Out of the OER Country Club: representational justice in open education

This is part 2 of a blog post about: the critical turn in open education

My definitions paper also struck a chord with some early career researchers struggling to be heard when voicing alternate discourse within the open education movement. Monica Brown, identifying as a woman of colour (WoC) gave a Twitter “shout out” to myself and Maha Bali for the “work you are doing to make the open space more inclusive”. Citing the URL to the definitions paper, she added that “Reading your writing this week has given me hope as a WoC entering this discourse. Thank you. (Brown, 2019).” Considering the anxiety and trepidation I had experienced throughout writing the paper, worrying if I would be criticized or excluded on Twitter for raising the possibility that dominant discourse was holding back alternate, social-justice based conceptualisations of open education – this feedback from Brown that the paper had given her hope was particularly powerful. It resonated with my own Freirian aspirations for my work, to provide hope for others in the fight for more equitable forms of education. It legitimated the effort as worthwhile and made me feel more courageous in voicing my critiques now and into the future.

The support I have received from others about the importance of thinking about open education in terms of social justice has also given me the confidence to amplify other critical voices who have struggled to be heard. This includes those who recently questioned the role of UNESCO to keep advocating for the emancipatory “potential” of OER re-use without evidence when the evidence to back it up. For example, an online developer and part of the OER movement was having none of the back-patting circulating on Twitter as UNESCO announced a minor wording revision to the definition of OER. “Who cares?” he asked, adding that “We have heard these soundbites … before. Nothing changed. We, the #OER movement have done very less for people who need it (Abeywardena, 2019a).” In the follow up Twitter conversation he clarified that he could not support “wasting global money on redefining the obvious, we must spend that on helping poor children live a #sustainable life. Share proof! Otherwise, what’s the point? We are way past anecdotes. (Abeywardena, 2019b).”

Abeywardena also urged western bureaucrats and scholars to come out of the “OER Country Club” – invoking a space of privilege and whiteness – and asked followers to instead amplify and retweet the work of education advocates on the ground in the global south, noting their tweets never receive the same attention.

“We have built countless #mooc taken by scholars in the #West” he noted, “we have held two ‘world’ congresses where no poor teacher could even dream of attending… Let’s come out of the #OERcountryclub and really do some work on the ground! Stop praising bureaucrats for doing their PR jobs. Praise the people on that panel (if any) who run #oer workshops in #Asia and #Africa for people through interpreters… Praise the people who take boats and cross jungles to talk to people on the value of #oer. When did those tweets trend? (Abeywardena, 2019a).”

Abeywardena’s powerful comments echoed many keynotes, panels and presentations at the OER19 conference which provided theoretical underpinnings, personal accounts and formal case studies of the ways that OER can perpetuate neo-colonial knowledge and privilege of the Global North. His words also highlight the need for representational justice within the Twittersphere, to counter the way that powerful voices with high numbers of Twitter followers tend to dominate and legitimate more western and technically-orientated views of open education. 

I recently read Catherine Cronin’s summary blog post about OER16 where (amongst other ideas) she reflects on sava saheli singh’s work to show how open does not benefit everyone equally and for some it can be risky or even dangerous. Cronin’s post entitled “OER16: a critical turn” also noted the connection between social change and criticality in the academy – in particular the link between “networked participatory culture and openness, using as an example Ireland’s 2015 Marriage Equality referendum.” I love how the links between social change, feminism and ed-tech are again connected through the amazing #OER20 project that is #femedtechquilt.

So perhaps this critical “turn” is more of a “wave” with momentum building through critical blog postings, conversations, publications and the subsequent international conversations between OER16 and OER19. Previously it would have been very difficult to criticise the “potential” of open education or the power of openness. While these regimes of truth still also exist, the regime of truth about open education as social justice has developed a legitimacy and momentum that also makes it harder to ignore.

I was really saddenned to see the North American OER conference implode this year, with factions building higher walls and backing themselves into corners. It makes me doubly grateful for the way in which ALT, the OER conference committees, volunteers and participants  have supported the growth in critical questioning over recent years while also championing inclusion and respect for divergent views. And when I say inclusion, I don’t mean “tolerating, politely nodding, but not actually listening”. I mean coming with an open mind, and being prepared to shift your thinking. This can be made visible by incorporating and citing new ideas and new authors into your work. I look forward to more open listening at OER20.


Abeywardena, I. [@ishansa]. (2019, May 30). This is great! Congrats to #UNESCO #COL #CreativeCommons. Another newsworthy achievement. Who cares? We have heard these soundbites in 2002, 2007, 2012, 2017 before. Nothing changed. We, the #OER movement has done very less for people who need it. [Tweet]. [Twitter].

Abeywardena, I. [@ishansa]. (2019, May 31). Thanks to all who liked, commented and reached out offline. It’s time we, the #OER movement took stock of money spent since 2002 selling this concept people are reluctant to buy. What’s our #ROI? M&E strategy? #SROI? Do we even have an exit strategy? [Twe. [Twitter].

Bell, F. [@francesbell]. (2019, September 16). Yes! I think that OER17 was highly influential and that has carried forward plus great work like @SarahLambertOz framework . And at #femedtech we aspire to the critical turn in education technology from a . [Twitter].

Bali, M. [@Bali_Maha]. (2019, January 24). Love proposed definition of Open Education by @SarahLambertOz and its differentiation betw what could be Open Edu Practices (~networking/collaboration) vs. CRITICAL OEP (builds on work of @actualham @thatpsychprof @catherinecronin ) #cccert #oer19 @Cheryl. [Twitter]. Retrieved from

Bozkurt, A. [@arasbozkurt]. (2019, September 14). What has been changed in #OpenEducation? What sort of updates do we need in definitions? Any thoughts TwitterSphere? [Tweet]. [Twitter]. Retrieved from

Brown, M. [@EssentiallyEmbe]. (2019, January 25). Shout out to @SarahLambertOz and @Bali_Maha for the incredible work you are doing to make the open space more inclusive. Reading your writing this week has given me hope as a WoC entering this discourse. Thank you. #OER #OpenCon [Twitter]. Retrieved from

Christiansen, E. [@eriksation]. (2019, March 6). I do like that Lambert acknowledged the connection between #SocialJustice and #DigitalDivide in #OER . The DD aspect is often overlooked in such analyses, and that demonstrated the thoroughness of her reading #aboerjc [Tweet]. [Twitter]. Retrieved from

Gaskell, A. (2018). Editorial – The Open Education Movement: How Can We Realize its Full Potential? Journal of Learning for Development, 5(3), 183–186. Retrieved from

Hodgkinson-Williams, C. A., & Trotter, H. (2018). A Social Justice Framework for Understanding Open Educational Resources and Practices in the Global South. Journal of Learning for Development – JL4D, 5(3). Retrieved from

Khoo, S.-M. (2019). Openings – Bounded (in) equities and entangled lives. OER19 Program. Retrieved from

Lambert, S. R. (2018). Changing our (Dis)Course: A Distinctive Social Justice Aligned Definition of Open Education. Journal of Learning for Development, 5(3), 225–244. Retrieved from

Veletsianos, G. [veletsianos]. (2019, September 16). I absolutely @ wholeheartedly agree with @SarahLambertOz ‘s assessment and see that turn as reflective of a broader critical turn in #edtech, ID, learning design, etc. It’s past due, to be honest. Many have been doing this work already, of course. [Tweet]. [Twitter]. Retrieved from

Global image CC0 By Ben White via Unsplash

Sarah Lambert

PhD thesis "Open Education as Social Justice" (2019). Interested in interdisciplinary theory, methods, mentoring, systematic reviews. Widening HE participation practitioner.

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