Research/open educators factory

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Project background

The Open Educators Factory (OEF) project stems from the assumption that true progress in terms of openness in higher education (as well as in other educational sectors) requires a major cultural change in the mindset of all stakeholders from public policy makers to institutional leaders, to teachers and researchers, to students and parents. As suggested by Martin Weller in his The Battle for Open, this cultural change is gradually happening, but not at the pace that would be needed to make sure that any potential learner can access quality education following his or her preferences in a meaningful way.

OEF believes that the cornerstones for this cultural change to happen are educators. University educators (meant as professors, lecturers and tutors) represent in fact the biggest “resistance” to the Open Education revolution – mainly because they typically fear that their role might be undermined by open approaches and because they do not have a full understanding of the potential of Open Education – and at the same time are the ones that could contribute the most to the adoption of Open Education practices from a genuine bottom up perspective. The idea is that if teachers would drive the Open Education change, even in times when generalised budget cuts are undermining the Higher Education sector development and modernisation, the whole process would be more inclusive, creative and rooted to the real needs of learners. On the other hand, if teachers will not mobilise becoming promoters of open approaches, marketization and privatisation will most probably become the norm in Higher Education across the world, at the expenses of academic freedom and access to education.

The project is internally funded by the Universidad Internacional de la Rioja (UNIR) and is part of the work of the Research Institute for Innovation & Technology in Education (UNIR iTED).

Objectives and methodology

The aim of the Open Educators Factory project is to explore how to transform university teachers from “agents of resistance” into “agents of change” for openness in education.

The project objectives are:

  • To reflect on the change process that is needed to empower HE teachers to become agents of change towards the adoption of open practices in education;
  • To reach a working definition of "Open Educator";
  • To develop a multidimensional framework (tackling learning content as well as design, teaching and assessment) able to guide educators in embracing openness in their daily practice;
  • To test and validate the framework with a pool of teachers from a number of universities.


Literature review

The project started with a literature review phase, where we have been searching for considerations and research findings linked with the transformation that is supposed to take place in teachers' activities in connection with the "openness revolution". Interestingly, while definitions of OER and Open Education are abundant in scientific literature as well as in practice, a definition that encompasses openness within all dimensions of teachers’ activities does not seem to exist. On the other hand, we have encountered many descriptions of sub-aspects of what an Open Educator could and should be. Existing literature seems in fact to be focusing mostly on the "objects" of Open Education, namely Open Educational Resources and more recently MOOCs (Allen and Seaman 2014, Cormier 2008, De los Arcos et al. 2014, Kortemeyer 2013, Rolfe 2012, Wild 2012 among others), or on its "processes", such as Open Pedagogies (Andrade et al 2011, Esposito 2013, Murphy 2013, Okada et al. 2012 among others), Open Design (Conole 2013, Laurillard 2012, Cochrane and Antonczak 2015 among others), Open Scholarship (Pearce et al. 2010, Weller 2012 among others). In addition, teachers are often targeted with guidelines that should facilitate their development towards the adoption of open approaches (Butcher 2015, Grodecka and Śliwowski 2014, Kreutzer 2014, McGill 2012 among others) or with competencies frameworks that should structure their professional development in general terms (Department for Business, Innovation & Skills of the UK 2015, Higher Education Academy 2011) or with reference to ICT as with the UNESCO ICT Competencies Framework for Teachers (UNESCO 2011).

Experts interviews

The following experts have been interviewed to discuss the project hypothesis and to finetune the project analysis framework:

1. Martin Weller, The Open University, UK

2. Wayne Mackintosh, OER-F, New Zealand 

3. Rory Mc Greal, Athabasca University, Canada  

4. Chrissi Nerantzi, Manchester Metropolitan University, UK 

5. Antonio Texeira, Universidade Aberta de Portugal, Portugal 

6. Daniel Burgos, Universidad Internacional de la Rioja, Spain                        

Framework development and platform building

On the basis of the literature review and of the inputs received through the interviews, a working definition of "Open Educator" was developed together with a framework that aims to show the different transition phases that a teacher needs to go through in order to transform into an open educator. Further, a Focus Group was held in the Universidad Internacional de la Rioja to test the draft project framework and the underlying questions with professors and lecturers.

Based on this framework, a web tool has been developed, targeted to both teachers and university managers.

Teachers are required to reply to a few questions on their daily teaching practices and are automatically "positioned" by the system in the framework, so to understand where do they stand in terms of openness with respect to existing possibilities. Further, the tool provides teachers with specific recommendations - depending on their actual competences - to advance in their path towards openness.

University or departments managers, provided that a number of educators in their institution or department have positioned themselves in the framework, can appreciate the level of openness of their staff, understanding who are the leading faculty in terms for open approaches.

Pilot and analysis of results

During the pilot phase, the OEF conceptual framework and platforms have been tested within the Polytechnic University (POLITO) of Turin, in Italy. Data from more than 180 educators' replies to the questionnaire has been recorded and analysed, in collaboration with the POLITO Vice-Dean for Teaching and with a number of international experts. The results is actually being published.

Main results

Definition of Open Educator 

Out of the first phase of the project work, the following definition of Open Educator is proposed:  

An Open Educator choses to use open approaches, when possible and appropriate, with the aim to remove all unnecessary barriers to learning. She works through an open online identity and relies on online social networking to enrich and implement her work, understanding that collaboration bears a responsibility towards the work of others.

An Open Educator implements openness along four main activities. She:

1. Implements Open Learning Design, by openly sharing ideas and plans about her teaching activities with experts and with past and potential students, incorporating inputs and transparently leaving a trace of the development process.

2. Uses open educational content, by releasing her teaching resources through open licenses, by facilitating sharing of her resources through OER repositories and other means, and by adapting, assembling and using OERs produced by others in her teaching.

3. Adopts Open Pedagogies, fostering co-creation of knowledge by students through online and offline collaboration, allowing learners to contribute to public knowledge resources such as Wikipedia.

4. Implements open assessment practices such as peer and collaborative evaluation, open badges and e-portfolios, engaging students as well as external stakeholders in learning assessment.

Self-assessment and development framework for Open Educators

Starting from the four areas presented in the definition, we have developed a framework for teachers self-assessment and professional development, where the columns represent the four areas of activity of our Open Educator definition (learning design, content, teaching and assessment), and the rows indicate – with a necessary degree of generalisation – the different typologies of educators with respect to openness within each activity area. Starting from the bottom, for each column we have defined three levels of openness that an educator typically reaches once she/he goes through some necessary transition phases that are transversal to all four components. The first transition phase has to do with being aware of open approaches, and represents still today the main obstacle for the teaching populations to opt for openness (Brown et al. 2010). The second transition phase deals with becoming “fluent” with openness: once gone though this transition, an educator is expected to adopt open approaches as default in the way she/he designs her/his courses, she/he develops and shares content, she/he interacts with students, and she/he carries on learning assessment.

Interestingly, a clear correspondence exists between the level of openness of an educator – conceptualised in the three horizontal layers in the table – and her/his collaboration and networking attitudes. The educators typologies at the bottom of the table (individual designers, OER-null educators, traditional teachers and lone evaluators) all have in common the fact that they do not rely systematically on collaboration in their daily work: they do not share with others their courses ideas, they do not openly release their teaching materials nor use materials produced by others, they do not engage students in cooperation activities nor in assessment. One layer up, the collaborative designers, the OER novices, the engaging teachers and the innovative evaluators all have in common the fact that they typically collaborate bilaterally or though small-group collaboration with peers and colleagues, either from the same university or through online means. Finally, educators in the third layer are the ones that adopt open online collaboration practices either in the way they design their courses, release their materials and reuse materials by others, and in the way they teach and assess students; they typically do so by relying on an open online identity and my making full and confident use of online communities and social networks. This clear relation between openness and networking is in line with the findings of a number of researchers in the field (Weller 2011, 2012 and 2014, Esposito 2013, Okada et al. 2012, Murphy 2013, Recker et al. 2014, Orr et al. 2015) and is well explained by Weller: “Digital content, distributed via a global network, has laid the foundation for potential changes in academia, but it is when the element of openness is added in that more fundamental challenges to existing practice are seen” (Weller 2012: 6).

It should be noted that the table is not intended as a competencies development framework but rather as a self-assessment and development tool for teachers.

Areas of activity
A. Design B. Content C. Teaching D. Assessment


3. Open designer

Shares her course design ideas and curriculum openly through social media, including with colleagues and with students.

3. Expert OER user

Re-shares resources she has reused openly through social media and OER repositories.

Uses resources created by others.

Searches for OER through social media and repositories.

Shares links and resources beyond the classroom, through an open online identity.

3. Open teacher

Encourages participation from non-enrolled students in her courses.

Implements methods that foster co-creation of knowledge by students.

Fosters students to contribute to public knowledge resources.

Encourages learners to access freely available online content.

Shares examples of teaching practice in open subject-related communities.

3. Open evaluator

Uses open assessment practices such as peers assessment or e-portfolios.

Engages communities of practices to assess students’ work.

Second transition phase: becoming an Open Educator
Bilateral collaboration/Small groups 2. Collaborative designer

Collaborates in designing her courses with close colleagues, either from the same university or from international subject-related teams.

2. Familiar with OER

Re-shares resources she has reused among close colleagues.

Produces and share one’s own resources under open licences.

Reuses resources recommended by trusted people.

2. Engaging teacher

Adopts seminars-like strategies, either offline or through restricted online spaces (Chats, Discussion forums).

Uses “flipped-classroom” methodologies.

Uses the university LMS, to share links and resources with the students of her courses.

2. Innovative evaluator

Experiments with peers-based assessments methods.

First transition phase: becoming aware about openness in education


1. Individual designer

Designs her courses on her own, based on her knowledge and experience.

1.New to OER

Might use digital resources found on the web to enhance teaching and learning.

Does not produce openly-licensed content.

1. Traditional teacher

Adopts traditional trasmissive pedagogy

1. Traditional evaluator

Uses traditional assessment methods such as tests or classwork. 

In the upcoming field research phase, the above framework will be tested within diverse typologies of universities, representing the different approaches towards openness in education, and based on this a set of recommended actions to strengthen the transformative potential of Open Education among teachers will be produced.

The definition and the framework remain fully open and debatable, until the end of February 2015 we are seeking contributions and comments to validate the framework before starting with the pilot phase.

Scientific papers

Nascimbeni, F., Burgos, D., Campbell, L & Tabacco, A. (2018). Mapping Open Educational Practices within universities: a case study. Distance Education, 39:4, 511-527, DOI: 10.1080/01587919.2018.1520040

Nascimbeni, F., Burgos, D. & Spina, E. (2018). Que significa ser um educador aberto? Uma proposta de definição. EmRede, 5(2): 306-317.

Nascimbeni, F. and Burgos, D. (2016). In Search for the Open Educator: Proposal of a Definition and a Framework to Increase Openness Adoption Among University Educators, The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning - IRRODL. Paper available here.

Project presentations

The OEF project has been presented in a number of occasions:

  • In June 2016, OEF animated a debate at the EDEN Conference in Budapest, titled "dear educator, how open are you?". Proceedings available here.
  • In September 2016, OEF and the underlying framework were presented in the Italian elearning conference EMEM. Proceedings available here.
  • In March 2017, the OEF framework was presented through a webinar within the Open Education Week. Presentation available here.
  • In April 2017, the first results of the OEF pilot were discussed at the OER17 Conference, in London. Presentation available here.
  • In June 2017, OEF was presented as a tool for capacity building within universities at the OER Policy Forum in Warsaw, Poland. Presentation available here.
  • In June 2017, OEF was discussed as a best practice in Open Education at the Final Event of the CommonSpaces project in Rome. Presentation available here.
  • In September 2017, OEF organised a Satellite Event within the UNESCO Second OER World Congress, titled "OER and the importance of Open Educators" and counting with a panel coordinated by Fabio Nascimbeni (UNIR) and composed by Daniel Burgos (UNIR), Tel Amiel (Universidade Estadual de Campinas, Brazil), Anthony Camilleri (KIC, Malta) and Colin de la Higuera (Universtty of Nantes, France). A full recording of the event is available here.
  • In April 2018, OEF was presented at the OER18 Conference in Bristol. Presentation available here.

Contact persons

Fabio Nascimbeni. Assistant Professor of eLearning Innovation, Universidad Internacional de la Rioja (UNIR)

Daniel Burgos. Vice-chancellor for Knowledge Transfer, Universidad Internacional de la Rioja (UNIR)