Openness: A Core Value for Making Higher Education Great

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© 2010 Diana G. Oblinger. The text of this article is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 License (

EDUCAUSE Review, vol. 45, no. 4 (July/August 2010)

Diana G. Oblinger ([email protected]) is President and CEO of EDUCAUSE.

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There are many attributes of higher education. Some are physical?the campus and its classrooms, laboratories, and library. Those spaces are populated by people?students, faculty, and staff. Some are nonphysical. The activities of higher education are learning, research, dialogue, and reflection. Yet none of these attributes, alone, is especially distinctive. The most distinctive attributes of higher education today are its values.

Jonathan R. Cole, in his 2009 book The Great American University, contends that twelve core values distinguish "great" colleges and universities: universalism, organized skepticism, creation of new knowledge, free and open communication of ideas, disinterestedness, free inquiry and academic freedom, international communities, peer review system, working for the "common" good, governance by authority, intellectual progeny, and the vitality of the community. Putting those values into action has catalyzed huge advances in science, technology, culture, and society.

EDUCAUSE has articulated values as well. The first value published was on openness, a theme weaving through all twelve of Cole's values. "A central pillar of the academic community is its commitment to the free flow of information and ideas. This commitment to sharing is essential to scholarly discovery and innovation. It is also central to helping learners engage, absorb, and apply knowledge in order to advance personally and academically. Finally, this commitment to openness provides the foundation for leveraging resources, both within and among institutions, to strengthen the creation, transmission, and preservation of knowledge." (/doblinger/openness.pdf)

The feature authors in this issue of EDUCAUSE Review explore how this value of openness is critical for higher education — for the future, the student, the course, the faculty, the ed tech, and the world. As David Wiley notes, technology makes openness and sharing more feasible today than in the past print-on-paper world, having provided us with an "unprecedented capacity to share?and thus an unprecedented ability to educate." Yet Wiley worries about the future: "As institutions and as individuals, we seem to have forgotten the core values of education: sharing, giving, and generosity. . . . And to the degree that we have deserted the principle of openness, learning has suffered."

Vicki Davis is concerned about the future as well: "The fact is, open content is not yet changing students' lives because there are questions that should be answered first." A teacher of secondary school students, she notes that the future for the open student will be determined by the answers to the many current questions about open content — questions regarding evaluation, experiences, skill sets, language, validation, experts, funding, and rote learning.

These students will be taking a new type of course. As Dave Cormier and George Siemens explain, online open courses "allow for innovation in how educators prepare to teach, how learners negotiate knowledge from the information they are encountering, and how courses can have an impact on the broader field of study. . . . Open courses offer a new possible future for those of us in higher education — a value choice that promotes collaboration, responsibility, and a commitment to seeing that we can accomplish our goals together."

Who are the faculty teaching these courses? Maria Andersen's article describes why open faculty share: they feel it is their duty and that everyone in education should share. These faculty "see sharing their ideas and expertise as a way to quickly validate or refute ideas, to promote important academic programs, and/or to mentor those instructors with less experience or to be mentored by those with greater experience or more creative ideas."

It is the educational technologists who will be helping faculty with the use of open technologies in their courses for students. Brian Lamb and Jim Groom trace the evolution of the web, citing some of the new participatory approaches that have "proliferated across media and tools: social bookmarking, podcasting, online video, social networking, microblogging." With the rapid evolution of Web 2.0 tools and practices, Lamb and Groom appropriately ask what the role of open ed techs will be in this future.

Finally, in discussing the concept of an open world connected via technology, Carolina Rossini notes that this is a concept "often at odds with traditional models of knowledge creation, distribution, and governance." She states: "The open world has a ways yet to go before reaching its potential. We must continue to advocate ceaselessly for open world metaphors if we as a society are to realize the benefits of the network in education and in science . . . and if we are to spread those benefits around the globe to all peoples and nations."

Keeping openness as a core value can indeed make higher education "great."