Openness, quality and transparency

Knowledge is a common good and should be made accessible. As a teacher, I like getting easy access to both educational resources and research. Naturally technology is a primary driver but also legislation and attitudes among students and staff. However, for an educational online resource to be of any use for university teachers there are two main concerns, quality and transparency. 

Online educational resources, it might be films, courses, access to archives have to be of good quality. Quality means that they need to be up to date, both the content and the technology. In my teaching I have had made use of open educational resources produced by numerous museums and archives. These resources are primarily focused on content. In addition, I have used free online resources focused on open learning such as, which is the official provider of art history for Although easily accessible these organizations are not as transparent as a university and has a number of private sponsors, mostly based in the USA.

Martin Weller discuss his concerns about openness in his book The battle for open pointing at concerns about commercial interests, financial sustainability and accessibility. (Weller 2013) This might not have to be a problem, however, both teachers and students have to be aware of the situation. It is as important to know who has produced the knowledge and how in an online lecture as it is when reading an article. 

What then is the main contribution from online resources such as Smarthistory? Although offering both content and educational services, such as specially designed online materials, in-built learner support and assessment I would say there is one main feature that has been most useful to me. Visiting architectural sites and art work is an essential aspect of teaching art history. As a senior lecturer I usually bring my student to different sites during field trips, something which is no longer possible because of Covid-19. This means that virtual guided tours offered by museums and short films produced by free online recourses have become even more valuable. 

Smarthistory’s content is based on a combination of conversational videos and essays which cover art and cultural heritage. They are not ‘traditional’ lectures but a dialogue and an actual visit to a site, “we essentially walk into a museum and record on the spot” The viewer should feel “like they are eavesdropping on a conversation between experts.” (Smee 2020)

During a field trip this conversation usually happen between the teacher and the student. And to be honest, during Covid-19, I have missed this often creative and fun meeting with the students and a site. And I recognize some of the reluctance to using other people’s work described in Teaching in a digital age (Bates 2019, Before March 2020 I considered the films describing different art works all over the world as a useful and interesting educational resource, now they are also a reminder of the fun and value of actually meeting your students on site. 

Bates, T. (2019). Teaching in a Digital Age: Guidelines for Teaching and Learning. (2nd edition) 

Smee, Sebastian, (May 1, 2020) How two professors transformed the teaching of art history,

Weller, M. (2014). Battle for Open: How openness won and why it doesn’t feel like victory. London: Ubiquity Press.

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