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:
- 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.
- 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).
- 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 behaviours, 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 here, here, 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.