Open education can make universities more inclusionary

The following is an excerpt from: McKiernan EC (2017) Imagining the “open” university: Sharing scholarship to improve research and education. PLoS Biol 15(10): e1002614. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.1002614  It is republished here under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license.

Universities are by nature exclusionary — there are limited spots and often only those with the highest grades and test scores are accepted. In the 1940s, people began referring to academic institutions as ivory towers, where an elite few engaged in intellectual pursuits, largely “disengaged” from the concerns or needs of the public (Shapin, 2012). If anything, the perception of universities as ivory towers has only grown over the last decades, as competition for student and faculty positions increases, leaving many more on the outside. As Shapin writes, “Today, almost no one has anything good to say about the Ivory Tower and specifically about the university in its supposed Ivory Tower mode” (Shapin, 2012).

How can institutions move away from this negative image and become more inclusionary? Increasing acceptance rates is not feasible for economic and infrastructure reasons. However, universities can allow everyone access to the knowledge created inside their walls. Open educational resources (OERs) are a prime example of openness increasing inclusion (Bossu et al., 2012; Conole, 2012) and are especially important for increasing access to education in developing countries (Kanwar et al, 2010; Kumar, 2009). When universities make lecture notes, exams, and textbooks openly available online, even those who cannot attend in person can benefit from what the institution has to offer. In fact, 20%-50% of surveyed visitors to open courseware (OCW) websites identify as “self learners” (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2007). Educators also benefit from OCW sites, making up around a quarter of visitors from regions like Latin America, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East and North Africa (Carson, 2006). As an educator in Mexico, I use open textbooks available through projects like OpenStax, run by Rice University, because I know my students cannot afford expensive textbooks but still need access to quality information to learn. 

Read the full blog at blog_OpenEd_Erin