How I Became an Open Educator

Shared by @jennihayman

In sitting down to write this story, I had to reflect and think very hard about exactly how I arrived at here, an open practitioner-researcher, part of a global network of doctoral students, working as a Program Manger for a 45-institution online teaching and learning consortium called eCampusOntario in Ontario, Canada, and talking about open practices every day with engaged peers. Then it occurred to me…it was George.

I was minding my own business really, when open hit me. And while it seemed at the time, to come from out of the blue, one of those “why have a I never seen this before” moments. It was really, as with many things, a convergence of pathways and a lifetime of reflection and experiences that delivered me into that moment. It was like a rebirth. I remember it like it was yesterday, although it’s somewhere around eight or nine years ago now. I was working at the Apple Store in Sherway Gardens, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. My job title was “Creative” which in the scheme of things in life is a better job title than most. What that meant was, I was supporting and engaging with Apple customers to help them learn how to use their computers. This wasn’t typical adult training, this was an any customer, any way they want to use their computer, for any reason situation. Very, as it turns out learner driven. As part of my training (I got to go out to Apple “Campus” in Cupertino, once in a lifetime story for another day), I was advised to “never touch a user’s mouse” to use my voice, to encourage and guide, and ensure that the user was learning experientially. Fairly radical thinking in 2007.

I had a customer in my queue, one sunny day in 2007, named George [not his real name]. At the appointed hour George walked in with his son. Now George appeared to me to be an elderly gentleman, soft spoken, a little stooped, very wrinkled, smiling and warm in spirit. His “son” appeared to be in his sixties at least. It turns out that George’s great-grand-kids (a flock of them) had purchased great-grandad a new iMac so he could send them email. This was no small computer, and George brought it in with him on a cart. I helped George and his son get the computer up on the desk and get it plugged in, and George and I sat down on our Apple stools in the 3-ring-circus that is an Apple Store and started talking about George’s needs.

George, it turned out, had never had a computer, had never touched a mouse. Hmmm. Where to begin? There are a lot of assumptions that went through my head about George, quite possibly there were a lot of assumptions going through his head about me. Where we landed, was me asking George to tell me about his life experiences communicating with his family and others, as a starting place. It turns out that George was a history professor and had a long and fruitful career researching, writing, and teaching at a local university. Hmmm, that was pretty interesting and maybe a good starting place. I decided to take a radical approach to interacting with George and be as frank and open with him as he was being with me. I asked him, “George, what’s the best way I can help you learn about this computer that’s not going to make you feel like an idiot? As you are clearly not an idiot.” In that moment I made the deepest connection I have ever made to my own passion for learning, my love of reading, writing, problem solving, puzzling, parenting, my teachers that taught me in that way, my desire to teach others that way, and George’s wisdom and patience in his reply, “well,” he said, “let me try it on my own, and let make mistakes.”

For the next year, pretty much every week, George and I had a tremendous amount of fun with George trying things on his own. He figured out ways to do things on his computer that I would never have thought to try. In a conventional sense (societal norms about “using a computer”) he did a lot of things “wrong” and made a lot of mistakes. Not only did George learn how to use a mouse, he learned how to email his grandkids and great grandkids, he learned how to use a digital camera, he took pictures, he made slideshows, he learned how to use Garageband to make his own music for his slideshows. He created flyers for his church, he started a newsletter, he wrote, and wrote, and wrote about his life and his work in researching and teaching Canadian history. I never once told George he had made a mistake, I encouraged him, and let him know that while I wouldn’t necessarily have done it that way, he got the job done and it was fine work. I occasionally suggested an easier way if I knew of one, to save him some frustration about things, but it was alternative, not a prescription. Very wisely, he did not always take my advice.

George died in mid-2008 at 91, peacefully in his sleep, which is about all one can ask perhaps. It was a cathartic time for me in many other respects, but losing George was a heavy blow. I know how his family felt because I went to his funeral, we cried and laughed, and I heard all about a side of my relationship with George that I hadn’t known about. It turns out that our relationship was a frequent topic of conversation with him and his children, grand-children and great-grand-children. “Jenni-at-the-Apple-Store” was a legend in his mind, very much larger-than-life in the minds of his family because of George’s stories about me and our work together. He called me his “research assistant.” His family was deeply grateful for the year of creativity, and particularly the gifts they had received from George in the form of his writing and storytelling of the last year. A few months later his son David came into the store with an envelope for me. It contained a cheque for $500 dollars. He said that it wasn’t much, but George didn’t have much left this late in his life. George had asked David to make sure that I got a little something so I could go back to school.

I had been considering what to do next career and education-wise, and had talked about that with George many times. He felt I would make a fine teacher and that achieving his PhD in 1950, just after the war, was one of his favourite achievements. I went back to school that fall, a masters in education (distance education), a new career in online learning design and scholarly teaching and learning, a drive to always be different, to push the boundaries of how teaching and learning takes place in higher education, to always be listening to what every individual learner already knows, already cares about, and find ways that I can let them “try it on their own, and make mistakes.” This requires a fundamental shift, in my view, from where we are now in a paradigm of authoritative and narrow prescription in education, to the learner’s view of what is possible, with access to information, with technology, but most of all through collaboration, imagination, and the power of freedom to explore without being told they are idiots. Thank you George.

old tree with wind

Image from a trip I made to Ireland in May 2007. George helped me edit it as part of our practice in photo composition. It’s my favourite.

Post and Image: Jenni Hayman CC BY 4.0 International License


My first babysteps into openness #101openstories

During #openeducationwk 2017 Penny (Australia), Vivianne (Brazil), Judith (Kenya), Jenni (Canada), Sujata (India) and I launched together the #101openstories project. We hope by the end of this year to collect and curate 101 such stories which show how individuals have become open learners, open practitioners or open researchers. The Open Education Working Group and especially Javiera, kindly offered to help us create an open book from #101openstories.

Stories have always fascinated me. As a passionate reader of novels, translator of novels and children’s stories, writer of children’s stories, but also teacher of modern foreign languages, teacher educator and academic developer. facilitator2-259x300The Open Facilitator project with Carol Yeager (@couki1), whom I met in 2011 when I engaged passionately in the Creativity and Multicultural Communication (CMC11) MOOC she developed, and in collaboration with the Open Education Working Group and the Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching at Manchester Metropolitan University, is a collection of stories and brought insights into the facilitation experience that were of value for all of us. We hope others will use the collection to carry out further research in this area. Maybe I should also consider this myself after I have completed my PhD studies.


Another story-related project, the storyboxHE with Ellie (@ehannan14) aims to collect practitioner stories around learning and teaching that can be used in academic development situations and help academics to engage with these and reflect on their own practice through dialogue and collaborative problem-finding and problem solving. I am also using stories in academic development courses and FDOL and FOS that followed based on this, are such an example. 

Stories are a powerful way to share experiences, ideas and create links between the story and our own life experiences and learn from each other. We hope that many individuals from around the world will contribute their story to the #101openstories collection.

Today, I would like to share my open story.

The key questions I asked myself are the following:

  1. How did it all start?
  2. Were did it lead me?

Mmm… it is difficult to pinpoint the exact start. I suspect that my personal life journey in three different countries helped me recognise from early on the importance of sharing and collaborating as well as valuing diversity to survive and thrive.

Sheila, in her open story talks about the usefulness of a timeline… her post reminded me of one I created a while ago as an Excel spreadsheet when I was making another set of timelines for my PhD research. I thought it would be useful and linked to my prologue in the thesis in which I make reference to my path towards openness but as it is part of my PhD I am not sure I can just copy and past it here… so I didn’t read it but started from scratch here…. Creating the timeline helped me visualise some of the connections and see my path into the world of open, all on one sheet, at least the digital dimension. I suspect another layer that captures the non-digital dimension would be equally useful as this was my actual starting point into openness and perhaps I need to add this dimension too after I finish writing this post.

Professionally, I think I could locate my first baby steps towards openness when I started creating learning resources while I was teaching German in Athens. That was before 1990 and I used WordPerfect and a PC that took up a lot of room and hard hardly any brain and used these things called floppy discs which were really floppy. Life as an undergraduate student was challenging… only phone calls, word processing and email or fax for remote communication. No VLE or social media. And I was working full-time in Athens while studying full-time on Corfu… I know, hard to believe. Later, after I had left the Navy (yes, I was in the Navy for 5 years) in 1996 I had the opportunity to stay for a whole academic year in Germersheim at the Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz in Germany to carry out research into translating children’s literature where I also had the opportunity to teach in the department. I remember sitting in front of a computer screen there and was told that this was the internet… while I had been using emails for some years, also worked in a computer centre for five years, and was involved in localising cd-roms as a translator, the internet was alien to me… at that point in time… My expectations were that it would be something much more dynamic than the university site I was looking at. Believe it or not, I asked somebody for help to understand what this was all about… while still in Germersheim, I managed to find my mum’s best friend via the internet who she had lost many years ago… the rest is history. 

6e455650-0324-4907-abc7-e34ba46545d4As a translator I often struggled to find specific terms and I remember in one case calling a casino on Syros island when I was translating Hermann Hesse’s book Der Kurgast for Kastaniotis publications. Would you consider this as open practice? There was no network and especially when the author was no longer alive, books, reference guides and encyclopaedias did not always have the answer, as answers often are within people and the conversations with them, this is what I have found. 

main_menuWhen I become familiar with navigating the web, and social media arrived, I found the freely available SEBRAN software and volunteered to translate this into Greek in 2005.  I was living in the UK by then and was teaching again languages. Also I had an interest in coding  I attended a 10-week html could thanks to which I was able to create my own website and activities for my students who were learning Greek. My prior work as a computer programmer in the Greek Navy did help a tiny bit. I was hooked and soon had created 300 Greek language learning activities and made them freely and openly available. I had used many different freely available software tools that I had found online. This activity all started in 2004. Often people contacted me, not just my own students but also others who found the site and used the activities.this site no longer exists as it was build on a free freeserve ftp space.  I still have all the activities offline and would love to find a place for them online to share again and use in combination with an open course perhaps. 

Many other open activities followed. From wikis for audio feedback in 2008 to collaborative learning and development spaces in the same year using Ning. It was free at the time and I created a whole a teacher development course into it and anybody could access and join us. Earlier when I was still teaching languages, I used the ning platform for language learning combined with cookery lessons. A wide range of projects followed also thanks to the MSc in Blended and Online Education I did at Edinburgh Napier University. I started using the creative commons licenses and integrated open educational resources in courses and materials I used and created. Furthermore, open licenses were also added to the courses I (co-)developed as I feel that this would encourage re-use and adaptation. PhD research in open academic development (I developed a cross-boundary collaborative open learning framework) followed and will hopefully be completed this year. Very quickly, the open projects became collaborative ones as I felt that while I can plant seeds, ideas only grow when they are shared and there is mutual and sustained commitment and trust among collaborators and the focus is above all on the collective interest…

curiosity didn’t kill the cat (image source here)

My curiosity has led me to explore possibilities to maximise learning and development through making, practice and research based on open sharing. Through these activities and the communities these have developed around them, I have had the privilege to get to know and work with diverse individuals from different parts of the world. These relationships continue to expand my horizons with perspectives and ideas I could never have imagined before. 

Thank you all.

The open journey continues…



Share your open story with us all. How did it start for you?
Visit #101openstories!

Body Combat: Metaphor for Open Ed Practice & Critical Advocacy #OER17 #101openstories

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Just wondering what’s body combat? Click here

I’m really looking forward to attending #OER17 next week and participating in the conversation about openness in education, particularly as there’s an emphasis on critical perspectives. The conference theme is ‘The Politics of Open’.

This couldn’t be better for me, as I’ve recently set my cap at doing a PhD study that takes a critical look at aspects of open educational practice (OEP). Although I’ve followed the event over the last few years, it’ll be the first time that I’ve attended in person. However, I don’t think I’ll feel like a total ‘newbie’ because to some extent I already feel part of the ‘open community’. Notwithstanding the fact that I’m based in IET in The Open University and four fellow PhD colleagues will be presenting, plus the entire OER Hub team, also based in IET, it’s because, as an open learner, I’ve already blogged, Tweeted and hung out with a number of individuals who are attending the conference. Plus, there’s so much pre-conference interactive engagement on social media that I’ve been introduced to even more like minded ‘open peeps’. There’s a creative media challengequestions and hashtags and, get this, the keynote speaker, Maha Bali, has been preparing her keynote in the open through a series of blog posts, which she tantalizing pulled together in an #OpenEdSig webinar earlier this week. I strongly urge anyone to watch it as it serves as a REALLY powerful example of what it means for someone to be open ‘as a way of being’, and to engage in open, networked and participatory scholarship.

Which kind of brings me to my research interest, as well as nicely setting up this post as a contribution to the #101openstories project that launched this week. The project invites personal stories about openness, the aim of which is to

help us all get to know each other, share ideas and engage in conversations and identify opportunities to support each other and collaborate. These stories will help us learn with and from each other and grow individually AND collectively.

My open story is that I was hooked through participation in the whole cMOOC phenomenon, to which this blog stands testament. I’m wholeheartedly a product of innovative open educators who dreamed, and dared, to open up learning for all on the web, well, all like me any way 🙂 As such, I feel indebted to these educators and to the network that formed part of this experience, such that I’m interested to learn more about the Open Education and the OER movement and to advocate on its behalf. However, I must essentially be something of a skeptic because I always need to examine things critically, that is, to consider matters of power and to look for hidden assumptions. I know open education is contested, with it increasingly being seen as a response to pressures of neoliberal economics and austerity (Jones 2015). MOOcs being a case in point. Like Martin Weller (2014) says, there’s a ‘Battle for Open‘. Indeed, OER17 is a response to this.

The idea of openness as ‘a way of being’ is very appealing to me. I mean, there’s just so many people out there who seem to approach teaching and learning in this way – sharing openly and transparently as a means of democratizing knowledge. So when I recently discovered the concept of self_OER put forward by Maha Bali and Suzan Koseoglu at OER16, and its references to openness as a ‘way of being’, I was immediately intrigued, especially as they posed the question: how might the processes and products of open scholarship align/intersect with the goals of open education? It’s exactly this that I hope to take up. However, baring in mind that openness is contested, which is evident in the battle metaphor, and which, to be honest, seems to imply institutions, corporations and generally all things big and organized, I was wondering if a metaphor that specifically speaks to the individual open practitioner might be more helpful, body combat!! That’s right, a martial arts inspired mind set.

I recently started going to body combat fitness classes (no, that’s not me in the video) and I can’t help thinking that as open educators and researchers we might benefit from developing our practice, metaphorically, along these lines. Release the inner warrior to fight off the co-option of open, or ‘open washing’.

As Stephen Brookfield (1998) says, critically reflective practice

makes us more aware of those submerged and unacknowledged power dynamics that infuse all practice settings. It also helps to detect hegemonic assumptions – assumptions that we think are in our own best interests but that actually work against us in the long term (p. 197).

Open education has been critiqued for not engaging critically with aspects of power (Bayne et al., 2015; Knox, 2013), and where it has engaged, it has tended to focus on hegemonic aspects of sovereign power, and failed to take account of disciplinary aspects, or ‘technologies of the self’, whereby individuals constitute themselves within and through systems of power, which might seem natural but are either enabled or constrained by the techniques available in the associated discourse (Foucault, 1998). You can see why I’m intrigued by the the concept of the self as OER. The research I’m formulating is not to intended  to expose contradictions and pull the rug from under the feet of those engaged in open education, far from it, rather it’s to suggest something akin to collective self-examination, or a SWOT analysis, one that takes account of all aspects of power. I’m interested to become a better informed open practitioner and to advance the ‘true’ goals of open education. Therefore, extending the martial arts metaphor, I see critical investigation and a body combat mindset as presenting a way of becoming a ‘black belt’ advocate for open education. What do you think?

I look forward to participating in the conversation at OER17 next week and to developing my research ideas further.


  • Bayne, S., Knox, J. and Ross, J. (2015) ‘Open education: the need for a critical approach’, Learning, Media and Technology, vol. 40, no. 3, pp. 247–250.
  • Brookfield, S. (1998) ‘Critically reflective practice’, Journal of Continuing Education in the Health Professions, vol. 18, no. 4, pp. 197–205.
  • Foucault, Michel, et al. (1988) Technologies of the self: A seminar with Michel Foucault. Univ of Massachusetts Press.
  • Jones, C. (2015) ‘Openness, technologies, business models and austerity’, Learning, Media and Technology, vol. 40, no. 3, pp. 328–349.
  • Knox, J. (2013) ‘Five critiques of the open educational resources movement’, Teaching in Higher Education, vol. 18, no. 8, pp. 821–832.
  • Koseoglu, S. and Bali, M. (2016) ‘The Self as an Open Educational Resource [1091]’, #OER16 [Online]. Available at
  • Weller, M. (2014) Battle for Open, Ubiquity Press [Online]. Available at