There are so many interesting things happening with open education right now that I just want to find a quiet corner and sit for a week and think. Unfortunately this desire is the total opposite of my upcoming schedule. I’m traveling 18 out of the next 30 days for the jobby job–19 now that my flight was cancelled yesterday–so I need to sort out what I’d like to start talking about more with the OER workshoppery. This post really ties together two previous posts.
In my work life, I used to love planning way ahead. Way ahead. My current role keeps me thinking about 9 days ahead, so it’s a bit tough to keep my strategic planning brain cells working. In fact, looking beyond two weeks is futile. It’s a bit tough to feel like you’re succeeding at anything. (Here comes the hair shirt and self-criticism…stahp it, Indrunas, nobody gives af).
I confessed a career weakness to a friend of mine recently–this is the first year in many that I have not submitted any conference proposals. Nobody is asking me to collaborate with them, I weeped. I have no plans with anyone outside of my job. “Don’t you present for a living now? Don’t you collaborate with people all over the country? What the fuck is your problem?” she said.
True. Yes. Okay. True. But it’s different. It’s all so different. Thankfully I have brutally honest friends who keep me brutally honest. They light my hair shirt on fire before I can even put it on.
Here’s what I know for sure. I’ve learned a tremendous amount from faculty over the last eight months of running workshops and I don’t have time to keep up with everything like I used to—and I have to forgive myself and share what I have learned. As messy as that all might be. As unknown as it all is from week to week.
As fun as it can be to introduce OER to people who have no idea what it is–I still don’t know what I’m really advocating for. What I really want to see in the world. But holybloodyhell it’s the best feeling to sort it out with all of these generous strangers. I love teaching people that the status quo completely fails humanity and I can open a door to another way of thinking. Nobody can really say what truly works.
I can say, quite clearly, what does not work. There are many things that don’t work. And I’ll tell you straight up if you ask.
And I have one question that I sit with quite a bit.
Here’s the thing.
How do we create a hospitable experience for faculty who are new to OER?
Before I get into talking about my theories and practices, I want to pause and talk about the word “hospitality.”
At one point in my life, I had real potential in “the hospitality industry.” I was a good waitress. A quick bartender. A cocktail waitress with moxy. I sold drinks I couldn’t afford to drink myself. Menus I couldn’t afford on my day off. I lied for a living to people who dined in the restaurants where I worked. I wore short skirts on Friday nights. I made a lot of money for others. I won competitions for the most “hospitable waitress.” All the while, I was a good college student hoping that my studies would create a more hospitable environment for me in academia. I never felt at home in my college classes.
So I read. And I read. And eventually others were hospitable towards me as a thinker. Thank all the heavenly stars that I escaped the hospitality industry. I now get to talk about something I care about for a living. Thank all the heavenly stars.
How do I extend the hospitality that I have felt to others? Before I get into all that, let’s take a close look at what the word really means as a noun.
I meet a lot of strangers. A hospitable gesture as an open education advocate is to make the experience easier and better than it was for you. For me.
I’m not one to advocate for nice neat categories, but when I start thinking about the strangers I’ve met and the perspectives they bring to OER, there is a lot overlap. A lot of messy variations. When I try to share with others “what I do,” I share what I’ve learned from others. Having categories for new-to-OER faculty to consider can be really helpful. Especially when I have six to eight hours with them.
If we have three identities/habits/perspectives/mindsets (I’m not sure of the word) that faculty can adopt/make/choose as they are learning about OER, then I think it will help them consider their own project. Their own vision. What they want to do. What they want to create. What they want out of this professional development. What they want to teach their students. What they want from sitting in a computer lab with me on a Friday afternoon. What they want. Not what I want.
So let me explain the three choices I use to give faculty a framework to begin using OER.
Adopters. Adapters. Builders.
Adopters—these teachers are willing to adopt whatever exists already. This was not me. This may not have been you. Most pioneers of OER do not identify with this way of thinking. My greatest perspective shift, in the last two years about OER, is that most faculty want to be adopters.
They don’t want to search the interwebs. Repositories. Databases. LibGuides. Google Docs. They want a straight up starting point. A straight up trade-in for their expensive textbooks. Whether this foundation or starting point is from my jobby job or another source, they are looking for an across the board for a textbook replacement. They don’t want to write content. They don’t want to write assessments. They don’t want to curate. They are not interested in customization. They want a turn-key solution that saves their students money without compromising their pedagogical integrity. They don’t want a repository. List-serves, sharing, tweeting, curating, tons of emails, community and all that jazz–none of that is appealing. Beyond drag and drop capabilities, they could give a rat’s ass about customization.
If you do not understand this perspective as a leader who cares about OER, then you are failing your faculty. What you may have liked about OER as an early adopter is not the majority perspective. I’ve been to 32 schools in seven states in eight months, and faculty tell me over and over and over and over again that they don’t want to write a textbook. You don’t have to, I say. Try to see what you can use, I say. Let’s see what works before we talk about what doesn’t. Then I hop on a plane. Then I move onto the next. Their faces and ideas haunt my thoughts. My dreams. My plans. I have a short list of people who changed my way of thinking. I can only hope that I provide that for others. That hospitality.
Adapters—these folks are willing to create and curate to get what they want from the use of OER. They are willing to take something that already exists and incorporate it right into their courses. These teachers typically talk about how they never found a textbook that they really liked. They have usually used their LMS for workarounds and they’re quite comfortable with the idea of working to create something. If you present materials and resources that they can start with, they are quite happy to fill in gaps. Starting with what is missing from their current textbook or practice is a great approach with these folks. In workshops, they typically spend a lot of time reading and reviewing. Helping these folks make a plan is crucial to their success. Adapters can usually find a path of their own. The best you can do is help them forgive themselves for not being perfect. Empathize. And get the hell out of their way.
Builders—these folks either have no resources to start with or they are dissatisfied with what already exists. Most of the time when faculty reject what already exists, I get the sense they want to use the time for scholarly work. The last thing the open education community needs is another Comp I course, but I understand faculty who want to use this moment of professional development to be writers. I try to steer them towards focusing on their activities and assignments. I introduce the idea of open pedagogy without calling it that.
For the faculty who are teaching in disciplines where very little—if any—resources exist, they have no choice. They either stick with committing to open or they don’t. I’ve had faculty leave mid workshop. “This isn’t going to work” they say. “This is too much work” they say. “This isn’t for me,” they say. I shake their hands. Look them in the eye. Wish them well. “It’s not you,” they say. I know. I get it.
So once I lay out these murky categories, I have faculty choose what bests describes their course. Not them as people but the course. This is an important distinction because I want them to focus on what they are creating is not part of an identity. I’m sure if I effectively pull that off. I haven’t quite figured out why that distinction is important to me, but it is.
By a simple raising of the hands, I sort them into groups. If there are folks from the same discipline, I’ll put them together. If they are alone with no colleagues from their discipline, I think it’s important to sort them out by what they want to do. Putting the Builder group in between the Adopters and Adapters is crucial. The Builders who have content they could adopt or adapt can still change their minds. Overhearing others may sway them. Maybe not. Maybe sometimes.
Before we move into groups, I try to get them to think about three questions. If there is time to write, then that’s perfect. If not, listing these questions on the board or projector can help focus conversations. (I don’t have PowerPoints of this. In fact, I’m growing to hate PowerPoints more than spreadsheets. But I digress.)
- What do you like about your current textbook? What are the necessities for your students? In other words, what can you not give up?
- What do you dislike about your current textbook? List everything that you do not like. Let’s assume that if you’re in this room that you do not like the cost of a textbook. What else?
- What is the least you can live with for your first round of teaching with OER? In other words, what is the lowest benchmark you can set and still face your students? (This is important. Most teachers are not thrilled with their first round of teaching with OER).
- Bonus Question: What could your students do to contribute to your course? In other words, do you have an assignment where students could create content for your future students? Here I’ll tell an anecdote from my teaching days when I used student essays to teach technical and conceptual editing. It was easier for students to see the mistakes of others before they saw their own. A math teacher I’ve met has students create study manuals for future students.
My Bonus Question is planting the seed for open pedagogy without calling it that.
I’m setting them up for future OER professional development without going into detail about the ethos of open pedagogy. The examples that I see widely shared about open pedagogy are light-years away from the teaching practices of most faculty I meet. I already offend myself with massive cognitive overload as a teacher-trainer, so bringing open pedagogy into the mix when somebody is just learning licensing, for example, is not setting anyone up for confidence. It’s not very hospitable. I’m there to unlock gates for them, not to create more.
Once we have gone over these questions, I show them a list of resources, and I’m pretty selective with what I share at first. Too many resources are overwhelming. I then encourage faculty to talk to one another. Real hospitality is inviting people to share with one another. To teach one another. We know our minds when we explain to others. You know this.
In another life, I was very interested in interdisciplinary mentorship, and I’m bringing that old interest back to life with this exercise. It’s a great joy for me to see faculty from other disciplines talking about their students. Talking about teaching. Talking about technology for teaching.
If I can invite people who are adopters, adapters, or builders into this style of collaboration, then I am being hospitable. Yes.