A Tale of Openness in Two Chapters

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By @vvladi

#101openstoriesteam

I divide my professional history into two chapters. During the first chapter of my professional history, I taught intermediate and advanced ESL/EFL to Brazilian students and developed instructional material to supplement textbooks at a non-for profit bi-national organization in São Paulo, Brazil. This chapter of my professional history is marked by unaware yet spontaneous acts of openness. In other words, it was a common practice between all instructors to share, adapt and remix the lesson plans and activities we had created for a particular course, lesson or activity. We were all fully engaged in this activity, as our objective was to help each other improve the instructional materials that were within our reach and which the school curriculum made available. Naturally, this first chapter of my professional history happened at a time when no one even dreamed the Internet would one day exist. Nevertheless, there was a lot of sharing and collaboration taking place between instructors, which ended up having a very positive impact on student engagement and performance in specific courses or lessons.

Indeed, from time immemorial, teachers have mashed up textbooks, photocopies, pictures, games and graphics, to name a few. However, it is worth noting that just mashing up these instructional materials misses the point of being truly open since all these instructional materials that we used to mash up were proprietary and were not intended for a broader audience. What distinguishes these common mashing practices from the use of open, open educational practices (OEP) and open education resources (OER) is that the latter are intended to be mashed up to be: “free to access, free to reuse, free to revise, free to remix, and free to redistribute” (Wiley, 2013, para. 2) through use of open licenses, such as those afforded by Creative Commons that are within the boundaries of copyright law. There are therefore important differences between mashing up materials that are proprietary and are not created to be freely accessed, reused, revised, remixed, and redistributed and openly licensed materials. The inherent and intrinsic characteristics of what today we researchers and educators define as being truly ‘open’ instructional materials, learning objects or OER resulted in part from the advent of the Internet, the World Wide Web, Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), the Declaration of Open Education, the OER Movement and Creative Commons licenses.

This leads me to the second chapter of my professional life, which has been to this day profoundly marked and changed by all the factors mentioned above. I have always been passionate about technology and its potential to positively impact teaching and learning practices. The Digital Age has opened up all kinds of doors and possibilities for educators to improve their pedagogical practices. Consequently, in 2002, I decided to make a career change. I left the school where I was teaching EFL/ESL and was Supervisor of Online Courses, got a M.Ed. with specialization in distance education and founded a company that renders consulting, instructional design and training services to those institutions that wish to implement online learning, hybrid learning, mobile learning, and more recently, open educational practices. About a year after I had completed my M.Ed., I decided to embark on another journey, which was getting a PhD.

Since the very beginning of my PhD, I knew that I wanted to do something that would benefit public K-12 education in Brazil. My main goal is to build very specific bridges across very specific chasms between where we are in terms of K-12 public education in Brazil and where we ought to be in terms of bringing the concept of open and its practical implementations to this specific education sector. The focus of my research has been on finding ways to empower and build the capacity of Brazilian K-12 public education teachers so that they become more aligned and attuned with 21st century teaching and learning approaches and practices. Choosing open education, OEP, and more specifically OER, appeared to be at the time and still is today, the only natural and logical approach taking into consideration a public education sector that severely lacks physical, digital and human resources and social forms of support to improve education for its students. My thesis therefore is focused on raising awareness and building capacity on OER in this sector. As capacity building is fundamental for OER uptake, I am exploring how teachers experience open professional development opportunities and what factors influence the adoption of OER or OEP in practice. Hopefully, my study will contribute to the Open Education field by providing recommendations for a professional development framework for Brazilian K-12 public education teachers.

In conclusion, this has not been an easy objective to achieve. Throughout this journey I have had to learn not only how to assemble and repurpose OER so that I can understand the challenges the teachers themselves have to face when using and creating OER but have also had to deal with innumerous challenges, barriers and set backs along the way in regards to my own research. However, I feel confident that my choice and actions to go open will reap many benefits not only to the subjects of my study but also to the Open Education movement as a whole. I could have taken a different road during the second chapter of my professional life and undoubtedly today I would be doing something very different. Nonetheless, this particular road has brought me immense joy and self-fulfillment. As Robert Frost has so aptly written in his poem “The Road Not Taken”, “two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference”.

References

Wiley, D. (2013, October 21). What is open pedagogy? [Web log post]. Iterating toward openness. Lumen Learning. Retrieved from http://opencontent.org/blog/archives/2975

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One thought on “A Tale of Openness in Two Chapters

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