Colourful background banner with text. The message is for Open Access Week 2021 and the theme “It Matters How We Open Knowledge: Building Structural Equity” is displayed.
The theme for Open Access Week 2021 is “It Matters How We Open Knowledge: Building Structural Equity”

Open access (OA) is a wonderful thing. It removes the need for paywalls and allows anyone who wants to read research in articles, books, conference papers and more to do so. Research audiences can also build on the work when it’s licenced for re-use, like a musician can re-mix or sample a track and make something new with it.

Open Access Week 2021

This year, we’re celebrating Open Access Week (OAW) by thinking about different users of research, those people who consume and benefit from it. This chimes with the theme of “It Matters How We Open Knowledge: Building Structural Equity” by considering the needs of different communities.

Later this week we’ll discuss international audiences and ‘pracademics’, but today we’re talking about teachers.

What does open access mean for teachers?

I took to Twitter to ask a selection of teachers this question. The replies brought out some fascinating themes, which I’ve interspersed with the literature. Thank you to everyone who participated.

A teacher holding a notebook, standing in woodland. Her six pupils are sat on the ground and some raise their hand to ask a question, others laugh and smile.

Basic access

Because teachers generally don’t have access to a library subscription to access original research, OA can be the difference between being able to use this knowledge or not. Kay Kempers, a Graduate Teaching Assistant at EHU and former high school teacher, makes this point and says that she learned to email the authors for their pre-publication versions of the work. This is a great tip!

Getting into the detail

Chris Hildrew, Headteacher at Churchill Academy and Sixth Form believes access to research is valuable to have when, “Looking for detail on a particular approach“. This is weighed against a lack of time however, so research digests from Education Endowment Foundation and others can be useful alternatives. Similarly, Cain et al. (2019) have written that research can contribute to ‘bounded’ decision‐making for teachers – decisions determining planning, resourcing, school policy and more.

Awareness of OA

Shahzadi and Hussain (2019) found in their study that female teacher educators had greater awareness of open access resources than male participants and so could use these materials to enhance class content. The landscape of OA can cetainly be difficult to navigate – ‘green’ OA means research papers are often hosted in university repositories like Edge Hill University’s Pure, which holds over 6000 articles alone. These aren’t signposted from publisher sites, so a teacher would have to diligently search or use a tool like Unpaywall.

Losing the original meaning?

For Cherryl Drabble, a Designated Safeguarding Lead at a school in Blackpool, OA means anyone being able to re-use the research. This though, means the original meaning can be lost or skewed as other voices build on it. Stephen Drew, a teacher and School Governer added that he values ‘maximum openess’, but notes the danger of others misrepresenting the findings or interpretations of the author.

In summary

Research can enhance teaching practice, but getting to it can be hard. Thanks to growing rates of open access, the picture is improving for teachers wanting to engage with original research, but teachers are incredibly busy and may use other sources instead. True OA means being able to re-use and further disseminate research, but respondes noted that this can have unanticipated consequences.

Tomorrow’s post

Tomorrow we focus on what open access means to ‘pracademics’: those who are both an academic and an active practitioner in their subject area.