Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Philosophical foundations of “open” and manifestations. Early thoughts (related to #OER17)


Tl;dr I think “open education” has different philosophical foundations and not just different manifestations. I did a quick scan and didn’t find this idea being discussed elsewhere, but let me know if I am missing it somewhere important. 

I am building on some Habermas from my PhD thesis to work towards this idea.

Ok. So this is something I have been wanting to do for a really long time, since I finished my PhD and now with my upcoming keynote at OER17 I want to add something to it. There’s also an interplay between Laura Gogia and me which may or may not fit in with this.

I don’t have time to put all the references in this blogpost, but they’re all in myPhD thesis, which is available here

I feel EXTREMELY impostery doing this because I use Habermas a lot and haven’t read him properly. I also mention postmodernism in passing but I never feel like I know I what it is, exactly, but that seems appropriate for what I think it might be 🙂

So the thing I want to do is explore the philosophical foundations behind different kinds of educational… thought and practice, and relate those to each other. I will explain briefly how this relates to my dissertation.

I wrote recently (and Laura Gogia expanded beyond philosophy with a fantastic inforgraphic) about the different paradigms that inform educational research, from positivism to interpretivism to critical, passing through how interpretive/critical research may be more or less participatory, and how qualitative research can be done from a postpositivist, interpretive, critical or postmodern stance or something in between…. Depending on the researcher’s epistemological and ontological stance (these words still intimidate me but I think I know how to use them well if you’re not gonna ask too many questions).

Now the thing is… the 3 main paradigms align quite well with Habermas’s knowledge-constitutive interests:

  1. Technical interest in prediction and control = positivist (external idealist ontology)/postpositivist (external realist ontology – I think). The methodology and philosophy of the natural sciences, mostly, but also still used in social sciences
  2. Practical interest = interpretivist (focused on subjective experience and interpersonal understanding)
  3. Emancipatory interest = critical approaches to research that are interested in social justice. Critical research can be more or less participatory ; and can overlap methodologic with interpretive research. (my personal approach to research is somewhere between 2&3)
  4. Postmodern approaches aren’t something I understand fully and I don’t think Habermas talked about them so let’s skip those for now. But I do think that a postmodernist stance, sensibility, is relevant in today’s world and that a lot of my own thinking about certain things applies Laurel Richardson’s “crystallization” approach which is about having research and analysis highlight how shedding light on the same thing (a crystal) can produce a different story from the different angles, so that the same object of study can be multiple things at the same time. I don’t know if I am explaining this clearly… but I think you don’t need to necessarily call it postmodernist to believe that research and analysis can produce this. If your stance is 2 or 3 (not so much of it’s 1)

It is important to note how different methodologies look when applied to different philosophical stances and how different ways of analyzing data differs (e.g. content analysis more postpositivist; thematic analysis more interpretivist)

Ok. Moving on, when I learned about curriculum theory I saw the same pattern emerging as follows:

  1. Curriculum as product (focus on learning outcomes) = technical interest. There is also curriculum as content which is different but shares a lot of the (false) sense of value-neutrality of product curriculum so are often grouped together
  2. Curriculum as process (focus on interactions in the class) = practical interest
  3. Curriculum as praxis (focus on social justice as topic and process) = emancipatory interest
  4. Critical curriculum in context (as #3 but with recognition of how micropower in a class/institution interplay with broader macropower in the world). I mention this as a kind of postmodern/poststructuralist thinking. But don’t hold me to it.

It is obvious, then, that different ways of teaching can show a teacher’s philosophical stance, and that giving someone a teaching strategy that goes against their philosophy is pretty useless. At a recent workshop a faculty member said she realized what we were really suggesting was a shift in mindset towards the purpose of assessment, not just strategies. But I digres

Ok. Now in my thesis I apply curriculum theory to AUC’s liberal arts curriculum (I should write an article about that. But later). But also importantly, I found a reference (Johnson and Morris 2010) that makes a great connection between different conceptions of critical thinking and conceptions of citizenship. And Habermas. Here goes

  1. Technical understanding of Critical thinking = teaching informal logic and fallacies = approach to citizenship that is more about following rules
  2. Practical understanding of critical thinking = more holistic conception of critical thinking in context (i think the Johnson and Morris article skips #2 altogether- I should check
  3. Emancipatory understanding of critical thinking closer to Freirian critical pedagogy = critical citizenship as resistance and struggle for social justice

Ok now… this is all already in my thesis and scattered somehow. I am unsure why I never actually made a direct link (possibly too neat?) to say something like:

  1. If you conceive of Critical thinking as informal logic and fallacies you can test in positivist ways (standardized tests) and you can hope to get citizens who solve little problems but do not question the status quo too radically
  2. (blank)
  3. If you conceive of critical thinking as an emancipatory way of thinking and action then you won’t try to measure it with some decontextualized test, and your pedagogy would hopefully nurture citizens who question and resist and promote social justice

But anyway.

This is all well and good for the above. But it isn’t exactly what I am trying to get at with this post. What I want to get at with this post is that I think “open education” has different philosophical foundations and not just different manifestations. Bear with me.

I co-authored a book chapter w Shyam Sharma (out soon) superimposing curriculum theory onto MOOCs. We talked about how much of xMOOCing (and arguably Khan Academy and much OER) centers on “content” as central to curriculum/learning (and possibly specific pre-defined learning outcomes)…whereas a process-oriented view of curriculum would mean a MOOC would be designed more like a cMOOC, prioritizing interpersonal networked learning processes rather than any particular content. A MOOC could be any combination of these stances, and it would have an emancipatory stance if its topic and approach had social justice and critique of status quo as a goal (example for me is #edcmooc and some iterations of #moocmooc). Nothing is purely one or the other…but you get my drift? A postmodern take would probably be something like a rhizo MOOC (because it’s not necessarily critical but it’s definitely a different something for different people depending on where they’re standing, like the crystal!)

So now I want to shift this idea beyond the MOOC and onto open education and I want to consider multiple dimensions, ok? So it wouldn’t be just a spectrum on one dimension of technical vs practical vs emancipatory interest. But it would also be about different manifestations. I will try to create a table now and see where it gets me.

Early draft. I don’t know if it will copy onto WordPress! It doesn’t look great (i am on my phone and had to do lots of html editing already, so forgive me please – and if you want to comment on the gdoc version, here is the link – thanks @kavubob and thanks also @cogdog @kylejohnson @RebusComminity for helping w table – will make better use of your help tomorrow when on a PC).

Open edu/interest or paradigm












Focus on (measurable) learning outcomes

Focus on process of learning in class

Focus on process of promoting social justice

E.g. Interplay between macro and micro power and social justice


xMOOC with focus on instructor-provided content/outcomes and MCQs

cMOOC with focus on process of networked learning  and flexible assessment

Any type of MOOC with social justice topic and process (more c than x)


Open dissertation (inspired by recent VC hangout)

End product open access

Sharing end product

Process of thinking open,interactive, networked

Final product accessible and remixable

Critique as part of dissertation focus. Making it open for social justice reasons for self and others

Open access Publishing approach

Publishing end product of work publicly. Enhance visibility and citation count and metrics

Advocate for open. Making process of scholarship itself open, narrating work,enhancing remixability of work, responding openly to others (#SelfOER)

Cautious advocate for open. Social justice imperative to make one’s scholarship accessible ; done while recognizing limitations of accessibility.

Recognizing the ways in which open can empower and disempower simultaneously

Openness focus

Products like MOOCs, creation and use of OERs, OA papers

Processes like networked scholarship, open narration of work, open pedagogy

More critical use of processes of networked scholarship and open pedagogy; more critical approach towards open products like OERs and MOOCs


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