Open Access Outputs as Potential (Potentielle) Educational Resources

A word cloud of the most frequent 500 terms in the Conservative Manifesto 2017. Word cloud created with Voyant Tools.
A word cloud of the most frequent terms in the Conservative Manifesto 2017. Word cloud created with Voyant Tools.


Open Access is essentially a transformation in the way academic publications are licensed to individual users. One of my main motivations is the potential that open access to information (datasets, educational materials/resources, cultural heritage collections, research articles, books, all sorts of other academic/educational outputs such as slideshows, podcasts, video and audio) has to enhance and expand the reach and impact of academic work.*

A particularly important aspect of Open Access is that it aims to reach those not necessarily already within established academic networks (i.e those ‘within established networks’ have access to library collections or to colleagues who have access to them via their institutions’ paid subscriptions). Though the practical interconnections between ‘research’ and ‘education’ (in the sense of course ‘delivery’; pedagogical practice) varies from institution to institution and country to country, we cannot deny that both are necessarily interdependent.

Accepting the necessary interdependence between research and teaching in Higher Education, but also at other levels of formal education, means that when it comes to reducing the barriers to access the packaged results of academic/scientific/University work (call it what you will) in the form of ‘publications’, part of the ethos in devising strategies to do so comes from the assumption that education can take place outside the University (pay)walls.

Opening access to academic publications is also therefore motivated by the ethical belief that research, as an essential component of all learning and therefore of ‘Education’ with a captial e, contributes to the common good. Advocating for less barriers to education through strategies such as Open Access is also motivated by the belief that education should not only be a privilege of those already privileged enough to belong to the established networks of Higher Education, or who alternatively work for corporations or organisations that need research and can pay for it on an ad hoc basis. However,  when we advocate for Open Access in this sense we are not only thinking of those completely outside any formal educational context. Teachers and students at different levels of education, ‘here’ and abroad, can also potentially benefit.

As we have argued before, Open Data can be key in the development of transversal skills (including digital and data literacies, alongside skills for critical thinking, research, teamwork, and global citizenship) [see also this]. I think the development of ‘global citizenship’ skills is particularly important in this day and age, in which the general  trend is to return to political tropes of nationalism, ‘strength’, and the general isolationist exclusion of difference.

This is why I’d like to argue that Open Data (and publications from all disciplines contain data and constitute data themselves) should be seen as an opportunity for serendipitous discovery and creativity, including perhaps unforseen or unplanned uses. It’s been argued before that Open Access does not make sense because ‘the public’ would not be able to ‘understand’ what is published. I argue it’s not for us to prejudge that. What is certain is that what cannot be accessed cannot be understood.

In this sense I suggest that we must expand our arguments for Open Access publications and Open Data beyond ‘reproducibility’, citations and ‘Impact’. Perhaps a way of doing this is by thinking of outputs not only as research outputs, of interest to researchers alone, as the basis for more research, but as toolboxes for unexpected creativity. This ‘creativity’ can take place in unexpected places as well, but it may also take place in more formal settings like classrooms at all levels of education.

Sharing  ‘Counts and Trends of 459 Terms in ‘Prime Minister’s letter to Donald Tusk triggering Article 50’ (29 March 2017)‘ and ‘Top 300 Terms in the Conservative and Labour Manifestos 2017 (Counts and Trends)‘ made me think that we can think of open datasets (such as these ones which are basically lists of words and their counts in the analysed documents) as open educational resources for the development of various skills through guided tasks. These skills could be, but are not limited to, citizenship skills, interpretive skills, political discourse skills, composition and reading skills.

As I suggested in the posts linked above, one can imagine anyone (or, students in a classroom) using the words to write their own compositions. Here’s a set of words used by the Prime Minister in a letter: can you write your own letter using the same words? In my imaginary scenario the teacher/tutor could print each word on a card, including its count, and devises an activity where the student is asked to use the cards within constraints/guidelines in order to create something new. One can also imagine other activities based on those datasets, for example for students of English as a Second Language. I can also imagine a game of scrabble with the letters of each word… or art/design students doing collages, etc. Poetry, peformance art students could see what they could do by remixing the words… students learning programming and coding could write a Twitter bot; maths/stats students could practice quantitative skills, creating charts, etc.

Creative and educational ‘reuse’ of open outputs that allow modification can be considered a type of strategy akin to what the Situationist International called ‘détournement‘, a rerouting or hijacking of previous work (détournement Wikipedia entry here)**. Similarities and inspiration for activities with datasets can also be found in the work of Oulipo (Ouvroir de littérature potentielle; workshop of potential literature) and similar groups. Perec et al defined the term littérature potentielle as “the seeking of new structures and patterns which may be used by writers in any way they enjoy” (Oulipo Wikipedia entry here).

In previous articles we suggested talking of ‘Open Data as Open Educational Resources‘, but I’d like to suggest now Open Access Outputs as Potential Educational Resources. I like ‘potential’ as an adjective here because evidence shows that the openness of an output does not guarantee it will be accessed, read, cited nor ‘reused’. Openness is merely a precondition (as a form of availability). It is what follows what matters and what can turn an available output into potential ‘impact’. This impact cannot and should not always be pre-defined or anticipated.

There is potentiality in every output. Openness can be said to enhance the potentiality of widening reach, maybe reuse, maybe citations. But it can be much more than that. This ‘potentiality’ can be for the unsuspected and undevised, and it can very specifically refer, in some cases, to a resource’s potentiality to encourage users to seek new structures and patterns they might learn from, and enjoy.


Atenas, J., Havemann, L. & Priego, E. (2015). Open Data as Open Educational Resources: Towards Transversal Skills and Global Citizenship. Open Praxis, 7(4), pp. 377-389. doi: 10.5944/openpraxis.7.4.233

Priego, E. (2017). Top 300 Terms in the Conservative and Labour Manifestos 2017 (Counts and Trends). figshare.

Priego, E. (2017). Counts and Trends of 459 Terms in ‘Prime Minister’s letter to Donald Tusk triggering Article 50’ (29 March 2017). figshare.

*Readers requiring a definition of Open Access can refer to the text of the Budapest Open Access Initiative (2002).

**Any students who took the Libraries and Publishing module in the last two years who may be reading this may remember the lectures where I talked about détournement as a creative and interpretive reuse strategy.