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Opening education and ourselves

One of the things I’ve gotten very involved with in my time at a community college is helping to encourage and support the adoption, adaptation, or creation of open educational resources. I’ve written about this here at Nocturnal Librarian a couple of times, including sharing with readers what students say they would buy if they didn’t have to spend money on textbooks.

But I gained another valuable perspective at the recent OpenEd19 conference. Some of the best sessions I attended were by students, and at one of those I realized there is another benefit to OERs that I hadn’t fully understood until I heard students talk about it: if you can’t buy course materials, you feel like you are faking it in class. This is not just a problem of learning (because many persistent students get around not having a book in all sorts of creative ways, by sharing, taking photos of pages they need to read, or finding alternatives to the textbook), but of attainment — there have been many studies linking student success and a sense of belonging. You can’t feel like you belong in college if you are mired in imposter syndrome because you are just trying to get by without an expensive textbook you can’t afford.

At OpenEd I also heard some presentations on including students in solving the problem, either by including them in the co-creation of materials in the classes they’re enrolled in (known as open pedagogy) or hiring them to help faculty build OER courses. Both of these endeavors are additional ways to counter imposter syndrome with participation. If you feel like you don’t fit in the status quo, what’s more powerful than being part of changing it? Plus, students gain useful experience and a sense that they are capable autodidacts who can learn what they need when the work they do and the world around them changes and they need to adapt.

Because it changes, doesn’t it? Another powerful session I attended was presented by a panel of librarians talking about the need for community, because for many of us working on opening up our campuses to these practices, our job descriptions or responsibilities don’t actually include this work. The panel also noted that we librarians also sometimes face imposter syndrome when we’re at the table with faculty, instructional designers, and learning technology staff. I went into the session thinking I just wanted to hear about the need for community but I didn’t actually need that “other stuff” and came out realizing, yes, I do. So, I’m going to work on owning that “other stuff” and getting comfortable with the messiness of choosing to do something that I’ve mostly learned on my own and added to my role not only because it’s a priority on my campus, and a priority for making higher ed more accessible for students, but because I am perfectly capable of pursuing professional interests without having been granted expertise by anyone else.

Like our students, I can create my own agency and efficacy. And if I do that with them, all the better, because we’ll learn from each other as we go and strengthen each other’s sense of belonging. I hear a lot of people talk about how hard it is to actually have community at a community college because people (faculty as well as students) are not there very much — they come to class and then head off campus to other responsibilities at work and home. But open educational practices, it seems to me, can counter that by drawing people together around a shared purpose in a way that packaged curriculum can’t match. Opening education can and does change our work, our learning, and our world. And if that work doesn’t belong to all of us, what does?

**update — here’s what happens when a student feels people in higher ed (librarians in this case, I am happy to report) are actually listening: https://openstax.org/blog/true-champions-oer-movement

About Deb Baker

Deb Baker is a writer and insatiable reader, and library director at a community college. She muses about library issues at The Nocturnal Librarian (https://thenocturnallibrarian.com/) and blogs about books, reading, and life at bookconscious (http://bookconscious.wordpress.com/). Her family includes two awesome offspring, a husband, and the cat who adopted them. And a crazy rescue kitten.

4 responses to “Opening education and ourselves

  1. eliwhi28 ⋅

    This is interesting commentary on a considerable problem many students face. The cost of books is untenable. But, I am not sure open source materials is the only answer. Some classes are difficult to teach without a text. Yet, the publishing companies often make minute changes to justify a new edition with a corresponding increase in price. Competition from open sources has not been an impact of the big publishing houses, at least that I can see.

    • Deb Baker

      Thanks for reading and commenting – I agree that sometimes a text is helpful and there are many open textbooks. The beautiful thing about open materials is that they can be customized to the needs of an instructor and students. It’s also true that this isn’t the only answer to the high cost of education. Actually I’d be suspicious of any solution that claims to be the only one!

  2. Deb, when I taught digital photography at MCC, the text book that was assigned was terrible. It had poor examples and mis-information. I took it upon myself to find links for material I was going to cover and, in the lesson plans for each day that I sent out prior to class, I included links. My immediate supervisor at the time OKed it; yet when it came to a final review of my course, the chair of the department raked me over the coals, and my immediate supervisor denied having given me permission. That, and a kerfuffle caused by five students–none of whom did the work–wrote a collective letter to the president saying I’d taught them nothing. Not even my portfolio of lesson plans, handouts, examples of student work (which the other teacher said he’d give anything to have his students do such quality work) exonerated me. I decided it wasn’t a safe place for me to work.

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