Learning in the Open

“The point of education and research both is about knowledge sharing as the main goal… open allows us to do that in a way that is not so commodified.”

Daniel Munro. the AMS Associate VP Academic and University Affairs (2015-16) for UBC-V.

The focus of many open education projects is to remove barriers to education. But what does it learning in the open mean? The goal of this toolkit is to provide resources and examples about open and sharing as a core part of learning.

If you have ever used YouTube to learn how to do something or used Khan Academy for studying, you’ve already been learning in the open. In fact, anytime you google something, you are accessing openly available resources – some of which are useful for learning! Additionally, if you’ve ever been asked to create or contribute to something that is shared as part of class, from a public blog, ePortfolio, or student journal to editing Wikipedia, you are creating and sharing resources – a key aspect of open learning.

Open Learning has to do with using and contributing to open content and resources that can be built on or re-used in your own learning. It is also about connecting with communities and networks beyond UBC, by openly sharing your works in progress and building on the work of others.

There are many reasons why learners would turn to the open web to learn. These may include: following an interest or passion; connecting with people and expertise; learning how to do something or understand a concept (think Khan Academy or Veritasium).

Reasons that students are embracing Open Learning include:


The high cost of textbooks and other learning resources (as illustrated in the AMS’ recent #textbookbroke campaign), may lead you or your peers to:

  • delay the buying of necessary materials or avoid purchasing them all together – which may put you at an academic disadvantage.
  • spend hours copying pages from your friends’ textbooks – taking time away from studies.
  • stress out about not having the resources you need to be effective and prepared in your classes.

Open textbooks and learning resources make it possible to access everything you need to learn, free of cost, over the internet. Some examples:

There are many more examples of open learning resources available from universities around the world.

Students are doing it anyway

Have you ever:

  • searched for a video on YouTube to help you learn how to do something?
  • created and uploaded a video that teaches others how to do something?
  • shared your code/project on GitHub
  • spent time on Reddit – accidentally or on purpose to participate in a discussion about something you are interested in?
  • published anything learn-worthy on a blog, Reddit or Facebook?
  • shared or followed a link to learn something from someone you follow on Twitter?
  • contributed to or learned from Wikipedia?

If you have done any of these things, you have participated in the open learning movement in some way. Applying an open license to the work you create is also an important step in contributing to open learning resources. Refer to the How section to learn more…

Students are making a contribution

Learning involves risk taking. When you share your work openly, you are contributing to the building and sharing of knowledge and you are opening up your work for public review. When you are accustomed to learning and creating behind classroom walls and for the eyes of your professor only, working in the open can be both daunting and extremely rewarding. You will want to understand:

  • how your work may be evaluated by others.
  • what your obligations are regarding copyright and appropriate citation of others’ work.
  • how you can license your own work (with an open license) to allow others to re-use and build on your work – while attributing you as the original author.

Learning in the open requires us to grapple with issues of trust, privacy and ownership. Some leading thinkers and open learners share their thoughts on these issues in video diary format at Speaking Openly http://speakingopenly.co.uk/ . Check out the resources below for more information on licensing your work and respecting copyright.

Working with open data may lead to a discovery

Open Data is research data that is freely available on the internet permitting any user to download, copy, analyse, re-process, pass to software or use for any other purpose without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself….In the digital age, data is the raw material on which discoveries are built, and unfettered access to research data, whether in the Life Sciences or the Social Sciences, is crucial to accelerating progress in research. SPARCopen.org

While the internet makes it easy to create and share your own work and be inspired by the work of others, some people make their living from original works. Copyright law allows them to protect their work. On the other hand, there are others who like to create, share and remix on the open web. To let others know that their work is available for re-use (in the way that they specify), open licenses were created (called Creative Commons Licenses).

Openly licensed content, sometimes called Open Educational Resources or OER’s have an open copyright license that allows users to copy the resources and to engage in the “5Rs” open content: Retain, Reuse, Revise, Remix, and Redistribute. What does this all mean for you as a student?

The 5Rs defining open content.
Materials created by David Wiley, CC by 4.0

The 5R’s

The 5R’s of open content gives students and other users the following rights:


The right to make, own, and control copies of the content:

  • Unlike conventional textbooks, OERs are free to access and download for your own use.
  • Unlike online textbooks and course materials that require an expensive access code and expire after your course is done, you can keep your own copy of OERs and continue to use it after the term is over.
  • By adding an open license to your work, you retain your rights as content creator AND you make it east for others to build on your work.


The right to use the content in a wide range of ways (e.g., in a class, in a study group, on a website, in a video):

  • Professors can more easily share course content with you.
  • You are free to use OERs in class projects and presentations, such as using openly licensed images on research posters or presentation slides, without breaking copyright laws. Of course, you always acknowledge the source.


The right to adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself (e.g., translate the content into another language):

  • Because anyone can edit OERs, you can build on the work of scholars and other students by editing or adding to their openly licensed work – in a revision – the original context and meaning is maintained. Of course, you always acknowledge the original source.
  • Professors can create course assignments that have you build on the work of others, allowing you to participate more fully in scholarly discourse. See UBC’s Latin American Literature and Linguistics as examples of students collaborating with community experts to author and revise original work.
  • Mediawiki (the platform the runs Wikipedia and the UBCWiki) supports this principle of open by allowing for revision, documenting revision history, allowing for version control (you can revert to an original after revision of you want) and associating users with revision history – so you can keep track of who has edited the work. More about wikis for learning.


The right to combine the original or revised content with other open content to create something new (e.g., incorporate the content into a mashup):

  • remixing content allows you to combine resources in different ways which may vary widely from the original context of the work. A common example of mashups include memes, combining open data to create virtual tours, etc.
  • Making a Mashup Friendly Library offers some excellent examples of how libraries can support mashups which lead to really useful community resources. It is an open resource created by a graduate student in Library School at UBC.


The right to share copies of the original content, your revisions, or your remixes with others (e.g., give a copy of the content to a friend):

  • Rather than turning in assignments to one person, your professor, and never seeing it again, your openly licensed work can be shared with a wider audience of learners who can learn from and build upon it themselves. See examples of open courses and resources at UBC and beyond.

For more info about the 5R’s, see defining open content David Wiley’s article Defining the “Open” in Open Content and Open Educational Resources.

Creative Commons Licenses

Students, Professors, Artists, and other Creators who wish to have the 5R’s embedded in their work most often do so by using a Creative Commons License. Creative Commons is a non-profit organization whose mandate is to make it easier for creators to share their work and/or build upon the works of others consistent with the rules of copyright. They have created standard, easy to use and understand copyright licenses that anybody can apply to their work to allow others to share, remix, or use the work without having to contact the copyright owner to ask for permission. There are several Creative Commons licenses, each with a different level of use restrictions.

Open Licensing for Students

The Internet is filled with millions of openly licensed resources and content, from images and music to journals and full textbooks.

Guides to Finding Open Resources

You can turn your assignments, essays, and other academic work into an open education resources. Here’s how:

  1. Consider applying a Creative Commons license to your work – it makes it more shareable: Marking Your Work With a CC License
  2. Make it easy to download or (better yet) take apart for remixing. Note: on YouTube, you can license your work with a Creative Commons License and others can remix it in the YouTube video editor.
  3. Publish it on a blog or wiki or in an open journal like the ones listed in the previous section.
  4. If you take photos or create images, especially if you do so in the course of your studies, consider uploading them to a platform like flickr that allows you to license them openly. Here is Foter’s handy guide/infographic for creating and using CC licensed images.

Creating and publishing to YouTube? You can also select a CC license for any video you upload to YouTube. This will allow others to find and build on your work or access it for remixing using YouTube’s video editor.

Learn more from our handy guide: Open Licensing for Students.

Publishing Your Work

Publishing and sharing is a key part of scholarship and academic life and there are many options for students to publish their work and their are many options for publishing.

Personal Publishing

  • Create a blog that you can use for posting and sharing your work. You can select the work you want to share openly and even use your blog for class contributions where student blogging is a requirement.
  • Get a blog.
  • Learn how to do things on a blog.
  • Comments and Privacy: You can control which posts or pages you make public and even choose which users can see what by choosing the options that you want on the blog’s privacy settings. Comments allow you to engage with your audience by responding to questions and comments on your posts. It offers the potential of getting feedback on your work and your ideas from a wider range of people than just your classmates and instructors- if that’s what you choose.

Open Journals

There are also many opportunities to publish your research in undergraduate journals right here at UBC. UBC Library’s institutional repository, cIRcle, is an open access repository that contains a number of items from undergraduate students. To date, there are 1,700+ undergraduate items in cIRcle/OC from across various faculties, departments, schools and centres, etc. as well as conferences and through community partner initiatives.

Additionally, check out the R2RC Open Publishing Guide for Students.

Launched as SPARC’s student initiative in 2009, the Right to Research Coalition (R2RC) is an international alliance of undergraduate and graduate student organizations, which collectively represent nearly 7 million students in over 100 countries, that work to promote Open Access to research through advocacy and education. R2RC members work to educate the next generation of researchers, administrators, and policy makers about the benefits of Open Access and to advocate for policies at the local, national, and international level that require the results of research to be made freely available online with full reuse rights. The coalition also seeks to make students a full partner in establishing Open Access as the default for scholarly communication. – See more at: http://www.sparc.arl.org/initiatives/r2rc#sthash.B3kHryFi.dpuf

Image by righttoresearch.org, CC by 3.0

Here are some examples of currently active open access journals that are student-led:

Digital Tattoo Publishing Resources

The Digital Tattoo Project has created in-depth guides to publishing and making your own work available online:

When working in the open, a concern that comes up for both students and professors is privacy. Aspects of learning can be a private endeavour and working in the open can require making decisions about how to best manage your privacy and online identity.

When sharing work openly, questions to reflect upon include:

  • What agency do I have in deciding to work in the open?
  • Who will see my work?
  • What control do I have over it?
  • Who owns my data?
  • Whose voices are heard online and whose are left out and why?
  • What support do I have?

Digital Tattoo Privacy Resources

What do you know about connecting and working online? What do you need to learn? The Digital Tattoo Project has created resources for understanding and protecting your online identity:

If you’re concerned about the cost of textbooks and resources for your courses, consider talking to your professors about Open Educational Resources.

Why talk to professors?

  • Professors choose what materials are used in their courses. The UBC Bookstore and Library work to encourage the use of less costly and openly accessible alternatives like OERs and used books, but final say lies with the professor.

Show professors students care: give feedback on course resources

  • Share your thoughts on high textbook costs with your professors, show them your appreciation if they use cheap or free alternatives, and tell them how useful you found each resource they assigned. An easy way to do these things is through anonymous midterm or end of term course evaluations, but professors also appreciate in-person conversations and feedback!

Tell your professors about open education

  • If you know of a professor you think would be interested in adopting OERs or open teaching practices, direct them to www.open.ubc.ca for help Open 101. Let them know of any existing OERs you think would be useful for their courses, or tell them about |examples of OER adoptions at UBC.

Let Professors Know You Care About Your Privacy

  • If you have concerns about an open assignment, be sure to discuss it with your prof. Professors care about student privacy.

Talk to your elected student representatives

  • If you have some more great ideas about how students can encourage professors to use OERs, or if you are interested in talking to your professors but want more support getting started, email your AMS Vice-President, Academic and university affairs at vpacademic@ams.ubc.ca. Visit www.ams.ubc.ca/OER to read about some work the AMS has done.
  • LFS350 asks students to create wiki pages rather than papers.
  • Physics 101 course adds student-created learning objects into course curriculum.
source: https://wiki.ubc.ca/Documentation:Open_UBC/Open_Learning_Toolkit