Teaching with OER, Open Pedagogy, and Working with Learners

5 Engaging Learners with OER

Christina Hendricks, Rajiv Jhangiani, Jody R. Rosen, Maura A. Smale, Robin DeRosa, Sean Michael Morris, Pete Rorabaugh, Jesse Stommel, Open Education Group, and David Wiley

Overview: Engaging Learners with OER

This section contains three parts – Students as OER Contributors, Evaluators, Co-Authors; Open Pedagogy Notebook Examples, and Sample Assignments & Resources.

Students as OER Contributors, Evaluators, Co-Authors offers writings by instructors with extensive OER experience. These instructors offer suggestions, guidelines, and tested methods for engaging students in not only the use of OER materials, but also the creation of materials. This information comes from a variety of educators, including Christina Hendricks, Rajiv Jhangiani, Jody R. Rosen and Maura A. Smale; Robin DeRosa, and Sean Michael Morris, Pete Rorabaugh and Jesse Stommel.

Open Pedagogy Notebook Examples offers selected materials from the Open Pedagogy Notebook, spearheaded by Robin DeRosa and Rajiv Jhangiani, including experience, guidelines, and suggestions by experienced instructors who use Open Pedagogy.

Sample Assignments & Resources presents a list of links to further examples, as well as materials from the Open Education Group for engaging students with Open Pedagogy, OER textbooks and materials, and OER projects.

Table of Contents: Engaging Learners with OER

Learning Objectives: Engaging Learners with OER

In this chapter, you will gain skills to:

  • Examine roles for students as contributors, evaluators, and co-authors of OER textbooks and materials
  • Discover further case studies, suggestions, and best practices for learner-centered OER projects
  • Give examples of assignments and resources for engaging students with OER

Students as OER Contributors, Evaluators, Co-Authors

This section offers writings by instructors with extensive OER experience. These instructors offer suggestions, guidelines, and tested methods for engaging students in not only the use of OER materials, but also the creation of materials. These instructors encourage you to think beyond the disposable assignment and beyond traditional concepts of rigor to the active engagement of students in their education. Make the most of the opportunities offered by the unique medium of OER to offer hands-on and student-directed learning. Included are short writings by Open educators on the role of students as OER contributors, evaluators, and co-authors. Further resources for project and planning suggestions are also included.

Students’ Vital Role in OER — Christina Hendricks

Through creating and spreading open educational resources, students learn more and make an impact on the world, writes Christina Hendricks.


When I first started learning about open education and open educational resources about five years ago, I knew OERs were different than other educational resources in that they have anopen license, but I thought of them as similar in the sense of being created by instructors in educational institutions. But it’s clear to me now that students also have a valuable role to play in creating and revising OERs, as well as in promoting open education more widely.

An open education movement with students is much more effective than without, and creating and revising OERs can be a valuable way for students to learn and to have their work make a larger impact than just earning them a grade.

Asking students to contribute educational resources that are made publicly available and openly licensed is a way to avoid what David Wiley, chief academic officer of Lumen Learning, calls “disposable assignments”: assignments that are marked for a grade and otherwise add no value to the world. Student work in many courses can be very useful to other students in a course, to community groups and to the wider public.

Wikipedia projects are one way for instructors to involve students in OER creation or revision while contributing to a widely used public resource. As one student put it in a quote on the Wiki Education Foundation website, “There is much gratification in leaving your personal mark on something that will help others to learn.”

In addition, writing for Wikipedia can help students gain important digital and information literacies, such as learning how to find and cite reliable sources and how to write for a nonspecialist audience. At the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, in Canada, students are editing Wikipedia in courses ranging from food, nutrition and health to Canadian literature and human ecology. The Wiki Education Foundation provides many useful resources for those wanting to incorporate Wikipedia assignments into their courses.

Students can also provide valuable contributions to open textbooks — textbooks that are openly licensed and provided at no or low cost (printed versions usually have a nominal cost). It might seem that only upper-level students would be able to do so well, but that need not necessarily be the case. As Plymouth State University professor Robin DeRosa puts it, “Students are the perfect people to help create textbooks, since they are the most keenly tuned in to what other students will need in order to engage with the material in meaningful ways.”

One of the books DeRosa created with students is The Open Anthology of Earlier American Literature, in which students gathered public-domain texts, wrote introductions and created discussion questions and assignments to accompany them. One of the examples in a newly published “A Guide to Making Open Textbooks With Students” from the Rebus Foundation features students adding new chapters toThe Open Anthology of Earlier American Literature, while in another example student lab instructors for a course in economics revised and added new content to an open microeconomics textbook from OpenStax.

The Open Logic Project, an international collaboration of people contributing to an open textbook in logic, includes a number of graduate and undergraduate students, and students also contribute to the open textbooks in the Libretexts collection, including those in chemistry, mathematics and humanities.

Other Student OER Projects

Students are working on many other kinds of OERs as well. At the University of Edinburgh, a group of undergraduate students revised existing OERs to add materials on LGBTQ health for the medical education curriculum. Graduate and undergraduate students at the UBC Vancouver are writing open case studies that can be used in educational or other contexts. The UBC Vancouver geography department has a website showcasing student research projects on environment and sustainability issues, including case studies, infographics and projects in geographic information science.

In addition, eCampusOntario (Canada) has recently established a student experience design lab, in which students work on projects such as a platform for students and faculty to create virtual reality experiences and a repository of student work done in courses — all of the outputs of this lab will be openly licensed.

Furthermore, the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada, has developed a program to support OER adoption in which undergraduate students work to locate OERs that align with a number of courses at the university, and graduate students provide reviews of those OERs. Along somewhat similar lines, students at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland are working as open content curators “whose role is to repurpose materials created by staff and students around the university to ensure they can be released under open license and shared in places where they can be found and reused.”

Student Advocacy

Promoting open resources is a natural fit for student advocacy, given concerns about the rising cost of higher education. But students are not only interested in saving money; many are also excited about the opportunity for student work to have more of an impact by being made publicly available, reusable and revisable by others. I have found in my own work that student advocacy is crucial, as students often have powerful voices when speaking to campus administrators and government leaders.

The #textbookbroke campaign on Twitter and other social media, often organized by student governments, features images of students showing how much they spent on textbooks for a term in order to reveal how expensive textbooks are. In British Columbia, student leaders from Simon Fraser University, UBC Vancouver and UBC Okanagan launched #textbookbrokebc in 2015. The student association at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada has taken a somewhat different road to support OER adoption: last year the association provided certificates of innovation for instructors who use OERs.

Student support for OER adoption and creation can have wider impacts on university policies and practices. In Scotland, the Edinburgh University Student Association’s advocacy provided an important impetus for the development of an OER policy at the university that “encourages staff and students to use, create and publish OERs.” At the UBC Vancouver, student government leaders worked to get language into an important guide to promotion and tenure for faculty in the teaching stream at UBC. Faculty in that stream must engage in “educational leadership,” and the new language in the tenure and promotion guide clarifies that contributions to OER can be counted as one way to show educational leadership.

I can no longer imagine being an effective open educator without working closely with students, and I hope this article has provided inspiration for others to do so, too!

Christina Hendricks is a professor of teaching in philosophy and deputy academic director of the Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. Other examples of student contributions to open education can be found in this blog post.

Pilot Testing Open Pedagogy — Rajiv Jhangiani


This summer, as has become usual practice for me, I adopted open textbooks for my Introductory Psychology and Social Psychology sections (produced by NOBA and the BC Open Textbook Project, respectively); however, my desire to enjoy a semester entirely free from traditional textbooks was challenged by the absence of a high quality open textbook for Cognitive Psychology. Although I began by negotiating the price of the traditional textbook down by $75 (“just for you” I was told—because I am such a nice guy, I assume), I eventually opted to to use the semester as a pedagogical cleanse and assigned my Cognitive Psychology students a selection of openly available readings and video clips (many from the terrific GoCognitive.net project). In total, my 140 students this summer (across four sections) collectively saved about $23,500.

Of course this is great news, but the greater challenge I had set myself for the semester was to shift away from traditional, disposable assignments (that my students see little purpose in and that I don’t take special delight in marking) towards what different people have started to refer to as valuable/renewable/legacy assignments. Inspired, as always, by David Wiley’s posts on the subject (see here and here), I was excited at the idea of harnessing the energy, potential, and especially the creativity of my first- and second-year psychology students. The challenge, though, was in designing assignments that would:

  • allow my students to develop and exercise useful skills that aligned well with course and program learning outcomes
  • produce something that would add value to the world
  • produce something that would be openly available
  • provide sufficient support so that the experience would not be terrifying for them (a serious concern, as I was asking them to step well outside of their comfort zones)
  • build in enough latitude so that the assignment would constitute a creative project and not simple a recipe for the same product

With three different courses to teach, I had a lot of planning to do if I wanted to make an omnibus shift away from disposable assignments. The two-pronged strategy I adopted was to utilize the principles of backward course design and to build on the ideas and practices of others. This is what I came up with:

  1. Inspired by the NOBA Project’s student video award competition, students in my two Introductory Psychology sections were tasked with producing 2-3 minute video clips. Their goal was to produce an engaging, memorable overview of a psychological theory or phenomenon. Their chosen topics required pre-approval to avoid duplication and so I could steer them away from topics that were either too broad or too narrow. At the end of the semester the revised video clips (which had to utilize openly licensed images and sounds) were all uploaded to YouTube or Vimeo and published under a CC-BY-NC license where they may now be reused, revised, and remixed by other formal or informal learners, or even instructors.
  2. Inspired by the incredible work of Delmar Larsen and his colleagues at ChemWiki as well as by the APS Wikipedia Initiative, students in my Cognitive Psychology course wrote, revised, and remixed openly licensed wiki articles for a range of course-relevant concepts, theories, and phenomena. The plan here is for these articles to live on a publicly accessible (but not publicly editable) Psychology Wiki that my colleague Levente Orban and I have received a little funding from KPU to launch (expected sometime in Fall 2015).
  3. Inspired by the Social Psychology Network’s 2014 Action Teaching Award Winner, students in my Social Psychology course sought to apply their budding scientific expertise to help address a social problem (e.g., cyberbullying, gang violence, environmentally unsustainable behaviors, etc.) by writing Op-Ed article and submitting these for publication in a local or regional newspaper. Although this assignment does not involve an open license and does not rely on OER (and therefore does not fit the definition of open pedagogy), it still allowed me to ditch a disposable assignment while allowing the students to contribute empirically-grounded solutions to public discussions about complex social problems.

One feature that I embedded within all three assignments was a double-blind peer assessment procedure. Having conducted research on peer assessment, I am rather a fan of its positive effects on assignment quality, and especially of how it helps develop cognitive and metacognitive skills. Moreover, structuring each of the assignments to include draft submission, peer assessment, revision, and final submission phases also benefits students by structuring their time management over the semester and making a relatively foreign task appear less daunting.

So how did things turn out? Well, I was frankly rather impressed at the creativity of some of the student videos (see herehere, and here for a diverse set of examples) and was also pleased with the quality of the wiki articles (see here for an example) and op-ed articles. Given the diversity of the submissions, I also found the process of marking the assignments much more enjoyable. But what about the student experience? Well, as it turned out, the overwhelming majority of the students loved their assignment. Their most common comments (collected at the end of the semester) include the following:

  • “I liked it more than having to write a paper/had more fun”
  • “Working on this assignment was a mental break from other school work”
  • “I had to learn the theory more thoroughly in order to explain it properly”
  • “I like that it can be used outside of class by other people”
  • “Overall, it took more time to produce than writing a paper”
  • “Technical difficulties can be challenging to deal with when one is unfamiliar with producing videos”

Finally, one student indicated that they would have liked the option to write a traditional research essay instead (which I had not provided). Clearly I have work ahead of me as I seek to learn from this semester’s challenges and revise the structure of these assignments so that I provide more support to my students.

Final thought: In case you didn’t catch it, the title of this post is a slightly cheeky reference to David Wiley’s comparison of the under-utilization of the potential of OER to choosing to drive an airplane on the road. But although I have a ways to go before I fully get the hang of open pedagogy, my impression is that this initial pilot test was a pretty successful flight.

For further reading on the subject of open pedagogy, I recommend reading the recent reflections of Mary Burgess, Tracy Kelly, and Amanda Coolidge and of my fellow-BCcampus Faculty Fellow Christina Hendricks.

Quiz: Students as OER Contributors, Evaluators, Co-authors: Hendricks & Jhangiani

Open Digital Pedagogy = Critical Pedagogy — Jody R. Rosen and Maura A. Smale


There seems too often to be an explicit agreement that instructors lead and students respond, that instructors advise as students seek guidance, that when instructors talk about their pedagogy, it should be outside of earshot of the students they instruct. Open digital platforms can break these implicit rules to make spaces for joint inquiry among all members of the college community in the spirit of Freirian ideals of critical pedagogy. Using open digital tools creates space for productive dialogue within and across courses and departments, allowing for critical co-investigation not just within a single course but in the college community. An open learning space in which everyone can work together enables browsing and viewing each other’s work, and empowers students to participate more fully in their education.

Open digital pedagogy is the use of cost-free, publicly available online tools and platforms by instructors and students for teaching, learning, and communicating in support of educational goals, can, as Kris Shaffer has argued, “facilitate student access to existing knowledge, and empower them to critique it, dismantle it, and create new knowledge.” This approach can bring critical digital pedagogy to higher education and equip students to actively participate in their education. Jim Groom and Brian Lamb describe innovative customizations of open digital tools in use at various colleges and universities, including the University of Mary Washington, the University of British Columbia, and other CUNY campuses like Baruch College. At our college — New York City College of Technology, CUNY (City Tech) — a grant has allowed us to develop the City Tech OpenLab, an open digital platform for teaching, learning, and collaborating. Also built with open source software, the OpenLab enables the entire City Tech community to take advantage of open digital practices in courses, projects, clubs, and eportfolios. Our examples here are drawn from the work that members of our college’s community have contributed via the OpenLab.

Students are empowered as learners if encouraged to act as co-creators of the platforms and learning spaces they use for their college work. Jason T. Hilton addresses this approach in his article on digital critical dialogue. Open platforms such as WordPress, Google Sites, Tumblr, and wiki software allow multiple users — students and faculty — to create and customize the online space used by a class or group. Used for individual eportfolios, these platforms allow students complete control over a site to document and showcase their college work, both for their own satisfaction as well as to show potential employers. When developing the OpenLab, our team involved City Tech students, who created our logo and initial design. Open platforms, as opposed to proprietary platforms, can provide these opportunities for customization as students participate in the construction of their own knowledge, and constructing the college.

An open system fosters opportunities for flattening hierarchies within a college community and enable students and faculty members to become critical co-investigators. Many open digital tools allow for non-hierarchical arrangements of students and faculty. For example, students and faculty can edit a Google Doc together, eliminating restrictive permissions built into other systems that could privilege the faculty member’s voice over student voices. On the OpenLab there are four member types: student, faculty, staff, and alumni, and although only faculty can create courses, that one content type is the exception, as all members can create projects, clubs, and portfolios. These non-hierarchical approaches allow all members to share their investment in what becomes necessarily collaborative work.

College spaces typically keep students, instructors, and administration in separate silos, without information and ideas passing easily among them. Virtual environments can replicate this separation, or they can invite permeability of their spaces through openness and visibility. The OpenLab’s homepage, for example, features the most recent activity from all areas of the platform, broadcasting various groups’ content for all members and visitors of the site. In one space for faculty fellows in a professional development program focusing on general education, the program’s facilitator prompted an online discussion with the questions “What makes you curious? What do YOU do in your classroom to inspire learning among our students?” Several faculty members from a variety of departments reflected on sharing their passion for their subjects with students — and since the site was visible and open for anyone on the Internet to read and comment on, a City Tech student joined the conversation. He offered participating faculty members advice, encouraging them to share their reflections with their students as a way of showing that the syllabus is constructed for meaningful reasons. He wrote: “Until now, I thought you all just pick it because you KNOW it and you KNOW that it fits into your planned reading. Its good to know that you guys look forward to something when picking reads for us.” Here, the open space provides the opportunity for a student to take on the role of teacher-student, advising instructors based on his lived experience as a student.

With the ability to work against the banking method of education by involving students and faculty as critical co-investigators, an open system facilitates engagement in a problem-posing education. As Liz Clark notes in a personal reflection in her collaboration with Emily Drabinski and Sarah T. Roberts, this use can lead to “self-education in the world of teaching with technology, learning alongside my students as we explore new technologies.” Open digital tools encourage opportunities for students and faculty to interrogate these systems — their construction, architecture, and intent — as they use them.

An open system can afford opportunities for members of the community to work not just on the site but also to develop it. This can be especially useful for students, who may gain valuable professional experience in website design and development during their work on these platforms, none of which is possible in a conventional, corporate LMS. If organized into group work for a course or internship, or a work-study job, students can apply the knowledge they have developed through hands-on experience — in collaborating with a team, conducting themselves in a professional environment, and presenting their work — as they pursue jobs in the field. City Tech students have worked with developer early-adopter to transfer what they have learned in their courses into work that builds the OpenLab, such as designing site maps to track and shape the site’s information architecture.

In a First-Year Learning Community at our college, assignments for English and Hospitality Management courses took advantage of the public nature of the site and were developed with an actual audience in mind: fellow students. Students wrote about the transition to college, resources available on campus, and places to visit and foods to taste in the surrounding neighborhood. These students wrote not merely to fulfill their course requirements, but also to fill gaps in information they considered vital to new students. Near the end of the semester, students felt empowered to organize an event to publicize the launch of the site, which helped them introduce their project, #TheGuide, an online compilation of written materials that serve the college’s community as a guide for a range of academic, support, and neighborhood resources and opportunities. Other courses have expressed interest in expanding the materials featured on #TheGuide, and the site has the potential to involve students from different courses, with different interests and expertise, and to exist far beyond the academic careers of the students who first contributed to it.

Using open digital tools in the college classroom allows students to bring in their lived experiences and prior knowledge more readily, working against the banking concept of education. Open digital pedagogy moves the expertise away from the front of the classroom, with what Pete Rorabaugh and Jesse Stommel call “its roomful of desks in factory-like face-front rows,” and distributes it among the students and instructors. Students and faculty have opportunities to interact with the world beyond an individual classroom, course, or college, and to more easily learn from and have an impact on it.

Last year, in my (Jody’s) Introduction to Fiction course, I experimented with a new assignment when teaching Toni Morrison’sBeloved that would take advantage of the benefits of open digital tools. Students selected what they felt were pivotal passages from the text and created a digital gallery on the course website of their visual interpretations of the text. Those who chose low-tech options such as sketches or watercolor paintings still needed to challenge themselves to photograph, upload, and embed the image of their creation; those who chose higher-tech options such as creating a YouTube video needed to learn to embed the video. Class time was set aside for students to ask each other questions and share their expertise both through conversation and ad hoc peer training. Once the projects were completed, students presented their visual interpretations to the class which, when posted on the course website, were each a contribution to the permanent online gallery. My students and I were pleased with the results of this assignment, which emphasized the importance of pedagogy that makes space in the classroom for both students’ existing experience and their ability to collaborate to acquire new skills. This project and others like it on the OpenLab or other open digital platforms encourage the use of tools that can be added to or used alongside our system to facilitate the bricolage that Larry Hanley advocates for, drawing on the features of many tools and using them in a mash-up to facilitate learning and sharing knowledge. In using the various tools available to create this multimedia representation ofBeloved, students became bricoleurs.

Open digital pedagogical tools can enter the classroom or its adjoining virtual spaces both by introduction from the students or from the instructors. When students bring technologies to the class they make visible their expertise, which they share with instructors and students alike, as the Introduction to Fiction students did with their Beloved digital gallery. This not only expands the group’s knowledge, it offers the presenters of the information opportunities to practice effective communication, either in writing or speech. When instructors bring technologies to the classroom, it can come from industry expertise that they can share with students, who can themselves experiment with the newly acquired tools.

Supporting and encouraging critical digital pedagogy necessitates professional development that bolsters the innovative efforts instructors make to move away from the banking model. For instructors, learning about new technologies for use in and around the classroom can come from students in classroom or online discussion, or via professional development opportunities that shift instructors into the role of student and that highlight best practices and community-building. This support for open digital pedagogy — through hands-on training and interactive discussion — asks instructors to reevaluate their practices, and challenges them to experiment with innovative classroom models.

Open digital platforms and tools are built, enriched, and experienced by students and instructors working together. Instructors continue to develop opportunities for problem-posing educational opportunities, and students continue to accept those challenges and work along with instructors to seek solutions. It is not enough to encourage instructors to move toward open-ended, problem-posing assignments to realize Freire’s co-collaborator dynamics and to foster the flexibility for students to bring in and develop other expertise. Students need to know that they are empowered in these actions. Very often, students do not realize what working within an open system means, and do not understand that they have the authority — and the responsibility — to develop content for the platform, and the platform itself, to shape their college community. Open digital pedagogy can highlight these paths for students to learn as co-investigators so that they realize a model beyond the banking paradigm for their education.

Quiz: Open Digital Pedagogy = Critical Pedagogy — Jody R. Rosen and Maura A. Smale

Extreme Makeover: Pedagogy Edition — Robin DeRosa

In this post, I am going to describe #Opensem, an Open-Pedagogy-powered First-Year Seminar (FYS) that I taught this past Fall at my small, public university in New Hampshire.While following certain parameters set by the university regarding learning outcomes and goals for the FYS program, I ran the course as an experiment in radical OpenPed.I say “radical”not because it’s anything brand new or particularly edgy, but because it takes some of the basic principles of Open Pedagogy as I have been conceiving of them and puts them into practice in the fullest ways that I could imagine within the confines of my institution. Open Pedagogy offers so many possibilities for K12 teachers and college-level instructors, and most faculty will not find it suitable to their courses to adopt all of the OpenPed approaches that this course drew from, but I thought it would be helpful even to those who want to moderate their implementation of OpenPed to have an example of what happens when you push to the more extreme ends of the OpenPed continuum.

Defining “Open Pedagogy”

Part of the ethos of working “open” to me is to resist static definitions, since one presumption that open makes is that knowledge is always changing shape. That being said, it’s helpful to have a sense of the working definition that I was starting with at the outset of this course in September 2016.

I thought of Open Pedagogy as comprised of four basic guiding ideas:

  1. Open Pedagogy improves access to education, but this is access broadly writ. We start by thinking of how OER drives down textbook costs, and note the impact that book costs have on student success (course throughput rates, for example). But we don’t stop there. We look at the issues raised by converting to digital materials (digital divide, access to devices, digital redlining, accessibility and universal design, etc.) and consider our pedagogies in relationship to every access issue we encounter as we teach.

  2. Open Pedagogy treats education as a learner-driven process. Though we note the frequent marketing use of phrases such as “student-centered” to describe the classroom experience and course organization, we note that these phrases are often hollow, ill-defined, or attached to low-bar student involvement guidelines. Open Pedagogy asks as to rethink every aspect of the courses we build to consider how students can be empowered to move into the driver’s seat.
  3. Open Pedagogy stresses community and collaboration over content. While acknowledging our own expertise as subject-matter scholars and the importance of the content that we cover, OpenPed works to connect learners to their fields, peers, colleagues, and mentors via healthy networks so that they can draw on those communities to continue learning past the end date of the course. This actually works to enhance content transmission over time, since much field content changes rapidly.
  4. Open Pedagogy connects the academy to the wider public. We work to merge theory with practice, engage learners with “communities of practice” that matter to them and to the world, and make the educational system work for both students and the public good.

CC0 Alan Levine https://flic.kr/p/fgvmZH

CC0 Alan Levine https://flic.kr/p/fgvmZH

Don’t like those? Yeah, I might not, either. The slide with my OpenPed definition changes every time I give a presentation about it. Which is cool. But at least it gives you a sense of the kinds of things I was mulling over as I started thinking about my FYS last summer.

First-Year Seminar

At my university, our First-Year Seminars are probably a lot like something you might have at your university or community college:

FYS general description

Each distinct section is organized around an individual question designed by a faculty member. Which of course, from an OpenPed standpoint, is already kind of a bummer. I wondered how to design a question that would allow students to craft their own question. Then I wondered what would happen if they all wanted to work on different questions; would that erode our community’s ability to collaborate? Then I wished they were all hanging out with me over the summer so they could help me figure out what to do. So that led me to create this question and course description:


Screenshot of course description for "Whose Course Is This, Anyway?"

I wondered if the course would ultimately be a course about OpenPed, or just a course that used OpenPed. Students picked their sections of FYS and I ended up with 25 students in my section. When I say “students picked their sections,” what I really mean is that they ended up in the sections they signed up for, but a grand total of THREE of my students reported actively choosing my class because they were interested in the topic.I think I can safely say that this means I had a pretty random sampling of my university’s first-year students, not particularly attached to the idea of rethinking education.

Building a Course Infrastructure

On the first day, I introduced them to the idea of “Open Pedagogy,” and explained that I was really hoping that the class would build a FYS based on what they all thought they needed to learn. At that class, I also explained that we would not be using our Learning Management System (our LMS is Moodle) much, but that they would each have the option to build their own websites –ePorts– where they could present and publish their work.  Students went home and read articles by Audrey Watters and Andrew Rikard, and we then talked at our next class about issues involved with student ownership of the course management spaces. Students got set up with Twitter and Hypothes.is to use as course communication tools instead of Moodle and university email, and we talked about assessing the tools for usefulness as we progressed and deleting or changing tools as necessary.

CC0 Alan Levine https://flic.kr/p/qeQKw4

CC0 Alan Levine https://flic.kr/p/qeQKw4


It was honestly discombobulated. We started with no real place to work, and I realized that we could have spent the whole semester just critiquing the prescribed Moodle arena and building our custom LMS. Instead of doing that,I presented some key articles and let them choose to design ePorts or opt-out and stay in Moodle.They all chose ePorts, which we built at a reduced price with a special limited-time discount that existed from Reclaim Hosting (about $27 per student annually with domain protection). (Students can now get domains from my university’s Domain of One’s Own program, which are included in their tuition.)  We decided to march forward with this trinity of tools (domains built with WordPress, Twitter for communication, Hypothes.is for online annotation), and use them as the infrastructure for our course.You can check out some of our communications on our old hashtag, #opensem, which also became the nickname that we used to describe our course and our community as the semester unfolded.


a tweet from #opensem
A tweet from #opensem

I say “we” in that they had informed consent and opt-out possibilities and the freedom to work in other ways, but the reality was that I had a lot more knowledge in these areas, and most students were happy to follow my suggestions. Because all tools are ideological, it’s really loaded to lead students so forcefully into them; this is clear with the LMS and it was clear with my suite of tools as well. One reason I think institutions should talk about this stuff is that it would be helpful to have more courses participating together in OpenPed approaches, so thenearly courses could take (much) more time building a more authentically student-designed infrastructure and planning out how those infrastructures could work interoperably in future courses.Anyway, I would call the start to my OpenPed experiment exciting but also pretty-much a failure in helping empower learners to drive.

Costs and Access

The fact that the course was relatively inexpensive at $27 (which is, I should add, about $27 more than the fees in most courses that I teach), we did have a high rate of participation right from the get-go, with nobody left behind in the first weeks, struggling to afford a textbook. Some students did not have devices such as laptops or smartphones, but I had managed to get a grant from our faculty technology committee to cover the purchase of ten laptops that could be checked out from the library desk just a few feet away from our classroom. This did still present some challenges, since with so many disparate tools and accounts, it can be tough for students who keep switching machines (no autofill passwords, no bookmarked pages). We were always up-front about showcasing the places where access was an issue, and this class helped me make the case for DoOO, which will now allow me to completely drop the course fee (and the requirement that students have access to credit cards–ugh, horrible, and I apologize for not seeing the issue there). I’d like to see a laptop checkout policy that would allow students to check out machines for a week or more at a time (maybe for a semester); about 95% of our students have laptops at my university, so we should be able to find ways to more fully accommodate those who don’t. For those of you who teach in places where that percentage is much, much smaller, converting to OER or digital tools may augment the digital divide and increase costs for students rather than ameliorate the divide and lower costs.

It was also clear that the instruction to “create an account and play around in there” sounded very different to those who owned and regularly used technology and had continuous access to the internet, and those who didn’t. In another OpenPed class I taught this past Fall, I used peer mentors who staffed evening open hours to offer extra support to those who wanted to move slowly with the technology, and have a buddy next to them as they built and experimented. Despite me telling students that there was nothing they could break that we couldn’t fix together, it was anxiety-provoking for students who hadn’t used technology regularly and who had limited time to access devices and the web. #opensem didn’t have peer mentors, but it would if I taught it again. For #opensem, I basically just had continuous office hours. Because my office is in the library where our course was, and because I was in my office four days a week from 8am-9pm, it worked well for drop-in support, and many students sat and worked in my office lobby so they could pop in when they needed me. Honestly, I loved that. But you know, I can imagine that is not for everyone. Basic lesson– and you already know this– the “digital native” thing remains a garbage idea, and if you care about access issues, you will need to meet each student where she is in terms of comfort with tech. That takes time, and labor, and it may not be practical or feasible for you given your salary or circumstances.

Off We Go

So off we went, mostly well-enough-equipped and armed with a ragtag arsenal of discombobulated tools. We used GoogleSheets to track assignments and posts, GoogleDocs to collaborate on and crowdsource our syllabus and assignments, ePorts to present our work, and Twitter to talk to each other. I am not sure these specific tools matter much, but the fact is that the cobbled hot mess produced a sense that we were grabbing tools as we went in order to do stuff we needed to do, and we could see immediately that the process would be iterative and dynamic. Lots of our systems emerged together over the course of the semester. It makes me wonder if building a course management system is a useful part of any course curriculum. How much learning is lost when we template out the course architecture and mindlessly work to populate the blanks that open for us there? Did students benefit from having to build, critique, rebuild, and cope with the systems that we built as we went? I think so. We were always meta-aware of HOW we learned, not just WHAT we learned. For a FYS aimed at least in good part on helping students be successful in college, that seemed a very useful part of the course.

Collaborative Learning Outcomes

After we had some basic plans in place for how we would communicate and where besides our classroom we would work, we started talking about content. What should we learn in the course? I presented the latest version of learning outcomes that I had collected from the leadership of our campus-wide FYS program, and brought them to the table. We talked about them, and whether or not we should use them all (thank you, tenure– more about that later). Students wanted to use most of them, though we tweaked a few words here and there. Then I asked students to contribute their own learning outcomes, on the basic principle that learning outcomes for the course should not be cemented without participation from the learners. After making some brainstormed lists together, students blogged a bit about what kinds of outcomes were important to them. They ranged from highly skills-oriented, like this one from Jordyn Hanos, to those that leaned more toward connection and engagement, like this one from Skyla Dore.

We put all the outcomes we came up with into a GoogleDoc and students tweaked and revised and ultimately voted on them. I opened the online syllabus live at the front of the class when we finished and we updated the learning outcomes based on what they had created and chosen to upvote. Here’s what we ended up with:


FYS Student-Generated Course Objectives


Some of these I love. Some of them I would probably never have included myself. There are others I would have liked to have seen in here, but my suggestions were outvoted. I helped students understand that in our course, we would try to make the learning objectives guide our assignments, so that we were always working towards the things that we thought were important.

Some of you might be thinking that this exercise makes good sense in a FYS, where students are certainly qualified to help articulate what kinds of things they might need to learn in order to succeed in college. How could this work in a Physics course, an upper-level Latin American Studies course, a course on genetics for nurses? I think if instructors bring outcomes from accreditors and departments, and use their expertise to inform students about the kinds of content that will be crucial to their ability to move on in their learning, students can be asked to weigh in and contribute the kinds of ideas that only they would have. Students can be asked to contribute additional outcomes, or, better yet, they can be presented with the real requirements set forth by forces external to the course and then asked– just as faculty are asked– to wrestle with those and decide how they will be included in a way that feels compatible with learner-identified needs. Helping students see learning outcomes as inherently political, subjective, and worthy of critique seems to me a first step to helping them feel a sense of agency in their educational processes.

Student-Generated Assignments

Spending time on the learning objectives made a huge difference. Suddenly, we had a sense that the course wasn’t going to just be about OpenPed, but about how to prepare our group to succeed in college going forward. We set about designing assignments to correspond to learning outcomes. For example, one group worked up an assignment to help us work outside our comfort zones (Learning Outcome #1, which was one that students created and almost unanimously agreed was important). They outlined this assignment in a GoogleDoc:

Trying to get students outside of their comfort zone has been a challenge for years.This assignment is designed to see whether you can perform better when working in a work area that suits you. By reading the articles and finding out what could be your potential comfort zone it gives the reader a better understanding of what could come out of working in a place that they are uncomfortable or comfortable with. This skill is crucial in life to achieve your goals.

Students had a range of choices for this assignment, but those who liked this outline would click on the link below it and be directed to Jake McMaster’s ePort for the full assignment. Here’s Lissa Perry’s blog post in response to this assignment prompt. We built all of this week by week, with a syllabus that started almost completely blank and got filled in as we went along.

Cohesion, Collection, Curation: A “Textbook” Emerges

As the course unfolded, we realized that we were really looking most often at research and ideas about what could help students do well, particularly academically, in college. I introduced the diction of “retention” and “student success,” which was vocabulary that was new to my students. For all the zillions of hours faculty, staff, and administrators spend researching and designing programs around these concepts, we spend very little time talking with students about them directly. Opensem started to focus our assignments more deliberately around the concepts, and incorporate more research into our weekly plans. Students would find articles and post them on GoogleDocs, then pore through them to choose which ones they actually wanted to read and write about. Sometimes they read an article and posted critique and summary, sometimes they extricated quotes that other students could use in larger projects later. Ultimately, the combination of student-generated learning outcomes, student-created assignments, and student-curated readings and summaries began to produce a cohesive body of work that was connected both to the institution’s framework for the course and to the individual learners that were enrolled.

The work was, of course, dispersed across my own website, multiple GoogleSheets and Docs (some made my me, others by students), and the student ePorts. About three-quarters of the way through the class, I offered the idea that we could collate and collect our work into a kind of handbook of sorts, and offer that to future sections of FYS, both at our university and beyond. Students seemed excited that their hard work could be channeled into something that could have life beyond our course. I built a simple PressBooks shell for our work, and students divided into groups to tackle the different chapters that they wanted to write. This was so excellent, since it involved going back through the course and taking individual assignments and grouping them according to theme, and then ranking themes and posts to find out which ones we wanted to include. We also figured out where we had gaps and needed to do new research and write new content.


CCBY Alan Levine https://flic.kr/p/7JE7Ux
CCBY Alan Levine https://flic.kr/p/7JE7Ux

After about three weeks of collating, curating, editing, and writing, we ended up with OpenSem: A Student-Generated Handbook for the First Year of College.  Every single piece of writing in it first appeared on the ePort of a student in the class, and every single piece of writing was connected to our student-generated outcomes and our student-created assignments. In cases where students openly licensed their work, I was able to do a simple cut and paste to bring that work into the “textbook.” When the ePorts were not openly licensed, students could either supply me with permission to use the work or choose not to be included in the textbook (these options were provided, but not ultimately needed since by the end, all had chosen to add some level of CC license on their ePorts). Every student who completed the course (including the one student who did not pass) ended up with material in the final book, even though we did not set out to make that happen on purpose. And here’s the magic: we offered this book up to the knowledge commons, and though it is rough and flawed in spots, it is a real contribution on many levels, to many fields, with application for many courses and future students. Public university students generating great work, sending it off to the public to use it as they wish.

Student-Generated Attendance Policy

Before I conclude here, I wanted to say a couple of words about course policies, and about grading. Students created their own attendance policy for the course. I’ve done this for four sections of classes across different courses so far, and the policy is always different. Sometimes it’s very strict, other times quite lenient. I’ve offered to have no attendance policy at all, but students have never chosen that option. This section chose this one:

We should strive for perfect attendance.  If we miss more than five classes, our final grade will be lowered by 1/3 of a grade.  If we achieve perfect attendance with no absences, we will earn the ability to convert one missed competency to a pass.

Say what you want about its flaws. I certainly did. But I will say that the four sections with student-generated attendance policies seem to have slightly higher attendance rates than the ones where I just had my imposed policy. Anyway, I could talk about this all day long. And then into the night. Suffice it to say that if you want to, you can ask your students what kinds of policies they think will help them learn. My experience tells me that they usually try to answer that question authentically, and they seem to know better than me what the answer is.

Student-Designed Grading Practice

I find grading to be very antithetical to the kind of learner-driven space I am trying to build in my courses these days. But I also choose to teach in a public institution where I have little ability to resist the culture of grading (I have made some structural progress in an Interdisciplinary Studies program that I direct, which will move fully to a P/NP system next Fall). In OpenSem, I decided to let students design the grading process.  It took a couple of weeks (while we simultaneously did other things as well) to hammer it out. Basically, they designed a competency-based model where they would have unlimited time within the confines of the course to improve each assignment if it initially they did not “achieve the competency.” Achieving the competency would require them to meet all of the parameters of the rubrics, which were often designed by the students as they crafted the assignments. Competency would be achieved not at the conventional level of 60/Pass, but at more of a B level, with the idea being that as a connected course, we wanted all work to be share-able, and we wouldn’t want to share work that was just barely passing or below average because this would not be overly helpful to the knowledge commons or helpful to the student author who is trying to develop a readership or community of practice. In an OpenPed Composition section I taught, students had the ability to grade their own work using rubrics that we co-designed (the idea being that grading is a learnable skill just like anything else).  OpenSem students did not want to grade their own work. They decided I would grade them, and they liked that arrangement as long as they could always revise after getting feedback and an initial grade. AGAIN, this topic could generate a 10-page blog post of its own. All I really want to say here is that OpenPed encouraged me to see every aspect of my course as open for rethinking and student involvement, and allowing students to help me set the grading procedures didn’t mean I couldn’t conform to the university’s grading requirements. All in all, the grading practice of the course led to a richer feedback model, a more collegial relationship between me and my students, and a low-pressure environment for learning. The grade distribution at the end of the course was not notably different from what I usually see in my courses, whatever that might indicate.

Connecting Students


Ad for a Twitter chat for our FYS students
Ad for a Twitter chat for FYS students

In an effort to connect #opensem students with other learners outside of our course, we partnered with two other FYS sections at two other colleges.  In collaboration with classes taught by Autumn Caines and George Station, we read an article together, annotated it (check out the annotations here), and organized a day-long slow Twitter chat. You can read Autumn’s post here about how she and George got it off the ground. It was excellent all around, but I especially loved how my students were able to insert their own blog posts into the chat and immediately gain new readers and commenters, which added a thrilling dimension to their sense of authorship. This Twitter chat helped my students understand how to call external participants into their scholarship and thinking, and we used many of the lessons of that small collaboration as we talked about building Personal Learning Networks, working online in public, and contributing our own ideas to the knowledge commons.

Student Feedback

If this kind of info is important to you, the course evaluations were very positive. The course received a 4.4/5 for overall value and a 4.6/5 for contributing to the students’ intellectual growth. As an instructor, I received a 4.9/5 for “overall effectiveness,” which I find interesting considering how often OpenPed gets misunderstood as a pedagogy that deemphasizes teachers; I think OpenPed decenters teachers, critiques some kinds of teacherly authority, and binds learning to learners rather than to courses or instructors, but none of this means that teachers don’t matter or that we can’t be highly effective. Here are three comments from the evals that I think resonate in part with what I have talked about here:

We discussed what we all thought, as a group, was the most valuable to learn through this course. We worked through these skills all through the course and it helped very much being a first year student and new to this environment. We used new technology to learn. which made it fun and educational.

i thought the work was extremely helpful and I will be able to carry what I learned from this class with me in the real world. I wish more classes were set up like this!

I expected this course to be easier than it was.

I am hoping some of my #opensem students will write reflections on our experience (we got so busy at the end of class with our book, we just didn’t have time to do that as part of the class). If they do, I’ll link to them here.

A Word About Tenure

As I fervently conceptualize it, tenure doesn’t exist to protect lazy people. It doesn’t exist to protect bullies. Tenure exists to protect faculty who work on the cutting edge of research, who speak knowledge to power, who critique their institutions so they will better serve students and the public, and who take risks in their teaching in order to facilitate learning. I feel pretty happy with how #opensem turned out for those of us who were part of it, but when I started and at certain points along the way, I was aware that it could have imploded on a number of levels. I believe– I want to believe– that my tenure offered me the protection I needed to take these risks. I am aware that tenure is tenuous all across the U.S. right now. I am also aware that many of my colleagues in the contingent labor force don’t even have basic tenure protections at all, tenuous as they may be. Assess your level of risk before you take these risks with your teaching (or your writing, or your online digital and public identity). And those of us with tenure protections must fight to extend them to those who need them, defend them against those who would strip them away, and resist new HigherEd cost-savings measures that “innovate” without consideration for the importance of academic freedom to teaching and learning. Just a short word to those who like these ideas but don’t feel safe enough, for many reasons, to try them: I see you, and you are right to be both cautious and angry.


Your students can work with you on course learning objectives and policies. They can help build a course management system to organize the learning and work. They can design assignments and a grading process. They can curate readings and other course content to shape what they learn, within whatever given parameters exist. They can publish their research to help them connect with their communities of practice, and they can publish educational materials to help the next generation of learners. As a teacher, you can do all or some of these things, depending on what you think will best serve your students and their diverse identities and circumstances, your academic discipline(s), your institution, and your sanity. And you are not alone. I jumped in with two feet over the last year, and I am happy to share my mistakes and challenges, as well as stuff that led to the moments of joy that enlivened me along the way. Tweet me and let me know how I can help.

Sorry this is rambling, but classes start next week and I got things to do! Wishing you a great semester, filled with learning outcomes you couldn’t begin to plan for yet.


My thanks to the following for inspiring me with specific work that has informed both #opensem and this post:

Chris Gilliard on digital redlining.

sava on how open tends to privilege the privileged.

Gardner Campbell on personal cyberinfrastructures.

On student-centered grading practices, I draw from Cathy N. Davidson, Dave “just because we have to assess it doesn’t mean it can be assessed” Cormier, Chris Friend, Jesse Stommel, and Starr Sackstein.

There are a lot of people who have contributed to my ideas about OpenPed, but here’s just a short list of people whose links I ALWAYS CLICK because they make me think:Rajiv Jhangiani, Maha Bali, Remi Kalir, Catherine Cronin, Kate Bowles, Michael Caulfield.

Quiz: Students as OER Contributors, Evaluators, Co-authors: Robin DeRosa

Beyond Rigor — Sean Michael Morris, Pete Rorabaugh and Jesse Stommel


Intellectually rigorous work lives, thrives, and teems proudly outside conventional notions of academic rigor. Although institutions of higher education only recognize rigor when it mimics mastery of content, when it creates a hierarchy of expertise, when it maps clearly to pre-determined outcomes, there are works of exception — multimodal, collaborative, and playful — that push the boundaries of disciplinary allegiances, and don’t always wear their brains on their sleeves, so to speak.

Hybrid Pedagogy focuses on creating conversations within and outside institutional structures that often eschew multimodal, collaborative, playful work. Through projects like MOOC MOOC and Twitter vs. Zombies, we’ve begun to explore a new sort of communal rigor for the networked learning landscape, which depends on engagement, reflection, and curiosity.

Play is critical inquiry.

The voices that decry collective, playful learning, often do so from the soapbox of rigor: How can this sort of wild learning — that doesn’t aim at specific objectives, that focuses on dialogue and creativity instead of content mastery — ever pass muster as meaningful academic work?

In truth, it cannot. But not because the product of playful learning isn’t meaningful, but because our notion of academic rigor is irrelevant to that product. We must move past our traditional definition of rigorous academic work, and recognize that a learning experience or a pedagogical methodology can be both playful and also have the qualities of the best academic work, if not the reagents of traditional rigor. We hear “rigor,” and the word feels vague and unnerving; or worse, exclusionary. The work we’re describing here is expansive and not exacting — experimental and not insoluble — the moment before (and even anathema to) understanding. This is work where excellence is measured by exception.

Neurologist and teacher Judy Willis states in her book, Research-Based Strategies to Ignite Student Learning: Insights from a Neurologist and Classroom Teacher, “The highest-level executive thinking, making of connections, and ‘aha’ moments are more likely to occur in an atmosphere of ‘exuberant discovery,’ where students of all ages retain that kindergarten enthusiasm of embracing each day with the joy of learning.” Play, experimentation, and collaboration can all lead to important discoveries and deep intellectual inquiry. Yet the results of play are often overlooked because the process leading to them can’t be evaluated within traditional academic models for assessment. (In these cases, the problem is wrongly assigned to the experiment or approach, instead of to the assessments designed to measure the outcomes of a less playful approach. We faced this issue with MOOC MOOC, when outcomes were unpredictable due to the extemporaneous learning that took place. How do you “objectively” grade a Wordle?)

An unhealthy attachment to outcomes discourages experimentation. In Deep Play, Diane Ackerman writes, “We may think of play as optional, a casual activity. But play is fundamental to evolution.” At its best, play functions not as a methodological approach toward a set of outcomes but as the outcome in and of itself. (Elsewhere, we’ve made a similar argument about community.) What is rigorous, then, is not process but our curious examination of the (unforeseen, unexpected) results and their effectiveness.

We must redefine rigor (and find practicable alternatives to rigor) for the connected learning environment. If we begin to parse the learning environment itself, we can determine where rigor lies outside academic standards, and this may help us understand how to revise our digital pedagogies.

Rigor in a networked learning environment emerges when that environment is:

Engaged: Meaningful work arises from genuine inquiry. When we arrest learners’ interest, their work bears the marks of higher critical thinking precisely because the subject resonates with their own concerns and preoccupations.

Critical: We can’t be afraid to critique our own circumstances, our own context. In MOOC MOOC, for example, we saw participants playfully deconstruct not just the MOOC, but the systems we were using to examine the MOOC (our online learning environment, Canvas, and the digital tools we asked participants to compose with).

Curious: A rigorous curiosity underpins the most fruitful work scholars do. However, we often forget that our interests, as those thoroughly enculturated by academia, don’t need to be grafted on to students. Better that we model our passion to know something thoroughly than to merely transmit content or knowledge.

Dynamic: A genuine process of inquiry invites unexpected outcomes — indeed, it does not assume outcomes other than a resolution to the inquiry (which may look a lot like the need for further inquiry). The work we do is framed but also emergent, crowdsourced during and not prior to its unfolding. The rigor is apparent in the framework, in the expectation of what can or may be learned and discovered, but is no less apparent in the creative ways that framework is interpreted and reinvented.

Derivative: A rigorously derivative work is aware of its sources but does not handle them with excessive reverence. (In mathematics, a derivative measures the rate of change as one variable influences another.) A derivative learning environment is attentive and alive, responsive not replicative. It emerges, like the Twitter Vs. Zombies community, across a series of iterative experiments.

In his Introduction to On Critical Pedagogy (2011), Henry Giroux writes, that a commitment to critical pedagogy “provides tools to unsettle commonplace assumptions, theorize matters of self and social agency, and engage the ever-changing demands and promises of a democratic polity.” Giroux’s assessment is apt for anyone wanting to address the changing landscape of online education; it also speaks to connectivist scholars and digital pedagogues interested in digital literacies. We are, when we are at our best, meant to unsettle assumptions, to reorganize our ideas of agency, and to push the boundaries of what is possible in a connected learning environment. How to do this without framing education the way it first appears to each of us: bounded by playgrounds and punctuated by bells for recess?

It’s impossible to ignore that new media practices are changing (have changed) the collaboration and knowledge sharing within and outside of institutions of higher learning. In “Rhizomatic Education: Community as Curriculum”, Dave Cormier writes, “the foundations upon which we are working are changing as well as the speed at which new information must be integrated into those foundations […] Information is coming too fast for our traditional methods of expert verification to adapt.” New media practices — of researching, composing, testing, surveying, and publishing — are developing so quickly that waiting on the traditional publishing cycle to verify knowledge is insufficient. Scholars of digital culture and practitioners of digital collaboration must resort to new methods of knowledge creation, including relocating that creation to spheres outside their own. Vast pools of knowledge are being filled by non-experts, for example. Cormier suggests rhizomatic education — constructing and negotiating community knowledge through a series of interdependent nodes — as a pedagogical solution within quickly changing fields of information. In other words, by connecting to each other, no matter our expertise or station, knowledge grows.

Stephen Ramsay argues, in “The Hermeneutics of Screwing Around; or What You Do with a Million Books,” “there are more books, more ideas, more experiences, more relationships worth having than there are hours in a day (or days in a lifetime).” What this means for learning is that a new kind of order emerges when we consider the content of a course to be the connections that form within and beyond that course. We may provide the content, but this is no different today than scattering LEGOs on a table: what happens next is not up to us. Both the content and the practice of our teaching must shift from a traditional model of schooling to one more compatible with the realities of the digital landscape. Experimentation, inquiry, and play are both the research tools we must use to create online and hybrid classrooms, and also the methodologies best employed within those classrooms.

As educators, the three of us have worked to acclimate students and colleagues to social media environments, encouraging a breaking down of the divide between the work we do in classrooms and the work we do in the world.Testing and canonical content are less vital to the new media landscape than interactivity, play, and relevant application. The online class portal and the brick-and-mortar classroom each have valuable lessons to teach the other, and both must adapt to the developing principles of 21st century education. Online teaching practices especially should encourage these principles — that students “show up,” be curious, collaborate, and contribute. The digital has reminded us that learning happens unexpectedly, and so should our approach to learning be unexpectant. We must return play to education, to pedagogy, and to all scholarly practice.

Some Examples of the New Rigor:

A Comics Dissertation”: Nick Sousanis, a doctoral candidate at Columbia Teachers College, is writing his dissertation in the form of a comic. This interview reveals the reasoning and approach behind his playful reinterpretation of an academic staple. In a blog post, Sousanis discusses “Comics as a Tool for Inquiry.” Not surprisingly, his presentation notes were, themselves, graphic.

DS106: Digital Storytelling is a well-known, highly-respected open-access course offered at University of Mary Washington. This year, DS106 is running a “headless classroom,” without a teacher — an experiment that invites communal rigor in a very real way.

Rap Genius: Rap Genius started as a site for open annotation of rap lyrics but has evolved into a robust community platform for critically analyzing many sorts of text.

Field Notes for 21st Century Literacies: This book was produced by graduate students in a course with Cathy N. Davidson. The text of the work is itself rigorous, but what we find most intensely rigorous is the way the reader is brought into the book’s ongoing creation through simultaneous publishing on communal platforms like Rap Genius, HASTAC, GitHub, and Google Docs.

#arthistory: This project by Charlotte Frost makes #arthistory physically manifest and invites participants to tag, photograph, and share 3-dimensional hashtags. See some additional examples of the #arthistory tag in action on Tumblr.

Last but not least, several seeming larks that, in fact, function as incisive commentary: MOOCthulhuFeminist Ryan Gosling, and “On the Predominance of Cupcakes as a Cultural Form”.

Further Resources [External Links]

Open to Creativity: OEP in the College Classroom — Christopher Barnes

The Non-Disposable Assignment — eLearning, Camosun College

The Non-Disposable Assignment — Enhancing Personalized Learning

Open Digital Pedagogy: Creating a Game-Based Workshop — Charlie Edwards, Jody Rosen, Maura Smale, and Jenna Spevack

Critical Digital Pedagogy — Digital Pedagogy Lab

How Did They Make That (Digital Tools) — Miriam Posner

The (Critical) (Instructional) Design of Digital Pedagogy Lab — Sean Michael Morris

The OpenLab at City Tech — City University of New York


Quiz: Beyond Rigor

Open Pedagogy Notebook Examples

Why have students answer questions when they can write them?

Rajiv Jhangiani

I recently trialled a new assignment in my Social Psychology class: During each of the 10 weeks when there was no scheduled exam I asked my students to write multiple-choice questions. That’s right, they wrote questions instead of merely answering them.

From a pedagogical perspective, I really wanted my students to achieve a deeper level of understanding (e.g., the level it takes in order to craft three plausible distractors). However, this assignment also served a pragmatic purpose in that the open textbook that I use for this course (and that I helped revise) does not yet have a readymade question bank.  By asking my students to craft and peer-review multiple-choice questions based on the concepts covered that week (and scaffolding this process over the semester), I considered I had a budding open pedagogy project on my hands.

Here’s how it went:

  1. The students were asked to write 4 questions each week, 2 factual (e.g., a definition or evidence-based prediction) and 2 applied (e.g., scenario-type).
  2. For the first two weeks they wrote just one plausible distractor (I provided the question stem, the correct answer, and 2 plausible distractors). They also peer reviewed questions written by 3 of their (randomly assigned) peers. This entire procedure was double blind and performed using Google forms for the submission and Google sheets for the peer review.
  3. For the next two weeks they wrote two plausible distractors (the rest of the procedure was the same).
  4. For the next two weeks they wrote all 3 plausible distractors (the rest of the procedure was the same).
  5. For the remainder of the semester they wrote the stem, the correct answer, and all the distractors.

I adapted existing guidelines about how to write effective multiple-choice distractors and how to provide constructive peer feedback and produced these two brief guides:

Guidelines for writing effective distractors for multiple-choice questions

Guidelines for providing constructive peer feedback

The result? My small class of 35 students wrote 1400 questions in the span of 10 weeks. And although I wouldn’t consider this a polished question bank ready for use by other instructors, I still consider this assignment to have been a success because the questions steadily improved over the semester (the experience of serving as peer reviewers was especially useful to the students when constructing their own questions). The students were also buoyed and motivated by my practice of including a few of their best questions on each of the three course exams. Looking forward, I plan to have my next cohort of Social Psychology students revise and add to this bank. I figure that it will take only a couple of semesters for us to provide the commons with a high-quality question bank, something that will enable even more instructors to adopt this open textbook.

If you have attempted something similar or would even like to collaborate with me on this assignment, please write a comment below or otherwise get in touch. Your feedback is very welcome.

This post is a copy of the blog postWhy Have Students Answer Questions When They Can Write Them?which was published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Sample Assignments & Resources

OER-Enabled Pedagogy — Open Education Group

OER-Enabled Pedagogy is the set of teaching and learning practices only practical in the context of the 5R permissions characteristic of open educational resources. Some people – but not all – use the terms “open pedagogy” or “open educational practices” synonymously.

The purpose of this page is to provide a list of concrete examples of how OER-enabled pedagogy, is implemented in the real world. (We appreciate earlier efforts to collect examples like this one by BC Campus). We’ve kept our descriptions brief and, where possible, linked directly to the artifacts students have created or to articles that provide more information on what they did. Please send additional examples to David Wiley and we will add them to this list with a credit.

Please see this article for further thoughts on a definition of OER-enabled pedagogy.

Examples from the Real World

Students write or edit Wikipedia articles

  • Murder, Madness & Mayhem assigned students to edit (and if necessary create) Wikipedia articles about lesser known Latin American authors.
  • Azzam assigned fourth-year medical students to edit and improve Wikipedia articles related to public health topics.
  • See additional Wikipedia-based assignments here and here. Also, see this report that 6% of edits to science articles in on Wikipedia in April 2016 were made by students.

Students remix audiovisual materials to both entertain and inform

Students create or revise/remix entire textbooks

Students openly license supplemental materials they create for each other

  • Teachers atMountain Heights Academy encourage students to create openly licensed study guides, review games, tutorial videos, and other materials which they review and integrate into their courses.

Students create test banks

  • Jhangiani describes a Social Psychology course in which 35 students created over 1400 test questions for a quiz bank.

Students create their own assignments

  • DS106 has students create (or remix) and share assignments, together with worked examples, difficulty ratings, and tutorials for how to successfully complete the assignment.

Additional Ideas

Here are some other ideas for engaging in open pedagogy that we haven’t yet seen in the real world. If you’ve seen them, let us know.

Students create tutorial videos

  • Students can create tutorial videos for a particular topic or assignment. These tutorial videos could cover a wide range of topics such as teaching specific skills, summarizing key concepts, providing worked examples, or creating connections to student lives.

Students create summaries

  • Students can create written or video-based presentations that summarize key aspects of the storyline, character, interpretation, symbolism, etc. These summaries could be both used by and improved upon by future generations of learners.

Students create worked examples

  • Students can create worked examples that provide other students with step-by-step templates of how to do problems (these are particularly popular in math), like this one, specifically in topics that have proven troublesome to students in past semesters.

Students connect principles with popular culture

  • Students can explain how principles studied in class are exemplified in popular media like movies, television, music, or books.

Students create games

  • Students can create games to be played by future generations of learners to help them prepare for, or deepen their learning on, specific topics.

Students create guided notes

  • Students create guides to direct other students through readings or lecture.

Quiz: Sample Assignments & Resources



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Engaging Learners with OER by Christina Hendricks, Rajiv Jhangiani, Jody R. Rosen, Maura A. Smale, Robin DeRosa, Sean Michael Morris, Pete Rorabaugh, Jesse Stommel, Open Education Group, and David Wiley is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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