Currently, I am writing a proposal for my second empirical study of open educational practices as part of my Ph.D. program. The study explores the readiness of students to engage with open educational practice with a focus on the digital literacies of open practice. I have stripped this text out of the proposal, but did not want to lose it. So sharing it here in case someone finds it useful or it spurs debate. I am making efforts to blog more about my research so if you are interested watch this space.

It occurs to me that so much of the work students produce in formal higher education remains invisible to their peers, wider institution, local community, and the world. Students most typically produce works which are submitted via a learning management systems (LMS), which are then reviewed only by the faculty member who provides feedback and a grade. The LMS is the most commonly used tool provided to students for interacting with peers and faculty in their classes. A 2014 survey found 85% of faculty make use of a LMS with 56% using it daily as part of their teaching, while 83% of students report interacting with an LMS with 56% using it for most or all of their courses (Dahlstrom, Brooks, & Bichsel, 2014). Within the LMS faculty and students can share resources and interact in a private way which is appropriate for many instances of class interaction. However, students in these environments are often limited in what they can do as control over who can access resources and which resources are accessible are largely controlled by the faculty or administrator. The LMS enables a faculty member to design a digital learning environment for class resources, participant interaction, assignment submission, and assessment which is largely modeled to replicate traditional learning (Murphy, 2012). Scholars have argued that the use of these systems can have a detrimental effect on pedagogical innovation by maintaining a limited duration, conservative structure, and closed context (Broekman, Hall, Byfield, Hides, & Worthington, 2014).

Growth of the learner network in a CMS over time. Adapted from Open for learning: The CMS and the open learning network, by Mott, J., & Wiley, D., January 8 2013, retrieved from Licensed under a Creative Commons License.

The LMS facilitates the growth of online student communities where access is revoked based on the academic calendar; as courses end, and new ones begin (Murphy, 2012). Students are then limited in their ability to access past courses and course materials, rendering them unable to refer to past activity in their ongoing studies or in their future careers (Groom & Lamb, 2014; Mott & Wiley, 2013). These limitations reduce the potential for the development of persistent social learning communities and fostering the complex and diverse competencies of creative individuals as they engage in learning (Steel & Levy, 2009).

Whether the digital literacies students develop while navigating these environments translate into those that can help them be successful in their personal and professional lives is unknown. It has been suggested that providing students with greater autonomy, control, opportunity for initiative, and ongoing access to their digital learning environments can promote a greater sense of ownership of their learning (Baggetun & Mjelstad, 2006). Ensuring students can retain and apply the literacies and materials they have developed during university would seem critical to their success in transitioning to the workforce as well as having developmental effects.

A number of questions emerge for me around this: do the digital literacies learned as students navigate the LMS provide any value outside of these environments?; how are students conducting their own knowledge management as they lose access to course material, discussions, and assessments conducted in these environments; are they going open themselves in order to curate their work and reap the benefits of open scholarship?; and do they even value their creations if we do not suggest that sharing it is a worthwhile opportunity?

I am not anti-LMS, as I feel it certainly plays an important role in providing safe spaces for interaction and course management. However, in order to foster social learning communities, engage with authentic audiences, enable peer review, and student ownership these tools need to change or learning designers will be forced to continue to use tools which support more open learning designs. We have to navigate out of closed learning environments to engage in authentic open learning.

Engaging students with digital, connected, and open learning begins with defining what digital resource they are to create; be it a knowledge resource, set of reflections, portfolio, or multimedia artifact. Then one must guide the student towards how they will present and share it; online via social media, blogs, or content specific platform (YouTube, SlideShare, or digital repository). While having students create digital resources is a common task, having them plan for that digital resource to be accessible to their peers or openly available online changes the process of creation. Contributing to open knowledge communities requires a student to design the resource with openly licensed materials, ensure accurate citations and links, write for a broader audience, determine where to host the resource, create the links to the relevant knowledge communities, promote the resource, use analytics to track access, and provide appropriate context for the work. I personally believe these are important digital literacies for students entering the workforce.


Baggetun, R., & Mjelstad, S. (2006). eLogg: Facilitating ownership and openness in virtual learning environments. Education and Information Technologies, 11(3–4), 357–369.

Broekman, P. van M., Hall, G., Byfield, T., Hides, S., & Worthington, S. (2014). Open Education: A Study in Disruption. London; New York: Rowman & Littlefield International.

Dahlstrom, E., Brooks, D. C., & Bichsel, J. (2014). The Current Ecosystem of Learning Management Systems in Higher Education: Student, Faculty, and IT Perspectives. Research report. Louisville, CO: ECAR, September 2014. Available from http://www. educause. edu/ecar. 2014 EDUCAUSE. CC by-nc-nd.

Groom, J., & Lamb, B. (2014, June). Reclaiming Innovation. EDUCAUSE Review. Retrieved from

Mott, J., & Wiley, D. (2013). Open for Learning: The CMS and the Open Learning Network. In Education, 15(2). Retrieved from

Murphy, J. (2012). LMS teaching versus Community Learning: a call for the latter. Asia Pacific Journal of Marketing and Logistics, 24(5), 826–841.

Steel, C., & Levy, M. (2009). Creativity and Constraint: Understanding Teacher Beliefs and the Use of LMS Technologies. In Same Places, Different Spaces: Proceedings of Ascilite Auckland (pp. 1013–1022). Retrieved from


Digital, connected, and open learning

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