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!

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.” 

Camosun College Open Sustainability Project: My Final Reflection

As you have read about here before, in 2019, Camosun College (via a proposal by Sybil Harrison, Director of the Library and Learning Services, and Nannette Plant, from Special Projects, Continuing Education and Contract Training) received an Open Education Sustainability Grant from BCcampus, and in turn funded eight projects to develop or redevelop courses using Open Educational resources. The project brought together 11 faculty members, as well as librarians, copyright experts, instructional designers, curriculum developers, indigenization specialists, graphic designers, multimedia support staff, and others to work on the projects.  Not surprisingly, unexpected events pushed the completion deadlines for these projects to the end of April this year (2022), but despite all the challenges our faculty grant recipients faced moving their regular teaching online during COVID, they still found time to dedicate time to redesigning their courses by adapting and creating a wide range of Open Educational resources (OER) – everything from websites, to open textbooks, to online open homework/test banks – to support their students. 

Now that the project has been “completed” (in so far as the final report has been submitted and some of our grant recipients have reflected on their open projects in this year’s Camosun Showcase publication,) I wanted to take a few moments here to reflect on my own journey over the past almost 3 years. 

First, let me express my immense gratitude to the people involved with this project.  To my Director who invited me in as project manager and supported me throughout.  To the faculty who engaged fully in this work despite overwhelming challenges they were already dealing with.  To my colleagues in eLearning and CETL who supported me and this project while they also navigated a world where everyone suddenly needed their help. To the librarians, our copyright officer, graphics designers, students, and all the others who supported in so many ways.  And of course, to BCcampus for awarding us the initial funding and to our college for contributing matching funds.  I want to make clear that the rest of this piece is in no way meant to negate or ignore these amazing contributions to Open Education at Camosun College. 

But now, I must acknowledge that I struggled with writing this reflection.  I wondered, is it because it’s not just about me?  Am I having trouble separating my journey from that of the whole group?  That would be an easy (and good) answer.  And that’s partly it.  But the other part comes from the me that asks: “What now?”  This project has given me purpose, hope, and the sense that I am doing something useful, not only for the project folks but also for the institution more widely, and I don’t want to lose that. But I can’t do it alone, even if my workload was solely dedicated to Open Education. This project has made me realize how important Open Education is.  I mean, I understood that in theory before, through extensive reading, and from listening to provincial groups and colleagues engaged in Open Education work, but I hadn’t added it to my plate.  Well, it’s there now – no taking it back. 

While we made it successfully to the end, this project was not without its challenges.  One big one was, of course, COVID which exacerbated any and all issues that are typical in a large project like this.  But the more encompassing challenge was (and is) that there is no one person at Camosun who is fully assigned and dedicated to working with Open Education.  Our librarians, of course, engage in Open Education work, and my understanding is that there is one librarian who has Open Education as part of her workload.  Additionally, my Director (and sponsor for this project) is a huge champion of Open, and some of the faculty in the project had worked with Open Educational resources in the past.  But Open Education inevitably becomes off-the-side-of-the-desk work when you have innumerable competing priorities of supporting students, faculty, and entire units of employees who were all just trying to keep from drowning during and after the “Great Pivot” to online that was imposed by the pandemic. 

One of my main responsibilities as the Open Sustainability project manager was keeping the project on track when everyone was so busy – and to be honest, at times it felt like I was all alone in that struggle (and yes, I mean struggle).  I know that’s not a completely fair assessment as people were working hard to keep not only their projects, but their regular work going the best they could under difficult circumstances, but I’m one of those people that needs to hear something back when I send an email.  Anything.  A note to say “thanks – I’m busy but I’ll get back to you soon” so there were times I wanted to just give up and let the project die. 

I’ll pause for a moment here as I know maybe people wanted this reflection to be a rah-rah of excitement and patting ourselves on the back for our accomplishments.  Don’t get me wrong; we did some amazing things. But, well, nothing in life is rah-rah all the time, and if we don’t acknowledge the sticking points, the pain, the struggles, we can never learn how to do better next time.  So, here are some of my take-aways at this moment in time (who knows what they might be in 6 months or a year…) 

  1. We need to listen to students more.  Do your students buy their textbook(s)?  How much of it are they reading?  Are they able to keep the textbook and use it for future reference?  Do they have to make choices around buying texts or eating? Are we truly engaging in equity, diversity, inclusion, indigenization if we are using resources that don’t include diverse voices and perspectives? Do our students see themselves in our courses? 
  2. Program/Department groups need to have conversations about how they are serving students and supporting their faculty to support students.  Some faculty, especially term faculty, feel they can’t take the leap into OER because other faculty teaching the same course, or courses that ladder from the ones below, won’t support the addition or creation of new resources. CETL can help you think through how to incorporate OER into your program and courses – so include us in your conversations! 
  3. The college needs to do better by its faculty and its students.  Developing OER, especially a complete open textbook, much like developing a good online course, takes TIME!  It cannot be done off the sides of desks or only during a Scheduled Development (SD) period, even if that SD time is 100% dedicated to it. Release time, grant opportunities, collaborative development are all models that have been used successfully at other institutions.  Let’s take a closer look at what others have done. 
  4. And finally, we (faculty, instructional designers, librarians, etc.) need to have more support from the college so we can dedicate time to this work.  It shouldn’t rest with only one librarian or one instructional designer – someone needs to be coordinating Open Education work at the college, and this is NOT a part time job.  We learned in this project (no surprise!) that it’s not only librarians and instructional designers who know stuff about open, but so does the Copyright officer, faculty (who are already using OER with little to no support), students (who when they hear about OER want to ask for more but don’t know where to go), and so many others (think the Centre for Accessible Learning, the Writing Centre, Graphics Design, the list goes on and on.)  But who brings them together?  Who brings in the right people for the right task at the right time?  Who brings faculty together to talk about how they can engage in Open Education?  Who brings in students to talk about their experiences and to talk to them about open textbooks?  Who brings in admin to show them the benefits to students, faculty, and the college as a whole?  Who advocates and coordinates larger advocacy? 

I think that brings me to the bottom of my tank for right now.  I hope we can keep this project and our work in Open Education alive and well and moving forward at our institution because if you don’t think Open Education is the way of the future in post-secondary education, then you aren’t paying attention. 

For a little bit of rah-rah to end, here is a list of posts I have written as part of this project. 

A Conversation with Brian Lamb about the Open Educational Technology Collaborative (OpenETC)

Brian Lamb is the Director of Learning Technology & Innovation at Thompson Rivers University (TRU), and he is one of the founders of the Open Educational Technology Collaborative (OpenETC) here in British Columbia.  I wrote about the OpenETC in a previous post, but here Brian and I talked about how the OpenETC got started, and some visions they have for the future.

I’ve known Brian for awhile but was really interested in where the idea for OpenETC came from.  He began “I’ve been active in open education for most of my time in EdTech, going back to the early 2000s and always thought the open web was a great place to connect with people in other places, share materials, reuse other people’s materials, and collaborate.  So, when this thing called Open Education began to take form while I was at UBC, I was able to get support to bring in blog and wiki platforms for the institution.”  But then he moved to TRU and “was confronted with the reality of IT departments who are tightly strapped for resources and rightfully wary of people coming in with a boutique project”, because so often people start up projects, work on them for awhile, then move on leaving IT holding the bag.  While they had a WordPress installation at TRU, it was quite locked down and didn’t do what Brian needed it to do.  He started up something on his own, but quickly realized that being the admin for a service that he wanted to grow was not sustainable.

But Brian had a network to draw on.  “As I talked to people at other institutions, I knew that other people were in the same position, for example Grant Potter at the University of Northern British Columbia and Tannis Morgan at the Justice Institute of BC who was doing amazing work with her team at the Justice Institute.  So, we thought, rather than all of us struggling individually to run three different WordPress installs, we should pull our resources together and get one good one.”

Brian, Grant, and Tannis spent some time considering different models of hosting.  They knew that they wanted a space where they could innovate and collaborate.  They started small, collaborating on a WordPress platform they kept fairly small and private, but then were able to get some shared hosting space from BCNet. “That was a huge shift for us because it allowed us to be more open with the platform because we finally had FIPPA-compliant hosting.  At that point it started to grow and that’s when we started to think we had a model that we could extend to other people who might want to use these tools.”  And that was the moment OpenETC was born.

While WordPress was the main tool the OpenETC started with, they knew other applications were in the same boat with regards to institutional need versus lack of support.  “We’re always playing with things. Grant is the most experimental tinkerer of the group, and he’s brought several things to the table that we’ve played with internally, some of which we brought on (Mattermost) and some we decided not to move forward with. One of the things he brought forward early on was Sandstorm.”  While unfortunately the developers have not continued to support Sandstorm (which allowed people to run applications without having to install them locally), “that model is very powerful and it’s still our dream, to have a wide range of applications available for people throughout the province to take and run – open applications without third party surveillance.  Applications where people can determine the level of privacy they want and have the autonomy to run themselves. We’re still playing with those models but haven’t quite found the framework that we can share widely…yet.”

So, who is the current team supporting the tools they have and with new tools potentially on the way?  Brian tells me that while it can be a bit fluid, there is, of course, Brian himself (as one of the founders).  There is also Troy Welch, a developer on the team who works with Brian at TRU. But it’s a reciprocal relationship, and while Troy works on elements for OpenETC, he shares those back to TRU, “and other people build things that we can also bring back to TRU.”  In addition, OpenETC has support from BCcampus, and BCNet hosts their WordPress service via EduCloud.  Then of course Grant Potter (another founder) at UNBC whose WordPress use case was one of the drivers for the creation of the OpenETC and Tannis Morgan who was at the Justice Institute when she started with OpenETC and is now with Vancouver Community College. “The Justice Institute has done amazing with their open WordPress sites, and I wanted to be able to see how they build their stuff, to go into the back end and see what themes they chose, what plugins they used, how they configured them, etc.  There’s so much benefit in that kind of sharing.” And in addition to this initial group, “Anne-Marie Scott joined us while she was still at the University of Edinburgh. She happened to be in Vancouver when we were having an in-person event and we invited her along because her group at Edinburgh, in my opinion, may be the best EdTech unit in the world.” She is now a Deputy Provost at Athabasca University and an integral contributor to our planning and operations.  And of course, Clint Lalonde from BCcampus gradually became more and more involved as well. “We’re starting to expand now. First of all, anyone who shows up on Mattermost who is engaging with the other participants and the tools, if they want to say they’re part of the OpenETC, that makes us happy.” Then there are people who represent institutions.  “We’re starting to expand that group but doing it mindfully in a way that doesn’t spin out of control.  For example, bringing people like you, Emily, and Ian Linkletter from BCIT and Liesel Knaak from North Island College – you’re the people who are doing the most, especially institutionally.”

Other organizations have also supported OpenETC.  “We haven’t really talked about the role that ETUG (the Educational Technology User Group) plays. Even though there’s not an official relationship between OpenETC and ETUG, I don’t think OpenETC would have worked if ETUG didn’t exist. Because ETUG has created this cohesive community where we share with and help each other. It’s because of groups like ETUG and BCcampus, who emphasize openness and ethical practice as core values, that we have been able to do this work. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the people that are most active in the OpenETC are the same people that have been active in ETUG for years.”

You might be asking yourself, is OpenETC just for BC?  Brian told me that if you understand the model of sharing, we have in BC, supported by ETUG and BCcampus, which in other places seems to be an incredibly radical thing, it really is a natural reflection of the culture that’s evolved here over a long period of time.  “Sometimes we’ve had inquiries from people in other provinces about OpenETC. And from a technical point of view, creating your own OpenETC is no harder than setting up your own WordPress server, but how do you develop that culture? A lot of the things I’ve learned through ETUG we try to embody in our OpenETC practice. We don’t talk about it very often because I think it’s just understood; it’s just a shared set of values.”

When I asked if Brian was surprised by the way OpenETC has taken off in the community, he told me “I expected people would use the tools because there was a gap people were struggling with. What I’ve found most amazing is the quality of work being done with the tools. It’s so satisfying to see people at other institutions doing work that they couldn’t have done if not for OpenETC – that’s the coolest thing in the world. I love seeing committed Edtech people, who care about the ethics of what they do, doing such interesting things on the open web. And if you give them some tools and a little bit of help, what they’ll do with it never stops being amazing.”

But institutional collaborators don’t just bring themselves to OpenETC; they also bring students.  “It’s always been a given that whatever we make available, we want it to be able to work for students – if it’s something only a specific group of people can use, then it’s not really meeting our purpose. The thing with students is some of them can jump in right away, but the majority of students have never worked with tools like these before. I think that’s a big reason why a lot of faculty are wary of adopting new tools because they know they’re going to spend a lot of time supporting students, so we’ve tried to make the sign-up process as smooth and self-serve as we can.”  And they are still working on making the onboarding process smoother, including having more clonable starter sites in WordPress so students (and others) don’t have to start with a blank site.  That way “they can feel reasonably good about showing their site to people quickly without having to learn how themes work.”  But what Brian really likes about WordPress is that students have the control to change themes, delete and add plugins, widgets, design their sites the way they want to. And Brian is also, as he says, “selfishly excited to see the work students are doing with WordPress”.

I asked what the future holds for OpenETC (and I confess, I was asking specifically whether or not they were considering bringing on a Wiki or other collaborative tool) and Brian assured me that they are having discussions, but don’t want to raise expectations.  “We know that Etherpad is an extremely popular application, so we’re probably going to launch that as a stand-alone application which works well for collaborative writing. We’ve talked about Wikis, and if there was significant demand for wiki-like collaborative spaces that Etherpad couldn’t meet, we would have to look at that. We’ve been playing with a framework called Cloudron, which is like an advanced version of Sandstorm in the sense that it lets you deploy apps and includes a number of pretty interesting Wiki applications, but we aren’t sure that it is the right framework for us.”  But Brian is interested in creating a kind of middle-ground for more robust and server-intensive applications, where access is limited to those people at institutions who support educational technology, who can then support people at their institutions.

Then there is H5P.  “I think one of my dreams is to find ways to make H5P a little easier to support. We’ve talked about creating a dedicated H5P-enabled WordPress theme where we could embed sharing tools and user documentation. It’s been really cool to watch how H5P has been used across the province and I would love to find way to promote and support more activity with it.”  Of course, the challenge for Brian and others supporting OpenETC is that this sort of development work is not part of their regular jobs and “unfortunately, a lot of this work ends up being off the sides of all our desks, which is not the way it should be.”  Brian would also love to find ways to make it easier for people to share their work across the OpenETC network.  “My dream would be to improve discoverability and shareability of H5P objects across sites. And I hope one day to create a framework where you can share your own work more easily.”  He has some ideas but thinks this is where the community could really help, because the potential from sharing H5P objects is immense.  “We still have a long way to go, but where I think the future of OpenETC will come from people doing do more on the platform and contributing back. If we have more people doing that, we can start to incorporate what they do to make it better.  We’re better now already because of the participants, but I really think we’re just starting to see the payoff of wider collaboration across the province.”

As participation and community collaboration grew, it became evident that perhaps OpenETC should adopt some terms of use guidelines.  While OpenETC hasn’t been confronted with abuse of content or copyright violations yet, the community began asking about a code of conduct for OpenETC. “Ian Linkletter had developed a code of conduct for his Mattermost installation at UBC, so we adapted his model for our code of conduct and Clint Lalonde did a really good job of facilitating a wider community conversation and getting feedback and input on it. We might not have done it then without that help, but it was something the community wanted, and they were prepared to put in the work to make it happen.”

I asked Brian if OpenETC has seen a lot of growth when COVID hit back in 2020.  But he reflected that it’s hard to know because they had been growing before that point and it’s hard to know what the difference would have been without a pandemic pushing everyone online.  But numbers of users are not nearly as important or interesting to Brian as seeing unique and interesting applications of the tools from around the province.  That being said, with more people signing on, “we hired someone to tighten up the on-ramping for the WordPress clone tool, and to set up better reporting tools so we have a more effective way to look at growth in accounts over time and where they originated.  But, while we’ve definitely seen growth, I’m not sure how much we would have seen without COVID and I’d like to believe the work we did to make the platform more accessible, and our regular development plan would have brought people aboard under any conditions.”

As my discussion with Brian drew to a close, I wanted to express to him how much the OpenETC has supported me and my work with faculty and students at Camosun.  I was able to set up WordPress sites on the fly to support people during COVID, and have introduced many faculty, program groups, and students to the wonders of setting up their own WordPress sites, and even working with H5P.  And I also reflected, and continue to reflect, on more ways I can give back to the OpenETC community.  Brian was kind enough to assure me that we at Camosun have been contributing back, saying “we have just been so thrilled to see the work you’re doing, the way you’re giving back, and onboarding. That idea of ‘contributions, not contracts’ has become one of our slogans, and you’ve really grasped that right from the beginning. And I just want to say how much we appreciate how you’ve taken that idea of contributing back seriously.”  And I want to say that OpenETC makes it easy, and safe, to play and share back.  OpenETC is without a doubt one of the most collegial, supportive, and collaborative groups I’ve ever worked with.  I hope to be a part of this community for a very long time!

Open Education Resources

Good morning, post long weekend.

I was talking to a faculty member this morning about OER and Open Education, and as I put together a list of resources for her, I thought I would share them with you as well.  I hope these are especially useful for those of you getting ready to integrate OER into your courses for next term!

General/overall information and links to collections, etc.

OER “courses”

Open Pedagogy

And there is so much more out there!  But hopefully for those of you just starting to explore, these resources will give you a start.

Camosun’s Open Education Survey and Conversation Cafe Takeaways

On March 30, 2022, a group of 12 Camosun faculty and staff got together (virtually) for a conversation about open education.  In addition, 63 faculty members completed an Open Education survey in February and March 2022.  Below are a few key takeaways, overall themes, as well as recommendations for consideration.

Open Education Conversation Café Key Takeaways

This group reflected on and discussed the following questions:

  • How have you used, or considered using, Open Educational Resources (OER) to support your teaching?
  • What questions do you have about OER and Open Educational Practices (OEP) that might be preventing you from going further?
  • What are the advantages and challenges of designing and delivering OER and OEP?
  • How can we support each other to create and integrate OER and OEP into teaching and learning at Camosun?

While the majority of people in the conversation were from the Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL) (7), 5 were faculty who had used and were passionate about OER.  Some of the initial burning questions from participants were:

  • How do we get others fired up around adopting, adapting, and creating OER, especially when time and money (to create and adapt) are still big issues to overcome?
  • How can we support integrating OER into our Camosun systems and what options do we have for sharing and promoting for sharing?
  • How do we ensure platform independence and transferral of OER (especially question banks) from one system to another?
  • How can we be transparent with students around how adapting OER works as opposed to academic integrity/plagiarism?
  • What are the best practices for revising and reviewing existing OER? Is there a cycle? Who is in charge (BCcampus?) And how do people know when OER have been updated (and an aside – how do people integrate relevant changes when they have themselves adapted the materials?)
  • How do we overcome and/or work with Intellectual Property (IP) concerns from faculty (the idea of “ownership” versus sharing, and how to choose a licence when you want to protect the integrity of your work – due to safety protocols, traditional knowledge, etc.)

Following are the higher-level collated responses from the conversation café discussion questions.

How have you used, or considered using, OER to support your teaching? What questions do you have about OER and OEP that might be preventing you from going further?

  • How do we and departments adopt and promote the use and awareness of OER? How can we work with departments/programs to create a culture that embraces and supports OER?
  • How can we better support Term faculty around their rights and responsibilities for choosing course materials (for example, if they wish to use OER to support their teaching)?
  • How do we vet resources and look at quality assurance for OERs?
  • How can we work together to find, assess, adopt, adapt, and create ancillary resources (PowerPoints, question banks, etc.) to support the use of open textbooks?
  • How do we find out about, promote, and build on the work that has already been happening in open education at the college?
  • How can we work with students to promote awareness and importance of OER?

What are advantages + challenges of designing + delivering OER and OEP? How can we support each other to create and integrate OER and OEP into teaching and learning at Camosun?

  • Advantage: OER can be tailor-made and/or customized for a specific course
  • Advantage: Working with OER provides a huge opportunity for cross-institutional/program sharing (of resources, of collaboration, etc.)
  • Advantage: It does not have to be an “all or nothing” approach – start small, create small OER at first and build from there
  • Advantage: Saving students money
  • Challenge: Working with OER is a lot of work, requiring time and money and resources (people for support, a team, etc.) to find, vet, create, etc.
  • Challenge: Knowing who all to consider when adopting OER (copyright, bookstore, other faculty teaching the same or similar courses)
  • Challenge: Understanding how OER are updated – is there a process, who is in charge, etc.
  • Challenge: Understanding licencing and being aware of content that should not be adapted (TK, content with safety and technical standards, etc.)
  • Challenge: Represents a culture change for some (faculty, admin level, etc.)

Open Education Survey Results

Schools responding

  • School of Business: 17
  • Access: 6
  • Arts and Science: 18
  • CSEE: 5
  • HHS: 6
  • Trades and Tech: 9
  • Other: CETL 1

How familiar are you with Open Educational Resources (OER)?

How familiar are your with OER? bar graph

Full description: Bar graph showing Familiar, Not familiar at all but interested in, Somewhat familiar

Familiar

  • 1 response “No, I have never used OER in any of my classes.”
  • 11 responses “Yes, I am currently using OER in at least one class.”
  • 9 responses “Yes, I have used OER in the past by am not using any currently”

Not familiar at all but interested in

  • 9 response “No, I have never used OER in any of my classes.”
  • 1 response “Yes, I am currently using OER in at least one class.”
  • 1 response “Yes, I have used OER in the past by am not using any currently”

Somewhat familiar

  • 11 responses “No, I have never used OER in any of my classes.”
  • 14 responses “Yes, I am currently using OER in at least one class.”
  • 5 responses “Yes, I have used OER in the past by am not using any currently”

How familiar are you with Creative Commons?

  • Somewhat familiar: 28
  • Familiar: 21
  • Not familiar at all but interested in learning more: 13
  • Not familiar at all, and not interested in learning more: 1

Are you using OER in any of your classes?

  • Yes, I am currently using OER in at least one class: 26
  • No, I have never used OER in any of my classes: 23
  • Yes, I have used OER in the past but am not using any currently: 14

What types of OER have you used?

What types of OER have you used? bar graph

Full description: bar graph showing results of types of OER uses (note that numbers were challenging to analyse due to multiple selection option)

  • Open textbooks: 29
  • I have not used OER: 7
  • Multimedia:  8
  • Quizzes or tests/homework assignments: 10
  • Other: 4

If you have not used OER in your classes, can you tell us why?

Why have you not used OER in your classes? bar graph

Full description:  bar graph showing “Not aware of OER”, “N/A”, “Others/I have written my own textbooks”, “Time required to vet, adapt or create”, “Lack of peer review”

  • Not aware of OER: 8
  • N/A: 2
  • Quality of available OER: 3
  • Time required to vet, adapt, or create/Effort: 4
  • Lack of peer review: 1

Have you ever created or adapted OER materials (rather than a straight adoption)?

Have you created OER? circle pie chart

Full description: circle pie chart showing majority response “No”, second highest response: “Yes, at Camosun”, third highest response “Yes at another institution”

If yes, what types of OER have you created or adapted?

What kind of OER have you created? bar graph

Full description: bar graph showing types of OER created

  • Homework assignments:  21
  • Textbooks: 9
  • Multimedia: 4
  • Quizzes or tests: 3
  • Other: 5

Have you had support creating, adapting or using OER?

Have you had support to create OER? bar graph

Full description: bar graph showing what kind of support has been received

  • None: 28
  • BCcampus and CETL, other Camosun support: 5
  • Release time: 1
  • Pressbooks training: 1
  • SD time: 2

CETL and the library are interested in increasing OER adoption, adaption, and creation by faculty. How can we best support you to meet these goals?

How can we support you? bar graph

Full description: bar graph showing the following:

  • Establish OER working group and/or community of practice: 14
  • Information sessions: 52
  • Virtual or in-person training opportunities on OER and Open Education: 45
  • Virtual or in-person training opportunities on Creative Commons licencing: 32
  • Grant programs for faculty creating OER: 27
  • Public recognition of faculty creating OER: 7
  • Creation of written documents on OER to support faulty applications for OER SD projects: 21
  • Other: 5

Overall Themes and Recommendations

Organize general information sessions

  • Collaboration for running info sessions: CETL, Library, Copyright office
  • Provide basic information (what are OER, how they work, where to find them, where to get help)
  • Include discussions around starting small, working with others to find appropriate resources, implications for intellectual property, and why OER are important
  • Discussion of quality assurance and vetting resources
  • Clarification of authorship and information on how OER are updated (find out more about this process at least at BCcampus and implications around it)

Collate resources in one place

  • Update library Research Guide for Open – put together a team (CETL, Library, Copyright) and work on over the summer
  • Include a list of who can support OER development at Camosun, and in what capacity

Department meetings info sessions

  • Start in May/June, then Fall (collaborate CETL, Library, Copyright office)
  • Fire up interest
  • Find out who is already working on integrating OER and how
  • Answer questions

Faculty Support and Engagement

  • Workshops and other training opportunities for faculty
  • Create a list of faculty members working with OER to support each other in varying ways
  • Find ways to fund (grants?) faculty for adopting, adapting, creating, and reviewing OER

Talk to Student Society

  • Engage with students
  • Find out more about students’ perceptions of OER and provide information sessions for them (Student Society, student groups within programs, etc.)

Advocate to college leadership

  • Show student savings in $ amounts for people who have adopted OER
  • Discuss initiating grant or support (i.e., release time) opportunities for faculty to create and adapt OER

Open Conversation Cafe, Survey, and Workshops at Camosun

Are you a Camosun faculty or staff member?  Do you want to know more about Open Education or share your experiences with Open Educational Resources or Open Pedagogy with others?  The Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning has some opportunities for you!  Don’t see what you are looking for or have questions?  Email Emily at schudele@camosun.ca.

Open Education Conversation Cafe

Open Education Conversation Café March 30, 3-4:30pm ONLINE REGISTER HERE

Have you heard of Open Education, but are not sure what it is? Have you been using, or wanting to use Open Educational Resources or Open Pedagogy?  Let’s explore ways to integrate these into your courses.

Open Education Survey for Camosun Faculty

CETL and the Camosun Library need your help!

We are investigating faculty members’ perceptions and use of Open Educational Resources (OER), such as freely available online textbooks and other course materials. Whether or not you are using OER, we would like to hear from you to provide valuable insight for us on how we can better support initiatives related to OER going forward.

This short survey will take about 5–10 minutes to complete and will remain open until February 28th. If you have any questions about this or want to talk more about how OER can support you and your students, email Emily Schudel at schudele@camosun.caThanks for your time. Click here to fill out the survey

Definition of Open Educational Resources (UNESCO, 2016): Open Educational Resources (OER) are any type of educational materials that are in the public domain or that are openly licensed (for example, with a Creative Commons license). The nature of open materials means that anyone can legally and freely copy, use, adapt and re-share them. OER range from textbooks to curricula, syllabi, lecture notes, assignments, tests, projects, audio, video, and animations.  In addition, OER can help improve the learning experience for students while mitigating financial barriers which may prevent them from achieving their academic goals.

Spring Open Education Workshops

Introduction to Open Ed & Open Ed Resources May 10, 10-11:30am ONLINE REGISTER HERE

Learn how to help students achieve course learning outcomes in a more efficient way while balancing your workload as an instructor. Bring relevant information, such as program outcomes, course outline, activities, assignments, and tests/exams to the workshop.

Introduction to Open Pedagogy May 13, 10-11:30am ONLINE REGISTER HERE

Open pedagogy allows the full potential of education to be realized. It invites students in as co-creators, creating rich opportunities for deep and active learning and empowers faculty to make education more diverse and inclusive.  Together, we will begin to explore the full potential of open pedagogy.

Introduction to H5P for interactive learning May 17, 1-2:30pm ONLINE REGISTER HERE

H5P technology makes it possible to integrate interactive learning elements into HTML pages in D2L, WordPress, or Pressbooks. H5P applications include formative quizzes (with immediate feedback), flash cards, slide decks, images with clickable hotspots, and interactive videos; see: https://h5p.org/content-types-and-applications for more information. This workshop will introduce you to a range of H5P applications that are commonly used to support teaching and learning. During the workshop you will build some H5P content that you can reuse to support your own courses.

Redesign Your Course to be More Open May 31, 1:30-3:30pm ONLINE REGISTER HERE

Wondering how to get started integrating Open Educational Resources (OER) into your courses? This workshop will help you get started.