Porous, Permeable, Praxis, Pedagogy, more P’s less HE


After a busy couple of days at the Porous University event in Inverness on the 8th and 9th of May I went back to “the croft”, Keith, Frank and I had spent a lot of time thinking about how to structure an event that was not structured, unconference seemed too fashionable for us, but something like that was what we aimed for. In the end our gathering started slow with people reaching out beyond their own context, sense making, find their place, and I think in part getting a feel for how safe it was to say what often is left unsaid. Left unsaid not because people think it is unimportant, left unsaid because it is vitally important, because these are thoughts, opinions and reactions to our contexts that might leave us exposed.

People did open up, and there is an excellent selection of blogs and resources, some on this blog here, and many on the Ragged University see here for some talks (more coming) and here for some reflections from Alex. I see no need to add my own summary of the day to those excellent accounts. One thing I did want to pick up was a comment by Alan Levine who joined virtually, he suggested Porous was incorrect as a description or an intention, we should really be talking about permeability. Where porous describes the qualities of the thing (the amount of space), where permeable describes the ease by which things can pass through – see here from Alan. Though it is interesting as something with a biological sciences background where it is used in the sense of whether a plant or animals has pores, i.e. a membrane is porous, it has pores, from the same Greek, Latin Old French root, and perhaps also from literary theory, the idea of boundary crossing.

However, his comment stayed with me, not just because I wondering about the right P, but because it highlighted the U, was the day really about Uni. Actually it was, and I think one of the issues was we often ended up talking about and for those outside the academy, with the best intentions we made visible the barriers and the problems, but from within HE. While as people within HE we have no choice but to speak for, we are also people in the world, with opinions, with views, with families, who engage socially and politically, who form groups, volunteer and campaign.


Figure 1: The Elephant Not in the Room, Macintyre 2010, CC BY SA 4.0

We are in the world, so perhaps what we need to do is take out the University and add some extra P’s. This is by no means a definitive list but I would like to suggest permeable (to accept Alan Levine comment), but I think the important ones are pedagogy and praxis. Praxis because one of the things that ran through the two days was how our education practice transforms and is itself transformed though our actions, and in turn how those practices are used (or not) to create change.  Pedagogy, because of the sense, if we are looking at shifting locus of knowledge creation and production, of opening up, then we need to understand and develop appropriate pedagogies to support those changes.

I think dropping Uni, or University might also help with another thing that made me worry post event, I have already alluded to the tendency to “talk from within”, at least at first, in part this related to talking about what we know, but its dominance at the event was because most participants were from HE, as you can tell from the way I use “we”, I assume are most of those reading this post. If we are serious about reaching out and reaching in then we need a broader community, the “we” needs to be more inclusive. Otherwise the assumption is that “reaching in” is in the gift of those within the academy. When lots of the examples of reaching is those outside barging in, rowdy, unplanned, rudely asking those within to listen. I am not saying Uni is acting as some sort of barrier, “this is not a network for me”, but instead a change to better describe not what we are at present but where we want to be.

So with this in mind and getting where you are meant to be can I say

“Oh kind friends and companions come join me in rhyme,

 And lift up your voices in chorus wi mine;

 Let’s drink and be merry all grief to refrain,

 For we may or might never all meet here again


Here’s a health to the company and one to my love,

 We’ll drink and be merry all out of one glass;

 Drink and be merry all grief to refrain,

 For we may or might never all meet here again.”

Or Better Watch this


Action Research and Learning Design

The issue is examining why it is we follow a particular track


Credit: Ronald Macintrye, Postal Deliveries to the tidal Isle of Oransay, CC BY-SA 4.0

The Evaluation of Learning Experience of e-Learning Special Interest Group (ELESIG) recently launched a MOOC on the EU MOOC platform and aggregator EMMA. The MOOC is titled “Researching Learners experiences and use of technology using action research” #LERMOOC. It includes linked case studies based on partnership work by OEPS. In them I reflect on the three phases of content development, reflecting on design, production and use. I explore the value and tensions around working in partnership with an external organisation, in this example Parkinson’s UK.

The value of partnership comes from getting closer to the learners and their experiences through working with practitioners, in particular in the design phase where you can surface and test assumptions, evaluating them as part of the design process; but also in use, where the materials can be embedded in existing social contexts through the partner’s networks. The tension is often about how systems speak to each other; sometimes these are technical questions, sometimes ones of organisational culture.

The purpose is to create partnerships with organisations to allow you to get closer to understanding the learners, it is exploratory, and the case studies focus on the process, on wayfinding, surfacing my own action research into the learner experience as part of being a reflective practitioner.

Click on this link to read the OEPS case studies.

Ronald Macintyre

Mind Now: this is about learning

Pete Cannell and coauthored a paper at OER17 called Mind the Gap, it is concerned with lifelong learning and the role of free open online resources in filling in and creating routes into learning for those distanced from it, and more broadly reflects on the gaps within those journeys as local authorities colleges retreat from this space and Third Sector organisations look to fill those structural holes as best they can. I selected the title for its double meaning, to be careful, and to remember and keep it in our minds. It was only when I started to listen to Rosa Murray at the recent forum organised jointly by Learning for Sustainability Scotland (LfSS) and OEPS on shared values, my use of to mind’ means ‘to recollect’ and this use is a particularly Scottish thing .

Rosa touched on her work with Rowena Griffiths, asking us to consider whether we “mind enough”; suggesting the need for us to explore what a “pedagogy of minding” looked like (here are the slides). The workshop was about sustainability, and the role of openness and open practices in supporting learning for sustainability. Most attendees were “at home” in this space and looking to learn from OEPS about openness. In the self-organised afternoon discussion groups three clusters emerged:

  • How to use openness in teacher education, how to make it meaningful and engaging in ways that align to their values;
  • How and/or will openness transform education, and if it does what will it look like;
  • How to open up content to use and reuse.

LfSS end of session whiteboard

Big questions, questions that often surface when considering open educational practices. However, the focus on sustainability and equity and social justice did draw out some different issues. In particular, there were questions around who is empowered by openness and ensuring that openness and putting stuff online is not used as an argument for withdrawing support for other activities.  For me this went back to what Rosa said about shared values, and minding.  She suggested there was a particular Scottish focus on sustainability as a question of equity and social justice. For LfSS minding is about learning to care about the world, to mind about inequalities.

Concern about the world, care for the environment, has moved from the margins to the mainstream, to a point where every pupil in Scotland is “entitled” to learn about sustainability. As a movement OER/OEP is a long way from this, more people are using open resources, but do more people care. Is it something to care about, what are the things we ought to care about, and what would a pedagogy of minding about openness look like? An approach to education that plays on the distinctive Scottish sense of minding, of saying “I mind”, a sense between remembering, caution and caring.

Honestly, I have no answers, but I think openness is at the heart of a pedagogy of minding, as both a something that goes in as a value, and is an outcome of caring. If I look at Joe Wilson’s blog post about the UNESCO European Regional Consultation on OER and even further back to the work done on the Open Scotland Declaration, I see the articulation of a particular Scottish approach to openness. As the OER/OEP community looks forward, perhaps it is useful to take a side glance at the work done on sustainability, as the focus on values, and minding, might suggest a way forward.


Ronald Macintyre

“The Gathering”

“Hands at the Cuevas de las Manos “, Santa Cruz Province, Argentina Image Source: Mariano, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argentina#/media/File:SantaCruz-CuevaManos-P2210651b.jpg, (CC BY-SA 3.0)

“Hands at the Cuevas de las Manos “, Santa Cruz Province, Argentina, Mariano, CC BY SA 3.0

OEPS will be attending the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) event “The Gathering” on the 22 and 23 of February 2017 with a stall (near the entrance) and a workshop on the 23 of February at 10 am. Why are we operating in this space, after all OEPS is an HE project isn’t it?  The short answer is many of OEPS key partnerships are with Third Sector organisations, and we have something to share about our experiences. Our starting point was research in widening participation which suggests the most effective way to draw someone distanced from learning into education is through partnerships with organisations they trust – see a recent OEPS post about Barriers to participation in online learning. So, we also have plenty to learn from attending.

Rather than reflect on OEPS interest, perhaps a more interesting thing to consider is why the Third Sector is operating in this space. When we consider the role of the Third Sector, we typically think about their role in filling gaps, the spaces left by the public and private sectors, structural holes often experienced most acutely by the most vulnerable in our society. Exclusion is experienced across a range of axes, and these can layer over and accentuate each other.  Our partners tell us education is one of these, and access to good quality free and open as a resource for educators and learners is vital.

We will share our experience of partnership working and using approaches informed by participatory design to develop approaches to engaging people in the design, production and use of OER. Partners from Parkinson’s UK and Scottish Union Learn will be on hand to share experiences. However, we are also aware our experiences are partial, a snapshot.  The workshop is an opportunity for us to share the issues but also to share the questions and learn together. In particular looking at what a future which assumes education and information is free and open look like for Third Sector organisation and for learners/clients they support.

We still have a few spaces left. You will need to register for “The Gathering”  (which is free) before being able to book the workshop.

We look forward to seeing you at the event.

Ronald Macintyre

OER17 Call for Papers

The call for papers for OER17 on the 5th and 6th of April is open, and the data for abstracts is looming, midday on the 16th of November as this “goes to press”. It is interesting to see politics in the title, as openness is seen “as a good thing” and there is often something oddly apolitical about the narratives around openness.

Occasionally one sees a paper in the OER world that looks critically at issues of participation. They are rare, and can tend to look at simple causes like digital literacy, individualising exclusion, treating not knowing as a deficit, rather than exploring the causes of the causes, exploring; social capital, intergenerational aspiration, social and cultural barriers or underlying structural inequalities. These different readings of exclusion, from the individualised, through social to structural, stretch us, they insist we make hidden causes visible.

Likewise, narratives on free platforms talk about creative destruction, disruptive innovation, or casualisation of work, of outsourcing of risk, how much for your data, and business models built on shareholders expectations of future value. Sometimes these things seep into discussion on Open Educational Resources and Open Educational Practices, but not often enough. After all, the promise was equity, not just equity of access as that is a plain numbers game, but equitable participation. This means taking a critical perspective on the rhetoric and the reality, looking at what this means for policy, in practice, and crucially pedagogically.

I think this conference may be different, OEP is changing, maybe this is “when worlds (finally) collide”. However, it is only going to be that kind of conference if it attracts papers from the unusual suspects. From scholars working in widening participation, with “critical perspectives” on free and open, it is only through developing those creative tensions that OER and OEP can start to become political. So submit a paper.

OEP is changing, is it a changing external environment and Darwinian adaptation through natural selection, or Lamarckian, passing on characteristics acquired during its life, or a bit of both?

Ronald Macintyre


From Gill Andre, 2011, “Caricature of Charles Darwin as a monkey on the cover of La Petite Lune, a Parisian satirical magazine published by André Gill from 1878 to 1879”, Public Domain, https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b5/Darwin_as_monkey_on_La_Petite_Lune.jpg

The Porous University

“The Porous University – A critical exploration of openness, space and place in Higher Education

Time and venue: Two day symposium in late April/early May 2017 (dates tbc), Inverness Campus, University of the Highlands and Islands

Contacts: Ronald Macintyre (Open Educational Practices Scotland, Open University) and Keith Smyth (UHI)

The idea for this symposium arose out of a series of conversations and reflections on the nature of openness within Higher Education. It started with the observation that openness is increasingly seen as a technical question, whose solution lies in employing the low transaction costs associated with digital technologies with open licences to open up academic content to new groups of learners. Where critical voices have engaged this partial reading they have often rightly critiqued the degree to which this is truly open, for example, drawing on older traditions of open to question the freedoms free content allows for those already distanced from education. However, other questions also arise, what does it mean beyond releasing content? What is the role of open academics in dealing with problems “in the world”, how should staff and students become learners within community contexts, developing and negotiating curriculum based on those contexts? What would it mean for openness as a way to allow new voices into the academy, to acknowledge knowing and ways of knowing outside the academy, and where can and should our open spaces – both digital and physical – intersect?  If we are to advocate allowing learners experience and organisations to inform the academy how open should academics be to the influence of private capital? These are the kinds of questions we want to explore in this symposium.

Further details and a call for contributions and participation is forthcoming in December 2016. Attendance at this event is free.

For further information or to express an interest in becoming involved please contact Ronald Macintyre (ronald.macintyre@open.ac.uk) or Keith Smyth (keith.smyth@uhi.ac.uk)”


#OEPSForum4 Reflections

By Ronald Macintyre (OEPS project), originally posted here

This the fourth of our OEPS forums was focussed on change.  The focus was based on the feedback we had received from previous events, that the OEPS community wanted an opportunity to talk about and reflect on the changes they felt were needed at all levels and scales, from the individual to the national. I led one of the afternoon sessions, it was called “Open education and digital engagement through a widening participation lens”. When I reflected on ‘what change’ and how to put together something meaningful around big terms like Open Education, digital, and widening participation what struck me was the sense in which we often think of how they relate to each other, as enablers, as conditional statements, and as dilemmas.  For example, in the widening participation world, digital technologies and assumptions about ubiquitous access and digital literacies can act as a barrier, at the same time if we are to promote social justice we need to ensure we reach into the digital world. Or we talk about (or at least used to) digital technologies as enabling OER.

Of course my own reflections are based on my context, a context that conditions the way I approach questions. In the workshop I tried to be open about how my context framed the way I address issues and view change. Suggested context (for me) is made up of three things:

  • Our role, what we do and how we (and others) see our role, as facilitator, teacher, builder, or decision maker (all overlapping).
  • Organisational culture, “it’s what we do around here”
  • Personal values, what I believe the value of education is, and how I think about the role of education in creating public value.

Using the following template I asked people to write in a post-it:

In my Context [describe your context] I understand/think of the role of digital technology/open education/widening participation [delete as applicable] as enabling …. [Fill in the blanks]

Crude I know. But here is some of what people said:

  • In my context in eLearning the role of digital technology in open education is enabling but difficult to roll out and increase engagement.
  • In my context as an eLearning manager, University Leftie, I understand the role of widening participation in terms of enabling equality of opportunity
  • In my context as a lecturer I think the role of digital technology as enabling wider student engagement and breaking down barriers through unlimited access
  • In my context s an education adviser in virtual learning, educator, open organisation, Third Sector strategy, policy developer in virtual learning the role of open education as enabling as many health and social care professionals to improve practice on [health issue]

Just a small selection, but they capture the themes, a sense of interlinked nature, with one enabling but creating tensions around another.  Access was prominent, of course open is about access. But we also see concerns and tensions between access to and engagement with, questions about participation and what being open does in the world. In the second exercise we started to tease out those dilemmas and tensions, again crudely I provided a set sentence as an example.

For me the role of digital technology in Open Education is …

For me the role of digital technology in Widening Participation is …

Slightly over the post lunch lull at this point people were getting warmed up, the comforting hubbub of a workshop where people were thinking and talking, and the papers ended up flooded with post it notes.

  • For me the role of digital technology in widening participation is ambiguous access/participation, potentially one useful component
  • For me the role of digital technology in widening participation is like another chance to market
  • The role of digital technology in widening participation is as a tool not a solution
  • Digital technology in widening participation is another way to engage unreached people, a way to provide different learning styles
  • The role of digital technology in widening participation is providing access to education
  • For me the role the digital technology in widening participation requires more digital literacy education
  • Digital technology has the potential to democratise learning but we might just look at cats

Some useful aspirations, and some reservations, what came across in the statements was the sense of digital as part of series of tools, a tool whose position was ambiguous, and not just because of the cats. There is sense of open and online unrealised potential, that it is a challenge which needs to be grasped. In the final exercise we looked at what had to change about their context to enable us to realise our ambitions. I explained that I tend to end up describing a problem and stating some aspirations when I engage in thinking like this. Again using my crude fill in the blanks I asked them to consider

If [open education/digital technology/widening participation] is to enable then …. [Insert here what needs to change in your context] needs to change

This drew some interesting and challenging responses

  • If open education is to enable wider participation then; a whole organisational change is needed to focus on unreached groups rather than focus on “warm contacts”
  • If digital tech is to enable widening participation we need to be willing to value the open and share our work, e.g. be prepared to be filmed talking about our work
  • Top down policies and leadership to allow for OER to be a priority in Educational Institutions
  • Change in context, self-select organisations whose values reflect your own in order to achieve the changes you want!
  • If digital technology is to enable open education then digital literacies need some improvement in the local context (i.e. staff training)
  • If open education is to enable furthering the goal of the common good then the policy ‘open is not the default’ needs to change to ‘open is the default’!

These are the challenges, some top down, buy in from management, open as default, stop using open as way to market “warm contacts”, start getting serious creating a culture of open (or move on as one suggests), engage proactively in digital participation for staff, the learners you do have and more broadly. Some of the things are facing in, a mix of bottom up capacity building and cultural change and top down policy (I will spare reading the post-it suggesting SFC gives more money). Others are about turning to face out, what open does to blur the boundaries between the classroom, the online and the wider community.

It was all a bit rushed, and people wanted more time to talk through the ideas that were emerging, it meant I missed out the last exercise in each of the workshops. So below is the closing exercise.

To close I thought I would ask you to share one of my “What ifs” And invite you to jot down some of your “what ifs” regarding digital technology, open education and widening participation.

Based on Rogers, E. (1962) Diffusion of innovations. Free Press, London, NY, USA, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Diffusion_of_ideas.svg Public Domain

We know a little bit about innovators and early adopters, they tend to be well educated and have good incomes, they tend to be societies ‘haves’.

If I think about my context I suppose a lot of what we try to do is push things along the segments:

What if I do not accept the benefits of an innovation (like free open online education materials) are not shared equally.

What if I do not accept this distribution is “normal”

I am not sure what the answer is to this, but sometimes you do not have answers to these “what ifs”, they simply are about thinking outside “the facts”, not accepting the context, and looking at how to drive change.

I invite you to note your “what ifs” and share, and to keep thinking about this.