Desert of My Real Life

Integrated Clusters, General Education, and the Creative Commons

Plymouth State University’s president came to campus three years ago with a vision that, at the time, he called “Strategic Clusters” (which has since been rebranded as “Integrated Clusters”). I thought (and still think) the vision is exactly the direction that higher education should move in. As we have begun to implement this vision at PSU, I have realized that it is intimately tied to ideas related to “open” as we have been discussing in my Creative Commons Certification class.

The president laid out his vision in a series of blog posts. The idea is that we will restructure the university to fully support project-based, interdisciplinary learning in which students engage meaningfully with the world outside of the classroom. The post that I have most frequently cited identified the four tools of clusters, three of which are components of our General Education program. In my role as Coordinator of General Education, I hope to help faculty bring the principles of “open” into their classrooms.

I am particularly drawn to the “open” ideal of equity in access to education as well as to the principles of OER-enabled pedagogy. What do I mean?

First, high textbook costs impede equal access to education. For example, in the 2016 Student Textbook and Course Material Survey, students said they experienced the following negative impacts because of high course material costs:

  • 47.6% Take fewer courses
  • 45.5% Don’t register for a course
  • 26.1% Drop a course
  • 20.7% Withdraw from a course
  • 37.6% Earn a poor grade
  • 19.8% Fail a course
  • 66.6% Don’t purchase the required textbook

If instructors are able to use open educational resources (OER) in place of high cost textbooks and other course materials, a major obstacle to student academic success is removed. Students will have immediate and free (or low cost) access to their learning materials. The Creative Commons serves as a repository of OER and the more material in the commons, the more likely it is that an instructor will be able to find OER appropriate to their courses.

As important as reducing textbook costs is to me, even more important is the use of OER-enabled pedagogy. David Wiley defines OER-enabled pedagogy as “the set of teaching and learning practices only possible or practical when you have permission to engage in the 5R activities.” We are restricted in the ways in which we can engage with copyrighted material. We learn by doing things and so copyrighted material restricts the ways in which we are allowed to learn from that material. The 5R activities that Wiley mentions are retain, reuse, remix, revise, and redistribute. Using openly licensed materials means that we can engage in these 5 activities with the material. For example, we are free to revise an open textbook to suit our needs. In particular, students are free to revise the text to suit their needs and then they can redistribute their revisions for use by others. This redistribution is part of what makes the work meaningful because the students are doing real work that contributes to the body of knowledge out in the world. And this is exactly what we’re trying to do at PSU with cluster initiative–create opportunities for students to do work that matters to the world.

My goal is to help faculty at PSU, especially within the Gen Ed program, use more OER and more OER-enabled pedagogy in their classes. There are plenty of challenges in this endeavor. But the one that I am most concerned with at the moment is that faculty on our campus are tired. We have been engaged in constant change of every aspect of our academic lives for the past three years. We are redesigning curricula, reorganizing our administrative structures, engaging with external partners, creating new kinds of academic experiences, and so on. Providing support for faculty, including part-time faculty, to learn new skills and ways of engaging with students in order to implement OER-enabled pedagogy will be challenging. In addition, I recognize that OER-enabled pedagogy challenges faculty to shift their thinking about their role in the classroom which can shake someone’s identity as a teacher. Giving up control and “expert status” is scary and difficult and some will have philosophical disagreements with the very idea. In addition, many faculty who teach Gen Ed courses are part-time and so we need to find ways to appropriately support them to move in this direction as well.

My plan is to start to build a coalition of the willing. Let’s start with faculty who are excited by the integrated cluster vision, who are interested in learning together how best to change our engagement with our classes. We have already begun some of this work with the First Year Seminar Fellows, who are all working with their students on wicked problems in action-oriented projects that reach beyond the walls of the classroom. This challenging work is supported by reflective practice (RP) groups that serve as a learning community for the faculty. In addition, all Fellows receive a stipend to participate in the RP groups, attend other professional development activities, and design their individual sections of the course. Our next step is to create a similar Fellows program for faculty who will teach pilot sections of an integrated, General Education capstone course this Spring. This new set of Fellows has volunteered for the work and, together, we are defining the characteristics of the capstone course which, like the First Year Seminar, will focus on project-based learning and OER-enabled pedagogy.

This is an exciting time for Gen Ed at PSU and I hope we can live up to the challenge of using Gen Ed as part of our implementation of the integrated cluster vision. The Creative Commons Certification is part of my own professional development to be able to provide support for our efforts.

 

The featured image on this post is in the Public Domain and was downloaded from this site: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:CreativeCommons_logo_trademark.svg

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