All posts by Jen Ross

Openness and the new manifesto

This is one of a series of blog posts that will appear here in the coming weeks, reflecting on aspects of the 2016 manifesto for teaching online.

Closed online spaces limit the educational power of the network. (2011 manifesto)

Online spaces can be permeable and flexible, letting networks and flows replace boundaries. (2011 manifesto)

Openness is neither neutral nor natural: it creates and depends on closures. (2015 manifesto)

The manifesto’s treatment of openness is one of the biggest shifts between the first and second versions – and it’s been noticed and commented on by a number of people already, including Jenny Mackness in her recent post. In 2011, MOOCs hadn’t yet emerged on the scene, and a primary mode for online education – despite many years of engagement with the idea of open educational resources – was to be closed off from the wider web, corralling students and teachers into ostensibly ‘safe’ spaces designed for educational purposes (Bayne 2004).

Discourses of digital education are far more likely now to draw on ideals of openness than of closure or constraint. However, these often lack criticality, assuming that openness is inevitably empowering, and will inevitably disrupt and improve education (Bayne, Knox and Ross 2015).

Openness itself is not often critically interrogated as a term, being taken, problematically, to mean ‘access alone’ (Knox 2013). Richard Edwards (2015) argues that ‘all forms of openness entail forms of closed-ness’ (p.253) and that educators must move away from ‘pursuing openness per se as a worthwhile educational goal’ and instead decide ‘what forms of openness and closed-ness are justifiable’ (p.255).

Martin Weller (2014) suggests that this issue may in fact only really be able to surface now that what he terms the ‘battle’ for openness in education has been won: ‘when it was simply open vs. closed there was a clear distinction: Openness was good, closed was bad. As the victory bells sound, though, it doesn’t take much examination to reveal that it has become a more complex picture’ (p.21). He attributes this in part to the adversarial framing of openness (p.153), which has generated a series of binary positions which are, at best, oversimplified and misleading.

So, a tension between openness and closure is expressed in the manifesto as a reminder that openness is not neutral, and that educators need to be cautious about embracing promises of openness without exploring the closures that will come along with it. This is a practical as well as a theoretical consideration: we have to understand that there are tradeoffs when, for example, we ask students to work openly on the public web (as we have done since 2009 in our Education and Digital Cultures course), in terms of how frank students can be about how the concepts they are learning about intersect with their professional practice. This is part of the reason why our introductory MSc Digital Education course, while it involves students in extended blog activities over the whole semester, does so in a relatively ‘closed’ space of one-to-one student-tutor discussion. We need to approach openness in different ways at different times.

I’ll be talking about some of these issues with Amy Collier at the OpenEd conference in Vancouver in November. I also strongly recommend the recent special issue of Learning, Media and Technology (edited by Sian, Jeremy and me). And really any of Jeremy’s work and writing!

(this post is based on a paper under submission to the Networked Learning 2016 conference, by Sian Bayne and Jen Ross)


Bayne, S., 2004. Smoothness and Striation in Digital Learning Spaces. E-learning, 1(2).

Bayne, S., Knox, J. and Ross, J. (2015) Open Education: the need for a critical approach. Learning, Media and Technology, 40(3), 247-250.

Edwards, R., 2015. Knowledge infrastructures and the inscrutability of openness in education. Learning, Media and Technology, 40(3), pp.251–264.

Knox, J. (2013). The Limitations of Access Alone: moving towards open processes in education. Open Praxis. 5(1). pp. 21-29.

Weller, M., 2014. The Battle For Open: How openness won and why it doesn’t feel like victory, London: Ubiquity Press. Available at: .

Manifesto for Teaching Online, 2016

online can be the privileged mode
Online can be the privileged mode: image made by James Lamb

The new manifesto is here! First written in 2011, the manifesto has been an important touchstone for the work of the Digital Education team at the University of Edinburgh, andan excellent source of discussion and debate with students, colleagues, and professionals in the field. It was always intended to be interpretable, and it was made open so that others could remix and rewrite it. This year we decided it was time to revisit and reassemble the manifesto ourselves. While we are still working on formats and visualisations, we wanted to share the text of our new manifesto. We would love your comments!

Many of the preoccupations of the 2011 manifesto remain foregrounded in the 2016 version, including assessment, context, contact, multimodality, aesthetics, openness and closure, power, and surveillance. A few statements have remained as they were, and many are similar but have changed to take account of new concerns, or to attempt better to articulate core ideas. Other statements are completely new, taking up matters of instrumentalism, materiality, scale, authorship, algorithms and automation.

Here are the statements from the 2011 manifesto (left), and the 2016 manifesto (right), shown side-by-side. Changes between the two are underlined on the right.

Manifesto for Teaching Online statements from 2011 and 2015
Manifesto for Teaching Online statements from 2011 and 2016

Manifesto redux

The manifesto is four years old, and lots has happened in the digital education space since it was first published. We always said we wanted it to be a living document, so we are putting that principle into action and have spent the last few months revisiting the statements. This has been an interesting process of discussion and debate, both about what we still feel strongly about in the manifesto, and what we think it needs to take more or different account of in this time of of increasing attention to scale, materiality, code and automation in online education.

The Digital Education team will be relaunching the manifesto soon! We’ll update the blog when we have a publication date finalised.

Manifesto video, 2013 remix

James Lamb, our fantastic colleague, and a student on the MSc in Digital Education, created a video remix of the manifesto at our request in late 2011. Last month, he decided to make a 2013 remix, because, as he says:

Influenced and informed by my own research into multimodality, I wanted to take a more critical approach to the representation of ideas within the video… Within this new version I’ve attempted to take a more rhetorical approach, where the images help to further the arguments proposed within the different Manifesto statements. I’ve also created a new soundtrack that it is intended to work more effectively alongside the images and words. I think that this new orchestration of communicational modes better represents the Manifesto (or at least, my interpretation of it).


A manifesto for teaching online, 2013 remix on Vimeo.