Openness and the new manifesto

Openness and the new manifesto

This is one of a series of blog posts that will appear here in the coming weeks, reflecting on aspects of the 2016 manifesto for teaching online.

Closed online spaces limit the educational power of the network. (2011 manifesto)

Online spaces can be permeable and flexible, letting networks and flows replace boundaries. (2011 manifesto)

Openness is neither neutral nor natural: it creates and depends on closures. (2015 manifesto)

The manifesto’s treatment of openness is one of the biggest shifts between the first and second versions – and it’s been noticed and commented on by a number of people already, including Jenny Mackness in her recent post. In 2011, MOOCs hadn’t yet emerged on the scene, and a primary mode for online education – despite many years of engagement with the idea of open educational resources – was to be closed off from the wider web, corralling students and teachers into ostensibly ‘safe’ spaces designed for educational purposes (Bayne 2004).

Discourses of digital education are far more likely now to draw on ideals of openness than of closure or constraint. However, these often lack criticality, assuming that openness is inevitably empowering, and will inevitably disrupt and improve education (Bayne, Knox and Ross 2015).

Openness itself is not often critically interrogated as a term, being taken, problematically, to mean ‘access alone’ (Knox 2013). Richard Edwards (2015) argues that ‘all forms of openness entail forms of closed-ness’ (p.253) and that educators must move away from ‘pursuing openness per se as a worthwhile educational goal’ and instead decide ‘what forms of openness and closed-ness are justifiable’ (p.255).

Martin Weller (2014) suggests that this issue may in fact only really be able to surface now that what he terms the ‘battle’ for openness in education has been won: ‘when it was simply open vs. closed there was a clear distinction: Openness was good, closed was bad. As the victory bells sound, though, it doesn’t take much examination to reveal that it has become a more complex picture’ (p.21). He attributes this in part to the adversarial framing of openness (p.153), which has generated a series of binary positions which are, at best, oversimplified and misleading.

So, a tension between openness and closure is expressed in the manifesto as a reminder that openness is not neutral, and that educators need to be cautious about embracing promises of openness without exploring the closures that will come along with it. This is a practical as well as a theoretical consideration: we have to understand that there are tradeoffs when, for example, we ask students to work openly on the public web (as we have done since 2009 in our Education and Digital Cultures course), in terms of how frank students can be about how the concepts they are learning about intersect with their professional practice. This is part of the reason why our introductory MSc Digital Education course, while it involves students in extended blog activities over the whole semester, does so in a relatively ‘closed’ space of one-to-one student-tutor discussion. We need to approach openness in different ways at different times.

I’ll be talking about some of these issues with Amy Collier at the OpenEd conference in Vancouver in November. I also strongly recommend the recent special issue of Learning, Media and Technology (edited by Sian, Jeremy and me). And really any of Jeremy’s work and writing!

(this post is based on a paper under submission to the Networked Learning 2016 conference, by Sian Bayne and Jen Ross)


Bayne, S., 2004. Smoothness and Striation in Digital Learning Spaces. E-learning, 1(2).

Bayne, S., Knox, J. and Ross, J. (2015) Open Education: the need for a critical approach. Learning, Media and Technology, 40(3), 247-250.

Edwards, R., 2015. Knowledge infrastructures and the inscrutability of openness in education. Learning, Media and Technology, 40(3), pp.251–264.

Knox, J. (2013). The Limitations of Access Alone: moving towards open processes in education. Open Praxis. 5(1). pp. 21-29.

Weller, M., 2014. The Battle For Open: How openness won and why it doesn’t feel like victory, London: Ubiquity Press. Available at: .


  1. Pingback: Edinburgh University’s updated Manifesto for Teaching Online – 2015 | Jenny Connected

  2. jennymackness

    Thanks for this post. I have updated my post to include this information and explanation of your thoughts about openness and how they have changed since 2011. Your changing views on ‘openness’ have definitely captured some of my concerns. Describing it as not neutral rings true for me, particularly in relation to the psychological effect of openness on learners. Carmen Tschofen and I started to think about this in the paper we published in 2011 – Connectivism and Dimensions of Individual Experience –

    Will your talk at the OpenEd conference be live-streamed?

  3. Jen Ross

    thanks, for the link, Jenny – I look forward to reading that paper. Re the opened talk, there was some conversation a couple of weeks ago about possibly streaming it via @vconnecting , but I haven’t heard further – I’ll follow up!

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