“Through sharing, we can connect with other people and diverse ideas, as a collective and as a society”Name: Dr Chrissi Nerantzi
Position: Reader in Academic CPD
Expertise: Creativity and innovation in learning and teaching, open education, collaborative learning, networks and communities
Institution: Manchester Metropolitan University, UK
More info: Home Page Twitter Video
ORCID ID: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-7145-1800
An interview with Dr Chrissi Nerantzi on 2 November 2021
Tell us a bit about your work with OER and Open Pedagogy more broadly? How did you come to be involved in Open Education, and have librarians supported you on that Open Education journey?
I have found that through sharing, we can connect with other people.
Thank you for this question. I think this question helped me reflect on my journey as an open practitioner and researcher, and I came to the conclusion that it happened naturally. It wasn’t something that I planned to do, but being Greek born in Germany, then moving from Germany to Greece and then from Greece to the UK, I have always been an outsider, a foreigner.
I have found that through sharing, we can connect with other people. I think that sharing and the values of sharing, have been fundamental in my approach to connect with people and ideas. It is also very deeply ingrained in what Open Education is about. It is that sharing which helps us not just grow as individuals, but also as a collective, as a society. And I came to this quite naturally, I didn’t make any effort, because I value collaboration.
I often say an idea that’s not shared dies. So sharing ideas and connecting with people is fundamental to what I do. And I do that throughout my personal life, but also my professional life.
Regarding librarians, I had the pleasure to meet a fantastic librarian, they do such amazing work. This lady is called Margie McMillan, and I’m sure she doesn’t mind me mentioning her name, but she’s from Canada. I reached out for help on Twitter and Margie responded, so she has been of great help when I did my doctoral studies in Open Education and since then we have become close collaborators and friends and have many critical conversations among us. They are real treasures, librarians, I have to say. And I think they are perhaps underused by educators, so there is a lot of potential there, and perhaps enabling academics to work more closely with librarians would be really valuable.
Who has benefited from Open Education at your institution now, as well as beyond your institution, and what would you say have been the key benefits?
Universities also have a social mission. We are creating knowledge and disseminating knowledge but beyond that it is also about connecting with local communities and global communities to do good for society and create opportunities for learning wherever people are so that we can all flourish.
The key benefit for me personally is that you open teaching and make it more transparent. You make it democratic and embracing. Often teaching is something that you do on your own in a classroom where you close the door, where nobody can see what you do except your students. I think Open Education is refreshing and it helps colleagues get out of their little silos, their little boxes, and begin discussing, sharing, collaborating and co-creating with other educators and students from across the globe. I think that is one of the biggest benefits: that we break free from our little boxes as individual educators and learn the value of sharing and connecting and learning with and from each other. Open Education creates that fantastic platform.
Within my institution, as an academic developer I support colleagues who are also academics, or in professional services, and support student learning in different ways. I have embedded Open Practices and I model such practices in my everyday job, but also through additional projects that I’m involved in.
An example of this is how I support our faculty, Arts and Humanities Faculty. Within that faculty there is a colleague, Dr. Carmen Herrero, who teaches Spanish, and she was inspired by my work, and without me even knowing, she transformed her practices. I introduced her, in an indirect way through my work, into Open Education and she then started implementing very specific changes in her curriculum and assessment strategies and she is now using and co-creating OER with her own students, and that is fantastic. But she hasn’t just done that, she has shared that beyond the institution. So this is something that happened without me knowing, somebody accessing my work because I make it openly available, which is another big bonus, it’s not hidden behind a firewall.
Another example is where I directly invited two colleagues from the same faculty, Louise Batchelor and Ben Greenhalgh, to work on a project during the pandemic with students to co-create a picture book about Covid called, The Invisible King. It was the first time the students worked on a collaborative project like this, the first time they worked on an Open Education project, and the first time they actually made something available under Creative Commons License as a collective that we shared to raise money for the Manchester Mayor’s fund, which he uses to help those in need. We didn’t just share the project, but we also wanted to raise money for good, and that’s something deeply a part of the mission of Open Education: to share but also to grow as a collective and support that social mission.
Universities also have a social mission. We are creating knowledge and disseminating knowledge but beyond that it is also about connecting with local communities and global communities to do good for society and create opportunities for learning wherever people are so that we can all flourish. But often this part of it is not mentioned anywhere. If it had been normalised, it wouldn’t be a bad thing, but I think at the moment, Open Education is still in the periphery and is practiced primarily by innovators, by open practitioners often at the sideline of activities that are happening in higher education institutions. Often those open practitioners find allies in other institutions as it’s often easier to find allies in other institutions. I think that’s something that would be useful to look at: what barriers are there to engaging more colleagues at the local level, so they can also benefit? Obviously academic developers do that, but I think we also need support from strategic leaders in institutions, from librarians, and other colleagues as well.
What do you see as key successes in the Open Education movement, so far, starting from your own experience?
Open Education as a concept is nothing new (…)But we can do it at a global level now.
Bringing people and ideas together. I think that has been the big bonus, to bring diverse perspectives together. To not just be more tolerant about each other but really recognise diverse perspectives. Even if we don’t like certain perspectives, or if we disagree with them, they still are extremely valuable and help us learn and move forward in a more inclusive and richer way.
Open Education as a concept is nothing new. What we are doing now is new, with all the network technologies that we can do at scale, but humans have been sharing ideas since their first existence. We are social animals like Aristotle said, and we always want the company of others and it’s no different in Open Education. But we can do it at a global level now. I think that is another big bonus that we have managed, often with limited resources or no resources at all, based on our pure commitment to share and connect and learn and expand our personal and collective horizons with others and to collaborate with others. To not just solve problems but enrich our personal and collective lives.
So what I have done personally with many other colleagues, is to bring these diverse views and perspectives in. We’ve set up a series of networks, communities, and open courses in the area of professional development for academics in their learning and teaching, and I’ve been doing that for a number of years. Many of these activities and initiatives have been sustained for years without any penny being spent, without any funding. They are purely driven by the people who get involved. Why do people get involved without having any financial gains or any other gains? I think it’s that collegiality that we get. I personally feel connected with other people, while also knowing that together we can achieve something bigger, something that none of us on our own could achieve. It can have it’s challenges, but we all contribute in the way we can, and what I think gets us through it is the camaraderie, the open dialogue, debate and honesty with each other, because we are committed to a project and want it to succeed. So through networks, communities and Open Education Resources, it has been a pleasure to get to know so many people in different places.
As an example of how ideas travel, during my master’s degree, which I completed as blended online education at Edinburgh Napier University in 2011, a colleague from Sweden found me and together we developed an open course, flexible distance and online learning, which then was offered for two years as a cross institutional open collaborative course for academics and other professionals, so teachers that support learning, in both our institutions. It was also offered openly to anybody from across the world. And that course is still offered under the umbrella of Open Network Learning today with colleagues in Sweden and other universities involved. I then set up a different course called FOS, flexible open and social learning. So that shows that ideas can travel if we open the licenses properly and acknowledge where ideas come from. It’s a useful way forward, to spread practices and engage more colleagues in academic development, in their own professional development to enhance their teaching.
In the UK it’s not the same across the globe, as far as I know, we are quite ahead, because we have teaching qualifications for academics in teaching and that’s not happening elsewhere. But what we have seen, and the research confirms, is that after completing their teaching qualifications, academics often disappear from our radars. What I have seen is that these colleagues then reach out to become members of networks and communities, either in their own discipline or in cross disciplinary communities and networks. Some of the work that I have done in this area has captured their interest and they engage regularly.
If we can create other leaders and empower others through authentic engagement it will travel and it will go further and people will engage because there’s also something in there for them.
What still needs to be done for Open Education to truly take hold? What are still the most pressing challenges that you see?
Another point I think is important is to normalise practices. You could have, for example, a module called Open Education
I can only speak as a practitioner and a researcher in the area of Open Education. But I often see the conversations on Open Education focus more on higher education, and I think the picture book that I spoke about was trying to break free of that. I think there is a need, and an opportunity now more than ever, to bridge that gap between the school sector, further education and higher education. Why do we see these boxes are separate boxes? Can we integrate our work on Open Education across the education sector? I think if students arrive in higher education, and it’s the first time they find out what exactly higher education is all about, I think it’s a bit late and they will have missed so many learning opportunities.
Some of these things have been utilised because the generation that is going now to university they have been born with iPads in their pockets, if you like, and they have used certain tools and courses and resources online, but they have no clue often what Open Education Resources are, or how they can be part of this and the real value for them as individuals. So I think, integrating and talking more holistically about Open Education across the education sector would be useful.
Another point I think is important is to normalise practices. You could have, for example, a module called Open Education. You can have another one on creativity, or whatever, but is there really a need for that? Would it not be more valuable to integrate what Open Education stands for in whatever you teach? To model, use and enable students and colleagues to discover the real values and the potential of Open Education for themselves, but also as a social mission. You know if you go back to the Sustainable Development Goals, it is often forgotten that Open Education, until recently, was not regarded as being part of this, and the UNESCO recommendations in 2019 made a huge difference for being more explicit of the role Open Education can play. And universities are now very much concerned about sustainability, often more about environmental sustainability, but without education we can’t do anything, so education is really fundamental, as is Open Education and lifelong learning.
There is an important project, Open Education for a Better World, that has been around for four years, the fourth round has just completed and I’ve been a mentor from the beginning.
I think I would love to work more closely with schools and spread the message of Open Education to teachers and students, and perhaps work on a collaborative project with schools so that we can have higher education and the school sector actually work together on projects, students and staff from both sectors. I think that’s one thing that I would love to start doing much more. It would be very useful for everybody involved to learn more about Open Education, how it can be used also for assessment purposes. We talk a lot about authentic assessment, but Open Education is forgotten. What role can Open Education play? Actually creating and co-creating Open Education Resources is a valuable tool for creating authentic assessments and learning through making. You’re making something, and we all know that we learn a lot more through making than by listening to people.
So that’s one thing I’ll continue working on, as well as modeling practices, learning, and reading about the latest developments, because there are now loads more open educators and practitioners and researchers across the globe. I think one other thing that I would like to do more of is be more aware and familiar with the work our colleagues are doing in the Global South. I have always tried to be balanced and help bring diverse people and viewpoints together, but I think in the literature still what is dominant is voices from the Global North. I think that’s something where librarians could potentially help with also. It’s a dominance obviously of English as well and while it’s a lingua franca it can also be a barrier and quite dominant in viewpoints as well. It would be refreshing to learn more about different pedagogical models, frameworks and approaches that are used in different parts of the world and bring that cultural richness into this as well, instead of Western voices dominating.
There is an important project, Open Education for a Better World, that has been around for four years, the fourth round has just completed and I’ve been a mentor from the beginning. It’s a UNESCO supported project led by Nova Gorica University in Slovenia, and you might think that’s a small institution but it’s a small institution with a big vision. A big vision and a big commitment. We know how invigorating it is to connect and learn about all the plans and projects from colleagues across the world. I’ve supported colleagues in India this year when a little girl who created a course with her mom from the youth hub that was introduced this year for the very first time, and it was fascinating the commitment to the course, which was centered around art and well being, something that has also become very important, especially during the pandemic. It’s good to see the young people being committed and wanting to do something to help humans wherever they are. But there are so many fantastic ideas and the whole program is aligned to the SDGs of this year as well.
I hope some of these responses, reflections are useful for other people because I think it’s something that is deeply rooted in the nature of human beings to be open and sharing, and I think we need to revisit our caring nature and be kind to each other, because I think that’s the only way we can not only save ourselves, but also our planet. And this week, there is a big conference in Glasgow, the COP 26, talking about climate change, you know as a central theme, but it is about collaboration, it is about sharing, it is about all these things we say about Open Education. It’s hands on, it’s not just something we talk about, but it’s actually doing something. And I think the doing is what matters because we can say anything, but if it’s not it’s not followed up by making things happen it’s pointless. I think Open Education practitioners are “doers” and “makers”. They are people who can change the world if we all connect.
One final thought on librarians, as I’m always curious as to how librarians can help colleagues in universities all across the education sector more than they already are. I often contact our librarian, we have an academic librarian attached to our program, and when a new open textbook is published that’s relevant to our program I’m always seeking their support to be added to our database so that colleagues can find it. It would be useful also to see, at a strategic level, Open Education become part of the fabric of learning more instead of being an afterthought.
Copyright: Creative Commons CC-BY 4.0 Licence SPARC Europe
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