Open Education, Inflections Points and Grounding Principles

Hello OEG Global Connect Community, Cathy Casserly here, OE enthusiast and OEG board member. I have been reflecting on this transformative point in teaching and learning we are now experiencing with the infusion of AI and all the ethical and equitable challenges it entails.

As we stand in the present and build for the future, it helps me to consider the arc of this field from its origin. What were the goals at inception of the OE field? Have they changed? Should they change? Will outside forces interfere?

Upon reflection, one principle has indelibly grounded me to this work from the start. This principle builds upon the work of Indian economist and philosopher Amartya Sen’s who wrote about the removal of major sources of unfreedoms, including the unfreedom of educational opportunities. The origins of OE were built on this theory of unfreedoms and development, and translated into an initial series of projects to free knowledge, founded in access and equity. Sen was awarded the Nobel prize for this work, and for his focus on the inequities and concomitant problems of society’s poorest members.

If AI is poised to transform teaching and learning, how does this field stay grounded to its core principles? Could you share what grounding principles inspire you, especially as you consider the future?


Hiya Cathy and Everyone Else,

Could you share what grounding principles inspire you, especially as you consider the future?

People who know me will be familiar with this statement, which has underpinned my own work for decares:

I want and visualize and aspire toward a system of society and learning where each person is able to rise to his or her fullest potential without social or financial encumbrance, where they may express themselves fully and without reservation through art, writing, athletics, invention, or even through their avocations or lifestyle.

Where they are able to form networks of meaningful and rewarding relationships with their peers, with people who share the same interests or hobbies, the same political or religious affiliations - or different interests or affiliations, as the case may be.

This to me is a society where knowledge and learning are public goods, freely created and shared, not hoarded or withheld in order to extract wealth or influence.

This is what I aspire toward, this is what I work toward.

– Stephen


Kia ora / Hello @cathcass

OER is quickly approaching an existential crisis if it continues to perpetuate the unfreedoms imposed by corporate Big Tech as a means to realise education as a public good.

OER (by definition) is predicated on a copyright hack to achieve comparative advantage when compared to all rights reserved content thus removing artificial scarcity through open licenses.

Generative Pre-trained Transformer Large Language Models and other emergent forms of AI controlled by Big Tech eradicates this comparative advantage of OER.

I’m inspired by the potential of building ecosystem diversity through open technologies in open education to mitigate the risks of the Big Tech monocultures that underpin AI. I’m also inspired by the idea of scaling down excessive technology consumption in education, focusing instead on digital sufficiency. In the developing world, this will likely prioritise convivial technologies—those tools for enacting the commons which are fully understandable, manageable, and controllable by the individuals and communities that rely on them.


AI is a shiny thing that has become quite distracting to lots of people involved in teaching and learning. I disagree with Wayne that “emergent forms of AI controlled by Big Tech eradicates [the] comparative advantage of OER.” The advantages of OER are only eradicated if we allow them to be eradicated. If I continue to create educational resources and apply an open license to them, they will be as valuable as they were at any previous time. I may or may not use AI in the creation of the resources, but when I do I will make appropriate attribution, which I must do with any other source of a resource.

We stay grounded by diligent attribution. The quality of future educational resources will be determined by adherence to attribution pretty much the same way that quality has been determined since the first scrawls on cave walls.

Digital communication is still frightening to many because of its ability to overwhelm by extreme breadth and depth. AI just magnifies the breadth and depth by a factor of apparent infinity. Infinite possibility has always been with us, we’re just beginning to notice more clearly. Aligning our intentions with those of Big Tech corporate profiteers is merely denying all of the other possibilities.

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Thank you, @Mackiwg. I love the idea of “digital sufficiency” and would like to explore it further.

I find it hard, sometimes, to act in the direction of removing the Big Tech from the picture when it comes to welcoming newcomers. Asking practitioners to spend their time learning new software - which is a potential enabler once you know how to use it but is a nightmare for many when they don’t know how to use it yet - instead of using the same time to work on content/learning opportunities with the tools they are already familiar with worries me. In my experience, in the context I work in (meaning different institutions using Big Tech tools because it is an institutional/governmental choice, not an individual one), starting from the content is more effective in having people on board. But of course, if we never stop using Big Tech tools, we will continue making the way to “public good” longer.

Maybe this issue will be easier to solve with younger generations because they are faster at learning how to use new tools. Maybe not.

If I have to choose how to be more welcoming to newcomers, so far, my choice falls on involving people in the movement first, with arms wide open, whichever tools they want to use, and then discussing open tools once the open approach is in place. It seems one of those unsolvable dilemmas. I don’t have a strong opinion except for the fact that, for me, tools come after people, but I also see reasons why, through the choice of some tools over others, we actually prioritise all people. A first step is for me to play with formats that can be opened and edited, choosing different tools. The people behind the content can contribute to fighting monocultures from the inside while using the same tools and platforms and while continuing to populate them with controversial messages to be seen not only by like-minded people.


Thanks Cathy for a good provocative question, that’s what we hope for in the Board View posts.

As I do, when I come across something/someone I do not have much direct knowledge for, like Amartya Sen, I use my freedom to look on the web to help me learn, hence I am tuning into Development of Freedom article in Wikipedia. There I am noting that he proposed the three major, and also, linked freedoms, of which education in freedom of opportunity.

I can’t speak conclusively open education field’s goals but have to believe they are still there, here, maybe unevenly distributed? Tagging on to @Paola noting the “new comers” who did not live this legacy directly but I’d like to believe benefit from it. It’s also something I have noted lately that there are many many more active, engaged in it than the early years, and that has to be a gain.

Everyone who has posted here I know from experience acts from their principles over a long time, Mine would be in a grounding that changes we want and the things we seek are powered by individuals, despite the long presence of large “Big Tech” entities. That we have a thriving Wikipedia and Internet Archive and many distributed OER is the product of people.

While it seems challenging I want to remain a Churchill style optimist in “not seeing a point in being anything else”

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Hi @Paola

I commend your welcoming approach embracing all people irrespective of the tools they choose to use. You lead by example!

This is a complex problem and you are very right – the majority of open educators do not have a meaningful influence in the technology choices of their employers.

I’m more concerned about the challenges at a systemic level. As an ‘open movement’ we have not succeeded in living out the principle of: public money, public code. In an ideal world, our organisations that are committed to supporting the OER community, should, in my opinion, be cooperating in working together to provide open technology solutions for the open educators we are purporting to serve. For instance, an open educator should not need to use “Google forms” to administer an OER survey if they would prefer using an open alternative. As an open movement, our open organisations should be working together to promote open solutions for all.

I like the concept of prefigurative politics which refers to how activists enact within their activism the practices they are fostering. There are few examples:

With the advent of Generative AI, the problems for open we are talking about will be exacerbated. The governments of Pacific small island developing states, where I work, do not have sufficient cultural knowledge encoded in ways suitable to train foundational models and few of these countries will have the fiscal resources to afford the compute to build these GPT models. This is a material threat for open education in the areas I work.

That said, as an optimist, I’m keen to find workable alternatives doing the best we can with what we have.

@cathcass - thanks for the conversation!


Wonderful discussion, thank you. Stephen’s wish for ‘a society where knowledge and learning are public goods, freely created and shared, not hoarded or withheld in order to extract wealth or influence’ is key. I worry that the focus on educational technology, while an essential enabling feature of ‘open’ misses the other drivers of the closed system - such as educational institutional dominance. Example: universities in my country feel they have to survive by charging high fees to international students who can afford them, regardless of global needs for access to higher education, and educational resources created with public money remain behind paywalls rather than being freely available. Ways to tackle the whole educational ecosystem are required to create the opportunities for educational freedoms.

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Apologies for the length of my reply, but I had already written these notes for a talk a few weeks ago, and am sharing a portion of them here since they feel relevant. I do eventually get around to answering Cathy’s question directly at the end.

Many open education advocates will tell you that the primary goal of open education is increasing access to educational opportunity. “Educational opportunity” includes a lot of things, but for over 25 years the main focus of the open education community has been improving access to educational materials, which we now call “open educational resources.”

Since the late 1990s, sharing openly licensed educational resources online has been our best strategy for increasing access to educational materials. This is true because once you create a digital resource - say, a PDF of an introductory psychology textbook - you can make an infinite number of perfect copies and send them around the world instantaneously and at almost no cost. This incredible new technological capability, which is so easy for us to take for granted today, completely changed what was possible in the late 1990s.

These new possibilities were immediately leveraged by Napster to make it possible to share music around the globe. However, as Napster and its users learned, sharing copyrighted materials without permission is illegal. So before we could fully leverage the possibilities of the internet to expand access to educational materials, we needed a way to legally share educational materials online. Open source-style licenses for content, eventually including the Creative Commons licenses, helped us make what was possible, legal - kickstarting the modern open education movement. And billions of people have accessed OER trillions of times in the more than 25 years since the first open content license appeared. That’s a lot of access to educational materials.

However, If your primary goal is increasing access to educational opportunity, creating and sharing traditional OER is probably no longer the best strategy for doing that. I said a moment ago that “educational opportunity” includes more than just materials. One of the other things you need is a person to talk to when the materials don’t make sense. We’ve all had the experience of reading something we didn’t understand, asking someone with more expertise to explain it to us, and finally “getting it.”

Educational materials - whether a textbook, a video, or an H5P activity - are static representations of dynamic expertise. At some point in the past someone with expertise created that textbook, or video, or H5P, and then they hit “Save” and uploaded it. Their dynamic expertise is frozen in those static materials in the same way the vitality and power of a waterfall is frozen in a photograph.

Generative AI gives us access to dynamic expertise. Whereas a Pressbooks page might contain an explanation and two examples, generative AI can create an infinite number of explanations, with an accompanying infinite number of examples. If you don’t understand the first explanation or don’t relate to the first example, simply ask for another. A student stumped on a homework assignment at 1am three years ago had to wait to get their questions answered until people with the right expertise were awake and available. Generative AI can provide that expertise on demand, and of course generative AI is capable of much more than that.

In the 1990s, the combination of public access to the internet and open content licenses made it both possible and legal to provide access to educational materials to people in any place at any time. Today, public access to generative artificial intelligence makes it possible to access dynamic expertise from any place at any time. I think about the change catalyzed by generative AI this way:

The internet eliminated time and place as barriers to educational opportunity, and generative AI eliminates access to expertise as a barrier to educational opportunity.

At least, this is how my own teaching is changing. This past semester a sizable portion of the work I asked my students to do outside of class was something along the lines of “copy and paste this prompt into your model of choice, and then share the transcript of your conversation with me.” They still did some reading and watched some videos, but they spent a good amount of time studying together with a generative AI model, and I anticipate my students will spend more and more time studying with these models into the future.

To answer Cathy’s question directly, “If AI is poised to transform teaching and learning, how does this field stay grounded to its core principles?,” one answer might be to pause and consider when generative AI gives us more powerful tools for eliminating “unfreedom of educational opportunities” than open educational resources do. It feels to me like generative AI is the better tool in several contexts already, and that the number of contexts it which it will be the more powerful tool for eliminating unfreedoms will grow over time. But for the foreseeable future, it feels like the “best” approach to eliminating unfreedoms will likely be a thoughtful integration of traditional OER and generative AI.

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David, I think you’re right. Generative AI outperforms legacy processes of OER design and development.

However, for most of the developing world, I suspect that generative AI will exacerbate the existing unfreedoms rather than eliminate them. Consequently, I think it will be valuable for developing nations to consider other dimensions of ‘openness’ that can build diversity and agency for education as a public good.


Post merged from:
Radical open, negotiation and compromises

Hi all,

Following on @cathcass’s post last week and thanks to @Mackiwg’s reply (thank you both again for being so thought-provoking), I’ve been thinking more about the balance between radical openness and compromises about what to prioritise. I am feeling a lot of internal pressure on this issue, and it comes across my work experience as an enthusiastic practitioner daily.

At the present time, I am working with wonderful colleagues on a learning path intended to test radical openness. Despite being the main learning path behind a login and password because of institutional policies, we are testing how to share it also on an open platform to allow the maximum level of reuse and adaptation we can offer.

  • We are using only open formats and open tools and reusing openly shared resources (…and making a lot of compromises in favour of radical openness when it comes to graphic elements, video effects, etc.)

  • We plan to give access to all the background work, including the video project files. We designed them with reusers in mind, and we want them to be able to rework the video project files - using open source software - according to the level of adaptation that pleases them: they will be able to change the text layer, the audio layer, the graphic elements, and the video layer itself.

If someone wants to reuse this learning path in the future, they will have all the separate elements at their disposal, plus an explanation about the process and instructions to change items, thanks to their open file formats.

Few shared thoughts at the meta-level:

  • Despite not having an open education policy in place, we are a learning innovation unit, and we can decide to invest in testing a completely new process and verify what changes, what is challenging, and what the benefits are.

  • We are conscious that we could start this experimentation because we are in a privileged context. Our process works very efficiently and involves plenty of proprietary software. It allows us to share resources with an open licence but with minor to no adaptation opportunities. So, it was a deliberate choice to experiment with the radical open process.

  • Finally, the learning path we are designing is entirely based on internal staff, so we can more easily manage the privacy and copyright issues connected to everything we are experimenting with. It is based on informed consensus, and the will to explore is entangled with our context in the Unit.

We are experiencing benefits that we are immediately applying to the usual process, which is good (and makes it easier to justify the investment). However, we are also becoming increasingly aware of how challenging it would be to extend this process to other learning paths in our everyday work.

I am pretty sure we are not the first to test something like this. Is anyone in this community involved in similar experiences, especially those involving adaptable video project files? I would like to discuss the pros and cons for creators and reusers.

Hello Paola
This sounds very interesting and I am always pleased to see people who are using open formats, open tools and openly shared resources. Am sure you saw the interesting thread about the technology you choose earlier on this year

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Hi @Weblearning! Yes, I was following the technology thread: thanks to many members of this community who suggested tools, I had an opportunity to test more solutions than ever, and I am grateful to all those who contributed!
We use many software solutions listed in different projects and are willing to explore more. Seen from the perspective of the instructional designer, enabling the adaptation of the videos we create continues to be challenging. If you know about experiences in this direction, I am happy to look into them. BTW, thanks for pointing me again to the technology thread now because there are solutions I didn’t have the time to explore back then, and now, even if my memory failed me, I have them handy again! :sweat_smile:

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Hi @Paola,
While I am no longer on the team who gets to experiment, I am still fascinated with those who can experiment and share. We have a new multimedia team who prefers to work with open tools, formats, and software. I will be sure to inquire at our next monthly meeting if he can share any of his adaptable video project files.

Thanks a lot, @CGERMANO, I look forward to knowing more about it!

Hi @Paola

The work you and your team are doing in pioneering a ‘learning path’ for open within your organisational constraints is inspiring and innovative. I see innovation as the ability to be creative within constraints. Your work exemplifies this perspective by finding open solutions within the limitations of your context, yet acknowledging the tensions of open practice.

I really like your concept of ‘Radical’ openness, because it captures both meanings, that is:

  • the fundamental nature of open, that is going to the ‘radix’ or root of something, and
  • the activist nature of open in doing things that are different from the past.

How can we collectively make it easier for others to replicate your ‘learning path’? For example, would it be possible for organisations like OE Global in cooperation with others to provision a suite of open tools so that open educators are not forced to use closed proprietary solutions in cases where their employers or governments do not support open technology solutions?

A side thought - It would be great to see this topic of (Radical open, negotiation and compromises) associated with the original topic of "Open Education, Inflections Points and Grounding Principles" because you make a number of valuable points. Perhaps you could ask @cogdog to move this thread over to that one for the benefit of those following that topic :wink:

Great reflection - thanks for sharing openly!

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…I’m sure @cogdog will do his best, as usual, to make magic things happen :star_struck:

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No magic needed, especially for my good friends here-- Discourse (the open source platform we use here) makes such things easy.


Absolutely no apologies needed for length of this reply, David, its very much appreciated, and also good for stirring up the pot here :wink:

You’ve really influence my thinking about this move beyond fixed content, but I question/wonder about calling the dynamic experience of interacting as interacting with expertise- what do we mean from that? I can see that the means of interaction, and querying, is a step away from just absorbing content. I don’t have another word for it, but struggle with consider it the power of lived, active experience, as I feel in conversations with people like you.

And I see people like you and say experience programmers who are leveraging AI in ways that I see as meaningful, but wonder too how much of that is build upon the experience, wisdom you have through applied “expertise”. How will our learners now learning from this “expertise” develop that same level of experience? Is it this kind of “expertise” where information more often wrong is preferred because it is delivered more politely or more conversationally?

It seems like the hangups with “traditional” OER and whatever this becomes revolved on ownership or credit, and licensing seen more as a means to protect intellectually property than to make it available.

I await your expertise :wink:

Wonderful to read the spirited discussion here - thanks @cogdog @Paola @opencontent @Mackiwg @CGERMANO @Weblearning @Dickh @danmcguire @Downes for the contributions. And hope others will chime in.

A few additional thoughts-

  • The term OER never really captured the early goals of applying knowledge distribution to improve teaching and learning across the global, and the term Open Education now is more encompassing and inclusive of our collective work. Openly licensed textbooks is but one sub-system or strategy of the larger OE ecosystem. No cost openly licensed textbooks eliminates a monetary constraint but is not necessarily a radical innovation with respect to teaching and learning.
  • While each individual’s vision for operationalizing strategies for the OE movement may differ, it is where we have shared guiding principles that have held the field together.
  • Practical implementation will differ throughout the world as well as the context of institutional structures and policies. Or through informal learning.
  • There are many different paths to the realization of a global vision that will need to be led by regional leaders knowledgeable of their local needs and context. Distributed leadership is key.
  • Movements shift and morph. OE newcomers need to be always welcomed as that is how the field grows and continues to innovate.
  • AI is the huge disrupting force. Yes, we need to be mindful, local contexts vary and those with furthest access from “freedoms” have always been a priority (and the most difficult to serve).