#OEORangers: Reflections on a Open Education Summit

The busyness of the day settles into my body as I turn toward the CN Tower and make my way, slowly, back to Union Station and the train that will take me west(ern) bound. I mindlessly traverse the cityscape. The chance to turn off my thinking brain is a welcome change of pace.

I’ve been at the inaugural Open Education Ontario Summit at OCAD University. All day long I’ve been busy turning over all kinds of big questions around Open Educational Resources, pedagogy, practices, policy, the 5Rs… the list goes on.

Having attended the day, I’ve been officially dubbed an ‘Open Ranger’.

[Insert originally evoked imagery here – Power Ranger, Lone Ranger, Loan Arranger]

As chuckle-worthy as the title might have first been, I’ve been tossing the idea around all day. The label of Ranger is more intentional, I think, than a simple way to brighten up a day-long conference. It served as a way for a small community to become acquainted, bonding over a shared identity. As we traverse the new terrain of open education, we’re going to need community, certainly. Championing the kind of shift that open culture calls for is akin to forging a new path. Every once and a while it will be nice to come back to base camp and regroup with likeminded people. There’s a whole wide network of people who are doing all kinds of creative things to support open education. If someone’s not already working to a solution on a problem you’re facing, then at the very least, there will be understanding folks ready to empathize and lend an ear.

Rangers are guides. They anticipate the pitfalls yet know the summits and how to reach them safely. They are adept at navigating, reading the signs, acting on intuition. They are well equipped and ready for anything – there’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing (Alfred Wainwright). As a new idea, open educational practices require small through to major shifts in thinking and action. A ranger’s navigational skills will come in handy for acting strategically and thoughtfully to anticipate the future possibilities of open education from individual course activities through to institutional policy.

Finally, A park ranger is a steward. They are a keeper of knowledge and practices that protect the land, it’s terrain, and inhabitants. They are part of an ecosystem that serves to protect and educate. Open education values a freedom of sharing. A choice to exercise autonomy over corporate structures of ownership and control. In a society so often focused on the bottom line, commodification, and a preference toward the disposable, a spirit of openness is one worth protecting. Yet, it seems, there are more misconceptions than there are people ready to buy-in to the idea of open with both feet. And so a ranger is that of an advocate, willing to be the keeper of the knowledge and the practices that will not only protect open but enable it to thrive through sharing it with others.

All in all, I’m wearing that Ranger cap with pride.


Cover Image Credit: Brownie and Cub compare badges by Girl Guides of Canada (CC BY)

Learning Outcomes: Evolution of Assessment

“Slow is smooth, smooth is fast” 

Two days after the Learning Outcomes: Evolution of Assessment conference, this quote as shared by keynote speakers Charles Blaich and Kathy Wise, rings through my reflections. When it comes to intentional process and action, fast can’t come first without sacrificing either quality or cost. We must first slow down, pay attention to each of the parts and make adjustments, before bringing elements back together again in a highly refined, smooth process. Only then can we expect the speed of efficiency.

There are two key take-aways I wish to reflect on as being a delegate at this conference. Both of which will take time, ongoing and thoughtful exploration of the parts that make up a larger whole, to reach a point of refined practice.

The Answer to a Program’s Quality is Not Found in the Tables

As you can guess by the title, we talked a lot at this conference about learning outcomes, the quality assurance process, and assessment of course, program, or institutional quality. There were a lot of beautiful examples of program mapping software and processes for analyzing learning outcomes….Many of which have inspired my thoughts for supporting faculty to engage creatively with investigating and articulating  arguments for program quality in, say, self-studies for program review processes.

Interspersed between conversations of methods, software, data, and reports was this key message: Assessment is about more than data sharing; the answers concerning a program’s quality is not found within the fancy display of data.

Assessment, rather, is an inquiry-focused process of taking data and converting it to evidence (making sense, interpreting) and experimenting by trying something new. It is about engaging in the dialogue necessary for moving beyond the appreciation of tables and figures to figuring out what it all means with an appetite for tinkering with possibilities.

What are the actionable steps forward for me?

  • Developing strategies for facilitating curriculum review processes as an inquiry-focused process
  • Fostering a “Creative Commons” atmosphere, where faculty come together in the spirit of collaboration to wonder and experiment together
  • Pose questions with regards to the data produced from self-study initiatives that focuses attention on making sense for trying out something new and sharing lessons learned with the community

7th Generation Outcomes

One of my favourite sessions at the conference was Called to Action: Creating Learning Outcomes Based on the Recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (Kahente Horn-Miller and Andrea Thompson, Carleton University). The session explored what’s currently being done to implement the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) calls to action in post-secondary education across Canada. Further, it challenged delegates to identify how learning outcomes can be used as a way of expressing truth and reconciliation in curriculum.

While the authors work on developing TRC inspired learning outcomes that can be adopted and adapted by Carleton University instructors, more broadly, I’ve been thinking about how learning outcomes might embrace Indigenous perspectives by aiming 7 generations ahead.

Throughout the conference, there was lots of talk of skills development (e.g. “The New Skills Agenda” as posed by Ross Finnie during the State of the Union closing panel). We talk of what sorts of skills do we want to see in students as they graduate, start their jobs, participate in society…. What sorts of skills, values, or attitudes do we expect students to pass along seven generations into the future?



What are the actionable steps forward for me?

  • reflect on what ‘thinking 7 generations ahead’ means for my upcoming teaching of a course on university teaching and learning
  • spend some more time getting better acquainted with the TRC and indigenous leaders on campus



Trajectories and Swirls

In these past few months in my new role as an eLearning and Curriculum Specialist at the Teaching Support Centre at Western University, the focus has been on orientation – getting up to speed on the role, the centre, and where I’m headed in this new work.

Some days feel like I’m lost down the rabbit hole as I explore the myriad of eLearning technologies, pursue blogs and articles, as I acquaint myself with all that there is to know and do as someone who is expected to represent Technology on campus.

Reading Malcolm Brown’s EDUCASE article Six Trajectories for Digital Technology in Higher Education this afternoon gave me my first real sense of where I am headed with all of this. That is, at least to borrow his notion of working on a trajectory:

With a trajectory, we know where something is headed, but we cannot say—or we refrain from guessing—where it will end. Working with trajectories is an admission that we cannot foresee the unanticipated factors and developments that might influence the trajectory, accelerating it or perhaps instead derailing it entirely. In this sense, working with trajectories is a more humble and realistic way of facing the future.

In this role, all I can do is work on the trajectory, and this feels a bit like juggling in the dark.
 Erwin Shoonderwaldt, Juggling in the dark CC AT-NC-ND

It’s difficult to see what balls you’re juggling with and where they are going to land once tossed into the air. How do I stay (read: get myself) to the forefront of digital technology in higher education so as best to represent it and work with the Western community to lead change? Brown’s list of six recommended trajectories to watch certainly helps. I will be gentle with myself enough to say that it is both unrealistic and impossible to keep track of every arising trend, and so I will capture a few thoughts on those trajectories I’d like to juggle:

Open Educational Resources (OERs)

If you want to get lost down a rabbit hole, I’d suggest a few days of exploring the internet for OERs. Proponents tout OERs as though they are the next big thing that’s going to transform education. If so, we have a long way to go in terms of entry, ease of use, and applicability. I am also weary and curious as to the hidden agendas lurking behind OERs. How is something considered open and yet there’s clearly a fee structure built into it with CEOs and development teams at the wheel?

Maker and Learning Spaces 

I am curious as to how the concept of makerspaces can be made into cognitive makerspaces of learning. Can we come to see learning as coming into a room with various resources available to us for tinkering and playing for inquiry? What would this sort of space (physical or virtual) look like?

Adaptive Learning Technologies

Brown focuses on the companies at the forefront who are looking to the development of adaptive learning technologies as the next step to learning analytics. From an inquiry-based learning perspective, I’m interested in exploring how a technology might adapt to a student’s changing patterns of inquiry so that student and tool enhance the exploration of ideas.

Just as Brown concludes with talk of Student Swirl, I’ll adopt this concept for myself for I have come to see myself as a swimmer in a large pool of swirling water where my own trajectory is one of navigating the waters to flow with the unanticipated.

Joris Louwes Swirl CC AT-NC-ND

Maybe appropriately so, that swimmer in the water is still holding on to the wall but in the water nonetheless- a swimmer participant-observer. In her suit and in the water, readying herself to push away from the wall and go with the flow

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Trajectories and Swirls by Lauren Anstey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Blended Interactions

Week 2 of the Becoming a Blended Learning Designer MOOC or #blendkit2015! This week has been about Blended Interactions – designing high impact activities online and face-to-face.

Reading Reflection: A Quick Synopsis and Thoughts

There were many elements of the discussion this week that stuck a tone with me, and I will review them here in an effort to summarize and consolidate what I’ve learned:

Constructing assignments that encourage interaction and expression

Its an interesting and refreshing perspective to think of assignments as an opportunity for interaction and expression for learning. I have come to value assignments that have some greater purpose – assignments that are authentic. Thinking of assignments as an opportunity for interaction and expression helps me focus on this motive. The following questions are worth considering:

  • To whom will students express themselves to? Who is involved in the interaction? Who will be listening? Who will be responding? How will students need to take their audience into account?
  • Through what medium will students express themselves? How will students express themselves? What support will they need in order to make effective use of the medium?
  • For what purpose or value? Why will students want to express themselves? Will they feel motivated? Does the assignment have some larger value than just another assignment for just another course?

The role of an educator in a networked world

Blended learning environments invite us to revisit and possibly redefine our role as an educator. In the readings this week, four potential roles were presented: the notion of studio or atelier learning, the notion of the educator as a network administrator, the notion of the educator as concierge, and the notion of the educator as a curator. Two of these notions stood out to me as being more in line with my teaching philosophy, so I would like to briefly explore each of these:

  • Atelier Learning
    • Envision an art studio as an open space where student artists create their artwork in full view of other artists. Master artists observe the students’ activities and may draw attention to innovative approaches. The space is creative and not bound to the expertise of the instructor alone. Everyone in the room has the potential to be a teacher, a critic, a source of inspiration.
    • An example of this within an online teaching environment: An inquiry learner posts reflections about their progress to a blog. Students can read each others’ work and gain insight from both the facilitator and fellow students.
  • Curatorial Learning
    • “A curator is an expert learner. Instead of dispensing knowledge he creates spaces in which knowledge can be created, explored, and connected”. The freedom of individual learners is balanced with thoughtful interpretation of the subject being explored. Learners are free to explore but as they do, they encounter displays, concepts, and artifacts representative of the discipline being engaged.
    • This seems to resemble inquiry-based learning quite well. Learners have the freedom to explore but do so within an environment created by the facilitator – an environment that curates concepts and artifacts in a way that models the nature of inquiry within the discipline of study. For example,

Wayfinding and environmental cues for achieving balanced scaffolding

Learning, especially inquiry learning, needs appropriate scaffolding or guidance in order to adequately support learners through their experience. Too much guidance and the essence of inquiry-based learning is gone. Too little guidance and students feel so lost that their motivation wains, they become lost and disengaged. All courses need appropriate environmental cues to help students navigate their learning. This is of particular importance in blended and online courses where students must navigate the course more independently. Environmental cues might include a clear, useful syllabus, a schedule of events, and a checklist for work to be completed each week.

Important questions for anatomy education 

Two questions were posed to me that I find particularly important to ask of anatomy studies:

  • Is there value in student-to-student and student-to-instructor interaction in all courses regardless of discipline?
  • What role does interaction play in courses in which the emphasis is on declarative knowledge (e.g., introductory “survey” courses at the lower-division undergraduate level)? 

While I have been witness to assumptions that interaction, engagement, and discussion has no value in anatomy studies, I have also been witness to the rich learning made possible by doing so.

Putting this Thinking to Work: Exploring Anatomy Through Inquiry Course

Applying all this to my imaginary course of Exploring Anatomy Through Inquiry Learning:

  • the course might include assignments that get students:
    • articulating their experiences of engaging in inquiry through blog posts that the facilitator or classmates can read and respond to
    • sharing their findings with peers through a presentation – either in person or though supported digital technologies (such as slideshare, video, etc.)
    • communicating their discoveries to an academic or public audience – either through written communicate or through supported technologies
  • As educator, I could take on the role of curator
    • course content would be structured from materials that develop inquiry skills with this content being curated by me in a way that helps students make sense of the material in light of their learning tasks
  • students would be assisted in finding their way through environmental cues such as:
    • a clear course syllabus
    • a weekly schedule
    • a weekly checklist

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Blended Interactions by Lauren Anstey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Photo Credit: Van Gogh by Lauren Anstey