Home » Open Education » #ioe12 What does it mean to be Open: Open Content, Openness, and OpenWashing

#ioe12 What does it mean to be Open: Open Content, Openness, and OpenWashing

Nowadays, it seems almost everyone is in one way or another jumping on the  OpenWagon.  This  new cool prefix “open” seems to come before more institutional and product names everyday. It reminds me when “lite” products came on the market. Ah–the New Lite Butter: 25% less fat than our original brand. So, now the product has 150 calories of fat per serving, instead of 200.  Is that lite?  I guess it depends on what you compare it to.

I find myself asking the same type of question when an educational institution suddenly adds “Open” in front of its name, or someone claims to be leading an “Open” initiative.   Schools consider themselves using Openness when they use OERs–but is that truly being Open, or maybe just good for their proprietary business practices–a “lite” version of their education?  Is a university system truly Open, when they do not use any Open Source technologies?  Students are paying for the proprietary system, and the school is not making any contributions to the  community: Is that Open? Is it Open when students’ ePortfolios are on proprietary systems that they didn’t choose and that they have to pay for (long story how ePortfolio systems work)?  And, is something open just because it is “free”? Or is there far more Openwashing going on in educational institutions than we realize?

If we can measure a company’s Openness using a set of standards, to determine whether what they offer is Open or Openwashing, couldn’t the same sort of standards apply to other Open claims? And if so, to what degree do we take that?  I wonder how many schools are now using images with CC Share-alike licenses on them, behind closed systems.  I wonder how many Open institutions keep their decision-making processes behind secret doors.  So many questions.  Perhaps we need a scale–like those “lite” products: 20% more open than before… courses are 20% cheaper than before because we are using open textbooks, etc.

Honestly the movement towards Openness in education is a very good thing especially when the commitment to becoming more Open is with the student, and education in general, in mind.  The sad thing is that so many myths and irrational thinking around openness, open content, open source, etc still abound. And there are just so many Open mirages out there.

My mother always reminds me:  “you need a little fat everyday you know”.  My response always has some sort of reference to the kind of fat in the product, and about my commitment to maintaining a healthy diet.  So, everything can’t always be open (well, maybe). I mean there are somethings that need to be private, and some ways we need to make money–besides those ugly banners on web sites everywhere. But when is something “lite” and when is it “low-fat” or “fat-free”?  When is something openwashing and when is something truly open?  My view is that true Openness comes from an ideal and an understanding of what Openness is really all about–community.

Here’s a few interesting commentaries on OpenWashing to get you thinking a bit more:





  1. Jeroen says:

    Thanks for sharing this perspective ellen marie! Had not seen the term OpenWashing before; it makes sense 🙂

  2. Well said. I believe there are some “rubrics” out there to “grade” the level of openness in corporate and institutional initiatives. I know I saw that before, but I can’t seem to find the link right now.

    Anyway, I like your analogy with butter. When the expectations are so low to start with, any nudge or perception of a nudge in a certain direction can become headline. And nobody’s paying attention enough to be outraged and ask the right questions.

    Oh well, I hope #ioe12 can create some “outrageable” people…

  3. ellen_marie ellen_marie says:

    Thanks I appreciate the comments.

  4. Kathleen Stone says:

    Excellent blog! It really does remind me of “greenwashing”, which is still going strong in my opinion. Thanks for the links!

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