Open Education: Towards Epistemic Sustainability
Barbara Class
TECFA, Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences, University of Geneva, Pont d’Arve 40, 1211 Geneva 4,
Keywords: Open Education, Epistemic Sustainability, Diverse Knowledge, Care, Knowledge Society, Lifecycle of a
Abstract: Conducted in a scholarship of teaching and learning approach (Boyer, 1990), this position paper shares a
scholar’s reflection on epistemic sustainability. Conceived as a philosophy for Humans living harmoniously
with the many ecosystems they are involved in, it is nurtured by values encountered in Open Education
freedom, transparency, sharing, universal ownership. It aims at reconsidering knowledge so that each
individual can identify with it, resulting in a process of engaged learning and caring for knowledge
environment. It rests on the diversity of knowledge systems (UNESCO, 2021) and contributes to the growth
of the knowledge society. Discussed with the backdrop of a framework composed of social learning theories
(Wenger, 2018) and the sociology of absences and emersions (Santos, 2016), it offers two examples of
concrete changes in the praxis of scholars in computer-supported education. The first resides in programming
algorithms for AI considering the diversity of knowledge systems and Open Education values. The second
invites to reconsider the lifecycle of a course beyond academic borders.
It is today agreed that Open Education (OE) is an
umbrella term (Jung, 2019; Otto & Kerres, 2022;
Weller, 2020) exactly as Open Science (Fecher &
Friesike, 2014) is. A variety of conceptions,
approaches and practices qualify as OE and this
wealth of understandings is one of its essential
intrinsic characteristics. With this position paper, we
discuss epistemic sustainability which considers the
diversity of knowledge systems (UNESCO, 2021) to
contribute to collective human intelligence (Farmer,
2019; Innerarity, 2015).
With regard to the richness of OE perspectives,
we will illustrate it with three non-exhaustive
examples: Weller’s, Baker’s and Otto & Kerres’. In
Weller (2020)’s perspective, three main components
of OE concentrate its fundamental features: MOOCs,
Open Universities and Open Educational Resources
(OERs). All three work towards removing barriers
and rendering quality education accessible to people
who are deprived of it for one reason or another.
Weller underlines that each of these OE initiatives
currently ignores the others, whereas each focuses on
an interesting feature (e.g. sharing, access) and invites
for cross-fertilisation.
On his side, Baker (2017) tries to understand
underlying strategies adopted to define different
approaches to openness in education. First it is a
strategy of affiliating openness to historical periods
and movements characterised by openness like the
Middle Ages when knowledge went out of churches
(Poulter & Al, 2014 - to present; Raucent et al., 2019)
or the Open Source Software movement where code
source is openly shared and co-constructed (Ubuntu,
No date). Second, it is a strategy of granting openness
as a philosophical ideal underlying a given context,
like the common good for example. The third strategy
consists in negotiating openness at an operational
level to leverage possible affordances like the creative
commons licences. “Commonalities between all of
these efforts to define openness emphasize a variety
of constructs. These include the role of freedom,
justice, respect, openness as attitude or culture, the
absence of barriers, promotion of sharing,
accessibility, transparency, collaboration, agency,
self-direction, personalization, and ubiquitous
ownership” (Baker, 2017, p. 131).
Class, B.
Open Education: Towards Epistemic Sustainability.
DOI: 10.5220/0011096100003182
In Proceedings of the 14th International Conference on Computer Supported Education (CSEDU 2022) - Volume 2, pages 646-653
ISBN: 978-989-758-562-3; ISSN: 2184-5026
2022 by SCITEPRESS Science and Technology Publications, Lda. All rights reserved
Finally, Otto and Kerres (2022) highlight a
“normative paradox” (Deimann, 2019, p. 40, citing
Honneth, 2004) of the Humboldtian university. The
political agenda of opening up with the aim of
overcoming educational inequalities is conducted
within a system based on organising selection. In
other words, how can a university pretend to work
towards openness when the entire system works on an
opposite conception of education (i.e. financial
barrier, admission barrier, administrative barrier,
To what extent are these components, strategies
and paradox informative of societal changes towards
education? Universities usually have 3 missions
research, education and service to the community.
Openness arrived from its main mission and is
changing the landscape of research with Open Access,
Open Research Data, and other open practices that
enables scholars to renew past practices (Langlais,
2015). Beyond questions of access to multiple
services which is vital for participating, UNESCO
calls for a “dialogue between different knowledge
holders, that recognizes the richness of diverse
knowledge systems and epistemologies and diversity
of knowledge producers” (UNESCO, 2021, p. 15). In
a knowledge society, science and education can be
regarded as two sides of the same coin. Openness
achieved in research will sooner or later lead to
openness in education.
We will first explain concepts and present
underlying theories that frame this reflection. Then,
we will show through a historical overview of OE in
the Global North why the Covid 19 crisis contributes
to a new momentum for Open Education. Finally, we
will give two concrete examples on how to work
towards epistemic sustainability as computer
supported education scholars.
The methodology developed within this position
paper is based on a Scholarship of Teaching and
Learning (SoTL) approach (Boyer, 1990). It shares a
reflection that stems from work conducted on OE
from different perspectives and with different
stakeholders in the recent past (e.g. Class, 2020;
Barbara Class et al., 2021; B Class et al., 2021).
Going back to basic definitions of concepts can be
helpful, especially when two of them pertaining to
different spheres are combined, which is the case in
this text. Epistemic “comes from epistēmē, Greek for
"knowledge", itself coming from the verb epistanai,
meaning "to know or understand," a word formed
from the prefix epi- (meaning "upon" or "attached
to") and histanai (meaning "to cause to stand")
Sustainable refers to something “capable of being
sustained - maintained at length without interruption
or weakening”. It also refers to “using a resource so
that the resource is not depleted or permanently
What we retain from both definitions is the simple
idea, related to transparency, of being aware of
processes behind the choice of labelling something as
knowledge. This awareness and transparency should
help to trace knowledge, understand its philosophical
orientation and its evolution throughout History.
Making this traceability easy should increase trust
and leverage sustainability mechanisms.
Santos (2021, Chapter 5) explains how, in his
interpretation, the discipline of sociology was born to
analyse the problems arising in Western societies at
the time of industrial revolution - which started
around 1760. The discipline has been founded
without considering previous scholars like Ibn
Khaldun and without acknowledging their
methodological contribution.
Some centuries later, after the second world war,
the concept of development has been disseminated as
one of the most important sociological concepts.
Development addresses several aspects of a society
and of an individual human being: the economic, the
social, the cultural, the religious and the political to
name the most obvious ones. The issue with this
concept is that it has been problematised by Western
actors who defined the line between what qualifies for
“developed” and what qualifies for “underdeveloped”.
It resulted in placing “the majority of countries on the
wrong side of history, the world of underdevelopment”
(p. 291).
Time has passed, scholars from these so-called
“underdeveloped countries” have studied in Western
universities, mobilities have contributed to
interacting, disentangling epistemic injustice and
calling for new avenues. Santos (2021) urges to
decolonise the social sciences in responsible and
sensitive ways. To do so, he invites to consider
knowledge originating from other time, space and
Open Education: Towards Epistemic Sustainability
contexts to understand our own time and take
informed decisions. For example, while current
research method epistemologies usually revolve
around post-positivist, constructivist, transformative
and pragmatic worldviews (e.g. Creswell, 2014),
what about opening up to African, Asian, South
American, Indigenous and other epistemologies?
In the domain of computer-supported education,
we find it particularly interesting that Ubuntu, an
African philosophy, is omnipresent through the
eponymous operating system. “Epistemology of
Ubuntu, translated as humanness, “suggests both a
condition of being and the state of becoming, of
openness or ceaseless unfolding” (Ramose, 2015, p.
69). Ubuntu considers “the universe as a complex
wholeness involving the multi-layered and incessant
interaction of all entities” (Ramose, 2015, p. 69)
human beings, physical or objective nature. The three
driving insights of Ubuntu are: 1) constant motion of
“wholes” from generation to death to regeneration; 2)
human dignity; 3) mutual care and sharing between
human beings and physical nature (Ramose, 2015)”
(Class, 2021).
Epistemic sustainability is conceived as a
philosophy, in the sense of “most basic beliefs,
concepts, and attitudes of an individual or group”
, for
Humans. Not Humans who dominate Nature as in the
modern perspective (Latour, 2006), but rather
Humans who live harmoniously and respectfully with
the many ecosystems they are involved in (Pelluchon,
2021). Nurtured by values encountered in Open
Education i.e. freedom, transparency, justice,
respect, sharing, care, access, traceability, trust,
collaboration, agency, self-direction, personalization,
ubiquitous ownership, it aims at co-constructing
knowledge, finding consensus to decide what
qualifies as knowledge and work towards the building
of a collective human intelligence (Farmer, 2019;
Innerarity, 2015). To reach this goal, within a
collaborative effort, it invites to revisit, reconsider,
revise, review and more generally contribute to
knowledge conceived as a common good (Hess &
Ostrom, 2007). The outcome being that any human
being can identify with this knowledge, resulting in
engaged learning endeavours and caring for
knowledge environments (Funk, 2021).
The values of Open Education rest on two essential
features – freedom and transparency (Baker, 2017, p.
132), from which remaining values spread. We
choose the theory of social learning (Lave & Wenger,
1991; Wenger, 1998) and the sociology of absences
and emersions (Santos, 2016) to apprehend OE
because both go back to OE values.
With regard to social learning, necessary
components to turn social participation into a process
of learning, knowing and creating are meaning,
practice, community and identity. Meaning refers to
experience the world as meaningful, e.g. how to
design computer-supported learning environments
that promote diversity and critical thinking. Practice
refers to some grounding (Clark & Brennan, 1991) in
the praxis
(Freire, 1994) to provide sustained mutual
engagement in action, e.g. refer to the literature and
practices to experience innovative ways of teaching
and learning with ICT. Community refers to a social
configuration where participation is seen as
competence and/or expertise, e.g. share experiences
with colleagues at conferences. Identity refers to
changes operated by learning experiences and
informs about becoming in the future, e.g. changes in
the professional identity of the scholar committed to
computer-supported education (Wenger, 2018).
Value creation at different levels underlies any
learning enterprise conducted from a social
perspective (Wenger-Trayner & Wenger-Trayner,
The sociology of absences and emersions (Santos,
2016) is particularly adequate to discuss knowledge
in the rising knowledge society. As a reminder, a
knowledge society is a task to be accomplished. By
questioning norms and knowledge production
systems, it calls for genuine creativity. A knowledge
society is foremost a society of ignorance that
acknowledges it (Innerarity, 2015).
“Sociology of absences focuses on social
experiments to explore what exists of the South that
is independent from the North/South constructed
dichotomy. It is about researching, with non-modern
mindsets and epistemologies what exists beyond the
abyssal line (Santos, 2016, p. 251 and following).
Sociology of emersions aims to symbolically
increase the importance of knowledge, practices and
actors to identify future trends, on which it is possible
to increase the probability of hope against the
probability of frustration. It acts on possibilities
Praxis in the sense of deeply dependent discourse / theory
and practice / action.
CSEDU 2022 - 14th International Conference on Computer Supported Education
(potentials) and capacities (legitimate authority,
power) and focuses on care, without being
deterministic” (Class, Submitted).
Both movements recognise what has been
deliberately considered as non-valid scientific
knowledge and offer a supportive ecosystem for it to
emerge contribute to epistemic sustainability. The
first helps to restore damaged and depleted resources
and the second to support them in a strengthening
long-term movement. Combined with a social
learning perspective that reaches out to a variety of
stakeholders, e.g. involved communities, it provides
a robust theoretical framework to discuss OE.
Why is the context of post Covid 19 crisis a new
momentum for Open Education to thrive? In Greek,
the word "krisis", means "judgement" and "decision"
and thus implies discernment in the critical analysis
of the situation and choices that guide actions. In
Chinese, the word "crisis" describes a critical moment
or situation, but the threat is clearly combined with
the idea of openness and opportunity (Laulusa, 2009).
In our roles of scholars committed to computer
supported education, we agree that distance education
and emergency distance education are two different
things. While the first is a robust discipline that has
been investigated for several decades (e.g. Bishop et
al., 2020 and all previous editions, the first dating
back 1996; Hodges et al., 2020), the second has been
experienced recently worldwide with more or less
Peters et al. (2020) are very direct about the crisis
and how it has to be interpreted for the future of
education, taking the metaphor of a gateway between
two worlds, qualified in this position paper of modern
society on one hand and knowledge society on the
other. “We can choose to walk through it, dragging
the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice,
our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and
smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through
lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another
world. And ready to fight for it (Peters et al., 2020,
p. 1).
The crisis has offered unheard of opportunities of
learning that remind us of Freire’s and Blikstein’s
lessons of education (NORRAG, 2021). While people
from the “developed” part of the world, no matter
their geographical location, could work and learn on-
line, people from the “underdeveloped” part of the
world fought for daily survival. In the vein of the
sociology of emersions, how could the former learn
from the latter’s experiences?
While many reports indicate that students
suffered from isolation and lack of human interaction
during the peak of the crisis, these students'
"experience is one of intense engagement with the
existing resources and infrastructures of their
environments. They are engaged in informalised,
context-mitigating, and socially engaged processes of
learning to survive, and to keep body, mind and soul
together. They acquire contextually engaged critical
literacies that are vital for their survival and
adaptation. Their intellectual engagement and
practices of mitigation have foregrounded intensified
relational pedagogical engagement" (Peters et al.,
2020, p. 28). They have engaged in a "pedagogy of
care" that we can humbly acknowledge and that some
scholars have already put into practice.
Funk (2021) reports the restructuring of a
curriculum around new concepts in the academic
landscape: indigenous knowledge authority, consent,
collaboration, situated knowledge in communities of
practice, caring pedagogy and cognitive compassion.
She concludes, recommending several directions for
universities. One is about embedding cognitive
compassion for knowledge in a sustainable way
amongst the different stakeholders involved to install
care for knowledge authority and collaboration on
knowledge (and move away from a "competition-
centric mastery" approach to knowledge). Another is
about developing Open Pedagogical Practices and
convening many stakeholders to the design of
curriculum so that each stakeholder can retrieve his
or her reality and grounds collaboration and
consensus to actually face the "many forms of
distance" (Funk, 2021, p. 11) that have to be dealt
with on a daily basis.
This is only one example but others are
flourishing throughout the world (e.g. Chan et al.,
2020; Godrie et al., 2020).
Open Education has been conceptualised in the
Global North. It may exist in indigenous cultures
under a variation of forms but we are not aware of any
source that goes in that direction yet. Being in the
decade of indigenous languages, which slogan reads
“Nothing for us without us”, interesting knowledge in
this regard may emerge (UNESCO, 2020). At present,
we are restricted to Western-centred writings on OE
history. It is principally on the basis of three sources
Open Education: Towards Epistemic Sustainability
that we summarise the story of openness in education
from the Middle Ages to the present day, focusing on
values and not on enabling technologies (Baker,
2017; Peter & Deimann, 2013; Weller, 2014).
In 1373, as the population became more literate,
in Florence, people asked for public lectures on Dante.
The universities of Paris, Bologna, Oxford and
Cambridge thus emerged, shaped by their students
and their demands for lectures. At this time, openness
was driven by internationally mobile students and
scholars and was based on a growing curiosity and
awareness of the value of education. In addition, in
the years 1450, the book was socially perceived as a
way to bypass state and religious authority, which
allowed the printing press to develop rapidly.
By the late 1500s, access to knowledge and study
was quite different and restricted. The pope and the
king changed the nature of the university to a
controlled institution under their authority. A transfer
of power took place in addition to collecting fees from
students. Universities became increasingly tied to a
permanent location and a state, gradually losing their
international scholars and students.
In the 17th century, cafés were places where
knowledge was shared and discussions on science,
religion, economics and literature took place. In these
places, ideas related to the scientific revolution spread,
while universities continued to teach the old doctrines.
This discrepancy gave rise to a distrust in public
The 18th century was characterised by men’s
increasing literacy. Among the lower social classes,
mutual education was established, which gave rise to
self-learning associations. It is in this social context
that in 1836 the University of London opened its
courses to all social classes, without distinction, to
disseminate liberal education. From the end of the
19th century until the end of the Second World War,
miners established “workmen’s institutes” (Peter &
Deimann, 2013, p. 10) in each village, with a library
as central place. And “the 20th century continued to
see education “open” as the belief in the people’s
right to access society’s knowledge grew” (Peter &
Deimann, 2013, p. 10).
In the late 1960s, the concept of Open Education
surfaced strongly in the United States. Openness and
freedom guided discussions about the role of
education in society because public school was seen
as oppressive and perpetuating racism, elitism and
other authoritarian social norms. In the 1960s and
1970s, the classroom was a place under the authority
of the teacher who had full power. An open society
was called for in which all cultures would be nurtured.
The mainstream approach is that learners learn in
interaction with others and their environment. In
addition, learners' interests should dictate their own
education and they should be trusted and encouraged
to think by themselves. By the mid-1970s, the open
movement had lost momentum for a number of
reasons e.g. confusion about the approach,
unaligned research results, scholars promising results
beyond reality.
In the 1980s, technology starts to override values.
It is in those years that an acceleration of change has
been observed, driven in particular by technological
developments. In various reports of leading
organisations, e.g. World Bank, OECD, WEF,
changes are systematically presented primarily as the
product of digital technology and capitalist economy.
This agenda is today reinterpreted as the one of a
small group installing “digital feudalism” (Morozov,
2016 quoted by Deimann, 2020).
Throughout these 700 years, we can see periods
of freedom and transparency in the dissemination of
knowledge animated by empowered learners
alternating with periods of public and/or ecclesiastic
control on knowledge. Technology, e.g. print, railway,
computers, internet, played a role in both movements
– freedom and control.
In education, the media debate (Clark, 1994;
Kozma, 1994) remains significant with regard to
technology. This debate was initiated by the famous
"the medium is the message" buzz phrase by
McLuhan (1964). In his visionary work with regard
to technology and humans, McLuhan conceives of
each medium as an extension of the human being,
thereby introducing a new scale into human affairs.
He contrasts the divisive activity of industrial
mechanics, i.e. Fordism with human activity which is
essentially integrative. This debate remained
significant for the crystallised positions of Clark and
Kozma, one arguing that technology is a mere conduit
and that pedagogy must take precedence, and the
other insisting on the pedagogical affordance of
technology and therefore the need to choose it
Refocusing on values and looking for enabling
technologies to empower humans and their
ecosystems in sustainable ways seems timely. To
make this discussion concrete, we will give two
examples of changes in the praxis of scholars that can
CSEDU 2022 - 14th International Conference on Computer Supported Education
contribute to epistemic sustainability. The first refers
to AI and the second to the lifecycle of a course.
As scholars, when programming algorithms on
which AI relies, make sure to acknowledge the
diversity of knowledge systems should become best
practice. This would help to avoid excesses as
reported in the Coded Bias film (Kantayya, 2020) and
somehow echoes the oppressive days of the 1960s in
US public schools. Acknowledging, translating and
localising the diversity of knowledge systems in
algorithms can be reached through collaborative and
consensus processes such as those Funk (2021)
explicates. In addition, generalising open-source
computing and open-source praxis will enhance
transparency, traceability, contribution, trust and
freedom. Overall, AI should be considered an ally,
advising and supporting human beings 24/7
(Murgatroyd, 2021) in their quest for openness.
Have you ever reflected on the lifecycle of a
course you teach and the academic culture it vehicles?
What if the beginning of a course would come from
the call of students / communities / citizens to learn
more about a given topic (as in the early Middle
Ages)? Elaborating on this idea, different parties
involved would co-create the course, define its
learning outcomes and how to reach them. During the
course, through renewable assignments (Wiley,
2016), they would work on tangible artefacts to learn
through social approaches
(Wenger, 2018). They
could value the learning experience and contribute to
the re-evaluation of knowledge in the perspective of
the sociology of absences and emersions (Santos,
2016). Created knowledge and artefacts would be
available for future elaboration, in a sustainable
fashion (Schneider et al., 2019), and by a wide range
of stakeholders. In fact, the slogan of the decade of
indigenous languages, “Nothing for us without us” is
inspiring for current educational contexts and
nurturing societal aspirations.
The crisis has shown that the modern society can no
longer exist. It lacks sustainability at all levels. For
instance, dichotomising nature and culture does not
make sense in a knowledge society where each
artefact is in its essence a continuity of nature, culture
and technology. It is widely known that any digital
Here are some examples from personal teaching
experiences: ;égories_et_codes_dan
device has some extract of gem stone in it. It is also
widely known that our digital consumption is being
pointed out for drastic revision because of its impact
on the planet (e.g. Ghernaouti, 2021).
The etymology of the concept of university -
“from the Latin universitas (“body, company,
corporation, college, association”) as an abbreviation
of the medieval universitas magistrorum et scolarum
(association/body of teachers and students)
is full of
insights. It represents a first step to reconsider our
praxis as scholars in an associative perspective to
contribute to knowledge as a common good.
Guided by UNESCO’s (2021) recommendations
for Open Science and overall sustainability
approaches, values of Open Education can contribute
to change our relationship to knowledge.
Rehabilitating, revisiting, questioning, welcoming
any type of knowledge, with care, to understand the
challenges of our time appears as a promising move
forward. In addition, connecting OE with other open
movements, i.e. Open Science, Open Galleries,
Libraries, Archives, and Museums, Open Institutions,
etc. (Stacey, 2018), all based on essential values of
freedom, transparency and justice, can try to repair
what the concept of development has damaged.
As scholars, it is up to each of us to leave our
comfort zone, seize this opportunity for change, take
risk and engage in new praxis. This will not always
lead to successful outcomes but can be turned into
productive failure (Kapur, 2015) from which we can
learn. Supporting open praxis initiatives with design
based research approaches (McKenney & Reeves,
2019) for example can contribute to the building of a
sustainable, collective human intelligence.
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