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Open Pedagogy and the Trades

When I first started my foray into open education, I had no idea what open ed actually was. Like many, I found myself working with open educational practices before I even knew they were a thing. This is exactly how I began my work and research in the area of co-creation of resources with trades students.

Post by Chad Flinn, Electrical and Entrepreneurship Instructor at BCIT

As a trades instructor, it never made sense to me that we were training future tradespeople in how to construct, troubleshoot, maintain, and collaborate by putting them in classes, where they would stare at the backs of each other’s heads and work in isolation (one may argue that this holds true for all disciplines). After a few years of teaching, I started gravitating towards including my students as co-conspirators in their own learning. I started to see more engagement, more interaction, and, dare I say, the students seemed to be having more fun.

As my teaching methods evolved, I decided to pursue a Master of Arts in Learning and Technology at Royal Roads University. I learned that there were actual terms for some of the projects and methods I was working on with my students, like “co-creation” and “open pedagogy.” I started digging into learning theories, such as Vygotsky’s social constructivism and Kolb’s experiential learning theory. I began to see how these practices and theories could be integrated into the context of trades training. I started reading and following the works of David Wiley, Jesse Stommel, Sean Michael Morris, Tannis Morgan, Rajiv Jhangiani, Robin DeRosa, and Catherine Cronin.

I stopped dipping my toe into the shallow end of the open pedagogy pool and decided to jump in cannonball style.

Two years ago, I adopted a fully co-creative model with my students. I no longer had them read from textbooks or outside resources: I started having them create their own. This is an ever-evolving model. (One of the things that I appreciate about open pedagogy is how it can take something that was previously static and turn it on its head into something dynamic.)

Some of the things we do in the name of co-creation:

  • Textbooks: At the beginning of the unit, the students are given a slide deck template. It comes with headings and subheadings, but it is up to the students to fill in the rest. I started this as an individual exercise, and over the past couple of years, it has evolved into a co-creative process (I hesitate to use the term “group project,” as it goes deeper than that). The group is responsible for gathering all the information it can on the topics. This is not done in a silo: I encourage the groups to interact with each other, and I am a constant sounding board for what information is relevant and what isn’t. Some of the work that they have created rivals those of standard textbooks.
  • Explainer videos: Using the free Flipgrid app from Microsoft, the students show how they would solve a problem that I put on the board at the end of the day. They have complete freedom in how they present the information, as long as it is appropriate and explains how they arrived at their answers. Some of the videos that have been submitted are animated, complete with soundtracks. The students enjoy making them, and I enjoy watching them.
  • Self and peer assessment: At the end of each unit, I send a Google Form survey to each student, where they may assess their contribution to the project. They are also required to assess their peers in the co-creation project. After a couple of days, I will have a mini interview with each student regarding the survey. Without fail, at the beginning of the course, students will mark themselves at a lower grade than they would normally obtain in a standard assignment. They will also be much more lenient on their peers. While this is not at all surprising, it has led to some great conversations regarding assessment and constructive criticism.
  • Authentic assignments: Along with the textbook projects, I try to focus on never having the students do something that could be thrown away at the end of the course. For example, during the electronics portion of the course, we work with Raspberry Pis (programmable microcomputers), and the students decide what they want to build with it or how they would like to program it. Some of the projects have been Wi-Fi boosters, gaming systems, media servers, and homemade laptops.
  • Group assessments: Instead of having individual students write tests or quizzes, we bring the collaborative nature of the course into the assessments as well. In groups of four, students work together on assessments. While one might think that the group would have the “smart” students do the test while the rest copied the results, this is never the case. Instead, there are many great discussions among the groups, and it is apparent that these assessments are learning opportunities for all the students.

A year ago, I made the decision in my master’s program to pursue the thesis track. I was very much interested in how the students themselves viewed these exercises and being brought into their own education as co-collaborators instead of mere consumers. I decided to take a mixed methods approach, using both a survey and interviews to gather my information. I was very fortunate in that I was able to gather all the data from my students before COVID-19 started to change the face of education. I was unfortunate in that, shortly after I gathered my data, all my attention was taken trying to figure out a way to transition face-to-face trades education delivery to some sort of workable remote delivery model. (I hesitate to use the word “online,” as I believe there is much more work that must be done to make this an authentic online model.)

It is now 10 weeks later, and we have our noses above water. I am now able to start digging into all the data that was collected. There were 18 responses to the survey, and nine students participated in an interview by a third party. I have just finished my first pass in coding the interviews, and I am seeing some exciting themes emerging:

  • Students like putting information into their own words, as it helps them to retain more information than by just reading textbooks.
  • Learning collaboratively is perceived as more enjoyable than learning alone.
  • Having access to resources at any time on a mobile device is useful for future studies.
  • There is a strong distrust of Wikipedia.
  • While strong in social media, many students have few to no digital literacy skills.

This is only my first pass, and these are only preliminary findings. I am in the process of taking some time and immersing myself in the data and seeing what comes out the other side. As I continue to dig and work and teach in this time of a pandemic, I am beginning to see how useful these exercises may be in an online context. Perhaps I am getting ahead of myself, but I am now pondering the question of what role co-creation of resources could have in a post-COVID era.

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