With the pandemic, issues around access to digital textbooks, course content, and associated learning resources, became immediately apparent. Whilst those universities with considerable experience in online and distance education warned that their programmes are developed with teams of learning designers, subject matter experts, and quality reviewers over a period often of up to a year in advance, highlighting the workload and resources that would be needed (Batty & Hall, 2020). Pivoting at immediate notice – often even over a weekend – during the initial lockdown, prompted many to quickly pronounce that this was not typical quality distance online education, but rather a situation of emergency remote instruction, to differentiate between the respective teaching experiences.

Access to educational content and resources become critical, after the initial flurry of work on supporting access to appropriate devices, and stable internet connections, through funding provisions. Some academic programmes turned to the purchasing electronic textbooks from commercial providers with their accompanying ease of access to test banks of quiz questions.  LinkedInLearning also is a major reseller to the university sector, along with lab simulation tools, for simulating access to experimental equipment. Others began repurposing and authoring materials themselves, using tools, like H5P (both the freely available .org and commercial .com versions), self-hosted domains of their own, and commercial authoring tools or the plethora of online video creation tools. In many cases, the hurried and time pressurised move to teaching online left little time for the careful design of materials of a standard seen in other distance educational programmes. The resultant impact was an over-reliance on live synchronous sessions and Zoom fatigue (Stewart, 2021).

All the while, another opportunity lay in plain sight, often unseen by educators looking for solutions. Since 2001, the OER movement has gained apace (Bliss & Smith, 2017). Open. A complex and multifaceted term, often understood in various ways. What is open – open for whom, and by whom? Open as free, open as unrestricted, open as open access, open door, transparent, open as the five r’s of retain, reuse, revise, remix, redistribute. Open as creative commons attribution licensed. Open education, open practices, open pedagogy, open scholarship, open access journals, open courseware, streaming videos, digital learning objects, open networks, open culture, open photos, graphics, some MOOCs, open assessments, renewable assignments, open textbooks, open syllabus, open collaborative annotation, Wikipedia editing, open platforms, open source software, networked participation, open teaching practices, and a plethora of process or content oriented activities that encircle and intertwine the term.

Seminal works and collections exist to help us understand this better (Bali, Cronin, Czerniewicz, DeRosa, & Jhangiani, 2020; Bates, 2018; Blessinger & Bliss, 2016; Havemann, 2020; Hurley, 2020; Iiyoshi & Kumar, 2010; Jhangiani & Biswas-Diener, 2017), along with numerous conferences and networks (Bali, 2017; Equity Unbound, Undated; “GN OER Network,” ; Jhangiani & DeRosa, 2018; “OE Global,” ; Unbounded; Wiley) and key resources for the Irish context (Farrell et al., 2021; National Forum, 2019a, 2019b), along with a short overview of how it surfaced during the pandemic where pockets of practices were mutually shared (Concannon, Farrelly, Costello, & Welsh, 2021).

But openness is not easy. What remains the most useful and important paper is that of Catherine Cronin, which is a most essential read. She notes, “The use of OEP by educators is complex, personal, and contextual; it is also continually negotiated.”(Cronin, 2017). She asks us whether we will share openly, who will we share with, who will we share as, and will we share this, as prompts to guide us in making good choices.  

With all these apparent complexities in openness, it can be overwhelming to grapple with how to find a way in. Mahi Bali (2021) cited an Egyptian educator and author Taha Hussein, saying “Knowledge is like water and air”, prompting responses from our ONL participants that were so diverse and rich, it reaffirmed for me both the value of the ONL network, open educators like Maha, and why for me openness is so important noun, verb and adjective (after (Lalonde, 2012) for us all. It can seem like the harder path, but who said living and learning would be easy, and let us be all the richer for it.

Word cloud of reactions to openness from participants on ONL212 webinar on the 20th of October 2021, within the Zoom chat.


Bali, M. (2017). What is open pedagogy anyway? Year of open. Retrieved from https://www.yearofopen.org/april-open-perspective-what-is-open-pedagogy/

Bali, M. (2021, 20 October). Webinar: Exploring Nuances of Open Educational Practices Webinar with Maha Bali (Cairo American University) and Kiruthika Ragupatha (National University of Singapore). Part of Open Network Learning, ONL212, topic 2, openness in education. Retrieved from https://play.lnu.se/media/t/0_1yzfiti2

Bali, M., Cronin, C., Czerniewicz, L., DeRosa, R., & Jhangiani, R. (Eds.). (2020). Open at the Margins: Critical Perspectives in Open Education: Pressbooks.

Bates, A. T. (2018). Open Educational Resources (OER)Teaching in a digital age: Guidelines for designing teaching and learning. Retrieved from https://opentextbc.ca/teachinginadigitalage/chapter/oer/

Batty, D., & Hall, R. (2020, April 25). No campus lectures and shut student bars: UK universities’ £1bn struggle to move online. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/education/2020/apr/25/degrees-of-separation-can-universities-adapt-in-the-rush-to-online-learning

Blessinger, P., & Bliss, T. (Eds.). (2016). Open education: International perspectives in higher education. Cambridge, UK: Open Book Publishers.

Bliss, T. J., & Smith, M. (2017). A brief history of open educational resources. In R. S. Jhangiani & R. Biswas-Diener (Eds.), Open: The Philosophy and practices that are revolutionizing education and science. London: Ubiquity Press.

Concannon, F., Farrelly, T., Costello, E., & Welsh, S. (2021). Editorial: Ireland’s Online Learning Call. Irish Journal of Technology Enhanced Learning, 5(1), 1-6. doi:10.22554/ijtel.v5i1.93

Cronin, C. (2017). Openness and Praxis: Exploring the Use of Open Educational Practices in Higher Education. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 18(5). doi:10.19173/irrodl.v18i5.3096

Equity Unbound. (Undated). About. Retrieved from http://unboundeq.creativitycourse.org/about/

Farrell, O., Breen, E., Brunton, J., Cox, R., Costello, E., Delaney, L., . . . Smyth, V. (2021). Go open: A beginners guide to open education. Retrieved from Dublin: https://zenodo.org/record/4593103/files/15558_Guide_FA%20%281%29.pdf

GN OER Network. Retrieved from https://go-gn.net/

Havemann, L. (2020). Open in the Evening: Openings and Closures in an Ecology of Practices. In D. Conrad & P. Prinsloo (Eds.), Open(ing) Education: Theory and Practice. doi:https://doi.org/10.1163/9789004422988_015

Hurley, T. A. (Ed.) (2020). Inclusive Access and Open Educational Resources E-text Programs in Higher Education: Springer.

Iiyoshi, T., & Kumar, M. S. V. (Eds.). (2010). Opening up education: The collective advancement of education through open technology, open content, and open knowledge. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Jhangiani, R. S., & Biswas-Diener, R. (Eds.). (2017). Open: The Philosophy and Practices that are Revolutionizing Education and Science. London: Ubiquity Press.

Jhangiani, R. S., & DeRosa, R. (2018). Welcome to the open pedagogy notebook. Retrieved from http://openpedagogy.org/

Lalonde, C. (2012). Open is a noun, verb, adjective…and an attitude.  Retrieved from https://edtechfactotum.com/open-is-a-noun-verb-adjective-and-an-attitude/

National Forum. (2019a). The National Forum Open Licensing Toolkit. Retrieved from Dublin: https://hub.teachingandlearning.ie/resource/the-national-forum-open-licensing-toolkit/

National Forum. (2019b). Supporting Open Education in Irish Higher Education. Retrieved from Dublin: https://hub.teachingandlearning.ie/resource/supporting-open-education-in-irish-higher-education/

OE Global. Retrieved from https://www.oeglobal.org/

Stewart, W. H. (2021). A global crash-course in teaching and learning online: A thematic review of empirical Emergency Remote Teaching (ERT) studies in higher education during Year 1 of COVID-19. Open Praxis, 13(1). doi:http://doi.org/10.5944/openpraxis.13.1.1177

Unbounded, O. E. Community Building Resources. Retrieved from https://onehe.org/equity-unbound

Wiley, D. Defining the “Open” in Open Content and Open Educational Resources. Retrieved from https://opencontent.org/definition/

Join the Conversation


  1. A comprehensive and well referenced synopsis of the situation. Despite vast amounts of scholarly work on OER the majority of teachers and institutions are still highly skeptical towards openness. The threats are seen as so much greater than the benefits of sharing. I find it sad that sharing is not more widespread. The key factor I think is when leaders get on board and drive the process in the institutions with support for teachers and clear strategies and policies. We keep tyring!

    1. Hugely grateful to yourself and David for modelling such impeccable practice, and to all the ONL212 organisers and participants. It’s an incredible opportunity to debate and experience and become part of the solution.

  2. Your post is both critical and personal. I have also found open resources to be good for expanding and developing my own practice. I was an avid Jorum user and still mourn the passing of this pioneer repository. I have found other libraries but many of the resources it once housed are probably gone for good.

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