Integration of Open Practices

Framework for an Ethics of Open Education

Robert Farrow

The Open University

What difference does openness make to the ethics of teaching and research? This session will examine this question both from the perspective of research into OER and the use of open resources in teaching and learning. An outline of the nature and importance of ethics will be provided before the basic principles of research ethics are outlined through an examination of the guidance provided by National Institutes of Health (2014) and BERA (2014). The importance and foundation of institutional approval for OER research activities is reiterated with a focus on underlying principles that can also be applied openly.

It is argued that with a shift to informal (or extra-institutional) learning there is a risk that we lose some clarity over the nature and extent of our moral obligations when working outside institutional frameworks – especially with what Weller (2013) has termed “guerilla” research activity. But we might also speak of “guerilla” education for innovations taking place on the fringes of institutional activity – from using social media to going full-blown “edupunk” (Groom, 2008). I show how the principles underlying traditional research ethics can be applied openly while noting that, whether working within or outside institutions, there is almost no existing guidance that explains the ethical implications of working openly. Similar issues are raised with MOOC, which often operate outside institutions but while drawing on institutional reputations and values. With this in mind I briefly explore the moral dimensions of scenarios we are likely to encounter in the future (e.g. privacy, security, big data and intellectual property) focusing on the implications of openness. It is argued that insufficient attention is typically paid to the important ethical differences provoked by open practices.

A model for understanding openness in education is proposed based on basic meta-ethical positions (deontological; consequentialist; virtue). This model attempts to retain relevance in a variety of scenarios without advocating a dogmatic vision of openness (e.g. an insistence on open licensing). This framework is then explored in the context of the OER Research Hub project, which developed guidance for others in the form of an ‘ethics manual’ (Farrow, 2013) and online learning provided through the ‘Open Research’ course provided by School of Open/P2Pu.

I conclude with an examination of the idea that we have a moral obligation to be open, contrasting prudential and ethical approaches to open education. At the heart of the open education movement is a strong moral impulse that should be recognized and celebrated. But openness also introduced additional complexity to the roles of researcher, educator, and learner. The ethical frameworks we use in the future must therefore be capable of embracing and understanding these complexities without collapsing into naive relativism.

Read Paper in Open Praxis


Framework for an Ethics of Open Education from Robert Farrow