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Business as Unusual: The New Normal for Online Learning

A recent conversation with a pair of BCcampus Ed Tech Fellows highlighted some of the different responses to the current pandemic and led us to reach out to various voices in the world of online education to explore what’s working, what’s not, and what we can expect for the future.

Post by BCcampus’ editorial team

Adapting to Glocal Influences

Sarah Van Borek, BCcampus EdTech fellow, Ph.D. candidate at Rhodes University, and instructor at Emily Carr University of Art + Design, shared her experience from Cape Town, South Africa.

“We went into a 21-day lockdown on March 26, and we’re not out of it yet,” said Sarah. “All universities closed for face-to-face instruction, including the residences, which caused numerous students to move back to their rural communities, many of which don’t have reliable access to the internet and several lacking cell service. There was an immediate response from Rhodes to improve online access, with people donating their old cellphones and laptops and the university providing a mobile data bundle for students.

“One of the most interesting changes that I saw in terms of online learning was the use of WhatsApp, a text and voice messaging app that is very popular in South Africa. Through the app’s group chat feature, instructors can moderate the discussion and students can leave voice notes, which gives them the ability to have their voices heard asynchronously. My research focus, as an EdTech Fellow, is on podcasting and sound storytelling to support diversity in online learning environments, so I found the choice to use this medium intriguing.

“For the past decade, as I’ve been moving between Canada and South Africa for my work and studies, I’ve imagined a north–south dialogue. Now, due to COVID-19, it’s happening organically, and I’m in the process of reimagining the course I would have been teaching in Vancouver this summer as an online course. I need to factor in which apps to use, how to prepare for students who only have cellphones, and the reality that many students come from other countries to study at Emily Carr, and now they’ll be learning remotely. It’s fascinating that the forced global aspect of the classroom will influence the way I design the educational technology for my program.”

A Crash Course in Open Education

“This pandemic has been a learning experience for many educators, introducing them to the world of open as they shift from traditional to online learning,” said Derek Turner, instructor at Douglas College and BCcampus EdTech fellow. “I spent a huge amount of time in March trying to digest all of the options available, my inbox full of articles about best practices for learning online. The info was coming from people who have much more experience in online learning than I do, but the lists and articles and blogs would often contradict each other. Moving forward, I’d like to see more organization of and for open educational resources. Not just experts saying, ‘this worked for me,’ but the ability for individuals to get together to come up with a cohesive framework for others to follow. Resources curated and available in one or two repositories so people know where to find them and the quality they can expect. These resources are available, but they’re discipline specific and not B.C. focused, and I think there’s an opportunity to improve. BCcampus is leading the charge and curating these resources for educators and students, and this will be very useful to prepare for fall programs.

“The focus on learners through this experience — for the most part — has given us the opportunity to focus on what’s best for students. The asynchronous options are exciting, and there’s an opportunity to rethink the structure of our classes. This whole situation has forced institutions to be more open to this type of change. In the past, some educators might have been excited to tear everything apart and build it back up with a goal of helping students learn in a better way, but the institutions wouldn’t be able to support it. Not because they didn’t want to, but because it was difficult for them to do it. Now there’s an opportunity for institutions to let the reins go and encourage creative and new approaches. It’s scary, but it’s also inspiring for educators to have that freedom. The research is available, the interest is there, and the resources are open, so now is the time to make it happen.”

Myths and Misconceptions

“Throughout the pandemic, everyone is talking about online learning, and everyone has an opinion,” shared Clint Lalonde, project manager at BCcampus and associate faculty, School of Education and Technology, Royal Roads University. “What surprised me was the resurgence of many of the zombie ideas about online learning creeping into the discussions, such as the idea that online learning isn’t as personal, or that you can’t have interactivity, or that it just doesn’t work. And while it is true you need to change how you think about your course — you can’t just replicate what you used to do in the classroom — there’s an opportunity to evolve your teaching practices and create a better learning experience for your students.”

Pivoting to Designing for Online Learning

“I always wonder about that word ‘pivot’: it suggests a rapid, neat, and tidy turn, from one thing to another, and implies you can turn back just as quickly and neatly,” shared Jesse Stommel, digital learning fellow and senior lecturer of digital studies at University of Mary Washington. “Instead, the pandemic has forced everyone to rethink what education is for, how they design their courses, and what kind of relationships they want to build with students. What’s happening now is going to reshape education for years, if not decades.

“There’s a lot of discussion about the return to face to face in the fall — I see a lot of unwillingness to let go of what the fall is going to look like. People want the old normal, not the new normal. We will, to some degree, get back to what we know and love, but it won’t ever look like it did before.”

“One of the things missing from the move to online education is the place for open source ed tech infrastructure, especially in the context of data privacy concerns around some of the proprietary ed tech we’ve come to rely on,” said Tannis Morgan, advisor for learning and teaching and researcher for open education at BCcampus. “Like your physical buildings on campus, you also have a somewhat invisible set of resources called your educational technology. If you don’t understand it well and don’t treat it as important infrastructure, your ability to move online sustainably will be challenged. Sometimes institutions see eLearning as a project, not a strategy. Online learning isn’t a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants project; it has to be integrated into your academic plan and institutional strategy. I hope that COVID-19 underlined that for institutions.”

“I hope that where we’re going with this, system-wide,” shared Clint, “is more resources devoted to well-resourced teaching and learning centres: bringing on more instructional designers, ed techs, and learning technologists — because that’s how we can create effective strategies to continuously improve teaching and learning online.”

Making Room for Asynchronous Learning

“There’s a lot wrong with synchronous teaching. We can do it better, whether that’s online or face to face,” shared Tony Bates, research associate at Contact North. “We’ve known for over 30 years now that one-hour lectures are not a great way to teach: you can have a good one-hour session, but can you have 13 over a semester? It’s about cognitive load, and students can’t focus for more than 15 to 20 minutes at a time without being distracted. There’s room for synchronous discussion, but we can do it better. There’s a huge amount of research into online learning and what happens when students have access to online learning whenever they want it. And just like in real life, you have to know how to do both synchronous and asynchronous interactions well.”

The Student Voice

“We need more emphasis on open pedagogy that puts students at the heart of their own education,” said Jesse. “Too much education software and resources are still far too institution- or teacher-focused, and what we need is more students involved in the construction of those tools and resources. We need to stop imagining as educators that we’re building education for students, and make room for students to have a much larger say in the future of their education. We need to make space for the voices of communities who haven’t traditionally been heard: non-traditional learners, students who are food or housing insecure, students who are neurodivergent, students of colour, and Indigenous students. We must think of all these populations and the degree to which our educational system — our technology, our platforms — has not been built for them. We do a lot of work to make our methods accessible, but at the core, our systems, institutions, and platforms aren’t really built for — or by — those students.”

Faculty Development

Dr. Bonnie Stewart, assistant professor at the University of Windsor, said, “Many educators haven’t paid a ton of attention to the value proposition of online learning over the last twenty years. But suddenly, here we all are, online. As challenging as it is, I’m seeing online pedagogy’s focus on equity and care resonating with many of those new to the medium. Folx I haven’t had the privilege of speaking with before are suddenly coming out to listen, joining how-to webinars and learning sessions, and being part of the conversation. I’m noticing new people connecting to the pedagogy and decision-makers who have traditionally treated online as marginal calling us up for more information. It’s an interesting moment.”

Academic Freedom vs. Student Capacity

“What we’ve been doing over the past two months is an emergency adaptation to remote learning,” explained Bonnie. “As we look down the road at the upcoming changes, we need clarity and consistency across all programs. I teach digital technology, and I have academic freedom to choose not just what I teach, but how I teach it. I’ve used really experimental styles over the past few years, but I won’t be doing that as much over the coming year because I shouldn’t. My classes are traditionally where students get to work with tools and platforms outside of the norm. If everyone moving online treats it that way, the cognitive load on the students will be absolutely overwhelming. My right to flex my academic freedom regarding platforms should be superseded by care and consideration for my students’ cognitive loads across a program. Navigating different platforms and tools is hard and distracting. In my program, students take ten courses at once. If you have ten teachers, that’s a lot to just replace sitting in a class or reading books or links.”

To learn more about the opportunities and possibilities available through educational technologies and open educational resources, visit this web page on open education on BCcampus.ca.

Notable Quotes:

“Online learning isn’t something we only do during COVID-19. It’ll be around all the time, and it’ll be even more important after we find the new normal.”

Tony Bates, research associate, Contact North | Contact Nord

“The question now is about the emphasis institutions will put on faculty development, with focused central support from an effective teaching and learning centre.”

Tannis Morgan, open education researcher, BCcampus

“If you read one book, you know how to read a book, but if you have Edsby and Zoom and WordPress from different instructors across different programs, those platforms are not interchangeable. We need to be mindful of our students’ cognitive loads.”

Dr. Bonnie Stewart, associate professor, University of Windsor

“One of the most vital tools and resources that I’ve seen people using is their human capacities for compassion and patience — the degree to which faculty are stepping up and approaching their students from a place of care, and a place of genuine desire for students to feel a sense of hope, safety, and flexibility.”

Jesse Stommel, digital learning fellow and senior lecturer of digital studies, University of Mary Washington

Learn More:

CMTN Students Test the Economic Impact of OER Adoption

What happens when the commons are not a tragedy, but a shared resource that keeps being added to, remixed, and shared amongst members of a community? Specifically, what happens in a small rural college? How do we measure the economic impact of open educational resources (OER) in the context of a small rural college? As one of the BCcampus Open Education Advocacy and Research Faculty Fellows for the 2019–2020 year, I have embarked on an action research project with first-year economics students to assess the economic impact of increased adoption of OER at Coast Mountain College (CMTN).

Post by Karen McMurray, Instructor in the Business Administration program, Coast Mountain College

As an educator of first-year students, I hope to light a fire of interest for the disciplines I teach, and tracking economic indicators in our institution was one way to light those fires for economics. My students were tasked with creating a survey tool to measure the economic impact of OER on our community at CMTN. It seemed like a big ask already, so what I did not expect was for my students to take the assignment and add more from other disciplines, thus creating opportunities for integrative learning for themselves through their curiosity about the impacts of OER in our community. While the intention of the project was to find out the economic impact of OER, as an educator, I have also realized something about pedagogy: co-curricular, integrative learning opportunities may be a valuable way forward with required first-year economics education.

Students designed surveys for stakeholders impacted by the adoption of OER — including students, faculty, and staff at CMTN — to capture the economic picture. Some of the questions they wanted answers to were: Where did students save money? Where did they spend it? Did this spending multiply in our community the same way bookstore spending would? Did the savings students experienced in book costs translate to ensuring they had shelter, food, clothing, and transportation?

Students wanted to know the stories behind the data and incorporated survey questions around feelings, well-being, and trust of their community. It was clear that the marriage between data and personal narrative was driving students’ curiosity and excitement for the project, which is something that data alone could not achieve. From an educator’s perspective, I was challenged to let go of some of my expectations around diving into economic data and encouraged my students to continue to design surveys that also revealed the story of OER. Adding questions about feelings and social impact felt risky: it felt time-consuming and too far off-track from the learning outcomes of our course, but we kept going with it. How can you say no to following student curiosities? I couldn’t. Did my students want to measure the economic multiplier of OER on our community as I had assigned them? Yes, but they most certainly wanted our college to be considered from a social and emotional perspective, too. They did not see the point in only looking at economic indicators and wanted to know the social as well as the economic impacts.

Questions nominated for inclusion in our survey, but that fell outside of the scope of 100-level microeconomics, include:

  • How do you feel when you realize a class is relying on open educational resources?
  • You come to class on the first day and find out the class has a free textbook. How would you characterize your reaction to this?
  • When an instructor makes a free text the required text for a course, what happens to your perception of that instructor?
  • When using a free text, do you trust the content more or less?

These questions help to create meaning and foster understanding of the idea that economics is part of a larger system that includes people in roles beyond consumers and labourers, as we tend to view them in economics.

The Association of American Colleges & Universities and the Carnegie Foundation for Advancement of Teaching issued a joint statement on integrated learning that states, “integrative learning goes beyond academic boundaries. Indeed, integrative experiences often occur as learners address real-world problems, unscripted and sufficiently broad to require multiple areas of knowledge and multiple modes of inquiry, offering multiple solutions and benefiting from multiple perspectives.”

Connecting our classrooms to community-created conditions is one way for integrative learning to occur. Students were propelled by their own curiosity to seek out how economic choices can impact a community in ways we would not typically consider in first-year economics.

What is this unexpected — and at times, seemingly unmanageable course — helping me realize as an instructor? That integrative learning can be valuable in 100-level economics courses, and that first-year economics instructors may be able to consider certain co-curricular opportunities for their courses. While first year economics tends to be a stand-alone course there is value in pairing economics with other courses that may seem unrelated but can actually make projects come alive in the community. My students themselves sought out integration of disciplines to get a whole picture whether I was ready or not. While my students approached my assigned project in ways I could not have anticipated, they helped me contemplate the value of changing the teaching of economics at the first-year level entirely through well-designed co-curricular integrative learning opportunities.

Learn more:

What is the BCcampus Open Education Research Webinar series?

The Open Education Research Webinar series is a monthly showcase of research on open education by people in the B.C. post-secondary sector. It will take place between May and August 2020 and is being organized and hosted by BCcampus. This webinar series aims to bring attention to the important research work of BCPSE educators and to make this work visible more broadly. Hopefully, this series will also inspire others to build on this work and to consider applying for the BCcampus Research Fellows program, which helps to build research capacity in our province.

How did this come about?

BCcampus has had a Faculty Fellows research program for several years now, and this has been an important catalyst in developing a body of research on open education in the province. Last year, BCcampus published a blog post about the range of research on open in B.C., which highlighted some of the great research happening in our sector on a wide range of open education topics. What was also interesting was that research on open education in B.C. is being produced not only by faculty, but also by administrative staff, librarians, support staff, and students. In fact, in the sample of research that we looked at, approximately 30 per cent of the research was undertaken by people in non-faculty positions.

What kinds of topics will be covered in this year’s series?

Open education is a broad category that goes beyond just open textbooks and open educational resources. There are intersections with adjacent areas of study that include digital literacies and open scholarship, for example, as well as areas of focus such as open education leadership, open educational resources, and Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition (PLAR). All of this contributes to a richer understanding of open education in our province, and it’s the goal of this year’s series to touch on that wide range of topics.

This year’s series will begin with a webinar on May 28 by Erin Fields, who was one of BCcampus’ Faculty Fellows in 2018–2019. Erin is a UBC librarian who has done some really interesting work at the intersection of information literacy and open pedagogy.

Our second speaker will be George Veletsianos on June 18, and he will share his work around framing quality in open and digital education to include equity. This is especially relevant to BCPSE, where diversity, equity, and inclusion have been top of mind in our efforts.

We will also have Michelle Harrison and Irwin DeVries sharing their recent research on the role of instructional designers as advocates for open educational practices, which addresses an important gap in open education research, as it has been largely centred on the role of faculty and students as advocates.

And last, but not least, we are reserving one session for student research on open education that will be posted soon.

Where can people register to attend?

Open Education Research Webinar Series: Authentic Student Participation — Information Literacies in Open Pedagogy on May 28 from 11:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.

Open Education Research Webinar Series: What Makes for “Good” Open and Digital Education? on June 18 from 11:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.

What is the BCcampus Open Education Research Webinar series?

The Open Education Research Webinar series is a monthly showcase of research on open education by people in the B.C. post-secondary sector. It will take place between May and August 2020 and is being organized and hosted by BCcampus. This webinar series aims to bring attention to the important research work of BCPSE educators and to make this work visible more broadly. Hopefully, this series will also inspire others to build on this work and to consider applying for the BCcampus Research Fellows program, which helps to build research capacity in our province.

How did this come about?

BCcampus has had a Faculty Fellows research program for several years now, and this has been an important catalyst in developing a body of research on open education in the province. Last year, BCcampus published a blog post about the range of research on open in B.C., which highlighted some of the great research happening in our sector on a wide range of open education topics. What was also interesting was that research on open education in B.C. is being produced not only by faculty, but also by administrative staff, librarians, support staff, and students. In fact, in the sample of research that we looked at, approximately 30 per cent of the research was undertaken by people in non-faculty positions.

What kinds of topics will be covered in this year’s series?

Open education is a broad category that goes beyond just open textbooks and open educational resources. There are intersections with adjacent areas of study that include digital literacies and open scholarship, for example, as well as areas of focus such as open education leadership, open educational resources, and Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition (PLAR). All of this contributes to a richer understanding of open education in our province, and it’s the goal of this year’s series to touch on that wide range of topics.

This year’s series will begin with a webinar on May 28 by Erin Fields, who was one of BCcampus’ Faculty Fellows in 2018–2019. Erin is a UBC librarian who has done some really interesting work at the intersection of information literacy and open pedagogy.

Our second speaker will be George Veletsianos on June 18, and he will share his work around framing quality in open and digital education to include equity. This is especially relevant to BCPSE, where diversity, equity, and inclusion have been top of mind in our efforts.

We will also have Michelle Harrison and Irwin DeVries sharing their recent research on the role of instructional designers as advocates for open educational practices, which addresses an important gap in open education research, as it has been largely centred on the role of faculty and students as advocates.

And last, but not least, we are reserving one session for student research on open education that will be posted soon.

Where can people register to attend?

Open Education Research Webinar Series: Authentic Student Participation — Information Literacies in Open Pedagogy on May 28 from 11:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.

Open Education Research Webinar Series: What Makes for “Good” Open and Digital Education? on June 18 from 11:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.

Open Pedagogy and the Trades

When I first started my foray into open education, I had no idea what open ed actually was. Like many, I found myself working with open educational practices before I even knew they were a thing. This is exactly how I began my work and research in the area of co-creation of resources with trades students.

Post by Chad Flinn, Electrical and Entrepreneurship Instructor at BCIT

As a trades instructor, it never made sense to me that we were training future tradespeople in how to construct, troubleshoot, maintain, and collaborate by putting them in classes, where they would stare at the backs of each other’s heads and work in isolation (one may argue that this holds true for all disciplines). After a few years of teaching, I started gravitating towards including my students as co-conspirators in their own learning. I started to see more engagement, more interaction, and, dare I say, the students seemed to be having more fun.

As my teaching methods evolved, I decided to pursue a Master of Arts in Learning and Technology at Royal Roads University. I learned that there were actual terms for some of the projects and methods I was working on with my students, like “co-creation” and “open pedagogy.” I started digging into learning theories, such as Vygotsky’s social constructivism and Kolb’s experiential learning theory. I began to see how these practices and theories could be integrated into the context of trades training. I started reading and following the works of David Wiley, Jesse Stommel, Sean Michael Morris, Tannis Morgan, Rajiv Jhangiani, Robin DeRosa, and Catherine Cronin.

I stopped dipping my toe into the shallow end of the open pedagogy pool and decided to jump in cannonball style.

Two years ago, I adopted a fully co-creative model with my students. I no longer had them read from textbooks or outside resources: I started having them create their own. This is an ever-evolving model. (One of the things that I appreciate about open pedagogy is how it can take something that was previously static and turn it on its head into something dynamic.)

Some of the things we do in the name of co-creation:

  • Textbooks: At the beginning of the unit, the students are given a slide deck template. It comes with headings and subheadings, but it is up to the students to fill in the rest. I started this as an individual exercise, and over the past couple of years, it has evolved into a co-creative process (I hesitate to use the term “group project,” as it goes deeper than that). The group is responsible for gathering all the information it can on the topics. This is not done in a silo: I encourage the groups to interact with each other, and I am a constant sounding board for what information is relevant and what isn’t. Some of the work that they have created rivals those of standard textbooks.
  • Explainer videos: Using the free Flipgrid app from Microsoft, the students show how they would solve a problem that I put on the board at the end of the day. They have complete freedom in how they present the information, as long as it is appropriate and explains how they arrived at their answers. Some of the videos that have been submitted are animated, complete with soundtracks. The students enjoy making them, and I enjoy watching them.
  • Self and peer assessment: At the end of each unit, I send a Google Form survey to each student, where they may assess their contribution to the project. They are also required to assess their peers in the co-creation project. After a couple of days, I will have a mini interview with each student regarding the survey. Without fail, at the beginning of the course, students will mark themselves at a lower grade than they would normally obtain in a standard assignment. They will also be much more lenient on their peers. While this is not at all surprising, it has led to some great conversations regarding assessment and constructive criticism.
  • Authentic assignments: Along with the textbook projects, I try to focus on never having the students do something that could be thrown away at the end of the course. For example, during the electronics portion of the course, we work with Raspberry Pis (programmable microcomputers), and the students decide what they want to build with it or how they would like to program it. Some of the projects have been Wi-Fi boosters, gaming systems, media servers, and homemade laptops.
  • Group assessments: Instead of having individual students write tests or quizzes, we bring the collaborative nature of the course into the assessments as well. In groups of four, students work together on assessments. While one might think that the group would have the “smart” students do the test while the rest copied the results, this is never the case. Instead, there are many great discussions among the groups, and it is apparent that these assessments are learning opportunities for all the students.

A year ago, I made the decision in my master’s program to pursue the thesis track. I was very much interested in how the students themselves viewed these exercises and being brought into their own education as co-collaborators instead of mere consumers. I decided to take a mixed methods approach, using both a survey and interviews to gather my information. I was very fortunate in that I was able to gather all the data from my students before COVID-19 started to change the face of education. I was unfortunate in that, shortly after I gathered my data, all my attention was taken trying to figure out a way to transition face-to-face trades education delivery to some sort of workable remote delivery model. (I hesitate to use the word “online,” as I believe there is much more work that must be done to make this an authentic online model.)

It is now 10 weeks later, and we have our noses above water. I am now able to start digging into all the data that was collected. There were 18 responses to the survey, and nine students participated in an interview by a third party. I have just finished my first pass in coding the interviews, and I am seeing some exciting themes emerging:

  • Students like putting information into their own words, as it helps them to retain more information than by just reading textbooks.
  • Learning collaboratively is perceived as more enjoyable than learning alone.
  • Having access to resources at any time on a mobile device is useful for future studies.
  • There is a strong distrust of Wikipedia.
  • While strong in social media, many students have few to no digital literacy skills.

This is only my first pass, and these are only preliminary findings. I am in the process of taking some time and immersing myself in the data and seeing what comes out the other side. As I continue to dig and work and teach in this time of a pandemic, I am beginning to see how useful these exercises may be in an online context. Perhaps I am getting ahead of myself, but I am now pondering the question of what role co-creation of resources could have in a post-COVID era.

Learn more:

Indigenization Guide: Residential Schools

An excerpt from Pulling Together: Foundations Guide by Kory Wilson

For roughly seven generations nearly every Indigenous child in Canada was sent to a residential school. They were taken from their families, tribes and communities, and forced to live in those institutions of assimilation. The results while unintended have been devastating. We witness it first in the loss of Indigenous languages and traditional beliefs. We see it more tragically in the loss of parenting skills, and, ironically, in unacceptably poor education results. We see the despair that results in runaway rates of suicide, family violence, substance abuse, high rates of incarceration, street gang influence, child welfare apprehensions, homelessness, poverty, and family breakdowns. Yet while the government achieved such unintended devastation, it failed in its intended result. Indians never assimilated.


– Honourable Justice Murray Sinclair (Mizanay Gheezhik; Ojibway; first Indigenous judge in Manitoba, superior court judge, adjunct professor, and chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission), speech to the United Nations, 2010

One of the most infamous consequences of the Indian Act was the promotion of residential schools. Duncan Campbell Scott, Head of Indian Affairs from 1913 to 1932, famously said in 1920 that “the goal of the Indian Residential School is to ‘kill the Indian in the child.’” Sadly, in many cases, this goal was accomplished. Children were not allowed to speak their language and had to give up their cultural practices, beliefs, and any connection to their Indigenous way of life.

Today, Indigenous Peoples are still living with the legacy of residential schools in the form of post-traumatic stress and intergenerational trauma.

The legacy of the residential school system is still with us today, and it is important that all people understand its history and legacy. Only when we understand the true history of Canada and its relationship with Indigenous Peoples can reconciliation begin. We can create a Canada that is inclusive of Indigenous Peoples and where Indigenous Peoples are self-determining in a nation-to-nation relationship.

The residential school system

The residential school system consisted of 140 schools across the country, funded by the federal government and run by churches. More than 150,000 Indigenous children attended the schools.

The first government-funded residential schools were opened in the 1870s. The last federally funded residential school closed in 1996 in Saskatchewan. In British Columbia, the first residential school was started in Mission in 1861. It was run by the Catholic Church. This residential school was the last to close in the province, shutting down in 1984.

Day schools and residential schools were made mandatory for Indigenous children between the ages of 7 and 15 in 1884. Parents could no longer choose between sending their children to the schools and keeping them at home, and they could be fined or even sent to prison if they tried to keep their children at home.

The government wanted to assimilate Indigenous Peoples into Canadian society, which meant they would have to give up their languages, spiritual beliefs, and cultural practices. Indigenous children were removed from their parents, family, and all cultural influences and traditions. They lived at residential schools for months or years at a time rather than going home every day after class. Many of these children did not see their families for very long periods of time.

Since the intent of the government and churches was to erase Indigenous culture in the children – “kill the Indian in the child” and stop the transmission of culture from one generation to another – many people think the residential schools were a form of cultural genocide.

The residential school experience

On the children’s arrival at the residential schools, the staff took away their clothes and cultural belongings. Their hair was cut and they were required to wear Euro-Canadian uniforms. They were forbidden to speak their language, practise their cultural traditions, or spend time with children of the opposite sex, including their brothers and sisters, and were physically punished if they did. They were required to practise Christianity.

Children usually attended school in the morning and the boys worked as farm labourers in the afternoon while the girls did domestic chores and cleaned. They often received only a Grade 5 education, as it was expected that they would be low-paid workers in Canadian society.

The government paid the church a certain amount of money for each student. The more students at the school, the more money the church would receive. The children did not get enough food and lived in buildings that were hot in the summer and cold in the winter. Overcrowding and poor diet meant that diseases spread rapidly, and many students died in the schools.

Disconnection from their families, communities, languages, and cultures led to great suffering for the children. Many also experienced neglect and abuse – physical, psychological, and sexual – at the schools. Some committed suicide. Some died trying to escape. Indigenous children are the only children in Canadian history to be taken from their families and required by law to live in institutions because of their race and culture.

For most Indigenous people, the memories of residential school are negative and life-altering. They remember feeling lonely, hungry, and scared. They remember being told that Indigenous culture is strange and inferior, that Indigenous beliefs and practices are wrong, and that they would never be successful.

The continuing legacy of the residential school system

Canada’s residential school system had and continues to have serious consequences for Indigenous Peoples. It is important to understand this history so it is not repeated, and to work toward righting the wrongs of the past so Indigenous and non-Indigenous people can move forward in a spirit of nation-to-nation relationship based on respect, transparency, and accountability.

Loss of confidence and culture

Many of the people who attended residential schools left with very little education and a belief that it is shameful to be an “Indian.” Many were unable to speak their language, so they could not communicate with their family members and particularly their grandparents, who in many communities would have been important sources of knowledge for them. Many also found it hard to fit into Canadian society. They had a low level of education and faced racism and discrimination when they tried to find work. Unable to fit into community life and not accepted in mainstream society, some felt that they did not belong anywhere.

Psychological effects

Many people who attended residential schools experienced a variety of psychological effects, including:

  • post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – terror, nightmares, and flashbacks that develop after a terrifying experience
  • survivor syndrome– guilt felt by people who have survived a threatening situation that others did not survive

Sadly, the effects of residential school are not only felt by those who attended residential schools. Intergenerational trauma are the effects of traumatic experiences passed on to the next generations. For example, the children and grandchildren of residential school survivors grow up feeling something is wrong, but they do not know what because parents and relatives live with the pain and grief of their experiences in silence.

Effects on communities

Traditionally, Indigenous histories, traditions, beliefs, and values were passed from one generation to the next through experiential learning and oral storytelling. With the children away at school, there was no one left to receive this knowledge. Many Indigenous languages that were spoken in Canada are now gone. Many cultural and spiritual practices have been lost.

The loss of culture is a loss for both Indigenous Peoples and non-Indigenous people in Canada. Families suffered from the separation for many years. Because they were removed from their families, many students grew up without the knowledge and skills to raise their own families. It prevented children from learning from their Elders and growing into a role in their community and having a healthy self-esteem and identity.

Apologies and reparations

In the 1990s, groups of residential school survivors sued the Canadian government and the churches that ran the schools. One of the largest class action suits in Canadian history was settled in 2007. It resulted in the establishment of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement and payment of $1.9 billion. This settlement made several promises. It gave more funds to the Indigenous Healing Foundation (now closed) for healing programs in communities, and offered payments to survivors as reparation. Reparation payments are compensation for past wrongs endured by the victims.

The official apology

On June 11, 2008, the Government of Canada issued a formal apology. You can view a video of the apology [1]online. Here is part of the text of the apology:

The treatment of children in Indian Residential Schools is a sad chapter in our history.… Two primary objectives of the Residential Schools system were to remove and isolate children from the influence of their homes, families, traditions, and cultures, and to assimilate them into the dominant culture. These objectives were based on the assumption Indigenous cultures and spiritual beliefs were inferior and unequal. Indeed, some sought, as it was infamously said, “to kill the Indian in the child.” Today, we recognize that this policy of assimilation was wrong, has caused great harm, and has no place in our country…. To the approximately 80,000 living former students, and all family members and communities, the Government of Canada now recognizes that it was wrong to forcibly remove children from their homes and we apologize for having done this. We now recognize that it was wrong to separate children from rich and vibrant cultures and traditions that it created a void in many lives and communities, and we apologize for having done this. We now recognize that, in separating children from their families, we undermined the ability of many to adequately parent their own children and sowed the seeds for generations to follow, and we apologize for having done this. We now recognize that, far too often, these institutions gave rise to abuse or neglect and were inadequately controlled, and we apologize for failing to protect you. Not only did you suffer these abuses as children, but as you became parents, you were powerless to protect your own children from suffering the same experience, and for this we are sorry.…

Healing

Many Indigenous families and communities have organized formally and informally to heal from residential school legacies, and many survivors are now Elders. The Indian Residential School Survivors Society (IRSSS) grew out of a committee of survivors in 1994. It has centres in B.C. cities, including Vancouver. Its many projects include providing crisis counselling, court support, workshops, conferences, information and referrals, and media announcements. The society researches the history and effects of residential schools. The IRSSS also advocates for justice and healing in traditional and non-Indigenous ways.


  1. Official Apology video: https://youtu.be/-ryC74bbrEE 

Learn more

  • Indigenization Guide: The Reserve System
  • Indigenization Guide: The Indian Act

Exploring an Open Path for First-Year Engineering

Quality open educational resources (OER) are available for a number of first-year courses in engineering programs throughout the province. Many faculty across B.C. and beyond have long been involved in creating, adapting, and adopting OER for their courses. With that in mind, BCcampus is exploring potential paths to Zero Textbook Cost (ZTC) programs in STEM in B.C., including for first-year engineering. ZTC programs enable students to earn credentials without incurring costs for textbooks.

Post by Melanie Meyers, project manager for Business/STEM Zero Textbook Cost Programs and Improved Searchability

In spring 2019, BCcampus was asked by the Ministry of Advanced Education, Skills and Training to assist with a project concerning B.C. institutions delivering engineering programs who want to move to a common first-year curriculum. The project was initiated by the engineering articulation committee and led by its chair, Brian Dick of Vancouver Island University.

BCcampus has recognized the need to search for and align available OER with the common curriculum for first-year engineering. The goal is to ensure that relevant and quality OER are available for all first-year engineering courses, thus making possible a Zero Textbook Cost pathway in engineering.

Why OER for Engineering Is Needed Now More than Ever

With the pivot to online learning due to COVID-19, the need for and benefits of OER are even greater than before, as OER save instructors’ time, help cash-strapped students, and provide immediate online availability and accessibility. To illustrate this, BCcampus created an infographic showing the advantages of OER and published the article OER: Trial by COVID-19.

Regardless of the current situation, textbook costs for first-year engineering students can amount to more than $500 per student/year. The common curriculum includes courses from a variety of STEM disciplines that have already demonstrated high numbers of OER adoptions in B.C. (e.g., physics, chemistry, and math).

As a number of engineering programs across B.C. are presently undergoing curriculum redesign, now is the perfect time to consider shifting to OER so that further reworking of the curriculum is not necessary down the road.

How Will We Get There?

In order to determine what OER is available and what gaps might exist, BCcampus is undertaking a gap analysis and mapping of OER to the common first-year curriculum for engineering. We will be looking at data such as current adoptions, where the successes have been, and where improvements and adaptations might be needed. Each OER will be reviewed for quality and relevance so that those programs and faculty looking to adopt can do so with confidence. Full results from this work are expected in fall 2020, but we will share preliminary information as it becomes available to assist those preparing for fall courses.

For gaps that emerge — as well as ones that we are already aware of — BCcampus will support collaborative projects intended to fill those gaps as soon as possible.

Contact

For more information, please contact Melanie Meyers, STEM Open Education Project Manager, at mmeyers@bccampus.ca.

Learn more:

BCcampus Open Education Working Group Guide: Start Big and Start Small

An excerpt from the Working Group Guide, by Krista Lambert and Lucas Wright.

The main purpose of the open working group is to introduce, establish, and provide support for open education at your institution. There are many different ways to accomplish this. Depending on the goals of the open working group, the group may focus on the development or informing of institutional policy related to open education. For other open working groups, there can be more of a grassroots focus in supporting individual instructors finding, adapting, and reusing open educational resources (OER) and teaching in the open. Open working groups often work simultaneously on both of these goals. In this section, we will share some approaches and tools for both of these approaches.

Start big! Consider open policies at the institutional level

When thinking about implementing open policies on an institutional level, there are a few questions you need to consider. Who can advocate for this? Whose support will you need? Who can help develop this?

Open working groups can have a significant impact on policy-level decisions. This can range from informing and advocating for policy changes on open to developing open policies for an institution. According to the OER Policy Development Tool, the broad steps in developing an institutional policy include seven components.

OER Policy Development Tool

The OER Policy Development Tool can guide you in developing each of these components. You can use the tool to develop policy or inform policy developed by other administrative, faculty, or student units.

  1. OER purpose statement. The college or university community needs to know why OER is important and how it aligns with the college or university vision and mission. An OER policy begins with a clearly stated and shared purpose.
  2. OER policy statement. An OER policy stipulates compliance with local, national, and international laws, regulations, and standards. To improve the chances of a successful college or university OER program initiative, it is essential that teaching faculty especially be engaged in writing the policy, beginning with the purpose.
  3. Licensing OER. Requirements for works created during the course of employment, including how they may be shared and used by others, needs to be clearly understood. Typically this is addressed in a college or university intellectual property (IP) and copyright policy. OER may be addressed in an existing IP policy or addressed separately in an OER policy. In either case, the use and creation of OER does not supplant an institution’s IP policy; it supplements the IP policy. We recommend, as a best practice, setting the default the most open and least restrictive Creative Commons Attribution Licence (CC BY) whenever possible.
  4. OER procedures and responsibilities. An OER policy makes clear who is responsible for what in developing and sustaining OER programs, including, for example, instructional aspects, training and professional development, student and cross-functional support, and leadership and governance.
  5. OER training and professional development. Training for faculty and staff is essential to introducing and sustaining an OER program. OER basics include such topics as locating OER; understanding intellectual property, copyright, and open licenses; adopting and adapting OER; and creating and sharing OER. Engaging with colleagues in the open community provides faculty and staff professional development opportunities, venues to exchange ideas and deepen their understanding and commitment to OER, and opportunities to build new networks.
  6. OER technical format. The technical format of OER creation and usage is an important consideration for OER policy. The OER created and/or used by faculty or staff should be in a technical format that allows for the greatest flexibility for retaining, reusing, revising, remixing, or redistributing content.
  7. OER quality assurance. The quality of the OER chosen by faculty as subject-matter experts to use in the courses and programs they teach needs to be of equal or greater quality than commercially distributed publisher content.

The focus of the OER Policy Development Tool is on OER; depending on the goals of the group, you may want to broaden your focus to consider including open education, open access, and open science in your policy development. In tandem with considering open policies at your institution, you may also want to consider opening up your own practices.

Questions to Consider

  1. What are the current policies at your institution that support and inform OER and open pedagogy?
  2. What role does the open working group currently have in informing and developing OER policies?

Start small! Open your own practices

Be open and inclusive. Add value. Make visible what you are using from the commons, what you are adding, and what you are monetizing. Maximize abundance. Give attribution. Express gratitude. Develop trust; don’t exploit. Build relationship and community.


~Stacey and Hinclife Pearson (2017)

One approach a number of open working groups have used as a way to raise interest in open practices is to focus on opening up their own practices and resources. By opening up your own resources and practices, it can model the value of open practices, and it can also be used as a way to start a conversation about open practices. It is also a way to connect with other open working groups and enable people to build on and improve these resources. This process does not need to only involve licensing but also developing resources that are findable and accessible. Here are examples of things that you can open up:

  • Slides and lesson plans from professional development programs
  • Toolkits and documentation supporting open
  • Videos that showcase open at your institution
  • Survey tools
  • Meeting agendas, minutes, and terms of reference

This approach can start with the products and processes from the open working group and can be extended to the areas that you work in. What would it mean for a teaching and learning centre to openly license its resources?

In Practice: The UBC Open Working Group

The University of British Columbia (UBC) open working group began at the outset making all of its resources and processes open. This was an intentional decision, with the goal of making the resources and processes visible in order to disseminate them more effectively and to promote and support open through “walking the walk” with open practices. This approach has helped the development of the group and has served as a professional development opportunity for members of the group who needed to learn about open licensing, open sharing, and how to develop usable resources from the outside. The open pack has decided to share all elements of their practice, including presentations, meeting notes, agendas, memberships lists, work plans, and shared resources. To effectively do this in the open, they have developed an Open UBC Working Group portal where they share and/or link to products and processes created and used by the group.

Attributions

Learn more:

Back in a Flash: How USBs are securing access to OER in the North

Technology continues to develop around us, giving us new ways to exchange information. But what about when you travel places where not everything is at the latest and greatest stages? Or if you get somewhere and discover the online connections are fickle and unreliable? What do you do when you want to share information?

Post by Carolee Clyne, Open Education Advisor, Regional Representative

One handy tool is a USB drive, also known as a flash drive. If you are working in locations where there are connection issues, it is always a good plan to keep key files on a flash drive. The most recent recipient of the Award for Excellence in Open Education, Brad Bell, reminds us of this simple but tried and true solution to rural and travelling work.

I first encountered the business card–sized USB a few years ago and found it to be a fabulous size to tuck into my wallet and handy to have if the connection is not secure or stable. Encrypting the flash drive helps secure the information, and a flash drive makes for simple transfer of data between most devices. This usability, along with information printed on the business card exterior, makes it easy to leave valuable contact information on a functional device.

As these are handy tools to travel with when going between locations — even if it’s just across town — it looks even better if your own message is on the device cover. Currently, there is a pilot project in operation trialling USB business cards with a condensed version of BCcampus’ open educational resources links and tips printed on the exterior.

Look for these limited edition units to appear in the hands of Northern and Interior post-secondary educators exploring OER.

Up close image of front of  open educations usb business card with symbols
Front of USB business card
Upclose shot of back of USB card with Guidelines for an Open Education Resource outlined
Back of USB business card

For more information on this project contact Carolee Clyne or Ross McKerlich.

Learn more: 

WANTED: Project Coordinator, OER Development Grant

TRU is looking for a Project Coordinator, OER Development Grant to coordinate and participate in an ongoing TRU-wide initiative to improve access to Open Education Resources for TRU students. This coordinator will facilitate the grant application process by supporting a community of practice, supporting grant recipients in accessing grant funds, directing grant recipients to the appropriate support resources and services and assisting in gathering evidence to help demonstrate impact. Check out the OERDG page for more information.

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