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Thursday, November 3 • 2:40pm - 3:05pm
Open Education as a Real Utopia

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The proliferation of educational resources, practices, and policies across the globe is presenting a promising array of potentials for change in education. Yet, Cronin's (2016) intriguing prompt for the OER16 conference keynote, "If open is the answer, then what is the question?" highlights the rather uncertain ambitions and ambiguous principles that permeate the movement. Propelled by the material possibilities of the Internet, the networks that flow through it, and the liberation of intellectual property through open licensing, open education has been focused on exploration of the possible to the neglect of a theoretical or ethical grounding. Indeed, Wiley (2015) too has recently argued for a deepening of engagements with notions of care and sharing in open education to ground open practice beyond mere rules or directions.

For instance, in North America the focus of the open education movement lies squarely upon the provision of open textbooks. This development is a well-warranted response to an educational context rife with exceedingly expensive educational materials. It is a powerful approach to embedding open principles in education by highlighting the alignment to "access" and "affordability" that dominate in North American educational policy discourse. However, this focus limits broader understandings of open education such as open research, open pedagogies, and other open educational practices. Further, the focus on open textbooks shies away from an explicit engagement with political and theoretical underpinnings of "open" and as such limits exploration of the emancipatory potentials of open education.

In this paper, I lay out a framework that balances theoretical and ethical formulations with an eye towards practical implementations. In development for over 20 years, Wright's (2010) framework of "real utopias" is an approach to constructing "a normative theory of the possible" (2012, p. 2). Following Wright, the paper is laid out in four parts. First, referencing Farrow's (2016) nascent development of an ethics for open education, I review a set of moral principles by which we can judge existing educational institutions. Second, I mobilize those principles as an analytic for diagnosis of problems and critique of practices in education. Third, I explore how open can be applied as a viable alternative to the problems exposed. Finally, I conclude with some reflection on how "real utopias" can offer a grounded theory of what is possible in open education.


Cronin, C. (2016, April 18). If open is the answer, Then what is the question? Keynote address for the OER16 conference. Edinburgh, UK.

Farrow, R. (2016). A framework for the ethics of open education. Open Praxis, 8(2). Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.5944/openpr axis.8.2.291

Wright, E. O. (2010). Envisioning real utopias. London, UK: Verso.

Wright, E. O. (2012). Transforming capitalism through real utopias. American Sociological Review, 78(1), 1-25. doi: 10.1177/0003122412468882

Wiley, D. (2015, January 15). The deeper ethics of education and open: Generosity, care, and relationships [Web log]. Retrieved from http://opencontent.org/blog/archives/3732

avatar for Jamison Miller

Jamison Miller

PhD Student; Director of Teaching and Learning, College of William and Mary; Lumen Learning
Doctoral candidate and early-career researcher in open education theory, policy, and practice. Director of Teaching and Learning at Lumen Learning. The dissertation WILL be defended this year.

Thursday November 3, 2016 2:40pm - 3:05pm EDT