OpenMoments: The Stories

6 Inclusivity and Social Change Through Open Learning Modules

Kathryn’s Project

Kathryn Underwood, from the School of Early Childhood Studies at Ryerson University, created open access modules with learning objectives, and introductory paragraphs that introduce the concepts. The modules are designed for instructors and facilitators to understand. They also contain reading and pre-learning activities for students prior to attending their tutorials. This helps provide consistency across all sections of the course. Some of the modules have also been adapted to be fully online for the Chang School’s online version of the course. The purpose of the project was not to “create something for the general public, but to support and to create a community of people who are teaching around this very specific subject area.”

Coming to Open

Kathryn teaches a required course in the Early Childhood Studies program called Inclusion and Consultation, where students learn how to understand disability in childhood as well as professional practices in accessibility and inclusive early childhood education and care programs. Students need to learn more than just the rules of accessible classrooms, but need to develop their critical thinking and recognition of their own understanding of disability. These last two have been a challenge to teach using a traditional textbook, and need well-structured activities within the tutorial offered alongside the lectures for the course. However, arranging good tutorial material requires coordinating with graduate TAs. This brings its own challenges since many of these students teaching the material did not themselves have the skills or the experience necessary to create sufficient learning activities. Creating cohesive and appropriate activities and material where all students in all sections could learn these complex concepts was one challenge Kathryn faced in her teaching.

The profession of Resource Consultation is an unregulated profession, unlike Registered Early Childhood Educators more generally, and the course Kathryn teaches is not necessarily recognized as enough to qualify the students to do the job. There are no standards to which learning resources or instructors are held, so the creation of OER gave an opportunity to develop useful, reputable resources that could be easily shared.

The course also needs to teach students a theoretical position with relation to disability and a historical context within which to understand inclusion. Ryerson’s School of Early Childhood Studies teaches a social model or a social relational model of disability and creating inclusive spaces and communities that allows for the cultural aspects of disabled identities. Society is focused on the medical side of disability, which means most students come in with preconceptions and learning from that perspective. This cognitive dissonance is part of the difficulty in teaching this content. Instructors need to be prepared to handle the difficulty of mindset changes and advancing critical thinking skills of the students, not just disseminating knowledge. Kathryn applied to the eCampus grant with the goal of creating open access activities, not a textbook, that would challenge the worldview of the students and have students actively engaging with the content.
“Disability is more than just accessibility, it is also a social experience.”

In order to get this message across to students, it was important that the activities have students engaging with knowledgeable instructors and classmates with diverse experiences. When discussing disability in this context, there needed to be a social commentary and discussion about the social environment surrounding disability. That is why the modules are important. It is an important discussion that must be had by people with some base knowledge, but it is also challenging to some people’s world view. These lessons can only be learned through conversation, community, and experience. OERs provide this deeper level of connection and engagement with the material being presented.

This resource was designed with facilitators and instructors in mind, with another front end for students. The purpose is to support those who teach, and provide a cohesive curriculum across sections and programs. Typically, the eCampus grants have been used to create textbooks or other student-facing material, but Kathryn was working on something different. She found the gap, found the need, and she created exactly what was necessary to fill that. That is something important about OER. “There are no rules, and we can create the resources that are necessary.” Gone are the days of having to create a textbook because that is all that can get published. Although there were still many barriers for Kathryn to create something so different, now that these resources are out there, it will be that much easier for the next person. Additionally, Kathryn notes that with the move to online and digital, we cannot forget the importance and value of face-to-face communication.

One big problem has been the movement to online courses. In fact, one of the degrees in Kathryn’s department is moving entirely online. This move poses interesting and specific challenges since the program itself is all about relationships and communities. Kathryn’s goal was to create these online working communities so that people can continue to engage and be exposed to a variety of opinions and perspectives, while also maintaining the accessibility of the online spaces. Luckily, Kathryn had help from the right people to make sure the OER was accessible in a variety of ways. Accessibility also comes in the form of providing students an opportunity to engage with the course if they cannot physically be present in the classroom (e.g. sick days, child care responsibilities, etc). The model Kathryn has created blends the online and the open in both digital resources that can be used to help students engage and communicate. We must remember that online does not mean open. Open is about removing all barriers, and with a community learning program, a lack of face-to-face interaction would in fact be its own barrier to learning.

“I believe in openness, collaborating with others, building ideas around teaching, and learning from how others teach content.”Online learning is a great place for learning facts and basic knowledge but as you move up Bloom’s Taxonomy, you need more human interaction to challenge cognitive dissonance. Whenever Kathryn has assigned very prescriptive rubrics and boundaries for projects, she ends up receiving 30 of the same assignment. In order to encourage critical thinking and creative reasoning, students need to have a broader expectation, which is a challenge for many students. There is a balance where students need to understand the content enough to be creative within that space. “We are trying to create knowledge creators,” she says.  Instructors cannot always show students the examples of creative solutions, because then students then to use that as a model for their work rather than creating their own innovative ideas.

Learning from Open

Kathryn was able to use old resources and case studies and supplement the material with real life interviews and other multi-media components to create three-dimensional case studies and resources. The digital resource is able to contain real life interviews and stories, not just a text-based description of the problem. Students are able to see the whole picture, and better understand empathy for the situations they will be faced with post-graduation. The creation of the resource involved bridging the gap between research and teaching, by interviewing real people and understanding the real solutions they needed, while teaching the students the valuable lessons from these studies.

The modules were designed so that these graduate TAs who come in to facilitate the tutorials are able to both learn the material but also run educational activities that teach the learning goals that the course is working towards. These modules include three components: learning outcomes, an activity, and discussion questions. The goal is to prime the educators and the learners, and then ensure that the outcomes are being met through the discussion. The class time can now be better used because we can be sure of the material that is being covered within the tutorials. The modules are not about content but about being challenged and engaged.

From the perspective of the grant, a lot of resources that had been developed in the past were student-facing and textbook style resources. These modules were a new way to creative a cohesive curriculum across instructors and sections. This made the process a bit more difficult as many of the supports available for creating learning resources were more student focused. “A video is just a video, but an activity and discussion bring that engagement to a new level.”

Additionally, it was important for the people working on this project to get the appropriate recognition and compensation for their work. Creating such large resources takes time and commitment, which can be hard to do while balancing a full course-load and research.  Also, these resources should be used and shared and credited. It’s important in this new digital age that we are still attributing work where it is needed — Creative Commons licensing is trying to do this, but it is still widely misunderstood. It is also important to recognize the quality of content, and different programs and people using the materials should be aware of the reputability of the content and curriculum they are providing their students.

Advice for Other Faculty

  • Find creative solutions not just for students, but for educators as well
  • Use creative and innovative solutions with new technology that can best address the needs the project is working to fill
  • Demonstrate the reputability of the quality content being created and disseminated


From Kathryn: The modules are now part of the structure of our course and are used in all sections of the Inclusion and Consultation Course, both in class and online. Anecdotally the modules we have heard that the modules are being used in the development of online courses at Colleges and in additional qualifying courses. The use of the modules gives us the opportunity to revise and reflect on the activities.

Credits: Child by Musmellow from the Noun Project


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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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