Introduction to Open Digital Pedagogy

Developed by Laurie Hurson

What do we mean by “open” teaching? And how does “open” relate to “digital pedagogy”? This workshop will introduce the foundations of open digital pedagogy and provide examples from The CUNY Academic Commons, a WordPress teaching and learning platform used by faculty in a variety of graduate and undergraduate courses across CUNY.

Learning Goals

  • Explore the terms “open” and “digital” as they relate to teaching
  • Understand the basic tenets of open digital pedagogy and “open” uses of digital tools
  • Demonstrate familiarity with several models for teaching on the Commons


Open digital pedagogy has been defined as “the use of cost-free, publicly available online tools and platforms by instructors and students for teaching, learning, and communicating in support of educational goals” (Rosen and Smale, 2015) Open and digital approaches to teaching signify a spectrum of choices a professor makes while planning their course and there are no definitive practices that are required to “do” open and digital pedagogy. Open digital pedagogy often includes teaching on an open platform, using open materials (OER), centering student knowledge, encouraging student engagement with public discourses, and fostering digital skills and literacies. When we talk about “open” pedagogy, we are interrogating how interactions, resources, and digital tools can “actually transform the way in which we do “school,” [and] the way in which we teach and learn” (Watters, 2015).

While the CUNY-provided Blackboard platform offers a suite of digital tools to manage a course, Blackboard is a “closed,” or “siloed,” environment where course content and student work is only accessible to participants in the course. Learning Management systems like Blackboard, “privilege a mindset that views learning not as a life-affirming adventure but instead as a technological problem, one that requires a ‘system’ to ‘manage’ it” (Groom and Lamb, 2014).

Students often have very little control in the Blackboard environment; they cannot converse with peers, post when or where they are not supposed to, and they cannot keep or export their work after the course ends. Often Blackboard “integrates” with third party vendors, and requires students to submit work through an extended digital tool (ex: TurnItIn of Safeassign). These third party vendors likely save and sell student data as part of their business model (Johnson, 2016; Stommel, 2016).

Teaching with WordPress or the CUNY Academic Commons allows faculty members to host their course on an alternative, community-based, collaboratively-developed web platform.

The CUNY Academic Commons is built on the open source framework called WordPress, a collaborative web project developed by millions of individuals contributing to shared source code. CUNY faculty and staff created and maintain the CUNY Academic Commons, our own CUNY-dedicated WordPress platform. The Commons is free to use and can be customized to meet the needs of instructors and students. By moving digital work off of closed systems onto more open platforms, instructors can use increasingly open and digital pedagogical strategies in their courses. Hosting a course on the Commons offers opportunities for instructors to increase the openness of their teaching. Read through these Reflections on Teaching on the Commons to learn more about professors’ experiences.

Professors who engage in open digital pedagogy often use a combination of open practices such as incorporating open educational resources (OER), assigning public-facing writing or projects, developing their course to center student knowledge and experience, and offering opportunities for multimodal engagement and composition.  Open and digital approaches can be foundational to the course or only used for a single assignment. So don’t worry, you don;t have to try to do all of this at once!And you couldn’t anyway because it’s core open digital pedagogy is an evolving set of practices of using digital tools in teaching to “rethink power relations between students and teachers…[to] create more collaborative and less hierarchical institutions for learning” (Stommel, 2013). Making decisions about incorporating open digital pedagogy allows professors to consciously interrogate their teaching praxis.

To participate in this workshop you will need to register for the CUNY Academic Commons by creating an account (video directions and text directions).

Then, join our Commons Group: Teaching with the CUNY Academic Commons Workshop Series and post reflections and questions in the thread: “Workshop: Open Digital Pedagogy on the CUNY Academic Commons”.

Workshop Activities

    1. Reflect: Familiarize yourself with the foundations of Open Digital Pedagogy gathered in the workshop materials below
    2. Explore: Take a tour of the Commons, browse the courses tab, dive into the open course examples
    3. Connect: Determine how you might use open and digital pedagogies in your course.


Workshop Materials

You do not need to read everything. A suggested approach: read one article from the first two categories and two articles from the Commons-specific resources.

Foundational Readings on Open Digital Pedagogy (from introduction)

Additional Open Digital Pedagogy Resources

Commons-Specific Resources



Activity 1: Read and Reflect

Read through several of the workshop materials.

Go to our Commons Group: Teaching with the CUNY Academic Commons Workshop Series to post questions or reflections and questions in our thread: “Workshop: Open Digital Pedagogy on the CUNY Academic Commons”.

Posting is optional but do take notes and familiarize yourself with the foundations of open digital pedagogy. This will come in handy in activity two, when you will explore examples of open digital pedagogy on the Commons.

Activity 2: Explore Open Digital Pedagogy on the Commons

All of these courses are hosted on the Commons. Even if the course is private to the professor and their students, precisely because the course is hosted on the Commons, the course is foundationally “open”. These professors have chosen to host their course on an open source, CUNY community-facilitated WordPress-based platform. Unlike a closed system like Blackboard, the Commons can be opened up to the public. Additionally, unlike proprietary software platforms like Blackboard, the Commons does not collect or profit from users’ data; all content added to the Commons is  owned solely by the user that added the content. This means that students taking courses on the Commons will own all the intellectual work they contribute to the course. Students are able to share, save, and/or export their work during or after the course ends.

Moreover, by taking their course on the Commons, students are developing the digital skills to use and create on WordPress, a web framework that powers 35% of all websites on the internet. The digital skills developed in their course on the Commons are transferable to other courses on the commons, building their own websites with wordPress and even the likely possibility of encountering WordPress in a job after they graduate.

Identifying Open and Digital Pedagogy in Action

Review 2 or 3 of these selected open courses to identify aspects of Open Digital Pedagogy.

Use the (non-exhaustive) list of questions can act as a guide to explore how these sites enact open digital pedagogy. You do not need to explore all the questions in each category below. Pick and choose. Each site will not demonstrate each component of open digital pedagogy. Find an aspect of a course that jumps out at you, that feels particularly exciting and intriguing, and think through how you might reuse, revise, or remix this idea in your course. Share your feedback in Activity 3.

Sites to Explore

Open and Accessible Materials

    • Does the course use open and/or free materials? How are the materials accessed?
    • Does the course offer multimodal content? Do the assigned materials include videos, podcasts, images, and other media?
    • Does the course have a mix of academic and “mainstream” articles and materials? This is not required but provides students with alternative perspectives on an issue and allows students of different reading abilities to engage.
    • Does the course offer materials that connect the course to current events, pop culture, or other forms of media and events that students may be familiar with?
    • Are materials accessible for students of differing abilities? Are texts “OCR”-ed, meaning can they be searched and read by a screen reader? Are videos captioned? Do podcasts have a transcript in addition to audio?

Incorporating Student Knowledge

    • (How) does the professor frame the role of the student in the course? What role will students’ experiences play in the course? Examine the course policies, syllabus language, and assignments.
    • Does the professor create opportunities for students’ to share their own knowledge? Look through the course assignments.
    • Are there opportunities for students to share their reflections or personal experiences related to the content of the course?
    • Are there low-stakes assignments or weekly opportunities for students to check-in and demonstrate (mis) understanding?
    • Are the assignments scaffolded, allowing students to develop knowledge throughout the arc of the course, and build toward a larger goal or project?

Fostering Student Engagement and Digital Skills

    • Do the students engage on the course site (blogging, commenting)? Or is the site only a mechanism to distribute course materials?
    • Do the students play an active role in developing the site? Is the labor and content production shared between student and professor?
    • Are students in conversation with their peers somehow during the course?
    • Do the assignments and tasks give students an opportunity to develop digital skills using a specific tool?
    • Are there multiple ways for a student to respond, engage in the course, or complete an assignment? (Ex: Choose your own assignment adventure in Shawna Brandle’s course)

Encouraging Public Engagement

    • Is the course meant for a larger audience beyond the course? How is this audience engaged? Does the professor signal that the course content can be reused, revised, or remixed by others?
    • Does the course invite public participation?
    • Does the course set up opportunities for students to engage with the public, possibly through assignments, writing, experiential learning opportunities?
    • Do the assignments have real world connections or implications?
    • Is student work totally public or (at least) shared with other students?

Website Design 

    • Is the course taught on an open source platform like WordPress or Drupal? (all examples hosted on the Commons exemplify this)
    • What does this site offer (design-wise and graphically) that would not be possible on Blackboard?
    • (How) Does the site design capture the viewing audience? Does it make you want to click through to learn more about this course?
    • Is the site graphically appealing? Easy to navigate?
    • Do the students play an active role in developing the site? Is the labor and content production shared between student and professor?

Enacting Critical Pedagogical Approaches

  • (How) do these sites demonstrate/enact practices associated with
    • Critical Digital Pedagogy
    • Anti-racist pedagogy
    • Culturally-Relevant and Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy
    • Socially Conscious Pedagogy (link to sakina’s site)

This is a longer and larger conversation about how open and digital pedagogies are connected to and enact critical approaches to pedagogy. This exploration is beyond the scope of this workshop but it is necessary and important to include here. For a deeper exploration of  critical pedagogical approaches please check out this workshop: Equity and Access in Online Instruction (link).

An orientation towards social justice work is a shared commitment of open, digital, and critical approaches. The act of creating an“open” class is itself a social justice practice. Using open materials to lower or eliminate textbook costs, centering student knowledge and experience, incorporating readings, topics, events, that are of interest to students personally, encouraging students question power dynamics, and assigning work that reaches beyond the confines of the course, are all practices that re-frame the meaning and work of education.

Activity 3: Connect and Plan

Identify an aspect of [a site, an assignment, a course policy] that you might want to try out or “remix” for your teaching. Share the site link, provide a brief overview of the ODP characteristic, and thoughts on how/why you might use this approach.

Share your feedback in our Slack channel. Suggested feedback modalities below.

Remember (!) you don’t have to do all the things now (or ever). These examples were provided to demonstrate various possibilities and introduce the multifaceted ways open and digital pedagogies are enacted.

Takeaways & Next Steps

    • Basic understanding of “open” education and “open digital pedagogy”

If you’d like to learn more about OER, a foundational aspect of open digital pedagogy, go to the “Getting Started with OER” workshop.

If you would like to join the Commons and explore further, go to the Getting Started on the CUNY Academic Commons workshop.