Open Dialogues: How to Practice Responsible Pedagogy

This is the second article of Open Dialogues, a series on open teaching and open education.

Arthur Gill Green’s interest in open education practices developed early in his career. Green, currently a postdoctoral fellow at the Department of Geography at UBC and a faculty fellow for BCcampus, started teaching in 2010. Just as he was finishing his first course, he noticed something peculiar: four students stayed after class to take photos of a textbook. When he asked them what they were doing, the students explained they had bought the book together. Every week one of them would get the textbook and the other three would take photos of the assigned reading and read it on their phones.

“That was the canary in the coal mine for me in terms of open education resources and proprietary resources and how they interacted,” he said. “From that point on… I [tried] to identify open education resources for teaching.”

At that time, says Green, it was really hard to find any open textbooks in geography. Only in 2014 did BCcampus create a team to start working on an open geography textbook. “We did a book sprint, which is a week-long locking us into a room and writing together. That was my first experience actually authoring an open textbook, creating a truly open education resource,” he added.

Today the BCcampus open textbook website has about 140 different textbooks for different subjects offered in British Columbia. Since the organization started its Open Textbook Project in 2012, open textbooks are estimated to have saved students between $1.1 and $1.4 million in B.C. alone.

Green says open educational resources are foundational to engaging with responsible pedagogy. “If students can’t afford resources, if they can’t afford textbooks and it’s hindering their learning, then we’re not being responsible in how we choose the textbooks and how we choose what students should read. How can we be responsible in our pedagogy, in our approach to choosing textbooks, to choosing resources and delivering them?”

Open websites

Since he joined UBC in June 2015, Green has worked with colleagues Loch Brown and Derek Turner on a flexible learning project to emphasize curriculum enhancement in the Department of Geography. “My big contribution to this project is teaching faculty members, postdocs and young PhD students to understand how to access open education resources,” he said.

Green is currently involved in the development of two websites. The first is called open.geog.ubc.ca and this is envisioned as an archive of open education resources, which will include a number of open resources available for teaching in geography, including modules for learning Geographic Information Science (GIS) through open source software QGIS and a free WordPress plugin called FieldPress for creating and managing field trips. These open educational resources were created through collaborations between instructors and students in the Department of Geography.

The second website, called environment.geog.ubc.ca relates closely to what Green calls authentic learning. “Authentic learning for us means that students don’t just write papers that end up being read by a TA or by a professor. Student assignment should be made to benefit the larger public,” he added. As a result, the second website will host student-only creations, including 40 case studies of challenging environmental problems that can be used by anyone who teaches in the area of sustainability and environment.

Open and geography

Green believes geographers are at a unique position to engage with open practices. “There’s a lot that we [geographers] can do in terms of open pedagogy. We have a large amount of topics we cover and so we can be very flexible in the types of assignments that we create for students and how we get out in the field,” he said. He added, “Geographers work on understanding pressing human-environment issues and are the cutting edge of issues ranging from spatial statistics and GIS to human rights and political movements. It is important that the knowledge we create be open to inform public debate and increase learning.” In the end, open pedagogy is about opening up education beyond the institution and the traditional instructor-student divide. “Open pedagogy can help instructors reinvent some of the ways that they teach and open up a discussion with the students about their needs. It recognizes we are all learners in process.”

According to Green, most of the open education resources literature has focused on the economic benefits for students and institutions. Yet, one part of the equation that hasn’t received enough attention is the idea that adopting open education resources changes pedagogy. Instead of relying on a canonical text that has been approved and reiterated through many editions, instructors can now rely on a community of people to collaboratively edit a text.

“You can actually take the text and modify it to your teaching style. The text is tailored to our learning strategies. I am no longer tailoring my courses to the text. That is true academic freedom.”

Green is a panelist in the upcoming CTLT event “Engaging Students in Open Education.” For more information on the panel discussion, click here.