The Libraries’ Open Pedagogy Incubator: Sharing information, lowering barriers, and engaging more learners

McKenney and sourdough starter

Open pedagogy is far-reaching and flexible by nature, so it makes sense that many people implement approaches that align with its tenets before they even know the term. And open pedagogy continues to evolve as more people take it up. It is flexible, sometimes mercurial, and always...well, open.

Most of us have experienced seeing or hearing about something once and then suddenly noticing it everywhere. That is the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, sometimes called the “frequency illusion.” It happens when we pay attention to something, and that attention is reinforced by increasingly frequent recognition.

Erin McKenney, Assistant Professor of Applied Ecology, who participated in the Libraries first Open Pedagogy Incubator, said that discovering open pedagogy felt exactly like the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon.

“I’m a pattern-seer in life and in science, so it’s been hugely affirming and inspiring to learn about open pedagogy,” says McKenney. “It’s a synergistic dovetail for life when you engage with something and find out that it already has a name. For me it was, ‘Oh, there is this entire framework of resources that exist called open pedagogy, and I use similar approaches in my research, in my outreach, in my teaching, and in life.’”

Open pedagogy is far-reaching and flexible by nature, so it makes sense that many people implement approaches that align with its tenets before they even know the term. And open pedagogy continues to evolve as more people take it up. It is flexible, sometimes mercurial, and always, well, open.

What is Open Pedagogy and how does the Libraries support it?

Broadly speaking, open pedagogy is the practical application of a theoretical framework; it is a system of resources that aim to make values of open education (such as sharing information, lowering barriers to education, and engaging more learners) actionable for teachers, administrators, and those they serve.

But it isn’t always easy for faculty to make their teaching more open, and sometimes they face significant obstacles. To support them, the Libraries developed a semesterly program called the Open Pedagogy Incubator, which brings together a cohort of faculty who work with Libraries staff, and one another, to develop open-enabled interventions in their classrooms.

“In the Open Pedagogy Incubator you get diverse people who are like-minded and like-motivated. It has really enriched and enhanced my faculty development,” says McKenney.

McKenney teachingLike many of her peers, McKenney said she was initially drawn to open pedagogy because she recognized that the cost of textbooks was a barrier for her students. She soon realized that, in addition to helping faculty find alternatives to costly textbooks, the Libraries and other members of the Incubator could help her develop many other interventions.

“The framework of open pedagogy aligns with a number of things that I had been doing before by instinct, things that felt right and good. So it’s been great to learn that there is a body of research out there that substantiates things that I do intuitively.”

Open education beyond the incubator 

The purpose of the Incubator, and of open educational tools in general, is to support educators (and by extension, their students) in serviceable ways. So what do faculty members do with their deepened understanding of open pedagogy? For McKenney, open pedagogy is as much about creating an ethos in her classroom as it is a set of specific practices. “Students have my ear and I have their trust,” she says. “I distribute point-earning across many opportunities to demonstrate understanding, and I accept some late work. I ask my students to not take advantage of me. I say ‘Please don’t tarnish my bright and shiny,’ and they don’t.” 

Open practices in the classroom often involve some version of minimizing so-called “throw away assignments” by instead giving students the opportunity to contribute to a collective knowledge bank--often as an alternative to costly textbooks. Faculty members in the Incubator have elected to transform core aspects of their entire course structure or to adopt smaller and more incremental open interventions, such as posting their syllabus ahead of enrollment so students can calculate costs of textbooks.

For some, working relationships built in the Incubator have continued to flourish. McKenney has partnered with Carlos Goller, Associate Professor of Biological Sciences, and other Incubator members, to work on a project articulating parallels between open pedagogy and citizen science.

“In its best implementation citizen science involves the development of materials that are freely and openly available to the public, who can then engage in the co-creation of data and of  knowledge,” says McKenney.

McKenney and studentsMcKenney’s work connecting open educational practices with citizen science found another high-profile application through the popular Fermentology Mini-Seminars. McKenney helped launch the virtual series featuring a community of experts both inside and outside of academia to explore the theories and practices of cultured foods.

While McKenney has tailored her use of open education around her own interests, creating a similarly intricate web of resources and relationships is more accessible than you might think. These practices are often freely repurposed to support divergent needs and objectives, and they have a way of moving between different spaces to fulfill distinct needs. That kind of open exchange of knowledge and production is, after all, exactly what open pedagogy is intended to do.

The second Open Pedagogy Incubator is now in session. You can find out more about the Incubator and apply to be part of a future cohort  here, and you can learn about other ways the Libraries support open education here.  

Written on Mar 03, 2021