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When you walk around a kindergarten classroom you see a microcosm of the world. In one corner you can find a library, another a mailroom, the center of the class has a kitchen center, students create dramas at the theater, and engineers get to work with building blocks.

We need to think of the classroom spaces we build as similar communities. The purpose

Returning to Your Why

As you start your instructional design we ask you to develop the why for your course. Why teach this course? Where does it fit in your overall curriculum? Why do you want to teach this class?

Granted exterior pressures may influence why courses get taught but you can still ask yourself, “Why do I want to teach this class with open pedagogy methods?”

To further flesh out the pedagogical implications of your we borrow a technique from Jim Groom and Alan Levine to create some type of trailer or advertisement for your class. Match it to your discipline. This maybe a video remix in English, written up as a faux research study, but really a simple bullet list will do.

Just have your thoughts conclude with 1-2 sentence goal for the class. The shorter and more concise the better. This creative activity has been used in design workshops and courses on open pedagogy such as Connected Courses.

As you develop the why we encourage you to reflect using the media you will ask students to use as this will provide a mentor text for you to use later and offer you the opportunity to feel empathy for students. You must remember open pedagogy represents an intellectual risk for students no one has asked them to take. Show them early how you take risks and then reflect on what you learn.

Again you do not have to be a pro video editor or website builder to complete this task. Paper is our favorite edtech. You can make easy movie trailers in imovie, a slideshow in Google Docs or use out HTML template.

As you create the why trailer document your thinking, record your notes, blog about your questions, make some kind of trailer and then reflect on what you learned. This activity will help you connect to your learners.

Learner Personas

After you develop your why turn to the learners you serve. You need to consider the population more than the pedagogy in your instructional design. To do this we take a cue from Desirners who often do user personas when developing features for tools. Ad companies and sales companies have also done persona work to hone sales pitches.

We do something similar using the open design kit by Jess Klein. In this activity your develop personas for potential learners. However in this design work you develop “back stories” for characters such as marital status, education, and other life details.

We avoid this practice as it seems to reinforce bias. In fact if anything you may want to engage in the development of backstories, put them aside, and come back a few days later to interrogate your own bias?

Instead when planning out our learner personas we consider the following factors, previous history, verified knowledge and experience, self-efficacy, and enthusiasm. If you open this class to participants on the campus you may want to do personas for each. While these combinations will be as diverse as our learners we focus on four archetypes. Each of these gets rooted in the history and culture your students bring the class.

  • High prior knowledge and experience, high self efficacy, and high enthusiasm.
  • Low prior knowledge and experience, low self-efficacy, and high enthusiasm.
  • Low prior knowledge, and experience, low self-efficacy, and high enthusiasm.
  • Low prior knowledge and experience, low self-efficacy, and low enthusiasm.

Granted no learner will ever fall perfectly into these archetypes but if you think of students a long these scales and within your local conditions on the ground you can being to make the choices around learner agency that the most successful open pedagogy communities exhibit.

The persona work will also help you in choosing what tools to deploy in the class. What previous experience do students have? What is the minimum tool use for participation? Will you rely on commercial products or social media silos? Persona work shines light on all these questions

 Overall you need to reflect on your learners using two guiding questions, “Where have they been and where do we want to go?”

While we explicitly ask you not to make up back stories for your persona work it is important to consider how ethical and cultural difference may influence attitudes toward sharing work openly.

Creating Agency

Now that we have an idea of the learners you wish to serve we now must determine the level of user agency within your open pedagogy design. A common mistake, one we still make, is the assumption that simply providing the avenues of open access will create the practices found in open pedagogy spaces.

Not true. The strength of networks in existing spaces have built up over years. You may never recreate this type of discourse with your students. First these students may have to take your class, this will change the motivation of learn. Institutional and society pressure may force students to focus on bad measures of knowledge growth such as grades and GPAS. Most importantly our students bring lives with them to our class and many have multiple jobs and children. Finding time to hang out online reflects privilege.

Instead of trying to recreate the best examples of open pedagogy focus more on the agentive nature of blogging and having students control their learning. You can not force community. Your students must coalesce with each other because they find value in participation beyond some square in a rubric. As an designer you must consider how you will balance user agency in terms of choice, control and content.


In terms of learner choice yoru design paradigm revolves around around the amount of instructionalism used in forming class outcomes. On one side you can define measurable objectives and develop predetermined assessments to measure if these goals have been met. On the other side you can have students set their own goals, or subjectives, based on the course design.

Many factors may influence exactly where your course falls. First you will find certain domains of knowledge for attuned or even expecting assessment techniques based on post modern definitions of truth. You may teach in a well defined domain such as pre-algebra with expected goals easier to measure with traditional and adaptive testing.

Yet even in fields with the most structured taxonomies of knowledge you can create opportunities for learners to use and study this knowledge production based manner. The uniting values of open pedagogy revolve more around curriculum as praxis than specific content knowledge.

More knowledge is never bad. Especially in terms of literacy. The more you know the better you read and write and the better you read and write the more you know. Stanovich originally adopted this from the Matthew Effect to explain knowledge and reading comprehension.

In open pedagogy you hope to develop self-directed learners in communities with shared values. Knowledge gained through praxis and passion trumps almost all learning. Direct instruction does work and open pedagogy can create spontaneous and or lasting apprenticeships or knowledge allies.

You can have very specific learning outcomes and still allow for some choice in open pedagogy. Your focus on an instructor is to have laser focus with your feedback while providing situations for learners to develop and share knowledge in disciplinary tasks developed with student passions. It’s hard. Probably why many instructors like text books and tests to measure well defined outcomes.

You also provide choice and control in the types of technologies used to create networks across communities.


The tech

As an instructor you will need to decide what technology you will with your students. Often you may not use the same platform based on where you fall in terms of your personal goals and skill level.

One option allows students to choose any blogging platform that has an RSS feed. We each began with this approach. Our early classes link to many blogging platforms such as Medium,, or We believed we embraced open pedagogy by maximizing choice.

We were wrong. We found offering too much choices added extra anxiety for students and created additional work for us. Students had to evaluate each blogging platform. They needed to consider the quality of the tutorials. We, in turn, wanted to support learners regardless of choice so ended up trying to create too many how-to guides. You want to give users control over the technology but limiting choice can make class more sustainable.

In many ways Ursula Franklin’s description of prescriptive versus holistic technologies highlights the tension in this instructional design decisions. Yes an individual potter’s wheel allows for greater creativity than a paint by number ceramic but it take time and effort to bring someone who has never shaped clay to be able to use their own wheel. A blog is no different. Consider your learner and the amount of instructional time you can dedicate to tool use. In the end we both decided to promote on blogging tool in our classes

Institutional realities may also influence how much control over the tech you give to learners. You may work in a school district that uses Google Suite. Fine. Use a combination of Google Sites, Google Classroom, and Blogger. You can even use open pedagogy techniques in the strictest on learning management systems. You just create a smaller network among your students and focus on the attitudes of open while teaching in a closed system.

<blockquote>Now that I finally understand, even years after calling her a friend @amyburvall's concept of constraint being a creativity engine I don't feel as bad in limiting choice in #openpedagogy #digped Like literally feeling relief when I used to feel guilt restricting choice.<cite></cite></blockquote>

The timeline

You also have to decide what level of control you provide to students in terms of the timelines of modules. Will they be totally self paced, what about assignments for credit, will these have due dates? All of these provide opportunity for choice but usually require designs of constraint.

Here as designers we feel exterior pressures as well. We both, for example, work in teacher education and face an onslaught of assessments and accreditation. This can lead to massive amounts of content and pedagogical knowledge having to be shared within short time frames.

In our experience two week modules work best in online instruction but realities on the ground usually require a mix of one week and two week modules. Yet our design perspective gets biased by the demands of our fields.

You may also allow learners to progress through modules at their own pace. This provides learners with the greatest control over their timeline but many need the guardrails of deadlines when walking the balance beam of life. When designing open pedagogy courses that span across multiple universities you may run the modules on a defined timeline at every site. Others might choose different start and stop times. Often we design entire courses but then we each only complete certain modules on our campuses. The events are time adjacent enough we can start to make rudimentary networks among students across campuses. More frequently students make connections with open participants, usually other instructors or #openpedagogy enthusiasts who

Some in competency based education do not want time to be a factor in the navigation of learning. From this perspective a learner would advance through the modules based on their mastery of skill. This does create challenges around sustaining a coherent community and can lead to anxiety and attrition as each person’s “easy and hard” are different.

If you do have students completing an open pedagogy course you do have to consider deadlines. As instructional designers we experiment with all kinds of due dates. We have tried a, ‘I don’t care when you learn but that you learn approach” and found students often do not stay engaged with the class and treat their online courses as less than a priority for their face to face classes.

In open pedagogy classes when participants do not earn credit small goals or deadlines may improve community engagement. Edublogs, a popular blogging platform among teachers conducted the #Blogging28 challenge with a series of tasks and lists of people who completed the task on those days.

The tasks

Your final scale of choice falls on the tasks that you design for students. Will you provide free reign in that they design provide a menu of choices or enjoy the rich dialogue that having a common task causes?

The key feature to ask yourself when designing the learning task: How do I create a space that allows my participants to grow? Everything starts from there. Notice we did not say task, but rather focus on the participatory learning environment of the task. You need always consider shaping the space of learning more than the learner.

Once you know the types of evidence and artifacts you would like to see emerge from the task you can begin to design the steps to elicit the learning. The key is to focus on production based learning that can connect to learner passion.

This is not easy and you also have to teach a canon of literature or specific content knowledge, but if you build in opportunities for people to reflect on what every they do for the task, well then your task is complete.


Allowing learners to choose or help curate the content of the classroom also builds agency into #OpenPedagogy. As an instructor you can choose i you want all students completing the same readings, choosing from a menu or even curating reeading for their peers.

Social bookmarking provides a novel way to increase agency. This practice thrives in open



Designing the Class

Instructional design in open pedagogy comes in as many flavors ice cream. Yet like our frozen treats we have found some common favorites across the web. Basically most classes that embrace open pedagogy have three common elements.

Digital Hub

Student Website

Class Streams

Designing the Workflow

In our work we try try to design the tasks in #open pedagogy around predictable navigation. How much freedom and constraint you apply determines on the course goals and on meeting the needs of your learner. In general we have always settled on designing our classes around read, write, and participate. We break each lesson into a pattern our students can come to expect.

This is our model from our history. In fact we take the Read, Write, and Participate model from the #webliteracy work which was in turn influenced by our original work oaround online reading comprehension, online content creation, and online collaborative inquiry. In truth it;s a byproduct to the horrible human addiction of thinking in threes..

In terms of tasks plan to scaffold in growth in the technology into your timeline. In fact we often offer a week zero, an idea again from Alan Levine, where we just provide tips on setting up the class. Then as the tasks progress we may introduce new things to do with new technology but always following our core predictable navigation.

designing_open_classrooms.txt · Last modified: 2020/11/29 13:36 (external edit)