Pick one of the two following blog posts to read and respond to:
Robin DeRosa’s My Open Textbook: Pedagogy and Practice
Rajiv Jhangiani’s Why have students answer questions when they can write them?
Did anything about the reading surprise you? Did any of the strategies or practices reflect what you already do in your classroom?
Post by Wednesday, 7/27
Respond to another person’s post by Friday, 7/29
I picked Robin DeRosa’s My Open Textbook: Pedagogy and Practice. I am very impressed with the rigor, dedication, and perseverance that went into creating this student-led textbook. Like DeRosa, I stopped assigning costly textbooks, because JJ students often struggle financially, working several jobs to support themselves and their family. I provide all texts on BB for free. This also allows me to create my own skeleton of the class structure. Students do appreciate not having to shell out money for my classes.
Now, while they don’t need to buy costly books, they have very little say in the way the class is structured and the choice of material to be included. I have tinkered with the thought of incorporating a democratic approach to building the syllabus, where students highlight the topics they are interested in covering for the course. They would set the learning objectives and come up with reading, video and blog suggestions. I never followed through with this idea because it seemed overwhelming to think about co-designing a syllabus while also teaching the students the course material.
After having read the blog, I think this is very I go wrong. Building the syllabus would precisely be the process by which they truly engage with the material and learn. THEY could set the tone in the class and I would be there to support and guide them. Since all my courses are set out to connect theory with everyday life experience, I think that students would be quite enthusiastic in connecting their lives with the course material more directly.
The implementation of such co-designed syllabus in a 14-week course, however, seems still rather daunting. Where to start? How do I incorporate lectures, even if on a small scale? Are we building the syllabus as we are progressing with the course, or is this done at the very beginning? Are the students also involved in the design of the individual class sections? If anyone has some pointers, I’d appreciate it
Wishing everyone a good start into the new week.
Hello again, Mengia! I am glad to see we chose the same piece, I was also intrigued by it.
I am also rather pleased to see we struggle with the same doubts! I am 33 years old and have been educated mostly in the traditional way. I am very aware of the horizontal schemes and have participated in many of them, even leading them… but a part of me still clings on to the traditional way. In all honesty, I believe in a proper combination of both, and I think that there lies the challenge: in finding the “proper” part.
I think that democratic paths are very fruitful for sharing and building collective knowledge, but one also has to guard that they are not misused (maybe that is part of the Instructor’s role in any scheme). These ways of building a course also depend on many variables to be effective: the Instructor’s personality (it is difficult to know one-self); the Students’ personalities (this remains unknown until we start walking with them); the topics to be treated (in my opinion, some matters are more permeable to horizontal learning, some less); amongst others.
What I can say to you, if it is of any use, is that a collective built of a whole syllabus seems rather ambitious to me, and since I think that you and I may share similar concerns in these matters, it may also be rather ambitious to you (forgive me if I am interpreting you wrongly, though). Perhaps you can retain the building of the syllabus in general, and then choose maybe one module, assignment or activity, and have that being co-designed with Students. After seeing how such experience goes, you may dare to go further soon if all went well; or you will have time to recalibrate the collective instance, if it did not help to meet the Learning Objectives.
I hope I interpreted what you wrote properly, else my words on it will not have much use for you! In any case, I hope I have helped somehow. I remain at disposition! Best.
I like the idea of starting small with a student-designed syllabus and working on just one week or one unit. It seems similar to what we discussed last Wednesday about starting small with OER. I think it is also important to consider that our students have also likely not designed their own syllabi and we would be asking them to come up with entirely new skills for that. This could be particularly difficult for freshmen, who aren’t even familiar with what typical college courses are like. All of these issues would be dealt with easier in a contained fashion later in the semester.
Since we read the same blog, I understand some of the concerns and the daunting task in adopting a more democratic process in designing a course. I’d like to offer one approach I sometimes take in designing course syllabus. I don’t know if this would be helpful, since I don’t use OER materials or methods. In the interest of having students participate in what they learn, and when feasible, I leave the second half of the syllabus open to change during the semester. The syllabus is usually divided into two sections, one theoretical and the other either case studies, themes, or special issues. I ask students in the second half of the course, which themes or topics they are particularly interested to learn, and which section of the text they would like to cover and relate to contemporary issues. This is also due to running out of time towards the end of the semester, in which the syllabus has to be modified. But, I also think it is helpful in gauging what students are most interested in, and having a minor input.
You have given me something to think about though, building the syllabus with students is a perfect way of truly having students engage.
Mengia, having students co-design your syllabus while the course is in flight is very ambitious! Could you start by trying this with just one or at most two sections of the course to try out this approach? That sounds much more manageable, I think.
Thanks for this line: “Building the syllabus would precisely be the process by which they truly engage with the material and learn. THEY could set the tone in the class and I would be there to support and guide them.”
That’s a nice way of putting it. Somebody else described it as “learning by doing” or “learning by teaching.” Ideally, the students feel like they are responsible for making something (educational resources) and in order to do so, they have to learn about the subject with your help.
But you bring up a great point that it would be really daunting to start making a student driven syllabus, while also covering the important course topics. DeRosa is a faculty member and has some grant support. By contrast, I think many of us will want to take a slower approach and maybe do 1 or 2 student-driven activities each semester. One idea I see come up a lot is assigning students to come up with the criteria for how they should be graded for a certain assignment. To do this, the students have to learn about the subject and create an ideal “A” version of that assignment. Then, next semester you can use those criteria and models as a guide. At least, that’s one approach that has seemed appealing to me because it feels like something I can manage.
I share your questions about how students actually co-design the course. I did not find the syllabus on the course site for DeRosa’s textbook. I am an adjunct now and the syllabus should be approved by the department. What I want to say here is that perhaps not only the instructor but the entire program, department, and school must be looking in the same direction and work together.
I chose to work with Robin DeRosa’s piece, because I was (and still am) intrigued about how Open Textbooks may work.
Many things interested me and surprised me as well. The mention to interdisciplinary studies is one, given that I teach Environmental Crime (EJS 240), a largely interdisciplinary subject.
The working process also interested me, and a positive surprise was to see DeRosa’s mention to not wait for perfection for getting the material out, but rather seek for it as you work and make the material better.
The result is perhaps the most surprising part. I am not surprised that Students were engaged with what they helped build, much more than to a regular textbook (DeRosa highlights that their attitude towards the former textbook was “neutral at best”). What surprises me is that I never gave that part much importance. I can explain this because I am in all honesty quite a geek (LOL) and I have ended up loving textbooks… but as usual, we have to keep in mind that Students may not be like us (in fact, most are not).
I was also surprised to know that many Students took weeks to get the $85 that the former book cost, and how this meant for them to be left behind in class. Although DeRosa clarifies this was a public school, I would have thought that such cost would mean that Students would have to cut other expenses at the beginning of the semester to pay for materials… not that some were actually unable to get the book due to direct lack of money.
The use of digital textbook is a whole other universe of surprises for me, particularly because I am personally struggling with getting use to them as well: I am very old school and simply love the touch, sight and smell of physical textbooks. But I do not want to go too long here!
I hope these words are somehow useful for the rest of you. I remain open to discussing this! Best to all.
Oh, yeah, also: hello to all! I started writing kind of “for myself” and forgot to start with a salutation for all, just that!
I thank you for these comments on textbooks. I thought perhaps I was one of the last instructors holding on to the love for textbooks. I still believe that instruction requires structure and some physicality and textbooks, for me, provide this. But, we also need to think about students’ needs, and so trying to reach some balance in my own thinking.
With kind appreciation,
Hello María Elena! Yes, I agree, this is definitely a matter of balance between our own needs and wishes, and our Students’ needs and wishes, which are often not the same! It is good to know I am not alone in those feelings one experiences when working with physical books! Thank you for your input! Best.
Firstly, thank you for your response to my post and your thoughtful advice. This is much appreciated.
Re textbook costs, my experience is similar to Robin de Rosa’s in that student’s really struggle to shell out $$ for course books. While $85 seems manageable, if you are taking 5 courses it’s a lot. I also heard students complaining tat instructors make them buy expensive course books and they barely use it in class. This is frustrating. I think to provide the readings for free should be standard as JJ pays quite a lot of money for journal subscriptions. This should benefit the students too. But that’s just me 😉
Have a great week!
About the textbook cost, students really are struggling and often times as you must be aware official college bookstores sell books at higher prices than they are sold on Amazon or elsewhere. Students seem to be negative about buying course books that are not available online (even to purchase paper books.) Also, the digital textbooks by major publishers (in my field) are actually subscriptions for one semester, and the access expires. I see open access materials will be better because they are accessible after the semester is overs, especially for referencing after a while.
I liked your point about not seeking perfection and figuring it out as you go. A lot of OER experts recommend taking it slow and going semester by semester to make small changes or assignments that build into bigger assignments over time. My one complaint is that it can be hard to find examples of OER “in progress”. People tend to want to show off what they’ve done once it’s “complete.” If you find or hear of any good examples, please feel free to let me know, or post it her on the site.
‘My Open Textbook: Pedagogy and Practice’ by DeRosa has answered many questions about OER course I had, and it was thought provoking in many ways. One thing I was surprised to read is that DeRosa’s students were very much willing to contribute to the creation of the course. It is wonderful that they can take responsibilities for what they are going to learn in the course. Getting students engaged in this process empowers them and makes them realize they are the ones who benefit from the creation. At graduate school level, or in an upper level courses, perhaps this openness works well since the students are supposed to be independent, and some will be teaching themselves. American literature is what most students have some familiarity with because they went through high school.(Am I wrong?)
I wonder what the secret is for active student participation for this aspect of the course. In the past, I created a list of free resources that supplement the textbook and workbook contents, and opened discussion lists on Blackboard so that students can review each resource as to whether they are useful to them or not. I also encouraged them to add any resources that they find useful. However, most of the substantial comments came from a handful of students, and the rest of them just agreed with them!
A textbook may be still needed in an introductory Japanese course for coordination across sections and levels, but using a costly textbook is far from ideal even when the book is an excellent one. As long as the standards allow, there can be some ways of encouraging students to take initiative. In recent years project-based assignments are common, and the textbook provides only the frames for what they learn, supporting the students with information and exercises. It is still needed, but is becoming a source of guide posts whose contents are used less and less.
In my class students create videos in Japanese as a part of the requirements, e.g., self-introduction, describing NYC, which they post on an educational platform, such as Flipgrid or VoiceThread. The platforms are open only to the particular class, but students can see each other’s video and can comment on them. They are encouraged to post their own videos on their own social media account, or possibly placing them on their ePortfolio. I don’t keep track of what they do outside of class, but it is a type of assignment that can be open to the public if students wishes it to be.
The funding component of the OER course creation is perhaps one of the answers on how to make OER course development works. As an instructor I would feel a little bit guilty for asking students to do the work because I would feel like I am exploiting them. As the author said toward the end, funding every OER course development will require enormous institutional commitment or other sources of funding. I am not sure whether this will be covered soon, but another way to ‘pay’ students is to give them credit for the work they did, and being credited as one of the authors.
I would be curious to talk more about the funding of aspect when we task students to design course materials. I really think that this is an important aspect that should be considered. While they are definitely learning, if these resources are then used by others, it seems right to offer them a renumeration. This should be in addition to them being accredited authors. But then again, that’s how academia rolls. We are not really getting paid for writing articles either, it’s just another line on our CV.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
I liked your point about “paying” students through credit. Some of the open pedagogy lesson plans I’ve seen will treat the making of the OER as the class assignment. So that one semester students help the instructor make a lesson or resource (and get graded on it) and then the next semester, the instructor uses the lesson and asks for feedback on it. That’s one method, but it might not work for all subjects.
For more official, elaborate open textbooks, it seems like students are given class credit and listed as authors. I think textbooks that require a lot of academic writing and synthesis (like analysis of primary sources) will probably require additional help and funding to get them done quickly. But a starting point could be collecting any pre-existing sources and putting them into one document and collaborating with students to think about how that document can be improved. Students could give their feedback in the form of a reflection paper, then do a research and vetting project to find additional sources. They can get graded on these things and they are very similar to what they would do in a traditional writing or English class. I say this not having tried it myself yet!
I’m interested in learning more about these platforms you mentioned. I wonder if they could be helpful to instructors in other disciplines?
Hi Michael, Thank you for your comment. Flipgrid has just changed its name to Flip, and it is a Microsoft owned platform that was used in K-12 initially, I believe, but it has expanded as a platform for video/audio sharing forum for closed groups, and can be used for casual discussion forum because one can respond to video/audio posts by either text or video. Here is info page for Higher Education. https://help.flip.com/hc/en-us/articles/360052558234-Higher-Education-Remote-Learning-with-Flip The best feature of Flip to me is that it has its App, and after downloading the App, it is very easy for students to record using their phone’s camera.
I can not show students’ videos, but my self-intro is : https://flip.com/s/_y8nwBhLxDdd
Students usually do not bother with decorations, such as frame and icons, but some student videos are very artistic.
VoiceThread is accessible through Blackboard > Assignments or Tests > BuildContent > John Jay VoiceThread, and is meant for sharing videos and photos that can be commented on. I’ve heard that art classes, or film classes use them to share students work in class. I may use more of this instead of Flip in the future.
Hope this makes sense.
Like everyone else, I chose to read through Robin DeRosa’s My Open Textbook blog post and I found it much more relevant to my current teaching practices than I had expected. Though she was teaching a literature class, I found her methods quite applicable to history classes. In my survey courses, I have students read a variety of primary sources and write up brief responses, which usually include some amount of introductory material about the source. In the past, I’ve also had students expand on those analyses for their final papers and give even more context and analysis of the source and more analysis. I think it could be interesting to transition one of these primary source response papers into an OER-related assignment. Students could (possibly in groups) write up new introductions to the sources, which could then be used by later semesters of students.
I also really appreciated how DeRosa clarified the numerous benefits of the textbook, particularly how students know best what other students need to know. I sometimes wonder how accessible or understandable a textbook or the existing introduction to a primary source is. Does it use words that students don’t know? Does it make reference to concepts they are not aware of? How much background information is necessary to make it make sense? My students know best what they know and what their peers are likely to know and are therefore the best people to write this. I have more often focused on the downsides of students writing for each other and worried about things not having ‘the proper academic tone,’ but maybe losing that tone is necessary? A textbook is not a scholarly journal article or monograph. It has a different audience and its tone should reflect that. As long as everything is still properly cited, it should be fine.
I think, as we discussed in our session today. Such an assignment would have to be accompanied by very specific guidelines in order for students to know what to write and for whom. To think about the audience and the “language” should/could be written in is important too, as it might create dynamics of exclusion. The question remains: Who can – is considered able – to produce OER materials?
Thank you for raising this point.
I like your point about academic tone. I’m wondering the same thing. It seems like in some cases having an academic tone is very important, but in others not as necessary. I’m getting the sense that some OERs, like the one DeRosa mentions, are meant to be replacements for traditional textbooks. These do seem to require funding and extra help to be done quickly.
But I’m slowly finding examples of other OERs that are more like what you’re talking about–resources that are not meant to be polished, finished products, but instead opportunities for students to practice making a something that will actually be read by their peers. It seems impossible to get something final draft and publishable through this method in a semester or two, but over time, with enough student input, it could make for a useful document.
I share my thoughts on the selected blog below –
I found the first blog post by Robin DeRosa most informative as it demonstrates the step-by-step process of creating an OER text relatively easy, but a lot to learn first about how to use Pressbooks, and understand copyright, and open licensing.
It really surprised me to know how easy it is to place a textbook or other written material produced by students by using Pressbooks, but this requires a lot of thought in design, copyright control, and content. It requires a lot of work, but exciting and rewarding learning experience for both instructor and students.
I identified with the pedagogical practices and strategies reflected in Robin’s blog and how she had students edit a course textbook to create an OER. I would need to learn how to locate open source textbooks appropriate for my courses. The idea of editing or updating portions of a text to be more useful and relevant to students, is exactly what I have been thinking about doing in trying out OER- taking foundational principles of a field and “refiguring” as Robin says, “through their own lenses”. This I think is the essence of the learning experience, of critical thinking, and a perspective I always try to include in my courses.
I usually provide students with reading material in addition to the course textbook, which I still use as the basis for course content. I rely on journal articles in the college library not only for additional reading, but also to encourage students to use the library and familiarize themselves with rich resources in various formats, (print, videos, digital books, primary documents etc.) So, I would need to be able to find articles in an OER site I can share with students.
There is validity to the idea that students are the “perfect people to help create textbooks”, taking information and doing something with it creatively to making it more understandable and relevant to them and future cohorts. (Not all students though, are necessarily “keenly tuned” many are not interested in course material)
Ultimately, this approach requires a lot of thought, process, and time…”academic labor”!
Hi María Elena,
I think that your question on locating the right material is important. I wonder though, if you could use open access materials and use apps in BB such as “perusal” to annotate text and to share thoughts in the document with others. I don’t think that tis would be considered as a breach of the open access license and can be great course tool to work with OER materials.
Great discussion, everyone. A number of folks raised the question of compensation and funding. Five CUNY adjuncts authored the following report: “The amount of labor we do for free” and other contradictions: a collective inquiry into the pedagogical choices of CUNY adjunct and graduate student instructors who taught with free of charge materials during the year 2020″
The TLC does provide funding for larger OER projects.