How do we make college more inclusive, more open, and more accessible? There’s no easy, “one size fits all” answer. But digital tools can help.
All of this is rooted deeply in the concept of open educational practices, which Catherine Cronin defines as:
collaborative pedagogical practices employing social and participatory technologies for interaction, peer-learning, knowledge creation and sharing, and empowerment of learners.
If we want our classrooms to be inclusive places, we have to build community and collaboration into the work we do with our students. In today’s workshop, we’ll discuss some of the “whys” and “hows” of this process, but I don’t want people to be stuck trying to copy down a bunch of info, so I’ve included links to a bunch of tools and ideas below. Check ’em out and see what might work best for you and your students!
Most “traditional college assignments” (tests, essays, and so on) privilege certain skills and certain kinds of training. Some of our students come into Hood well-prepared for these kinds of assignments, and others don’t. It’s easy for faculty to forget that an assignment is just a means to an end. Always ask yourself: what do you want your students to get out of this assignment? If the answer is “I want them to learn to do well on this kind of assignment,” it’s time to rethink. An essay is my go-to example, and we’ll talk about how and why I have continued to rethink and remix “essays” in my own classes in our workshop. But since it’s the start of a new semester, let’s use a different example.
We’ll try out some of the super simple ones together today!
This is just something I pulled together for inspiration – these kinds of ideas could be adapted for pretty much any kind of assignment. We’ll talk a bit about how to remix some other “traditional assignments” in ways that are relevant, engaging, and ask students to use a variety of different skills that don’t necessarily privilege those who come in with a good sense of how to “do school.”
I’m not going to review any of the foundational ways that digital tools can help us stay organized. I’m a big believer in helping students use things like digital calendars, reminders, to-do lists, and productivity software effectively, but there’s no need to cover that ground here – let’s go ahead and take this to the next level, shall we?
Want to model good note taking and annotation for your students and create a space where they can share notes and ideas about their reading? This awesome tool is a browser extension that will let you annotate anything and share your notes either publicly or within a closed group. You can even annotate PDFs and other files stored in Bb as long as you have the “allow access to file URLs” option turned on. Here’s a great guide to getting started for educators with 10 great assignment/project ideas.
collaborative note taking
try: Etherpad, Google Docs, Office 365 Class Notebook, Padlet … lots of options here!
check out a live test of Etherpad here! or, if you’d like a version of this service that automatically deletes your notepads after a given length of time, you can try RiseUp – here’s a demo of that one.
Of course we want all of our students to be empowered to take good notes. But everyone benefits if that responsibility is shared among your community of learners; if someone is absent, has accessibility needs, or just struggles with participating in a discussion and taking notes at the same time, they are covered. I suggest modeling this a bit yourself, especially in first-year classes: ask your students to have a discussion about something (can and perhaps should be non-class content-related) while you take notes so they have a sense of how to choose the key details from a group conversation. You’ll want to have a couple of “designated notetakers” for every class meeting but also encourage anyone to contribute who wishes to do so on a given day.
try: mattermost or Slack
These are team-based messaging platforms (aka private chat rooms, if you are old-school). You can create small groups and teams so that your students can communicate about group projects and so on. It’s a good option to keep the conversation going outside of class time, have virtual office hours, and so on. Lots of folks who have concerns about using Slack (data breaches, not a ton of flexibility) prefer mattermost.
finding open textbooks & other zero-cost materials
The cost of textbooks is no joke. Faculty often moan about the fact that students don’t have the required textbooks, but when many students have to choose whether to buy textbooks or buy groceries, pay their rent, or put gas in their car to commute to school, it’s hard to just roll your eyes. Do you know how much the books and materials for your course cost? Have you considered alternatives? If not, you should! There are lots of great resources on OERs (Open Educational Resources) online, but here is a very basic intro to the benefits of OERs for both students and faculty.
creating easy-to-use, interactive content
There’s just no need to settle for less-than-ideal textbooks and other materials anymore! These are a couple of nifty tools that I just learned about and am excited to try. So I don’t have a lot of advice on these yet, but wanted to share them with you. Pressbooks lets you create your own ebooks; H5P helps you create interactive widgets, presentations, quizzes, and more.
Both of these are commonly used at large universities with institution subscriptions, but there are individual use options available. I would love to talk to anyone about this who is interested in exploring them further – e.g. integrating H5P into your Bb course sites. I don’t know if it’s feasible for Hood to acquire these licenses, but there’s only one way to find out!
An important part of helping all of our students be good academic citizens is to model these skills yourself! Share the tools that keep your organized and on-task. Show them how you organize a conference panel with colleagues when you give them a group project. And be sure you ALWAYS model correct attribution. Don’t use pix or data in your teaching slides without saying what they are and when they came from and then penalize them when they fail to attribute their sources!
All of this is just the tip of the Open Pedagogy iceberg, but I hope it’s enough to pique your interest and curiosity. Thanks for joining me and learning with me today!