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Pedagogical Purpose of Open Sharing

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posted on 24.12.2016 by Lorena A. Barba
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At the opening keynote of the 2016 Annual Meeting of the Berkeley Initiative for Transparency in the Social Sciences (BITSS), Prof. Barba discussed the pedagogical purpose of open sharing—how openness enriches our capacity to create knowledge together.

The reflections for this keynote stemmed from years of experience as an open educator: sharing open educational resources (OER), spearheading a new genre of OER using Jupyter notebooks, and creating an indie MOOC on numerical methods for engineering.


At the 2014 SciPy (scientific Python) conference in Austin, TX, Barba gave a keynote where she declared IPython Notebooks (later re-branded as Jupyter) a “killer app” for STEM education.
Soon after, she coined the term "computable content," defined as educational content made powerfully interactive via compute engines in the learning platform. The concept is at the center of her self-produced MOOC, "Practical Numerical Methods with Python." She has inspired others around the world to create similar OERs using Jupyter notebooks.

Why “open” in education?

In an October-2015 interview by mathematics professor and blogger Robert Talbert, Barba answers this question: “Why do you advocate so strongly for open-source technology in research and education?” She first clarified what we mean by “open” in education. 

Barba takes inspiration from the open-source software movement: 

"Free and open-source software (FOSS) is a human invention of tremendous impact. It poses an alternative to intellectual-property instruments that are limiting and want to control how a creative work is used. Open-source licenses allow people to coordinate their work freely, within the confines of copyright law, while making access and wide distribution a priority. I’ve always thought that this is fundamentally aligned with the method of science, where we value academic freedom and wide dissemination of scientific findings. In education, “open” also carries the meaning that the copyrighted work is free to use, distribute and modify. Lately, this meaning has been eroded to include only free access, and I take issue with this. In many MOOCs, we see “all rights reserved” all over the content: this is not open.

Openness in education serves a pedagogical purpose, no less. The view of connectivist knowledge sees it created by interacting individuals in a personal learning network. Learning by forming connections (between concepts, people, actions, objects, etc.) is made richer by open sharing, especially with learners creating derivative works, and sharing these too. The open-source software communities have really shown us how the coordinated labor of many, sharing their products freely, produces great advances in technology, and so it can happen in education."