Visualizing open education: A conceptual aid

Visualizing open education: A conceptual aid

Submitted to AERA Open: December 12, 2019

Rejected: February 8, 2020

Revised Model: May 2020

Keywords: Open Education, Open Educational Practice, Open Pedagogy, Definition, Conceptualization

Acknowledgements: We thank the reviewers and journal editor for their insight into the draft manuscript.

Notes: In hopes of starting a conversation related to terminology in Open Education and how it may confound entry into the field by new practitioners and researchers, we are making our thoughts open more publicly, licensed CC-BY. Perhaps collaboratively, we who believe in the promise or openness can determine ways to make the field more conducive to concise language and clear communication.

In general, reviewer comments included the following themes: 1- Is trying to define fluid terms a worthwhile endeavor?; 2- Was the purpose to evaluate all conflicting definitions or include definitions from all possible resources?; 3- What is the value of trying to make concepts less fluid?; and 4- Is not Open Research a process (referencing Open Science as a way to improve the activity of research such as OER-enabled Pedagogy may be a process to improve the act of teaching)? Our view is that overly fluid definitions may not cause issue for those already deeply familiar with terms and concepts, but is more problematic for entry into the field. As such, the purpose of VOET was to create a tool that those new to the field could use to better familiarize themselves with topics and how these can be envisioned connecting to one another. As one becomes more versed in concepts, it becomes easier to see the various ways one’s environment, purpose, or own background may impact how “open” is operationalized. In regards to Open Research, we understand the view of this as a process as indicated by reviewers. Perhaps if Open Educational Practices is viewed as one umbrella terms, Open Science may be viewed as another in which the process of improving the science of research, in any field, is a main objective.

In what is posted here, we have not yet resolved all of these concerns. We, however, believe that the value in the creation of  an artifact such as VOET is not its attempt to be a silver bullet or singularly responsible for fixing a problem (be it one viewed by many or few) but simply as a point to start conversation of the value, or lack thereof, of such an endeavor. Doing so may clarify dynamics that the field as a whole has not fully addressed and if more general consensus is reached, it will be through the thoughts of many not one or two that the most enduring value will flow.



Since the first articulation of “open” in relation to education, many authors have proposed concepts utilizing this term. Existing definitions and conceptualizations, however, frequently overlap and at times contradict one another. Multivalent or conflated terminology is credited with causing confusion and communication issues, reducing collaborative efforts, decreasing adoption of open initiatives, and  confounding research. In an attempt to identify and begin the process of mitigating this issue, the authors attempted to meta-conceptualize open education terminology to aid in identifying particularly confusing concepts and map their relationship to one another. The result of this process was a single taxonomic framework outlining the relationship between various open educational terms and identification of aligned definitions. In this article, the authors describe the framework’s rationale, how it was constructed, and locations where existing definitions diverge from one another. The taxonomic structure represents a useful tool in training educational stakeholders on what it means to be open as well as potentially facilitating clear communication in collaborative and research efforts.


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Deconstructing Open by Eric Werth; Katherine Williams is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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