The concept of open-ness is gaining currency in almost every facet of our human organisation and civilisation. From the last few decades we can see the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the opening up of the Iron Curtain, the Bamboo Curtain, and so forth, showing open-ness in whole political regimes.

We’re hearing a lot more recently about open government, open data, and open management systems. The concept of open-ness, then, is something that we need to be exploring as educators as it applies in our world ahead. And, technology is a significant driver in all of this.

Open-ness in the social context

In the social context when we think about open-ness, one indicator we can look at is the whole emergence of an alternative to our traditional copyright system, which represents the previous closed mind-set that we had, which identified knowledge or information or artifacts as being something that were owned or possessed, and very rarely distributed or at a cost to others. The alternative is creative commons licensing, which has emerged through the understanding that as we create and share and give to the community, so we can also gain in return. So the creative commons licence identifies five areas in which we might licence a particular contribution to the pool, whether that’s written, or it’s a story, or it’s a song ,or whatever, but we can identify whether we want to let others use it and distribute it at will and reuse it and remix it through to using freely without changes.

Open-ness in technology

In the technical area there’s a lot of talk about open-ness. We’ve now got open standards and open access appearing as alternatives to the traditional closed software systems. So where large companies made fortunes through selling their software that tied you in to then having to pay for updates and so forth, we’re seeing an emergence of a whole different economy behind how companies can stay afloat and still become successful and wealthy, but through distributing and making their wares available more freely and in an open way. Open access and open standards are allowing a lot of these platforms and these applications to share data, and to kind of plug-and-play in much the same way as a jigsaw does, where previously there was no way you could take one piece of software and make it share data or share in an application way with another.

Open-ness in education

And then there is, of course, education. There are a couple of really significant trends occurring in education that are signifying open-ness in terms of how it applies in what we are doing in our schools, our universities, and so forth. The first of these is in terms of open education resources. Education is traditionally developed on the premise that you come to school or you come to a university because that’s where the repository of knowledge is. And frequently, we think of that knowledge being bound up in things like textbooks, or, more recently, videotapes, or online artifacts. This is the way that knowledge is represented. But, traditionally those resources were closed, in the sense that you couldn’t just carry them away or take parts from them and re-represent them. There’s a whole movement evolving in a way that counters that, using the creative commons principles, where the resources don’t define the university or the school, but it’s what we do with them. It’s the intelligence and the engagement with them, it’s the mentoring and coaching of people to develop and contribute their own knowledge, which is really important. So, we’ve seen large institutions like MIT open up all of the content, all of the resources that they use in their courses, and make them freely available, without any threat to the on-going existence of the university to which people still go because they want that engagement, they want that challenge that comes from being exposed to the people there. Whilst that’s happening at a tertiary, university level, the same applies in our schools.

Our schools are producing every-day, new knowledge, new artifacts, new resources, that, if shared liberally and freely across the sector, could enrich everybody to the benefit of the entire sector, and at the same time save hours of teacher time. In New Zealand the development of the Network for Learning represents a pathway of where this sharing can happen. What it creates is an opportunity for far greater sharing and distribution of ideas, resources, courses, and expertise that could be manifest in this open way.

Open-ness in learning environments

Another area in education where open-ness is becoming evident is in the design and construction of modern learning environments. We’re seeing a move away from single-cell classrooms, where one teacher is engaged with just one class of 20-30 kids—in a primary school, all day, and in a secondary school, period-by-period. We’re moving towards seeing those physical environments including the concept of open-ness, with much bigger spaces in which students can interact, and learn, and move about with less defined areas for specific groups at any particular time. So, the concept of open-ness there is manifest in very real, practical, and physical ways, as much as they are in more temporal ways online.

Open-ness in online courses

The other big area that’s occurring in education is the development of MOOCs, Massively Open Online Courses, and they are beginning to appear in a range of ways. But the fundamental principle here is, instead of creating a course to which you have to pay in order to enrol, a MOOC is simply a course that’s designed for a huge enrolment of people for free. So you participate, you engage with the materials, you will complete tasks and assignments, you might get linked to other people for discussions and forums, or whatever, but the pace and the extent to which you participate will depend on your own circumstances and level of interest. And so we see MOOCs being participated in now by people who go right through and complete every little thing, to others who just dip in and out to satisfy a curiosity or to meet a particular need. Of course, where MOOCs are becoming profitable in some areas is that they encourage the people that are participating then to sit an assessment of some description, which becomes credentialed, and at that point an exchange is made that recognises the work involved in actually credentialing or giving extra tuition towards that.

There’s still a lot of development to go. It’s early days to say that these things are going to particularly be, in their current form, things that we should take note of. But the trend is well established. This move toward open-ness, this move towards sharing, which is an underpinning part of being part of a globally connected knowledge-building community.

Drivers for this trend

  • Creative commons licensing
  • Increased online access and availability
  • Open source
  • Open access
  • Global competition among institutions
  • Reaction against the walled garden approaches of the 80s and 90s
  • Openness in school design - open spaces


  • How ‘open’ are the approaches to resource development and sharing in your school?
  • What use do you make of ‘open’ content and open teaching in your school?
  • How could access to open education options benefit your students? Your staff?
  • What processes would you need to put in place to ensure the appropriate licenses are adhered to?
  • How will you/your staff gain the experience of open teaching?
  • How will you ensure your students gain the skills/experience of learning this way?
  • How much of your learning programme is developed with teachers from other schools?

Learn, participate, and share

CORE staff are using Bundlr to collate links to articles and information relating to Open-ness in a Bundlr collection. There is the option for you to choose to follow the growing collection over the next few months.