Open Education 2017: How can we destroy the open education movement?

How can we destroy the open education movement? Conversations about ethics

OpenEd17: The 14th Annual Open Education Conference, October 11 – 13, 2017, Anaheim, CA


Openness is a process that requires and benefits from critical reflection. We believe that facilitating and stimulating critical discussion/debate about the contours and direction of the open education movement (OEM) is essential to its flourishing. In this spirit, the proposed session is intended as a space for participants to unearth and critically explore timely, perhaps uncomfortable questions that may not be at the surface of what we are doing as individuals or as collaborators within the OEM. The facilitators in this session do not have answers. Rather, we host an unconventional, interactive format designed to expose difficult topics and support innovative interventions. The session format supports both in-person and remote (online) attendees working together on outlining and discussing pressing ethical questions in the OEM. This session allows participants to engage in a critical conversation that is liberating, paradigm challenging, constructive, and inspiring.


The idea for this session originated in early 2017 during conversations within academic communities about implications of Executive Order 13769 (also known as the “travel ban” or “Muslim ban”). As open education advocates, we found that this ban posed challenges to the core of the open education movement – a movement focused on lowering barriers to education. Specifically, we were disturbed by who the ban isolated and found that there was no unequivocal condemnation or strategic response from some of the largest conferences in our movement.

There were honest differences over if and how we as open education advocates might engage in a travel boycott to academic conferences. For example, the ban prompted the organizers of the 2017 Digital Pedagogy Lab Institute (which had a track on Open Education and Social Justice) to organize a second meeting beyond the US national borders in Vancouver, British Columbia ( Indeed, several of the facilitators of this session were unsure about crossing the United States border in order to attend Open Education 2017. We all struggled with how to best involve and support colleagues and friends that were impacted by the ban. We decided that there were some ethical issues within the open education movement, particularly around inclusion, that were not being openly discussed (for example, see Jesse Stommel’s closing keynote at Digital Pedagogy Lab Vancouver).

We felt there was a need to open a discussion space that was non-threatening, that was forward thinking, and that involved those that could not travel in person to the conference. In our proposal, we made it clear that as facilitators we do not and did not have all the answers. Rather, we wanted to facilitate an unconventional, interactive session format designed to expose difficult topics and support innovative interventions.

We used a format from Liberating Structures called TRIZ to run this session. This process allows participants to playfully discuss how to take apart or destroy something that they believe should flourish, identify how their own actions may be contributing to its destruction, and  then start to put it back together again. TRIZ is designed to “clear space for innovation by helping a group let go of what it knows (but rarely admits) limits its success and by inviting creative destruction.” The idea is to ask participants a series of questions about (1) how might they achieve some result they do not want, (2) are they doing anything already that resembles such actions, and (3) how might they stop doing those unproductive things?

We decided to use a provocative question to frame our session in order to stimulate interest and invite many possible responses, “How can we destroy the open education movement?”  This larger, provocative question was broken into three “structuring invitation” questions. Our three questions were:

  • If we were invested in ensuring the open education movement is not open, what actions would we take?
  • What things are we doing that resemble, in any way, the list we just created?
  • How are we going to stop doing these things? What are the first steps? (Be as concrete as you can!)

TRIZ uses a process called 1-2-4-all to discuss these questions. The 1-2-4-all process involves thinking on your own first (1), then discuss in pairs (2), then two pairs join together into a group of four to share (4), then someone from each group of four shares out to the larger group (all). While TRIZ has specific time limits assigned, we found that these can be adapted depending on the number of attendees.

We wanted remote participants to have as much meaningful input into the session as the onsite participants. After all, shutting people out of specific conversation is one of the ways to ensure open education is not open and the “travel ban” was one of the motivators for this session. We were committed from the beginning to finding a way for people who could not or did not wish to attend the conference to remotely participate in the session.

Thus, we had some facilitators of the session who were in the room, and some who were participating remotely, using Zoom. The remote participants were projected onto a screen in the room, and audio from Zoom could be heard in the room. We structured it so part of the onsite session was facilitated by an online facilitator: Tara Robertson introduced the group to the format of the session, and asked us all, onsite and remote, to address the first question. Part of the session was directly facilitated by Gill Green, who was onsite and also asked one of the questions. In that way, we tried to cross the onsite/remote barrier with the facilitators being on both sides. For those interested in organizing a similar event, we suggest having a remote facilitator provide information and/or ask questions right from the start of the session to  immediately connect remote participants with the onsite participants. The alternating of Tara and Gill as active facilitators throughout the session kept the two groups more in sync.

We had several onsite facilitators, and two of them were helping specifically with the setup and running of Zoom for the remote participants (e.g., putting us into breakout rooms). We also had two remote facilitators.

For the 1-2-4-all discussion of each question, how the onsite groups worked is pretty straightforward, as explained above. How they worked remotely is that online participants were asked to think on their own first (the “1”), then instead of getting together in pairs we all started writing ideas in the text chat. For the “4” part, we went in groups of about four into online Zoom “breakout rooms” to discuss. Then we all came back to the main remote room, where we could rejoin the onsite group. For the “all” part of the session, for each question, someone from one of the small groups, in the room and remotely, shared what they had discussed in those groups.

During the duration of the session, participants were asked to post notes from their discussions on a shared Google doc.  We wanted to keep a record of what had been talked about, and we wanted both the onsite and remote participants to be posting notes to the same document at the same time, as if they were in the same “room.” We wanted to keep a record of what happened in the session, in its original form, because others may do similar sessions elsewhere and it would be interesting to see regional and time differences between what groups say about similar kinds of issues. We consider this document of notes to be a starting point, not an ending point. We invite you to continue the conversation by commenting on the document or to take the document as a research topic.

You can see our collective notes and participate in this ongoing conversation by commenting on the google document that participants wrote on during the session, using the responses from that document to inform future open education projects, or continuing the conversation in future conferences and venues.

This link will take you to the above shared Google Doc where you can  download all notes or comment on the raw data. 

List of all facilitators
Karen Cangialosi (onsite tech)
Robin DeRosa (onsite note taker)
Arthur Gill Green (onsite lead)
Christina Hendricks (remote)
Rajiv Jhangiani (onsite)
Jamison Miller (onsite)
Rosario Passos (onsite)
Tara Robertson (remote lead)
Scott Robison (onsite tech)

Post authors
Arthur G. Green, Christina Hendricks, Robin DeRosa, Jamison Miller, Scott Robison.

Suggested citation (APA style) for this post:

Green, A.G., Hendricks, C., DeRosa, R., Miller, J., and Robison, S. (2018, January 15). Open Education 2017: How can we destroy the open education movement? [online] Open Education Ethics. Retrieved from