As I write this I am in the air, on my way to the #OpenEd17 conference in Anaheim. But as I reflect on my life over the past month—the first of my year-long secondment to BCcampus—I realize that for once my life has been anything but up in the air, as I have enjoyed the most rewarding and stable period of my work supporting the open education movement. It really is amazing what you can accomplish when you are able to pursue your passion on your desk, not just on evenings and weekends and at the expense of a healthy work-life balance.
Even before my secondment began, I received clear signals that wellness was valued and actively promoted at BCcampus, from the important words and concrete actions of our illustrious leader and model Mary Burgess through to policies and procedures concerning “time off in lieu” of work (TOIL), access to mental health support services, and constant reminders of the importance of taking vacations. I honestly *almost* feel like I might get into trouble if I work on evenings and weekends, which, for an academic, feels really strange and is taking me a while to get used to. But I am. And so is my happy family.
These two things—the ability to support open education initiatives on my desk and the opportunity to do so within such a positive organizational culture—have allowed me to bring my best to this work.
Over the past month I have worked with colleagues at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Thompson Rivers University, and the Justice Institute of British Columbia to initiate the planning and development process for Canada’s first three Zed Cred (zero textbook cost) programs. This is one of the larger projects on my desk and I have been delighted to see how thoroughly these three institutions have embraced an open and collaborative planning process. They are already looking at co-developing, peer reviewing, and reusing one another’s OER. Contracts have been drafted, deliverables outlined, and methodologies for identifying and flagging Zed Cred courses shared. Everyone realizes we are making history here and the spirit of openness is infectious. As the BCcampus tagline goes: Connect. Collaborate. Innovate.
In addition to starting work on the Zed Creds, I proposed three new initiatives to the Open Ed team at BCcampus, all of which received enthusiastic support. One involved the launch of the monthly Awards for Excellence in Open Education, what I saw as an important way to recognize the efforts of our many unsung Open Education heroes in British Columbia, be they students, faculty, support staff, administrators, or even those working from outside of post-secondary institutions. The other was the launch of Communities of Open Education Practitioners (COEPs) in Physics and Psychology (with other disciplines to follow soon). As I have written about previously, I firmly believe that the next phase of the open education movement will involve a lot more collaboration across institutions, including and especially within disciplines. This is how the movement will mature from one that is sustained by philanthropic or government support to one that is community-driven and sustained. These COEPs (which are not restricted to educators in BC) are bringing together lone innovators, enabling them to, among other things, share ideas and practices and envision and pitch OER or ancillary resource creation projects (such as a collaborative question bank authoring pilot project we are planning with Anthony Albano from Proola). One neat element of the COEPs is that these educators will use the Hypothes.is plugin to annotate open textbooks that they are using to flag areas that need updates or revisions, correct errors, and even to share relevant pedagogical resources. In fact, thanks to our receptive and helpful partners at Hypothes.is Jeremy Dean and Jon Udell we are even using an experimental version of the Hypothes.is plugin that has enabled me to pre-populate the list of tags. Once again, Connect. Collaborate. Innovate.
A third initiative I proposed (which will launch shortly, watch this space) is a listserv that will serve to connect the Open Education Working Groups (OEWGs) that have sprung up on so many BC campuses. Once again, this is a mechanism to connect like-minded people in a way that will enable the sharing of strategies, procedures, and resources, and even facilitate the coordination of event planning around Open Access and Open Education weeks. Of course, as with the COEPs, I am most excited to see all of the ways in which members of our community use the OEWG listserv that I haven’t anticipated. Yet again, Connect. Collaborate. Innovate.
Outreach has been another important focus of my work over the past month. A lot of this has been with students, who, it cannot be said too often, are vital partners in the Open movement. I have connected with the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA), the BC Federation of Students (BCFS), and the Alliance of BC Students (ABCS) and supported and advised student associations at Simon Fraser University, Dalhousie University, UBC-Okanagan, the University of Regina, University of Lethbridge, Mount Royal University, Western University, McMaster University, Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Sheridan College, Capilano University, and Douglas College. It pleases me greatly to see so many of them taking great strides forward. For example, take a look at this eloquent and compelling argument for federal support for OER creation made last month in Ottawa by the CASA Board Chair Shifrah Gadamsetti.
Another group I have been delighted to connect with is the Commonwealth of Learning, who operate mainly in the Global South but coordinate their operations out of Burnaby, BC. Their expertise is truly staggering and the challenges they face sometimes daunting and I am grateful to Ishan Abeywardena and Johannes Hendrikz for being enthusiastically open to collaboration. I looking forward to seeing where this new-found relationship takes us. Connect. Collaborate. Innovate.
Although other projects—such as research with the Open Education Fellows and planning for the 2018 Festival of Learning—quietly continue in the background, two other things have been especially noteworthy about my first month. One has been the space and time intentionally set aside for strategic planning. Amanda Coolidge organized this early for the Open Education team at BCcampus, which allowed Amanda, Lauri, Josie, Lucas, and me to collaboratively envision and plan for our team’s goals for the year ahead (and beyond). Along the same lines (although more recently), I was invited to Thompson Rivers University to facilitate the development of a strategic framework that would bring together their various open education initiatives (championed variously by the library, Open Learning, and the TRU student union). As with the BCcampus Open Education planning session and the initial planning meeting with the Zed Cred institutions, the spirit of innovation and collaboration was apparent at this meeting (for more, see this blog post by Irwin DeVries). The resulting framework and implementation plan will soon be shared publicly and, I hope, will serve as a model for other institutions that wish to follow TRU’s lead in this space.
The second noteworthy aspect has been the intentional thought and focus on inclusion, diversity, and equity at BCcampus, which has included a terrific and thought-provoking webinar with the peerless Lorraine Cheun and a follow-up roundtable discussion at the BCcampus staff retreat. Every team at BCcampus appears to me to be invested in this discussion and critical self-reflection, from those leading our indigenization initiative to those supporting educational technology (e.g., Are we using any algorithms that inadvertently reinforce existing power structures?). It has been gratifying to see how personally invested my new colleagues are in ensuring that we as focused on values and process as we are on the provision of resources and services.
One final note, this one a personal one addressed to my new colleagues on the Open Education team Amanda, Lauri, Josie, and Lucas. Thank you for welcoming me so warmly into the fold, for being patient with me, for taking the time to teach me, for sharing your nascent ideas with me, and for trusting my judgment. I have long admired your work from a distance, but up close it is truly inspiring. You are now part of my family and I am very proud and grateful to be a part of yours.