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Crafting a better BCcampus Online Book Club: Learnings from Fall 2019

Post by Leva Lee, Manager, Learning + Teaching

In 2018, the BCcampus Online Book Club was created to provide informal, flexible, and accessible teaching and learning professional development for faculty, instructors, and staff in the B.C. post-secondary system. In addition, the book club was offered to explore how we might strengthen community connections through promoting conversations on teaching and learning and evidence-based practice. 

Learnings from the inaugural book club offering were shared at the Educational Developers Caucus Showcase in February 2019 and in the post “Eight Essential Principles in the Design of an Online Book Club.” Then, in the fall of 2019, we offered the BCcampus Online Book Club a second time, modifying our model based on the feedback. To address concerns about privacy, we migrated the blog site from WordPress and created a new one hosted by the B.C. Open Ed Tech Collaborative (OpenETC). We added the chat and webinar tools available through OpenETC, Mattermost, and BigBlueButton to support book club discussion.

Based on the “eight essentials” or guiding principles for our book club, we discovered the following insights, as well as uncovered further questions for how we might craft a better book club. 

Openness

Migrating the book club blog to OpenETC fit better with our approach as a community-based offering and our desire to use open source tools. However, in this second offering, we did not get the anticipated participant uptake. Though a simple process, we wondered if the requirement to register as a member of the book club and to create an account to access tools created a barrier for participants. As well, were our book club conversations — which required the login to see the chats — too “hidden”? Was moving our site to another host and the introduction of new tools too disruptive? Or, were we experiencing the normal cycle of awareness and growth of a new offering? That said, the move toward requiring membership in the book club felt like a progressive step toward creating a more solid community with identifiable and visible individuals with whom we may build relationships around the common interest of teaching and learning.

Flexibility and use of turn-key technology

The tools we chose (to support flexibility and allow for both asynchronous and synchronous discussion) performed satisfactorily. Participants were very proficient with ed technology, but the chat tool was at times confusing, particularly when there were multiple discussions. In addition, one of our participants tried using the phone-in feature to the web meetup, but it did not work. This functionality would be a useful feature for participants balancing busy schedules.

Practical

As in our first offering, participants were encouraged to focus on sharing experience and practical takeaways in both the chapter chats and the weekly web conference meetings. Several facilitators modelled the strategies featured in the readings in our meetings, which provided practical, hands-on professional learning, linking theory to practice.

Social

To help the book club to be a “fun, safe, supportive, collegial” space, we developed a book club “Code of Conduct,” which we posted weekly in the introduction to each of the chapter chats: The Mattermost and BBB spaces have been created for Book Club participants to engage in respectful and relevant discussion on our selected reading. Please read carefully, reflect before sharing, challenge tactfully, question thoughtfully, forgive mistakes (yours and theirs), provide sources, have fun.

Content

Suggestions for both book club offerings were provided by members of the B.C. post-secondary community. Books that were shortlisted were those thought to have a broad appeal for those in teaching and learning and that were readily available through library loan, teaching and learning centres, or purchase. For the next book club reading, it was suggested we select something more provocative or “edgy” to promote discussion. There was also a suggestion that we might do shorter readings, such as journal articles or blog posts, and choose an open publication(s).

In both offerings, we involved very experienced and knowledgeable volunteer facilitators. In the first offering, we suggested a blog template for facilitators to follow, while in the second offering, we encouraged each to write their post however they wished. The variety made for a very interesting offering of high-quality posts and discussions. In addition, the facilitators themselves were very engaged and dedicated participants who comprised the core of the fall 2019 book club. 

Access/ease of participation

Future book selection will consider open publications that are available at low or no cost, provide the possibility for using the content for activities that extend teaching and learning, and have additional formats supporting learner choice and accessibility, e.g., audio recordings, reader-friendly e-books.

Other comments

We received feedback that a shorter duration for the book club would be desirable, as it would help to sustain focus and participation in the book club.

The BCcampus Online Book Club Fall 2019 had the follow participation statistics:

  • 28 book club members (membership is defined as someone who is registered with an account on the OpenETC)
  • 9 facilitators, each posting a blog on one of the book chapters 
  • 9 chapter chats, culminating in an online meetup at the end of the week
  • An average of 8 participants attended each online meetup
  • At the time of the offering, there were 113 followers of @BCcBookclub on Twitter
  • Note: Subscribers to the blog site decreased from the first offering: we suspect this was a result of some problems encountered in the transition of our site hosting service

In this second offering of the BCcampus Online Book Club, we were able to meet with educators to discuss and meaningfully share many learnings centred around the reading of a book. If any measure of success is the level of care, commitment, and thoughtful participation that took place in the book club, it was, indeed, a highly successful endeavour. There is, however, room for improvement, and we look forward to further exploration of additional ways to enhance learning for participants. Lastly, thank you to all the dedicated facilitators and participants who generously shared their time and knowledge in support of the ever evolving BCcampus Online Book Club.

For learnings and a detailed account of her experience with the BCcampus Online Book Club, read Sylvia Riessner’s blog post.

A Fall 2020 book club is being planned, so keep in touch!