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Open Pedagogy: how to engage your students and transform education

Date:06 July 2023
Author:Frederiek van Rij, Mira Buist-Zhuk & Martijn Blikmans-Middel
Open pedagogy
Open pedagogy

Education is not only about learning facts and skills but also about preparing students for active and successful participation in society. Traditional methods of teaching, however, may not always fully engage students or show them how their assignments can make a difference outside the walls of the classroom. In this blog post, we introduce the concept of open pedagogy: a way of teaching that uses novel and innovative resources that put the student at the center of the learning process.

Open pedagogy is an approach in which students are not merely passive recipients of information but are actively engaged in the learning process (DeRosa and Robison, 2017). It motivates students by making their work more outward-facing and societally relevant, bringing to the forefront student agency and meaningful engagement. Open pedagogy is useful for teachers too, as assignments become renewable and reusable, saving time and lessening workload. The use of open educational resources (OER) is part of this. These are learning and teaching materials that are in the public domain or are released under an open license, making them free to reuse and flexible to adapt in many different ways. 

Open pedagogy is not simply a concept that can be blindly applied to existing course structures and designs. A teacher's journey in the world of open pedagogy therefore also serves as an opportunity for professional development. Below, we highlight three benefits.

1. Renewable assignments

With open pedagogy, teachers can create meaningful learning activities, by designing renewable assignments. In contrast to disposable assignments that end up in a drawer once handed in and assessed as sufficient, renewable assignments make education relevant for students and their future career development. Students are encouraged to create and share their own learning materials, which can be reused, enhanced, and built upon by both fellow students and teachers. 

A great example at the UG is the course Collecting Data of Federico Pianzola, Faculty of Arts, where students worked collaboratively on co-creating open textbook chapters. Federico noticed a real change in how well students grasped the material in comparison to previous years. By teaching the material to readers of the open textbook, they took their understanding to a whole new level. Students also experienced the renewable assignments as something positive: 

“With normal university assignments, it does sometimes feel as if the work is partly wasted, as the result will only be read once by the professor and then be forgotten. With this assignment, our work and its results will hopefully be useful to future students. This also meant that the style and structure of the assignment were closer to an actual research outcome, which we felt prepared us better to actually do similar research in the future than, for example, an exam.”

2. Designing for society

With open pedagogy, the course design is outward-oriented, meaning that anyone has access to and is able to build on the created materials. Students are encouraged - but not mandated - to share their work freely and openly, and are hereby stimulated to critically think about its quality. 

A compelling example is the Voice Technology master and PhD programme at Campus Fryslân, which exemplifies the outward-facing design on the program level. For the course Speech Recognition 2, Matt Coler asked his students to create technologies for voice recognition. Two students, Dragoș Bălan & Golshid Shekoufandeh, worked together to create a program that can recognize Frisian language. To do so, they worked together with Mozilla and the Province of Fryslân in order to get the data needed to create the program, and to maximize the societal impact of the created program. Dragoș and Golshid experienced this style of teaching very positively: 

“We had an amazing experience working on this topic — it was scientifically impactful (we both liked exploring advanced models and techniques used for speech recognition in situations where there is not enough data) and socially meaningful (we share a commitment to helping speakers of smaller languages).”

They also believe that such open sharing should be the norm:

“Not only is this the scientific method (transparency and incremental improvement), but it is also relevant for public scientists who have a social obligation to contribute to society, not just through new market-ready products but through open-source innovations that address social needs. [...] After all, one of our goals as scientists is to make the world a better and more inclusive place.”

3. Active learning

Engage students in active learning Such engagement happens through student-centered learning activities and by allowing students to take ownership of their education while participating in the co-creation of knowledge. With open pedagogical practices, this is often manifested through collaborative efforts among students, where they actively engage in co-creating materials with their peers and/or the teacher. Allowing for more student agency means teachers must be flexible, open to unconventional ideas, and willing to adapt their instructional methods accordingly.

In the UG podcast Open Science Bites, Anoek Sluiter-Oerlemans explains that co-creating materials motivated her students. This was partly caused by knowing that the materials would be shared with the world and partly because they were actively involved in group work. According to Anoek, both factors stimulated students to “take an extra step to really make something accurate and fun to read”.

By embarking on the journey of making open pedagogy part of their toolkit, educators expand the goals they can achieve in their teaching, and ultimately can better prepare students for life after graduation. Of course, making open pedagogy part of your teaching toolkit requires some enthusiasm and energy to start. The only way to make open pedagogy your own is by doing, by going out and (re)designing a course, teaching it, and evaluating the results. Luckily, teachers do not have to solely rely on their enthusiasm to take this journey, as there is always support available to get them started. Interested teachers can always contact the OER support team by emailing them at oer-library

Useful links

  • Support team - The support team can help with all kinds of challenges related to open education. A summary of supported activities can be found at

  • Library Guide - For those looking for more in-depth information, our Library Guide on OER is the place to be.

  • Workshops - For those looking for a structured introduction to the topic of open educational resources and open pedagogy, following a workshop on the topic would be a perfect next step. You can sign up for our Open Pedagogy workshop via

  • Recordings - You can also watch back recordings of previous webinars: a session with a general introduction to the topic of open education, and an open pedagogy-specific session.

  • Teacher experience - In this Open Science blog post, Chris May illustrates his and his students’ experience with open pedagogy, and how it can promote student engagement, active learning, and meaningful learning experiences.

About the author

Frederiek van Rij, Mira Buist-Zhuk & Martijn Blikmans-Middel

Frederiek van Rij is an educational advisor and trainer in the Educational Staff Development team. She is also a member of the Open Education pillar of the UG's Open Science programme.

Mira Buist-Zhuk is an academic information specialist at the University of Groningen Library and leads the Open Education pillar of the UG's Open Science programme.

Martijn Blikmans-Middel is an academic information specialist at the University of Groningen Library, and part of the Open Education pillar of the UG's Open Science Programme.