eLearning Blog

Blended Learning Perspectives: Examples from Camosun Faculty

Today is the fourth, and final (for now), post in our series on Blended Learning Perspectives.  So far, I have shared with you a video with several Camosun faculty members explaining their views of what blended learning is, a series of videos where some of these same faculty members talk about blended learning and how it supports equity, diversity, and inclusion and a series of videos with faculty talking about the importance of student feedback.

This week, three instructors share some of their own blended learning lesson examples.

Tanis (Kinesiology) – where students reflect, discuss, review online and then build community when they are together in person.

Diane (Education and Career Preparation) – where students discuss and brainstorm synchronously, then watch and analyze related videos in their asynchronous classroom space, and reflect on them from a personal perspective.

Kari (English) – where students review and reflect and comment on peers’ work online, then come together in person and have a group conversation about the work they have read and reviewed.

Blended Learning Perspectives: Student Feedback

Today is the third post in our series on Blended Learning Perspectives.  So far, I have I shared with you a video with several Camosun faculty members explaining their views of what blended learning is and a series of videos where some of these same faculty members talk about blended learning and how it supports equity, diversity, and inclusion.

Today we have four videos where our faculty talk about the importance of collecting and using student feedback to give instructors the opportunity to improve and refine their teaching and help them make adjustments during the course with current student needs in mind.

Zahra (Academic and Career Foundations) – the importance of one-on-one check-ins with students in her self-paced classes to make sure they are on track.

Brent (Medical Radiography) – the importance of check-ins during the class (not waiting until the end of the term).

Bijan (Economics/School of Business) – addressing the challenge of getting feedback from online learners.

Tanis (Kinesiology) – finding different ways to build in feedback to invite them in rather than putting them on the spot.

 

Blended Learning Perspectives: Equity, Diversity, Inclusion

Last week I shared with you a video with several Camosun faculty members explaining their views of what blended learning is.  Today, I would like to share with you a series of videos where some of these same faculty members talk about blended learning and how it supports equity, diversity, and inclusion.

Diane (EDCP) – Blended learning can include diverse learners many of whom can’t come to on-site classes, address content accessibility, and allow the inclusion of guest speakers from all over the world.

Kari (English) – Blended learning can provide a variety of resources and ways of presenting resources to support diverse learning needs.

Alyssa (Kinesiology) – Blended learning can provide flexibility to students with many competing priorities and who need to take time to digest material before contributing to discussions.

Bijan (Economics/School of Business) – Blended learning can provide multiple supports for learning.

Blended Learning Perspectives: Defining Blended Learning

So today I am beginning a new series of posts showcasing video perspectives on Blended Learning by faculty at Camosun College.  These videos are clips taken from a series of interviews with college faculty which were gathered by Robin Fast, a faculty member in Community, Family, and Child Studies who was also a part of our CETL team last year developing our Blended FLO course.

The videos I will be presenting over the next few weeks were integrated into our Blended FLO course and cover a variety of topics related to Blended Learning.  We hope you enjoy them.

In today’s video we will hear from Camosun faculty providing their own definitions of Blended Learning: Kari Jones from English, followed by Diane Gilliland of the Education & Career Preparation program, Bijan Ahmadi from Economics in the School of Business, Alyssa O’Conner in Kinesiology, Zahra Kimji from Academic and Career Foundations, and Brent Mekelburg from Allied Health and Technologies.

If you have questions about Blended Learning in your own context, if you would like to share your own experiences with Blended Learning, or if you would like to be connected with Robin, please email me at schudele@camosun.ca.

Open Education Story: Charlie Molnar

Charlie Molnar is a biology instructor at Camosun who has long been involved with Open Education, revising, adapting, and creating Open Educational Resources since 2015.  Charlie began his Open Education journey by working with Dr. Jane Gair, who teaches at Camosun College as well as at UVic in the Island Medical Program, a distributed site of UBC’s medical school, to substantially revise the open textbook, Concepts of Biology, creating the first Canadian edition which Charlie and several of his fellow biology instructors at Camosun have been using in their courses for the past seven years.

Reflecting back to 2015, Charlie recalled that his Dean “informed faculty that there was an opportunity to work on a project to create resources for students that would be high-quality, engaging, and not carry any publishing fees.” Jane and Charlie (with release time because of the project funding) began working on their project over several months, creating a substantive revision with much support from BCcampus (especially with the building of the textbook in Pressbooks.)  Charlie told me that he “made first use of the new edition during the summer session at Camosun in 2015” and commented “how grateful students were to have this resource that they could download and have forever and use for free.”  Charlie and his colleagues over the years have also arranged for the Camosun Print Shop to print relevant chapters of the textbook that students who prefer a print copy can purchase at the bookstore for a nominal fee.

But Charlie was not done with his Open Education journey, and since 2015, “nearly every year [on his Schedule Development time], he has been making revisions to the materials in the textbook.”  For example, Charlie first encouraged students to look for grammatical errors, labeling problems, or any issues with the open textbook.  “They were quite pleased to be part of this process and valued that I wanted their input on how to improve the textbook.  What a wonderful thing it was to not only be teaching from this textbook, but to see my students reading it differently because they had input in how to make it better, something which was unique in my experience as a biology instructor.”

Charlie said that “the next major upgrade was to create video content [working with Alan Shook at Camosun] that could be embedded and linked into the textbook, so students could see me, as well as graphics and images, describing not only interesting facets of biology related to the text material, but also some topics that were a little beyond the ordinary context of a biology text. I think now there are 24 five- to seven-minute-long videos embedded in the textbook that the students can access and re-access, something that is not available in a paper textbook.”

Next, Charlie worked with Suzanne Wilkinson and others to integrate Indigenous content into the textbook.  “We integrated material related to Indigenous culture, especially of the Pacific Coast Aboriginal peoples, and their expertise in processing food and calories, etc.  For example, there’s a portion that talks about camas bulbs and the biochemistry of why these bulbs are treated in the way they are, buried underground with the coals over top of them and what that happens to the carbohydrates there.”

Charlie returned to his videos the next year, working with Sue Doner in eLearning to include accurate closed captioning so that the video materials would be more accessible. “Once again, the people at Camosun, especially Sue Doner, were extremely helpful in facilitating this upgrade to make materials maximally accessible.”

Next Charlie got involved with another BCcampus funded project: adding H5P objects to the textbook.  “I worked with a colleague from Kwantlen Polytechnic to move the written questions that appeared at the end of chapter sections into H5P which meant students could answer section questions right in the textbook and get immediate feedback and check their understanding in real time, without an instructor needing to mark those questions.”  He also integrated H5P into many of his videos.  “Now nearly all of the videos have at least one stopping point where the video pauses and questions are posed to the students about what they’ve heard so that they can get real-time feedback about that as well.”

Finally, this last summer (working with Sue Doner and Kristina Andrew in eLearning) Charlie “created a package of material [on a WordPress site] that was based around the first two chapters of the textbook and included those first two chapters, the first laboratory exercise, and exercises in terminology, so students could preview what kind of text material was most important.”  The link to this site was sent to students who had registered in Charlie’s course by the beginning of August 2022.  Those students then “had early access to the textbook and materials so they could prepare for the first days and weeks of class and have an idea of what was coming, what kind of materials would be covered and to what depth.”  Charlie especially wanted to support those students for whom English is not their first language to give them a clearer idea of what they could expect “so they could preview the course and see if it was for them, whether they were ready for it, interested in it, and perhaps make their registrations and financial decisions in a more educated way.”

Charlie described the past seven years as an evolution, but not one he had anticipated back in 2015 when he first embarked on that original open textbook revision.  “I really didn’t know what would be involved, what partnerships could be created. I was not very technologically adept and still am not. The original idea was just to create a resource to help relieve the students from the burden of exceptionally high textbook costs.”  So, what made Charlie want to do more?  “I must confess that it was a bit of altruism thinking, I have an opportunity to help students get through their college experience with less debt, and with a high-quality resource. It also felt really nice to go to Concepts of Biology first Canadian edition and see my name there with Jane’s.

When I asked Charlie if he considered all his work as a success, he said, yes “while I think students are more familiar with open resources now, in 2015 they were so startled and grateful to have this free resource.”  He has also seen some of his colleagues take the open textbook and make their own adaptations to it, “not to necessarily add to it formally, but use it as a starting point, or pull our specific videos and components, or lead students to it for those portions on Indigenization.”

One thing Charlie wishes he knew was who else outside of Camosun is using his textbook.  “I hoped there would be a list of colleges that have taken advantage of it, but I know that it’s used around the world because I’ve received emails from people in various locations who stumbled across it and felt grateful enough to write to me and thank me for it. So that felt nice too.”

I asked Charlie what challenges he faced doing this work over the past seven years, and he reiterated the importance of getting all the support he did, from BCcampus, from people at Camosun, the H5P expert from Kwantlen.  “I could just be the subject matter expert rather than having to learn all the technology – I could simply create the materials for someone else to insert and embed into the textbook.”  And when I asked what advice he would give people thinking of embarking on their own Open Education journey, he said “why do this alone? I’ve always been a person whose loves to work in groups and take advantage of people’s different skill sets so why not recognize your strengths and find other people who could be helpful in other aspects of the production and share this opportunity to create something that will help students so dramatically.”

One thing I personally think we could do better as an institution is celebrating our faculty, students, and employees who do this kind of work: creating materials that are shared around the world, support students, and make such a difference.  Charlie mentioned to me that back in 2015 “I was bursting with pride for Jane and I when we created this textbook, and I asked if we could have a display of the open educational resources that we’ve created at Camosun [because there are a lot!] to show how proud we are of this work but it never came about.”  Well, I am happy to say that we are going to do just that here in the library in March 2023 to celebrate Open Education Week!

When I asked Charlie if he would recommend that others do this work, he, not surprisingly given his obvious devotion to Open Education, said yes, “it’s a wonderful thing to.”  And not just for students.  “It also helped me refresh my understanding of unfolding biological and genetic research so that I could include up-to-date examples that the students would have heard about and convey it at an appropriate level both in my teaching and in the textbook.”

Charlie is heading into retirement (he is currently on a two-year post-retirement contract) but he is not likely done with his open textbook yet.  “I don’t know exactly what I may be devoting time to when I’m fully retired from Camosun, but it might be that I add to, clarify, and refine materials in the textbook.”  I look forward to seeing what he does next!

Camosun Story #56: Nancy

Nancy is a faculty member and counsellor at Camosun, and I would be remiss if I did not also mention that she has worked here for 45 years.  Over those 45 years, Nancy has filled a variety of roles. “While I’ve served mostly in direct service roles, I’ve also done some admin work in student affairs and student development and have also been chair of our department.  And I’m probably the only person at Camosun who’s worked with all six presidents.”  Nancy reflected that she has seen a lot of changes at Camosun and the experience of working from home and supporting students virtually during COVID was just one of many.  Just as one example, “when I first came to the college, one of my first roles was to look at women’s access to the college. At that time, there might have been two women on faculty and the majority of students were male. But over the years those demographics have grown and changed tremendously.”

When I asked how she adapted to working remotely, Nancy says she was relieved.  “I was getting information from my daughter [whose first degree was in microbiology and immunology] long before the decision was made to work off-campus. There were a couple of weeks where we worried about working so directly with people, when distancing physically was awkward, and also because we work in small offices that are not well ventilated, and deal with a lot of emotion. So, it felt very vulnerable.”

Once the counsellors moved to working from home, they found adapting to remote counselling challenging.  Before moving to Teams, the group worked with students over the phone.  “Very rarely would we have phone sessions with students prior to COVID – to get a sense of a person we felt it was better to meet with them in person. Losing that meant losing important visual information.  It was awkward at first and you really had to compensate for what you couldn’t see by listening carefully, for example listening to breathing more carefully, like when you lose one sense, you compensate by developing another.”  One of the most dramatic phone sessions Nancy had was when she was talking to a student who began to sound jumbled.  Nancy suspected something was wrong, and it turned out the student was suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning.  Fortunately, she was able to get help and pulled through ok.  Nancy mentioned that one advantage some of her colleagues noted with phone sessions was that “some students are willing to disclose more easily over the phone because they feel less vulnerable, because they’re not visible. I found that’s true often with male students – it seems to be easier for them to disclose more quickly when they can’t be seen.”

Eventually the counsellors switched from phone to video sessions.  “Teams, while there were some technical glitches, was good. However, it was more work for our counselling admin people to set up Teams interviews. We have a confidentiality statement that students initial in-person but doing this online adds another level of complexity. In addition, when confidentiality needs to be broken, for example if a student wants us to communicate with an instructor, we have to get their written permission to break confidentiality which can be stressful for students to manoeuvre virtually.” However, in spite of the challenges, Nancy has found that some students prefer the virtual sessions and now students are given a choice between being seen in-person, or through Teams, or by phone. “Giving students the opportunity to make their own decision as to how they want to meet sets the relationship off to a better start.”

While student choice was one benefit of moving to online service, using Teams carried with it some challenges as well.  “When we meet with students in person, they can see our environment and that we are honouring their confidentiality. However, they don’t see that when we’re working at home. I’m always very careful to say that I’m by myself, and only my aged cat is with me, that no one can overhear a conversation. For some of my colleagues who have families, ensuring that confidentiality was more of a challenge, so we did try to find places on campus where students could call in. I also think I had more conversations with people sitting in their trucks and cars, and some students would tell me that they had roommates or parents or families which made it difficult for them.”

One other challenge moving to this virtual model was losing the in-person resources of other employees at Camosun.  “We were not able to accompany a student over to the ombudsperson or have an instructor walk a student over to us. That transfer of trust is best done person to person.  So, we had to find new ways to do the same thing.   We added more check-ins and follow-ups, but it was harder to contact people to have them available when we did not know their schedules or where they were.”  Something Nancy noted as one of those little things you don’t think about it until it’s not there.

For herself, Nancy found some good things coming out of the past couple of years.  “I am less reliant on paper, and I think my tech skills have increased. In addition, I think the opportunity to reflect about what we’ve lost and gained, about what’s important to us, has been one of the biggest benefits.  It’s given us a chance to really look at what we value and what we want to keep and what we don’t want to keep for the future.”

All in all, while Nancy finds many benefits to working virtually with students and giving them that choice of how they want to meet with her, she told me “I think overall students prefer a traditional in-person learning environment because they miss the interaction and making new connections.”  She asked me “what do you remember about what you learned in your first year of university?”  After I thought about it, I said what I remember the most is being happy not to be in high school anymore.  She then told me “I ask that question often of people and no one ever says something that they learned in the classroom. It’s always, I learned how to socialize, how to drink beer, how to struggle with values. There’s so much learning that happens outside of the classroom.  And for students learning remotely, are they getting the same opportunities to learn who they are as a person? Post-secondary time is a really precious experience. It’s when young people are learning independence and what they learn during this time shapes them into adulthood.”

Interestingly enough, when I wondered if these past few years were the most challenging time for her in her years at Camosun, Nancy said no, the most challenging time she had at Camosun was when there was a fire in the Dawson building right before Labour Day, “and for an entire year, all of the registration people, advisors, counsellors, physical plant folks, International had to relocate and work elsewhere, and do their work in different ways (remembering that students were expected on campus right away to begin the fall semester), which became a great bonding experience.”  A more challenging time, but as she said to me, good training for the similar challenges that came via COVID.

Finally, if Nancy had any advice to give someone experiencing the kind of change we all faced over the past few years, she says “embrace it and learn from it. Learn about your resilience – we’ve all learned about resilience in a way that we hadn’t experienced before. And take the time to reflect on what’s important and what isn’t. And finally, trust the capacity of human beings to do the right thing.”

Camosun Story #55: Allyson

Allyson is an Instructional Assistant (IA) for the BEST program, now called Education & Career Planning program (EDCP).  I have already shared stories from her colleagues, Diane and Val, as well as the story of the BEST program review as told by my CETL colleagues Monique and Deidre.  So, of course, I wanted to see if Allyson would also be willing to talk to me, and she was!

Allyson started by telling me a bit about her background. “I had a 20-year career as a technical writer and instructional designer. As a technical writer, I wrote curriculum to support classroom learning, but I also developed asynchronous curriculum. But what was missing for me was direct contact with students. In the spring of 2020, I came to the BEST program.”  Just as Allyson was looking forward to being in the classroom and moving away from her computer, COVID hit.  But while she missed that in-person contact with students, “COVID was a blessing for me because I was right away able to apply my years of experience with online and asynchronous documentation.  It was such a gift to have a new job that I wanted and to be able to connect with people, albeit online.”

Because she was new, Allyson was able to approach the new online delivery for BEST with fresh eyes.  As you may remember from Monique and Deidre’s story of the BEST program review, they had online content to draw from (unlike many faculty who were creating their content at the same time they were learning to teaching online).  “We had adopted the BC curriculum, which was for self-directed asynchronous learning. Initially, the content was structured by topic” which didn’t match with the way the BEST program approached content delivery. “After the first academic year we all agreed that it would be best if we moved to a week-by-week content structure, displaying that week’s content each Monday at 10:30 am. Then we added the Checklist tool which listed the readings, the assignment due dates and what students had to prepare for class.

Adding the Gradebook (and naming it My Progress) was huge help for both instructors and students. We don’t assign grades – we give strength-based feedback. By renaming it to My Progress and displaying the students’ week-by-week progress as they complete assignments, students can manage their own learning.  But the Gradebook is also an important tool for the instructors to very clearly determine if a student has met the criteria for the certificate or not.”

With the new week-by-week curriculum organization, the Checklist and the Gradebook, the program design became more accessible and easier to navigate, and some of the weekly content could be lifted out and ported to other programs at Camosun.

Putting BEST online opened literally the world to anyone wanting to come into the program.  “Being online allowed us to have a student in Chilliwack who, through our program, felt seen and heard. She turned a corner and is now on the path to following her dream. We could never have helped that student if we weren’t online. And now we now have inquiries and students from Canadians living in Chile, Nova Scotia, Winnipeg and Whitehorse. How amazing is that? We have also successfully added BEST to Camosun International’s roster of programs for international students.” The diversity of students goes beyond geographical location. “We have people who are just out of high school, retirees, and everyone in-between. That diversity is a huge benefit for our students. In the information sessions I talk about how everyone’s going to learn from each other, how the program reflects the diversity of real life.”  But everyone in the class is there for the same reason: they are looking for guidance to help them make education and career choices that are a great fit for them.

Allyson explained that a large part of the process is making people feel safe to explore—to try new things.  One example is when students try out a Table Topic after attending a Toastmaster mini session.  “This is in week two: a couple of brave ones go first, and then the more hesitant students take a risk to join in. They feel safe enough to try new skills right then and there after being introduced to Toastmasters. I can’t stress enough how gifted Diana and Val are in terms of making people feel safe. That’s a huge piece of this program is making people feel safe to try new things.”  And all this online!

But while Allyson admires the way Diane and Val work with students, she is equally a part of the team that makes BEST such a success. Val and Diane encouraged Allyson to consider which pieces she might want to teach, and since she has a passion for the power of an effective resume to land a job interview, she developed a four-part resume writing workshop to demystify and simplify the resume-writing process.

I asked Allyson what rewards she sees in the work she does, and she told me the reward “is when a student’s dream is realized by the connections that we help them make; the process of going through the program, going from feeling stuck to having confidence, and having the courage to go out and do something that they really want to do.”  And over the past two years, Allyson has seen “many shining moments, even for that person who is just doing one small thing which may not seem like a big deal, but it is a big deal – it’s a shining moment for that person.”

When I asked about lessons learned, Allyson said “what surprised me with the online classroom is how you can have an engaged, supportive learning space in an online environment. It doesn’t have to be in-person, and it may even be better because it’s so focused. Our students are so keen on coming to class on time, and they miss the regularity of the class after the program ends.”  In their synchronous classes, they used breakout rooms frequently.  “Every seven to ten minutes we’re getting them to do something which increases engagement.”  But frequent communication between Allyson and the two instructors was also key to improving engagement. “Every morning at 8:30. I meet with the instructor so we can review the plan for the class. For example, if there was going to be Breakout groups, I know that ahead of time and so I am well prepared to support them. Having that advance check-in ensures that what happens during the class is as seamless as possible for the students.

My job as the Instructional Assistant is to listen for cues from the instructors and to keep an eye on the students’ participation.” You’re another set of eyes and ears for the instructor so they can concentrate on the content and the flow of the class; and you’re an advocate for the students to make sure they are heard.”  The better you know your students, the more you can see their progress.  “You can see them become more comfortable and less anxious as they open up, as they speak more.”

When reflecting on what she might say to herself of March 2020, Allyson said she might say “it will work out and it will become clearer. And students are going to be forgiving of mistakes. That first online class, those students were amazingly forgiving. They were so understanding because we were trying to figure it all out – I still think of them: even though there were bumps on the road, they still got a lot out of the program.”

Here’s to BEST (now EDCP) continuing to support and inspire students for years to come.

Getting Ready for the New Term at Camosun with D2L and eLearning

I can’t believe it’s almost September – the fall term is almost upon us and it’s time to refresh our courses, and our memories, about D2L, how to get started setting up your course in D2L, and where to get help.

Are you a new instructor at Camosun, or coming back looking for a memory tweak?  See our Things for Faculty to know about eLearning and D2L at Camosun PDF.

Are you a new student wondering how to access D2L (and what to expect in your D2L course)?  See our Logging into D2L PDF tutorial and also our Introduction to D2L Videos!

Need help? eLearning is here for you all year round!  Just visit our Support Portal to find help.

Have a fabulous term.

Camosun Story #54: Lizzie

Lizzie is an Instructional Assistant (IA) and tutor for the English Language Development (ELD) program.  Her main role is to tutor ELD students, working with them on their coursework and understanding their textbooks, etc., but she also orients them to their program and helps them register and apply for funding.  Prior to March 2020, she and her colleagues provided this support exclusively in person, but when everything moved online, Lizzie says “we went completely online suddenly and had to adapt quickly to the technology that became our only way of communicating with students.”  And adapting to the technology meant that Lizzie and her colleagues had to gain access to the various tools bring used to support students, namely D2L and Collaborate.  Fortunately, D2L was already in place [*although I will note that not all instructors in ELD were using D2L at that time*] and instructors gave us permission to access their D2L courses so that we could help facilitate their classes.”  But students faced many challenges beyond learning online. “Many of our students are not technologically grounded and even before they set foot in their online classes, they had to register remotely, complete assessments, purchase their e-books, etc.”  

When the world shut down, everyone in ELD’s Assessment and Registrations areas, as well as the IAs, were all on deck getting students into their classes. “Then once they were in their classes, they had to learn how to study online. Many of them were relying on phones, and you can imagine how difficult it is to do a tutoring session or to conduct a class with students who were using their phones.  But even when laptops were made available for the students, they had to learn how to use those.”  But while initially many ELD students were not prepared for online learning, Lizzie said that learning how to use all this technology has some positive results for them.  “By the end of one semester, students had acquired new skills with technology and remote learning, and I think a certain independence came with that.” 

Lizzie’s previous experience with D2L was limited to supporting students who came to the Help Centre looking for help navigating their D2L course sites, so the learning curve at the beginning of the pandemic was steep.  “We realized quickly how useful it was for us as IAs to have access to D2L course sites. Because students often struggled to communicate what they’d been learning in class, we found it very helpful to be able to directly access the support material instructors were providing their students. Eventually, we also connected with textbook publishers so we could also access students’ e-textbooks as well.”  And then to interact with students, the IAs used Collaborate.  “We initially also used WC Online (which was already in place for upper-level courses), but we found that it was challenging for the lower ELDs students to learn yet another tool. So, since instructors were using D2L and Collaborate, it made more sense to meet all students in Collaborate.”  While the IAs are no longer supporting students online regularly, Lizzie says that she has met with at least one student who was unable to attend in-person classes for a few weeks, so she met with her in Collaborate which meant the student could keep up with her classes when otherwise she would have had to withdraw. 

Once Lizzie and her colleagues were set up with, and got to know, the technology, they still faced some challenges.  “We book 30-minute appointments with students, but those 30 minutes were often devoured just getting the technology to work, sometimes to the point where actual tutoring time was reduced to ten minutes or less.”  And once IAs were in Collaborate with students, they needed to learn how to “communicate effectively in order to help them, to show them how to look for their classes, or how to register for the next class. There were many obstacles just trying to convey information to students.”   

I asked Lizzie if the number of appointment requests increased during the pandemic, but she thought the number had actually decreased, saying “I think students were burned out. They’d been sitting in front of a computer all morning with an instructor. They had homework that they had to do. They had families running around in the background. And at the end of the day, they were shutting down. It would’ve been nice if we could have met with students after the kids had gone to bed, but that wasn’t possible.”  And Lizzie felt that same exhaustion. “At the end of the day, I was like a zombie. I think it does something to your neural synapses sitting in front of a computer all day.”  Lizzie is happy to be seeing students in-person again, “but I wouldn’t say we weren’t effective as tutors during the remote period. Some students really rose to the occasion and took full advantage of our services, but sadly there were many who were lost on the way.” 

I asked Lizzie if she felt there were any moments that stuck with her from when she was supporting students online.  “I think it was just having regular conversations with students when they didn’t want to be looking at the textbook.  I think that they had a strong relationship with their instructors, but they wanted some connection with a person other than an instructor. Many students were feeling so isolated (many had just arrived before the pandemic hit and were missing their families back home) so those moments of just talking about what they were doing over the course of the day were important for them.” 

When I asked what lessons Lizzie might have learned during the shift to online teaching, she, like many others I’ve talked to, said “I know that it can be done, that it is possible if we work as a team.” And not just within ELD, but also with CETL and others supporting the move online.  “I think before there was a sense that when you work in a specific area, you don’t really have any connection with the rest of the college – you exist in your own little world. But this opened up the world of Camosun.”  In addition, Lizzie says keeping a sense of humour was important, as well as being open to anything coming your way. “Things can change on a dime so go with it, be kind, and take your time. If you feel like you’ve had enough then just step away for a little bit – go outside for a walk or pet the poodle between appointments.” Wise words to make sure you look after yourself so you can help others, whether during a pandemic or not.  

When I asked Lizzie if the IAs would keep using the technology they learned, she said yes, especially D2L, saying “I never realized how vital it was to tutors. Now we create materials at the beginning of the term and ask instructors to post them on D2L, so students know who we are and how to access us.  We see the same students over and over again, but I know there are many more who just need a little push to come in, so if there’s more IA presence in D2L, then they’ll maybe reach out a bit more.” 

But she would like access to even more technology to support their in-person work as well. “When we did orientations before COVID, we would use a flip chart, and every semester the students would file in and we would point to the flip chart showing our hours, etc.  But this semester I was tired of the flip chart and ready to hit the 21st century. So, we set up a big screen TV (because we don’t have a projector in our orientation space), plugged in a laptop, and ran our orientation that way.” 

Lizzie had a few final words about the experience of the last two years, and where she is at now. First, she sees that students are now open to the possibilities remote learning can offer. “Even with all the obstacles they faced, I think many of them came to appreciate the flexibility of learning from home – they didn’t have to catch a bus or take two buses to get to class every day.” And finally, “there are many opportunities out there, and you have to be open to them, and there are people to support you and get you through pretty much anything.  All of us, all the colleges and universities, have been through the same things, and while we have lost a lot, we’ve also gained a lot.”    

Sarah and Patsy: The story of how one Student’s Open Education project can make a difference

Some days working at Camosun is a joy, when I get to see firsthand the kind of amazing work students are doing with the support of my colleagues, sometimes in CETL and in this case in the library.  This is the story of Sarah, a student in the Child, Family, and Community Services (CFCS) program, and Patsy, the librarian who supports that program and its students, and their Open Education project.  Before I begin, however, I want to thank Sarah and Patsy for agreeing to talk to me.  They had final editing approval on this piece – the voices of our students in advocating for themselves is vital, but we need to ensure that sharing their voices does not exploit them or set them up for being penalized for speaking out.  Sarah had nothing but positive things to say about her program and the people working and learning in it, and she only seeks to improve the experience for all. 

I first heard about Sarah from Patsy, who contacted me because Sarah was working on a class project to find free alternatives to their textbook.  “One of our assignments was to address a social justice issue of our choice and to come up with two actions – they didn’t have to be huge, but some sort of small action to address the root of a social justice issue.  And I chose to address the cost of post-secondary education.”  Sarah comes from Germany where the postsecondary experience is quite different. “In Germany we don’t pay tuition or for textbooks because our courses are using open resources, or we can borrow the texts from the library. When I came here, I was shocked to see how much we had to spend on textbooks, so, I wanted to find a way to reduce the costs of education for students.” 

Sarah started with some general background on her project. “I reviewed Camosun’s website which lists estimates of how much students spend on textbooks per term, then I did the math, and given Camosun’s claim that students pay about $1000 for textbooks and supplies per term (although some programs are more expensive than others) it turns out that textbooks make up around 60 percent of the cost of tuition.  We often hear that tuition is the most expensive barrier to post-secondary education, but textbook costs are a huge barrier as well. I feel like we have created like a world, especially in the Western world, where education has become a privilege when it should be a right for everyone.” 

So, Sarah had an idea for a social justice project, she had completed some preliminary research, but now what next?  Luckily Patsy “came in to teach a library session for Sarah’s class, and after the session, Sarah said she wanted to talk about some projects.  As librarians, going into the classroom to teach research skills is so valuable for making that contact with students.  Students learn that there is an actual person to help them.”  Sarah and Patsy started working together on a couple of projects, including this one.  “Sarah asked about the possibility of textbooks being available for students through the library, but I explained that the reality is textbooks are not only very expensive for students, but for libraries as well, and we don’t have money in our budget to provide textbooks for all students.”  As Patsy and Sarah talked about what other options might be available, “we decided to look at the possibility of finding open resources that could replace, if not a whole textbook, maybe just some of the chapters,” which was one scenario Sarah was exploring – a class which required a textbook, but only used three chapters of it.   

One of the things Patsy says a librarian can contribute when working with students and faculty is networking with people across the college (and beyond).  “We are essentially a reference desk. People come to us and ask; how do I do this? Where do I find that? And if we don’t know, we find out. So, as Sarah and I talked about open resources, I thought, oh, I know someone, and I connected Sarah with you, Emily, as someone who could help her with Open Education and how to find Open Educational Resources (OER).” 

Sarah had heard of OER and open textbooks before. “In a way, we had used Open Educational Resources in Germany, but I never really questioned where all the free resources were coming from. Then last year I visited the Students Society’s booth [at CamFest] where they were talking about open textbooks, and while at the time I was not sure what that meant, I found it very intriguing because I’ve always been interested in trying to reduce costs for education.”  So, after talking to Patsy, Sarah did some more research and “decided that one of my actions would be to present to the CFCS faculty about what open educational resources are, where to find them, and how to use them, including the basic math of how much we could be saving if we were to use open educational resources.” 

Once I had talked to Sarah and Patsy about their project and understood what Sarah’s goals were, I sent them a link to the slides for the Introduction to Open Education and OER workshop I run for faculty every year. Sarah says the slides helped her “learn about copyright, fair dealing, and where to find open resources which was helpful for me because I think one reason instructors don’t use OER is because they don’t know where to start, or what their rights are. Now I feel like I know more about where you can find resources, how much you are allowed to take of a resource, and what you are allowed to do with it which was very helpful.”  And of course, Patsy notes “open textbooks are not only free to use, but usually allow adaptation meaning you can take the content that works, and then add content that represents the concerns or issues or experiences relevant to our students and community, for example integrating Indigenous or LGBTQ+ voices.” 

The first part of Sarah’s project was to examine her textbooks. “I started with the textbook from the social justice class because we were only using three chapters of it, and it was very expensive.  I thought we should be able to replace those three chapters with open resources, so I started looking into it.”  One challenge for Sarah was not having a clear understanding of what was important in those chapters for the instructor teaching the course.  “I asked if she could provide me with the main concepts, but at the time she was very busy and while I was confident that I understood the content enough to decide what was important, I am not the one teaching the course and didn’t feel comfortable making that decision.”  So, instead Sarah went in a different direction.  “Patsy in the meantime, had found an open textbook that was very similar to the textbook we were using in a different class. We were working very intensely with that book, and I had more confidence that I knew what was important in it.  So, I compared our textbook to the open textbook, looking at all the key concepts to see what was lacking in the open textbook, or what extras did it have that ours didn’t, and Patsy helped me with the research.  Then I wrote an assessment and sent it to the head of our program, because they are preparing courses for the next term, and she will see if the open text can replace some, or all, of the current text.”  

The second part of Sarah’s project was presenting to the CFCS faculty.  “Unfortunately, it was not possible for me to present at an in-person meeting with all the faculty members, but I created a PowerPoint presentation with voice-over for them to go through on their own. In the presentation, I began by explaining why this is a social justice issue, why it’s important, and showed how much students could be saving. Then I went into some basic rules about fair dealing and copyright, and where to find open resources. Finally, I showed them what I did with that one textbook, where I found it, and how I worked with it so they could see that it’s not a complicated a process and that there are many resources out there to support them.” 

I asked Sarah how it felt, presenting to faculty and potentially effecting change in her program.  “It felt awesome to be heard because I feel a lot of the time there is a hierarchy between instructors and students, where the instructors give us knowledge and we feel almost powerless in that process. While in the beginning I was intimidated, our program head trusted my competence and gave me the confidence to work on this project.  Knowing how this one small thing could potentially make a big change, is really cool, and even if they don’t replace the textbook with the one I suggested, I got the conversation about using open resources started. I’m really proud of that.” We also need to remember that students have insights that instructors may not.  Sarah recalled in one class, “our instructor remarked on the diversity in the classroom, around gender expression, sexuality, etc., and how students come to the course with a lot of knowledge related to this diversity.  I think students can also make decisions on what is important for the future of our field, because we are the future practitioners.” 

Patsy also feels that there is a lot of potential in students, faculty, and librarians working together to explore open textbooks.  “I think we can take small steps first, for example, examining what textbooks are used for core courses with multiple sections then finding some open resources to replace them, and making it a team effort: students, faculty, and librarians working together. Librarians can do some of that initial legwork (finding resources, determining how they can be used, etc.) for faculty because faculty already have so much on their plate. Then they can bring resources to faculty to see if they are relevant, hopefully making the process less overwhelming.  All the while including students who are standing up and voicing their concerns over textbook costs.”  Patsy, Sarah, and I all agree that this project shows the opportunities afforded by including students as equal contributors in reaching their educational goals. “I’m not suggesting students should work for free, but I think there is a place for students to be investigating the content of their course and exploring alternate resources, looking at other perspectives that could be captured by some of these resources. I think it would help students and help the institution.”   

Patsy echoes my own thoughts that “we need to be talking about Open Education as an institution and need to put more effort and even funding behind it because the rippling effect is profound. It can save students a lot of money, and can also save the institution, indirectly, a lot of money.” And as Patsy noted, we have provincially funded organizations like BCcampus already promoting and supporting open resource creation, so we don’t have to be alone in this work; we also already have a lot of expertise around Open Education at Camosun so there is no reason we couldn’t make this an institutional priority. 

Patsy enjoyed working with Sarah on her project.  “Sarah came to me with a passion and an interest which makes my job easy.  I shared her enthusiasm, and had fun using the tools, as well as the knowledge and connections I have, to support Sarah.  This project was not just about finding open resources, it was also about getting in touch with the curriculum and the faculty and working with Sarah to bring forward something to the administration which is such a great experience for a student.”  I want to emphasize the importance of the curriculum piece:  Librarians at Camosun have connections to programs and departments, serving as subject matter librarians for faculty and students (many faculty don’t know this, but you do have a subject matter librarian!)  But librarians, as Patsy noted, “face a similar challenge to what Sarah experienced where you don’t know exactly what specific content a faculty member values in their courses, meaning it can be very challenging to take a textbook that faculty use and trust and recommend a new resource to replace it, even just a chapter, without their input.” 

Sarah is excited to continue learning more about Open Education.  In fact, as she explored OER for her project, Sarah discovered another aspect of Open Education she hadn’t known about before.  “During my research, I came across this idea of non-disposable assignments. As students, we write so many assignments that are just graded and then disposed – they don’t have any further purpose. But what I found was that some instructors assign their students course readings asking them to find free resources to replace them.  What a great assignment for a professional practice because it would develop our field further, and at the same time, we could work with librarians to learn how to do research. Then we could produce an assignment with a purpose such as replacing textbooks and reducing financial burdens. It could have such an impact if we were to take advantage of all these resources that we already have and come together and work as a team. I would really like to see something like that with non-disposable assignments.”   

Sarah wrapped up our conversation by saying “because this has been such a passion of mine, let me know if you ever need me to be a part of presentations, or to give presentations. I want to share what it’s like to be a student and what our financial burdens are – and I want to point out how important it is to remember that, and how much we could save with open textbooks.”