With the end of the Fall 2017 semester, I want to record my thoughts about creating the open educational resource (OER) Introduction to Media Studies with students in CM2770 (Intro to Media and Cultural Studies). At the start of the semester, I hadn’t planned that my students would create an OER. As I wrote in October, the idea came to me because my students were writing wonderful material about media that only I was seeing and that seemed like a waste to me. So I gave the students the choice to scrap the syllabus and work on the OER. All students initially agreed that this was a good idea. But after working on one chapter of the OER, probably because of my lack of experience in guiding this kind of assignment, some students opted to go back to the original syllabus. As I wrote in early November, I considered this to be a positive thing because the students were taking charge of their own learning by asking for what they believed would allow them to be most successful. For the rest of the semester, 6 students in two sections of the course did the work of our original syllabus while 36 students worked on the OER.
How We Completed the Work
I started by creating an Office 365 group called CM2770 and added all the students to it. I also created a separate folder in the group’s OneDrive space for each section of the class. This is where the students would work together to write the text. Teaching the students about the idiosyncrasies of finding and working in shared documents in OneDrive was a bit of a pain (compared to Google Drive which many of them are used to using) and took longer than I expected. I created our book on PressBooks but because of some experiences I was having in my First Year Seminar, I decided that I would be the only person who could edit the book. The students’ work would be done in OneDrive and when it was complete, I would add it to the book. More about that later.
We had a custom textbook that we were reading–8 chapters from Converging Media: A New Introduction to Mass Communication–so we started each “unit” by reading a chapter in that book. The first chapter we read as we started working on the OER was on print media–books, newspapers, and magazines. We decided that for each medium, we would want to write about 5 topics: the historical development of the medium, the functions the medium serves in our society, the financial model of the medium (how it makes money), the current business issues that the medium faces, and what the future might hold for the medium. Each of these topics ended up being a chapter in the OER. The students were already working in groups for an assignment in the old syllabus so we stayed in those groups. Each group was assigned one of the 5 topics and they determined as a group how to divide up the work. We spent a day in the library with Anne Jung-Matthews who showed the students how to use the library databases. I also brought other leading media studies textbooks with me to class each day. Each class period was spent working on the OER. Some groups worked almost entirely as individuals while others spent more time talking about the work as they were creating their text. I was available in class to answer whatever questions they had or to help them through any difficulties they encountered. After a few class periods, I started bringing my own work so that I would not hover over the groups as they worked.
After working for approximately two weeks on a chapter, we engaged in a peer review of their first drafts. Students in the first section of the class reviewed the work of students in the second section and vice versa. They filled out a rubric and put comments in the text on OneDrive. I also filled out a rubric (with the same rubric items) for each group) to give them additional feedback on their work. At the point of peer review, each group also completed a group evaluation of their own group members’ participation in the development of their chapter. I gave a “first draft engagement” grade which was worth one third of the final grade on the chapter. The criterion on which students were graded at this point was their engagement in the project as measured by the quantity of what they produced, the assessment of their work by the other members of their group, and their self-assessment. The groups were given a week to revise and respond to the feedback they had received from their peers and from me and then the “final” draft of their chapter was due. They then completed another group evaluation of their own group members’ participation. I then graded their final draft, focusing mostly on their engagement in the process. I also worked to move their text from OneDrive to the actual book. I often had to ask each group to revise something about their in-text citations and their works cited section but that got better as time went on.
What I Think About the Work
There is a lot that I will do differently when I next have a class work on this assignment.
First, I would spend significantly more time at the start of the assignment talking about the expectations for citing sources. I would spend time helping students find sources and keeping track of what they were pulling from those sources. I would also design an exercise in which students wrote short pieces with in-text citations and a works cited page so that they could understand the MLA citation style (or whatever style we decided to use). This semester, I set out the requirement to use MLA but didn’t spend a significant amount of time going over what that means. As a result, students had to redo a bunch of work in the first two chapters they wrote in order to even come close to adhering to MLA requirements. Most students got the hang of this by their third chapter. Some even said that this was the first time they really understood a citation style. But I think we might be able to save time and frustration if I spent more time on this before we really started writing chapters.
Second, I would ban the use of any of the “automatic” citation generators. My students were using a variety of these. How do I know? I asked them. But also, I began to recognize which they were using because of the crappy formats that were coming out of them. Without understanding the pieces required in a citation (author, journal title, article title, volume, and so on), students were putting garbage into the generators and so naturally, garbage was coming out. I would spend more time teaching students about the different pieces of information required so that someone can find the cited source in the future. In other words, I would spend more time teaching students about WHY we create in-text citations and a list of works cited.
Third, I would spend more time talking about what a good final draft of a chapter looks like. Because students would split their chapter into pieces, they didn’t always think about how their pieces fit together. The result is often disjointed. One thing that I might do is make sure that every group has at least one student on each chapter who acts as the editor. The role of the editor would be to make sure the chapter actually reads like a coherent, cohesive chapter. I spent a significant amount of time during the copying from OneDrive to PressBooks making sure the format of the work looked like a chapter. I think a student editor could do this in the future. But in addition, the student editor could make sure that the text of the chapter actually reads like a chapter.
Fourth, I would devise some method for students to decide for themselves what work makes it into the book and what doesn’t. If you read the book we’ve created, you’ll notice that some sections are stronger than others. And some sections are significantly weaker than others. If students read through the work of their peers more often and with the purpose of giving feedback and ultimately deciding what is to be included in the book, the book would be stronger. And I think students would be even more motivated to create quality work.
The last significant change that I would make is that I would spend more time discussing the material before the students started to write about it. More about that below.
What the Students Think About the Work
During the last week of the semester, students wrote short papers reflecting on eight questions concerning their work on the OER and we discussed their answers during our final exam period. Of the 36 students who worked on the OER, only 1 said that he wishes he had been part of the group that used the original syllabus for the class. He had some great suggestions for improving the assignment in the future. The rest of the students would much rather work on the OER. They also had great suggestions for improving the assignment in the future.
The main suggestion from the students had to do with how we started the assignment. The students were fairly confused about what they were “expected” to do. At the time, I only knew that I wanted students to be engaged in the assignment but I hadn’t thought through what I meant by “engaged.” In the future, I think we as a class should have some discussions about expectations concerning depth vs. breadth of coverage of the material, citation requirements, various roles in the group, individual vs. group work, and what “engagement” looks like. We might even create a rubric together so that students have a better understanding of what is expected of them.
Several students said that they missed our in-class discussions and activities that had helped them to understand the material they were reading early in the semester. Before we embarked on the OER assignment, we would spend class time on understanding each chapter they were reading. Through our discussions and activities, students would come to understand what was most important about the material. Once we started working on the OER, I relied on students to ask me questions about the things they encountered that they didn’t understand. And they did ask me lots of questions. But based on feedback from the students, I think we could do some reading and then engage in discussion and other activities to better understand the reading and then students could begin their research for writing their chapters. Their writing would be stronger and they would feel more confident that they were included all of the important topics for their sections.
Students were quite eloquent in expressing the reasons that they felt the OER assignment worked better for their understanding of the material.
One student wrote: “I learned so many things from this OER project, but if I had to name just three they would be, how to use Office365 OneDrive, how to efficiently research scholarly resources, and how to find things that are not only relevant to the subject I am learning, but how to find things that I am passionate about related to the subject matter.”
Another wrote: “The best part about working on the OER besides the fact that we will become published authors and have worked on something really rewarding, was that I really understood everything we read. There was no way we could write a section on something we didn’t understand. This is probably one of the only classes where I understood everything and everything made sense.”
Although the assignment wasn’t perfect, I will definitely incorporate it into future offerings of CM2770. Seeing how powerful the learning experience is when students work on meaningful projects that have a life beyond the walls of the classroom makes me realize that I should incorporate something like this in EVERY class I teach.
I am currently Professor of Digital Media at Plymouth State University in Plymouth, NH. I am also the current Coordinator of General Education at the University. I am interested in astrophotography, game studies, digital literacies, open pedagogies, and generally how technology impacts our culture.