Open Educational Practices in social media

This week, 5-9 March 2018, is Open Education Week – a global, community event that seeks to raise awareness of the benefits of Open Educational Resources (OER) and Open Educational Practices (OEP). During the week more than 150 events are hosted around the world, in more than 15 languages. Many of these events are online, including a web-a-thon, webinars, short online courses, Twitter chats, forums and other online discussions.

OE Week is widely publicised through social media, to the extent that it is hard to imagine it taking place if platforms like Twitter and Facebook did not exist. This reflects the extent of social media use by the wider open education community, illustrated by this screenshot of educationalist Jamison Miller’s community connections on Twitter during the Open Education Conference 2016.

Image CC-BY,

In this post I want to investigate some of the relationships between social media and open education, identifying where and in which ways openness operates in social media.

Historically, Katy Jordan and Martin Weller located the emergence of social media (and particularly social networking tools) as a theme in open education from the mid 2000s, adding that more recently social media use has tended to be subsumed under the umbrella theme of Open Practices, which “sits at the intersection of social media, open access publishing, and OER” (Jordan, K. & Weller, M. (2017).

So what are Open Educational Practices in social media? Katy Jordan and Martin Weller helpfully included OER and open access publishing; I’ve put the former in a broader category – ‘educating’ – and the latter as part of the slightly broader category ‘publicising’. I’ve then added two further categories – networking and researching, which are two other distinct scholarly activities that I frequently observe on social media. I have assembled these activities into the following matrix, which is very much provisional, and will inevitably change and evolve.

These activities are student or learner focussed, and may be initiated or led by them, or by educators. They may be formal or informal, and span a range from didactic teaching to collaboration and exchanging ideas. Peer-to-peer relationships are at the heart of networking, and may include teacher-to-teacher relationships or educators’ and other academics’ links with their disciplines. Networking can incorporate identity building, and ideas are often exchanged or debated in a collegiate manner. These activities are intended to make an impact and draw measurable public attention to work by individuals or institutions. They often involve contributing content to the web, such as the dissemination of research, and may include campaigning & advocacy. This is a broad category, characterised by searching for and using content from the web. It may include recruiting study participants, systematically studying people’s behaviour online (e.g. digital sociology), and the management and curation of information.

Platforms and activities include

YouTube, webinars, podcasts, Facebook groups, Slideshare, the social layers of MOOCs. Twitter chats, Facebook groups, conference backchannels, following, friending and commenting. Blogs, ResearchGate, academic journals, news sites, forums. Wikipedia, analytics, bookmarking, tagging, network maps,

Manifestations of openness

OER, Self as OER, Creative Commons licensing. Virtually Connecting, live blogging, conference hashtags, streaming. OpenAccess publishing, Domain of One’s Own. Open datasets, open research instruments, open dissemination, openly licensed tools & technologies.

Indicative sources

Catherine Cronin (2017) Openness and praxis. Deborah Lupton (2014) Feeling Better Connected: Academics’ Use of Social Media. Steve Lawrence (2001) Free online availability substantially increases a paper’s impact. Bea de los Arcos, Rob Farrow, Beck Pitt & Natalie Eggleston (2014) P2PU course Open Research.

It can immediately be seen that some platforms and activities (such as Twitter and hashtags) could be placed in multiple categories. I’ve not done so because I am seeking to distinguish the differences between the categories, rather than the similarities between them. The rationale for this is that later I shall be identifying the risks associated with each category as part of my PhD research, and may use the categories to organise interview and survey questions.

I have also used a variety of different terms for people’s roles in the table – educators, academics, teachers, tutors and researchers. The terms are not mutually exclusive and certainly overlap in many instances. Also, individuals may not be involved in each of the categories. However, in the wider sense, all these people are involved in education.

As a work-in-progress, I’d love to hear your views on the above. For example, are some activities missing? What do you think of the categories? Do you know of other work being done on these topics? All comments welcome, thank you.


Abstract of project

twitter-292994_1920This project explores educators’ use of social media from the perspective of Open Educational Practices.

Open Educational Practices (OEP) are a contemporary stage in the development of the OER (Open Educational Resources) movement. OEP has a range of definitions including that in The Cape Town Open Education Declaration which states: “Open education is not limited to just open educational resources. It also draws upon open technologies that facilitate collaborative, flexible learning and the open sharing of teaching practices”.

Nascimbeni & Burgos (2016) add further detail with their definition of an Open Educator: “An Open Educator … works through an open online identity and relies on online social networking to enrich and implement her work”. Aspects of open online identities are being notably explored and developed by the ‘Self as OER’ community, including Maha Bali, Catherine Cronin, Mariana Funes, Suzan Koseoglu and others.

Open Education may be a pioneer, but it is not alone in recognising the potential of online social networking for education. Many universities are encouraging educators to use Twitter, blogs and Facebook, contributing to George Veletsianos’ view that social media and online social networks are expected to transform academia and the scholarly process. However, the widespread adoption of open online identities by educators has been slow, with many educators deterred by the risks posed by social media, including loss of privacy, fraud and bullying. Incidents such as a Bristol University academic walking out of a lecture over cyber bullying add to this fear, and we must recognise the gender dimension to concerns about using social media, with 80% of victims of stalking being women.

If educators are to adopt sustainable open online identities, we need to acknowledge educators’ concerns and find ways to participate safely in social media. This project seeks to make a contribution by investigating the range of online sharing, networking and identity-building practices evidenced by open educators, and from them derive good-practice guidelines for online safety that will assist other educators to develop their own open online identities. In common with other Open Educators, I shall be using social media and blogging regularly throughout this project, viewing my PhD journey itself as a dynamic OER.