Teaching in the Open

The Open Learner

Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

The “Open Course Design and Assessment” module will explore how UDL supports open learning in more detail.

Similar to the open educator, it is difficult to find a single definition for the open learner. The term “open learning” is used to describe learning situations in which learners have the flexibility to choose from a variety of options in relation to the time, place, instructional methods, modes of access and other factors related to their learning processes (Caliskan, 2012). You will notice that there are many similarities between open learning and Universal Design for Learning (UDL).

In early development, children are typically eager, curious problem solvers who, when given the opportunity, will develop some very creative solutions. Once they begin school, there is often a shift in the learning journey. Children traditionally become compliant and follow the path set out by their teachers — rather than taking the lead in their own experience (Spencer & Juliani, 2015).

“Empowering students teaches them to have their own voice and follow their own direction.”
— John Spencer (2017)

In Empower: What Happens When Students Own the Learning, John Spencer (2017) affirms that compliance has been a large part of education for many years — and suggests that students would be better served by being empowered by educators to own their learning and pursue their passions in school. This does not mean that students should not follow a curriculum — or that they can do whatever they want. Rather, Spencer says educators should be a guide to unleashing students’ creative potential.

Spencer expands on some of the benefits of empowering students in the short video below.


Watch “7 Things That Happen When Students Own Their Learning” on YouTube (transcript available).


Extend Connections

  • Think back to your own experience as a student. How much of the time were you compliant, engaged or empowered?
  • When you think about the shift toward empowering students, what are some of the concerns you have?
  • If we know that student ownership is valuable, why isn’t it more prevalent in our schools?
  • How do we tap into the power of providing choice and developing students as co-creators when we also have to teach to specific standards?
  • What is the difference between “encouraging” and “demanding” students try new things?
  • Why are so many students consumers rather than creators? What are the social or cultural forces at work?


Student Perspectives

While some students may have concerns over publishing their work in the open, generally they are motivated and engaged by the prospect of their work having meaning outside the limitations of the disposable assignment (Werth & Williams, 2021).

David Gaertner believes that it is important to provide students with the opportunity to create work with a broader impact that will live beyond the classroom. He expands on why this is important — as well as how to engage and support students in this way — in the video below. 


Open Dialogues: How to engage and support students in open pedagogies. by the Center for Teaching, Learning and Technology. University of British Columbia is licensed under  CC BY.

Transcript – Open Dialogues: How to engage and support students in open pedagogies

Teaching With Open Assignments

In his October 2013 blog post, What is Open Pedagogy?, David Wiley defines open pedagogy by way of example. He writes about how he blended principles for effective teaching and learning with open practice to create an assignment that has endured the test of time and resulted in some excellent student contributions to open educational resources (OER).

The components of open teaching practice highlighted by Wiley’s example include:

  • Building trust with students by way of being explicit about the goals and purpose of the open assignment and providing clear guidelines for what is to be developed.
  • Authentic assignments offer students the opportunity to create something to be immediately used by a real audience (in this case, students were creating a learning resource for peers in their classroom). Since students will be using their resources to teach others, they get immediate and practical feedback. This is in contrast to what Wiley calls “disposable assignments” which are created for the instructor, seen by no one else and often discarded at the end of a term.
  • Offer a clear description of the assignment — and examples where possible. Many students will be unfamiliar with the process of finding open resources to use in a project and remixing them to create something new and offering a detailed example is helpful.
  • Provide scaffolds for learning. Divide the assignment into steps. Offer opportunities for feedback after each step — so that students are supported in building and improving their work.
  • Invite students to license their work. With the right Creative Commons license, resources can be freely remixed and improved upon by others. Talk about the reason for licensing and offer options for students who choose not to publicly share what they create.
  • Offer opportunities for students’ work to be incorporated into the course — either as an example to work from, or as a remix to build upon and improve.

Renewable – not Disposable – Assignments

Open Assessment

The “Open Course Design and Assessment” module will go into more detail about open assessments and student collaboration.

Many assignments given in post-secondary institutions are what David Wiley calls “disposable.” Renewable assignments, on the other hand, add value beyond earning a mark from an instructor — they provide resources that are useful and usable by others, whether other students in the course or the public. Examples include students creating notes or demonstrations for other students in the same course (and possibly also posted publicly for others), students editing articles on Wikipedia or an institutional wiki site like the UBC Wiki and students producing research that can be used by a community group. Even those assignments that might otherwise be “disposable” can be made renewable by sharing them with other students in a course and, if the student agrees, publicly.

In order for such work to be truly “renewable” though, it should be openly licensed to allow others to not only view it, but to revise and reuse it for their own purposes.


Extend Activity

Identify a concept that you feel is challenging for your students —  and think about what this would look like if the students were co-creators of this knowledge. Then, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What would the benefits be?
  2. How would it impact future offerings of the course?

Please share your thoughts on the Padlet below.

To add your comment, double click anywhere on the Padlet below or select the plus (+) icon in the lower right-hand corner of the board. For a more accessible version of this activity, please access the web version of this “Students as Co-Creators” Padlet [new tab].



Caliskan H. (2012) Open Learning. In: Seel N.M. (eds) Encyclopedia of the Sciences of Learning. Springer, Boston, MA. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4419-1428-6_52

Wiley, D. (2022). What is Open Pedagogy? – improving learning. Opencontent.org. Retrieved 4 February 2022, from https://opencontent.org/blog/archives/2975.

Werth, E., & Williams, K. (2021). Exploring Student Perceptions as Co-authors of Course Material. Open Praxis13(1), 53. doi: 10.5944/openpraxis.13.1.1187

Spencer, J., & Juliani, A. (2017). Empower; What Happens When Students Own Their Learning (1st ed.). IMpress.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

Extending Into the Open Copyright © 2022 by Paula Demacio; Alissa Bigelow; Tricia Bonner; and Shauna Roch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book