Maha Bali; Catherine Cronin; Laura Czerniewicz; Robin DeRosa; and Rajiv Jhangiani

“[M]arginality [is] much more than a site of deprivation; in fact…it is also the site of radical possibility, a space of resistance. It was this marginality… as a central location for the production of a counter-hegemonic discourse that is not just found in words but in habits of being and the way one lives. As such, I was not speaking of a marginality one wishes to lose – to give up or surrender as part of moving into the center – but rather of a site one stays in, clings to even, because it nourishes one’s capacity to resist. It offers to one the possibility of radical perspective from which to see and create, to imagine alternatives, new worlds”. (bell hooks  1990, p. 149-150).

The open education movement has made significant progress since it was first explicitly articulated less than two decades ago. Its provenance is often dated back to the announcement of open courseware at a US university, MIT. Since then it has made great strides, especially in the realm of open textbooks, and these especially in the global north. Among its most inspiring developments has been a broadening and refocusing of the conversation to include open pedagogy and open educational practices (OEP), including approaches that extend beyond those that directly involve OER.

Open education is at a critical juncture now. It has moved on from its northern roots and is increasingly being challenged from its own periphery. At the same time, it finds itself marginalised and under threat in an educational sector infiltrated by corporate interests.

It is our contention that rather than bunkering down, becoming blinkered or even complacent, that the voices from the periphery should be amplified. We argue, like Mbembe (2015), for a more open critical pluriversalism – a task which he points out involves the radical re-founding of our ways of thinking and one which embraces via a horizontal strategy of openness a dialogue among different epistemic traditions.

Open education agendas are not simply being “openwashed” as has been observed by many; our concern is that that they have become watered down. It is clear that questions about equity and social justice need to be reasserted at this time.  It is also a moment to question power relations within broader open education networks. When MIT (and others) opened their courseware to the world, it was a one-to-many form of engagement, premised on offering their educational solutions to “others” who are viewed as recipients rather than equal partners in the endeavor.

Therefore, we are cautious about rhetoric concerning equity, diversity, and inclusion, asserting that these only have meaning when concomitant processes are genuinely embraced to avoid further marginalizing the marginalized.

In this book, voices from the margins are made central, voices that ask important questions, such as…

  • Is the open education movement even a single movement? If so, what binds it together?
  • What does it mean for something to be open? Who gets to decide what is “open” enough? Or for whom it is open?
  • Can one use closed means to achieve open ends?
  • Should some things never be open? If so, how are these things determined?
  • How can one reconcile concerns about data privacy, particularly when concerning student data, against a desire to promote open scholarship and open pedagogy?
  • How can one ensure that accessibility is not forgotten during conversations about access?
  • How can one reconcile the rights and agency of authors against specific open licensing requirements attached to OER-related grants?
  • What academic labor issues are currently obscured in the open education movement, and how can OER and OEP paradigms and initiatives resist the exploitation of academic labor?
  • How can one ensure that the movement does not fall prey to blind techno-solutionism?
  • Can a primary obligation to shareholders ever be reconciled with a duty to students?

These are important questions, critical in both senses of the word. However, they have rarely been articulated, debated, or welcomed into the foreground. Which brings us to this volume, which seeks to center these discussions, acknowledging and openly addressing the serious pitfalls of open education that can derail its great promise.

Our Curation Process

“When we think this question “who appears?” we are asked a question about how spaces are occupied by certain bodies who get so used to their occupation that they don’t even notice it… To question who appears is to become the cause of discomfort. It is almost as if we have a duty not to notice who turns up and who doesn’t” – Sara Ahmed (2013, para. 9)

We, the curators of this work, are based in five countries (Canada, Egypt, Ireland, South Africa and the United States) and, added to our own regional diversity, we sought to curate diverse critical voices in open education. Any such curation will always be partial: incomplete and subjective (Ellsworth, 1989) and we therefore make explicit our process here, and suggest that the curation before you is a first attempt and is open to future updating with newer articles or older articles that come to our attention in future years. In the spirit of our open license, we are interested in offering this work to the commons to encourage others to improve our work, identify our blind spots, and continue the conversation we are outlining here.

The diversity we seek here includes:

  • Author diversity: Voices which may be considered marginal to the dominant hegemony, offering critical perspectives on open education. This includes authors from both the global south and global north, women, authors of color, LGBTQ authors, authors from a range of contexts such as libraries and K-12, independent scholars, and student authors, even though the majority will be from higher ed (a group that often has the privilege and luxury to write). We limited our choices to no more than one single-authored contribution per author.
  • Topic diversity: Articles (and a few other media such as audio and video) that tackle a variety of issues in open education, especially through non-traditional lenses. So even while some authors here address overlapping topics, we have chosen pieces that examine issues through new or complementary lenses. While choice of topic and text are subjective, we sought consensus amongst the five of us on each one, then offered authors the choice to pick an alternative if they preferred. We acknowledge that all of us, despite our geographic diversity, have similar core values and stances about critical open education and have co-authored and co-presented together, and been part of the same community on multiple levels. This means there may be entire communities outside of our own that we are unaware of, particularly, for example, non-English-speaking scholars of open education.
  • Informal pieces rather than peer-reviewed pieces, as such pieces already have findability and visibility within the journals and books that house them. Another reason is that sometimes marginalized authors publish less frequently in peer-reviewed spaces. Finally, by choosing shorter pieces, we offer readers an opportunity to read a wider variety of authors and perspectives in a short amount of time, and the choice to then dig deeper into the authors’ work on their own.
  • Already available with an open license or easily made available with an open license (e. g. an author can give us permission without needing publisher permission).
  • Available in English: For this first curation, the articles shared are in English, but in future we may include material in other languages and have it translated. We encourage others to recommend articles in other languages, and to translate works in this collection to other languages as well, within the permissions of each piece.

We want to reiterate that we treat this collection as a starting point towards curating and centering marginal voices and non-dominant epistemic stances in open education, rather than a complete and definitive collection. We share our labor of love in this moment due to the urgency of providing such a collection, recognizing that such work is never “done”, that there will always be additional voices to add, and over time, new stances to include. We invite readers to use the open licensing on this work to adapt and expand this collection, and we hope to be able to update our curation every few years.

The collection which follows is organised simply by date, with articles from April 2013 to November 2019.


Ahmed, S. (2013, September 11). Making feminist points. [Web log post]. Retrieved from:

Ellsworth, E. (1989). Why doesn’t this feel empowering? Working through the repressive myths of critical pedagogy. Harvard Educational Review, 59(3), 297-324.

hooks, b. (1990). Choosing the margin as a apace of radical openness. Yearning: Race, gender, and cultural politics. Between the Lines. pp. 145-53

Mbembe, A. (2015). Decolonizing knowledge and the question of the archive. Lecture at the University of the Witwatersrand. Retrieved from:

About the Authors

Maha Bali is Associate Professor of Practice at the Center for Learning and Teaching at the American University in Cairo. She has a PhD in Education from the University of Sheffield, UK. She is co-founder of (a grassroots movement that challenges academic gatekeeping at conferences) and co-facilitator of Equity Unbound (an equity-focused, open, connected intercultural learning curriculum, which has also branched into academic community activities Continuity with Care and Inclusive Academia). She writes and speaks frequently about social justice, critical pedagogy, and open and online education. She blogs regularly at and tweets @bali_maha.

Catherine Cronin is Strategic Education Developer at Ireland’s National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. Catherine’s work focuses on critical approaches to digital and open education, spanning practice and policy. Her 2018 PhD explored the use of open educational practices (OEP) in higher education. Catherine is a member of several advisory and editorial boards as well as the GO-GN and FemEdTech networks, and a co-developer of Equity Unbound. A born New Yorker who has made her home in Ireland, you can find Catherine at @catherinecronin and

Professor Laura Czerniewicz is the Director of the Centre for Innovation in Learning and Teaching (CILT), at the University of Cape Town. She has worked in education in a number of roles with a continuous focus on inequality, access and digital inequality. These have permeated her research interests which include the changing nature of higher education in a digitally-mediated society as well as student and academic technological practices.  She can be followed on Twitter at @czernie.

Robin DeRosa is a professor and the director of the Open Learning & Teaching Collaborative at Plymouth State University in New Hampshire. An advocate for public higher education in the United States, Robin is interested in how educational institutions can integrate more fully with the communities that they serve, and in how innovation can be driven by public need rather than private markets. You can find Robin at @actualham and

Rajiv S. Jhangiani is the Acting Vice Provost, Teaching & Learning & Associate Vice Provost, Open Education at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in British Columbia, Canada. The architect of Canada’s first Zero Textbook Cost degrees, Rajiv’s research and practice focuses on open educational practices, student-centered pedagogies, and the scholarship of teaching and learning. Rajiv is a co-founder of the Open Pedagogy Notebook and serves on the BC Open Education Advisory Committee. A co-author of three open textbooks in Psychology, he co-edited Open: The Philosophy and Practices that are Revolutionizing Education and Science. You can find him online @thatpsychprof or

Editorial Assistant

Lana Radomsky is continuing her fifth year of studies at the University of British Columbia to pursue a Bachelors of Arts in Psychology. Her first two years attending Kwantlen Polytechnic University gave her an opportunity to work as a student assistant in Open Education. She has contributed to the editing process of other pressbooks published at KPU. In her career life, her ambition is to apply into the Master’s program in Landscape Architecture at UBC. She participated in the design of this book by formatting the layout, as well as in the collection of articles and making sure that the content is properly licensed.


“Introduction” by Maha Bali, Catherine Cronin, Laura Czerniewicz, Robin DeRosa, and Rajiv Jhangiani is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 international license.



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Open at the Margins Copyright © 2020 by Maha Bali; Catherine Cronin; Laura Czerniewicz; Robin DeRosa; and Rajiv Jhangiani is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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