Getting Started with Open Education: 5 Trends

Trent GillBlogs

Over the last several years, “openness” has emerged as an important trend in education. As open education gains momentum throughout Canada, Manitoba educators have also shown an interest in embracing open.

Since there are many ways of thinking about open in teaching and learning, we wanted to write about some examples of what educators are doing to embrace it. Here are the five trends we’re seeing in open education.

1) Beyond the LMS: Course Websites

A man working at a table with a laptop. Open education.

Some faculty are putting the open web to work by creating online course hubs that serve as an alternative to the LMS. // PHOTO: Bench Accounting

Learning management systems have long been a staple in how faculty and students interact with the web. Institutions provide web software for managing course-related content online, including Moodle, Brightspace, Blackboard, and Canvas. In Manitoba, most faculty are familiar with either Moodle or Brightspace. Students use their institutional LMS to enroll in courses, join discussions, submit assignments, and access grades.

While the LMS can provide a one-size-fits-all solution for instructors with different needs, sometimes it is in their interest to move beyond the LMS.

For example, faculty may express a desire to embrace open practices in their teaching. With a little extra work and imagination, it’s possible to use the open web to make learning more accessible while encouraging students to think about public scholarship, social learning, and networked knowledge. You might even enjoy working with open web applications more than your LMS!

You’ve probably heard about “flipping” the classroom by giving students more control over their learning. What if you thought about the LMS in the same way? Could you flip an LMS?

Of course! The open web enables anyone with a willingness to learn to create a website.  This can serve as an alternative front-end to a course built in Moodle or Brightspace.

Flipping the LMS

Paul Hibbitts defines the flipped-LMS as one “where an open platform, in the control of course participants, serves as an alternative front-end to the institutional LMS.” He says that flipping the LMS puts instructors and students in control of their learning domain. A flipped LMS gives faculty the opportunity to “support pedagogical goals unmet by the current LMS, deliver a better student (and facilitator) experience, and increase capability of access, sharing and collaboration.”

Although giving participants some “control” over parts of the course can be tricky, websites that serve as an alternative front-end to the LMS are more common than ever. Faculty are using basic content management systems like WordPress and MediaWiki to create course blogs and Wikis for this very purpose. You can even setup a website in a way that lets students contribute! Check out Lawyering in the 21st Century, an example of a course blog featuring student contributions from the TRU Faculty of Law.

Here are just a few other examples of what’s possible with a course website outside of the LMS:

You’ll also notice how these courses are all licensed under Creative Commons. These licenses permit anyone to freely use and repurpose the material, a huge advantage for other faculty.

The use of open licenses also makes these courses good examples of open educational resources.

2) Open Educational Resources

Open educational resources are teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released with an intellectual property license that permits free use and repurposing by others.

Campus Manitoba has been promoting the use of open educational resources since 2015. We’ve compiled some resources about OER at OpenEd MB, where you can also access a library of openly licensed textbooks. Our partners at BCcampus also offer guides for authoring and adapting open textbooks. If you need some pointers about how to adopt an open textbook, there’s a free online course for that too. There’s an abundance of resources and support for using OER. Studies have also shown that student success is positively correlated with OER use.

One example of OER use in Manitoba comes from Brandon University. Brenda Dusome, a professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences, co-authored an open textbook about mental health and intellectual disabilities. She wanted her work to have the widest impact and OER was the perfect fit!

We’d love to hear from Manitoba faculty about OER work happening around the province, so get in touch!

3) Open Projects in the Classroom

If you want to take the next step in “working in the open,” look no further than open pedagogy.

A young woman holding a sign that says "open."

Faculty and students can work together and with the broader public on the open web.

David Wiley defines open pedagogy as a “set of teaching and learning practices only possible in the context of the free access and 5R permissions characteristic of open educational resources.” If openness is built into a course, then learning outcomes and assignments should be designed to leverage the full possibilities of open.

One of our favourite examples of open pedagogy is the Murder, Madness and Mayhem Wikipedia project. Jon Beasly-Murray, from the University of British Columbia, assigned students to create or substantially improve Wikipedia articles about topics in a Latin American Literature course.

Students worked on a total of eleven articles. By the end of the course, Wikipedia editors had classified eight articles as good and three as featured, both markers of high quality work.

In an essay about the project, Murray describes how contributing to Wikipedia improved students’ research and writing skills while they expanded a widely referenced source.

This idea is spreading. The University of Winnipeg, a Campus Manitoba partner, recently hosted a Wikipedia Edit-a-thon. These kinds of opportunities are great for introducing students to open web tools.

Another assignment that demonstrates openness in pedagogy is Robin DeRosa’s open textbook project. She and her students created The Open Anthology of American Literature for a survey course at Plymouth State University. Students compiled public domain works in PressBooks and wrote introductions for each author. These introductions were then reviewed and edited by other students and DeRosa. When all was said and done, the anthology resembled a published collection.

The Open Anthology of American Literature shows the possibilities of open pedagogy. The students’ work on the project had value and purpose beyond their time in the classroom. Meanwhile, students learned important skills like research, writing, and editing. The open textbook project provided valuable experience that isn’t easily replicated in traditional assignments.

These two projects both serve as telling examples of how to leverage the possibilities of open for teaching and learning.

4) Participate in Open Access Research

Open books.

Free and open knowledge is a benefit to all. // PHOTO: Patrick Tomasso

The public availability of research has become an important issue for post-secondary institutions. “Open access” is used to describe the practice of publishing research in open access journals. These journals serve a different purpose than more traditional academic publishers.

“Open access” to information is the free, online access to scholarly research, and the permission to use and repurpose that research. It has the power to transform the way research, inquiry, and learning are conducted.

According to SPARC, “Open Access (OA) has the potential to maximize research investments, increase the exposure and use of published research, facilitate the ability to conduct research across available literature, and enhance the overall advancement of scholarship. Research funding agencies, academic institutions, researchers and scientists, teachers, students, and members of the general public are supporting a move towards Open Access in increasing numbers every year.”

As more scholars become interested in this new kind of publishing, more options are available for sharing and accessing research. One example is the Humanities Commons, a collaborative research network managed by the Modern Language Association. Services like the Humanities Commons allow faculty to “discover the latest open-access scholarship and teaching materials, make interdisciplinary connections, and increase the impact of your work by sharing it in the repository.”

5) Open Education Advocacy

As you learn more about this space, you’ll notice there’s an active community of educators who are passionate about the possibilities of open education. They write publicly on blogs and contribute frequently to social media. These educators put their expertise to work in public and raise awareness of important issues like student debt and technological literacy.

All institutions need champions among faculty, administration, and students. The communities that have emerged from open education are self-sustaining and provide support for like-minded educators. The real value of open-ed is not only its impact on student success, but also the creation of meaningful connections among people working in higher education.

How do you see openness impacting Manitoba’s post-secondary community? We’d love to hear your story. If you teach in Manitoba, we’re interested in innovations that are happening at your institution. Let us know what you think by reaching out on TwitterFacebook, or by email.


Campus Manitoba is a consortium of Manitoba’s public post-secondary institutions. Through collaborative projects and shared services, we facilitate student mobility and expand access to post-secondary programs for students in Manitoba. In addition to campusmanitoba.ca, our websites include ecoursesmb.ca, setyourcourse.ca, and openedmb.ca.