Paskevicius, 2017

Paskevicius, M. (2017). Conceptualizing Open Educational Practices through the Lens of Constructive Alignment. Open Praxis, 9(2), 125–140. Retrieved from


The act of instruction may be conceptualized as consisting of four elements: learning outcomes, learning resources, teaching and learning activities, and assessments and evaluation. For instructors in higher education, the way they manage the relationships between these elements is what could be considered the core of their instructional practice. For each of the elements, this paper seeks to identify open educational practices, their affordances, and evidence of their utility in supporting the work of teachers in shifting from existing teaching and learning practices to more open educational practices. The literature reviewed and model proposed may provide educational developers or proponents of open education a lens with which to discuss open educational practices with faculty specifically related to their teaching and learning design practices.


  • open education
  • open educational practices
  • OER
  • OEP
  • OEP theory
  • constructive alignment
  • educational development
  • innovation in teaching and learning
  • Creative Commons


Search Terms:

  • open educational practice
  • open education practice
  • open practice
  • open pedagogy

Search Engines

  • Web of Science
  • Harzing's Publish or Perish software
  • Research databases
  • Google Scholar

Included only empirical research on OEP in relation to instructional practice.

Key Quotes

Defining Open Education Practice

While some literature has suggested OEP are simply those which make use of OER, one of the founding documents on open education suggests a broader vision. The Cape Town Open Education Declaration suggests,

“open education is not limited to just open educational resources. It also draws upon open technologies that facilitate collaborative, flexible learning and the open sharing of teaching practices that empower educators to benefit from the best ideas of their colleagues. It may also grow to include new approaches to assessment, accreditation and collaborative learning” (The Cape Town Open Education Declaration, 2007, para. 4).

The differences in the 'open' movement in Europe and North America are interesting in that the OEP and open pedagogy stream has been much more active in Europe, whereas OER have been at the forefront in North America. A large part of this has been due to the amount of private and government funding available in NA for the creation of OER. So OER have become somewhat of the thin edge of the wedge making room for further innovation in higher ed.

Based on these attempts to articulate OEP and a desire to have a definition which more specifically addresses how faculty might make the shift from existing practices to open practices, a working definition in the context of this research is proposed.

Teaching and learning practices where openness is enacted within all aspects of instructional practice; including the design of learning outcomes, the selection of teaching resources, and the planning of activities and assessment. OEP engage both faculty and students with the use and creation of OER, draw attention to the potential afforded by open licences, facilitate open peer-review, and support participatory student-directed projects.

I think that the focus on all aspects of instructional practice is important here. The focus of OER in NA has led to openness being enacted primarily in the selection of learning resources, leaving the rest untouched. This happens when a 'bolt-on' approach is taken or a faculty member simply replaces a commercial textbook with an open one.

The idea of participatory student-directed projects is the crux of the matter, I think. Students learn what students do. Inviting them into the life of the university by including them in real, meaningful participation and contribution is critical.

The Atomic Structure of Instructional Practice

Considering OEP within a framework which supports pedagogically sound instructional design practices makes it more straightforward to identify specific, relevant, roles for integrating OER and enacting OEP (Masterman, 2016). An analysis of the literature on OEP follows considering these four core elements of constructive alignment.

Open Practices for the Design of Learning Outcomes

Ehlers, U.-D. (2011). Extending the Territory: From Open Educational Resources to Open Educational Practices. Journal of Open, Flexible, and Distance Learning, 15(2), 1–10.

  • Low degrees of openness are reflected in learning outcomes where transmission and reproduction of knowledge is the intended goal. transmission model
  • Medium degrees of openness might be said to exist when learning outcomes are predetermined, but the pedagogy is flexible and students are actively involved in collective dialogue. transaction model
  • High degrees of openness would involve co-creation of the learning outcomes, objectives, and methods by students. transformational model

The idea of learning outcomes as artefacts of open practices is new to me, but it follows from why I choose to be more open. Exposing my work to the web makes it available for improvement.

Open Practices for the Design of Learning Resources
  • awareness of OER is increasing, but usage, adoption, and contributions by faculty remains Low
  • research suggests that cost savings do not come at the expense of learning

More theoretical research is needed on the time, effort, and literacies needed to conduct these activities as well as their impacts on pedagogy (Beetham et al., 2012; Jhangiani et al., 2016; Littlejohn & Hood, 2016). Faculty’s adoption of OER also has a secondary impact on students, in that it may be their first exposure to open education, open licensing, and non-commercial sources of knowledge. Acknowledging and sharing the resources being collaboratively created through open education can have an impact on students’ own knowledge practices (Carey et al., 2015). Not only do these practices make the activities in higher education more relevant in modern society but they also foster the development of valuable literacies for students entering the workforce (Royle, Stager & Traxler, 2014).

Open Practices for the Design of Teaching and Learning Activities

Faculty may gradually gravitate towards more OEP as they engage further with the movement. Pitt (2015) reported that 25% of faculty who had engaged with OER reported changing their pedagogical approaches based on this exposure. Further research is needed to determine if engagement with OER leads to the development of OEP. Additionally, research is needed to determine whether adopting OEP alters the dominant model of teacher-centred education. It has been argued that many of the teaching and learning activities which still prevail involve an educator mediating an authoritative learning resource, requiring students to study and reproduce it (Geser, 2007; McAndrew et al., 2010). The pedagogical value of a move towards OEP is that it can provide space for and foster dialogue, co-creation, and participatory learning, deconstructing the teacher-student binary by increasing access and inviting participatory learning (Morris & Strommel, 2014). By adopting OEP in their teaching and learning activities, faculty may enable students to be further involved in the active creation and curation of knowledge during their learning.

Open Practices for Designing Assessment and Evaluation

Constructive alignment derives from a constructivist view of learning emphasising the “centrality of the learner’s activities in creating meaning” (Biggs, 1996, p. 347). OEP which impact assessment rely on the active participation and production of knowledge by students, shifting the role of student as consumer of knowledge to student as a producer of knowledge (Neary & Winn, 2009).

Engaging students in OEP requires a change of orientation around issues such as “authorship, copyright, knowledge production, and expertise […] enabled by the distributed authorship, the renouncement of copyright, and the acceptance of one’s text being edited and transformed by later coauthors” (Dohn, 2009, p. 344).

Downes (2010) argues that those benefiting most from OER are the people who are producing the resources. This argument is reinforced in Littlejohn & Hood’s (2016) study which investigates how individuals learn and construct knowledge through the creation, adaptation, and reusing of OER. In engaging with and sharing OER, individuals promote their own work, teaching, and research processes.

So much of the work students produce for assessment in higher education remains invisible to their peers, wider institution, local community, or the world. Students most often produce works which are submitted via closed learning management systems (LMS), then reviewed only by the faculty member who provides feedback and a grade. Naturally this is appropriate for many instances of assessment, for example sensitive reflections or early formative work.

In some cases, it may be quite appropriate that resources created by students during the process of their learning should be accessed by future students. By doing so we enable students to build on the work of their peers.

Student work shared openly invites review, comment, refinement, network formation, and potential opportunities for collaboration. “When work is done privately – when it is carefully hidden from the public – no synergy is possible. When the individual nodes remain disconnected, no network can emerge” (Wiley, 2016, para. 18).

When exploring more openness in relation to assessment and evaluation, some faculty have expressed concern this may lead to students copying open versions of previous students’ work or sourcing content from the web in academically inappropriate ways (Glud, Buus, Ryberg, Georgsen & Davidsen, 2010; Waycott et al., 2010). While this does become possible with more open methods of assessment and evaluation, it may be managed through alternative learning designs which challenge students to build upon, critique, or evaluate previous students work and adhere to explicit attribution and citation inherent in the practice.

Conversely, faculty have voiced concern about students creating inaccurate resources and a need for quality control of student generated OER (Masterman & Chan, 2015). Peer-review and assessment of student works may help alleviate some of these issues.


Despite the opportunities presented through this new landscape of OEP, many in higher education operate largely as they did in the past (McGoldrick, Watts & Economou, 2015). Both leadership and professional development are needed to support a shift to OEP.

In many ways, the ethos of higher education is closely aligned to the open education movement, however, it is often not made explicit or done in a coordinated way. For Lerman, Miyagawa and Margulies (2008) “open sharing of knowledge is at the heart of the academic process. For many faculty, it is an intrinsic value, convincingly demonstrated in their teaching and research” (2008, p. 214). Willinsky (2014) further argues that by opening access to the teaching, learning, and research processes which occur in universities, we promote the possibility for unintended lessons and unexpected interests among new groups of individuals in society. Openness is a way of engaging with our communities, offering a window into the activities happening on our campuses while inviting broader access and participation from individuals who might not have traditionally had contact with the institution (McGill et al., 2013; Willinsky, 2014).

A remaining challenge is higher education’s entrenched relationship with closed systems and copyright enforced content.

The literacies which support these emergent practices may not come naturally by learning about and interacting with OER alone. Professional development and further training is needed to become equipped with the skills necessary to effectively leverage OEP for enhancing pedagogy (Petrides et al., 2011).


The open movement has come a long way in higher education, as awareness has grown in terms of what OER can offer faculty, the potential cost savings for students, and the impact of collaboration and open sharing of teaching and learning practices. The emergence of OEP reinforces that “open education is not just about disseminating resources […] but also about an opportunity toward broadening and deepening our collective understanding of teaching and learning” (Iiyoshi & Kumar, 2008, p. 439). Situating OEP within the model of constructive alignment allows faculty to envision how open practices might fit into their landscape of practice. Furthermore, integrating OEP in a deliberate way, always with a focus towards contributing to meaningful learning outcomes, ensures that OEP contribute to aligned and meaningful instructional practice.