Like a lot of what I’m writing about lately, this post started in Ward Cunningham’s federated wiki. When I claimed my site, everything that I write is always, already open source. If you want it and have a site, you can fork it. In turn, I’ve kind of stopped caring about being published in the traditional sense. Note my cowardly use of “kind of” in that sentence. I know. How very wishy-washy. But it’s a huge transformation for me.
I’m a bit exhausted by all of the justifying, explaining, listing, substantiating, and defending OER this week. Advocating for #Notyetness, my friends, is hard work. So completely worn out was I on Wednesday night that I rearranged my friends entire record collection. She cooked me dinner while I sneezed through her record collection helping with her with meaningful organization to provoke conversation. File the bad ones in the closet. Showcase the good ones near the record player. She’s single, so she’ll thank me the next she has a dude at her house. But I digress into the meaningless–I have a point here.
Here’s what I want to do with this post. I want to show how a note written in the fedwiki turned into a longer more meaningful conversation about open education and publishing for me. As a writer. As a thinker. As a big batch of sloppiness in the human form. As a result of busting out one page of thoughts about my experience, I’ve had very meaningful conversations about OER. What I have in the fedwiki is kind of sloppy. Kind of messy. Kind of rambling. Kind of how I think. Kind how I talk. Kind of how I am.
So here it is. Maybe it will interest you. Maybe not. Surely you’ve read something better. Maybe you’ve written something better. All I know is I’m going to click “Publish” right now and let this one go into the interwebs. It’s the only way I’ll get on with it, so to speak. It’s the only way to flip the record over and move on. (And now I can add “A Memoir” to the title, so truly, it’s now published in the way I like it).
Faculty Transformation Unpublished: A Memoir
Like many early adopters, my history with OER materials began out of desperation upon realizing that many of my students could not afford the textbook(s) I had assigned. As a teacher who taught courses in several modalities during the same quarter, I noticed that my online students struggled the most to complete assignments during the first three weeks of the quarter. Because many of the students chose online classes so they would not have to travel to campus, they could not access the materials I would put on library reserve. Unlike the digital reserves that were becoming popular in the university systems statewide, our community college library budget limited our digital resources for online students.
I had to do something.
My own adoption of OER grew from a commitment to improve my courses. This uncompensated time for curriculum development eventually helped me qualify for a grant to complete a quarter-long curriculum redesign. Since I was an adjunct, I unfortunately lacked the agency to promote the widespread use of OER in my department. My experience as a faculty member gave me insight on how to scale down a year-long process into a two-quarter timeline. By collaborating with others in our state consortium and with The Alternative Textbook Committee, I have been able to sustain a small, grass-roots OER movement on our campus. Three years later, I am the Director of eLearning and Instructional Design at a suburban community college outside of Seattle with a keen interest in open learning policy.
This professional development has been pedagogically transformative for my faculty. My personal experience is often echoed in the words of faculty that I now support through this process. As educators we discuss the rise of tuition and excessive fees for our students and we have come to the conclusion that we lack power to fix a growing problem for our working class/working poor students. OER, however, has allowed us to help our students, and we have seen immediate improvement in retention and grades.
All of what I am summarizing here has been documented elsewhere by other scholars in the movement. My experience is not unique. However, I detail my personal journey as an OER educator in order to disprove the notion that OER adoption does not lead to faculty transformation.
True, we have not created a sea change or revolution on our campus. We have not delivered a total redesign of entire degree programs in the same way that Tidewater Community College has with their Z Degree. We have, however, communicated to our faculty that OER adoption is a worthwhile time investment for them, their departments, and their students. We have a long-term strategic plan to transform how we teach and learn at the institutional level.
If you define “transformation” in terms of reorganization or renewal, then our story disproves the hypothesis that OER adoption is akin to simply adopting a new textbook from a publisher. When faculty members decide to use a textbook from a publishing company, they have to make the textbook work, so to speak, with their own curriculum and pedagogy. They assign chapters out of order by adopting certain pages and not others. Students have to follow a course outline that does not make sense initially, and the teachers are often dissatisfied with their textbooks and thus, the design of their courses.
When teachers create their own textbook by curating content already available to them, the first thing they talk about is how easy it will be to change and revise their content in the future. They use words like “flexible” and “freeing.” All of them have a pride in ownership that they have created a personalized learning experience for their students based on their own expertise and interest. Certainly this is a transformative process.
For example, an online film teacher recognizes that the only respectable textbook on the market is written for junior-level students. He’s teaching an introductory film course for non-majors with no prerequisites to first-year community college students. He assesses that this textbook is over the head of the learners he was teaching at the community college level. The audience for this textbook is future film and/or English majors. It’s also a $150 textbook. In three months, without compensation, he wrote a shorter, more foundational set of OER materials based on notes from his own research and previous lectures. Using the LMS, he built topical modules and keyed the to the films under discussion. Ultimately, he plans to license his work and share it with other educators.
The transformation in this work was not exclusively a matter of extending cost savings to students, but was effected by creating a “textbook” that can be revised at will for use in future courses and that can be shared across open networks with fellow teachers.
Having now worked with faculty who teach IT, Biology, American History, Art, GED/ABE, English, Math, Chemistry, Engineering, Film, Nutrition, and College Success, I have witnessed firsthand how OER adoption has transformed their pedagogical practice. OER has made it easier for them to transform their courses. As an administrator, I see the return-on-investment in this professional development model because the idea of continuous improvement and lifelong learning is embedded in the process. Therefore OER is faculty-driven student-centered professional development. In short, I have witnessed teachers transformed by the experience of creating a personalized course based on their expertise. Educators contribute knowledge to their fields while saving students money.
Why wouldn’t you invest in a transformative practice that improves both teaching and learning?