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  • Digital Literacies
  • Teaching With Tech

Building an Open Narrative With Open Learning

By Verena Roberts
 | Aug 31, 2018

Open NarrativeEarlier this year, I had the opportunity to travel to the Netherlands with other PhD candidates from around the world who are interested in open learning and open research through the Global OER Graduate Network. At the end of our seminar, our leader, Bea de los Arcos, asked us, What does open research mean? How can we, as open researchers and educators, describe how to support open learning?

In that moment, our group struggled to come up with clear examples of how to describe what open research and learning looks like, sounds like, or feels like. However, in the last few months, I have had the opportunity to interact and learn with others, hear others’ perspectives, and fully reflect on the possibilities of open research and learning. Now, I think I have a better answer; open learning means being part of the open narrative and open research means describing the narrative.

Open research is the narrative in which we express ourselves as educators and researchers. Openness is not just a language based on sharing texts, images, or mediated artifacts. Instead, it’s a means of communication which follows the Butterfly Effect theory that any action, word, sound or visual has the potential to influence others across the world or across the room in synchronous, asynchronous, and serendipitous ways. Open learning is a mindset, an epistemological belief in the potential to share and build knowledge together.

Building on Catherine Cronin’s definition, I believe that open educational practices (OEP), in K–12 contexts, describes an intentional design that expands learning opportunities for all learners beyond classroom walls and across cultures through collaboration, knowledge sharing, and networked participation. According to Leo Havemann, learning technologist at Birkbeck College, University of London, it is essential to note that, “Open is not, after all, the true opposite of closed; rather, open indicates some degree of difference from closed. On closer inspection, openness is better understood a matter of degree or quality, rather than one half of a binary.” Open is not the opposite of closed—it is a continuum and different for everyone.

What does open learning look like, sound like, or feel like?

When I consider the divisive perspectives and voices in K–12 educational contexts today, I think about the need for me to open my own practices with others and to trust my students so that they can trust me and we can start building a shared narrative. They should feel included in the process of learning.

For example, as I prepare to teach teachers this fall, I am considering how to include their voices and perspectives in our online learning environments. When considering how to build open narratives in your learning environments, there are many aspects to consider.

Create safe learning spaces

To begin, I have considered how to create safe open learning spaces. It is essential for learners to feel like they can be open, share ideas, and be a part of building learning opportunities. In their book Learning Spaces: Youth, Literacy and New Media in Remote Indigenous Australia, authors Inge Kral and Robert G. Schwab suggest some key design elements when considering safe learning spaces:

  • Design principle no. 1: A space young people control
  • Design principle no. 2: A space for hanging out and ‘mucking around’
  • Design principle no. 3: A space where learners learn
  • Design principle no. 4: A space to grow into new roles and responsibilities
  • Design principle no. 5: A space to practice oral and written language
  • Design principle no. 6: A space to express self and cultural identity through multimodal forms
  • Design principle no. 7: A space to develop and engage in enterprise
  • Design principle no. 8: A space to engage with the world

Building relationships and trust is an essential aspect of any open learning context. Really, what story ever began without some kind of relationship?

Consider digital privacy and data

However, it also essential to consider how openness can also hurt learners. As Jade Davis, director of digital project management at Columbia University Libraries, so eloquently described in her Digital Pedagogy Institute keynote, it is essential to consider the fact that not all learners can be fully open, especially marginalized learners. As an educator, always design for openness, which includes choices and options for all learners to be and feel included—and safe.

Building culture through collaboration

Remi Kalir, assistant professor of learning design and technology at the University of Colorado, Denver, uses, an annotation tool, to weave a narrative with his students and to encourage them to share perspectives, listen to other perspectives, and collaborate to build new perspectives. Alternatively, Whitney Kilgore, cofounder and chief academic officer at iDesign, fosters human interaction through student-centered learning. She suggests how this kind of learning could look, sound, and feel in her recent keynote.

Open narratives also develop through collaborations and interactions that build culture.  Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown describe this new culture of learning as one where culture emerges from the learning environment (as opposed to the culture being the environment) and in which learning happens by engaging with the world.

The possibilities for global collaborations are described by educators such Tracey Poelzer, who organized the "CAN-BAN connection" project, a virtual exchange between her Canada classroom and a classroom in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Similarly, Laurie Ritchie's E-book, California Dreamin, describes how her university music class in the UK collaborated with David Preston’s high school English class in California. Preston describes the potential for open source learning in a wide variety of contexts that involve sharing and expanding learning environments.

As I continue to build my open narrative, I look forward to the relationships I started with my colleagues in the Netherlands that now reach all over the world.  As I start this new school year I know that I am never isolated in a classroom; I am part of a learning ecosystem with multiple communities and networks that connect me and my students to real people all over the world.  My new open narrative involves examining an open learning design intervention to support open educational practices, which start with building relationships. How will you start YOUR open narrative? Let the stories begin.

Verena Roberts is a doctoral candidate, sessional instructor, and research assistant at the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary.

This article is part of a series from the International Literacy Association Technology in Literacy Education Special Interest Group (TILE-SIG).

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