Having won a competition to develop an open textbook for his Critical Filipinx American Histories course through the UW Libraries Open Textbook Grant program, University of Washington American Ethnic Studies Professor Rick Bonus headed into the fall of 2019 with an ambitious plan: to develop the textbook in partnership with his students.
The resulting open textbook is Filipinx American Histories and their Artifacts, by Professor Rick Bonus and UW AAS 360 2019 (“Critical Filipinx American Histories”) Students. Rick and his students collaborated on the textbook’s development in partnership with the UW Library and published in the library’s Pressbooks platform. The project was developed through open pedagogy, a practice in which students participate in the creation of open educational resources in an authorial role.
“It became a student-led project within the class, one that started with a visit to our on-campus museum and proceeded with small groups of students performing research on the artifact they chose,” Rick told us. Students chose artifacts mostly from pre-colonial and colonial Philippines to research, such as a feather-adorned headdress, a warrior’s helmet, and a kind of harp played with the mouth. “The culminating product was a set of collectively-written essays that each group wrote, which were then published online in UW Pressbooks.”
A Unique Opportunity for Students
The professor remarked that the students’ “eyes lit up” when he proposed having them lead the project. The sense of ownership students had in contributing to an official publication made them deeply invested in the final product. The nature of the project fostered the sort of open and collaborative atmosphere instructors strive for in their classes. “[The students] were learning how to become decision-makers in ways that were democratic, open-minded, and positive,” he told us.
Rick shared with us that, as an open textbook first-timer himself, he had a lot to learn about open education just like his students did.
OER Librarian Support
The textbook development process was guided by Lauren Ray, Open Education and Psychology Librarian at the University of Washington. Rick credits Lauren as the primary librarian support on the project, her expertise essential in helping the students succeed. Lauren’s deep knowledge of open educational resources and practices enabled them to learn organically. “I’m so thankful to our librarians who understood what we were trying to do, and who were so willing and able to help us make our project successful,” he said.
Students and Faculty as Partners in Education
According to the professor, under Lauren’s guidance the students ”saw their teacher — me — as someone who was a co-learner and co-decision-maker, instead of someone who was dictating to them what to do. This created a different dynamic in class, a kind of energy that was conducive to engaged and responsible learning, not unidirectional and constricting. Students were, thus, more positive minded and productive, making my instruction less didactic and more student-centered.”
As faculty engage in open educational practices that meet students where they are, get them deeply invested and engaged in their work and empower them to learn in the ways they will find most valuable, Lauren’s and Rick’ experiences in the development of this textbook provide an instructive look into both the challenges (explored in the full interview below) and the rich rewards of open pedagogy.
If you would like to learn more about this and other OER projects published through UW Library Pressbooks,you can watch a two-part workshop series by Lauren Ray at this year’s Open Education Network Summit.
Please see below for our full interview with Prof. Bonus. We thank both the professor and Lauren for their insights.
Could you briefly summarize the open pedagogical process that resulted in the Critical Filipinx American Histories and their Artifacts book?
I submitted a proposal to develop an open textbook to our on-campus UW Libraries Open Textbook Grant competition and I won! I was notified in late May, of 2018. I was told that it was quite competitive; there were only four of us who won; and the grant included a cash prize distributed along several steps in the process all the way to its final product. I developed the open textbook project for a class called Critical Filipinx American Histories that I taught in the fall quarter of 2019. It became a student-led project within the class, one that started with a visit to our on-campus museum and proceeded with small groups of students performing research on the artifact they chose. The culminating step involved a writing exercise in which essays that each of the groups wrote were edited and then published online in UW Pressbooks.
How do you find that involving students in creating open educational resources affected their learning outcomes?
ALL students were excited about this project right from the very beginning. I presented it to them as something that I was doing for the first time, something that they will have to learn with me along the way, and something that will make them end up becoming published authors online! Their eyes lit up and they rolled up their sleeves right away. There were some tedious parts of the process, like learning about the intricacies of online publishing and navigating through the complexities of protecting intellectual property online, which made some students a bit weary. But overall, everyone was energetic and engaged, especially at the end of the process when we were deciding on the “look” of the book, when we were editing the final versions of their essays, and when we held oral group presentations of all the projects in which they showed images that later on found their way into our open textbook.
How did involving students in resource creation affect your instruction?
I was learning WITH the students about this whole process that I myself was quite unfamiliar with. Our main support person from the UW Libraries, Lauren Ray, became our teacher, and she basically hand-held all of us in the process. We were all learning organically, so students felt like they were not being taught to in some stiff or static ways. Rather, they were learning as a collective with me as part of the collective, and they were learning how to become decision-makers in ways that were democratic, open-minded, and positive. They saw their teacher — me — as someone who was a co-decision-maker, instead of someone who was dictating to them what to do. This created a different dynamic in class, a kind of energy that was conducive to engaged and responsible learning, not unidirectional and constricting. Students were, thus, more positive minded and productive, making my instruction less didactic and more student-centered. I myself learned a lot in the process, both about online publishing and about teaching in this kind of environment, in such enjoyable ways.
How did working on this project impact your view of open pedagogy and its potential?
I would do it again in a heartbeat! It’d be probably very different to do it online, in the context of our lockdown situation, but it can be adjusted. An important first step here is to create community right from the very beginning — to establish rapport, cooperation, respect, etc. — because had we not done this, we would not have been as eager or as invested in working with each other. This kind of community building will be harder in an online setting, I suppose, but it’s a very very critical thing to do. Once we got this running, we were able to make use of and engage with the potentials of open textbook processes. Our open textbook right now showcases our work, but the patient and hard work behind it is kinda invisible. But that doesn’t diminish how pleased I am with our little project and how proud I am of our students who walked with me through this process.
What advice do you have for other faculty who might be thinking about embarking on a similar project with their students?
As I wrote above, building “community” right from the outset is key to a potentially successful project like ours. Everyone has to be onboard because it’s a collective project that entails the hard work of everybody. The project also had many different moving parts to it, so I’d advise seeking the support of very knowledgeable, experienced, and helpful staff members from the libraries — the ones who know about all of this. Again, I’m so thankful to our librarians who understood what we were trying to do, and who were so willing and able to help us make our project successful. They’re not just technology experts though, they’re also intellectuals and scholars who shared insights with us regarding both content and form. Lastly, I’d advise starting a project like this in simple ways, by having clear and do-able goals, by consulting with folks who have done it before (who would advise you to take baby steps too), and by making sure there’s enough time and adequate energy to be invested in accomplishing it. I had very “grand” ideas in the beginning that, thankfully, got scaled back a bit because it would have probably taken us years to do it.