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5 Takeaways from OpenEd2020

I saw and learned a lot of good stuff at the 2020 Open Education Conference. Here’s a roundup of what was most applicable to the work I’m going right now. In order of ascending mind altering-ness:

  1. There’s a growing body of advice on how to do OER textbooks well.
  2. I need to learn to use H5P.
  3. The community-building online resources from Equity Unbound are 🔥🔥🔥
  4. We can rely on fair use when creating OER.
  5. Student motivation matters.
1. There’s a growing body of advice on how to do OER textbooks well.

I saw a lot of great how-to sessions, especially in the lightning talks, addressing the nitty gritty of what students need in an OER textbook and how to do it.  Shout out to Robin Ewing & Cindy Gruwell who had my favorite session of this type.  I love that we’re seeing more of this.  We don’t have the kind of support major commercial textbook publishers provide their authors, so I’m so happy we’re sharing advice in venues like this.  Some OER textbook tips:

  • start the book with an introductory letter to students that lays out the perspective of the textbook or describes the narrative thread of the course
  • students want lots of examples to explain the concepts
  • students like chunking of chapters into sections
  • students want answers to practice questions
  • keep chapters short chapters
  • use the course catalog description & learning outcomes ahead of time to make sure the textbook coordinates with those.
  • beta test your OER textbook with users
2. I need to learn to use H5P.

There were so many references to H5P as a way to build interactivity into OER textbooks, for student self assessment and comprehension checks.  Pressbooks already has an H5P plug in, just waiting to be turned on and there is an effort underway to share existing H5P content to avoid duplication of effort (the H5P Pressbooks Kitchen).  

3. The community-building online resources from Equity Unbound are 🔥🔥🔥

These videos were already on my radar, but I hadn’t taken the time to watch them, and they are *so* good.  There are 2-3 dozen, each one is a video about an activity that can be done in an online environment that builds connections between students.  What I love the most about them is that many of the videos actually model the activity being done, which has always been hands down the best way for me to wrap my mind around anything.  And each one includes such insightful conversation about how best to facilitate the activity, things that might happen, what to watch out for etc.

This was just one pearl from Maha Bali & Mia Zamora’s keynote, but the whole thing is great.

4. We can rely on fair use when creating OER.

When creating an OER, not only can you curate openly-licensed content and write your own, but there are times when it’s ok to incorporate all-rights-reserved materials as well.  I’ve always known this was theoretically true, but I had seen few examples of it in the real world, and this was the first time I had heard it discussed at a conference session (How would you teach if copyright weren’t in the way?)  The presenters announced a Code of Best Practices for Fair Use in Open Education will be released in January (which is super exciting, but I’ve already blogged about my excitement here, check it out for more details.) 

Also Meredith Jacob reminded us that back in the spring the American University College of Law folks did a series of webinars about copyright, OER, and fair use topics as they apply to online and open learning environments.  If, like me, you were too overwhelmed in April to watch them live, all the videos and slide decks have been made available.

5. Student motivation matters. 

Eric Worth and Katherine Williams session, Self-Determination Theory as a Framework for Structuring OER-enabled Pedagogy, addressed how OEP can feed various forms of extrinsic motivation, of which there are 4:   

  • In the pedagogy of years past, external regulation plays the most significant role: students do assignments to get the grade or avoid punishment. 
  • An open pedagogy practice such as a non-disposable assignment may incite introjected regulation: where the student seeks to avoid shame or increase feelings of self worth by doing a good job.  
  • When a student connects the work they’re doing now to building skills that will be of use to them in achieving some future goal, identified regulation is at play.
  • Integrated regulation exists in situations where a student has internalized the reasons for doing a task and can see how those behaviors align with their personal values or sense of self.

(All of these forms of extrinsic motivation differ from intrinsic motivation, where we voluntarily do things because of enjoyment of doing them, in that they are centered on attaining a particular outcome.)

While students could have all of these motivations at different times in the class, Werth and Williams indicated that the more we can move students to the later types of regulation the more likely they are to make the deeper connections we want them to make.  We can do this by:

  • being explicit about why we’re doing these particular activities and assignments.  (A sentiment echoed this week in the CoLab’s Jump Start presentations from Dave Cormier and Jordan Noyes.)  “Offer clarity in assignment instructions.”  Students are demotivated by busywork; everything has to have purpose and be connected to something in their future, beyond just doing the assignment.   
  • “having students reflect on their own values and how the assignment may align with these values.”  Werth & Williams found that many students were deeply motivated by helping others.
  • “the more agency/choice a student had, the more likely they were to move beyond the first row of motivation.”
  • building in “as much connectivity, student-instructor and student-student, as possible.” This increases the audience for student work, even if it’s just within the classroom.

Now hang on for a tangent:

This session was *so* helpful.  For months now I’ve been mulling over Audrey Watters DPL keynote, in which she absolutely destroys our current ed tech (as she is wont to do and I’m here for it) and its use of the tools of behaviorism, e.g. who gets to decide what operant conditioning people get?  “To hell with the training that this system has given us – I want to be a lost pigeon.” I was on my chair cheering.  

I also felt like a fraud.  I can try to avoid the worst of the dodgy, intrusive and surveilling ed tech.  I can (and have) practiced ungrading.  But can I entirely avoid using behaviorism myself?  I’d love a world where students’ intrinsic motivation is encouraged and flourishes, where students choose what and how they want to learn (I have recently read Deschooling Society.)  But right now I have students who have been trained for years into a transactional educational system (the “Game of School” as Dave Cormier put it so well this week) and who because of that have scant intrinsic motivation.  Students who won’t do it if there’s no grade attached, because that’s the conditioning they’ve received their whole lives.  

For students who have been treated in such a way, it’s reasonable that they would expect the instructor to provide some motivation, even if it’s just sticks & carrots, external regulation stuff.  Also, my own experience has taught me that coming up with self motivation is hard sometimes, even for things that I know would make me happier or healthier.  I do feel like students have the expectation that one of my jobs is providing motivation or incentivizing.   (Am I way off base here?  Note to self: ask some students.)

So I’ve been mulling over what’s the sweet spot between “I’m straight up never going to use sticks or carrots because that’s some manipulative bs” and helping the real human students I have right now who have come up through a flawed system. And this session was particularly helpful, not in finding that balance, but in shifting the question and giving me a vocabulary to talk about it.  From “where is that balance point” to “what can I do to help that intrinsic motivation (or at least identified or integrated regulation) flourish.”

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