A girl and her cat take on the world with nothing more than a cup of tea and a good book and enough dreams to fill the universe.

Yes, You Can

*Fascination Friday is currently on hiatus because I feel like I have other things to write about right now.


The other day I was speaking with a professor about my potential ideas for open educational resources (OER) in his class next semester. I have been struggling with this project since it was given to me. I never really knew what my role was. There are so few OER available for a geology classroom, but there are loads of excellent resources available on the internet that are not OER (OER is kind of just a fancy way of saying Creative Commons). So, I attended a workshop several weeks ago and the presenter showed us wikipedia pages that his students had designed. He showed us a textbook that his students had more or less written themselves.


It clicked for me. That’s it. Have the students write the textbook. Of course, it will be bare bones at the beginning, but eventually it will build up into a marvelous resource. I really truly believe that it will work. That it will be a really amazing learning experience and eventually a rich tool for others to use. Which is where I then hit a brick wall. How do I motivate people to get on board with this? How do I get them to see the potential? How do I get them as excited about this project as I am?


Talking to my professor(s) yesterday, some doubts were raised. Students may be able to write like that, but they have no idea what they’re writing about. Students won’t write to the level you need them to. Try it in a blog format, that way you can take it down if it’s not worthy. You haven’t taught yet, so you don’t know the crap kids turn in. How do I overcome these doubts? Should I be a stick in the mud about believing that students can and will write well enough for their work to be used as a bare bones textbook for next semesters students?  What compromises should I strive for? I have no idea, but I do know that I absolutely believe that students CAN do the textbook project and that they CAN do it well. Everything I’ve read says that they can, says that they will. It will not be easy. It will be a struggle, but I know what can happen if we decide to take the struggle on.


Bad writing does not have to be acceptable in your class. Set the bar high. I honestly believe that if on the first day of class, my students file in and I tell them that this year, they’re going to write a textbook and I’m going to use it for the classes that will happen after their class and after those classes and into perpetuity, they will rise to the occasion. Someone turns in something that is not the quality I need, then I work with them to help them arrive at what I need, what I expect, from them. I show them that half-assed attempts at writing are not going to cut it. I’m not going to give you an F for it, or a D, or even a C or a B. You will do A level work in my class because I know that each student can if they’re given the tools and the chance and they have someone there that truly believes they can do it. I can’t half-ass my belief in my students anymore than they can turn in assignments they don’t care about. I have to meet them halfway on this.


So how do I motivate people to get on board? My enthusiasm and blind belief that this will work just makes me seem idealistic and too much of a naive optimist it would seem. I could talk about what I want in a classroom and how I think assignments like these would really work for days and days. I could talk more than anyone wants to hear. How do I share my passion for this? Is it through this blog? Is it in talking and talking? Recommending books? Sharing? Being unafraid to fall on my face with a new idea? Admitting I don’t know at times? I’ll take a guess that it’s through a combination of all these things that I can help motivate others. Change is scary, I’ll admit, but I’m too excited for what may happen to ever stop trying new things. Maybe that’s my key.


What’s yours?


One comment on “Yes, You Can

  1. Elisabeth Ellington
    November 8, 2013

    Kids turn in crap because they have no audience for their work beyond the teacher; they have no stake in what they’re doing because they’ve been assigned a topic, a genre, a format, a style; they haven’t been and aren’t being treated as writers, thinkers, experts. Invite a student to become an expert in an area of the field that’s compelling to them–and they will. Give them an authentic audience for their work, and the quality of writing magically improves because students are invested in making sure they’re communicating clearly and effectively. It’s partly about expectations, and I do find that students rise to the level of my expectations. At the same time, something like what you’re suggesting is pretty radical–for teacher and student. There is a necessary scaffolding that needs to happen for a project like this to work. It’s kind of like a workshop classroom–looks like the students are doing all the work, but that work is made possible only because a teacher has done a TREMENDOUS amount of work organizing, scheduling, scaffolding, training, setting up, coordinating, maintaining. The question of how to motivate others is a hard one. My suggestion is to be a connector: if he’s open to learning more, connect this professor to other professors who are doing what it is that you’re talking about. On the CSC campus, there are 2 professors I know of besides myself who have done something like this in a class, so there are connections to be made ON CAMPUS. And at other institutions, there are also similar projects happening. Have you shared the wiki you saw in that workshop? I am going to put together some resources for you too. So maybe your job is to share some resources and give your professor some contacts. In my experience, we inspire change when we can model the change we want to see (hard for you when you aren’t teaching yet–but you know what I have to say about that. You are not naive, and there is nothing wrong with idealism) and have an open door, be willing to share and talk. And yes, you have found your key. And I love seeing it! (Will Tweet you some links and resources–also there is a group at #OpenEd13 working on a geoscience course. Will Tweet you some connections there too!)

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