User:Jtneill/Presentations/Open education in psychology

From Wikiversity
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Open education in psychology

James T. Neill
University of Canberra

Australian Psychology Learning and Teaching Conference 2019
13-15 September, 2019
Catholic Leadership Centre, Melbourne, Australia

Presentation slides (Google slides)


Contemporary mainstream school- and university-based teaching of psychology is dominated by use of proprietary materials such as textbooks, journals, and curricula. Arguably, greater effort should be made to use, develop, and share free and open teaching materials - or open educational resources (OERs). This presentation highlights key philosophical and practical differences between proprietary and OERs and considers their relative merits from the perspectives of students, teachers, and broader society. By way of example, OER psychology course materials developed and shared via the Wikimedia Foundation online platform will be demonstrated. Q&A will be used to engage the audience to consider how their teaching practices might be improved by becoming more open.


30 min presentation with Q&A


psychology teaching, open education, open educational resources, copyright, Wikimedia Foundation


I'd like to share about a topic close to my heart. I feel like I've been on a journey doing something for 20 years that has been "locally lonely" but "globally connected", and that has been to use "openness" as a first principle in teaching psychology.

So, I want to share about the philosophical underpinnings of this approach. These underpinnings are philosophical, political, social, and educational. I'll also provide a few examples. Perhaps this will stimulate some of your thinking about how your teaching practices might become more open.

The first thing is that you can access these slides via the URL or QR-code. I would have something like this in every class, so that people can view the information on their own devices and download and re-use them for their own purposes.

The second thing is that all intellectual property I produce is openly licensed. This means that anybody in the world can download, use, and re-work the material. I'll talk more about access and copyright as we go along.

Open academia[edit]

I self-identify as an open academic. Basically, I give away stuff - I want to share it. Curiously, open academia seems to be more valued in broader society than within universities, perhaps because openness challenges hegemonic academic practices. However, open academia is gradually becoming more accepted within academic communities.

Open academia is basically doing what we do as academics (research, teaching, and service) in the spirit of free culture and following ethical principles characterised by openness, freedom, and and transparency.

It is a mindset of authentic generousity.

It is practical. And pretty simple.

Openness should run through all academic practice, but it probably comes down to four pillars: open access, open licensing, open formats, and open governance.

The first pillar is that academic work is openly accessible. These days, that typically means accessible on the internet, but once upon a time this was the role of libraries.

My passion for open access came out of my frustration, while doing a PhD during the late 1990s, at not being able to find stuff, particularly once you get into a specific area, and then traipsing around around the world collecting cardboard boxes full of articles and bringing them back and, eventually, scanning them and sharing them more widely. I was scratching my head, going “it shouldn't be to be like this, we've got the internet now”. And I could see the future of the internet’s potential to transform the availability of knowledge.

The second thing is that we live in a world currently where the default licencing is copyright all rights reserved. So, unless you stick your neck out and use a public domain or Creative Commons licence, which most people don't, then we're feeding into a closed system.

And then there are some more subtle aspects. There's the format we choose to share materials in. On one hand, any format is useful if it allows somebody to find it. But if you genuinely want the material to be maximally flexible and reusable, then there are open formats that allow people to more easily edit the material.

And lastly, we can go one step further. It's not just about the content, it's also about the process of creating the material. Interestingly, in research we've moved further ahead in this space, so we've always had, for example, letters back to the editor for journal articles to allow public comment and critique on research material. And we're now moving quite rapidly, suddenly - the critical mass is close - towards openness in research. We are starting to see journals publish peer reviews of articles and greater transparency in commentary, data is starting to become available so you can reanalyse it, etcetera. My sense is that research is pushing ahead of where we are at with openness in teaching.

Open access[edit]

The simplest and easiest thing to start doing is switching your learning management systems from closed to open. The default is usually closed, but it is easier than ever to make content open. One of the first things I do when I'm teaching a course each semester is to go into the learning management system and find the settings which flip the course to open.

This speaks to the idea of "openness by default". At the moment, the default for most things that we do in workplaces and in education is "closed by default". There are some places playing around with, "maybe, can we, in some respects, flip the switch?". Some parts are typically open, such as the subject name and syllabus. But you probably won't find much beyond the syllabus. You hit a dead end. You don’t usually find a link to the learning management website from the syllabus.

In government, for example, the critical mass has flipped and government data is now open by default. Not everybody realises that this is a relatively recent evolution. The G8 countries adopted an open data charter in 2013. And the Australian government adopted an open data policy in 2015.

So, government data is open by default unless there some greater public good is served by non-disclosure. In this case, a government department would have to make the argument that it is not in the public interest for the data to be available. You might have heard of Open Government, Open data, govhackfests, and things like that, which find ways for this data, that we own as the public, to be repackaged and reanalysed to make our lives better.

Universities are largely publicly funded, so the intellectual property that gets produced should be available to the public as well, or at least significant parts of it, unless there is a good argument for why it shouldn't be available.

We do make some things available (e.g., syllabi) but as far as I can tell no Australian university has gone so far as to say that the products of their work are publicly available by default. However, we have seen research pushing ahead. We've seen a lot of universities in the last five or so years, starting to encourage academic staff to publish with open access and provide funds for open access publishing.

One example is:

"The University of Adelaide strongly encourages open access. Providing free and unrestricted access to research publications helps to increase the impact of University research though greater discoverability and availability of output, and contributes to creating a more equitable society." (

But we are not yet seeing equivalent statements about university teaching and learning materials. Maybe that's going to come in the next 5 to 10 years. I don't see why openness should be restricted to research activity. The current research approach to openness is still only to encourage openness, it is generally not making work open by default. But, as most of you know, public grant bodies like NHMRC are starting to say, "if you want public money to do your research, then you need to release your outputs publicly online with a Creative Commons licence".

I sometimes think of this as a hierarchy of needs, reaching towards full actualisation (sharing). When we create ideas, writings, curricula etcetera, as teachers, we generally don't just hang on to that ourselves, we share about it in the classroom, so you're already taking the first step beyond yourself to share it with those immediate people. A lot of us might also share it with colleagues and peers or within the institution. But most of us stop around about there. Some of us are bold enough to come and talk at conferences and share with the profession. Sometimes, we might contribute materials to something like a national database or clearinghouse. But, ultimately, if psychology is about improving the lot of human society, it should be more openly available and we've got the perfect tool - we've got something called the internet.

So, how open is your syllabus? Probably open.

How open is your learning management site? It is probably not. But, most learning management sites are now getting to the point where you can tick what parts to share on and off or you can host materials on a public website and then link to them from your learning management system.

What about your lecture and tutorial streamings and recordings? This idea about "is the lecture is dead?", I find to be a very odd debate. If people are complaining that nobody's turning up to lectures, there's a perfect solution, which is to invite everybody. Why only invite a small number of people who don't want to turn up? Why shouldn't all lectures at universities, be public lectures, and be promoted to the public? Allow the community to come along and access the knowledge.

Textbooks - this is one that often gets me going. Textbook prices have increased far more than CPI - they've become ridiculously priced. We give our research away and we give our textbooks away to commercial publishers so they own the copyright. And then we get our students to pay for the knowledge that we, as academics, produced! We’ve been duped into this, but there are now open licensed psychology textbooks becoming available. There is a community that is producing completely open materials that you can grab, adapt, change, and do with what you like.

So, there's a huge opportunity to produce materials that anybody can access. And the great thing about this approach is that if you don't like an open textbook, you fork it - just download it, open it up, and make the changes you want.

Class notes and teaching materials, etcetera. - most of us don't think about this, so we just lapse into the default, which is to keep them largely to ourselves and our students.

Open licensing[edit]

Really, every academic should have done some sort of training to understand licensing, but I've never seen a university offer a single professional development workshop on copyright licencing options.

So, what copyright licenses do you use? If you don't know, then you're using all rights reserved as your copyright licence because that's the legal default. But there are other options. The basic distinction is between copyright and the copyleft alternatives.

Copyleft licences consist of either putting things into the public domain or using something like a Creative Commons license. The problem with public domain licensing is that a commercial operator can access that content, make changes, and then copyright restrict the products they make. And that's why we would generally recommend a Creative Commons licence because that says, "you can use it, anybody can use it, but any derivatives must also be allowed to be used by others". So, you kind of use copyright law to force subsequent materials to be allowed for re-use.

So, if you don't know what else to use, Creative Commons is recommended, but there are plenty of open licenses for specific needs you may wish to protect.

I might add here that there's a very grey area around who owns the copyright for teaching materials that you produce, which I find quite ironic because the university lets you give your copyright away for research to commercial publishers. But sometimes universities get a little antsy when you say you want to publicly release a lecture recording, or something like that, and they plaster copyright restriction warnings all over it.

But I would argue that there is more to be gained by universities publicly releasing teaching materials than hanging on to them. For one thing, it's free advertising which brings kudos to the university and I don't know any university which makes much profit off selling psychology teaching materials. Most psychology books go out of print and everything will end up in the public domain anyway after you’ve been dead for 70 years, so you're just temporarily holding on to it.

Open formats[edit]

Open formats are more subtle. Some electronic formats are more reusable and friendly than others. Basically, if you're using commercial software to produce something in a closed format, it means that somebody without that software can't access that material. For example: an SPSS data file. If you release the SAV file, yes, it's publicly open, but what you're saying is that somebody has to pay hundreds of dollars to buy a piece of software to read that data. So, therefore, you would ideally share a CSV file, or something like that, so that it can be read by some sort of free and open source software.

So, basically, is the material you are producing readable using free and open source software?

And I'm thinking here of documents, data, slides, images, audio, and video. For example, most people would be familiar with image formats like PNG or JPG. But the ideal format would be something like SVG. With an SVG file, you can edit everything, every single pixel, with a free software package. Audio and videos can be more difficult, but mp3 and mp4 files have become open standards.

Open governance[edit]

In many ways, I find governance to be the most interesting aspect of open academia. So far I've been talking about putting an output out there, as a static thing; instead of sending something by email, we're just sticking it on the web for anyone. But what I'm passionate about is: how do we go from a blank page to some sort of useful output, can that be done publicly and transparently, and can it involve other people’s contributions along the way? In a sense, is the entire process of creation democratic? If you think of how people come up with legislation, we would expect a politician to come up with an idea through community consultation, bring out drafts, incorporate comments, put it through a couple of houses of parliament, etcetera. And then we can hopefully get some decent legislation rather than in an autocratic society, which just says, "this is the law".

If you use Microsoft Word, and you make a mistake then save it, you've lost the original because the software provides no version history. More sophisticated software will store the version history (track every edit), so that anyone can go back to any earlier version.

I also embrace the idea of "students as partners". Students are intelligent people who can be involved in building of content.


I'm going to turn to a couple of examples which will illustrate what I'm talking about.

I build most of my teaching materials using the Wikimedia Foundation (WMF) platform which you would know best as the nonprofit organisation that hosts Wikipedia and provides that software. Their vision statement is to "Imagine a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge". What most people don't realise is that, in addition to Wikipedia, there's about a dozen sister projects that run on the same platform, same software. Wikipedia is for encyclopedic knowledge but there is WikiSpecies which has stuff about plants and animals, there is Wikimedia Commons which has the free images, videos, audio, etcetera, and there's a project, called Wikiversity, for freely available teaching and learning materials and research.

So, I put most of my stuff up on Wikiversity. For example, I teach a third year psychology unit called motivation and emotion. The thing that I love about this is that, not only are lectures, tutorials etcetera available, but students also write here. So, instead of setting them one essay topic which they write about on their own drive, submit to a marker, and then forget about, here they choose or negotiate a unique motivation or emotion topic and write publicly online. We've been doing this for seven or eight years and students have written over 1,000 4,000 word online book chapters about different motivation and emotion topics. They write individually, but they can see what each other is writing and they can comment on each other's writing as it progresses and they can give each other feedback. The editing is live and transparent. The public may also engage. The platform provides editing history. So, I can go back and see every edit, and drop in and help out. There is a discussion page attached to each chapter which is used to collect comments.

These chapters are typically a student's first publication. So at the end of it, they can add it to their CV or resume, they can show a potential employer what they've done, and they can continue to update it, if they want to, after they've finished the course. And the chapters broker or communicate psychology knowledge to the community who can build on and use it. For example, one student wrote about sexting motivation. You can see the table of contents and they also produce a three minute audio visual overview of the topic, which is available on the internet, which provides another portal into the material.

Another example is at the PhD level. [This is a 2016 most I supervised. We had a conversation at the start and the candidate agreed to produce an open PhD by publication. So, he produced four open access journal publications and created a very simple website to share this material, with links to all the papers and supplementary materials. This maximised the sharing of the material and benefited his future professional career.

Questions and answers[edit]

Question: Have you had much push-back?

Answer: I expected more, to be honest, but most people just seem to be a bit bewildered. I've had a go, when we review IP policies, to try to encourage moving towards more openness by default. Most people just kind of raise their eyebrows a bit and go "OK".

In all this time, I've had one out of 1000 students doing that online book chapter exercise, who wanted her work taken down, which was fine, we just deleted it and you can remove all the editing history.

Students are certainly sceptical and a bit confronted at first. They're so used to writing, sending it to the lecturer and then hiding it under the bed, that when you say, "you're working in a global, public world", it's a little confronting, but I often say to them, "look, when you go into the workplace, it's actually pretty unlikely that you will write many documents solely on your own; there will be a significant degree of collaborative writing". And so I sell this as "learning how to write collaboratively".

Question: I’ve taught an open course and we had to go through our university legal team and I’ve tried to write an open textbook and had to do the same thing. Has that been your experience?

Answer: I just do it.

Comment: Don't ask permission.

Answer: Yeah, it's a bit like that. Sometimes if you try and go through the "right" channels, you end up getting nowhere. I haven't had anybody come knocking on my door saying, "you can't do that".

Question: So, do you just do this yourself? What about the other teachers in psychology?

Answer: Probably the weakness of this is that it's been a bit of an individual approach. And I have had near zero success in terms of bringing local colleagues along on the journey. Having said that, in the process, I’ve connected with people around the world. There are equivalents of myself dotted around the world and we kind of connect together. But it does mean for students, it's not a whole-of-course experience. It's a one-off experience in the subjects that I teach.

Question: I think Open Science has been one of my favourite topics for a long time, so I think this a great example of moving that into the normal teaching and learning sphere. What do you think of the Noba Project? Do you think the quality is there?

Answer: I don't know the Nova Project.

Comment: N O B A.

Answer: Oh, Noba. I don't know it.

Comment: Have a look. It is very interesting. Free textbooks, essentially.

Question: Hi, I’m just interested in other formats. At our college we're using iTunesU and its our understanding that its going to discontinue and our whole goal as a school is to have everything we do open for anybody to have access to; are there any other formats that would suggest?

Answer: For sharing video and audio?

Comment: Everything: documents, slides ...

Answer: It's interesting, watching my kids go through high school, their practices are way more open than universities. I've noticed a lot of them are using Google Classroom. Do you guys use Google Classroom?

Comment: We're starting to adopt Google Classroom.

Answer: I also use Google Drive a lot for just working stuff up. From what I've seen of Google Classroom, it is pretty impressive. And it could probably do everything that you're talking about.

Question: Great presentation; really, really interesting, particularly the motivation and emotion. I was wondering what are your numbers, because I teach a first year unit with 400 to 500 students.

Answer: It's about 170. But, you bring up workload. This takes more work. It does. There's a commitment to spending more time with students. And so, yes, that is an issue. I think there are ways to scale it. But I would suggest if you wanted to try something like this, maybe try it with a smaller cohort to start with. I've been able to handle bigger and bigger cohorts, but I wouldn't have been able to do it right at the very start. So there is some learning that takes place. But I do think there's ways of doing this with larger cohorts.

See also[edit]