A Win for Open

In my last post, I wrote about a new experiment in open pedagogy in my two sections of Introduction to Media and Cultural Studies. My students had been writing excellent overviews of the chapters in the textbook for the class and I thought it was a shame that I was the only one who would ever get to see them. I explained my thinking to my students and let them decide whether we would change the way the class worked. Together, we could write a new open textbook (Open Educational Research or OER) for our course and the many other courses like ours at universities around the country. That was three weeks ago.

We started with a chapter on Print Media (books, newspapers, and magazines). For each medium, we need to write about 5 things: the specific functions, the historical development, the financial model (how the industry makes money), the current business issues, and prospects for the future. The students were already working in groups so each group took a particular topic. We went to the library to do some research (with the excellent help of Anne Jung-Mathews). I shared copies of other textbooks used in courses like ours so students could see the commonalities and differences of the approaches the various books take towards our topic. The students did research online. Christin Wixson, another fabulous librarian from Lamson Library, came to our class to talk about copyright and Creative Commons licensing. As they gathered their research, the students began to write their sections of the OER.

Last week, we did some peer review of their first drafts. Students in my first section of the class reviewed the work of students in the second section and vice versa. They made comments on the drafts in our Sharepoint site and filled out a kind of broad rubric about the work. The project seemed to be moving forward, albeit somewhat messily as we figured out what seemed to work and what didn’t.

Then on Thursday, one of the groups in my first section of the class told me that they hate this project, that they are confused and don’t know what they’re doing, and that they want to go back to the way I was teaching the course before I suggested we work on the OER. I talked to them about their confusion, which seemed to be focused on what I want the format of the work to be. I tried to explain that this truly is their work and they should present their material in the way that they think will be most effective to explain their topic to other students. One student said that she learned more with the other approach. I grant that that might be true in the short term since we would have “covered” one major topic (like Print Media) per week using the old model. But, I argued, I think they will understand the material and retain it better using this new approach since, in my experience both as a teacher and as a student, learning material in order to take an exam on it typically means that the student (myself included when I was a student) forgets the material once they take a test. They argued that this is not true for them.

I turned the question over to the class about whether they’d like to go back to the other way of doing things. There are 17 students in that section of the class. Five said they want to go back to the other way (4 of the 5 students from this group and 1 student from another group). I gave the same option to my other section of the class. Of the 26 students in that section, 2 said they’d like to go back to the other way. In other words, 7 students out of 43 rebelled against the move to open pedagogy. So I am going to offer two versions of the class–one based on what I had originally planned for the class and the other creating the OER.

I am very proud of the group of students who talked to me about their unhappiness. I see their willingness to challenge me as a win for open pedagogy. I think they saw that I was serious about the idea that they should be in charge of their education and so they felt comfortable enough to ask for something other than what we were doing in the class. I still think they would learn the material (and other lessons) better if they continued to work on the OER so I think their rejection of that approach has something to do with my lack of ability to fully explain what the OER project is all about. I will work on that. But in the meantime, I choose to see this as a win for open.

And now I’ll be busy for the next few weeks figuring out how to run two versions of the class.

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