Designing for Publicness: Partnership, Publicness and Participatory Design of Free Online Learning Materials

Macintyre, Ronald (2023). Designing for Publicness: Partnership, Publicness and Participatory Design of Free Online Learning Materials. PhD thesis The Open University.



The thesis uses the design free open online learning materials (Open Educational Resources – OER and Open Educational Practices – OEP) in Higher Education (HE)partnerships with intermediary organisations (IOs) to explore issues in design and publicness. Using critical approaches to publicness and speculative, participatory and critical design theory, it looks inside learning partnerships to gain a deeper understanding of learning design practice. The objective is to inform learning design practice within OER/OEP at a practical and theoretical level and contribute to a broader understanding of design in organisations.

The research stems from long-term engagement with opening up design practice as part of designing open learning materials. What emerges through these partnerships is that financial pressures appear to drive IOs to use free online learning to mitigate the loss of capacity and maintain the learning provisions associated with their mission. However, it became clear that something more was happening in these design spaces than making learning materials as design questions around who is the course for reached into the organisations operationally and strategically.

To address the central question around how design questions become strategic questions the thesis follows a series of learning partnerships with IOs. It argues they open up design because they are connected to "a public" learning providers could not otherwise reach. The research methods are structured a design typology which is itself is an outcome of the thesis, suggesting design questions involve:
• Inquiry in design which are auto-ethnographic reflections on design practice;
• Inquiry for design, action research to support design practice including interviews, workshops and participant observation;
• Inquiry through design, the combination of auto-ethnographic and action research to develop "designerly ways knowing".

The thesis shows how "a public" is folded into the design process and proposes a way for researchers and practitioners to explore this. It finds blurring boundaries can create a tension between listening to and reflecting the voice of learners in the design process and the organisation's values where those values challenge existing social and structural relations. The thesis argues design surfaces existing strategic questions about the publicness of the organisation and the partnership.

The thesis highlights the practical insights that arise from focusing on critical theories of publicness and design. First setting out an approach for examining design practice, focusing on how "a public" is imagined and brought into being through the design process. Second, by highlighting dilemmas for learning partnerships that emerge from the thesis. The outcomes are relevant to academics and practitioners within HE interested in the management of online learning design those engaged in partnership work, and people interested in design and organisations.

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