BCcampus Award for Excellence in Open Education: Julia Alards-Tomalin

Nominated by Dana Bernier, open learning faculty member, Thompson Rivers University

Julia Alards-Tomalin works as an instructor in the Renewable Resources department at BCIT, where she teaches in the Forest and Natural Areas Management and Fish program, the Wildlife and Recreation program, and the Bachelor of Science in Ecological Restoration program. Her passion for open education has led her to create several open educational resources (OER) and to introduce her colleagues and help them transition their courses to OER.

Julia Alards-Tomalin
Julia Alards-Tomalin

Julia Alards-Tomalin’s two OER are Plant Press, an online plant ID game, and Buds, Branches and Bark: A Guide to Winter ID in the Pacific Northwest, a plant ID guide. With the help of a BCIT Open Education Grant in 2020, Julia created this guide collaboratively with her students, who were instrumental in writing identification pages for more than 25 plants. Julia engaged her students in researching and photographing plants in the field and involved graphic arts students in creating the book.

The guide was of interest to Linda Jennings, the herbarium curator at the Beaty Biodiversity Museum at the University of British Columbia (UBC), which helped BCIT forge a new relationship with UBC in the field of plants. Thanks to this connection, Julia collaborated with Linda to co-deliver an OER webinar on how to press plants and was asked to review UBC’s new pressed plants website and Linda’s book Pressed Plants: Making a Herbarium. This connection is sure to lead to more collaborative projects and opportunities for student learning and would not have been possible without Julia’s work in OER.

Julia’s passion for OER has inspired her colleagues to create their own. This includes the YouTube channel Interviews with Plants, where she is one of the featured presenters, and a series of self-guided maps about plants in local parks. By creating these OER, Julia and her colleagues are providing educational content that is free and accessible to BCIT students and to learners across the globe.

Julia has been a wonderful ambassador for OER use in general. In the past few years, she has adopted two new open textbooks for her courses: Digging into Canadian Soils and Physical Geology, with plans to expand OER use. She has also been speaking with colleagues and sharing OER relevant to their classes to assist them with transitioning to open resources.

For all her hard work, Julia received the inaugural BCIT Employee Excellence Award for Teaching Excellence in Open Education in 2022 and an OE Global Open Practices Award in the category of open pedagogy in 2023. With this BCcampus Award for Excellence in Open Education, we recognize her extraordinary contributions to open education in the province. Congratulations, Julia!

Notable Quotes:

“Working with Julia and leading the creative direction of an open educational resource is a fulfilling experience. Seeing the redesigned book come to life and used in the community is heartwarming.”

– Maecel Enriquez, design graduate, BCIT

“Editing Buds, Branches and Bark has been an incredible experience. Julia welcomes questions and makes me feel that I am a valuable contributor. As students, we spend time and effort completing assignments that might sit in storage afterward. With this project, entries written by students then live on as an evolving reference. I feel this provides extra encouragement as all the collaborators play an active role in guiding this text’s future direction(s). Since it is open, the specialized knowledge within is decommodified and easily accessed by users. I am grateful for the chance to work on a project that serves multiple important functions, and which has deepened my understanding of the natural world around me.”

– Jessica Sutherland, technical editing student contributor, BCIT

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