Students As Knowledge Creators

While open scholarship focuses on equitable access to knowledge, the focus of open pedagogy is equitable participation in the creation of knowledge. In this way, open pedagogy often transforms the student experience within the classroom. It can help students begin to see themselves as scholars and it de-centres the instructor from the information expert to a facilitation role that supports student negotiation of ideas and transforms the efforts of their learning into open knowledge resources. If a core goal of scholarship is research, dissemination, and dialogue to further the knowledge base and growth of fields of study, then open pedagogy engages students in this very same process within their courses. In contrast to traditional learning assessments such as multiple choice quizzes or essays, student work in open pedagogy is seen as having value beyond just informing the learner or instructor. As such, students are asked to create new knowledge and given a degree of agency, autonomy, and control over their work.

“We are often asking students to do work just to show us that they can do it. I wanted them to do something that had genuine value and not just this makeup exercise they perform just to show [professors] they know how to do things.” Dr. Rosie Redfield, UBC Zoology

In the below video, David Gaertner, Assistant Professor, UBC First Nations and Indigenous Studies, describes some of his motivations for why he engages his students in open pedagogy:

David Gaertner, Assistant Professor, UBC First Nations and Indigenous Studies: How to engage and support students in open pedagogies

Students as Producers/Creators

Image from the University of Lincoln’s Student As Producer site.

Having students be creators of content, described as a “Student as Producer” model by Mike Neary at the University of Lincoln, emphasizes the student role as collaborators with instructors in the production of knowledge. By engaging students in knowledge production and sharing, the model helps transform students from being the object of the educational process to being the subject of it. Additionally, in the student as producer model, the university’s approach to learning and research are closer aligned; for example, students, similar to researchers, are asked to share their work with authentic audiences and not just with their immediate instructor or adviser. As Neary and Winn state, in this way students become part of the academic project of the University and collaborators with academics in the production of knowledge and meaning.

According to Derek Bruff, Director of the Centre for Teaching at Vanderbilt University, students are frequently involved in knowledge production outside of the classroom, through undergraduate research, internships, co-ops, etc. However, he suggests that there are many opportunities to engage students in knowledge creation within the classroom and suggests student as producer assignments or courses have the following aspects in common:

  • Students are asked to work on problems that haven’t been fully solved or questions that haven’t been fully answered.
  • Students are asked to share their work with authentic audiences, not just their instructor.
  • Students are also given a degree of autonomy in their work.

Scenario – Engaging Students Through Open Work

Let’s consider this scenario: In Dr. Smith’s course on forest conservation, they have been asking students to research forest conservation policies in a specific region, critically evaluate the policies, and then write a seven to ten-page essay on the topic. Students seem to have a hard time engaging with the assignment and, in feedback, students have noted that the assignment is both hard but also that it feels like it is busy work. Dr. Smith feels like the assignment is valuable as it gets students to think critically about the topic of the class. More so, they feel like the work the students do has potential as scholarly work and are thinking about having students post their essays on a course website or blog.

  • How would posting the work on the Internet change the nature of the assignment?
  • What strategies or scaffolding could Dr. Smith incorporate into the assignment to ensure that the students are successful?
  • Should Dr. Smith change the structure or the weighting of the marks for the assignment?

Renewable Assignments

David Wiley has argued that much of student work can be considered disposable: “These are assignments that students complain about doing and faculty complain about grading. They’re assignments that add no value to the world – after a student spends three hours creating it, a teacher spends 30 minutes grading it, and then the student throws it away. Not only do these assignments add no value to the world, they actually suck value out of the world. As Hendricks states, it’s not that such assignments have no value at all. They can often serve very well to encourage students to learn and apply information, gain research and other skills, engage in problem-solving, and more. If done well, they can show instructors the level of mastery students have achieved. But what is important to consider is find important to consider, is that “disposable assignments” don’t provide any further value to the world after they’re completed.

What makes an assignment renewable or disposable? A disposable assignment, Wiley suggests, is any assignment about which students and faculty understand the following:

  • Students will do the work
  • Faculty will grade the work
  • Students will throw away the work

A renewable assignment is any assignment where:

  • Students will do the work
  • Faculty will grade the work
  • The work is inherently valuable to someone beyond the class
  • The work is openly published so those other people can find and use it

Test your knowledge

OER Enabled Pedagogy

Building upon the concept of renewable assignments, David Wiley and John Hilton III further refined Wiley’s definition of open pedagogy as the practices only possible in the context of free access and 5R permissions. This further refinement is labelled “OER-enabled pedagogy”. Wiley and Hilton state that when student works are openly licensed, “granting others 5R permissions in their use of the artifacts, each work becomes the beginning of an ongoing conversation in which other learners participate as they contextualize and extend the work in support of their own learning. Open licensing also ensures that these artifacts will be perpetually and freely available to all who wish to engage them as part of their learning”. Wiley and Hilton suggest the following questions can help to determine the extent to which a specific teaching and learning practice qualifies as OER-enabled pedagogy:

  • Are students asked to create new artifacts (essays, poems, videos, songs, etc.) or revise/remix existing OER?
  • Does the new artifact have value beyond supporting the learning of its author?
  • Are students invited to publicly share their new artifacts or revised/remixed OER?
  • Are students invited to openly license their new artifacts or revised/remixed OER?

Why Should Students Care About Open Pedagogy?

Students are often already involved in various forms of open learning. If you are a student, have you ever:

  • Created and uploaded a video that teaches others how to do something?
  • Shared your code/project on GitHub?
  • Spent time on Reddit – accidentally or on purpose to participate in a discussion about something you are interested in?
  • Published any learning material on a blog, Reddit or Facebook?
  • Shared or followed a link to learn something from someone you follow on Twitter?
  • Contributed to or learned from Wikipedia?

If you have done any of these things, you have participated in the open learning in some way. The work that students do as part of their studies has value and sharing this work with others is part of academic scholarship.

When students share their work openly, they are contributing to the building and sharing of knowledge. Working in the open can be both daunting and extremely rewarding and in the next section we’ll look at risk, privacy and other considerations of open pedagogy.

Dig Deeper

To learn more about the Student as Producer, Renewable Assignments , and OER-Enabled Pedagogy models: review: