I redesigned several of the biology courses that I teach at Keene State College to incorporate principles of open pedagogy, open science, connected learning and social justice. Using a combination of websites that I’ve created and publicly open modules in the Canvas LMS, I provide my students with general principles and more specific ‘how to’ information. My biology course hub site includes links to my course sites and information for students about the tools that I encourage them to use.
Guidelines, Opportunities and Tools for Students
- Take ownership of how you learn.
I provide my students with a range of learning opportunities available to such as lectures, discussion, lab activities, research projects, blog posting, twitter participation, and scientific article annotation. Each student, after a couple of weeks of learning more about what all this means, submits a grading proposal where they determine what percentage of their grade should be attributed to various activities of their choosing, and includes a statement of their personal attendance plan. I no longer use exams and all evaluation is done via student self-assessment. (However, one student in my BIO 333 course was so uncomfortable with this new approach, even after trying it for a few weeks, he thought he would have to drop the class. Since I told my students they could choose how they wanted to learn, I told him that he could opt to take traditional exams (written and practical) to determine his grade and that is what he did for the semester.)
- Take ownership of what you learn.
As I have done in the past, I still lecture, provide open-ended style lab activities, give my students lists of term and concepts, and point them to many resources. But since I no longer use exams, students are freed from feeling forced to memorize a specific set of scientific terms and concepts that I have pre-determined. In class my goal is to spark their curiosity so that they can choose to participate more fully in the pieces that are most interesting to them. I also frequently ask them how they would like the class time to be used. Do they want me to lecture today on a new topic, or do they prefer to have time to work on their projects? They get to decide. Did you ever wonder whether your students will listen to your lecture and take notes if you never plan to grade them on the specific content? My students still do, and most choose, but are not required, to post their notes on their domain sites. I encourage them to think about their digital presence and the use of their domain sites as something that they can keep, and keep developing long after the course is over as a possible portfolio as well as a learning space. I ask them to think about the potential value of a list of courses on a résumé versus full sets of notes and activities on a domain site.
- Use a web domain space of your own design to communicate beyond the walls of the classroom and lab to consider the local, regional and global ramifications of your work.
Students write blog posts on topics that they are interested in and make frequent use of hyperlinks, embedded images and videos to enhance their writing. They absorb much of the vocabulary of invertebrate zoology, marine biology, evolution or animal behavior through their own desire to explore ideas and communicate effectively to the public. Students set up domain sites to be used for posting using the Keene State College Domain of One’s Own portal, KSCopen.org or wordpress.com. More instructions for my students are on the KSCopen and Domain of One’s Own page of my course hub site.
Along with creating their own posts, students are encouraged to frequently comment on posts of others in the class, and to respond to the comments that they receive on their posts. In this way, peers are frequently reading each other’s work and having some dialogue about that work. Occasionally their posts receive comments from people outside of the class including KSC Biology alumni, but it takes some work to make this happen. Using twitter helps to drive readers to their sites.
Example student blog posts on an interest area:
Vocal Mimicry by Josh Stevens in BIO 345 Animal Behavior
Jellies are Taking Over by Tia Rickard in BIO 333 Invertebrate Zoology
- Connect your learning to relevant social, political, environmental and economic issues, and to consider social injustices and impacts on peoples of the world.
As students explore areas of interest in marine biology, animal behavior, invertebrate zoology it does not take long for them to find the important contexts and connections for what they are learning.
Examples of making connections with social, environmental and political contexts:
World Water Crisis by Marisa Benjamin in BIO 333 Invertebrate Zoology
Unsustainable Fishing by Jamie Marsh in BIO 381 Tropical Marine Biology
- Use, create and share openly licensed resources.
In class, we have discussions about what it means to work in public and the advantages (and possible disadvantages) of sharing one’s work. I explain what creative commons licenses are, and while not required, I encourage my students to put a CC license on their domain sites. I also teach them how to find openly licensed images to embed in their sites and to try to use open access journal articles when available. I provide more detailed instructions for students on the Creative Commons and Open Licenses page of my course hub site.
Example student post with use of CC images:
Living in Social Groups by Alana Olendorf in BIO 345 Animal Behavior
- Use social media and other web-based tools to connect with the larger community.
As students continue to write for a public audience, the advantages of using twitter to engage in discussions with others and as a tool for building a valuable personal learning network becomes increasingly clear. Read more ‘how and why’ instructions on my Twitter and the Personal Learning Network page.
Below are course hashtags with student tweets, note that some of these courses haven’t been in session for a semester or a year, but that students and alum are still tweeting using their hashtags:
- Share research ideas, hypotheses, methodology and data with others in the scientific community and gain feedback from this community.
From my BIO 345 site: We will learn about Open Science this semester by modeling its practice. As students of science, you know there are several stages in the research process. Sharing your work openly with others- your ideas, your hypotheses, your methods, your data, your analyzed results, and of course also your research publications is what opening up science is all about. This semester, as you work on your research project, I invite you to share what you are doing on your domain site. The advantages of this are to be able to connect with and gain useful feedback from the scientific community that can help you develop your ideas, refine your methods, suggest analyses and help with interpretation. Why do all of this alone or with just a few others? Being open can mean that we might “increase the integrity and reproducibility of research”
Example of publicly shared group student research proposal:
Prior-Residence Effect and Size as Determinants of Crayfish Aggressive Behavior and Territoriality by Melissa Wydra, Mickayla Johnston, Dylan Pariseau, Ian Lehner (students in BIO 345 Animal Behavior).