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Expansive Openness in Teacher Practice

by Royce Kimmons - 2016

Background/Context: Previous work on the use of open educational resources in K–12 classrooms has generally focused on issues related to cost. The current study takes a more expansive view of openness that also accounts for adaptation and sharing in authentic classroom contexts. Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study The study seeks to understand what a group of practicing teachers who have been introduced to an expansive vision of openness in practice perceive to be its major potentials and barriers.

Setting: This study took place in two settings: 1) a series of structured summer open education institutes and 2) teachers’ authentic classroom contexts 6 months after the institutes. Population/Participants/Subjects A group of practicing K–12 elementary and secondary teachers (n = 101) self-selected to participate in the institutes and the study.

Intervention/Program/Practice: Institutes were focused, 3-day events wherein teachers constructed PLCs for learning about open education and applying their understanding toward creating open educational resources for their classrooms.

Research Design: This mixed methods study consisted of phenomenological methods for collecting and analyzing qualitative data from a large group and survey analysis and inferential statistics for clarifying results and determining unification of voice among participants.

Data Collection and Analysis: Data collection consisted of a series of large focus group / incubator sessions, an evaluative survey, and a follow-up survey. Items for the follow-up survey were constructed out of emergent themes from the focus group / incubator sessions.

Findings/Results: Results revealed that participants uniformly believed that openness offers pedagogical, economic, and professional potentials for practice, but that major barriers to diffusion exist at the macro and local levels due to the political and economic realities of the teaching profession.

Conclusions/Recommendations: Openness in practice has great promise for K–12 teaching and learning, but educators, researchers, and legislators should reexamine the meaning of open in educational practice to consider its benefits beyond cost and advocate for those practices that lead to greater freedom and professionalization of teaching.

In his book The World is Open, Curt Bonk (2011) states that the internet and web technologies have essentially “opened” the world up to learning and created “a seismic wave of educational possibilities” (p. 24), and many of these possibilities have initial manifestations in the areas of online, blended, and informal learning, which have made information and educational opportunities more available and accessible than at previous times. We should be careful not to treat such technologies as causal agents, however, and recognize that emergent technologies and social institutions have historically had a negotiated relationship with one another (Veletsianos & Kimmons, 2012b; Siemens & Matheos, 2010), meaning that such possibilities may be either supported, ignored, transformed, or prevented by cultural factors separate from the technology itself. Consider rocketry as an example. One could argue that with the invention of solid propellant rockets by Chinese inventors in the 13th century, space travel had become a possibility. Yet it took a social stimulus in the form of the U.S.–Soviet Cold War seven centuries later to push forward expansion and refinement of the technology to the point of allowing transportation of men to the moon. In this manner, though the internet may provide possibilities for “opening” education, it does not follow from this alone that education will become more open.

In fact, many internet-based technologies may currently be having the opposite effect, making educational opportunities less open. Consider the e-book. Modern e-book readers employ digital rights management and online data synchronization to allow publishers to control access and distribution of e-books on devices. Whereas books in the previous paper medium could be loaned to a friend or sold at a garage sale, e-books generally cannot be loaned, gifted, or sold (either legally or practically). This means that the e-book medium, in its current form, has actually served to further restrict access to information and educational opportunities (when compared to the previous medium) rather than to open access. From this example, it seems clear that if internet technologies are to have an “opening” effect on education, then they must be guided by an ethic, expectation, and practice of openness in educational endeavors.

This mixed methods study seeks to identify and explore teacher perspectives on the potentials and barriers associated with openness in K–12 educational practice and to provide educators, researchers, and policy-makers with the understanding necessary to promote meaningful shifts toward openness across the educational enterprise. Toward this end, this study pulls upon previous work from a number of related movements and seeks to frame them under an expansive umbrella of “openness.” The guiding research question for this study is: “What does a group of practicing teachers who have been introduced to an expansive vision of openness in practice perceive to be its major potentials and barriers?”


The term open has been used in educational research and practice to refer to many diverse concepts and movements, including open scholarship (Garnett & Ecclesfield, 2012; Getz, 2005; Kimmons, 2015; Veletsianos & Kimmons, 2012a), open access publishing (Furlough, 2010; Houghton & Sheehan, 2006; Laakso et al., 2011; Wiley & Green, 2012), open courses (Fini, 2009; Kop & Fournier, 2010; UNESCO, 2002), open universities (Open University, n.d.), open source software (Open Source Initiative, n.d.a), and open educational resources (OER), including open textbooks (Atkins, Brown, & Hammond, 2007; Baker, Thierstein, Fletcher, Kaur, & Emmons, 2009; Hilton & Laman, 2012; OpenStax, n.d.; Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development [OECD], 2007; Petrides, Jimes, Middleton-Detzner, Walling, & Weiss, 2011). In all of these contexts, however, open may have a slightly different meaning. Open textbooks might differ from non-open textbooks because they can be shared and freely adapted (OpenStax, n.d.), open access publishing might differ from non–open access publishing because it allows anyone to gain access to research articles either through publisher release or self-archiving (Laakso et al., 2011), and open source software might differ from other software because it relies upon unfettered access to software code and a number of other criteria, including nondiscrimination against persons, groups, or fields of endeavor, nonrestrictive licensing, and technology-neutrality (Open Source Initiative, n.d.b). Though there may be some commonalities between various uses of open, it has become a problematic term in education precisely because it has different meanings, requirements, and assumptions in different contexts, and because it historically has been associated with other movements, like that of progressivist social reformers in the 60s and 70s who sought to integrate diverse groups of students into more inclusive classrooms (Sealey, 1976; Smith, 1997; Sobel & Tejirian, 1973).

The difficulty with open, however, not only involves a lack of common definitions across professional communities, but it is exacerbated by the fact that open is a common, colloquial term (rather than a specialized, technical term), which means that the interpretation of open may vary on a person-to-person level. Open may be commonly used as a verb (e.g., to open a door or a jar) or as an adjective (e.g., an open window or throttle), and none of these common uses of the term carry clear, universal meaning with them when applied to educational contexts. Are OER open like a window is open? Is open access publishing open like a throttle is open? And is openness in educational arenas restricted to those meanings that are implied by similes to everyday life? Anecdotally, if you were to ask random people if they knew what open educational resources are, they would often answer in the affirmative, because they understand each of the component terms (open, education, and resource), even if they do not understand the technical interpretation of open as it is applied in this case or its implications on issues like licensing, copyright, sharing, and so forth. This can lead to misunderstandings and overconfidence on the part of neophytes and may be a major obstacle to the adoption and diffusion of open practices (Kimmons, 2014a).

Difficulty with the term open did not begin in the education field, however, as its technical application may be traced at least back to the software development field and the warring terms open source software, free software, libre software, FOSS, and FLOSS. In its early stages, the free software community was divided on whether to refer to software as free or open. Those on the free side argued that free should be emphasized in the name, due to the importance of freedom with regard to how software may be reused (Stallman, 2013), while the open side began by establishing the open nature of the code itself and then enumerating a number of distribution criteria that should be associated with such code (Open Source Initiative, n.d.b). Considering both terms important, the term Free and Open-Source Software (or FOSS) was promoted by some, and in later formulations, the term free came to be replaced or supplemented in some cases with libre in order to escape the gratis or no-cost implied emphasis of the term free, thereby leading to the terms libre software and Free/Libre and Open-Source Software (or FLOSS) (Stallman, 2013). More than mere aesthetics, this argument reflects ideological considerations in the software development community of 1) how users of open source code should treat such software and 2) how they should operate in a community where such open code exists. These considerations have since led to the development of at least nine popular open source licenses that allow software developers to explicitly state how they interpret open as it is applied to their creations (Open Source Initiative, n.d.b), even though most lay users of open source software today would likely not be able to articulate what is meant by open beyond that such software may be provided gratis.

These early efforts heavily influenced the development of licenses for non-software products in other fields as well. Recognizing that the creators of copyrighted works like blog posts, books, articles, photographs, drawings, songs, and videos might like to share their products with the world while maintaining certain expectations of how those works would be used, reused, and shared, Creative Commons (n.d.) developed a set of six licenses that granted users of works varying levels of freedom to copy, modify, remix, and sell creations. Just as it is anticipated that open source software will be beneficial to adopters by improving flexibility, sharing, and software product creation (Noyes, 2010), it is also anticipated that the use of open licenses for other content will “drive a new era of development, growth, and productivity” (Creative Commons, n.d., para. 12).

Central to the OER, open scholarship, open courses, and open access publishing movements in educational technologies, these open licenses allow content creators to articulate a specific vision of open and to place ideological expectations and legal constraints upon those who use their works. With regard to OER in particular, UNESCO (2014) has defined these resources as “any type of educational materials that are in the public domain or introduced with an open license, … [meaning] that anyone can legally and freely copy, use, adapt and re-share them” (para. 1). The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation (n.d.), a leading proponent of OER and supporter of Creative Commons, has similarly defined OER as “teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and re-purposing by others” (para. 2). Thus, OER comes in many varieties and may be released under different licenses, as long as it allows for free use, adapting, and repurposing by others. To more clearly articulate this point, it has been proposed that to be open, OER must ascribe to five R’s of openness, which are: retain, reuse, revise, remix, and redistribute (Wiley, 2014; Wiley, n.d.). Along this reasoning, open involves much more than just access to or visibility of a resource but includes community practices around that resource (e.g., adapting, remixing, reusing, revising, repurposing) and a vision of how that resource should be used in perpetuity (e.g., retaining, redistributing).

In education, it has been suggested that this expansive vision of open can help combat the deskilling of teachers (Gur & Wiley, 2007), support system-wide collaborations in teaching and learning (Carey & Hanley, 2008), encourage the emergence of “open participatory learning ecosystems” (Brown & Adler, 2008, p. 31), and support the democratization of education as a fundamental human right (Kimmons, 2012b; Tonks, Weston, Wiley, & Barbour, 2013). This also suggests that open as it refers to practice with these resources involves much more than simply using someone else’s work, but rather using it with a specific vision toward achieving truly effective teaching and learning experiences, overcoming traditional barriers, improving efficiencies, and promoting social good. That is, open should not only refer to the content that we use but also the practices and communities that emerge around that content (cf. Veletsianos, 2013).

In recent years, promising initial steps have been made toward adopting open practices at institutional and governmental levels. In 2009, it was estimated that nearly 8% of all journal articles were published through open access journals (Laakso et al., 2011). This is likely due to a number of factors, including the relatively low cost of open access archiving (Getz, 2005) and the use of open access fees and economies of scale to increase profits (Laakso et al., 2011). Yet it is likely that this shift may not encompass and support the vision of open in its entirety but is rather operating from a simpler definition of open as a cost-saving option. As Esposito (2014) argues, “the real story of [open access publishing] is that as soon as someone found a way to make economic sense out of it, businesspeople jumped in and began to domesticate it for their own purposes” (para. 8). Similarly, OER-friendly policy has recently been adopted in a number of states including California, Texas, and Florida (Bliss & Patrick, 2013), and a coalition of 11 states recently released an OER textbook request for proposals worth up to $20 million (K12 OER Collaborative, 2014). In most cases, the high cost of textbooks is likely the primary driver of these shifts (Federal Communications Commission [FCC], 2012; Usdan & Gottheimer, 2012).

Although pedagogical and social benefits of open practices are theoretically mentioned in the existing literature (Kimmons, 2012b), current empirical studies tend to focus primarily on measuring cost savings. If other outcomes are measured, positive results are generally attributed to cost considerations, like higher retention rates in university classes due to lower textbook costs (Hilton & Laman, 2012), or improved access to content, like providing students with take-home copies or write-on copies of texts (Wiley, Hilton, Ellington, & Hall, 2012). To illustrate, Robinson, Fischer, Wiley, and Hilton (2014) studied standardized test results of 4,183 students in one school district and found that students using an OER science textbook slightly outperformed students using non-OER textbooks by 0.65 points and argue that “although the effect size of the gains were relatively small, and not consistent across all textbooks … open textbooks can be as effective or even slightly more effective than their traditional counterparts” (p. 341). Across these studies, OER has generally been treated as a more cost-effective replacement for traditional textbooks rather than as a shift to open practices of remixing, revising, and sharing across traditional departmental, school, or university boundaries. This means that any learning gains associated with OER are framed as the result of improved cost efficiencies (i.e. open is being treated as primarily a signifier of cost rather than freedom or practice), open adoption is framed only in terms of a few of the five R’s of openness, and issues like quality are considered within the confines of the traditional paradigm (Bliss, Hilton, Wiley, & Thanos, 2013; Pawlowski, 2007). To test this point, consider whether any of these studies would have been different had a traditional publisher worked with researchers to release a sufficient number of textbooks to studied schools at nominal cost. From provided results, it seems likely that a low-cost, copyright-restrictive textbook would have the same effect as an open textbook, meaning that identified learning benefits are attributable to cost and not openness.

The reason for this emphasis is understandable from a diffusion of innovations perspective (cf. Rogers, 1962), as cost efficiency is a straightforward way to demonstrate relative advantage to institutional change leaders, and a cultural shift to some other aspects of openness may not be seen as compatible with existing institutional practice (e.g., faculty who are unwilling to give up intellectual property rights to their own creations). It has also been proposed that a shift to open practices may be problematic and would require educators to develop new forms of literacy (Baraniuk, 2008; Kimmons, 2014b; Tonks et al., 2013; Walker, 2007), but by focusing only on cost rather than practice, researchers generally ignore these other forms of openness (and the problems associated with them) . Though this likely makes pragmatic sense for pushing forward the swift adoption of OER, a concern herein arises that open in research and practice may be taking on the meaning of low- or no-cost and ignoring the more expansive vision of open as detailed above (cf. Iiyoshi & Kumar, 2008).

To highlight this point, consider a recent survey dealing with faculty awareness and perceived barriers of OER, in which it was found that the primary characteristic of OER recognized by faculty was that it was available for free (as in cost) (70%) and the least recognizable characteristic was that it was released under a Creative Commons license (28%) (Allen & Seaman, 2014). Though this survey suffered from a very low response rate and potential nonresponse bias that would likely favor those with prior knowledge of OER (n = 2,144 from an email list of approximately 1.5 million), this finding suggests that faculty generally are interpreting open as gratis and that only a small minority is even aware of the more expansive view of open enunciated through open licenses. Furthermore, OER items in this survey deal only with selection of course materials (i.e. reuse); it is not clear how survey options (e.g., “proven efficiency,” “trusted quality”) were selected (or that they encompass all educator perspectives), and barriers to adoption identified by faculty will be shaped by their understanding of OER as a concept, which as stated previously, is shaped heavily by gratis. This means that survey results provide us only with an understanding of OER adoption barriers and patterns in terms of low- or no-cost curricular materials, thereby ignoring how faculty are using these materials and the broader open practices (e.g., adaptation, remixing, revising, redistributing) associated with them.

We propose that the concept of open in education should be reinvigorated with a more expansive definition than that which is prevalent in the literature, because the true potentials of openness may extend far beyond cost savings and replacing one closed system of practice with another (albeit lower-cost) system. This topic is of essential importance in both higher education and K–12, as both areas have been hit hard by forces intent upon deprofessionalizing teaching and both are in need of increasing transparency and improving collaboration and democratization of the education enterprise. Rather than aspire to an ephemeral sense of ideological purism with regard to open, herein we will treat the term inclusively of many practices that exemplify openness (e.g., the five R’s discussed above). Toward this end, this study first introduces a group of practicing K–12 teachers to a more expansive vision of open and then through both qualitative and quantitative methods seeks to understand teachers’ perspectives on potentials and barriers associated with expansive openness in practice.


This study was conducted by a public research and outreach center operating in a college of education in the northwestern United States; the primary researcher serves as the director of this center. As part of its mission, the center seeks to improve K–12 teaching and learning in its state through effective technology integration, and open educational practices are seen as key elements of the center’s outreach and training efforts with both practicing teachers and teacher education students. In order to train teachers throughout the target state on issues related to openness, the center conducted a series of four 3-day Technology and Open Education Institutes, accommodating over 100 self-selected educators representing all of the state’s diverse and disparate geographic regions (Kimmons, 2014b). This mixed methods study utilizes data collected both during and 6 months after each summer institute to answer the following research question:

What does a group of practicing teachers who have been introduced to an expansive vision of openness in practice perceive to be its major potentials and barriers?

To triangulate findings around this research question, three secondary research questions were explored as follows:


What are the most important potentials of openness?


What are the most severe barriers to openness?


Are these perceived potentials and barriers influenced by other factors (e.g., grade level, years teaching)?


Participants in this study were recruited from attendees of a series of four 3-day Technology and Open Education Institutes for practicing K–12 teachers. The goal of these institutes was to teach attendees about concepts related to openness in education and to give them the opportunity to collaboratively find and create contextually appropriate OER that would be valuable for their classrooms. Institutes were conducted onsite at the university research center, and by attending an institute, teachers were provided food, lodging, a modest stipend, university professional development credits, and a classroom set of printed OER of their choice. Institutes were announced several months in advance by sending emails to a list of principals and superintendents in the target state, who then forwarded announcements to their local teachers. Interested teachers completed an online application wherein they identified grade levels and subject areas of interest along with identifying information.

In leading these institutes, we had three primary aims for participants. First, we wanted them to be able to find and evaluate OER for use in their classrooms. Second, we wanted them to revise, remix, and adapt these resources to meet local school, district, and community needs. And third, we wanted them to share and redistribute these resources with a community of educators under an open license of their choice. These aims encompassed all of the concepts present in the five R’s of open described elsewhere (Wiley, n.d.) and were intended to provide a more expansive understanding of openness in practice than mere use of OER.

Institutes were organized according to grade level, with two institutes devoted to elementary teachers and two devoted to secondary teachers, and according to subject area, with five professional learning communities or PLCs (DuFour, 2004) being created within each institute with specific areas of focus (e.g., elementary science, secondary language arts). PLCs were capped at 5 participants, and each institute accommodated approximately 30 attendees, with over 100 teachers participating overall. The number and topic of PLCs was determined by user interest, and participants were randomly selected for participation as accommodations were limited. Demographics of attendees revealed that they traveled up to 587 miles to attend the institutes and that 12% had been teaching for 1 year or less, 16% had been teaching for 2 to 5 years, and 72% had been teaching for more than 5 years. While attending the institutes, attendees were given the option to participate in this research study, and 96% of attendees elected to participate (n = 101).


Each institute was organized roughly as follows: the 1st day utilized predominantly direct instructional methods to introduce participants to concepts central to openness in education (e.g., Creative Commons, copyright, collaborative technologies), the 2nd day relied upon collaboration and self-direction within the PLCs as participants created or remixed their own OER from available online materials, and the 3rd day consisted of wrapping up activities, reflections, and sharing. In other words, day 1 was devoted to adoption, day 2 was devoted to adaptation, and day 3 was devoted to sharing. Near the end of the 2nd day, a 1-hour block of time was set aside as an incubator session on the topic of potentials and barriers associated with openness; memos of these four 1-hour long incubator sessions represent the primary qualitative source of data for this study. Standard evaluation data was also collected immediately following the institute in the form of a satisfaction survey (n = 96, or 95% response rate).

According to Morse (2007), qualitative sampling should be targeted, locate excellent participants, and be efficient. Since institute attendees represented all levels and subject areas in K–12 and most were highly experienced (i.e. having taught for more than 5 years), it was determined that they all could be treated as targeted and excellent participants. To be most efficient, incubator sessions similar in form to large focus groups were conducted. During these sessions, the researcher sat in the center of the room and facilitated a discussion of three guiding questions:


What problems can openness in education help to address in your K–12 context?


What is needed to make openness in education work in your K–12 context?


What can/should teachers concretely do to push openness in education forward?

As participants discussed these questions, the researcher memoed discussion points in a collaborative document (via Google Docs), which was displayed to participants on large classroom displays and on personal laptops. As the researcher memoed, participants were encouraged 1) to edit the collaborative document, 2) to memo their own thoughts about discussion questions (even if they did not verbalize these responses), and 3) to correct memos made by the researcher that did not accurately or fully represent the discussion. The primary concern with conducting such large focus groups was that the voices of individual participants might be lost or that the conversation might be dominated by a select few. However, this use of collaborative document editing ensured that memos reflected all participants’ perspectives and also helped improve rigor by ensuring that memos were accurate. As the researcher facilitated the discussion, he sought to take a phenomenological approach to questioning and memoing (Dahlberg, Dahlberg, & Nyström, 2008), resisting the impulse to interpret or ascribe meaning to participant statements based upon predefined categories of meaning and pushing the discussion through follow-up questioning that attempted to accurately reflect participants’ lived experiences while trying to “go beneath the surface” to thoughts, feelings, and actions (Charmaz, 2006, p. 26). The resulting memos took the form of running lists of nested discussion points that were sometimes repetitive (i.e. the same issue being referenced multiple times), contradictory (i.e. both sides of a point being argued), or qualified (i.e. general statements being clarified as only being applicable within specific contexts).

Though it was anticipated that this approach would provide the researcher with valuable data on attendee perspectives, two concerns arose from this approach. First, since this was many attendees’ first introduction to openness in education and they were in a controlled, foreign setting, it was unclear whether their attitudes and beliefs expressed at the institute would cross over into their classrooms and reflect their attitudes and beliefs in an authentic setting while faced with the messy realities of school life. And second, though this qualitative approach allowed the researcher to gather a large amount of data on participant beliefs and attitudes, it did not allow him to draw conclusions about the group as a whole (e.g., whether the entire group believed a statement that was made vs. a vocal few) or to hierarchically understand issues in relation to one another (e.g., which barrier is most important and which least).

To counteract these limitations, qualitative data was analyzed, and results were used to construct a follow-up survey, which was distributed to participants 6 months after the institute as a form of member checking. By conducting this follow-up survey, this study did not seek to produce generalizable results on teacher beliefs, but merely to accurately portray the perspectives of institute attendees as a group. The purpose of waiting 6 months before distributing the survey was to ensure that participants were fully re-immersed back into their normal routines of school life so that survey responses would represent the realities of K–12 classrooms. So, though codes emerged from discussions in the controlled setting, the follow-up survey helped to ascertain whether these codes were still accurate as teachers found themselves back in the classroom, grappling with institutional realities. Survey results were also used to provide a hierarchical understanding of discussion items. For instance, though a number of economic problems were discussed when considering the benefits of openness in education, the incubator session did not allow the researcher to rank these economic items in terms of importance to participants or to ascertain whether memoed ideas represented the beliefs of the group as a whole or merely the opines of a few individuals.

Based on qualitative results, developed survey items were organized into four themes or categories: pedagogical potentials, economic potentials, professional potentials, and barriers. For each category, participants were asked to rank between 3 and 10 items on a 3-point Likert scale of no score, minor score, or major score (e.g., “not a barrier,” “minor barrier,” “major barrier”). Survey results were then analyzed descriptively and statistically to clarify qualitative results, and 59% (n = 60) of qualitative research participants also participated in the follow-up survey after receiving an initial email and one reminder. As part of this survey, participants were invited to submit open responses on any other issues that the survey failed to include. Only four (7%) participants submitted a response highlighting a new issue that was not included in the survey, while five (9%) provided unsolicited validation of the survey contents with statements like “the survey has hit the nail on the head.”


The four collaborative memo documents were compiled into a single document, and concepts were converted to in vivo codes, attempting to replicate the language used by participants while making data items as concise as possible (Stern & Porr, 2011). Focused coding then occurred, wherein convergence in the data was sought (e.g., removing duplicates, collapsing similar concepts) (Stern & Porr, 2011). For example, codes that discussed “differentiation” based upon grade levels were combined with codes discussing “differentiation” based upon personal interests into a single code of differentiation. Focused codes were then organized into general themes that emerged between them (e.g., pedagogy, economics) to help construct a more organized narrative of results. In line with phenomenological guidelines for inquiry, a priori codes were not used in this process, because it was anticipated that doing so could obstruct the analysis and expansion of new ideas (Strauss & Corbin, 1998).

Evaluation survey and follow-up survey results were used to provide quotations to enrich discussion of qualitative findings, and follow-up survey results were then used to quantitatively rank emergent themes in order of importance or severity. These rankings were then used to inform the structure of the narrative, wherein topics that were more indicative of group experiences were given more emphasis. However, these rankings did not altogether displace identified codes from the qualitative analysis, thereby ensuring that all participants’ voices were represented in the narrative. And finally, a one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) was conducted on the survey data to determine if differences existed between primary (K–6) and secondary (7–12) teachers, with grade level as the independent variable and all other survey items as dependent variables.

Given the size of the participant pool and lack of gender information, participant numbers preceded by a capital T, for teacher, were used in citations of direct quotes instead of pseudonyms (e.g., T3). Anonymity of participants prevented the connection of data between the evaluation survey and follow-up survey, which meant that the cardinality of the T identifier exceeded the total participant count, because most participants were represented by one identifier in the evaluation survey (T1 through T96) and one in the follow-up survey (T97 through T157).


As a mixed methods study, this project incorporated elements of qualitative rigor and quantitative validity to ensure that findings accurately reflected the perspectives of participants. To ensure rigor, member checks were conducted both during the incubator session (via the collaborative document) and the follow-up survey to ensure that the researcher was accurately capturing participants’ words and ideas. Throughout the data collection and analysis process, the researcher exhibited reflexivity by bracketing his own experiences and consciously seeking to limit his own bias through deep questioning and shared memoing (Hall & Callery, 2011). Thick descriptions were also used in the narrative description to ensure clarity and to allow readers to determine how transferrable results may be to their own experiences (Merriam, 1995; Polkinghorne, 1983). To ensure quantitative validity, reliability testing was conducted on survey responses and yielded a highly reliable Cronbach’s alpha of.82.


Findings from this study will be organized into three main sections, which align with the secondary research questions as follows:


What are the most important potentials of openness?


What are the most severe barriers to openness?


Are these perceived potentials and barriers influenced by other factors (e.g., grade level, years teaching)?


Participating teachers enumerated at least 11 major problems that openness can help to solve in schools. These problems were varied and reflected the highly political, social, and contextualized roles that teachers play as professionals in their communities. Organizing similar items together led to the emergence of three main categories or themes, which included pedagogical, economic, and professional benefits. Though not exhaustive, these three categories highlight the scope of problems that teachers are facing in their institutions and reflect the types of demands and hopes that they may place upon open solutions. Each of the three categories along with emerging items within each category will be discussed in more detail below.


Identified pedagogical benefits of openness revolved around opportunities for teacher choice and the ability to respond to unique needs of K–12 students while also modeling essential problem-solving skills. The most important pedagogical potential of openness rests in differentiation and the ability that open licenses provide teachers to “tailor” materials to individual student needs, interests, and skill levels. Whereas a traditional textbook, for instance, will typically deliver content in a manner that is agnostic to individual needs or that treats all students in the same grade level identically, OER can be adapted, restructured, and otherwise modified to support individual students and essentially empowers teachers to create unique learning experiences for each.

Some students might have lower reading levels than others and may struggle to meaningfully participate in assignments, because materials were created in accordance with reading level norms for the grade level. With OER, a teacher can take existing materials designed for one grade level and remix them to be usable by students who are struggling to read either manually or using automated simplification tools like Rewordify or Simplish. In other cases, students might need “more or less” than what is provided in the textbook, and even traditional textbooks struggle to address standards as new standards are changed or existing standards are modified. This same concept can also be extended to serving students for whom English is a second language. As one participant explained, “in my district we deal with a huge language barrier at times and finding usable materials is difficult” (T98). With OER, texts can be translated, simplified, and shared without seeking additional permissions from the copyright holder.

This principle applies to both students as individuals and to groups of students as communities sharing common cultural experiences, needs, and sensitivities. For instance, in the target state, there is a large population of Native American students, many of whom attend tribal schools. Similarly, many other students attend schools in very small, rural, agrarian communities. In both cases, openness allows educators in these schools to repurpose curricular materials in a manner that is valuable for each geographic region and to select and modify materials in a manner that will be culturally responsive and inclusive rather than exclusive or subtractive (cf. Valenzuela, 1999). These newfound “freedoms” associated with openness allow teachers to move away from a “canned” or “scripted curriculum” that does not meet students’ needs and to approach lesson planning and delivery like a “jazz musician” approaches a performance. Cueing off of student feedback and formative assessments, a teacher can leverage openness to “put [resources] to work in my classroom right away” (T75) in a “dynamic” manner that is “customized” or “tailored” to the context or individual.

This process of material selection and adaptation is also a valuable teaching tool itself, because it can be used by teachers to model “inquiry” to students. Teacher inquiry has been explained as teachers defining an issue, collecting and analyzing data to gain insights on the issue, sharing their learning with other professionals, and “making change and improvement to practice based on what they have learned” (Dana, Burns, & Wolkenhauer, 2013, p. 10). Emerging teaching standards, like the Common Core State Standards (Common Core State Standards Initiative [CCSSI], 2015), require teachers to “respond to their students’ needs and to make instructional decisions in the best interest of the children they teach” (Dana et al., 2013, p. 9). The standards also require students to exhibit similar abilities themselves. For instance, one Common Core State Standard for sixth grade English Language Arts states that students should be able to “interpret information presented in diverse media and formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) and explain how it contributes to a topic, text, or issue under study” (CCSS.ELA.SL.6.2), and another standard for high school states that students should be able to “integrate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) in order to make informed decisions and solve problems, evaluating the credibility and accuracy of each source” (CCSS.ELA.SL.11-12.3). In the context of these emerging standards, both students and teachers are increasingly expected to develop the literacy and inquiry skills necessary to find, evaluate, adopt, and adapt resources to meet their needs, and openness empowers teachers to ingrain these practices into the heart of classroom practice.


Though one might initially believe that only administrators would recognize the financial benefits of a shift to open, participating teachers made it clear that the cost of educational materials have a very tangible impact on their classrooms and that openness can serve to improve access, accuracy, and interactivity of educational materials while simultaneously improving equity between schools. In terms of access, OER allow teachers to utilize a wealth of resources electronically without purchasing accounts or subscriptions. As one music teacher explained, OER have “opened my lesson planning to a wealth of information … Online sites that have been especially valuable have been the Library of Congress … [and] the International Music Score Library Project” (T108). Similarly, an elementary teacher explained:

I've used a lot of open resources … in my classes this year in order to cover more non-fiction material. We are currently doing a unit on invasive species in the Galapagos in my reading class and the majority of my students have really enjoyed listening to podcasts on the subject and reading about the impact non-native species can have on the endemic species even if it is something as small as an ant or fruit fly (T98).

By improving access to information, educators and students are not restricted by school budgets to using only provided or subscription-based resources but are free to explore and utilize a vast wealth of new resources that may be freely adapted across media formats.

Accuracy of educational materials is also impacted by cost, because expensive textbooks may have a long life cycle that does not keep up with the advancement of scientific knowledge. As one teacher explains, her school’s resources “are aging and … money needs to be directed to taking care of what we have so we can focus on teaching the students” (T121). Some subject areas are understandably affected more negatively than others in this regard. As one science teacher explained, “It is very frustrating to use textbooks that are over 10 years old without the possibility of a book adoption in the foreseeable future, especially when science education and technology is changing so quickly” (T39). Many teachers reported recently using texts in which Pluto was still considered a planet or in which the USSR still existed, and this makes it increasingly difficult for teachers to effectively teach students, because the texts themselves may be introducing errors and misconceptions. Openness empowers teachers to continually adopt and adapt up-to-date materials, and the same science teacher continued: “Knowing I can create my own text which is current with today’s science makes me feel hopeful for teaching future generations” (T39).

Since textbooks are very expensive, provided in a limited number, and passed on for multiple years between students, highlighting texts and writing notes in textbooks is generally prohibited. Though participants believed that this lack of interactivity with texts is restrictive toward students’ learning, they had not even considered the possibility of student-owned texts before. This meant that they had no first-hand experience with the possibility, but they felt that student-owned texts could be beneficial in their classrooms for improving learning and addressing other management concerns (e.g., students carrying heavy backpacks full of books).

All of these economic potentials, however, were couched in a larger concern for equity: namely, the perception that some schools in some states already have plenty of accessible, accurate, interactive educational resources while others suffer from lack of funding. This is certainly influenced by the fact that the target state is persistently one of the lowest-ranked states in terms of per-pupil educational funding, coupled with the fact that the state has a very large percentage of rural students, which means that cost per-pupil will be higher than that of urban schools to provide comparable resources (Howley, Howley, Hendrickson, Belcher, & Howley, 2012). In short, these teachers do not feel supported to meet the needs of their students, and as a result, they feel that their students are “lagging.” As one teacher explained, “without materials that are well designed that don’t come with a major price tag, our students will continue to lag even further behind” (T109). To combat this inequity, openness is seen as a mechanism that could be used to ensure that all schools, no matter what their funding situation might be, can utilize the same resources. This means that if a group of states, for instance like the K12 OER Collaborative (2014) mentioned above, supported the creation of an open textbook, then this textbook could be used by all schools to equitably support learning, no matter what state or local funding restrictions might be.


Teaching is a dynamic profession that requires educators to be problem-solvers, lifelong learners, and informed citizens. This applies both in the classroom, when making pedagogical decisions that are differentiated to particular students’ needs, and out of the classroom, when interfacing with parents, other professionals, vendors, and their communities. Thus, professional potentials of openness support educators’ relationships to others and the world and include improving collaboration with other teachers, connecting classrooms to the outside world, holding publishers accountable to schools, and helping teachers avoid legal difficulties associated with copyright. Each of these potentials will now be discussed in turn.

First, participants were most excited about the potentials of openness for supporting their collaborations with one another. Too often, teachers feel isolated in their classrooms or schools and lack connection to other teachers or the time necessary to support effective collaboration. This is exacerbated by the issue of copyright, as even educational materials that are shared must be adopted and reused with trepidation between teachers. By openly sharing resources in a manner that supports the 5 R’s, teachers are empowered to feel like members of a larger community of educators, all working toward a common goal. As one teacher explained, “sometimes it feels like I am a soldier in the trenches and that I am on my own when it comes to developing valuable lessons,” but “the idea of openness and sharing with other educators … allows me not to feel so isolated in the classroom” (T94). When asked what was valuable about their time at the institutes, the most common responses involved the time allowed to participants to collaborate with other professionals. In some of their words:

The work that we did within our PLC’s was the most valuable part of the institute to me not because of the product that we created but the exploration (T49).

I enjoyed getting [to] work with a team of people who taught the same grade as I did and work on something that we actually need and will use! I had fun and met some nice people! I learned a great deal about creating content as well (T65).

At the onset of the [institute], I was fairly overwhelmed with the concept that we would be creating a resource as a PLC in such a short time. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that as a group, teachers are innovative and focused enough, even during summer, to create magic (T92).

I appreciated the relevance of open education and the time we took to discuss how it can create a more dynamic collaboration among educators, enhance our classrooms, and benefit students. I loved the PLC time and enjoyed creating a product to share and invite remix among my colleagues. We had several grade levels and disciplines present at the training and each of us were able to take away and tailor our experience. Excellent! I'm an evangelist of Open Education now :) (T70).

Prior to the institute, some participants had never considered that “opportunities to collaborate with teachers across the state” even existed or that their collaborative work could be “easily accessible” for other educators to use (T71). Through the experience, however, teachers came to recognize that collaborations need not be limited to a single school or department, as developed resources were freely shared under Creative Commons licensing. As one participant reported, “the resources I received from all the groups [at the institute] have been shared with other teachers at my school” (T103). It is expected that these collaborations will continue as resources are remixed, adapted, and reused, and as another participant reported, “through collaboration with another teacher we are [now] going to write a textbook for the next school year” (T114). Teachers need to be empowered as collaborative agents to work with one another, to share resources, and to build upon one another’s efforts in order to be happy, effective professionals.

Second, openness can not only help to address teacher isolation, but can also help to connect the classroom to the outside world, thereby reducing student isolation from the global community. Part of this is based on common sense emerging from the previous conversation regarding information access, but openness not only influences what information students access, but also what they do with it. Traditionally, students have been taught about the harms of plagiarism and have been urged to do their own work without copying the efforts of others. Yet in the realities of work and life, sharing is persistent and expected, and if students are incapable of collaborating with others or building upon the efforts of others responsibly, then they will not be prepared for the collaborative expectations of real life. As one teacher explained, “I have had my students create presentations and e-books using [openly licensed] photos and content, and I use [open] content regularly” (T148). By using OER, for instance, students can mimic the professional efforts of their teachers by adapting, remixing, and revising resources into their own creations and then redistributing their products to others. As another teacher explained, using OER has “increased student understanding of what the expectations are for students as well as teachers” (T117). By emphasizing openness, the roles of teacher and student can be fundamentally changed toward the idea of learning as meaningful adaptation and sharing of knowledge resources rather than decontextualized repetition of facts.

Third, openness can help to make publishers of educational content more accountable to their customers and can change the role of the teacher from mere content consumers to remixers and creators. Often, resources developed by publishers are designed by “someone in an ivory tower,” who may not understand the needs of teachers, may not meaningfully align content to required standards, and may not understand “students’ developmental levels.” Openness empowers teachers to take a much more active role in the selection and vetting of content and provides them with opportunities to circumvent restrictions in choice that may be imposed upon them by a limited number of published resources.

And fourth, openness can help teachers to responsibly model practices for students that are respectful of the copyright laws and can also help them to avoid potential legal issues associated with unsanctioned use. For most teachers, serving their students is preeminent, and at times this can mean that they intentionally infringe upon copyright in order to better meet the needs of their students. Many teachers use the protections afforded them by fair use on a daily basis to use copyrighted works while teaching their students, but their knowledge of fair use is often limited (cf. Kimmons, 2014) and can quickly push the legal limits. As one teacher explained, “usually, we pull articles off of news sites, copy short stories out of books and generally steal whatever we deem useful for our students based on our fair-use-for-education license, which may or may not be legal” (T132). Though troubling in themselves, such practices are especially problematic, because they model to students that copyright infringement is not a serious matter, which may inadvertently encourage students to engage in other violations of copyright, like illegally downloading copyrighted movies and music. Even if lawsuits aren’t a concern, modeling and teaching ethical use of copyrighted material is. As a result of their training at the institutes, participants later felt that they had a better grasp of copyright, and they were excited for the potentials that openness offered to them. In their words:

I have really used the copyright law information I learned (which I didn't really think I would, but I do!) (T135).

Knowing what I do about copy right/left I am a little bit more selective of the materials I choose to use [now]... I also encourage students to search for open resources when using the internet (T146).

Having [an open source] of information that is worry free is pretty nice (T132).

I now am able to direct students to websites, such as Wikimedia, which filter copyright [resources] for them. My art students use a lot of media for ‘inspiration’ and sample artwork, and we address copyright issues. I need to stay current with copyright laws myself, in order to correctly instruct students about copyright issues (T120).

This understanding of copyright and the availability of OER can help provide teachers with “the ability to navigate” acceptable uses of resources they find online.

Comparing Potentials

Each of the potentials discussed above addresses how openness can be used to help solve a problem that teachers face. When asked in the follow-up survey to evaluate each of these problems as being “Very Important,” “Somewhat Important,” or “Not Important,” participants revealed that examples of all three categories of problems are important: Pedagogical (PED), Economic (ECN), and Professional (PRO) (cf. Figure 1). Economic equity was identified as the most important problem overall, with all teachers responding that it was at least “somewhat important,” and 74% reporting that it was “very important.” Other economic factors, though important, were not given the same emphasis afforded equity, which suggests that participants acutely felt an economic disparity between their classrooms and those elsewhere. Regarding pedagogy, student differentiation was considered to be the most important problem, suggesting that participants clearly recognized that not all students are being served by current non-open practices. And teacher-teacher collaboration was identified by participants as the most important professional problem, suggesting that they feel a need to collaborate with their peers in order to address problems they are facing but that current non-open practices may be preventing this from occurring. Of provided items, avoiding legal problems was considered to be the least important problem, with only 6% believing it was a “very important” problem and 65% believing it was “somewhat important.” This suggests that though teachers recognize the importance of abiding by copyright law with regard to classroom uses of resources, they are not concerned about prosecution for violations, and this likely is not the strongest motivator for encouraging teachers to adopt more open practices.

Figure 1. Most important problems that openness can help solve



To counterbalance the potentials enumerated above, participants also highlighted recognized barriers that may prevent openness from taking root and diffusing in schools. Once again, barriers reflected the complex realities that define K–12 teachers’ perspectives and involved three main categories based upon the source of the barrier (or required solutions): macro, local, and personal. Macro barriers included those that transcended schools and required outside help from states, publishers, or other entities to overcome (e.g., through legislation or market forces). Local barriers included those that fell within the realm of schools and districts and required local administrative support to overcome (e.g., through school policy). And personal barriers were situated squarely on the shoulders of individual teachers, requiring teachers to change their attitudes or values in order to overcome them. Each of these types of barriers will now be explored in more detail.

Macro Barriers

The two macro barriers identified by participants were a lack of legislative support (e.g., limited funding, stringent evaluations) and a lack of available high-quality OER. As stated previously, participants in this study live in a state that has traditionally provided comparatively lower support to teachers (e.g., funding for salaries) than has been provided in other states, and this has led to a situation wherein teachers do not feel that they can innovate toward openness because they lack required supports to do so. As one teacher explains in plain detail about herself and her husband (who are both teachers):

We don’t eat out, we can't afford cable, our clothes are from thrift stores, our vehicles are 15 and 17 years old, and [we] are wondering why we chose a profession where we can’t provide a better quality of life for our children. We love teaching and inspiring and challenging students, but can’t provide well for our own children (T150).

Lack of financial support for participants may lead them to question why they should continue to innovate or to devote time and energy to a profession that does not provide them with their desired quality of life, especially when their jobs are so demanding. As another participant explains:

I work over 10 hours a day just teaching and correcting papers. On Saturday I work another 10 hours prepping for the following week. Prepping to use technology [and OER] takes me longer, and there are only 24 hours in a day (T157).

And as yet another participant explains:

With three new subject curricula (math, science, ELA) and CCSS [Common Core State Standards] along with trying to begin NGSS (Next Generation Science Standards), I have not had time to look further in to Open Education Resources. I'm barely keeping my head above water with the other new requirements that are given to me (T118).

Participants’ jobs are highly demanding, often requiring them to work nights and weekends planning and grading. Yet they feel that the mass populace (and the legislators whom it elects) does not understand these realities, and this means that their efforts are financially undervalued, that a litany of unnecessary and ever-changing expectations are placed upon them, and that they are not adequately supported to do their jobs well. Lack of legislative support prevents openness precisely because resources are not made available to incentivize, encourage, and sustain innovative practice.

The second macro barrier emerges from the relative infancy of OER as a movement and the perception that few high-quality open resources exist or, if they do, that they are not easy to find. As one participant explains: “There is [a] limited amount of prepared material at the elementary level” (T97). Since the growing popularity of OER has largely been fueled by excitement to drive down textbook costs in higher education, teachers feel that these resources are slow to trickle down to them. Higher-level science and mathematics teachers, for instance, may pull from open textbooks created for community college students, thereby adapting college materials to secondary purposes with relative ease. However, as the age of students goes down, so too does the availability of open resources, and though open content may exist in the form of information resources (e.g., Wikipedia), these resources are not organized or written in a manner conducive to elementary education, which makes them more difficult to adapt. Interest by nonprofits and state funding agencies is necessary to change this situation if OER is to be made readily accessible for K–12 education.

Local Barriers

Local barriers are those which exist in local education institutions (i.e. schools and districts) that typically need to be addressed by principals and superintendents. Though these barriers are certainly influenced by macro barriers (e.g., state funding will influence the availability of local programs), it is the job of local administrators to prioritize resources and to establish policy in light of macro factors. Local barriers identified by teachers in this regard included lack of the following: time for personal planning, time for collaboration, technology infrastructure, professional development opportunities, and community buy-in. All of these barriers are interwoven and reveal the need for local administration to buy-in to openness and to allocate time and resources to open practices.

Of identified barriers, lack of time was most frequently referenced because it prevented both personal planning and collaboration. Time is needed in the shift to openness so that teachers can find, evaluate, adapt, and share OER between classrooms. In the teachers’ words:

I have a lot of ideas [of how to use OER], but am short on time to plan and prepare to use those ideas at this point (T149).

The hardest part is finding the time to track down the quality resources... not just the first open resource I come across (T105).

I struggle with evaluating [OER] in the limited [paid preparation time] I am given (T140).

I intend to eventually use all of what I learned from the institute. It’s just a slower process than I thought because of time constraints for planning (T124).

Time for planning is the largest barrier. I know I received quality information from the summer institute, but I need time for planning in order to implement the resources (T150).

The institute had great resources to bring back to my school. The lack of administrative understanding and adequate time to plan and implement everything has been the biggest obstacle (T140).

Openness is not like flipping a switch from the off position to the on position. As another participant explains: “[We] need structured support for teachers to acclimate and be successful with [OER]” (T109).

Similarly, the shift to openness cannot occur in a vacuum, so time must be provided to teachers for collaboration. In the current climate, however, time for collaboration is a novel concept. In reflecting upon the summer institute, one participant responded with pleasant surprise: “You gave us time DURING the workshop to actually work on what we were learning” (T59)! Teachers are often not afforded time to work with one another. As another teacher explains: “So many times, as teachers, we don’t get to really discuss what works and what doesn’t” (T92). Openness implies that teachers are sharing and collaborating with one another. Yet if they are not afforded time or structure to do either, then a shift to openness seems implausible.

Lack of technology infrastructure is another piece of this puzzle, as participants lack bandwidth, devices, and technical training necessary to effectively find, adopt, adapt, use, and share open resources in an efficient manner. In some of their words:

The lack of technology limits me (T136).

Out-dated technology [is a] major barrier (T150).

[When I have technology problems, there’s] not a whole lot I can do about it except wait for [another teacher] to help me, and they are as busy as I am. … I get so frustrated when I can’t use technology [due to lack of support], and then I don’t use it, and then I no longer can use it (T157).

This includes teachers’ devices, which they need for evaluation and development, and student devices, which they need for distribution of content (e.g., electronic textbooks).

And finally, when it comes to openness, teachers and communities don’t know what they don’t know, and both need to have their eyes opened to new possibilities. Previous research has shown that teachers may struggle with misconceptions involving openness that may prevent them from building necessary literacies on their own (Kimmons, 2014). Similarly, communities may be resistant to the adoption of OER if they do not recognize the economic and pedagogical benefits discussed above. This means that local administrators need to work to inform their communities of the potentials afforded by openness and to provide focused professional development opportunities to their teachers, thereby providing the “structured support” that teachers need (T109).

Personal Barriers

The final category of barriers involves personal attitudes and decisions related to openness. Just as local barriers are influenced by macro barriers, these barriers are influenced by both macro and local barriers, but they ultimately depend upon the agency of individual teachers for resolution. The first of these barriers is a simple unwillingness to share, due to competitive or financial loss. As states have increasingly come to emphasize merit-based pay and other approaches that place teachers in potential conflict with one another (i.e. vying for the same limited resources), it is unsurprising that some teachers would look upon sharing with disdain. “There are always those who hesitate to share what they have,” explains one participant, because they are afraid of losing their competitive edge or revealing their own weaknesses (T92). Though most teachers would likely consider themselves to be “team players,” competition can serve to drive teachers into siloed practice, wherein they are unwilling to share their expertise even with others in their own buildings.

Another aspect of this loss lies in the fact that teachers create resources on a daily basis that have monetary value. Lesson plans, study guides, quizzes, worksheets, and handouts have a market, and some entrepreneurial teachers use this market to supplement their limited incomes. For example, several participants mentioned using websites (e.g., TeachersPayTeachers.com) to buy and sell their lesson materials and reported that other teachers are quick to purchase (and sometimes plagiarize) their work. This poses difficulties for intellectual property ownership, when school districts may not clearly spell out who owns educational materials created by teachers in their contracts. New challenges arise if teachers are now expected to share their developed materials in an open manner (especially if these materials are being created outside of school hours).

The final personal barrier, however, is perceived apathy. As one young, idealistic participant eloquently explains:

Honestly, the longer I work [at this school], the more I think that a majority of teachers just don’t give a crap. They’ve been doing the same thing year in and year out. … The major barrier to this open education ideal is apathy. The newer teachers in my building (I am new as well) are still idealistic and believe we can somehow positively affect our populace, but it’s wearing off fast, and the rest of the grizzled, bitter staff in our buildings are really working hard to beat it out of us (T132).

On the other side of the spectrum, a highly experienced teacher responds apologetically:

I’m old. It’s time to retire and make room for the tech savvy youngins with the vigor I no longer possess. I will do my best with what I have until [I retire] – four more years. I apologize for being cranky (T157).

In light of the severe macro and local barriers discussed above, we can sympathize with teachers at least in part for feeling apathetic. Years of lack of support in highly demanding, poorly remunerated positions would likely make the most idealistic of teachers resistant to change and the added struggles and efforts that change entails. It is clear that some teachers will not be willing to become more open in practice, and if the educational enterprise is to become more open, then such personal barriers must be addressed.

Comparing Barriers

Each of the barriers discussed above may prevent openness from taking root and diffusing in practice. When asked in the follow-up survey to evaluate each of these barriers as being a “Major Barrier,” a “Minor Barrier,” or “Not a Barrier,” participants revealed that examples of each category are at least minor barriers, with Local (LOC) and Macro (MAC) barriers being the most pronounced and Personal (PER) barriers the least (cf. Figure 2). Time for planning was identified as the biggest barrier, followed by legislative support, and time for collaboration, with at least 96% of respondents identifying each as a barrier and at least 70% identifying each as a major barrier. Other local and macro barriers were also generally considered to be barriers, with at least 86% of respondents identifying each as a barrier and at least 44% identifying each as a major barrier. Personal barriers of competitive and financial loss, however, were more ambiguous, with 50% or less identifying each as a barrier and 12% or less identifying each as a major barrier. These results suggest that participants perceive that the most severe barriers of a shift to openness lie in macro and local issues and that personal barriers are less severe.

Figure 2. Most severe barriers to openness



Institute participants included both elementary and secondary teachers, and it was initially unclear to the researcher whether results described above accurately reflected all participants when grade level was taken into consideration. For instance, it was hypothesized that secondary teachers might value equity more than elementary teachers, due to some subject areas receiving more funding, or elementary teachers might view technology infrastructure as a more severe barrier than secondary teachers, due to secondary schools’ more robust technology infrastructure. To test this hypothesis, participant data was organized into three groups: those teaching only elementary grade levels, those teaching only secondary grade levels, and those teaching both.

A one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) with all potentials and barriers as dependent variables and participant group as the independent variable revealed significant main effects for the financial loss barrier, F(3) = 10.57, p <.001, and for the administrative support barrier, F(3) = 3.32, p <.05. Thus, the null hypothesis was rejected for these two variables. Fisher’s LSD post hoc tests for each of these variables revealed that elementary teachers perceive financial loss and lack of administrative support to be more severe barriers than do secondary teachers or those who teach in both settings. Reasons for this disparity is not clear from the data, but this finding might reflect more strained financial opportunities for elementary teachers and less administrative encouragement for innovation. Lack of significance in other factors, however, coupled with the fact that financial loss and administrative support were two of the least important barriers identified by participants, suggests that participants were generally unified in their beliefs about potentials and barriers despite their grade level classifications.


This study has sought to understand the potentials and barriers associated with a shift to openness in K–12 education by first providing teachers with an expansive view of the concept and then seeking to understand their initial and longer-term perceptions. Implications of these results are manifold, but we will limit ourselves to discussing what we believe to be the three most important implications for policy and practice.

First, the most important potentials and barriers associated with openness are not bounded by grade level. Rather, participants revealed with a unified voice that openness can bring with it a number of pedagogical, economic, and professional benefits, and these benefits are not isolated to a single grade level of students. Similarly, elementary and secondary teachers both operate within the same macro and local institutional structures that bring with them barriers that must be overcome. This means that all K–12 teachers should have no problem finding common ground in advocating for shifts to openness and that traditional siloes that serve to divide and weaken their voice for change should be ignored in light of such overwhelming commonalities.

Second, openness is more than an economic concept. As researchers, educators, and institutions continue to focus upon open practices, we should be sure to recognize that open is more than gratis. It is freedom. The freedoms afforded by open practices have great promise for improving the pedagogy and professionalism in our educational institutions as educators are empowered to differentiate, collaborate, and innovate in ways that were impossible under non-open paradigms. Thus, though cost may continue to be the driving factor in the shift to openness, responsible advocates for openness should also emphasize these other potentials and help to evangelize openness as a means of freeing educational institutions from the constraints of a closed world.

And third, the biggest barriers are systemic and institutional, not personal. Though anecdotal stories of teachers’ unwillingness to innovate are prevalent and would-be innovators will often blame teachers for slow diffusion of meaningful solutions, results from this study indicate that personal barriers are likely symptoms or reflections of local and macro problems, rather than the reverse. This means that solutions must start by addressing the problems at their source by engaging legislators and administrators and helping them to understand these identified problems in a more realistic manner. Taken collectively, teachers are possibly the most innovative group of professionals in the world, solving unforeseen problems on a minute-to-minute basis within strict confines of policy and limited resources. Openness and the freedoms it brings have much to offer teachers, but teachers need to be provided with a climate conducive to openness for sustained innovation to occur.


By exploring a group of K–12 teachers’ perspectives on expansive openness in practice, this mixed methods study has sought to provide understanding of both the potentials of openness and the barriers to its diffusion. Qualitative results explored pedagogical, economic, and professional potentials as well as macro, local, and personal barriers, and quantitative results were used to clarify and verify qualitative results and to establish that participants shared a unified voice on potentials and major barriers. In concluding this study, we believe that openness in practice has great promise for K–12 teaching and learning globally and encourage educators, researchers, and legislators alike to reexamine the meaning of open in educational practice and to advocate for those practices that lead to greater freedom and professionalization of teaching.


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 118 Number 9, 2016, p. 1-34
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 21521, Date Accessed: 5/28/2022 9:31:42 AM

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About the Author
  • Royce Kimmons
    University of Idaho
    E-mail Author
    ROYCE KIMMONS, PhD, is the Director of the Doceo Center for Innovation + Learning and holds the rank of Assistant Professor in Learning Technologies at the University of Idaho. His research interests focus on technology integration for learning and participation in online learning environments. More information about his work may be found at http://royce.kimmons.me
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