In keeping with the spirit of the 9 x 9 x 25 challenge I’m working toward completing, my post about my experience at Niagara Falls will be about what I learned related to post-secondary teaching. I don’t want to forget, before I get going, to thank my employer, eCampusOntario for funding my participation, it’s a privilege to attend conferences and learn, so thank you.
TL:DR (Too Long, Didn’t Read) Version:
- Lots of new-to-open people want to learn more, support and encourage them
- When you do a needs analysis for the big problems of education in your context, consider the economic and socio-cultural barriers to education
- Consider who you are excluding, everyone you’re excluding, when you design teaching, just be aware, even if you think there’s nothing you can do about it
- Look for easy wins in terms of using OER, look at courses and programs that already don’t use very many textbooks
- It is possible to run a OER-based non-profit in a sustainable way (with select income streams) that aligns with open values and fiscal prudence
- Watercolour flowers on presentations slides are pleasing
- Poster session benefit from gamification
- Private platform MOOCs versus open public MOOCs, each have value for different types of participants
- Don’t dismiss younger colleagues with less experience
- Seek student perspectives, on everything whenever possible
- Actively protect student privacy
- Stay woke
- BCcampus is doing amazing things
- Terry Greene’s Faculty Patchbook is the patchbook that seeds all the others
Otherwise, carry on…
First of all, in conversations outside of sessions, especially in the Speed Networking session of the first morning (we switched tables and groups about 6 times I think!), I met a large group of people I had never met before. Already a great learning experience for me. I heard from many of them that this was their first time at this conference and that they were somewhat or completely new to open education and use of OER at their schools. There’s often an accusation that Open Ed and other open conferences are just advocates preaching to the choir (other advocates). This new group was evidence that this conference was different. There were many interested and new-to-open participants, very encouraging. These participants were from a variety of roles in post-secondary, librarians, faculty members, administrators, support staff. All seemed to be there to learn things that might influence their knowledge and practice, and that they might share with colleagues when they returned home. I would love to connect and re-connect with any and all of them if I can be of any support with what I know (use of OER in post-secondary tuition-based contexts, open research, and instructional design).
Kent McGuire of The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation (a U.S.-based foundation that funds millions of dollars in global initiatives for education), delivered the first keynote of the conference and talked about funding curriculum changes and research, particularly in a PreK-12 context. While I respect and admire Hewlett’s work in these areas, I reflected and considered that the biggest problem we face in the U.S. in the PreK-12 system is income disparity, the inequity of funding for schools. I am a dual citizen and was educated in the public system, so it’s familiar. He even mentioned the core issue, that a student’s zip code is a core indicator of educational success in the U.S. (Study about that here) I very much hope that Hewlett is funding explorations of the difference that proper funding for school infrastructure, appropriate teacher salaries, and investment in the success of intentionally oppressed and marginalized neighbourhoods in the U.S. might have on student success. For me, it’s a “fix the zip code” problem first, then let’s talk about curriculum” type of problem. Kent was an engaging speaker and has clearly dedicated a great deal of time and care to learning about real problems in public U.S. education, my reflection would not be news to him.
Jess Mitchell gave the second keynote of the first morning and it was delightful, and challenging as always to listen to her, learn, and reflect on the degree to which I am aware of intentionally or unintentionally excluding people from participation in my teaching and practice. Do I go as far as I can, extend myself and my abilities as much as I can, to help ensure that anyone that wants to participate in something I’m leading or designing can do so without obstacles, and without experiencing inequity? I’m developing a checklist that might help me think it through more overtly instead of just assuming that I have it figured out (the easy path). I like to think of myself as a caring and empathetic educator and designer. Am I going as far as I can in that? If not, how might I improve?
I’m going to speed up a little bit because I have learned that long posts are boring. I learned about BCcampus’ work on Zed Cred (Zero textbook costs degrees) at three of their institutions. It’s going well, not without obstacles, but there are programs that might be considered low hanging fruit (programs that don’t use very many textbooks), and these can be quickly adjusted (with proper compensation for educators and staff), to use zero textbooks. I learned from Karl Nelson of Illustrative Mathematics that an organization that builds OER can be self-sustaining and aligned with he open community values of the knowledge commons at the same time. I learned from David Ernst that water colour flowers on presentation slides have a very calming effect, and also that the Open Textbook Network, while an unashamedly U.S.-centric org, is sharing what they do with other nations so they can build their own textbook networks that work for them in their cultural contexts. I learned that a fun way to get traffic and interest for a poster session is to have a bingo card and stamps, “get 20 stamps, enter to win free registration to next year’s conference.” This strategy generated a lot of interest and conversations around the posters.
There were competing sessions and roundtables in the morning of day 2. I participated in the roundtable about instructional designers in the open movement (because they’re one of my great communities). The session was overrun a bit by an educator with a lot of questions. Pro tip, when participating in a roundtable with a lot of people, and you have a lot of questions, save some for post-roundtable one-on-one chats. It was really great that several non-instructional designers joined this session and wanted to learn more about the value of designers! I shared this infographic about what instructional designers do, and this differs from institution to institution, but it’s a pretty good generalization. I attended the Bonnie Stewart, et al.’s Hacking EdX session and learned about the successes and challenges of running a MOOC (massive open online course) that was both in-platform, and out-platform (using more public and open channels such as Twitter). Take-away, keep experimenting and sharing these models so we can determine how to make space for all types of learners. I learned about the United Kingdom Open Textbook partnership, as delivered by Beck Pitt, and research where the Open Textbook U.K. team participated in several events sharing the idea of open textbooks. They experienced a very positive response and some commitments to adoption, created awareness and are hopeful for future momentum I presented with my Ontario colleague Maureen Glynn about our Use of OER in the online course development process here are folder one, and folder two with those materials. Following our 3 minute lightening talk (which is what it felt like!) was TommyShawn Long. His technology didn’t work either. He was talking about his challenging and rewarding instructional design work with faculty members at Arkansas State University. Dear faculty members, when younger colleagues with expertise in technology and teaching and learning online suggest new ideas, do not lead with the “I’ve been teaching since before you were born” chestnut. It’s just not respectful.
Day 3 keynotes started with a student panel (yay!!) reminding me that students come in all shapes and sizes, and ages, and experiences, and there’s no way we should be designing learning for just one type of imaginary learner (suspiciously one that likes the same types of resources that we do). They all had very real and important challenges around the cost of textbooks, and we didn’t have time to get into the cost of “access codes” for various publisher materials that are required for grades. So much to unpack, I recommend you connect with some students on your own campus to talk about this, don’t take my word for it. Second keynote MJ Bishop from the University System of Maryland (connect with her too if you use the Twitter). She had a lot of smart things to say about how OER may help with the “iron triangle” of access, affordability, and achievement for post-secondary learners. This is a great conversation to have with post-secondary administrators about the potential value of OER, how does use of OER actually help learners achieve their goals (and coincidentally administrator goals) of graduation with useful life, civic, and employment skills? Billy Meinke and Steel Wagstaff’s session on learner privacy (and how it is co-opted by both institutions and vendors) was a very important talk. Take-away, read, carefully read the terms of service and privacy agreements of vendors that you “require” your students to purchase. Also read, and carefully re-read the cut and paste language you add to your course syllabi about institutional policies related to student data. Oh wait, there is not policy about that at your institution, or in your course syllabus? Hang on, I encourage you to investigate, and then share. Somewhere else was the suggestion that you craft your syllabus to ensure that students feel immediately welcomed (instead of hit over the head with policies and expectations), and that you clearly state your own values about policies, etc. (I think that was maybe Jesse Stommel and Sean Michael Morris on October 15, but I digress). Always run across the hallway from any given conference session to hear Terry Greene talk about the Open Faculty Patchbook. In the “A Broader Vision for OER” presenters shared their philosophical views of OER, bottom line, be more woke. A particular favourite of mine from this session was Zoe Wake Hyde’s concept of convergence and pathways, do not let someone pull you onto their path if it doesn’t align with your values or goals. You can collaborate (if it makes sense on some issues and in some moments), but keep thinking about your own trajectory and stick with it. Lauri Aesoph gave a great presentation on wellness (in a body, mind, and spirit sense) in the mix of all the open education advocacy work you’re likely doing off the side of your desk. Stay safe friends, practice self-care. I learned that Lauri is (or has been) a naturopath physician, which is extra cool for someone that is already extra cool for her open education work at BCcampus. The final session I attended, and I’m so glad I did, was by Josh Halpern of Libretexts Josh did an excellent job (in Delmar Larsen’s stead) of defending the $5 million grant that they received from the U.S. Department of Education (they were the sole recipient of the OER grant). Although many in the open community are being polite and congratulating Libretexts on their success, many are also extremely annoyed that it wasn’t them, and/or that there was only one grant. Libretexts has been doing exceptional work for many years on a shoestring budget. This grant is going to magnify that work and it is hard-earned and well-deserved. Their open content strengths have traditionally been in chemistry, biology and other STEM pursuits, but they’re working on expanding that excellence to other disciplines, and this funding is definitely going to help.
Thanks for hanging in there to the end of this post. It was a lot of learning.