In recent years, openness has been critiqued postcolonially and decolonially as something that is not unquestionably good, due to it’s potential to exacerbate inequalities and epistemic injustices (Bayne, Knox, and Ross 2015; Bali and Sharma 2017; Lockley 2018). In this presentation, I focus on one critiqued aspect of openness: the producers of content. 18 Interviews were conducted with MOOC designers based in Johannesburg and Cape Town in South Africa, and Boston in the USA. This paper reflects on questions asked to MOOC designers regarding their meanings of openness, and how they implemented openness in their MOOCs. The purpose of the questions was not to find one true meaning of openness but rather to understand how the MOOC designers’ location background, and subject interest, subjectively effected their understanding of what open education means.
Two key findings were made from the interviews. The first related to openness as embodiment. It was found that there was a strong connection between who the course designer is in terms of their subject interests, race, gender, and location, and what they perceive openness to mean. For example, course designers from a software background responded with technical answers such as “It’s a GPL”. The course designer who had a disabled child framed openness in terms of access to people with disabilities. Course designers focusing on decolonisation linked openness to justice. Course designers who were women and/or people of colour focused more on getting women and/or disadvantaged groups involved. From this we can see that openness moves beyond a legal or technological framework, to an embodiment of the concept according to the MOOC designer’s perceptions and subjectivities. Thus, course designers need to be OER’s, rather than designers of OER’s.
The second key finding stems of the first, and that is the stark difference between the responses from MOOC designers in South Africa and the USA, emphasising the influence of location and background on ones understanding of openness. MOOCs from Boston tended to focus on openness as access, which to them was a philanthropic effort to disseminate their knowledge to the rest of the world. Little emphasise was given on participation or co-creation of knowledge with their global participant pool. MOOC designers from South Africa tended to view openness as knowledge sharing, and as critical engagement. In design, some intentionally focused on including voices of the youth, disabled, non-academic, and black and minority ethnic groups. Most interestingly, many humbly reflected that they had learnt so much from the students taking their MOOCs.
In light of openness as embodiment, there are only 1.7% and 1.1% MOOC black MOOC producers on Coursera and Futurelearn respectively (Lockley 2018, 150). Additionally, an analysis of Coursera done by the author in 2017, showed that only 164 of the 2240 courses (7.3%) were from the Global South. Such statistics emphasise how lack of diversity in MOOC designers reinforces epistemic injustices. For openness to be transformed into an emancipatory endeavour (Bali and Sharma 2017), a core step is to diversify the producers of open content.
Bali, M., Sharma, S., 2017. Envisioning post-colonial MOOCs: Critiques and ways forward, in: Massive Open Online Courses and Higher Education: What Went Wrong, What Went Right and Where to Next? In R. Bennett & M. Kent(eds), pp. 26–44.
Bayne, S., Knox, J., Ross, J., 2015. Open education: the need for a critical approach. Learn. Media Technol. 40, 247–250. https://doi.org/10.1080/17439884.2015.1065272
Lockley, P., 2018. Open Initiatives for Decolonising the Curriculum, in: Decolonising the University. Pluto Press, pp. 145–173.