The expression “standing on the shoulders of giants” conveys the meaning of “discovering truth by building on previous discoveries”. It was found in a letter by Isaac Newton dating from 1676, but it is a principle that is still widely used in our present world and daily lives, and predominantly in an academic context. This is also where I found myself wondering as a first year student in 2008: How can the world outside academia benefit from scientific knowledge if you can only access all the articles through certain (costly) subscriptions? How can a non-academic individual stand on the shoulder of giants? Shouldn’t science be public, open and accessible for everybody? Also, how am I going to use the knowledge as a business professional when I graduate myself? I was not aware that this question (in a different form) would become my topic of interest after almost 8 years in 2016. I will come back to this later…

Meanwhile the following developments were taking place as early as 2002. In this year UNESCO hosted a forum that aimed at developing a universal educational resource available for the whole of humanity. They chose the term “open educational resource” (OER) to describe their efforts: defined as “technology-enabled, open provision of educational resources for consultation, use and adaptation by a community of users for non-commercial purposes.” Since that forum, a lot has happened. From open access, to open educational resources, and more recently, (massive) open online courses (MOOCs). Gradually, more and more higher educational institutions are participating in this “open” movement.

It is slowly becoming a significant strategic incentive for universities to embark into this new adventure, making it able to stand on the shoulders of giants for more and more individuals. Although, in my opinion, it indeed is a very positive development that academia is opening up, it is also the moment to realize that there is another side to the story. What does this mean for these institutions themselves, they have never opened up before. What implications does it have for the quality of education, their reputation and their organizational culture for example? How do organizations like universities change when becoming more open? What are enablers to do this the right way? How, and to what extend is Open Online Education embedded in organizations?

As a part of the SOONER project I am now trying to find out how open online education is structurally embedded in organizations/universities. I got what I asked for as a first year student basically! I am curious to see what giants I can stand on…

Author MartineSchophuizen

Martine’s background lies in Psychology and Learning Sciences as she holds a Bachelors degree in Cognitive Psychology, and a Masters degree in Management of Learning (Maastricht University). After her studies she was a management trainee at a large dutch corporate telecom company. After that, she got the chance to go back into the academic world and had some hands on teaching experience as a lecturer at Maastricht University. She is now working as a PhD candidate at the Welten Institute of the Dutch Open University in Heerlen. Her research is centred around the question to what extent Open Online Education (OOE) is embedded in higher learning institutions. She will mainly focus on the organizational (pre)conditions that lead to succes/failure of OOE, the effect of Open Online Education on the organization, and the contribution it has towards the quality of education.

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  • Olga Firssova says:

    A beautiful metaphor Martine, and a most appropriate one! Google Scholar has been using it from the very start and Open Education adds a very important dimension to enabling learning from the giants, thus making standing on their shoulders feasible!