Topic 2: Openness in education: digital resilience

Our group, PBL1, is working on Scenario 2:

I’m interested in opening up some of my courses, maybe even offering them as MOOCs, but I don’t really know where to start. What options are there for offering courses that are open to all? How should I change the course structure, pedagogy and use of technology? What are the opportunities and dangers of “going open”?

I will focus on the following set of questions in relation to the scenario:

What does “open” mean? In what way is a course “open”? Looking into different dimensions of openness… What are the risks and downsides (security issues) of making content freely accessible?

  1. The “open”

In thinking about these questions, it may be helpful to focus on what it means for a course to be “open”, and then to focus on MOOCs. With regard to openness, we might consider the differences between a learning management system (LMS; also known as a Virtual Learning Environment/VLE) and Web 2.0 software that is open and free (Watson, 2014). One key consideration when opening up one’s courses, or using open educational resources (OERs), concerns the matter of privacy and confidentiality. When a course is hosted and thus accessible via an LMS only, then student data, ranging from assignments to grades to identifying information such as student numbers, are password protected and in principle secure. These data can only be viewed by the student and instructor concerned, as well as other parties from the university who administer or otherwise have access to the LMS for professional purposes.

If, on the other hand, one were to open up a course, one should most certainly be aware that whatever information is published is accessible to anyone with access to the web. This means one would need to be very careful as to the kind of information one includes, since a danger of “going open” may be the potential loss of privacy and confidentiality associated with openness. Though an LMS affords greater control to the instructor, in the sense of providing knowledge of which students are active and which  may need support (compare analytics), there is something artificial about it as it is a collection of special tools that need to be navigated by students, whereas they are more used to the digital environments of social media. On the other hand, as already implied, against this one needs to weigh issues of privacy and thus, of course, the reality that OER poses problems for thinking about assessment.

All in all, though, OER requires us to consider the need for fostering digital resilience given the reality of profound shifts in established educational practice that accompany the digital revolution (Weller & Anderson, 2013). Such resilience needs to function not only on the individual, but especially the institutional level as universities adapt to this revolution.

But what exactly is resilience in the context of higher education? And how can universities remain true to their core mission while adapting to the affordances or opportunities and challenges or threats of the digital?

In terms of higher education practice … resilience is about utilising technology to change practices where this is desirable, but to retain the underlying function and identity that the existing practices represent, if they are still deemed necessary.

Weller & Anderson are here thinking of  scholarship (and they refer to Boyer, 1990): resilience would preserve the essential character of scholarly practices, but “allow them to be realised in new forms” / “a resilience perspective would seek to ensure [that] core practices [such as peer review] were protected”, though the ways these practices are articulated may change. Example: scholarship requires peer review, which traditionally occurs through the processes of academic publication. However, while preserving peer review as an essential requirement of scholarship, such peer review may now occur through different means, for example in Open Access publishing (one of the cases examined in terms of resilience in the face of change in the article). So openness has the positive potential of making one’s work and ideas as an academic, and also as a student, very widely available–of disseminating practice and scholarship more widely.

  2. MOOCs

In terms of Walker’s model of resilience, Weller & Anderson highlight a few areas where MOOCs require institutional as well as individual resistance. In terms of latitude, both since they are free and since they are massive, MOOCs often are unsupported, at least by the instructor. So they tend to be peer-supported, which presupposes a facility for autonomous learning and critical literacies from the side of the learner. However, these literacies cannot simply be assumed but would need to be developed. If we were to turn a class into a MOOC, providing scaffolding of this kind would need to be considered in the absence of instructor support.

In addition to support, if one were to offer a course as a MOOC, one would need to consider matters that Weller & Anderson discuss under the rubric of resistance, in particular infrastructure requirements (e.g. via a MOOC provider) as well as how the course would be accredited and certified.

The lack of fees and, often, qualifications in the case of MOOCs leads to the factor of precariousness: how does one gain revenue as an institution or instructor if one’s courses are free? At this point I will not discuss panarchy, possibly leaving that for a separate post.


Watson, K. (2014) Learning management system or the open web? Cofa Videos, Learning to teach online UNSW.

Weller, M., & Anderson, T. (2013). Digital resilience in higher education. European Journal of Open, Distance and E-Learning, 16(1), 53.

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