Rajiv Jhangiani, Ph.D.

Open Education, SoTL, Psychology

Author: Rajiv Jhangiani (page 1 of 2)

Pragmatism vs. Idealism and the Identity Crisis of OER Advocacy

In a couple of weeks I will be in Cape Town, presenting at the 2017 OE Global Conference. This blog post is a preview of some of the ideas I will discuss during my talk (which shares the title of this blog post). A longer version of this post is currently under review in Open Praxis.

Funny Gears by Alan Levine (CC-BY 2.0)

Funny Gears by Alan Levine (CC-BY 2.0)

The open education movement has made and continues to make great strides, with the creation, adaptation, and adoption of OER slowly but surely becoming mainstream practice. However, as the adolescent OE movement enters a growth spurt that may see its use as primary courseware triple within five years, some noticeable paradoxes have emerged that hint at an identity crisis within the OE movement and, in particular, within OER advocacy.

Free vs. Freedom

Open education advocates customarily define OER as “beyond free,” based on the permissions to reuse, revise, remix, retain, and redistribute these resources. However, in practice, OER advocacy often centres on the unaffordability of commercial textbooks and the cost savings associated with the adoption of open textbooks (i.e. merely “free”). On the one hand, this appears appropriate, even pragmatic, given the significance of the burden of student loan debt in North America and the impact of escalating textbook costs on students’ educational choices and outcomes. Moreover, textbooks are a familiar entity to academics, and, unlike with tuition fees and costs of living, faculty control adoption decisions and consequently the cost of required course materials. At the same time, this narrow focus on cost savings is immediately less relevant in countries where faculty are less reliant on expensive textbooks. In fact, it may not even be pragmatic in North America, as recent research shows that the cost of resources is among the least-considered factors for U.S. faculty when assigning required course materials. Moreover, although a cost-savings framing appeals most directly to student groups, as pointed out it is faculty who control adoption decisions. Finally, framing OER in terms of zero cost (one among many implications of open licensing) may unintentionally constrain the use of the permissions that come along with OER and disengage faculty from the opportunity to move away from bending their courses onto the structure of a textbook. Indeed, faculty who reuse, redistribute, and retain OER (themselves a minority) continue to greatly outnumber those who revise and remix OER, a pattern that may be perpetuated through the best of intentions of OER advocates. As Weller and his colleagues put it:

if cost savings were the only goal, then OERs are not the only answer. Materials could be made free, or subsidized, which are not openly licensed. The intention behind the OER approach is that it has other benefits also, in that educators adapt their material, and it is also an efficient way to achieve the goal of cost savings, because others will adapt the material with the intention of improving its quality, relevance or currency. (pp. 84-85)

Evolution vs. Revolution

OER advocates often highlight the advantages of the internet and digital technologies, especially as they enable the marginal cost of reproduction and distribution of educational resources to approach zero. However, the OER movement itself continues to grapple with questions from a pre-digital past, such as the responsibility of updated editions of open textbooks and the development of ancillary materials such as question banks. Although OER funders may (rightly) consider these matters stumbling blocks which, if not addressed, would inhibit uptake, employing the language of the commercial textbook industry runs the risk of dragging along a traditional mindset based on the top-down delivery of static and (falsely) scarce information. This begs a broader question: If open educational practices are a game changer, why are OER advocates playing by the rules of the commercial textbook industry?

Framing OER as free, digital versions of expensive print textbooks also risks playing directly into the hands of commercial textbook publishers who are in the midst of a pivot away from a business model based on selling “new editions” of print textbooks every three years to one based on leasing 180-day access to digital content delivery platforms. As post-secondary administrators begin to more seriously consider the social and fiscal consequences of high textbook costs, it will be tempting for them to capitulate to aggressive sales pitches from publishing coalitions that exchange faculty choice and student agency for slightly discounted digital textbooks. In order to avoid the most effective arguments of OER advocates being further co-opted by commercial publishers (e.g., see this product brochure from Pearson Education for their digital platform that cites data on the impact of OER adoption on student outcomes) and especially to realize the full potential of OER, the goal posts must be placed further than simply cheaper textbooks. As Robin DeRosa, an open educator who clearly favours revolution over evolution, puts it, “Fundamentally, I don’t want to be part of a movement that is focused on replacing static, over-priced textbooks with static, free textbooks.”

Resources vs. Practices

The tensions between cost savings and textbooks on the one hand and the affordances of open licenses and digital technologies on the other are manifested by contrasting emphases on OER vs. open educational practices (OEP). The latter is a broader, superordinate category that encompasses the adoption of OER and even open course design and development, but which places pedagogy (and therefore students) at its core. OEP most often manifests in the form of course assignments in which students update or adapt OER (e.g., with local examples or statistics), create OER (e.g., instructional videos or even test questions), or otherwise perform scaffolded public scholarship (e.g., writing op-ed pieces or annotating readings on the open web). Crucially, adopting OEP requires more of a shift of mindset than does adopting OER, more critical reflection about the roles of the instructor and the student when education continues to be based on content consumption rather than critical digital literacy despite information (and misinformation) being abundant. As David Wiley writes in his blog (albeit with the byline “pragmatism over zeal”), “when faculty ask themselves ‘what else can I do because of these permissions?’, we’ve come within striking distance of realizing the full power of open.”

Happily, advocating for OEP avoids the problem of inadvertently striking a judgmental tone when describing non-OER users (who may have excellent reasons supporting their choice) because discussions about innovation are not driven by guilt or avoidance. Rather, OEP articulates a vision of education that is aspirational and driven by an approach motivation. Within this broader vision, significant cost savings to students are the least significant benefit of OER.

Idealism vs. Pragmatism

The psychologist Erik Erikson articulated an eight-stage theory of psychosocial development that centered on an adolescent crisis between identity and role confusion (1956). During this stage, which persists through the college years, the adolescent begins to struggle with questions about who they really are and what they hope to achieve.

Although Erikson developed his theory to better understand lifespan development within individuals and not social movements, it is difficult to ignore the parallels between the tensions of an adolescent OE movement and the adolescent identity crisis that he described. Specifically, I believe that the frictions described above between “merely free” and “beyond free,” resources and practices, and evolution and revolution are each symptomatic of a psychosocial crisis within the OE movement that pits pragmatism against idealism.

Although OER advocates may understand and even experience both impulses, their goals and strategies often reflect one or the other. For example, whereas idealists push for for radical change that questions the status quo, pragmatists seek to build incrementally on the status quo. Whereas idealists might work through collaborative networks such as faculty learning communities, pragmatists might work to create grant programs for individual faculty to create, adapt, or adopt OER. And whereas idealists emphasize student-centered, personalized solutions that foreground process and agency, pragmatists emphasize instructor-centered turnkey solutions that foreground content and efficiency.

Outlined like this, it is easy to recognize the merits of both strategies. Indeed, idealists would do well to recognize that open textbook adoption tangibly benefits students in material and educational terms that are not insignificant. On the other hand, pragmatists might recognize that the idealistic approach is appealing to those for whom the construct of a traditional textbook is a dinosaur best served by a meteor strike (and can therefore can be pragmatic).

An Integrative Solution to the Crisis

Given that Erikson believed that the individual could not be understood in terms that were separate from his or her social context (1959), I believe the key to resolving this crisis lies with an integrated approach that is sensitive to the diversity across and within the audiences whom we seek to serve.

As I have written elsewhere:

For faculty who enjoy experimenting and innovating, open textbook adoption does feel like a meagre position to advocate. These are instructors who care deeply about authentic and open pedagogy, who may take full advantage of the permissions to revise and remix, and who understand that adopting OEP is really just about good pedagogy and in that sense is not at all radical.

On the other hand,

there are faculty who currently adopt high-priced, static textbooks but care enough about their students to feel guilty about this decision (principled agents in a principal-agent dilemma). In at least some of these cases, the ensuing guilt leads them to bend the course to map onto the textbook, which, while not an example of great pedagogy, could be construed as an empathic response that ameliorates both their guilt and their students’ resentment. This is . . . where the social justice case for open textbooks may resonate particularly well.

According to Weller and his colleagues, there are three categories of OER users:

1) The OER active are

engaged with issues around open education, are aware of open licenses, and are often advocates for OERs . . . An example of this type of user might be the community college teacher who adopts an openly licensed textbook, adapts it and contributes to open textbooks. (pp. 80-81)

2) OER as facilitator

may have some awareness of OER, or open licenses, but they have a pragmatic approach toward them. OERs are of secondary interest to their primary task, which is usually teaching . . . Their interest is in innovation in their own area, and therefore OERs are only of interest to the extent that they facilitate innovation or efficiency in this. An example would be a teacher who uses Khan Academy, TED talks and some OER in their teaching. (p. 82)

3) Finally, OER consumers

will use OER amongst a mix of other media and often not differentiate between them. Awareness of licences is low and not a priority. OERs are a “nice to have” option but not essential, and users are often largely consuming rather than creating and sharing. An example might be students studying at university who use iTunes U materials to supplement their taught material. For this type of user, the main features of OERs are their free use, reliability and quality. (p. 85)

This taxonomy serves as a useful guide to OER advocates seeking to diversify or tailor their outreach strategy. For instance, OER consumers may be most interested in open textbooks and related ancillary resources that can be deployed with little or no effort. For this group, unfettered access for their students is highly desirable, with cost savings a nice bonus. On the other hand, the OER active group will be more sensitive to the impact of cost savings while also keen to learn more about the permissions to revise and remix OER. Finally, those in the OER as facilitator group will be excited by the potential to involve students in the creation or adaptation of OER via renewable assignments. Of course, this is far from an exhaustive list of strategic possibilities and only aims to illustrate the mechanics of an integrative approach.

Despite its merits, it would be naïve to believe that adopting an integrative approach would eradicate all tension within the OE movement. Idealists may continue to insist on the application of CC licenses that meet the definition of “free cultural works.” Pragmatists, on the other hand, will acknowledge that OER creators may have reasonable grounds for including a Noncommercial (NC) or even a NoDerivatives (ND) clause, even though an Attribution-only license (CC-BY) facilitates the maximum impact of OER. Pragmatists may also want to first ensure basic access for all whereas idealists may think it arrogant to insist that students first need access to required resources before partnering in pedagogical innovation. But while these tensions will not disappear, I believe it essential that we recognize both drives and have a deliberate, nuanced conversation about how best to harness both idealism and pragmatism in service of the goals of the OE movement.

So What’s Next?

In Erikson’s lifespan theory, the stages that follow adolescence pit intimacy against isolation (young adulthood), generativity against stagnation (middle adulthood), and, finally, integrity against despair (later adulthood). If these at all suggest a trajectory for the OE movement beyond its current adolescence, its advocates should aim for the next phase to involve a lot more collaboration among faculty and students, both across institutions and cohorts. This shift will require tools that support radically transparent collaboration (e.g., see the Rebus Community for Open Textbook Creation) but especially a break from traditional (opaque, territorial, top-down) approaches to curriculum design and development. As the proverb says, “if you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

Greater collaboration and a true democratization of the process of OER development will in turn engender a move away from philanthropic, government, and other unsustainable funding models in favour of a grassroots-based, community-driven, self-sustaining approach that resembles a bazaar in its connectivity and generativity far more than it does a cathedral.

Achieving this, while neither easy nor assured, is a necessary step for the OE movement on its path to becoming more critical, more self-aware, and more inclusive of a diversity of voices. In other words, a movement characterized by integrity, not despair.

Why have students answer questions when they can write them?

Questions by Alan Levine (CC-BY 2.0). Retrieved from https://flic.kr/p/mrQ1x1

Questions by Alan Levine (CC-BY 2.0). Retrieved from https://flic.kr/p/mrQ1x1

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.

2016: My Year in Review

2016 was a busy, unforgettable year.

By the numbers, 28 keynotes or invited talks, 12 conference presentations, 2 published chapters + 2 in press, 2 published journal articles + 2 in press, and 1 edited FAQ site.

This was a year for both family and opportunity, some setbacks but much progress, the occasional need to pitch a battle or take a principled stand, the discovery of many new allies, and the opportunity to meet many personal heroes.

It began at St. Pete’s beach in Florida at the National Institute for the Teaching of Psychology (where I will be again this week), co-hosting a discussion titled “Textbooks are dead and traditional assignments suck” with my dear friend Robert Biswas-Diener (aka the “Indiana Jones of Positive Psychology”; aka Senior Editor of NOBA Psychology). Although I would step down from my position as Associate Editor of NOBA in May, Robert and I continued to work together for the rest of the year, editing and writing chapters for our forthcoming volume, “Open: The philosophy and practices that are revolutionizing education and science.” With any luck this book will be published by Ubiquity Press (open access, duh) early in 2017. I am so grateful to Robert for his boldness (“we should publish a book!”) and to our contributors for their enthusiastic support and for sharing their hard-earned insights.

January also marked my first campus visit for the Open Textbook Network at the University of Washington, during which I had the honour of shadowing David Ernst and Sarah Cohen. In truth, I was blown away when they asked me to join the OTN team a few months earlier and have since thoroughly enjoyed facilitating faculty workshops for the OTN at Temple University (April), the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (September), George Fox University (also September), and the University of Northern Iowa (October).

February was PACKED and had me thanking the lord that I don’t teach in the Spring. A guest lecture at the University of British Columbia was followed by keynote addresses or invited talks for Campus Stores Canada, the University of Waterloo, McMaster University, Sheridan College, and Ryerson University (phew!), and an unforgettable Hewlett Foundation grantees meeting aboard a riverboat sailing up the Mississippi from New Orleans.

March began in Knoxville, Tennessee, where I gave a talk for the Psychology Department and then went on a road trip with my dear friend and collaborator (in all things, including Kriss Kross karaoke) Erin Hardin through Chattanooga to Atlanta. There we co-presented on our article about skill development in Intro Psych at the Southeastern Teaching of Psychology conference. I flew back from Atlanta just in time to leave again for Edmonton, where I keynoted at the U of Alberta’s Open Education week event, reuniting over dinner with future collaborator Danielle Paradis. I participated in a panel discussion (once again, for Open Education week) at UBC and hosted the generous Paul Stacey at Kwantlen for a talk about all things Creative Commons. March wound up with two more guest lectures (at the Justice Institute of BC) and another talk, this one on the Psychology of Genocide at the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre, to students about to take part in the March of the Living.

In April Surita and I took the boys to India—their first trip and my first in 7 years—which involved family reunions aplenty, city hopping, gully cricket, divine food, serious heat, fun shopping, and delicious mangoes. Back just in time for the start of the summer semester.

May hit the ground running with four classes, two interviews, and a webinar for the Community College Consortium for Open Educational Resources. Plenty of meetings that month, including with the Association of BC students about OER advocacy strategy and a delightful lunch with the even more delightful Sirish Rao, who convinced me to give a talk at the upcoming Indian Summer festival.

June sent me to Sarnia, Ontario, where I gave a talk and a workshop about OER at Lambton College. Oh and then I broke my hand. And fingers. At cricket practice, no less. Sadly this was right after I took a wicket (top of off stump, if that means anything to you—AND IT SHOULD). Even more sadly, it ended my cricket season and took me out of the classroom for a few weeks as I couldn’t type or drive or much else normally. Much pain, much rehab, and an increasingly smelly cast (TMI, I know).

July featured a GO-GN webinar and that 5×15 talk at the Indian Summer festival (about privilege, moral justifications, and the psychological foundations of evil). And much more rehab.

August brought a welcome if brief getaway with the family in Whistler, followed by the American Psychological Association conference (my first, in Denver), the Open Textbook Network summer institute (at the University of Minnesota), meetings aplenty with friends from THE Ohio State U, Plenty of Fish, the Commonwealth of Learning, BCcampus, an instructor at Maskwacis Cultural College in Alberta interested in adopting OER, and a group I puled together to began planning and organizing the inaugural Open Education Ontario summit.

September and the start of the new semester brought me back to campus to teach three courses, visit North Carolina and Oregon for the OTN, give a keynote  at Alexander College in Burnaby, and give a talk as part of POF Talks in Vancouver.

October was unforgettable and began en route to Inverness in Scotland (via lovely Amsterdam) to represent KPU at the annual OERu Partners’ meeting. An immensely productive meeting in a positively breathtaking location with my dear friends Brian Lamb and Irwin DeVries. Back (groggy-eyed and caffeine-fueled) in time for the BCcampus Open Education Strategy Session at BCIT in downtown Vancouver, followed a week later by a cherished trip with my older son—his first accompanying me on a work trip. This one was at Oregon State U where we were hosted by the incredible and kind (and incredibly kind) Dianna Fisher. No doubt the first of many such trips for K and I.

October wrapped with a trip to Northern Iowa, another interview, Open Access Week events at Simon Fraser University and KPU, and the Fall ETUG workshop, where I got to see Audrey Watters (for the first time since South Africa)and meet Kin Lane (for the first time).

The penultimate month rivalled the second for busyness, with the Open Education Conference (Richmond, Virginia, four presentations), a keynote address at Mount Royal University in Calgary (bonus dinner with Amanda Coolidge at the Calgary airport!), and my first OpenCon conference (Washington, DC, one panel). Plus all the teaching and wrapping up an editing project for 100 FAQs about OER for the Commonwealth of Learning.

And finally, December marked the end of the semester, sent me into my grading bunker for a couple of weeks, and more importantly allowed me to enjoy the Christmas break with the boys before the travel madness of January arrives.

At KPU, I believe we accomplished a lot during 2016. We surpassed 100 course adoptions for open textbooks, held workshops for our community about Creative Commons licensing and Open Pedagogy, launched and oversaw the first round of a small grants program for faculty wishing to adapt or adopt OER, applied for external grants to support our work, conducted research, raised awareness, and continued taking proactive steps towards a culture of Open. KPU also created a new position—via a 50% faculty teaching release—known as the University Teaching Fellow in Open Studies. I applied, interviewed, and, to my delight and everlasting gratitude, was successful in this competition. This finally gives me what I have always sought—the time to do what I have been doing so far off the side of my desk (and at the cost of a reasonable work-life balance) and gives me great reason for optimism in 2017.

So, to Amanda Coolidge, Mary Burgess, Jesse Stommel, Robin DeRosa, Martin Weller, Brian Lamb, Irwin DeVries, Wayne Mackintosh, David Wiley, David Porter, Kelsey Wiens, Dianna Fisher, Sarah Cohen, David Ernst, Joshua Bolick, Amy Collier, Sean Michael Morris, Audrey Watters, Danielle Paradis, Nicole Allen, Heather Joseph, Paul Stacey, Brady Yano, Cable Green, Clint Lalonde, Tannis Morgan, Alan Levine, Grant Potter, Jamison Miller, Jon Tennant, Beck Pitt, Rob Farrow, Christina Hendricks, Sara Trettin, Karen Bjork, Amy Hofer, Meg Brown-Sica, Steven J. Bell, Beth Bernhardt, Ishan Abeywardena, Robert Biswas-Diener, Peter Lindberg, Merinda McLure, Shawn Gilbertson, Erika Smith, Cari Merkley, Jess Mitchell, Jutta Treviranus, Lena Patterson, Leonora Zefi, Alexa Roggeveen, Joe Kim, TJ Bliss, John Hilton, Serena Henderson, Erin Hardin, Sirish Rao, Tara Robertson, Erin McKiernan, Shirley Lew, Baharak, Rick Overeem, Michelle Brailley, Lin Brander, Debra Flewelling, Trish Rosseel, Delmar Larsen, Scott Marsden, Tom Woodward, Viv Rolfe, David Kernohan (and others whom I have no doubt missed):

You are my family, in open education, in pedagogy, and in social justice. You have enriched my life. And I am grateful.

I can’t wait to continue to change the world with you in 2017.

Review, Revise, Adopt. Rinse and Repeat.

I am often asked about how I got involved with the open textbook movement. My red pill moment was when I first heard the term “OER” uttered by David Wiley in May 2013 at an annual workshop held at Thompson Rivers University for faculty in their Open Learning division. This is when I began to see the Matrix for what it was—an artificial, parasitic, publisher-driven system in which faculty are unwitting carriers. Continue reading

Principles vs. Publishers

This is been an interesting week. Yesterday I made the decision to formally withdraw a chapter from an edited volume about themes for teaching Introductory Psychology. It was not an easy decision because I had put a lot of thought and energy into the chapter, made the necessary revisions, and even saw it accepted by the editors more than a year ago (a change in editorial staff at Cengage prompted the massive delay). So you can imagine my surprise a few weeks ago when I received a very curious email from a “Product Manager” at Cengage. Continue reading

The opposite of open is broken

The opposite of open is not closed; the opposite of open is broken. The more I think about it, the more this cogent observation, made by John Wilbanks, resonates with me. Continue reading

Idealism or pragmatism? A false dichotomy in four tweets

Continue reading

Are open textbooks the end game?

“I don’t want to be part of a movement that is focused on replacing static, over-priced textbooks with static, free textbooks.” I hope Robin DeRosa’s thoughtful post about open textbooks provokes some reflection on the tone and goals of the open textbook movement and its advocates. It begs the question of whether we are waging the wrong war here, at least in part. Continue reading

Pilot testing open pedagogy

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. Continue reading

Tunnelling up: Announcing a new book project

A measure of salvation by cujoquan. Retrieved from https://flic.kr/p/Lnp6f CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0

The open education community is multidisciplinary and consists of passionate and intrinsically motivated leaders. In inspiring one another, we serve as caretakers of our mutual flame. We are the core. Continue reading

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