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Open Access Week: Equipping the online learning community with open-access tools

Open Access workshops led by BCcampus provide educators across the province an opportunity to experience firsthand the unique challenges of learning in an online environment.

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One of the resources available to the education community of B.C. is SOL*R, the Shareable Online Learning Resource. This service is available for free through BCcampus, and was created to facilitate sharing, collaboration, and iterative development of content by and for B.C. post-secondary educators.

As part of our focus on Open Access Week, we’re looking at the open-licensed nature of our Instructional Skills Workshops Online (ISWO), and how it benefits the learning community. Open Access Week is a global event that provides the academic and research communities with the ability to share experiences and inspire participation, and this aligns nicely with the BCcampus vision of providing co-ordinated information and communications technology services, online learning and distance education, communities of practice, and online resources for educators. The workshop materials can be found online on SOL*R, and have been made freely available under a Creative Commons license.

Sylvia Currie is the senior manager of professional learning at BCcampus, and she is one of the contributors working towards forming and developing open-learning opportunities across the province. She is co-facilitating an Instructional Skills Workshop Online via SCoPE, the BCcampus open-access platform that brings educators together to explore opportunities across disciplines, geography, professions, expertise, and education sectors. The design of ISWO is based on the platform developed by the Instructional Skills Workshop network, and provides an “authentic environment for faculty to learn about and practice skills related to facilitation and assessing learning.”

The workshops are offered for free but have a strict time commitment and limited spots available, so participants are encouraged to join only if they can set aside the time required. The next ISWO is scheduled for Nov 3 – Dec 5.

“Delivering this ISWO gives us the ability to provide an opportunity that just isn’t available anywhere else. Faculty from across the province can learn together, making valuable connections and building strong networks,” said Ms. Currie. “The fact that the course is open-licensed means participants can take the course, and if they like it they can implement it at their own institution.”

Structure without constraint

Dr. Jennifer Walinga of Royal Roads University has been an active proponent for open learning and online skills workshops for years. She shared that there seems to be a pendulum swing in education: the first iterations of open learning had little to no constraints, but also minimal success. Today’s open-learning model requires facilitative structure, where there is guidance without restraint. Bouncing ideas off the wall provides an opportunity for learners to see over it and discover what else is possible.

“To be successful, we need to get creative around how we can achieve learning in new ways; not bound by traditional or former structures, but not so free that there is no structure,” said Dr. Walinga. “It’s not about being in the middle, it’s about the need for freedom and asynchronicity as well as providing guidance and facilitation and support.”

The open-learning concept allows students to explore critical thinking versus mass storage, choosing the fields that interest them and facilitating further study within these areas. Today’s learners are their own guides to learning, and the open-learning model allows them to achieve a self-directed education, and the ISWO provides a safety net of instructors who understand how and when to provide facilitative structure.

Notable Quotes

“The feedback on previous workshops has been generally positive, but some participants found it to be a tremendous amount of work. This is a good thing, as it gives them a better understanding of what is required for the online courses they’re leading.” ~Sylvia Currie, BCcampus Senior Manager of Professional Learning

“Any kind of open strategy is brilliant because it usually arrives at some sort of insightful solution that’s more sustainable, more elegant, more systemic, and achieves more than we would if we are constrained or try to control things too much.” Dr. Jennifer Walinga, Royal Roads University director of the School of Communication and Culture

“Allow personal interactions to take place in the course, because that helps build a sense of community” Alicia Wilkes, Instructor, School of Hotel & Tourism Management at Royal Roads

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Image via Gideon Burton@flickr.com