Open Education over the years

I’ve been fascinated by early articles on open education ever since Resnick’s 1972 article on open ed and technology came to my attention. The other day I looked at one of Barth’s articles, so today I thought I’d try to get an overview of what’s out there, a history of literature on open ed. I looked through ERIC to see what had been written over the years. The earliest articles I found were from 1970, so I took year by year counts from 1970 to 2016. At first I search “open education” as a phrase, but since that has the potential to inflate the count, I also looked it up as a subject heading. I did this using my library’s EBSCO interface, then did it again with I did this because I noticed on my initial look that EBSCO had fewer results. Apparently indexes articles more quickly, since the discrepancy is almost entirely in the past four years. What we see is a large bubble of activity in the 70s, and a smaller one in the current decade.

ERIC articles

There is some difference between what was meant by open education in the 70s and what we talk about today. Back then, from my reading of Barth, it was more of a label for various practices and characteristics of progressive education in British elementary schools, and now it refers more to accessibility in higher education. We might get a better sense of what was being discussed if we look at the other subject descriptors applied to the literature. Fortunately, ERIC makes this relatively easy. I collected the top five co-descriptors for each year, along with counts of how many documents had each descriptor. I put all this data in a spreadsheet, which I have uploaded to Google Drive if anyone is interested.

I haven’t thought of a good way to visualize the co-descriptors over time, but this would be a way of getting a sense of the change in the conversation over the years. We could look at the counts pretty easily though.
codescriptorsThis shows how many times a term has made the top five co-descriptor list since 1970. It does not take into consideration the number of documents that had each descriptor. Foreign Countries made the list in 36 of the years, Distance Education in 27 and Higher Education in 24. This might suggest that it’s something that happens outside of the US, enabled by technology in higher education, but that seems like a leap in logic. While Barth indicated that open ed was an elementary ed thing in the 60s and 70s, Higher Education also shows up on the list in the 70s, so perhaps there was more to it. The data might bear deeper analysis.

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