knowledge exchange in areas where it would be of most benefit.

So what can we do? As an open community, how to we assist the free flow of knowledge? I know this paper has limits in that it has only looked at behaviours within our publishing, and we do have fantastic conferences and initiatives that bring communities together (OpenEd, OER, OpenCon, Virtually Connecting). But our research is an important reflection of our community and it is often how others see us.

As Momodou Sallah said in our 2018 OER conference held in Bristol – we are open resources. We can all start by reflecting on our own practice and then model our behaviour for our students and others. We must have open debates from the centre to the periphery (which are possibly the more innovative fringes) of our communities (I have just returned from a nutrition conference where industry was blocked out of conversations on the future of nutrition and planetary health). We need to understand each other’s differences and not retreat onto our islands. Surely the evolution of an open movement that is fair and inclusive is the most valuable legacy to leave to future generations.


Czerniewicz L (2016). Knowledge inequalities: a marginal view of the digital landscape. In 11th Open Repositories Conference (pp. 13-16).

De Vries IJ (2019). Open Universities and Open Educational Practices. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 20(4).

Nobes A (2017). Must we decolonise Open Access? Perspectives from Francophone Africa. December 8, 2017.

Rolfe V (2016). Open, but not for criticism? #opened16, Richmond, Virginia, USA, November 2016.

Sallah M (2018). Pedagogies of Disruption as Resistance: Developing Counter Narratives Through Open Educational Practice.

SF DORA (2019).

Weller M, Jordan K, De Vries I, & Rolfe V (2018). Mapping the open education landscape: Citation network analysis of historical open and distance education research. Open Praxis, 10(2), 109-126.

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