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Call for Presenters Teaching with Pizzazz 2018 – Building Communities in Higher Education

Tue, 11/14/2017 - 14:57

Call For Presenters

Teaching with Pizzazz! Conference
‘Building Communities in Higher Education’

KPU Faculty of Health Research & Scholarship Committee and KPU Office of Research and Scholarship Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU), Faculty of Health (FoH) invites faculty, administrators, students and industry partners to submit proposals for presentations at our 2nd annual ‘Teaching with Pizzazz!’ Conference, Building Communities in Higher Education.

“Building Community” is the key to everything we do and to our success. Community-Campus partnerships that integrate educational programs, local business and industry stakeholders, students and teachers work together in a variety of settings – real and virtual.

Building communities in higher education positively impacts learning. It offers “real world” opportunities that translate classroom theory into practice.

We look forward to presentations that highlight best practice, scholarly inquiry and/or strategies for successful community engagement. Topics may include but are not limited to: integrating open resources, building empowered classroom communities, creating strong and collaborative program communities and/or establishing effective service learning experiences.

KPU Faculty of Health invites you to come and share tools that you have found particularly useful within your own teaching practice. We welcome examples from the classroom, online, lab and experiential environments.

Sessions may be conducted in a variety of ways; formal and informal presentations, discussions, panels, workshops – your choice!                                                                                                             Presentations must fit within either a 20 or 45 minute time frame. Proposals will be subject to a blind peer review.

Date: Wednesday, June 6, 2018
Time: 0900 – 1600
Location: KPU Langley Campus
20901 Langley Bypass
Langley, BC, V3A 8G9

  • Presenters are encouraged to be informal and engaging. Be creative! Have fun!
  • Faculty presentations that involve student presenters are welcomed.
  • Presenters will be notified of acceptance by email on: Friday, March 16, 2018.

Submission Requirements
Name of presenter(s) and institution, university or college affiliation.
Title and brief description of presentation.
Brief description of how student learning is positively impacted.
If applicable, include links to associated technologies and/or tools (including any associated costs).
Presenter Responsibilities
Maintain timely communications with the Conference staff.
Advise conference staff of any required equipment.
Presentations must fit within either a 20 or 45 minute time frame (your choice).

If you are interested in presenting, please reply by Friday, December 22, 2017:
KPU Faculty of Health:
Subject Line: Teaching With Pizzazz 2018!

Great Web Literacy Resource

Tue, 11/14/2017 - 14:54

Mike Caulfield, Director, Blended and Networked Learning at Washington State University, Vancouver, and lead on the Digital Polarization Initiative, was the keynote speaker at the BCcampus Educational Technology User Group’s Fall Workshop last week. It was an excellent talk followed by a hands-on workshop of practical strategies for evaluating information on the web.

His excellent resource, Web Literacy for Student Fact Checkers, is freely available via Pressbooks:


2018/19 Teaching Fellows Appointed!

Mon, 10/30/2017 - 15:56

The Teaching & Learning Commons is excited to announce the appointment of the next round of Teaching Fellows with terms beginning January 1, 2018. Welcome to….



Leeann Waddington, MS

Teaching Fellow, Learning Environments

Instructor, Nursing, Faculty of Health

Appointment Term: January 1, 2018 – August 31, 2019





Dr. Farhad Dastur

Teaching Fellow, Experiential Learning

Instructor, Psychology, Faculty of Arts

Appointment Term: January 1, 2018 – December 31, 2018






Dr. David Burns

Teaching Fellow, K-12 Transformation

Instructor, Educational Studies, Faculty of Arts

Appointment Term: January 1, 2018 – August 31, 2019





Dr. Nancy Norman

Teaching Fellow, K-12 Transformation

Instructor, Education Assistant Program, Faculty of Arts

Appointment Term: January 1, 2018 – August 31, 2019


The Office of the Vice Provost and Teaching & Learning Commons would like to extend their sincere thanks to the outgoing 2017 Teaching Fellows. Thank you to Dr. Rajiv Jhangiani, Teaching Fellow, Open Studies, Dr. Larissa Petrillo, Teaching Fellow, Experiential Learning and Dr. David Burns, Teaching Fellow, Learning Outcomes for your continued commitment and contributions to your areas of expertise!

Call for KPU Teaching Fellows & OER Grants now available

Tue, 09/19/2017 - 01:11

Thanks to the extensive leadership and work by our current Teaching Fellows during our 2016/17 pilot, I’m pleased to announce the continuation of the Teaching Fellows program. Opportunities for faculty to take on leadership roles in current areas of priority are now available in Experiential Learning, Learning Environments and the K-12 Transformation. Deadline for applications: October 2, 2017. More information.

Additionally, KPU has received a BCcampus grant for Open Educational Resources. This funding is being matched by the Provost. The Open Educational Resources (OER) Grant program provides funding and staff support to KPU faculty members interested in creating, adapting, and adopting OERs (and other types of Open Pedagogy). Applications will be reviewed starting on October 15, 2017 until the available funding has been allocated. More information.

Scholarly Inquiry Grant Deadline Approaching! – October 1, 2017

Thu, 09/14/2017 - 14:20

Are you a KPU faculty member interested in investigating emerging or innovative teaching and learning practices? Are you looking to enhance your students’ learning experience through the findings of your investigation?

KPU’s Teaching & Learning department is now accepting Scholarly Inquiry Grant applications for the Spring semester. For more information on this grant program, eligibility and details on the application process, please visit the following link.

Applications are due by 12:00 noon on October 1, 2017. Please email with any questions!

BCcampus ‘grants’ KPU students more financially accessible options

Tue, 07/18/2017 - 10:08

KPU has cred when it comes to open education.

Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) can add another credential to the multitude of options for its students and this one comes with free textbooks.

KPU’s arts certificate received BCcampus’s newest grant, the Zed Cred program. The “Z” in Zed Cred refers to zero textbook costs by way of using open educational resources and/or free library materials.

“This recognition really cements KPU’s leadership in accessible post-secondary education,” said Dr. Rajiv Jhangiani, a university teaching fellow in open studies and psychology instructor. “Open education is about inclusion, equity and diversity; all central values to the KPU community and, for that matter, to the Lower Mainland community.”

The criteria for the grant requires a set of courses in a specific program area that allows a student to earn a credential, such as a certificate program without having to pay for textbooks. KPU’s certificate in arts program was chosen because it demonstrated significant student savings and an innovative approach to learning and teaching.

With the full $35,000 grant, KPU will develop pathways for students to earn a certificate in arts by adopting and adapting pre-existing free online open education resources as well as creating new ones. The first pathway for the arts certificate program is set to launch this September with at least 2,100 students saving, on average, an estimated $1,000 each per year.

We’re proud to offer one of Canada’s first Zed Cred programs,” said Dr. Salvador Ferreras, provost and vice-president academic. “We’re all about open access and providing multiple means for learners to pursue their dreams. Zed Cred brings that all one step closer. KPU is perfectly positioned to lead the way into a bold and exciting future of open education.”

Any learning materials created under the Zed Cred program will be freely available and fully editable under the Creative Commons licence so that other post-secondary institutions in B.C. and around the world can borrow from their progress.

KPU also received an Open Education Resource Grant, which matches BCcampus funding with KPU funding for creating new open textbooks, redesigning existing resources, and providing workshops, training and other support services.

Story by Tatiana Tomljanovic & Erin Beattie

About BCcampus
Established in 2003, BCcampus provides teaching, learning, educational technology and open education support to the post-secondary institutions in British Columbia, Canada. We bring together the resources and expertise of the institutions in a collaborative model to develop curricular resources that are then made openly available. BCcampus also introduces and supports innovations in learning and teaching, and helps faculty and institutions evaluate and develop leading practice in the use of technology for learning. The work done by BCcampus enables a systemic approach to student learning in B.C. while recognizing the diversity of British Columbia’s post-secondary system.

Note: This post was reblogged from:

Employment Opportunity: Senior Manager, Educational Development

Mon, 06/26/2017 - 17:27


I’m pleased to announce that we have a new position available: “Senior Manager, Educational Development.” Since my position also leads our teaching and learning centre at this time, this position will be my right-hand person, be responsible for Teaching and Learning Commons’ team and operations, developing programs, providing consultations and working with faculty, staff, departments and senior administrators. (In other words, it’s akin to an Associate Director that reports to a Vice Provost). This is an excluded, administrative position with direct reports.

This position is suitable for someone who is interested in having a substantial role in advancing teaching, learning and scholarship at a teaching university and contributing to the development and implementation of an institutional strategy on teaching and learning and related plan. It’s an exciting time at KPU as we are establishing a new Centre, developing internal capacity, and striving to be leaders on a number of fronts.

Ad for the position
Job description & org chart

While the position will remain open until filled, review of applications will start on July 24.

A New Perspective on Exams: Congratulations to KPU’s School of Horticulture Landscape Students!

Tue, 04/25/2017 - 10:55

As KPU’s Spring exam semester comes to a close, the Teaching & Learning Commons sends our congratulations to School of Horticulture Instructor, Michelle Nakano, and her Sustainable Landscape Design II students for a fantastic example of experiential learning and assessment!

Michelle’s students finished their semester with a landscaping exam that involved the design and installation of four townhome patios at West Coast Gardens in Surrey. Students completed the design and installation of their patio and then received feedback from the experts at West Coast Gardens. Students were then able to adopt and integrate the feedback they received into the final end product. This is a wonderful instance of experiential learning and unique assessment practices!

This video showcases the students’ experience during the exam process and their feedback.

How might you add experiential learning or a new assessment practice to your course?


The Second Pan-Canadian Conference on Universal Design for Learning

Fri, 04/21/2017 - 16:03

Are you interested in sharing UDL practices across sectors and disciplines? Would you like to learn more about current Canadian UDL initiatives?

Registration is now open for The Second Pan-Canadian Conference on Universal Design for Learning from May 31 to June 2, 2017 at the University of Prince Edward Island in Charlottetown, PEI. This year’s topic is Bringing User Experience to Education: UDL and Inclusion for the 21st Century.

For more information or to register, please visit

New Resource on Open Education

Mon, 04/10/2017 - 16:37

Interested in learning about open education? KPU has leadership in this area. Suggested reading of a new, freely available book, “Open: the philosophy & practices that are revolutionizing education & science”  Edited by Rajiv Jhangiani & Robert Biswas-Diener (eds.), the book includes a chapter by Farhad Dastur on, “How to open an academic department”. Congrats and kudos to Rajiv and Farhad!

Pedagogical Ailments Common in Undergraduate Systems

Thu, 03/30/2017 - 15:09

When a student fails a course one may attribute that failure to any number of personal or pedagogical variables. All educators have encountered the personal ones – a death in the family causes an absence, heavy out of school work hours, etc. – but these things are typically outside of our control. On the pedagogical side there a number of variables only an institution can control. These are things like class sizes, available equipment, out of class support, and so forth. Take out the personal variables, and the institutional ones, and you are left with those things an educator might directly alter to improve success rates.

Of those variables that faculty members can control, the one we seem most able to discuss is academic prerequisites. When too many students fail a course, the first question at the curriculum committee is often whether we ought not to raise the prerequisite grade to get into the course in the first place. Allowing students to enter a course when we know there is a significant failure probability is irresponsible, it is said. This is surely true. We ought not let students take classes they are ill-prepared for, but this isn’t the entire story. It is merely one variable within it.

To say that raising a prerequisite for a course would increase success rates is actually quite misleading when you consider the second-order consequence of that decision. I could dramatically increase the success rate in my courses by making the entry grade A+. If I only accept the most gifted of liberal arts thinkers I am unlikely to fail them in large numbers, but I have obtained this benefit at the cost of leaving those persons who would benefit most out of the conversation entirely. It is as if a hospital lowered its fatality rate by deciding to treat only persons with the common cold. Little is gained by leaving those in need of public service outside of that service.

So the grade one needs to get into a course is only one part of a very complex picture. Sometimes we do need to raise the entry requirements, but (as an open access institution, in particular) these instances should be quite rare. We should, rather, ask what variables might be addressed that don’t involve excluding more people. What other diagnoses are possible? Here are a few.

  1. Assignmentus Disconnectus – In some classes the assignment given is only loosely related to what was actually done in class. If you have spent the semester in open dialogue and debate, a multiple choice test will likely produce results lower than the true achievement levels the students have attained. One can’t measure oranges by the standards of apples. The reverse is also true. If you give an essay test after a semester of keyword memorization, you should expect poor performance.
  2. Formativitus – At the first year level, in particular, universities tend to spend the first few weeks dumping knowledge-level outcomes into students minds. Somewhere around the one month mark a multiple choice test is given. That test is sometimes worth a significant chunk of the students’ grades. They had no chance to fail and correct themselves before that moment – no formative feedback. The first time a student performs a task (cognitive or otherwise) should not be their only shot at it. If they were able to be good at something the first time the need for educators would be dramatically reduced.
  3. Officia Absentia – Students are busy, and sometimes overwhelmed, anxious or under far more pressure than is healthy. They have an unprecedented number of reasons to never avail themselves of office hours. The great virtue, though, of going to a small university is that we have more time. This applies outside of the classroom as well as in it. We need to be available, in person or online, for multiple points of contact with each person. One can’t tailor a strong learning experience without normal human contact. We need to push for it.
  4. Ambiguous Rubrication – If students don’t know what excellence looks like (through rubrics, examples, and modelling) it is entirely unreasonable to expect them to manifest it. They should know, on day one, what the class is aiming at. This means providing not just learning outcomes, but also marking guides and (if possible) exemplars for the upcoming assignments. When people know what they need create, they can attend to their development much more effectively.

Other diagnoses are possible, but these are a good start.

(not a real) Dr. Burns

Upcoming External Conferences, Workshops & Events

Wed, 03/29/2017 - 13:39

March 29 – Logic Models and Indicators workshop through Fraser Health: KPU is a partner institution and these workshops are available to us. More info.

April 6 – Evaluation 101: Conducting Evaluation for Decision Making workshop through Fraser Health: KPU is a partner institution and these workshops are available to us. More info.

May 1 to 5 – CU2Expo2017: For the Common Good. Hosted by SFU and its community partners. Limited registration available. Details & registration.

May 2 to 3 – Postsecondary Learning & Teaching Conference. University of Calgary. Details & registration.

May 3 to 4 – Engaging Every Learner Conference. UBC Okanagan. Details & registration.

May 6 – Investigating our Practices Conference. Offered by UBC’s Faculty of Education. Early bird registration until April 7. Details & registration.

May 11 to 12 – Vancouver Island University Teaching and Learning Conference. Registration is open until May 3. Details & registration.

May 17 to 18 – SFU’s Annual Symposium on Teaching & Learning: Voices of Diversity and Inclusion: Vulnerabilities, Tensions, and Opportunities. Details & registration.

May 24 to 25 – Open Textbook Summit. Hosted by BCcampus, located at SFU Harbour Centre (downtown). Details & registration.

May 27 to June 2 – Congress 2017: The Next 150 on Indigenous Lands. Canada’s annual Humanities, Social Sciences, and Education conference. Within are various discipline-specific streams such as CSSE (Canadian Society for the Studies of Education). Toronto, ON. Details & registration.

June 1 to 2 – Educational Technology Users Group (ETUG) Spring Workshop. UBC Okanagan. Early bird registration until April 16. Details & registration

June 20 to 23 – Society of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (STLHE) Annual Conference. Halifax. Early bird registration until April 30. Details & registration.

July 28 to 30 – Digital Pedagogies Lab. Co-hosted by Hybrid Pedagogy and KPU. Event at KPU Richmond. Details & registration. Any faculty members interested in attending, please contact

Teaching with Pizzazz! Easy eLearning Strategies

Wed, 03/29/2017 - 12:36

KPU Faculty of Health is pleased to invite you to participate in a day of e-learning to focus on strategies for the classroom and online. This is a practical hands-on opportunity to discuss e-learning tools with others and to build a community of practice. Workshops will focus on technologies that are accessible, easy to use, low-cost/free, and can be used in any classroom or clinical setting.

We are all aware learning technology has reshaped how we engage students in teaching, learning and creativity. Various apps, social media and new technologies continue to transform how we share, communicate, network, collaborate, create and disseminate seamlessly online and in the classroom. This conference will focus on the practical applications of these types of technologies in relation to teaching and learning.

Scholarly Inquiry Grants (SIGs) now available!

Sat, 03/18/2017 - 05:51

Are you a KPU instructor who’s interested in advancing your teaching practice? These new grants may be for you as they are intended to enhance KPU students’ learning experiences by encouraging faculty-led investigation of new or innovative teaching and learning practices. Learn more about this opportunity. Deadline: May 1.

Image Source: CC Image courtesy of gforsythe on Flickr

Digital Pedagogy Lab Vancouver

Fri, 03/17/2017 - 15:41

Announcing Digital Pedagogy Lab Vancouver (July 28-30, 2017)

From July 28-30, KPU’s Richmond campus will host Digital Pedagogy Lab Vancouver, a three-day institute that explores the role and application of digital technology in teaching. Three tracks offer intensive peer-driven learning with and discussion of open education, new media, and critical digital pedagogy (participants work with a cohort in all-day sessions from Friday to Sunday). DPL Vancouver is open to teachers, students, librarians, and technologists at all levels of education experimenting with digital tools in hybrid or online environments. For more information about this exciting event (including the keynote speakers, instructors, and registration details), please visit:

KPU faculty who are interested in learning more about or attending this event should send an email to

Invitation to Scholarly Activity Committee

Fri, 03/17/2017 - 15:32

Balbir Gurm is sitting on the Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of BC’s (FPSE) Professional and Scholarly Development Committee.  In order to represent as many voices as possible, Balbir has started a Scholarly Activity Committee that will provide advice to all stakeholders including the KFA and KPU. The committee would like to invite all departments to have representation on the committee. 

The information on the committee is below.  The committee will meet a minimum of 4 times per year and use technology so individuals from all campuses can participate. To join please send Balbir an email to

Scholarly Activity Committee

The committee accepts Boyer’s Model of scholarship: teaching and learning, application, integration, creativity and discovery.

Purpose: to identify and assess the scholarly development needs of faculty, and promote means of enabling faculty individually and collectively to develop their own scholarly development activities. The Scholarly Activity Committee provides a forum for sharing information and creating space for scholarship.  As well, it will advise stakeholders on needs of faculty, resources and educational opportunities and ways to create equity in scholarship activities.

Call for Proposals for KPU’s 1st Symposium on Teaching, Learning, Scholarship & Research

Fri, 03/17/2017 - 14:26

We are excited to announce KPU’s first Symposium of this scope. Activities will take place primarily at KPU Surrey and other field trip venues (pending proposals) on Wed. June 7 to Fri. June 9. The Call for Proposals is now open to all KPU Community Members and closes on Thurs. April 13.

Alex Usher from Higher Educational Strategy Associates will keynote on June 7, on, Polytechnic education & skills for the future”. Join us and engage in lively discussions.

Colleagues at other BC post-secondary institutions are invited to attend our Symposium. Registration will open in April.


This is a partnership between the Teaching & Learning Commons and Office of Research and Scholarship.

Registration is now open for the C2U Expo

Thu, 02/23/2017 - 16:47

Early bird rates end on March 15th.  Do consider attending May 1-5 at SFU.  C2U Expo…

Community-University Partnerships

Who should attend?

C2UExpo 2017 is for anyone interested in learning about the potential, the promise and the impact of campus and community partnerships. Have you been working in the trenches for many years? Please join us. Have you just started thinking about a project or a partnership? Please come along. Are you a skeptic and want to share your point of view? There is room.

The conference goal is for half of attendees to represent universities, colleges and polytechnics, and the other half, a broadly defined notion of community – government, non-profit/NGOs, businesses and citizens with no particular affiliation other than a keen interest and passion for empowering social change. We hope to learn from projects, whether they are in the early stages or complete, that bring together the academic and community to share a common story. It is also our intent to stretch what constitutes engagement at the project level. As with earlier Expos, there will be a focus on community based research, service learning and other forms of experiential learning and social innovation projects.

Dell tablets are now available to use in the classroom

Wed, 02/01/2017 - 12:16

What is it?

A lockable cart containing 40 Dell tablets.  Go to the Library’s Equipment page, click on the Computers tab, and you’ll see more information.

These sets are available at the Surrey, Richmond and Langley campus libraries.

How will this help with teaching?

  • Provide internet access for all students to engage in shared, interactive class activities without the need to book a computer lab
  • Students can work more easily in groups, and move freely within or outside the classroom while online

Contact your campus Library Equipment Desk if you have any questions or would like to borrow the tablets.

Surrey  604-599-2216

Richmond  604-599-3350

Langley  604-599-3209

My Open Textbook: Pedagogy and Practice by Dr. Robin DeRosa

Sun, 01/22/2017 - 20:19

Note: This blog post by Dr. Robin DeRosa was originally published on her website and is reproduced here with her permission. Robin will visit KPU on March 20 to give a talk titled “Beyond OER: The Promises, Pitfalls, and Potential of Open Education.” Click here for more information and to register for this free event.

I’ve spent some time talking about open pedagogy at several universities this Spring, and in each of those presentations and workshops, I have usually mentioned The Open Anthology of Earlier American Literature, an OER anthology that my students and I produced last year for an American literature survey course I taught.  When I talk about the anthology, it’s usually to make a point about open pedagogy.  I began the project with the simple desire to save my students about $85 US, which is how much they were (ostensibly) paying for the Heath Anthology of American Literature Volume AMost of the actual texts in the Heath were public domain texts, freely available and not under any copyright restrictions.  As the Heath produced new editions (of literature from roughly 1400-1800!), forcing students to buy new textbooks or be irritatingly out of sync with page numbers, and as students turned to rental markets that necessitated them giving their books back at the end of the semester, I began to look in earnest for an alternative.

I launched the open textbook project over a summer, and because I teach at a public university where I had no easy access to graduate assistants or funding, I hired a bunch of undergrad students and recent alums, and paid them out of my own pocket to assist me.  Turns out, most of them were willing to work for free (I didn’t let them, though what I paid was low because it was all I could spare), and turns out the whole endeavor of building the work turned out to be transformative to my own pedagogy and to the course that followed.  I want to share here the nuts and bolts of how we built the textbook, and reflect on how it affected the pedagogy that surrounded the book.

Building the Book

I have basic WordPress experience, and since I am too busy with teaching to explore every cool new thing I’d like to, I wanted to stick with an easy tool to build the book.  I settled on Pressbooks, which is a very simple, WordPress-based platform. If you are somewhat tech-savvy and comfortable playing around with things, you could definitely teach yourself the basics in an hour or so. I opened a free account and set up a framework for the book.  Every section would feature a primary-source public domain document from the period, as well as an introductory context-setting piece.

I created a GoogleDoc and posted a call for research assistants on the undergraduate English Department Facebook group at my university.  Research Assistants (RAs) were paid $10 for every public domain text they retrieved and documented, and we tracked it all in the GoogleDoc.  Each RA was also paid to complete a basic training on copyright and open licensing, so they understood the definition of “public domain” and understood how to ascertain whether a particular digital version of a text was under copyright.

We started with the main texts that I wanted to cover in the course, based on what I had covered in the past using the Heath and other anthologies.  Together over the summer, eight of us built the initial skeleton of the anthology: seven undergraduates (or recent alums) and me.  In most cases, students provided the texts, and I edited and excerpted them myself, and then I loaded them into Pressbooks.  When the Fall came, the course started and I introduced our rudimentary textbook to the crop of enrolled students, many of whom were aware of the project because their friends had participated in creating the book so far.

What the book still lacked, which my undergraduates really wanted, was the front matter that is conventionally included at the beginning of each text, which generally provides historical and biographical context to help students engage more fully with the primary documents.  So students in the course signed up to create these introductions as we went through the course.  Generally, they submitted them in time for the class to use them when we covered the text in the syllabus, but they also often revised them after we discussed the text in class if they thought they could improve them.  Students also did editorial work on the primary documents, particularly in terms of modernizing spelling, which was a helpful exercise for them in terms of learning how to read original early documents, but also helpful to future students, who can now read the texts more quickly in the modernized versions; in one case, this version is the only openly-licensed modernized version of the text that currently exists.

In addition, students occasionally produced short films, discussion questions, and assignments related to the primary texts, and I have begun uploading those into the anthology as well.  I am transitioning to a new department this summer, and doubt I will have time to really stick with this project (anyone can pick it up, of course, but I am also hoping to formally pass it to someone who will commit to building it out), but it’s easy to see the possibilities of how the collection could grow, and how the students could continue to add additional interactive materials.

So many of you are thinking, “That’s great, but my field isn’t comprised of public domain literature that I can just copy and paste into a book.” Well, let me tell you about my second textbook project!  The book I am currently working on is a different animal altogether. It’s designed for Interdisciplinary Studies students, and will include foundational theory as well as research methodologies and a new vision for the field that integrates open pedagogy into interdisciplinary scholarship.  I started working on the book last year in my courses by asking students to blog about different topics we covered.  They assimilated ideas from outside readings (all properly cited), from my lectures, and from active learning projects that we did.  They also wrote about their own customized majors and applied capstone projects (service-learning/experiential/partnership-based) and how it all tied in with the foundational theories of the field.

I just received a small grant from the University System of New Hampshire to develop this textbook.  This summer, the plan is to take the student-created content (all of which is cc-licensed) and drop it into a Pressbooks shell much the way we did with the public domain literature in the anthology project.  And in the Fall, students in the Interdisciplinary Studies (IDS) intro course will edit that material, create glossaries and short introductions, add assignments and writing prompts, and in-load multimedia supplements.  In the Spring, the capstone students will augment the sections that relate to the practice of IDS in their field experiences, and link their own websites (we call them “ePorts”) into the book to demonstrate how different principles get applied in their curricula and practica.  Students will also help me curate resource links for further reading, and locate other openly-licensed articles to import into the book.

People often ask me how students can create textbooks when they are only just beginning to learn about the topics that the textbooks cover.  My answer to this is that unlike many other scholarly materials, textbooks are primarily designed to be accessible to students– to new scholars in a particular academic area or sub-specialty.  Students are the perfect people to help create textbooks, since they are the most keenly tuned in to what other students will need in order to engage with the material in meaningful ways.  By taking the foundational principles of a field– most of which are not “owned” by any prior textbook publisher– and refiguring them through their own lens, student textbook creators can easily tap their market.  They can access and learn about these principles in multiple ways (conventional or open textbooks, faculty lecture and guidance, reading current work in the field, conversations with related networks, videos and webinars, etc.), and they are quite capable, in my opinion, of designing engaging ways to reframe those principles in ways that will be more helpful to students than anything that has come before.

In other words, whether your subject matter will be made up of public domain literature or not, your students can help you create a textbook in most any field. Here are some practical reminders that might be helpful:

  1. There is no rush! Don’t worry about producing a beautiful, flawless textbook. Build it in stages across multiple years, and let different cohorts of students contribute in different, layered ways. Make no claims to perfection. Your textbook is a work-in-progress, and it will continually improve as learners engage with it.
  2. Academic labor is labor.  Students can help build the textbook if it’s a meaningful part of the learning process in a class. Outside of that, find funding sources to support students or instructors who want to assist with the development of the project.
  3. You don’t need to be a tech guru to do this. Learn how to openly license your book and learn how to get it online so folks can access and share it. Make sure you understand copyright issues so you can assure that everything in your book is freely available for you to use. The library is probably your best first stop for licensing questions, and your academic technology folks can assist you with getting a Pressbooks or website set up to host your textbook.

The Effects on Pedagogy

Ok, so now that stuff is out of the way, let’s talk pedagogy.  The $85 dollars that I saved for each of my students seemed to be the least of what was exciting to me about the open anthology (and that was pretty exciting, given that many of my students struggled to afford our previous book– to the point that it often took them weeks to raise enough funds to get their own copy).  Let me start by telling you that no student in any of my classes ever told me that they loved our Heath anthology back when I was using it.  In sixteen years of teaching the course, no student every remarked on a course evaluation that our anthology was the best part of the class.  They tolerated it, often liked the helpful glosses, and sometimes loved the literature itself.  But a textbook is a textbook, and they saw it as neutral at best, uninspiring or frustrating at worst. I didn’t really set out to make a better textbook.  I was just looking to replace a textbook and save some cash for strapped students. Boy, did I underestimate the power of the open textbook.

As students and alums worked with me over the summer to create that first skeletonic text, it was clear something amazing was happening.  The students immediately seemed invested in the project– almost like they were, well, writing a book with me. To me, the work seemed sort of second nature, since I often write for publication. But for my students, the idea that they were creating something that would be read/used by a different cohort of students a few months later was a truly novel and thrilling concept. They repeatedly volunteered to work for free (I resisted this), and they still sometimes inquire about whether there are roles they can play now that the book is at its next stage of development. When the students in the class started working with and contributing to the book, they often made comments about liking our textbook! But by getting to contribute to the book, make curatorial decisions about the kinds of texts to include, and frame the work in their own words, they seemed more connected to the textbook itself, more willing to engage with it. Here’s a short video featuring several of my students, which explores their experience of using OER and engaging in open pedagogy-based learning.

I also did something else that I think made a big impact on the class. I was sensitive to the fact that our new textbook would be digital, and that most students would not want to use up their print quotas by printing it out. I had read all the same stuff you have probably read about how READING OFF A SCREEN IS BAD and TAKING NOTES ON A LAPTOP IS BAD, but it occurred to me that both of these things have to do with the fact that we spend so little time parsing the differences between reading off a screen and reading print, and so little time examining how digital notetaking differs from handwriting our notes.  My hunch is that it’s not that screen reading or digital notetaking are worse for learning, but that we don’t talk enough about what the digital texts enable that might be quite different from what is enabled by print.  So I started the class with a consideration of the problems and potential of moving to digital texts, and with a challenge to the class to try to produce our own work–even our notes on the text– digitally, even if that felt awkward.  We would assess at the end of the course which digital tools we would continue to work with and which we would jettison in favor of a return to the analog.

Annotated with

So I added an app called “Hypothesis” to the course, which allows readers to take notes on the text digitally.  Because we set our notes to “public,” students in my course (and in other courses at other colleges!) could see each others’ annotations and comment on them.  Almost immediately, we all realized that it wasn’t the digital quality of the notes that was engaging; it was the social quality of the notes.  Suddenly, our student-created textbook was turning into a cacophonous, heteroglossic tapestry of voices talking to each other about the literature.  While it may very well be true that taking notes longhand can help students recall specific detail more effectively than taking notes on a laptop, the question of how digital annotation of a text differs from hand-written annotation seems distinct, and there is no question that there were certain dimensions that opened up when we allowed the annotations–allowed ourselves– to talk to one another within the context of the close reading.

When I finally had time to sit down and take stock of what was happening, I realized a few things.

  • The open textbook allowed for student contribution to the “master text” of the course, which seemed to change the whole dynamic of the course from a banking model (I download info from the textbook into their brains) to an inquiry-based model (they converse with me and with the text, altering both my thinking and the text itself with their contributions).
  • The digital textbook meant they all had the book on Day 1 and nobody was behind, which seemed to level the playing field so we were all contributing more evenly than I had seen in the past.
  • The fact that there were no limits on the kinds of things we could add into the textbook seemed to engender creativity in students, and allowed them to play to their strengths in figuring out what they brought to the table. This looked more like a real-world group project, in which team members would be asked to bring their talents to bear on some task.

As all of this became more evident to me, I began to be more concerted about playing up the open pedagogy that was developing.  I became more reliant on Twitter as a tool in our class, and worked to develop the class community on our course hashtag, with the idea that letting students feel connected to each other outside of class would help them begin to engage with the work more as scholars and less as students.  I opened Twitter chats with working scholars, tweeted links to their own student blogs when they interested me (we worked mostly outside of the LMS), and encouraged them to share their own work across whatever social media platforms they enjoyed using.

Student Blog About

I also realized that my course was basically functioning as a MOOC (minus the “massive”–maybe it was a PMOOC: “Potentially Massive Open Online Course”).  The text was free online. The syllabus and all assignments were online. The annotation system was publicly accessible, and the students were mostly all blogging on public websites that they built.  Many class discussions had Twitter chats embedded inside of them, and any of the lectures I gave were livetweeted (pre-Periscope!). While we still had a sense of intimacy and trust in our classroom, it seemed to liven everything up to connect our work as scholars of history and literature to larger communities outside of that classroom.

Now I want to pause for a second and get off the hype-mobile that I have been riding so far in this post.  While it’s true that the creation of the open textbook absolutely transformed my teaching and my pedagogy, and while it is true that an open textbook has much more to offer faculty and students than cost-savings, it is not true that the open textbook is magic.  For every affordance it offered, my open textbook also revealed serious pitfalls, barriers, and challenges that I am still working out.  Here are a few of them, which I hope to tease out more thoroughly in my work over the next year or so:

  • If OER is free, what hidden costs exist in using it that still hinder student access to education?  For example, at my institution, 94% of students come to school with a laptop, which mostly means that my university wasn’t too worried about providing laptops for students because (as one colleague told me) “they all have them.”  But all meant that in my 25-student classes, there were regularly 1-2 student(s) who didn’t have a machine.  In order to do what I wanted to do with the digital textbook and the connected learning, I had to first work to get a laptop rental program installed in my library to ensure that my students all had access to hardware.  I also had to spend a LOT of time going through each step of basic tech set-up.  Because the “digital native” concept is (still a) fallacy, and because my institution does not fully cover basic electracy (I just learned that word from Gardner Campbell and Alex Reid) or digital literacy skills at the introductory level, I couldn’t shorthand things like “create a Hypothesis login” without immediately leaving some students behind.  While I am all for letting students find their own way through the acquisition of specific tech skills, this self-directed approach to tech learning is something that has to be modeled and facilitated to ensure that students who are newer to technology can participate fully.  Bottom line, opening one line of access to a free eBook doesn’t erase about a zillion other access issues that you will want to acknowledge honestly and assertively.
  • If OER is free, what hidden costs exist in its production? Making these textbooks is taking me a chunk of time in the off-season.  Thanks to my salaried position, I feel ok about putting in the overtime, but it’s a privilege my colleagues who teach under year-to-year part-time non-contracts can’t afford. Who should be funding OER creation? Institutions? Students? For-profit start-ups? How will you invest time in this project without obscuring the true costs of academic labor? Right now, we pass the corruptly high cost of academic publishing onto the backs of academia’s most vulnerable members: students. But as OER gains steam, we need to come up with funding models that don’t land us back in the same quagmire of exploitation that we were trying to get out of.
  • Working in public is exciting and enriching, and I have seen my students thrilled by the connections they have made and engaged by the ability to produce work for a larger academic commons.  That being said, working in public, and asking students to work in public, is fraught with dangers and challenges.  Students need to understand privacy and safety issues (and so do we; in case you haven’t had FERPA waved in your face recently let me do that for you now). They may not know about trolling or how to respond to it (seriously, we can’t even say there is a universally agreed-upon best practice for handling trolling). They may (will) face vicious harassment, racism, sexism, homophobia, and all of the other things that we do a reasonably good job at regulating in our classrooms (maybe?), depending on the kind of work they do or the kind of digital profiles they put forward, purposefully or otherwise.  They will put crappy work online sometimes (sometimes they will know it’s crappy and sometimes they won’t); is that ok? Will it come back to haunt them when they look for a job (we need to take this concern seriously, given the debt they incur to study with us)? What professional risks do I assume when my pedagogy is so fully exposed? And who in the academy can afford to take those risks…and who cannot?

So yeah, that’s only three bullet points, but there are so many threads embedded in each of those, I think I will stop there.

Here’s the takeaways, for those of you who are first and last paragraph readers:

CCBYNC Canadian Pacific

Open textbooks save money, which matters deeply to our students. But they can also create a new relationship between learners and course content, and if teachers choose to acknowledge and enable this, it can have a profound effect on the whole fabric of the course. Jumping into the “open” part of the open textbook means opening our eyes to the real hazards and challenges of connecting our courses to a wider public.  I am no expert on any of this, and I welcome feedback and thoughts (and suggestions for further reading) as I start to pick my way through this kind of teaching. My best advice is just to share your experiences and roadblocks with others.  Lots of people are promising that “open” is a panacea for everything that ails us in education, and lots of people are rejecting “open” for its failures to deliver on that promise. Both of those positions seem reductive to me. So maybe I’ll leave with two questions aimed at opening, rather than closing, the conversation:

  • Do you use an open textbook? If so, what’s that “open” part doing to/for your course?
  • If you want to try incorporating an open textbook into your course but haven’t yet, what questions do you have before you’d want to give it a go?