Student as Producer, Technology

Experts in Their Own Learning (Data)

One of the events that I’ve been involved with over the past few years is UBC’s Learning Analytics Hackathons. These events usually involve around 100+ students cramming into the very cool, but windowless, Sauder Learning Labs for a full day or weekend. They dig into data from educational technologies and explore by doing the ways that the data supports (or doesn’t) their learning.  It’s a very hands-on maker pedagogy approach.

One of the reasons I like being involved in these events is that they provide real transparency for students – learning technology collects data so giving students the opportunity to work with that data brings it out of the black box and into the sunlight. The goal for the most recent hackathon was to use anonymized data from a Canvas course to help an instructor answer real questions about their course.  As I mention in the below article, I’m always impressed by participants’ enthusiasm and dedication. Students have real expertise in their own learning experiences and a real nuanced perspective around data and its use for learning – being able to engage with them in this space is always a fun and informative experience.

Read the full article.

OER Fund, Open UBC

Looking at the OER Fund

The UBCV OER Fund, which I help to coordinate, aims to support affordable and inclusive access to learning materials through the adoption, adaptation, development, and integration of open educational resources in UBCV credit courses. Between Fall 2019 and Spring 2022, the Fund provided $650,076 in OER grant funding for 61 projects across 11 different faculties. Earlier this fall, my colleague Trish Varao-Sousa and I published an evaluation snapshot of this grant program.

One of my favourite parts of the snapshot looked at what finished projects reported as being the most valuable part of being an OER Fund recipient. Some of the reported themes included:

  • The collaboration with students – e.g.:
    • “Reflecting on the course and resources with students as part of the team in developing resources.”
    • “Creating knowledge with a student partner and seeing the possibility of doing this in the future.”
    • “Many of our doctoral students were introduced to OER concepts and examples, which expands their imagination about the future of higher education research and teaching and how they might participate in it.”
  • The funding to support specific collaborations (e.g., course buyouts; hiring students/GTAs) – e.g.:
    • “Creating OER resources that were informed by multiple experts and allowed for a variety of voices and experiences to be presented. The resources that were created included perspectives, voices and experiences of equity deserving groups, which are often left out of traditional textbook resources.” 
  • Skill development – e.g.:
    • “I learned about what OER sources were! And I realized I could design a course without a textbook (something that was daunting to me in the past).”

You can read the entire report here:

Open UBC

Open Strategies for Remote Teaching and Learning

The 2020/21 academic year brought a transition to remote learning and delivery of online courses. This transition, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, exposed the importance of student ease of access to textbooks and other course materials. One strategy for ensuring students had barrier free access to learning materials was the use of open educational resources (OERs). In the 2020/21 academic year, an estimated 19,152 UBC students took part in 60 courses that were using open or freely available resources in place of paid textbooks.

According to the AMS COVID-19 Impacts on UBC Students Survey (PDF), which was published in late September 2020, the more students agree that they have equitable access to educational resources to supplement course material, the better they are able to engage with the course content in the context of independent study and online lectures. However, according to the same survey, only 54 percent of students agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “I am able to access resources to help me understand my course materials.” In addition, less than 50 percent of students indicated that they pay for textbooks when the class requires them.

Read my full report here.

Open Policies

Intentionally Open

The Centre for Teaching, Learning, and Technology at UBC, where I work, has a long history of embracing open practices. We’ve openly licensed most everything on our website since 2014, created and openly shared many different teaching and learning resources, developed and supported open technologies, such as the UBC Wiki or UBC Blogs, which make sharing easy, run workshops on all matters of open pedagogies and resources, contributed code to open code repos, had a dedicated position for open education for many years — the list goes on and on. All of this openness was due to the efforts and heavy lifting of my fantastic colleagues, current and past.

This past year my colleague Lucas Wright and myself had the opportunity to pitch a more intentional strategy in this area and this past March, the CTLT Academic Director, Christina Hendricks, posted CTLT’s new Open Access Statement:

At the Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology, we create open and accessible educational resources, tools, and practices. When we co-create these with faculty, staff, students, and community partners, we encourage public sharing with an open license when agreed upon by all contributors.

I, of course, love this statement and encourage checking out the full post from Christina as it lays out the great work that has already happened at CTLT and the intention to continue and improve upon that work. I also really appreciate the important alignment of open with accessibility. Having intentionality about open, and stating that intentionality as part of a unit’s values, helps ensure that we will always be moving ahead and towards our aspirational goals in this area.

Open UBC

Open Snapshots: Thoughts & Processes


I’ve been publishing reports that attempt to capture a snapshot of the impacts and trends of open textbook and OER use at UBC for a few years now. I occasionally get questions about the process for developing the report and, somewhat belatedly, I thought I’d occasionally post some of my documentation and thinking of how I do the reports here.

In terms of the cost savings and student impacts of using open resources, here’s some general notes on what I capture and the calculations and assumptions that I make:

Guidelines for Inclusion

  • To be included in the snapshot, there should be no textbook fees/costs for students
    • Many courses use OER to supplement paid materials, however, these snapshots attempt to track courses in which OER has replaced paid resources
  • To be included in the report, materials do not necessarily have to be openly licensed but should be freely and openly accessible at a minimum. At UBC, such resources often take the form of instructor created custom course notes, interactive media, textbooks, and other learning resources that the instructor has created and posted publicly online but which do not include a stated permission for reuse and/or an open license, such as a Creative Commons license.
  • Materials should be on the open web and linkable from the report appendix; if materials are not on the open web (i.e unique course notes that the instructor has developed), the instructor should be able to provide a copy of the materials to share.

Questions to ask specific course instructors:

  • Using OER in place of textbook (Y/N)
  • Specific sections using the OER – this is important as all sections cannot be assumed to use the same resources; specific sections must be confirmed.
  • Title and cost of displaced textbook (note, I also try to independently confirm cost)
  • Title and link to the specific OER being used
  • All past terms and specific sections (going back five years) that have used that OER
  • If they know other instructors using OER

Estimations and Assumptions:

  • Use Planing and Institutional Reporting (PAIR) enrolment data to look up actual enrolments on a per section basis (for specific year/term) – this is important as instructors can slightly off on the exact size of their classes
  • Per BCcampus & OpenStax formulations, cost savings should be estimated as a range to take into account all options students have for acquiring a text. To estimate the minimum cost savings range, use $100 for minimum savings range. Maximum savings should be estimated based on the actual cost of replaced book.
    • If replaced book was less than $100, use the actual amount for minimum savings range.
    • If cost or displaced  is unknown: Search the UBC bookstore to estimate cost; use $100 if price cannot be determined
    • If no text is identified as having been replaced in the last five years, use $100.
  • Note: only confirmed OER use should be included in the snapshot; reports on use from OpenStax, BCcampus should be confirmed locally.

I’m always looking to improve and refine these reports. If you have any suggestions, thoughts, questions, please let me know!