Researching Open Education: A systematic review of GO-GN theses

Beatriz de Los Arcos, Martin Weller, Rob Farrow, Beck Pitt

The Open University

As the OER/open education field matures, so the need for high quality research increases. This research will aid the shift from belief-driven advocacy to evidence based decision making. In recent years some significant research initiatives have emerged: the OER Research Hub at the OU in the UK (funded by the Hewlett Foundation), ROER4D (the program on Research in OER for Development, coordinated by UCT in Cape Town and funded by the Canadian IDRC), and the Open Education Group in Utah. However, research into OER/open education is still relatively new, while many research questions remain unaddressed or unanswered. There is thus a need to help establish this field and the quality of research as it grows in order to:

• develop and explore new knowledge in the broad OER field linked to a variety of disciplines;
• provide a solid foundation for the introduction and implementation of OER innovations;
• monitor and evaluate the outcomes of institutional, national and international OER initiatives;
• increase evidence and guidance for OER in practice.

The Global OER Graduate Network (GO-GN) is a network of PhD candidates around the world whose research projects include a focus on open education (OER, OEP, MOOC). The aim of the GO-GN is threefold: to raise the profile of research into OER/open education, to offer support for those conducting PhD research in this area, and to develop openness as a process of research.
In this presentation we will build on work by Kernohan (2015), Rolfe and Kernohan (2016), and Weller (2016) to offer a systematic review of studies by GO-GN doctoral researchers.

The GO-GN started as an initiative from the UNESCO Chair in OER at the Dutch Open Universiteit, initiated in collaboration with the UNESCO / COL Chair in OER at Athabasca University (Canada). The network is currently funded through the OER programme of The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and administered by the Open Education Research Hub from the Institute of Educational Technology at The Open University, UK. In October 2016, the network comprised of forty-five PhD researchers registered at universities in fourteen countries –United Kingdom (11); USA (7); Canada (6); India (3); The Netherlands (3); South Africa (3); Australia (3); Portugal (2); Spain (2); Nigeria (1); France (1); New Zealand (1); Ireland (1) and China (1). An additional seven researchers –from Fiji, Sweden, Turkey, South Africa, Rwanda and Spain, have been awarded their PhD since 2015. These doctoral researchers are at the core of the network; around them, nearly one hundred experts, supervisors, mentors and interested parties connect to form a community of practice.

In this session we will present a brief overview of the network and its activities, and invite all attendees to join GO-GN. Furthermore, the main goal will be to offer a systematic review of studies by GO-GN doctoral researchers, building on work by Kernohan (2015), Rolfe and Kernohan (2016), and Weller (2016). Weller (2016) performs a content analysis of publications in the OER Knowledge Cloud repository and identifies ten categories of studies as emergent disciplines within open education practice –project case study, technical, OER as subject, research with impact data, policy, practitioner, OER in developing nations, MOOCs, pedagogy, and open data/practice/access. Mapped against these categories, we find that the largest number of studies proposed by GO-GN student researchers involve the use of OER by practitioners in specific contexts, for example: teacher educators’ perceptions and attitudes towards OER in India, with a view to determining reasons for use or nonuse of OER; a theoretical explanation of why some academics in a South African institution share and others do not; the role of students’ agency in their digital literacy practices, in particular in terms of using and reusing OER; students’ preferences towards open textbook adoption and factors influencing their choices; or identifying and understanding the awareness, knowledge and attitudes of scholars in Portuguese public Higher Education institutions (HEis) towards OER and open access. A sizeable number of PhD candidates are adding to the field of MOOC research covering topics such as teacher and learner roles in connectivist MOOCs that use social networks as learning environments; the potential of MOOCs in Higher Education and informal life-long-learning contexts in India; suggesting adequate formative assessment and feedback models to address the low engagement of students and high drop rate in MOOCs; the challenges and opportunities that MOOCs afford in HE; or MOOCs and accessibility.

Overall, studies proposed by GO-GN PhD researchers show the scope and variety of research being conducted in the field of OER/open education, but also draw our attention to the lack of research with impact data, and critical evaluations of the open movement.

This session will be of relevance to experienced open education professionals, those new to the field and anyone interested in research into open education.


Kernohan, D. (2015). “Keep the Fire” – notes on my #OpenEd15 presentation. Blog post available from:

Rolfe, V. and Kernohan, D. (2016) Open education: ”Runnin’ with the devil”. In: Open Education Conference (#oer16), Edinburgh, Scotland, 19-20 April 2016. Available from:

Weller, M. (2016). Different Aspects of the Emerging OER Discipline. Revista Educação e Cultura Contemporânea, 13 (31): 404-418. Available from:



Researching Open Education: A Systematic Review of GO-GN Theses from Open Education Consortium