Exploring Open Education

Over the past 30 years, the concept of open education has developed alongside technological advances, and gained significant worldwide attention. Funding has been allocated on both the state and federal levels to support open access and open data projects: CUNY and SUNY were recently awarded $8 million towards the development of Open Educational Resources (OER). In this post, we’ll take a closer look at the growing terminology of “open,” and key definitions to know.

Open Educational Resources

Because the term OER can apply to so many different types of materials, think of it as an umbrella term that has two core components. Any educational content that is free of charge and has an open license (typically a Creative Commons license) would be considered OER. As long as it meets those criteria, theoretically any learning material would qualify as OER – whether it’s a syllabus, entire textbook, lab manual, or module. Check out our previous post for more about the permissions (sharing and remixing) that open licenses allow.

In terms of its history, the phrase “Open Educational Resources” was originally coined in 2002, at the UNESCO Forum on Open Courseware for Higher Education. Early projects sought to demonstrate an institutional commitment to public knowledge, and began to make use of open licensing to “retain, reuse, revise, remix, and redistribute” materials. One notable project is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)’s Open CourseWare, which has offered “a web-based publication of virtually all MIT course content” since 2002.

Open Pedagogy

In the context of OER, you may also hear the term “open pedagogy,” or “teaching in the open.” Open pedagogy seeks to adapt openly-licensed content with the hope of enhancing the learning experience. For example, instead of simply using an open textbook, students might also be invited to find new content to weave into its text, making them participants in the curatorial process. As some have noted, the term is not as clearly defined as OER, and touches upon issues of access, sharing, and remixing all at once. In the broadest sense, “open pedagogy” implies a willingness to choose materials with openness in mind, and with an eye towards expanding those possibilities.

Open Access

Open access (OA) is usually used to refer to the realm of scholarly publishing, especially journal publishing. OA emerged from a scholarly publishing landscape that was increasingly dominated by commercial publishers that imposed budget-breaking subscription prices on libraries and raked in extremely high profits, offering no compensation to authors, peer reviewers, or editorial board members. In response, free-to-read journals appeared as early as the 1990’s, as did public access repositories (such as CUNY Academic Works), which make the scholarship of a given institution or discipline freely available. Today, many researchers are just as accustomed to finding high-quality research in OA journals and repositories as they are to finding it in subscription-based journals.

While the definition of OER is clearly established, there is debate in the OA community about the best definition of the term “open access.” Many use the term to refer to any scholarly content that’s freely available online, while some argue that only openly licensed works truly warrant the designation “open access.” Also, there are a variety of so-called flavors of OA: terms such as “gold OA,” “green OA,” and “hybrid OA” indicate where and how an article reached its OA status. But these debates and distinctions are somewhat, well, academic. What researchers everywhere agree on is that freely available scholarly literature is easier to find and read than paywalled literature, and studies have shown that freely accessible articles are cited more than articles locked behind paywalls.


If you’d like to learn more about the open education movement, there are many resources available. The Open Access research guide is a great place to start, as well as the Open@CUNY blog.

About the Author

Elvis Bakaitis is currently the Head of Reference at the Mina Rees Library. They're also proud to serve on the University LGBTQ Council, and as a board member of CLAGS: The Center for LGBTQ Studies.