Open education is not a luxury


Polly Thistlethwaite

Polly Thistlethwaite, co-author of Being a scholar in the digital era talks about open education and how higher education’s practices and products must become more democratic to better serve democracy.

Chapter 3 of Being a scholar in the digital era – ‘Opening education and linking it to community’ – is free to download here (pdf), or from the Policy Press website during December. Subsequent chapters will be available over the coming months.

Audre Lorde famously asserted that “for women … poetry is not a luxury.” Artistry and lived experience shared, while valued less than dominant notions of thought and process, is “a vital necessity of our existence,” she wrote (Lorde, Audre. Poetry is Not a Luxury. Chrysalis: A Magazine of Female Culture, 1977, no. 3.).

Open education is no less a luxury. Markets cannot administer equitable access to education or to cultural and scientific information any better than they can fairly manage access to health care. To invoke Lorde’s essay once again, it is vital to share “living as a situation to be experienced and interacted with,” to deepen understanding, to resist oppressions, and to improve lives.

American academics reeled earlier this month, once again, at the manifestations of information-gathering, critical analysis, and decision-making by an electorate we profess to serve and to champion. Scholars and our administrative leaders must learn to thoroughly engage with wider publics. Higher education must work for enrolled students and for non-paying and non-academic students alike. Higher education’s practices, and our products, must become more democratic to better serve democracy.

“Higher education must work for enrolled students and for non-paying and non-academic students alike.”

Back in 2013, the City University of New York’s JustPublics@365 project supported a participatory open online course (the POOC) that was entirely open to enrolled students, to guest lecturers, and to anyone who wanted to attend and participate. The POOC was free of charge and open to anyone with an internet connection, unlike the MOOCS (massive open online courses) being modeled by commercial education investors. My librarian colleagues and I struggled to make the POOC course readings – the book chapters and journal articles – as available as the course instructors were willing to make their lectures and discussions. But, because academic publishers charge big fees to academic libraries to provide online scholarly work to currently enrolled students and faculty only, we had to supplement traditional scholarly publishers’ distribution practices.

Instead, we worked with the authors to open public access to the course’s assigned works. Thanks to open access advocates, it is entirely possible to ‘liberate’ scholarly texts from behind the paywalls publishers and their vendors erect. But it takes some know-how, determination and labor to liberate academic writing to make it available to global public audiences, to anyone who wants to give it a try. Most academic publishers allow journal articles to appear in non-commercial spaces 6 – 18 months after publication. The ShHERPA/RoMEO database allow authors to find publishers’ standing policies for openly posting published journal articles on personal websites on institutional repositories. Book publishers too, such as our hosts at Policy Press, are frequently willing to allow authors to openly publish chapters with permission. Just ask, and you may find your publisher willing to amend your contract to allow greater global access to your work.

Read more about our experiment here, in this freely available chapter of our book .


Policy Press are keen to work with our authors to find innovate ways to reach readers. Please visit our website for more information about our open access options, to download free sample chapters of many of our books and to discover free journal articles.

Being a scholar in the digital era [FC]Being a scholar in the digital era can be purchased here from the Policy Press website for special 20% discounted price of £15.99.

Follow the authors on Twitter: @JessieNYC and @MissReadings

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The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blogpost authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Image copyright: Public Health Image Library

2 Responses to “Open education is not a luxury”

  1. 1 FunNLearn January 6, 2017 at 10:45 am

    Thanks for sharing valuable information

  2. 2 Linford January 24, 2017 at 2:54 pm

    Will agree with you, it’s not a luxury is basic need! Socialist was good providing free education for all people who want it! Why capitalism can’t do the same?

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