Rajiv Jhangiani, Ph.D.

Open Education, SoTL, Psychology

Category: Open textbooks

“If you could tell a new open textbook author one thing, what would it be?”

Earlier this year, Linda Frederiksen (Head of Access Services, Washington State University Vancouver) reached out to me (along with several others) and posed this question. She has since done a wonderful job of synthesizing these suggestions into a chapter titled “Ten Tips for Authoring Success,” itself part of a new guide for Authoring Open Textbooks, edited by Melissa Falldin and Karen Lauritsen from the Open Textbook Network.

I encourage you to read all of the ten tips provided by brilliant colleagues such as Amanda Coolidge, Lauri Aesoph, Dianna Fisher, Quill West, Amy Hofer, Mike Caulfield, and others. Here is what I wrote:

To your question, “What Is The One Thing Every New Open Textbook Author Should Know?”, I would say that although constructing an open textbook is easier when you think about it in terms of a conventional textbook structure (e.g., sub sections within chapters that may also be grouped into sections), know that the most exciting elements of OER have to do with the greatest weaknesses of conventional textbooks. With an open textbook you have the ability to update content frequently, so write with this in mind (e.g., do not keep referring to one particular study as this may be replaced over time). Think about how you might take advantage of the digital platform by embedding interactive simulations, videos, and online activities. Consider how you can invite students into the process of OER creation, even if through personal application questions or small exercises. And finally, do not wait for your open textbook to be in some mythical “perfect” state before releasing it to the community. Pilot it, collect student feedback, and revise. Consider this an iterative process that you own. And if you are feeling a bit bolder, develop the textbook itself in the open, permitting and even inviting feedback from colleagues as you develop each sub-section. It may seem daunting to open yourself up to that level of scrutiny, but the resource will be far stronger for it. If you think about it, this is what the process of opening education is all about.

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.

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

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

Textbooks? Where we’re going we don’t need textbooks!

Back to the future time machine

As many of you will remember, 2015 is the “future” year in the beloved 1985 film “Back to the Future.” Although this may make you chuckle, I believe that Doc Brown had it right and that at least part of the future is here.

Consider this: In a now-famous blog post, David Wiley argued that “using OER the same way we used commercial textbooks misses the point. It’s like driving an airplane down the road. Yes, the airplane has wheels and is capable of driving down on the road (provided the road is wide enough). But the point of an airplane is to fly at hundreds of miles per hour – not to drive. Driving an airplane around, simply because driving is how we always traveled in the past, squanders the huge potential of the airplane.”

As always, David makes an important point in a persuasive fashion. But let me add what I believe is the perfect meme to his argument with a slightly amended version of the famous final scene of the iconic film:Doc Brown meme

From believer to dOER

It was in May of 2013 that I first heard David Wiley speak about open textbooks. That experience catalyzed my involvement with reviewing, adopting, and adapting open educational resources (OER). In May of 2014 I heard David speak once again (as the keynote speaker at last year’s Open Textbook Summit). Since then I have been immersed in research projects on the impact and efficacy of OER, advocacy as a Faculty Fellow with BCcampus (including a number of workshops at universities in BC), and a second open textbook revision. Of course all of this means that it has been rather too long since my last post and that I have a number of open education-related updates to share:

1. I recently concluded the data collection phase of a major survey of BC faculty who have adopted open educational resources (OER) in the classroom. The online survey was a collaboration with BCcampus, with whom I work as a Faculty Fellow (along with Christina Hendricks and Jessie Key), and Beck Pitt of the UK-based OER Research Hub. We are currently in the process of analyzing these data but the preliminary results look very promising. Among other things, the responses to the survey will shed more light on the types of OER that faculty have been using, their motivations for using OER, barriers, enablers, and a host of other contextual information that will help us to develop roadmaps for OER adoption and adaptation within the BC post-secondary context.

2. I just launched a major survey of BC students aimed at assessing the impact of open textbook adoption on their personal and educational outcomes, including cost savings, employment status, course performance, and program completion rates.

3. I am collaborating with my colleagues Farhad Dastur and Richard Le Grand in carrying out a quasi-experimental investigation of the impact of open textbook adoption on students taking introductory psychology at KPU.

4. Also with Farhad Dastur, I developed a course on Research Methods in Psychology for Thompson Rivers University’s Open Learning Division and the OERu. The course is unique in that it has been constructed entirely with OER and resides in Wikieducator.

5. I am putting the finishing touches to a chapter I wrote titled “Unleashing openness in the teaching of introductory psychology.” The chapter will be published later this year in a book about Thematic Approaches to Teaching Introductory Psychology. As soon as it is ready I will post a copy on this site. [Update (May 24, 2015): A pre-publication copy is now available online].

6. I co-facilitated a webinar during Open Education week titled “Distinguishing the dOERs” during which Beck Pitt and I shared some data from our research on faculty adopters and adapters of OER.

7. Over the next few months I will give a number of presentations about open textbooks, open educational resources, and open pedagogy at a variety of meetings and conferences, including the following:

  • “Using open pedagogy to promote critical skill development” at the Teaching Introductory Psychology – North West Conference
  • “Giving psychology away: The impact of open textbook adoption on psychology students” at the 2015 Psychology Articulation Meeting.
  • “An openness to openness: The terrifying and liberating process of disrupting higher education” – the keynote address at the 2015 Open Textbook Summit. Vancouver, Canada
  • “Academic librarians and OER: Access, advocacy, and activism” at the 2015 BC Library Conference, Vancouver, Canada.

I am looking forward to each of these but was especially honoured to be invited to deliver the keynote address at the Open Textbook Summit. I am not yet certain that I am deserving of following in David’s footsteps but will do my darndest to deliver a memorable experience.

8. Finally, I should say that it has been wonderful to see the Open Education movement get so much local press lately. Given that awareness of OER is still a major barrier, I have been delighted to see press releases from the Ministry of Advanced Education, an interview with CBC Radio, and articles in the Surrey Now, Indo-Canadian Voice, Chilliwack Times, and The Link feature our work. This coverage really helps raise awareness and build momentum which, together with a supportive institutional culture, will create more many more believers and, I daresay, a few more dOERs.

OER for Psychology

Later this week Farhad Dastur and I will present at a symposium at the Annual Conference on the Teaching of Psychology in Atlanta, organized by the Society for the Teaching of Psychology. Our symposium is titled “Opening up psychology: Adopting open textbooks, open pedagogy, and an open philosophy in the classroom.” The following is a list of some Psychology-specific OER for those who attend our symposium. It is not an exhaustive list by any means but is a start: [Click here to download the list: Psychology OER]

NOBA Project: http://nobaproject.com/

BC Open Textbook Project: http://open.bccampus.ca/

Resources for Teaching Research and Statistics in Psychology: http://www.teachpsychscience.org/

Go Cognitive: http://www.gocognitive.net

Cognitive Psychology Wiki: http://cognitivepsychology.wikidot.com/

STP Office of Teaching Resources in Psychology: http://teachpsych.org/otrp/resources/index.php

APA Online Psychology Laboratory: http://opl.apa.org/

Personality Pedagogy: http://personalitypedagogy.arcadia.edu/

Animations for Teaching: http://garyfisk.com/anim/index.html

Social Psychology Teaching Resources: http://www.socialpsychology.org/teaching.htm

Timothy Bender’s Memory & Cognition Demonstrations: http://courses.missouristate.edu/timothybender/mem/mydemos.html

Rossman/Chance Applet Collection: http://www.rossmanchance.com/applets/index.html

Consortium for the Advancement of Undergraduate Statistics & Education: https://www.causeweb.org/webinar/activity/

Interpreting Correlations: http://rpsychologist.com/d3/correlation/

The Brain from Top to Bottom: http://thebrain.mcgill.ca/

Research Methods Knowledge Base: http://www.socialresearchmethods.net/kb/

Fostering Sustainable Behavior (textbook): http://www.cbsm.com/pages/guide/preface/

TED Ed: Psychology: http://ed.ted.com/lessons?category=psychology

Psychology Tutorials & Animations: http://psych.hanover.edu/Krantz/tutor.html

 

Other General Repositories & Providers of OER

MIT Open Courseware: http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/brain-and-cognitive-sciences/

Saylor Academy Library: https://saylor.longsight.com/

OpenStax College: http://openstaxcollege.org/books

OpenStax CNX: http://cnx.org/

Merlot: http://www.merlot.org/

OER commons: https://www.oercommons.org/browse/keyword/psychology

The Fellowship of the Open

Over the past year I have had the pleasure of working with the fine folk at BCcampus a fair bit – first as a reviewer of two open textbooks, then as an adopter of three, adapter of two, organizer of an open test bank sprint, and a co-presenter at professional development workshops at Capilano University and Kwantlen Polytechnic University. So when I saw another potential excuse to spend time with Mary, Amanda, and Clint, I couldn’t help but apply for one of three Faculty Fellow positions with their open education program.

Today was the first meeting of us fellows – Christina Hendricks (UBC Philosophy) and Jessie Key (VIU Chemistry) are the other two – at BCcampus headquarters in Victoria. We received a briefing about the status of the Open Textbook Project and discussed our roles over the next year (mainly research, advocacy, & feedback to the OT team). In some ways this will be a continuation of our efforts thus far but there are many new opportunities as well (e.g., outreach within our disciplines and to student groups, presenting at the next Open Textbook summit in Vancouver, research funding, etc.). I am especially pleased to lead the research initiative, including an online survey of BC faculty that Clint and I have been working on recently with Beck Pitt (OER Research Hub) that is almost ready for launch, and that fits very well within my own research agenda at KPU.

Christina and Jessie are already doing remarkable work in the open arena and I look forward to working closely with them. Our mandate is thrilling, we have great support at BCcampus, and I believe we will collectively be able to help tangibly advance the open education agenda here in BC.

The Future is Open (https://creativecommons.org/weblog/entry/43164) by Luke Surl under CC BY (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/)

The Great Psychology Testbank Sprint

Well, we did it. Seventeen psychology faculty from six post-secondary institutions in British Columbia came together on July 18 & 19 and worked intensively for two days to create a testbank designed to accompany open textbooks for introductory psychology. As I have previously written about, the absence of ancillary materials (a testbank most of all) presents a significant challenge to instructors who wish to adopt an open textbook. Although some observers will turn their noses up at the thought of faculty not writing every single one of the questions on their exams, the reality is that many (overworked) instructors of large, multi-section survey courses do start working from the publisher-supplied testbank, writing, revising, and editing as necessary over time. The need for this crutch becomes even more pronounced for new faculty that do not have years of classroom and assessment experience to draw on, sessional faculty assigned to a course only weeks ahead of the first class meeting, and large sections with limited teaching assistant support. For those of us that advocate for the adoption of open educational resources in the classroom, ignoring or criticizing this reality is self-defeating.

Fast forward to this May when, following a series of productive conversations with Mary Burgess (Director of Open Education at BC Campus) and Peter Lindberg (NOBA Project), I was able to secure the financial support of both organizations to coordinate a “testbank sprint.” Modelled on the efforts of textbook sprints that, for example, bring together a number of faculty members for a few days to write a textbook from scratch, the idea was to invite faculty from a number of psychology departments in BC to come together for two days for a retreat-style sprint.

At the best of times, writing questions is not enjoyable work, so I knew that in order to recruit enough participants and to create a productive environment the sprint would have to be interspersed with opportunities for socializing and rejuvenation. Another goal was to gather sprinters from a variety of institutions (the wider the representation, the more natural the sense of ownership and buy-in). Finally, the challenge of producing a resource like this for Introductory Psychology is the sheer number of topic areas (15) that need coverage. Thus we would have to find a way of collecting data about potential participants’ areas of expertise and mapping these onto the topic areas in order to ensure adequate coverage.

Enter the Organizing Team

Following a couple of discussions with members of my department at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, three wonderful souls in Dianne Crisp, Cory Pedersen, and Levente Orban stepped forward to offer their assistance with organizing the sprint. Together we dealt with the questions of when to hold the sprint (mid-July, in time for Fall adoptions), where to hold it (the Cheam Golf Course in Chilliwack with accommodations at the nearby Coast Chilliwack hotel – central enough for those travelling from Victoria or Kamloops but far enough away to feel like a retreat), how to recruit faculty (the Articulation listserve + direct emails to those with past involvement in open education projects), how to map availability & areas of relative expertise onto the 15 topic areas of Introductory Psychology (enter the technical wizardry of Levente with custom online forms and formulae-laden Excel worksheets), and how to structure the event (see below).

Nineteen faculty signed up and, although two dropped out just 48 hours before the sprint was to begin, seventeen faculty representing the psychology departments at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Thompson Rivers University, Camosun College, Northern Lights College, Capilano University, and the University of the Fraser Valley met in Chilliwack on July 18. The amazing Clint Lalonde from BC Campus was also on hand to provide logistical and technical support for both days of the sprint.

The Cheam Mountain Golf Centre welcomes us

The Cheam Mountain Golf Centre welcomes us

The logo for our sprint (yes, I got carried away with my role)

The logo for our sprint (yes, I got carried away with my role)

Sprint Structure

The sprint was structured around 3 90-minute working sessions each day for two days, interspersed with breakfast, coffee breaks, and lunch. Following an early breakfast we began on both days with an orientation at 8:30am. The working sessions ran from 9-10:30am, 11am-12:30pm, and 1:30-3pm, with a final progress update & wrap up from 3-3:30pm. Dragon boating and a hosted dinner were scheduled for the afternoon/evening of July 18 while the sprinters were free to play 18 holes of golf on the afternoon of the 19th.

The seventeen faculty were assigned to one of 7 working groups of 2-3 faculty for each session, with each group responsible for writing questions for a specific topic area. The composition of the groups and the topics changed every session such that by the end of the second session on Day 2 of the sprint each faculty member had participated in 5 working groups and each topic area had been visited by two working groups. From an organizational point of view this was a bit like playing with a Rubik’s cube with 17 squares and 15 sides. Only the squares had feelings and the saturation of the colours was not always the same.

The target for each working group during their 90 minute session was to write an average of 10 high-quality multiple-choice questions per group member (~20-30 questions per topic per session and ~50 questions per topic or ~750 questions in total by the end of the sprint). To help with this we circulated the topic assignments and a document outlining some best practices for good multiple-choice questions ahead of the sprint (the sprinters were encouraged to think about or even write questions ahead of time and to bring their own laptops).

The final session on Day 2 was devoted to the vetting and categorization (Applied, Conceptual, or Factual) of questions. I assigned one faculty member to go through and vet all of the questions written for one topic area in which they had intermediate-to-high expertise. Minor problems could be fixed immediately but larger problems had to be flagged. Flagging a question meant that another faculty member with overlapping expertise would have to be consulted to see if the question could be resuscitated or whether it had to be deleted (deletion was always a two-person decision). I should note here that we did not have an easy template to follow for any of this so the structure and rules of the sprint really resulted from my sense of what would work well. Mercifully it all went to plan and when I solicited feedback and suggestions at the end of the first day the group appeared very happy with how things were going.

Battle stations

Battle stations

Vetting questions

Vetting questions

The Finish Line

So how did we do? By the end of the fifth session we had collectively written 870 questions across the 15 topic areas (comfortably surpassing my initial target of 750 questions). Following the vetting process in the final session on Day 2, we finished with 851 questions (296 Applied, 219 Conceptual, & 336 Factual). Very soon this entire testbank will be made available by BC Campus to any recognized psychology faculty, in a format that can imported into any LMS. In other words, mission accomplished, under budget and on schedule.

Perhaps most importantly though, we truly enjoyed ourselves. Both process and outcome, journey and destination, were gold.

Happy Sprinters

Happy Sprinters

Some Observations

  • Although some working groups began writing questions collaboratively, most found that they worked more productively when they divided the learning objectives/sub-topics and worked in parallel. Having said this, some truly enjoyed writing questions collaboratively.
  • The target of 10 questions per faculty member per 90 minute session was found to be reasonable and well-calibrated.
  • Although we had installed testbank creation software on a KPU-issued laptop at each of the seven stations Clint and I decided ahead of the sprint that it would be easier and a time-saver to have everyone enter questions (using the correct format) into a more familiar tool (MS Word) instead. The software permitted the easy import of questions from Word.
  • Our hosts at the golf course remarked several times at how quiet we were while working. This was generally true as the soundtrack of each session was a steady chorus of fingers on keyboards punctuated with laughter (one of the sources of laughter was the amusement we spontaneously derived from embedding one another’s first names into many of the applied questions!).
  • Given the nature of the work we were there to perform I remain amazed by the level of enjoyment we derived. The dominant and universal theme in the feedback I have received since the end of the sprint has been how much fun it was.
  • As noted by someone during our dinner at the end of Day 1, dragon boating on Harrison Lake on the first evening proved to be the ideal metaphor for the sprint. We were in it together, we had to coordinate our efforts well, we had one person (me) providing continual feedback to the group while staying mindful of our pace and progress, we rested in between sessions of hard work, we laughed a lot, truly cherished one another’s company, and experienced a rather unforgettable adventure.

The Heroes of the Sprint

My thanks to my organizing team (Dianne Crisp, Cory Pedersen, & Levente Orban from Kwantlen Polytechnic University), other fellow sprinters (Betty Rideout, Carla Maclean, David Froc, Farhad Dastur, John Marasigan, Kurt Penner, Kyle Matsuba, and Richard LeGrand from Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Jacqueline Kampman from Thompson Rivers University, Randal Tonks from Camosun College, Istvan Geczy from Northern Lights College, Hammond Tarry from Capilano University, Wayne Podrouzek from the University of the Fraser Valley, and  Clint Lalonde from BC Campus), ed-tech whiz Meg Goodine from Kwantlen Polytechnic University, and project sponsors (Mary Burgess from BC Campus and Peter Lindberg from the NOBA Project). Thanks also to the Mavericks Dragon Boat Team for hosting us on the evening of July 18.

See Also

Clint’s blog post from Day 1 of the sprint

Press coverage of our work by the Chilliwack Times