OpenMoments: The Stories

1 Failing Fast and Often: Adventures in Open Education Resource Creation

Aaron’s Project

The Write Here, Right Now e-textbook was written by a variety of authors to accompany a first year university-level course in academic writing. The book focuses on interactive activities and assignments that are be used by students to study and in class. Many of the videos and activities support the structure of a flipped classroom.

In the introductory activity, we get a flavour for the level of continuity and active learning used throughout the book. This activity invites readers to complete a small assignment, and then self-assess. The skills of self-assessment are addressed as a tool for measuring self-learning throughout the course. Additionally, this activity highlights key terminology that will be used within the course. Throughout the introduction, it is made clear that the learning in this course will build each week and tie together.

Coming to Open

“I find I use open in a bunch of different places that I hadn’t even realized or thought about”Aaron Tucker, from the Department of English at Ryerson University, first got into open pedagogies through blended learning. A background in web design got Aaron involved with the Write Here, Right Now project. Working on this project was Aaron’s first hands-on experience with open educational resources and the philosophy of openness. The project taught him that he had been using these principles throughout his career as a web-designer and as an instructor.  During his time in web design, Aaron frequently used open source materials such as code snippets or collaborative forums, and reflecting on this fostered his initial interest in open pedagogies.

Aaron came to see open as a way to “ease the financial burden on [his] students,” to have resources that were easy to share, and to link a variety of public domain materials together as a better resource for students. The original text for the course was too prescriptive and controlled, whereas with this open book, Aaron had more freedom with the course resources. In his view, if a text is more suited to a course that creates more value for the students.

“I do think, especially as we got into like the weeds and drudgery of the project, the thing that was motivating to get to the end was the idea of giving it away, having it done, and sort of the excitement that comes with teaching a classroom where the textbook is in lockstep with the class and that, again, it would be free.”

Learning from Open

Distributing this book more easily means better access to knowledge for students within Ryerson and across academia. Financial accessibility and adaptability are tied together for Aaron, as he considers the easy distribution and creation of web-based resources. When textbooks update, they print an entire new book with an even higher price tag. With the adaptability allowed by open, you are able to update the material at no cost to the student, and this can happen automatically.

For Aaron’s personal pedagogy student participation is key. Freeing up time in lecture gives him more time for interacting with the students. This can mean more time for  activities, small group work, and communicating with students. This flipped classroom model also allows for faster turnaround for feedback since he is now able to converse with students directly in lecture.

“The students who suffer are usually the really good ones, unfortunately, because you end up spending a lot more time with the ones who have more questions, which makes more sense. And so, you end up leaving the ones who are fine on their own on their own, and I don’t think that’s a good way to push people to their fullest potential. If you’re kind of leaving some of the people who are really capable themselves, they have to be really self-motivated people and I don’t think you’re doing them any service. And in the larger scheme of things you’re definitely not doing anybody any service.”

Throughout the project, the Ryerson Library gave significant support. In fact, Aaron now turns to the library for resources in other teaching beyond the creation of resources. The entire community of open education at Ryerson was able to come together to create a project with significant support and excellent communication throughout the entire process.

Advice for Other Faculty

  • Fail happily as you experiment with openness, and be ready to adjust your course
  • Set your own expectations, and work backwards from the end goal
  • Get help! An amazing project manager will be helpful because workflow is so important for these types of projects

Epilogue

From Aaron: Having entered into my second semester teaching with Write Here, Right Now, I can see the benefits of the flipped classroom model as facilitated by the e-textbook. I have seen a dramatic increase in my students’ willingness to bring work into class, give feedback to each other, and get feedback from myself. Anecdotally, in past semesters, I would typically have 50% of my students completing the homework whereas with the e-textbook that number is closer to 80-85%; this willingness to bring in work and have it edited, as opposed to the older model where I might spend that time lecturing on core concepts, has also coincided with an increase in the quality of work (roughly 5% in the overall grade average).  

In terms of harder numbers, tracing usage through Google Analytics also makes visible positive student engagement. Looking at the first weeks of the Winter 2020 semester, wherein we have a student body of roughly 600 students using the e-textbook, I can see that the average student visits 5 pages per session (and many of those pages include the videos located on the page) and spends roughly nine minutes per visit; further, students visit multiple times and so their engagement is habitual. There are improvements we are looking to make, especially now having taught with it, but overall, I am extremely happy using Write Here, Right Now and thrilled when we get emails from all over North America letting us know that they too are adopting it.

Credits: Writing by Muhamad Mansyur from the Noun Project, CC-BY.

License

Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

Ryerson Open Moments by Erin Meger, Wendy Freeman, Michelle Schwartz, Ann Ludbrook, Maureen Glynn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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