The Open Dissertation

The emergence of the open dissertation as practice: [1]

In 2016, a group of panelists at the Open Education Conference presented the development of the Open Dissertation as follows:

In North American higher education, the doctoral thesis process has long been acknowledged as isolating and private: a vaguely defined series of milestones witnessed and assessed by a small number of faculty (Katz, 1997). Although the close nature of the process can be mutually rewarding for students and faculty mentors, it has also been known to mask highly idiosyncratic pedagogical demands and abuses of power. Even within the same programs at the same institutions, Ph.D. candidates may have very different experiences in terms of their research, writing, and defense processes. Furthermore, the conventional closed door format can make it difficult to assess or alleviate inequalities or to establish terms on which changes might be understood as productive or desirable. 

However, the last decade has brought challenges to the closed nature of North American higher education. “Open” practices, in terms of information sharing, transparency, open educational resources, and open scholarship have begun to permeate multiple disciplines and levels of the academic hierarchy. Benefits of open educational practices, including sharing iterative work and building connections and audiences via networked public platforms such as blogs and Twitter, have been articulated and found to be particularly strong among graduate students and early career researchers (Stewart, 2015). 

An open dissertation means different things to different writers, among them:

  • Written reflection on the process of writing an open or born-digital dissertation
  • a blog / twitter element

I would like for this dissertation to include a reflection on the relationship between an open, participatory dissertation form and the theories of open, participatory reading practices that are the subject of my dissertation.


  • licensing under a Creative Commons
  • posting as OER on aggregator sites like OER Commons

I would like this dissertation to be Creative Commons licensed. I would also be interested in sharing any of the educational resources I compose on OER Commons.

  • openness to public input from readers outside of the immediate
  • visibility of committee commenting / reworking process

I would be interested in making elements of my revision process visible if my committee is comfortable with this. This could take the form of making drafts public at a near-completion stage and uploading new “editions” of chapters as I revise them.

Alternatively, this could involve a page in which I reflect on the concepts in my dissertation that I most needed to re-work as I discussed them with people in my intellectual community.

  • attendees from outside the department
  • attendees live-tweeting the dissertation[2]
  • a live-streaming process

At present, I would prefer not to hold a public or live-tweeted dissertation defense.

Though Maha Bali focuses the most attention on the idea of a public defense in her article,  “The Open Dissertation,” her statement about the commitments that motivate open dissertations applies to each of the different categories above.

Making parts of a PhD public (culminating into a public thesis defense) is a value-laden choice. It means making yourself vulnerable early on in your process, in ways that can be professionally beneficial to you, and to others. It also resists academic elitism which often gatekeeps and hides the knowledge-making process behind the walls of peer-reviewed subscription-based journals. It means an open attitude towards learning and critique, and a belief that the knowledge you are making should have value beyond the pages of a thesis and walls of a university. 


Laura Gogia has produced a visual article describing open dissertation philosophies and workflows:

  1. This Open Dissertation section is a new addition to this page as of February 2018.
  2. Laura Gogia reflects on this experience in her article, "On Having Your Dissertation Defense Live-Tweeted."