OpenMoments: The Stories
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 will be used by students to study and in class. These assignments and videos were inspired by Paul Chafe’s long history of creating videos for his “flipped classroom” approach to Ryerson University’s introductory writing course, SSH 205.
With the open textbook, there is an accompanying YouTube Playlist for readers to follow along interactively with lessons and lectures. These videos appear within the chapters of the written textbook and coincide with in-text activities sand assignments designed for students to practice information gathering and analyzing techniques.
Coming to Open
Since 2014, Paul, from the Department of English at Ryerson University, has been using a flipped classroom model to increase the amount of time he can spend giving active feedback to his students. The lecture videos he produced had been his first foray into open resources, and he saw the grant from eCampusOntario as an opportunity to pursue these methods further. The financial support that was made available by the grant gave Paul the time and resources to merge the old texts he was using with his online videos to create a new resource that was tailored to the course material. He had a team, which included Aaron Tucker, Paul’s SSH 205 colleague and the co-lead for this PressBook project. Many people within the Ryerson community stepped up and supported this project and helped Paul and Aaron find the right people for the right components.
“At Ryerson, all you need to do is throw out a question and someone will answer it!”When the Write Here, Right Now e-book was announced to his students on the first day of class in 2018, he was met with applause. The need for free textbooks and reduced costs was evident. Another huge benefit that Open Educational Resources (OER) presented for Paul has been the ability to easily update content. In the humanities, there are always new and changing perspectives. Being able to update material is important, whether that is updating APA style guides, or even being able to correct minutia. Another key aspect for Paul has been the ability to track student usage of the resources. This digital information helps Paul monitor the ways that students are engaging with the material. Whenever one particular video or component has lower usage, he can address the problem by recreating the unit, or finding better ways to encourage participation from students.
The resource itself is entirely modular, which has been a key aspect in the success of the book at Ryerson. In the past, Paul needed to combine many essays and excerpts to create the reading and resources for his courses. With OER, Paul is able to tailor the text to exactly the needs of the class. This means he is able to tailor the readings to the specific needs of the students. For instance, if a particular class needs more examples of a certain type of writing, he is able to include that. Whereas in a textbook, very often students will pay for the entire book, but the course will not be able to use the entire book. With the OER, the text dovetails perfectly with the course.
When students are able to learn the required content outside of the classroom, they are able to use class time to apply what they have learned. Paul is able to give immediate feedback to help students hone the skills they are learning in the course. Students often struggle with the difference between high school writing and academic writing. The extra feedback he provides helps students understand the jump faster and more effectively. The multimedia nature of the OER created also gives students the ability to look at examples of the work of other students. Since Paul can now spend class time working with students and answering questions, the amount of time spent in lecture prep is decreased. Instructors teaching in other sections can tailor activities to help each group of students where they have the most need.
Learning from Open
Since integrating these techniques, Paul has noticed the class average has increased by a full letter grade. With the interactive lectures, attendance also went up and student communication was improved. Students were happier, had better grades, and appreciated the ability to pause and repeat content outside of the classroom. This also meant that Paul needed to learn how to adapt to a new style of teaching — rather than lecture at the front, he needed to walk around, observe, and assist. The increased peer-to-peer interaction also helped student success. They were able to create a community, and help each other when understanding was lacking. This increased their confidence and brought a new level of maturity to the ideas they were discussing.
When walking into the classroom with the new OER, Paul can be sure students have (or at least can be expected to have) an understanding of the assigned material. In the past, there was not enough time to have both lecture material and active learning activities. Now, students are able to share their thoughts in class and work together. Teaching is accelerated and can focus on finer details and bigger ideas. Of course, there is the natural problem that some students will not complete the readings or material prior to lecture, but so far Paul has not found that that is an issue in practice.
Using new modes of instruction have helped increase student happiness and success, and the new methods bring students to a higher level, more quickly. The modularity of the textbook helps tailor the book and resources given to the students for the course. The free cost is a benefit to the student. There is also a lot of tailoring and individualization to the education being given. It is not just the textbook that has been tailored, but the increased classroom activity time means that the instructor can spend time determining what the specific needs of each section are, can address them, and can fix them. Each student then gets more individualized feedback and education.
- Allocate plenty of time for this huge collaborative project
- Be flexible: each component may turn out differently than planned
- The team should be very familiar with the course content in order to create the best possible resource
- Expect to meet incredible people
- The hardest part of the process is to find examples of student works or essays that you want to include
- Get a project manager! They help make sure everyone stays on track and that every component has the right person working on it.
From Paul: It is now the winter 2020 term and I have been using Write Here, Right Now as my textbook in all sections of SSH 205 for almost 2 years. Student feedback is still largely positive (especially as it relates to the text still being available for free) and student engagement with the text is still high. I’ve grown more comfortable with the text and earmark specific sections for each class–not for lecturing purposes, necessarily, but for quick reference during in-class exercises. I am heartened as I interact with my students during in-class group activities to see them repeatedly access the text via their laptops or phones and demonstrate a high level of familiarity with the course material. The feedback the students provide each other is of a notably high quality as there is always a student or two in every group who has mastered the material through repeated readings and viewings of the online, open material and repeated application of the material in class. The creation and implementation of this text has been my biggest success and contribution as an educator of first-year students.
Chapter 1, Video 1, From “Gathering Evidence”, Write Here, Right Now: An Interactive Introduction to Academic Writing and Research by Ryerson University is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.
Video by Aybige from the Noun Project, CC-BY.