Education, iterations, and openness – new possibilities

By Dr. Connie Blomgren

Figure 1: Open Pedagogy
Figure 1: Open Pedagogy. Adapted from Hegarty, B. (2015). Attributes of open pedagogy: A model for using open educational resources. Educational Technology. P4.

Recently, the name change for Athabasca University’s MEd was approved and the twenty-five years of a “Masters in Distance Education” became a “Masters in Open, Digital, and Distance Education”. What does this matter and what does it mean? What does it mean for me, an associate professor teaching within this program and more importantly what does it mean for my current and future students?

Due to the COVID-19 virus the pivot to online learning has been experienced unlike no time previously, yet prior to the current pandemic, 12-16  percent of Canadian higher education students were taking online courses (Bates et al, 2017). Since 1995, there have been many changes to the delivery options for education – we now have mobile phones, YouTube, and learning platforms of various kinds and versions. Over the years and concomitant with the rise of digital tools, educational changes have occurred. So the addition of “digital” to our program name makes sense. But what about “open”? What is open education? And how do I continue to iterate, change, adapt in my role of being a teacher of teachers?

I confess that I know a fair bit about openness in education – its history, its pathway to various definitions and conceptions of what entails openness. There are open educational resources (OER), open science and open data, open access publishing and scholarly journals. And of course, there is the shape-shifting term “open pedagogy”. As academics do, I have selected a camp to inhabit, a definition of open pedagogy that is simultaneously binding yet expansive, and I have chosen Browyn Hegarty’s (2015) eight attributes of open pedagogy as a framing device for my researching, thinking, and being part of open pedagogy.

But how am I living out these attributes? Especially during the pandemic? By flipping my regular face-to-face professional learning opportunities online, like most others have done. In this last year I have taken the Creative Common certificate and completed a mini-MOOC on graduate supervision. Additionally, I attended the Carnegie Project on the Education Doctorate’s 2020 CPED Virtual October Convening – upon the one day that non-members were able to attend.

This convening allowed me to learn more about innovative responses to the changing needs of education doctorate students. Dr. Jill A. Perry presented “What is a Dissertation in Practice Anyway?” to help conference attendees like myself further recognize a problem of practice as distinct from a traditional research problem. Familiarity with what a problem of practice dissertation entails allows for a more fulsome inquiry disposition and moves past solutionist thinking. Through her Challenge Room and Mural activity, conference participants brainstormed and listed ideas to three pre-established questions; we dove into collaborative thinking and extended ideas through discussing them. The digital visual collaboration tool Mural helped us collect our thoughts for the wrap- up and for her post presentation purposes. Dispersed yet synchronously together, we pulled apart our thinking about the importance of a problem of practice, an inquiry disposition.

We heard about the possibility of a sixth chapter for a dissertation, whereby an executive summary approach highlights the demonstration of excellence that discusses how the research will be disseminated and shared with various audiences for various purposes. For many educators, a terminal degree is not about a pathway to the academy but rather refining their ability to fulfill professional responsibilities. Being published in a peer-reviewed journal is not the only goal for ed doctorate students and instead other means of disseminating research has value too. For example, a current graduate student in addition to her dissertation requirements, aims to create an infographic as a means of sharing her research results,  similar to the Alberta Teachers Association and their findings about teaching during the pandemic. Busy teachers are receptive to taking up research findings and even more so when the format condenses and invites them to consider it. This is the point of research – for others to take it up.

Later in the day, we also heard about the changes made at Western Carolina University – allowing Ed Doc grad students to write instead of a dissertation, a “disquisition”; “a  written and oral presentation of [a] three-year improvement project” (2021, para 2). This twist on a conventional dissertation allows grad students, many of whom are administrators, to respond to their professional context by addressing through an inquiry mindset a problem of practice. The disquisition allows them to tell what they did, what they generated, and how the inquiry will continue past the formal requirements of completing the degree. Identifying an approachable problem is part of having an inquiry mindset, as defining and naming the problem of practice is a way of thinking that one should carry forth into the future upon graduation. A just, equitable, and inclusive topic and approach is foundational to a dissertation in practice and speaks to the role that research, and especially applied research may have in forging new perceptions upon old problems.

A highlight of this conference was hearing Dr. Chris Osmond from Appalachia State speak to decolonizing educational research. A former student of Madeleine Grumet, he spoke of the perplex and its role in meaningful reflective writing. Throughout the day there were many examples given of the ongoing changes to educational research – arts- based research, learner-centred ways, multi-modal expressions of data (e.g. a wordle  in the shape of a fist to represent anger in a research participant’s interview), a faculty visual journaling group, a prospectus rather than a proposal – all indicating that educational research has been iterating and changing.

Such changes are occurring not only in the USA, but in Canada too. The Canadian Association of Graduate Studies has authored a report, Rethinking the PhD , to respond to the substantial changes occurring in the academy and society with their implications for scholarship. The Carnegie project is part of this change and as the eight attributes of open pedagogy suggest participatory technologies enable people through openness and trust to innovate and create. Sharing ideas through a connected community (momentary or more stable) encourages us to consider new variations upon older foundations.

As a requirement for institutional funding for the conference fee, I am required to share with my colleagues what I learned from attending this day of professional learning. Rather than a Powerpoint to faculty, I opted to write this blog post – placing it where others far beyond my university may learn from me. I encourage you to reach out and learn something, now during these times. Look around and prepare, times are changing. Be open to the iterations.

The registration fee for the online convening was funded by Athabasca University APDF funding.


Hegarty, B. (2015). Attributes of open pedagogy: A model for using open educational resources. Educational Technology, 3-13.

Bates, T., Desbiens, B., Donovan, T., Martel, E., Mayer, D., Paul, R., Poulin, R., & Seaman, J., (2017).  Tracking Online and Distance Education in Canadian Universities and Colleges: 2017. [pdf]

Western Carolina University (2021). Educational Leadership [webpage].

About the Contributor


Dr. Connie Blomgren is an Associate Professor at Athabasca University where she teaches in the MEd and Ed Doctorate program. She curates and supports the BOLT blog and uses it for sharing OER for educators from K-12 and higher education.

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