BCcampus Award for Excellence in Open Education: Jon Beasley-Murray  

Nominated by Will Engle, strategist, open education initiatives, Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology, University of British Columbia, and Novak Rogic, manager, web strategy, Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology, University of British Columbia 

The BCcampus Award for Excellence in Open Education is bestowed monthly. The award recipient in May is Dr. Jon Beasley-Murray, associate professor, Department of French, Hispanic and Italian Studies, University of British Columbia (UBC). 

Dr. Jon Beasley-Murray
Dr. Jon Beasley-Murray

Jon’s approach to open education can be described in one word: fearless. He constantly challenges the educational status quo to reframe post-secondary education as a public, societal good where knowledge is enriched, shared, critiqued, and debated openly. He does this by incorporating open pedagogies into his teaching, using open platforms and technologies to create innovative and fully open courses, and adopting alternative grading strategies. 

At Wikimania 2015, Jon gave a talk in which he described the historic mission of a university as “…a place whose primary value is critique: the critique of prevailing assumptions in order to construct a world that would be different from any that we can now imagine.”  

The idea of critique is one that Jon takes to heart. In 2008, he famously challenged the idea of traditional assignments by having students edit and create Wikipedia articles as part of his course, SPAN 312: Murder, Madness, and Mayhem: Latin American Literature in Translation.

Jon rooted the assignment in his belief that student work is valuable and can be part of public knowledge building. He partially determined assignment marks by a collective, public, peer review process based on the Wikipedia review system. He awarded an A+ grade for any articles that reached “featured article” status. This status is extremely difficult to achieve and accounts for only 0.1% of all Wikipedia articles. Three student projects achieved this goal, with another eight achieving the nearly as difficult “good article” tier, which accounts for about 0.5% of all Wikipedia articles. Importantly, Jon openly shared and documented his thoughts and processes in an essay on his Wikipedia user page, which inspired other post-secondary instructors to explore ways students can contribute to public knowledge.  

Jon’s critique of prevailing assumptions leads him to continually experiment and re-think how traditional university courses are delivered. He embraces a “full stack” model of open practice as demonstrated by: 

  • Using  open websites  accessible to anyone with an internet connection. These openly licensed sites are rich in open content, including videos, lectures, playlists, exam descriptions, and grading policies. 
  • Adopting alternative grading strategies, such as contract grading, to refocus assessment away from metrics and back to the actual course content, as well as give students more agency in their learning. 
  • Asking students to engage in reflective, open writing on their blogs to bring their diverse voices and experiences into the public discourse. Rather than use a centrally managed e-portfolio system, students use their own blogs where they have ownership and control of their content, as well as the ability to syndicate specific entries to the main course site. Students also create open videos or other learning objects that are incorporated into the delivery of the course. 
  • Committing to a DIY (do-it-yourself) approach. Jon publicly documents and reflects on his practices in his personal blog, and publishes his teaching on two YouTube channels:  Exploring Hispanic Studies and Inventing Romance Studies

Jon’s ongoing efforts to critique how things are and re-imagine how they could be, push post-secondary institutions to achieve their full potential as a public, societal good where knowledge is created, shared, critiqued, and debated openly. We applaud him for his tireless dedication to truly open knowledge. 


“Jon Beasley-Murray is one of the original champions and practitioners of open education practices, continually and fearlessly re-imagining the university as a vibrant space for the public good. His pioneering use of open platforms, alternative assessments, and student-centred learning echoes previous generations of critical pedagogists and fosters a dynamic learning experience where his students not only become active participants in the creation, critique, and dissemination of knowledge, but also collaborators in working towards a more just and equitable future for higher education.” 

—Will Engle, strategist, open education initiatives, Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology, UBC Vancouver 

“Dr. Beasley-Murray is unwaveringly dedicated to this simple but profoundly radical and deep proposition; his students are full and complex human beings. His pedagogy embraces their complexities, their imperfections, and seeks not to shape them into his own vision of what they should be but invites them to work with him to find their own vision of how what he teaches can inform their lives.” 

—Joseph Topornycky, manager, graduate student programs, Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology, UBC Vancouver 

 “In the days when the internet still looked fresh, innocent, and non-corrupt, Jon Beasley-Murray succeeded in paving the ways to streamline higher-education’s contribution to the public interest. He has brilliantly helped liberate students’ creativity by enabling them to produce meaningful work shared directly to the places where the impact was relevant and visible. School looked young again! His students’ additions in Wikipedia are significant from a scholarly perspective and rebellious in terms of breaking both academic and information technology’s bureaucratic and stale boundaries. His open course websites and blogs, with their rich, decades-long histories, continue to grow, excite, and inspire, and offer invaluable insights.” 

—Novak Rogic, manager, web strategy, Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology, UBC Vancouver 

“Dr. Beasley-Murray’s welcoming and inclusive nature facilitates an open, horizontal space to critically think about political issues, cultural products, and literary theory. He truly believes that what happens in the classroom should be clearly connected to what happens in the world outside.” 

—Olga Albarran Caselles, sessional lecturer, Department of French, Hispanic and Italian Studies, UBC Vancouver 

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