Open Pedagogy – A three day seminar at Digital Pedagogy Lab

Last week I had the privilege of hosting a three day seminar on open pedagogy as part of DPL Toronto. I’ve had some students ask for a number of the materials spoken of or referred to in the session so I figured I would just outline the whole thing. And, of course, it means I’ll be able to find all my notes the next time i get a chance to do an intensive course. 🙂 I probably wont remember every piece that i did… but this should cover most of the session.

I had five 2 1/2 hour sessions over three days – two day one, two day two and one on the third day. The participants got breakout sessions on day two and two rockstar keynotes from Rajiv Jhangiani and Jess Mitchell. I had sent out a very short questionnaire that basically told me that I had a very diverse group and they were hoping for some practice and some theory.

As we were working in a beautiful historic building (The Gladstone Hotel) I decided to do the entire session analogue. No digital activities. No projector. I didn’t tell students they couldn’t use devices… i just didn’t use them. I had 7 students at each of two tables and the following materials to work with.

    In my bag…

  • One stack of 500 A4 plain white paper
  • Five pairs of scissors
  • One ball of yarn (donated by the excellent Martha Burtis)
  • three scotch tape dispensers
  • One printed copy of two articles
  • My laptop for notes and potential searching
  • Two boxes of 24 colour pencils stolen from my daughter
  • Fun paper clips
  • Alphabet stamp set with one copy of each letter A through Z and an ink pad
  • other gimmicky stuff i didn’t use

Day One – The Day of Happiness
I opened the first day by explaining to the participants that our first day was going to be THE DAY OF HAPPINESS. All our thoughts about open pedagogy were going to be positive ones, and we were going to build up our understanding of what it could be through a variety of activities. I wrote “Wall of Sadness” on a piece of paper and taped it on a wall. Every time a student came up with an objection or a problem during that whole first day, they were to write/draw it on a piece of paper, cut it out and tape it on the wall of sadness. All issues on the wall of sadness could wait until the Day of Sadness (Day 2).

This totally worked. It kept our conversation moving on day one and allowed us to build together and still respect divergent opinions

Activity 1 – Differentiating between complicated and complex
One of the pre-reading I had the students do was an introduction to Lean Six Sigma. I always start my sessions by differentiating between complicated and complex (based on Dave Snowden’s distinction) and I wanted to present OER as a complicated problem (the process of getting to content) and open pedagogy as a complex problem (supporting self-determination in students etc…). By the time the session actually arrived, I had decided that opening up a conversation as big as lean six sigma was going to distract from the central mission, so I designed a simple activity to demonstrate what a complicated process problem looks like.

I gave the first group of 7 students the 26 alphabet letters and the ink stamp as well as one piece of paper each. Giving them no time to think about it, I asked them to use the letters and ink stamp to put their names on their sheets as fast as they could. I then asked the second group to study Group One’s approach and told them i would give them 2 minutes to come up with a plan to do it faster. Much hilarity ensued. Group One finished in 1:38, I gave Group Two 2 minutes to come up with a better process and then they got their names down on their pieces of paper in 1:01.

We circled around after the trash talking quieted and I laid out my definition of a complicated problem. It’s complicated if we have a clear idea of what success looks like (names on papers) and we can measure what success looks like (in this case ‘doing it faster’). A large part of the ‘resources’ conversation in OER is this kind of problem. Cheaper access to books. More people using books. Nice measurable problems that can be fixed. That’s great… but I was hoping to exclude this kind of thing from our definition of open pedagogy for the duration of the seminar. No offence to OER… it just wasn’t what i was hoping to talk about.

We used those named papers to keep ‘open notes’ throughout the two days. People left them in front of them and passed them back and forth during sharing time.

Activity 2 – group reading
This is an activity I stole from Bonnie Stewart. She likes to take an article into class and assign different paragraphs to different students. Each person is responsible for their section of the article and then comes back to the class representing their section. It’s a good way to bring research articles into class and making sure people read them without taking up too much time.

My first reading piece was Open Education in the 60’s and 70s by Christina Hendricks. It contains a number of excerpts from Open Education writers in the 60s and 70s and some commentary by Christina. I gave sections of the article to different groups in the class and asked them to use the scissors to cut the article into smaller pieces until each participant had one section. The process went ‘silent reflection’ then ‘explain to your partner’ then ‘explain to your table’. At the end of this process they were to take ‘ideas of open pedagogy’ found in the article and tape them on the “open pedagogy wall”.

The goal for this activity was to get beyond the idea of a ‘definition of open pedagogy’ and move to an understanding of it as a complex idea. None of us needed to agree on what open pedagogy was exactly, we needed to understand it as a long standing discussion that often includes words like ‘self-determined learning’, ‘student autonomy’ etc… It also allowed me to avoid conversation around the newness of the term open as it relates to pedagogy. This mostly worked, and i noticed students going back to the wall again and again over the next two days.

Insert story – I basically told my history of open story where I make a strong separation between open as in ‘open source’ and open as in ‘widening participation and open pedagogy’.

Activity 3 – Education practices mapping.
I’ve described this activity here
The purpose of this was twofold. One – to create a map of all the practices in the classroom so that we could use it as a reference during our project making activities. We didn’t really need it – the group was more than willing to talk to each other without the added supports. The second reason for doing the activity was my continued effort to make more room for introverts in my teaching. The activity gives plenty of ‘think by yourself’ time about what practices you have and how they fit on the digital/analogue and individual/collaborative continuums. This, I hope, allows for that contemplation time that I am told makes group conversations more effective for introverts. It also allows very quiet people to participate in a group activity without having to speak.

Activity 4 – Project building
The rest of the afternoon was devoted to project building. The idea was for everyone to think about a project that they would like to work on during the rest of the 4 classes and we could build our conversations around that. They came up with one – three ideas each and we devoted another part of the wall to taking those ideas and taping them up. We managed to find similarities between the projects (mostly) and get students into four working groups to discuss approaches to their projects for the rest of the afternoon. I got one person to volunteer to be the leader (for the afternoon only) of each group and off they went. This pretty much worked as described… The groups talked about challenges they had at their institutions or ideas that they had been working on.

Day Two – The Day of Sadness
People were really excited about the day of sadness. They came in with mock frowns and many jokes were made.

Activity 5
I started the morning with another group article read. This time we read Not Ready to Let Go: A Study of Resistance to Grading Contracts The article describes the various points of resistance that students had to grading contracts in three classes. I used the idea of grading contracts as a form of open pedagogy. I chose a random set of definitions for open pedagogy and wrote each of the eight on a separate piece of paper and put it on the wall. I had the students cross reference the forms of the resistance that the student exhibited to contract grading and had them look for the open pedagogy themes they reflected.

Eg… many students recorded in the article suggested that they weren’t qualified to make choices in their own grading contract. They weren’t the teacher. How could they know? Wasn’t that the teacher’s job? The class participant who read that section of the paper suggested that this is a reaction that will happen when you give ‘choice’ to students. Open pedagogy is all about choice. That will lead to resistance. At each point we discussed different kinds of resistance students could exhibit and what might be done to work around that.
This activity took two hours. The conversation was of a very high quality. It allowed us to cover most of the things accumulated on the wall of sadness from the day before and talk about how to mitigate many of these challenges. It also made it clear that, for many problems in education, there are no easy, guaranteed solutions

Insert story – history of education, monasticism, scholasticism and humanism
With only half an hour left, I wasn’t able to return to the projects discussion from the day before. The morning conversation was excellent, but it did mess up my timing. I decided I would cover some of the ‘isn’t this just active learning’ kinds of conversations that had made it to the wall of sadness. I situated the history of education (self-admitted as an oversimplification) as a battle between people who believe education is about informing people and those that think education is about helping people build their own knowledge. Objectivism vs Constructivism. Monasticism/scholasticism vs humanism. We didn’t really pick a side (though in an open pedagogy class, we clearly leaned towards constructivism and humanism) but admitted that there were circumstances when either was appropriate. I also included some notes about not ‘copying’ pedagogy. Different people are good at different things. Your own teaching style has to come from you…

Activity 6 – split afternoon
My class split in half for the first part of the afternoon. Half of the group prepared for activity 7 (detailed below) and the other half chose to go and work on their projects from the day before. They only had an hour. As for the group that stayed with me, we made placemats with each of the 8 themes of open pedagogy from the earlier piece and talked about each and what they might mean.

Activity 7 – Open Pedagogy meets the inclusion track
I had the rare privilege of working with Amy Collier on the next activity. Amy had reached out a few weeks earlier and suggested that it would be a good idea to bring the inclusion track (which she was running) and my Open Pedagogy track together. We had a number of different ideas on how that would go, but we settled on having eight tables each with a placemat with a quality of open on it (choice, self-determination, etc…). My open participants would host a table by introducing the open quality and then an inclusion discussion would follow amongst the participants of both tracks at each of 8 tables. All we really had to do was get out of the way, Amy’s students were excellent, and my students had spent 2 hours talking about the problems with open during the Spidell and Thelin discussion in the morning. They had 5 rounds of conversations at different tables (ten minutes each). Couldn’t have really asked for a better outcome for this one. We really shouldn’t ever talk about open without talking about inclusion.

Day 3 – Bringing it all back home
Morning discussion – explaining open pedagogy
We started day three by going back over the conversations at the tables the day before. All the students reported rich discussions but many also reported some discomfort in having had to explain open pedagogy to the other track. We all eventually agreed that it was a good practice session for trying to explain open pedagogy to people at their home institutions. I would like to say that I had planned the perfect training sessions for their open advocacy… but that’s not entirely true. I had a vague thought about it, but I certainly didn’t plan it to be as good as it turned out. Amy probably did though 🙂

Final activity – four slides
The last activity of the three days was a four slide pitch. The idea was to pick one person at your home institution who you wanted to convince about one part of open pedagogy. I basically had them fold one piece of A4 paper into four and draw one slide on each square. Some students just popped open their laptops and worked in powerpoint, and others drew on the paper. Some people picked an administrator, some their students and some made general info pieces for public use.

Our final discussion about our four slide projects really brought into focus some of the key themes of the week.

  • Open pedagogy needn’t be the same thing for everyone
  • Your learning situation is never going to be 100% open
  • Change towards open can/should/must be incremental
  • Open pedagogy is often harder for everyone
  • Inclusion is very big concern for open
  • Open pedagogy is worth the effort

I had a really fantastic group to work with and learn from for three days. It was super fun. Thanks to Sean for the invite!

Author: dave

I run this site... among other things.

8 thoughts on “Open Pedagogy – A three day seminar at Digital Pedagogy Lab”

  1. Thank you for this wonderful resource Dave. Much appreciated and I know that I will be taking ideas from here for my own practice as well as into sessions with other faculty.

  2. Wow, Dave. I can’t tell you how helpful it feels to read and picture all of this. As I make plans for my Digital Identity course for DPL UMW this summer, hearing the details of the activities you chose, how you decided to organize the time and activities, how participants responded – these are all the kinds of things I’m trying to envision.
    I may come back to you with some more specific questions. Separating the Days of Happiness and Sadness strikes me as both original and wise. Thanks so much for sharing so generously.

    1. Feel free to reach out Sherri. I’ve tried a number of different ways to encourage a positive starting conversation that allows for the first trust connections in a group to be positive ones. The day of happiness actually worked. Of course… this is an n=1, i’d love to find out how it works for others.

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