Splashing About in a Sea of “O’s” : Online Teaching, O.E.R., and Open Pedagogy

This semester, being forced to transition courses to distance learning, I’ve struggled with how to create an environment of creative and applied learning experiences rather than just learning activities that focus on the more basic skills of remembering and understanding of course content.  Typically in my face to face courses a significant amount of time is spent in applied learning activities many of which include role playing, simulations, and student lead demonstrations, etc. Some of the challenge (aside from teaching during a pandemic and all that entails!) is my limited knowledge and use of LMS systems other than as a repository for grading assignments, student introductions, quizzes/tests, and some limited group interactions/projects usually in dyads.  However I do feel that experiential learning experiences are challenging to construct in an online platform even in the best of times.

This semester is also the first time that I’ve dipped my toes in the waters of O.E.R. and Open Pedagogy as well.  My initial understanding of O.E.R. was simply that it was a way of saving students some money, which is fantastic in itself of course, but I had not really recognized its potential impact through the perspective lenses of accessibility and all its implications.  I knew even less about Open Pedagogy when my Chair suggested that I involve myself in this initiative this semester.  My cursory understanding was that it had “something to do” with students co-creating course content which given many of the courses I teach which articulate with upper level programs in other colleges my initial reaction was “ ok but how is that going to work?”

As the semester has unfolded and there has been a bit of time to delve deeper my vision and appreciation of both O.E.R. and Open Pedagogy has been expanding along with my enthusiasm. I am beginning to glimpse that co-created learning activities might help to address my initial frustration with how to move from wrote memory learning to more creative applied experiential activities even if we must continue with distance learning.

Travis Thurston, Assistant Director of Empowering Teaching Excellence at University of Utah, has addressed the concept of creating an “architecture of engagement” within L.M.S. environments by moving past the traditional use of discussion board posts/comments to more constructed exchanges with playful or game based prompts to encourage participation along with incentives for extra credit (tricky) built in. He has structured on line conversations incorporating Blooms Taxonomy to cue the students on the type and depth of posts and responses to topic areas being explored. Students do have the flexibility both at the beginning of the course and throughout to direct the flow of conceptual exploration.

I still am thrashing about a bit with how to manage the involvement and participation of student groups in an online environment. I eliminated those activities this semester because I was unsure if students would be able to consistently engage in intra-group interactions and projects as I’ve found that challenging in the past even in the best of times. Often the connection between students that is formed in the face to face classroom does help with supporting their engagement together in on line Blackboard activities. I look to the “collective wisdom” for supportive ideas in this aspect of constructing student initiated group projects and online activities to maximize their participation.

Thurston, T, “Online Engagement Through Digital Powerups”, (Audio podcast) Episode 295, Teaching in Higher Education, February 2, 2020

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