This is a post that has been meaning to be written for years. It is the first in a series, I hope, chronicling the development and implementation of an #Open Introduction to Literature Course. The thinking behind this series has been rolling around in my brain for a while, and I hope to pull it out and together here.
On Friday, on twitter, at the tail end of a #openlearning17 twitter chat, I mentioned that I
am developing a #OER Introduction to literature course. I was encouraged to share more of my project and, perhaps, to chronicle it. And I have been meaning to for a long time, so
this is as good a time to start as any. I am working on the #OER text part of a larger granted funded project with two of my very good colleagues. To design the text for the course, we are bringing together existing materials, adapting, and developing where needed. However, I am also designing a course around those materials that I will teach in the fall, and that goes beyond the materials. I working toward a course that is grounded in open, connected, constructionist principles. In this post, I want to reflect a little on the why and reservations I have about what I am trying to do. I hope future posts will chronicle some of the more how and what.
For me, designing a course using #OER is about the learning experience that #open confers. Much of the conversation around #OER centers on reducing cost, but my focus is more on what my students can do differently and how their learning might be different. The course I am working on is a 100 level introduction to literature, and as such, it is both a foundation course that develops critical thinking and broadens contextual foundation knowledge and a course that has the potential to engage students in the humanities more deeply.
My first hope with my course design is that the course will engage students in the study of literature in a different way. Currently enrollment and interest in studying literature is waning. There are lots of articles discussing the reasons behind this phenomenon. However, students I have talked with have expressed frustration and lack of understanding of why studying literature might be important or relevant to them. They have also expressed a feeling of literature being a sort of exclusive/exclusionary activity. So at a very minimum, I want my course to give students a sense of agency and connection to the study of literary texts. #Open is a way to give them opportunities to personally connect and make meaning in that study. (And I will admit, I hope that if I can get them hooked here, they will develop a passion for going on.)
My next hope with an #open course design is that my students will develop a sense of community and common purpose. The study of literature should humanize differences, engage people in developing shared understandings, and help them make personal connections. In developing an #open course, students will have opportunities to engage
and connect with each other and explore other experiences in an authentic and meaningful way. I hope they will be inspired to take initiative to grow the course and the course materials and that they will develop empathy, connection to a larger global world, a sense of personal agency, and a broader foundational context.
The final hope I will discuss here (I have plenty of others) is that I hope that teaching an #open course will help students develop critical literacies- not only advancing the more traditional notions of academic literacies and metacognitive skills, critical thinking, explication of text, pattern analysis, evaluation, synthesis and so on—but also key 21st century skills that tend to be categorized in digital literacy and digital citizenship.
I have reservations about teaching an #OER literature course, however. I have no reservations about #OER instructional materials, but I do have reservations about the limits #OER places on what texts are available for teaching purposes, if I am limited to a no cost model. I have no issues ditching a traditional text or anthology; however, I have ethical and pedagogical concerns about what literature is used. I want my students to experience a range of literature, not just what is in the public domain. I am concerned that a number of the texts I would choose to use to study are written by currently living and producing authors whose livelihood is their writing—and many of those authors are marginalized and under-represented. Giving students an opportunity to read and explore those authors feels like a ethical imperative both because many of my students come from under-served populations, and because I feel like it is my responsibility to give voice and space to those who are marginalized.
For me, this is where #OER and #Open on this project clash. The project I am working in sets certain parameters for the materials, and I will figure out how to work with those parameters, to make the texts as diverse as possible within the public domain and open materials.