All or nothing? Ideas to foster Open Science in Higher Education

Image by Mediamodifier / 155 Bilder on Pixabay

This blog post is the second out of four of a blog series on Open Science in Higher Education.

Challenges and barriers to teaching Open Science have already been extensively documented (Conrad & Prinsloo 2020; Bellinger & Mayrberger 2019), and we have presented the motivations and apprehensions that have guided us along the way.

In this blog post, I focus on actors and individuals, aka the teachers and students engaging in Open Education Practices in the classroom, and show how I fostered a learning atmosphere receptive to Open Science in the seminar. Without neglecting structural problems such as the need for (digital) infrastructures and a financial commitment of the universities and institutions, my perspective is thus decidedly at the micro-level.

If you only want to read the tips, scroll down to the last section on “Open Education made concrete: Offering solutions”.

Open Education Practices: A definition

First, a short definition: Open Education Practices are “collaborative practices that include the creation, use, and reuse of OER [Open Educational Resources], as well as pedagogical practices employing participatory technologies and social networks for interaction, peer-learning, knowledge creation, and empowerment of learners” (Cronin 2017: 4).

Beyond the mere production of teaching materials, Open Education Practices thus explicitly target a culture of collaboration between students as well as between the students and the teacher, and aim at the “empowerment of learners” through inclusive pedagogical practices.

Open Education made concrete: A research-led seminar on one’s own digital practices

The seminar in which the participants and the lecturer experimented Open Education Practices together for the first time revolves around the creation of a scientific poster and teaching materials.

The seminar “Grammar in the Digital Age” is a research-based seminar dealing with digital writing practices from a linguistic perspective. The goal of the project is the students’ examination of their own language use through the collection, annotation, and analysis of their written digital interactions during the seminar (forums, chats, collaborative documents) and beyond the seminar (private messages).

The students are both researchers publishing their projects and research participants whose language use is being scrutinized and reflected in autoethnographic reflections (see Truan & Dressel 2021 for a presentation of the seminar concept in German).

Open Education made concrete: Accompanying the uncertainty

Planning environments for exploration and discovery learning involves a high degree of audience design: teachers need to anticipate their students’ skill level as well as their willingness to commit to the research process and to share their work.

Since the seminar aims to enable students to engage in the empirical research process by carrying out a collaborative research project, the role of the teacher changes throughout the semester: as the students work increasingly independently, the teacher assumes the role of an advisor and research supervisor, monitoring the students’ progress and providing methodological guidance.

Especially in undergraduate seminars, this student-centered approach with an open outcome can evoke a feeling of uncertainty, since teachers do not have the same sense of control and agency as in other forms of research-based and teacher-centered seminars.

The uncertainty regarding the research process can lead students to be overly cautious about sharing their work. The ideas presented in the next section should not be read as “one-size-fits-all” solutions but as practical steps that showed positive results in my experience.

Open Education made concrete: Offering solutions

I believe that the best way to practice Open Science is to do as much as you want at your own pace, and thus to depart from an “all-or-nothing” mentality.

Ways to approach the uncertainties around Open Science practices from both the teacher and the students can involve:

  • The assessment and its publication in Open Access are two different things: Openness cannot be a requirement or even an expected outcome, but an opportunity the students may grasp in they want to. Letting the students decide themselves if and how they engage in Open Science shows that we trust them in making their own decisions on whether their work should be shared with the world.

In their reflection on OER-enabled pedagogy, Wiley & Hilton III (2018: 144) make this point very clear:

Students are the authors and copyright holders of the homework and other artifacts they create as part of their education. There is no morally or ethically appropriate scenario in which faculty can require students to openly license their homework or other creations as part of an assignment.

  • We should offer students the possibility to publish their research projects as a group rather or as individuals. The possibility to be responsible as a group for the content created indeed fosters a sense of belonging. Moreover, the informal peer feedback the students give and receive during the research process helps them feel confident about the quality of their output.
  • The students should have the possibility to release their work anonymously if they want to. While I strongly believe that authorship attribution and assuming responsibility for the contents produced is central to Open Science, I also know that many students fear consequences in their later professional life for stuff published online during their studies. For this reason, I have encouraged students to own their materials, but I have also authorized an anonymous publication as soon as the teaching context is made explicit (university, department, semester, lecturer, course).
  • In order to encourage critical thinking, I have asked the students to individually motivate their decision in favor or against a publication in Open Access in writing. Writing a 300-word essay on this topic after having been provided with introductory resources to Open Science was part of the course’s assignment. Even though most students submitted as a group, reading their personal reflection regarding Open Science was important to assess their choice as an individual one. Furthermore, the written reflection helps understand the reasons behind the students’ decisions, which we analyzed qualitatively.

In the next blog post in this series, I further delve into what it means to teach Open Science “in passing”.

Further resources

For a detailed qualitative examination of students’ positioning towards openness in Higher Education, check our preprint (Truan & Dressel 2021):

We find that key motivators are a sense of belonging, personal reward, and an active contribution to a culture of collaboration, whereas apprehensions are grounded in concerns about the quality of their work, uncertainties about licensing, and fear of vulnerability through visibility.

If you’re interested in the academic posters and teaching concepts produced by the participants in the winter term 2020/2021, check these resources: https://padlet.com/berlinguistin/fbrhor1lir39mtaz (also available on OER Commons).

References cited:

  • Bellinger, Franziska & Kerstin Mayrberger. 2019. Systematic Literature Review zu Open Educational Practices (OEP) in der Hochschule im europäischen Forschungskontext. MedienPädagogik 34. 19–46. https://doi.org/10/gg9np7.
  • Conrad, Dianne & Paul Prinsloo (eds.). 2020. Open(ing) Education: Theory and Practice. Open(ing) Education. Leiden/Boston: Brill Sense.
  • Cronin, Catherine. 2017. Openness and praxis: Exploring the use of open educational practices in higher education. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning. Athabasca University 18(5). 15–34. https://doi.org/10/gcshqb.
  • Wiley, David & John Levi Hilton Iii. 2018. Defining OER-Enabled Pedagogy. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning 19(4). https://doi.org/10/gf6jsr.
Cite this article as: Naomi Truan, "All or nothing? Ideas to foster Open Science in Higher Education," in Ici et là, 02/12/2021, https://icietla.hypotheses.org/2531.

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