Hopping on the Open Pedagogy Train

Open or Closed flickr photo by cogdogblog shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license


Having attended the last two Open Ed Conferences, engaging in conversations in a few Canadian higher ed institutions, and working on a large OER development project through Alberta OER, I have struggled to resolve what “open” or “OER” mean. By no means do I have an answer today. A conversation has been swirling on Twitter as well as across a few blogs, the first I noticed was Clint Lalonde asking Does Open Pedagogy Require OER? Shortly thereafter, Rajiv Jhangiani shared a preview of his upcoming presentation Pragmatism vs. Idealism and the Identity Crisis of OER Advocacy. David Wiley has also posted a few thoughts to the blog-versation and finally today I read The Challenge of Non-Disposable Assignments by Alan Levin. Ok that is a lot to chew on, without contributing anything to the conversation thus far, and the questions posed can be a bit difficult to address without a specific example in mind.

Alan’s post really honed in on what we are getting students to DO in the class, and that question (what will the students DO) is often how I begin a conversation with instructors whether it’s about a course or a module. More often than not (and not by a small margin) students do assignments. We come up with these tasks for students to do and they get placed on the course outline by name or category – exams, paper proposals, final papers, presentations – and each specific assignment is assigned a weight. Then we carry on and create the instructions for each assignment and reuse them each term. (Here I’m tempted to take a detour regarding the conversations I’ve had about how these assignments need to be “locked down” to reduce student cheating because if the assignment is shared students will “received all of the answers” and what nonsense/how stress inducing that is).

Over the past few years I’ve sat on the sidelines looking at things like the DS106 assignment bank wondering how something like that fits into a course design in higher ed. After all, we’re so limited by the number of assignments we can assign in one term. I would have to work with an instructor to sift through the assignment bank and find appropriate assignments to adopt or adapt for use in the course with the instructor. If we wanted to keep things fresh in the course we might need to swap out assignments each term on a rotation etc. And that sounds like a lot of work when some course developments are off the side of everyone’s desk. Better just stick with the term paper. Maybe it was the word assignment/assessment that is actually my own thinking and approach to this. Thankfully, a few others have used words such as challenges – Tom Woodward uses “Challenges” in the Anth101 course, and my colleague Jordan Epp used “Challenges” in an introductory music course as well – and “quests” as proposed by Alan in the blog post I mentioned above. Ok, so we have these new words that some may or may not like the sound of especially in formal education settings but lets put those on the shelf for a moment as I take a quick detour through another assignment type.


Yes I said it, and I’m guessing that you’ve had one of two reactions:

  1. You love the idea of eportfolios and are interested to see where this goes
  2. You rolled your eyes and though “not again”

I’ll admit, largely when I encounter conversations about eportfolios I have the second reaction. In my experience these usually take the form of a proprietary software that instructors need to learn how to use on top of coming to grips with the idea of an eportfolio. It’s one more thing for students to do on top of their regular course work with little incentive to do so. The argument that employers will request, or even look at a portfolio, is only true in a few disciplines in my experience. They are implemented most often at a course level, so the number of items is generally really restricted. Is it really a portfolio if it has a test, a paper proposal, and a final paper in it? Adding a short reflection and uploading a file to an eportfolio platform hardly seems like a very valuable extension beyond writing the paper and receiving feedback from your peers and instructor. I’ve seen a number of eportfolio initiatives or attempts fall flat because we were trapped by our concept of a course, and of assignments. Unless you’re in a discipline, such as design, where over years you build a portfolio of work that is readily displayed in a portfolio format it’s best not to waste your time.


Poking around the examples of quest banks/assignment banks/challenges that Alan shared I thought to myself “self, wouldn’t it be great if students could just select a number of challenges from a pile and then submit those for course completion requirements?” Students would be able to demonstrate knowledge/skills/attitudes through assignments in a variety of different ways. They get the choice. There isn’t a stack of papers that all seem the same that we know are destined for a forgotten file folder on our hard drives (or worse). What would a course like that look like? ePortfolios might actually work for a set up like that. At an introductory level of this idea, for each module students would be presented with a number of different challenges they could complete. They would not have to complete ALL of the challenges presented. Maybe it would be one or two simple challenges, and a mid-high level challenge in the first module of a course. In an advanced style of this design students could even contribute their own challenges. What goes in the portfolio is the challenges itself providing context for the artifact and the artifact itself.

In that course maybe some of the challenges are “closed” and some are “open”. Maybe students get the choice of sharing or not sharing their work in the open. Maybe it’s better if they are engaged in conversations about the merits of sharing their work, and the responsibilities that come with using CC licensed works. Circling back to the open pedagogy definition questions that have been tossed around in the last couple of weeks, perhaps focusing on learning artifacts that do and do not have CC licenses attached to them ignores the importance of student choice in the learning process.

I think I just ran out of steam on this stream of thought so I’ll leave it there.

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