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Published September 22, 2015 | Multidisciplinary

Sharing Is Daring: Widespread Access to Learning Material

As teachers, we share because we care. But what is at stake when we do share?

Contrary to widespread belief (and some anecdotal evidence), many pedagogues do enjoy the act of giving. Granted, many people want to protect what they have built. Yet the very act of teaching involves a special form of generalised reciprocity. After all, few of us would use a spreadsheet to ensure that the rewards we receive through our interactions with learners match the efforts we have put into our work.

A significant portion of the energy devoted to teaching results in the creation of material (loosely defined). Interestingly, the same can be said about learning. Much of the tedium of “course prep” consists in creating educational resources: putting syllabi together, distributing handouts, preparing slide decks, tweaking exam questions… It feels like a teacher’s job is never done - unless we can reuse the same material next semester!

Collegial Culture

Another option is to solicit help from colleagues. While some people unceremoniously borrow from others’ work, there are ways for educators to find and use material that is meant to be repurposed.

For instance, some departments make syllabi available to all faculty members. When teaching a new course, using a colleague’s syllabus as inspiration can decrease time spent on redundant tasks and provide opportunities for linkages.

RERO: Release Early, Release Often

It might be tied to the Impostor Syndrome, but both learners and teachers often fail to perceive the value of their accomplishments. Given large rewards for perfectionism, it can be hard for “content creators” to let others access (and potentially judge) their work. The case of the overachieving student failing a course after missing a deadline becomes especially sad once you notice that a high-quality assignment was, in fact, ready on time.

Quality matters, no doubt about it. If the resources we develop in the college network are to be considered on par with commercial offerings, a highly-skilled production team is required. Luckily, the CCDMD represents such a “dream team” for the CEGEP system. However, Quebec’s unique Collegial Centre for Educational Materials Development can only take on so many projects each year. Our province’s special requirements in terms of higher education will require a popular and professional movement by a large number of actors.

Meanwhile, a lot can be said about more modest bits and pieces of content. Artists’ sketches frequently have a more profound impact on learning than completed masterpieces. What if people could learn from our drafts? What if learners could “run with” the early versions of our work? Collaborative editing aligns well with both connectivism and active learning.

In a “mix and match” model, other benefits accrue from the availability of early versions of learning material. For instance, if an English teacher were to find some sections of a sociology glossary useful, she might rework the text as part of a broader class project. Similarly, a chemistry class might have a blast fact-checking an old text on alchemy made available through a literature project. Such collaborative practices are already taking hold as isolated instances of open education. Building bridges between practitioners while opening the floodgates of learning material might help alter the educational landscape.

Educational Sandbox

This Fall, much of VTE’s work with the Anglophone sector will focus on Open Education. Having noticed several teachers’ willingness to build and share content for wider use, we have been collecting resources and gaining expertise on such issues as eBook formats and distribution mechanisms. In addition, we have been hard at work improving Ceres, the collective catalog for teaching and learning resources designed for the college network in Quebec. Through these efforts, those teachers that are searching for relevant resources for their courses should have an easier time finding them.

In the spirit of open collaboration and informal exchange, we plan to enable action by assembling likeminded practitioners instead of holding prescheduled activities (which could be disrupted by time and other pressures). We are setting up a group to allow free-flowing conversations about educational resources, ranging from their usage to their production.

Those interested in finding, creating, sharing, or just playing with learning material can join us.

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