Posts Categorized: Accessibility

OER and Social Justice

[Theme music]

Josie Gray: Welcome to BCcampus Mixtape. This podcast is a remix of previous recordings from BCcampus offerings such as the Lunchable Learning radio show, Open Knowledge Spectrums, and more!

My name is Josie Gray. I am on the Open Education team at BCcampus. If you love to learn, you’ve come to the right place.

I am speaking to you from Moh’kins’tsis, which is what the Blackfoot call the area that is now the city of Calgary. This place is territory that is covered by Treaty 7, which was signed in 1877 by the Crown, the Blackfoot Nation (including the Siksika, Piikani, and Kainai Nations), the Tsuut’ina Nation, and the Stoney Nakoda (including the Chiniki, Bearspaw, and Wesley Nations). This place is also home to Métis Nation of Alberta, Region 3. I am really grateful to be here, and to share this virtual conversation with you today, wherever you are based in the world.

We are nearing the end of the first season of the BCcampus mixtape. So be sure to tune in next week to catch the final episode.

In this episode, I speak with Marco Seiferle-Valencia. Marco is a Brown, two-spirit digital archivist and librarian. He is currently the Open Education Librarian at the University of Idaho Library. He is also a co-founder of the Chicana por mi Raza Digital Memory Collective, which is both a digital collection of Chicanx archives and oral histories, as well as the radical praxis that encourages non-institutional memory recovery as encuentro.

In this episode, Marco shares the work he is doing at the University of Idaho to support faculty in creating low or no-cost course materials that have specific social justice goals. He shares how his own positionality impacts the work he does in open and offers a critical perspective on citational practices in open education scholarship and discourse.

Let’s listen in..

[Theme music]

Josie: So to start, would you provide an introduction to who you are and what you do?

Marco Seiferle-Valencia: Yeah, so my name is Marco Seiferle-Valencia, and I’m the Open Education librarian at the University of Idaho library. I’m also the manager of something called the Gary Strong Curriculum Center. So that’s a small education library, like separate from our main library, and it’s where we actually have like all the state curriculum. So like, when K through 12 educators want to pick out a new textbook, we actually have all of the sort of like “official” approved state curriculums and all the different subjects for them to go check out. I’m also, in terms of professional roles, the technical director of a project called Chicana por mi Raza, which is a sort of grassroots digital memory project. And so we collect oral histories and we collect archives of what we might loosely term Chicana-feminist. I say loosely, because, you know, some of the people in our archive don’t identify as women, they don’t identify as Chicanas, they may be a different kind of Latinx background, and they don’t necessarily identify as feminist either. But that’s kind of the sort of grouping ideology that the project comes out of is looking at, how do we kind of recover this, sort of, submerged history of Chicana activism? The very sort of minimal kind of documentation we have around Chicano rights is sort of macho and male-centric and ignores a lot of the contributions that women who are artists, activists, educators, politicians made in all different kinds of areas across the country. So, we have a few geographic focuses like Texas, and Los Angeles, California, places like that. As well as other sort of like less expected places like Michigan. Like sometimes people are surprised like, “Ah, there’s Latinos in Michigan?” Like who knew. There are. [Laughs] So those are kind of my key, sort of, professional roles. And I always like to, sort of, contextualize myself personally as well. And so, I grew up in Northwest New Mexico. I identify as Brown. I am biracial—my mom is white, and my dad is Indigenous New Mexican. So, sort of a complex interweaving their different identities. And I’ve been a librarian for about, I guess, 10 years if you count when I was in grad school.

Josie: And what brought you to open education?

Marco: It was kind of an accident, to be honest. So, I had moved to this region to actually have a job at a university in the region (that will not be named). I was actually in kind of a completely different field. I was a digital scholarship librarian at my institution before. So, I was at Michigan State University as a digital scholarship outreach librarian. And so, I was in charge of trying to put together you know, sort of outreach and programming for our digital scholarship lab. So, at the time, we had gotten a huge grant and were putting in, you know, this like really exciting, like VR technology and sort of like 360 spaces. And so, I had a lot of digitization expertise, my undergraduate degree is actually in photography. And so, I had been, you know, sort of in the digitization, digital humanities, and somewhat archives. But the sort of like grassroots non-traditional archives, open archives, if you will. Not sort of like traditional special collections work. And so, I moved to the region for a job in that vein, working specifically with Indigenous communities using a well-known content management system. And I immediately had some challenges with the leadership on that team, and you know, was one of very few people of colour working on this people-of-colour-focused effort. And immediately running into some very… predictable and structural issues, we’ll say. And so, I made the really tough decision to quit that job, actually, not knowing what I was going to do and having [inaudible], now I’m in the Palouse region. There’s really not a lot out here.

And so, I got very lucky, and I saw this position in open education open up at the University of Idaho. And I had really never thought that much about open education, right, I’ve been thinking about digital scholarship and digital humanities, and this digital memory work, which had sort of veins in open, you know, these thematic things that I’m going to come back to later but weren’t overtly connected. And so, I thought, well, you know, I’ll try it out. I’d never thought of myself as an education librarian. I’d never thought of myself as an open education librarian. So, I did sort of the crash course thing and you know, gave the presentation and ended up really liking the library. Here at the University of Idaho, we have a lot of really innovative digital projects that actually kind of continue that digital humanities work that I’ve talked about, including that kind of emphasis on, sort of, grassroots or non-traditional or under-resourced archives via some of the software we develop here. And so, I was like, oh, this may be a different place than I was expecting. I really didn’t know anything about Idaho. I didn’t have ties to the region, right. So, I just really came into this role sort of completely blind. And it was very challenging, right? Because you’re immediately in the role as an expert. And I’m like, I’m actually not an expert in open education. And everyone’s like, “Oh, that’s your imposter syndrome.” [Laughter] And I’m like, no, it’s literally… the truth. You know, I don’t have that sort of, like, “Oh, I learned about it in grad school, and I’ve been doing it…” You know, people have some really deep histories in it. And for me, I was very new to it and brought this, you know, very kind of digital humanities focused perspective. And so, I started that role in 2018, and it’s been really exciting. And it’s been really interesting, the ways that I can, you know, have sort of synthesized that past experience in digital humanities, and digital project work, and that digital archiving work. And how those perspectives informed what I saw in open, when I saw those open histories, seeing the same kinds of things repeatedly play out. So, yeah.

Josie: Yeah, one of the great things about open is it is so flexible to be able to take those past experiences and use them to inform the work that you do in open is, yeah, really great way to approach it. In the work that I read of yours, you talk about the Think Open Fellowship Program. Could you provide a little bit of information about what that program is?

Marco: Yeah, so I like to try to, you know, follow a sort of citational practice and give people credit. So that was started by someone who was in my role, like a couple of people ago. And her name is Annie Gaines. And she’s actually a librarian at the Idaho Commission for Libraries now. And so, she started the Think Open Fellowship, you know, using sort of like a $10,000 grant that— I actually don’t know how she got it, because it’s sort of like soft money from inside the library. So, I think it’s very much like she came up with this idea, and then, you know, successfully pitched it and got the funding. And, you know, it’s a pretty big success story in that the state has picked it up and sort of provided funding to the library to support it. And basically, what it is, is it’s a kind of typical incubator program, if, you know, people listening are familiar with those. The kind of idea is that we incentivize faculty with a small financial reward, or award, to change a course from a traditional text to an open text. Different programs, of course, have different, stricter definitions of open, you know, kind of “open as a spectrum.” And so, at the University of Idaho, I think it’s a very pragmatic program, and it’s very low-cost focused. And so, when I came in, you know, vis-a-vis that sort of unusual process of arriving, I arrived halfway through an academic year, and so I came actually into a set of Think Open programs already happening. And I was like, “Oh, so this is interesting.” Like, you know, I think maybe one of them, the book actually still cost money. The solution was to use a really old edition of the book because chemistry hadn’t changed that much or something. And so, you know, it’s a $5 cost. And I was like, “Oh, so this is really interesting,” right? Because like, I’m learning about open, you know, and I’m kind of, I’m feeling like I’m starting out. And so, I’m like, oh, the five R’s and I’m like, “Well, where’s the five R’s in a $5 textbook?”, and it’s like, well, but that… this is part of the thing, right? Is it’s like, you know, Annie’s program I think really had a very pragmatic focus about let’s try to, you know, not constrain faculty to platforms or impinge on their intellectual freedom in any way, and just try to incentivize them and support them and getting, you know, the best possible option that they can come up with that’s as low cost as possible. And so, there are some pure, you know, sort of like textbook-transfer projects that we’ve had through Think Open fellows where, you know, we had a graduate student who was really successful in getting a lot of our core courses switched over the standard physics textbooks, switching those to OpenStax physics textbooks. And having just really great results with that in terms of the cost savings. You know, him saying, “You know, there are some challenges with the content. But there’s also challenges with the traditional content.” And so, you know, the grad students aren’t necessarily as entrenched in a particular format or anything and are sort of like, well, you know, they see there are issues with kind of either approach, and I think are more flexible. And it’s interesting, sort of that trajectory of that project also then kind of hit a limit in where it could go, because, you know, a faculty department only has so much input from grad students. Not every faculty is going to throw out their traditional texts just because Ross Miller has done a really great job [laughs] of making a persuasive case. We also had more intensive, kind of custom digital projects, like a custom music textbook, where it can actually be like, edited in real time, it can actually have students like annotate it, and it plays the music back or plays the score back. And so that was something that we had built actually in the library via our digital infrastructure librarian, Evan Williamson, who’s, you know, just kind of a technical genius. And he was able to collaborate with that faculty and really build this like, very unique offering, that happens to be OER, right? But that’s just sort of one piece of what it’s doing. And so those were all the kinds of projects that had been underway when I came into the Think Open Fellows Program. There hadn’t necessarily been an overt DEI focus—diversity, equity, and inclusion-for those who don’t know or aren’t in the acronym soup. And so because that is something that’s very present for me in my personal and professional identities and also something that’s a thread in my research, you know, I think that sort of was immediately in my mind, which is like, “Well, how does this, you know, how are we engaging with our sort of land grant obligations and opportunities to, you know, challenge limiting curriculums and improve representation?” And so, I think I kind of immediately brought that, sort of, tweak to the program, to what had been a pretty traditional and successful kind of mini-grant program.

Josie: Yeah, that’s really great. Could you talk a little bit about, like, what that shift looked like, and some of the projects that have come out after?

Marco: You know, I think it’s hard for me to quantify, right? Because it’s like, I will never know what Annie Gaines’ experience was like, or whatever. I think something that… and I don’t want this to be a controversial thing to say. But I do think that… my positionality in the university, you know, I’m one of 16/17 faculty librarians, three of whom are obvious people of colour, right. So very, very, sort of low representation for people of colour on campus. The library is probably one of the more diverse units on this campus. And so, it’s like, I’m sort of immediately conspicuous. And so, it was interesting to me that a lot of the people who applied the year that then I came onto campus, and I’m the person who is facilitating the Think Open Fellowship, they sort of naturally had this focus to their work as well. I mention this because I think I didn’t necessarily do some fantastic job of promoting DEI and Think Open Fellowships. But part of the reality of being a minority faculty is that you are sort of a walking advertisement for minority faculty concerns. And so that’s both good and bad, right? It’s the sort of like lightning rod where it’s like, so I tend to be the place where people want to come and bounce bad, racist ideas off of sometimes, or, you know, they want to share things that it’s like, hmm, maybe you shouldn’t be sharing that. But then it also does attract collaborators who are like, “Oh, you know, I noticed, you’re not only a person of colour on the campus, but you know, through conversation, that that’s one of your research interests, and I’m also engaging around those topics. And so, what about if I were to do a Think Open Fellowship”. So, in that first year that I came on, four out of the six projects that ended up being selected did have that strong DEI focus. Folks might wonder about, like, the selection process, which I think is, you know, potentially reasonable question. And we try to use a sort of model where we have like a little, like, panel of faculty librarians who review the applications. And at the time, I think the rubric was really around cost savings, like what’s the sort of potential overall impact. You know, probably angling for a higher impact and when possible, sort of weighting that. But also trying to sort of, I think, evaluate projects for sort of how unique they were in terms of, is this a unique contribution? Is this an opportunity to do something where maybe an OER hasn’t been developed before? Maybe working to develop a different kind of technical solution? And then, of course, evaluating them for feasibility, you know, sort of like, is this something that is actually within the scope of what this can support? I think those are sort of the main criteria. And I do you think that I modified the official kind of proposal, CFP, call for proposal thing, to actually say that projects that include an emphasis on DEI, you know, sort of supporting U of I land grant mission. It’s very conservative state here, and so, obviously, how we word things, we have to be very mindful of no appearance of support for any particular political positions. And so, you know, it’s all it’s kind of threading a tricky needle there. But I do believe that I went ahead and added that. And so, I don’t quite know what the magic is that made it so that this particular year that we had these projects. I think it’s partly that a couple of the fellows that I’ve worked with were people who had developed relationships with, and we were already talking about these issues. I think other people, I had had more sort of a, like a kind of professional acquaintance-ship. Maybe I’d done one or two lectures in that class, but not as strong of a collaboration. And then I think we had a couple of projects that year that really didn’t have any DEI focuses. You know, and I think that’s one of the things that I do think it’s worth trying to, you know, talk about a bit is, you’re kind of in this tension, where if someone isn’t interested in modifying their courses in this way, I don’t really feel that it’s my position to even really try to convince them, right. I feel like it’s more appropriate to support the people who actively have that and to, you know, to suggest things, when possible, when people are open to it. But in general, the Think Open fellows, we have a real range of collaboration, where sometimes I’m seeing people every week, in which case, those tended to be the ones where I did have a bit more input. Other times, it’s like, well I saw them twice a semester, and then when they’re done with the project. So, of that particular year, there’s kind of four main projects that came out of it, and that have that strong DEI focus. Two were actually by grad students, and then two were by faculty. And so, one is a project that is like still very much in progress because COVID hit right when we were starting it.

And the kind of concept of it is filming Indigenous community members in our U of Idaho community and having them talk about that experience of being a person who’s Indigenous and who’s also, you know, a faculty or, you know, staff-researcher on campus, something like that. And talking about the kind of overlap between those roles, tension between those roles, with a real focus on creating curriculum for education students. So, this comes from Professor Vanessa Anthony-Stevens who’s a really amazing education professor who also has a really great anthropology perspective, and a really great perspective from just doing a ton of work with different Indigenous communities in the area. She’s a big facilitator of our IKE program, which is our Indigenous Knowledge Education program, where we’re actually helping Indigenous educators figure out culturally responsive teaching strategies, culturally preservation teaching strategies. You know, trying to actually really create a space that nurtures our future Indigenous educators, as opposed to kind of trampling them down like our typical education systems do.

That was her idea was, you know, we tend to have these like really, really limited curriculums that in terms of how we depict Native American people. It’s pretty common for, you know, kids, even in a region like Idaho where we have these really strong Indigenous histories and presences, current realities, and histories to, you know, they’re like, “I don’t know any Indigenous people,” or, you know, I don’t know, like “Nez Perce people over there and we’re like, over here.” And so, trying to figure out, you know, how can we model for educators, this is a way that you can create curriculum, and also, you know, sort of this meta thing where the educator students are themselves hopefully learning something from the content as well. And so, the kind of idea for that was to replace some of her existing textbook with these curriculums that we created that are kind of focused around these interviews with those different Indigenous community campus members. So, we recorded a couple, but then, you know, COVID kicked in, and obviously, in-person recording was not ideal. And we were very particular about wanting a certain kind of aesthetic on this. And so, you know, one of the things that Vanessa rightly noted is that the sort of overall presentation of the thing, including the textbook or an OER, can be a place where, you know, white supremacy and structural racism also expresses itself. And so, we were very adamant about, like, these are going to be well composed, well lit, well shot, well recorded interviews, right. And so some people might be wondering, like, well, why didn’t you just do them on zoom? It’s like because we hadn’t—especially at that time—figured out a good way to record a high-quality interview that we can then turn into, you know, maybe a clip that includes some footage of that person’s reservation or home space, you know, some space that they want to share in terms of physical region. You know, really wanting to have some options to put in some extra sort of, I guess, you might say B-roll footage that provides that additional context.

Another was with Professor Ashley Kerr, and she was actually working on a Latinx survey course that was interesting because it’s like a sort of history of Latin America, history of South America. It’s a course that’s actually in Spanish, so that added an additional element in terms of trying to identify OER. And she wanted to challenge the traditional text’s really colonial perspective, you know. And so, she had just a number of examples where she was like, “You know, this is really an anti-Indigenous perspective in the text. This is a very anti-woman perspective in the text. This is a very anti-queer perspective in the text.” You know and wanting to really kind of explode some of these, just norms in the traditional texts that were themselves very, sort of, colonial. And so, I appreciated that she didn’t call it “Decolonizing Latinx Spanish Survey History Course.” Because, you know, the whole kind of concept of a Latinx, Spanish history survey course is sort of inherently colonial. [laughter] But I think she did a really good job of taking that traditional text and basically replacing it with a lot of different types of assignments. And so, they included things like some really innovative things, like particular political actors in history, and creating a Twitter account and trying to tweet from that person’s perspective. You know, especially I think this was during the sort of Donald Trump presidency, and there was this like real learning opportunity. How do different kinds of leadership—totalitarianism, authoritarianism, etc, fascism—how does it manifest in a sort of rhetoric in this kind of format? And so, I think she used that to sort of explore like, well, let’s look at some of these, you know, Latinx survey history, let’s look at that history and actually apply that sort of critical digital humanities perspective and allow students to, kind of, try something out there. And then I believe, we also identified a number of open resources from here and there, right, a lot of, sort of, searching on the web and finding things in Spanish that then we translated, or finding just raw materials, things coming from museums, even, where it’s like examples like… barbaric, like, Spanish caste system stuff, you know. And being able to use sort of like original archival elements to say, like, “Oh, look at this depiction, that’s like trying to sort out people by their skin colour and sort of rate different levels of interracial identity in colonial Mexico.” And this is something that we want to like shove away, because it’s so horrific and old and racist and gross. And it’s also very deeply relevant, right? Because colourism is like a major, major issue in the Latinx community. And so, taking sort of like raw archival objects, if you will, out of, you know, Mexican American Museum of History, you know, Ciudad of Mexico history kind of thing, and pulling that out and then having students work on digital assignment through that.

And then our two graduate students did work. One did work on an English 101 and 102, trying to make sort of more culturally responsive materials. She was a graduate student who’d worked a lot with English as a second language learners and had noticed that a lot of the cultural reference points in traditional English 101 and 102 texts didn’t resonate for people, were actively alienating for people, were often racist. And so you know, she had sort of limited autonomy as a graduate student in an English department to rewrite these kind of fundamental syllabi, but she was able for her courses to actually experiment with some different solutions that I don’t know that you would necessarily call them exactly open, you know, things like using captioning on Netflix to allow people to, you know, have the captions in the language that they need, right? And so, to say, like, okay, you know, making sure that it’s just selecting something that she’s checking through and saying, like, oh, is there actually Spanish caption on this to help facilitate this for English as second language learners, or things like that. And so that syllabus is really interesting, because, you know, it wouldn’t pass anybody’s five Rs. But it did get the course cost down quite a bit for those particular sections. I think they were now like a $5 course, and she had found YouTube channels where she was able to actually have Spanish captioning and things like that. And so was able to find that and then have sort of supplemental things that people could do if they did have access to things like Netflix, etc, or, you know, the paid textbook. She couldn’t change the curriculum at the fundamental level where they stopped using the English 101 text, but she said students could get through the course without it because she was seeing students getting through the course without it and suffering. And instead, the course was now rewritten that it was like, yeah, it is actually optional. So, like, if you don’t do it, you’re not actually missing out, and also, hopefully, we’re not exposing people to so many of these, like really tired and racist cultural reference points. And then the fourth project was with a graduate student named Rebekka Boysen-Taylor. She’s a PhD student in the College of Education. And she’s also a seventh-grade instructor at Palouse Prairie Charter School. I think it’s K through 8. And that’s a really interesting school. For me, I went to public schools, and so I’m like, “Is this a Montessori school?” because like, it’s like, let the kids do stuff like they don’t have to sit in their desks, and you know, they do these interesting kinds of projects where they work with Indigenous communities. Like in sixth grade they like build a dugout canoe as they’re sort of learning like the Pacific Northwest history. And so, it’s a very, you know, sort of open environment to try out different things. And one of the things that Rebekka was working with, is you know, they had a kind of standard unit on chattel slavery and abolition. Frederick Douglass was sort of central person of interest that often a lot of the curriculums that she was working with would sort of tell this story of you know, the abolition of slavery using Frederick Douglass as kind of a central figure through that. And, you know, one of the things that popped out for Rebekka was the sort of misogyny of this, you know, the kind of way that his wife Anna Murray Douglass, was basically referred to literally as “Frederick Douglass’s wife,” you know, and very little was said. But at the same time, you know, there’s always this, like, very popular story told about how she is the person who makes his freedom possible, right? So, she gets this like, shout out as the person who’s like, critical to his emancipation early in his life in a very literal, logistical way, and then she somehow just becomes his wife and that’s like, the end of her contributions. So Rebekka, you know, is a white, cisgender woman who is very interested in sort of developing her own anti-racist potentials, I would say. And so, you know, when I met her, she was working on, I think it’s called, like, the white supremacy workbook? Not sure if you’re familiar with that?

Josie: Yeah, I think so.

Marco: And now, it’s like a book, I think that you buy. And at the time, it was like a PDF that you could sort of take on. And it’s intended for non-Black people to kind of, you know, be a workbook that’s like, here’s a bunch of exercises and sort of thought exercises, I guess, you might say. And also, practical writing exercises to help non-Black people unpack their anti-Black racism, and you know, hopefully, address it. And so, I had never heard of that resource, and that was like something she was working on. And I was like, oh, this is like, really interesting to see this like white women in Idaho is like, really, critically engaged around all this. Like, I’m sort of curious what’s going on here. And basically, you know, it just turned out that she has this, you know, kind of intersectional feminist perspective. And as she was reading this stuff about Frederick Douglass and preparing this curriculum, she’s just like, “What about Anna Murray Douglass? Like, this doesn’t sound right, you know.” And so, she looks into it, and it turns out, Anna Murray Douglass is, of course, instrumental in Frederick Douglass’ abolition. But she’s also, you know, a noted abolitionist in her own right. She’s a conductor on the Underground Railroad, she’s responsible for the freedom of probably hundreds of people directly, as well as then all of these support in a million different ways that she provides Frederick Douglass. And not just a sort of, like emotional supportive wife that we tend to sort of want to feminize, but also very real, like, no, this is like a logistical, practical, strategic political operation of which she is a key part. And so, Rebekka knows that and then she really just kind of picks it up. And she ends up working with the Frederick Douglass family and working directly with the descendants. She ends up working with some of the sort of best-known historians of Frederick Douglass in terms of writers, as well as folks at the Library of Congress. And she starts basically to pull together all these primary objects that are these like digital archive objects. And we’re wondering, like, how can we turn this into a curriculum that then supports this intersectional feminist perspective, without being really ham fisted about it, because we’re still in North Idaho, right? And so that’s kind of the launching point. And so, for her first Think Open project, that’s what she develops, is this kind of modular curriculum. And we actually try it out in this seventh-grade class with these kids. And it’s, you know, it’s pretty amazing the things that they’re coming back, and that their parents are coming back and saying. And then this is also a curriculum that gets presented to education students in the college education at University of Idaho, saying, “Hey, these are the kinds of assignments you should be thinking about making in your classes, you know. You don’t just have to teach these tiny, standard, limiting curriculums”.

Josie: Yeah, I love how all of those different projects, like they have different levels of intervention. And they’re also very localized, they’re very specific to the context of the course. In the context that I work in, we’re often trying to create resources that are very— like they’re localized in the context of the province, but not very to like an individual class. And I guess that’s because I work on a provincial level as opposed to in an institution directly with faculty, but it’s so great to hear those examples. Like really prioritizing that localization and making the content really relevant. Yeah.

Marco: Well, I think for me, it’s been kind of a natural fit, because, you know, I was doing what are sort of what we call like a lot of “boutique” digital humanities work. So, supporting these smaller, individual projects—that are often what you might call like, a “micro” history. You know, they are very specific, and they’re often focused around sort of a specific geographic region or a specific group of people, and so that’s a really interesting observation. And I think probably something that for me, I was like, “Oh, yeah! They’re like, you know, super nation-specific.” Although I do think sometimes, I have anxiety about like, okay, but how do we, you know… I feel like with open there’s always this feeling of like, well I should be making the next great thing that everyone can use. And it’s like, well… I don’t know.
Josie: Yeah, there’s like benefits and drawbacks to both models. And like, I think that localization is a lot where the change happens on like an individual student level, an individual instructor level. Yeah, you know, like those OpenStax books that can be used all across… like multiple countries—they use them in Canada, too. Like, they’re super powerful, but they don’t have that, like, localized, you know, knowledge that students like, see their communities in.

Marco: Right. Which means that they almost inherently then can’t be very Indigenous, or anti-colonial, right? Because it’s like they’ve got to be…

Josie: Yeah.

Marco: Sort of that global… Yeah.

Josie: Yeah, we kind of get into the problem of like, how we understand what textbooks are, as these like, you know, “objective” narratives that present “truth.” Right?

Marco: Right. [Laughter] As if. [Laughter]

Josie: So, kind of about your positionality, and how you fit into those projects. How does your positionality inform your work in those projects?

Marco: Yeah, that’s a great question. You know, I think my positionality is something that is complex for me, especially because it’s changed quite a bit fairly recently. So I am a Brown, transgender, queer, disabled person of colour, sometimes man of colour, in the academy, right. And so, I say sometimes, because my gender identity is pretty complex. I lived my life for 31 years or something like as an out lesbian, right? And so, it’s, it’s a very complex situation for me. And it’s interesting because I never quite know how things are reading, right? And so, I think sometimes when I initially start talking to people who are wondering why this man is interested in working on feminist projects, you know, and there being this sort of, like weird contradiction of like, “Well, does it make more sense if you know that I’m a trans man, and I’m interested in feminist things?” Like and is that a weird kind of like, transmisogyny? Like, you know, there’s kind of like a lot to unpack there. And so, each of these projects I come into, these are all very new relationships for me. And so, it’s like, we’re forming the relationship and the partnership as we’re going, which does include getting to know each other. And so, I think one of the things that does stand out for those four projects as compared to those other two—j that I’m sorry to say, I don’t remember for that year, because we just didn’t work that closely. I’m sure I could look them up. But they were more like a kind of just traditional textbook conversion. You know, these were the four projects that I worked closely with were people that I was out to in pretty much all of my identities. And so, I think that that really opened us up to have more candid conversations and more honest conversations where I could say, “Oh, well, you know, I think this is actually sort of transphobic,” or “I think this is sort of queer phobic.” And it’s not that I couldn’t say those things without being out, but I do think that if you’re sort of trying to be closeted, then there can be—which I again, I— that’s sort of like inflammatory language. So not everyone has the option to be out—but I think if you’re sort of like trying to preserve the “stealth-ness,” then it can be kind of tricky to be like, well, I’m not trying to let people know that I’m transgender, but I keep talking about like, well, where’s the queer people in this resource? You know. And so I think with each of these projects that I’ve talked about more in-depth, I found, you know, the person that I was working with, even though they didn’t necessarily have a lot of the same shared identities—I think everybody’s a cisgender, straight white woman that I was working with on these projects—I still think that we had a lot of the same commonalities in terms of those shared values around like feminism, around wanting a more intersectional perspective. And I think each person kind of coming to that with a sort of an awareness of their own privilege. You know, and so, me wanting to be mindful about not sort of taking up like “mansplaining” privilege kind of space, you know, and understanding the way that those kinds of pitfalls can manifest. And at the same time, also, sometimes needing to say, like, “Oh, I’m not sure that that’s like, you know, the best idea.” And so, I do think that it’s like, you know, part of being a person of colour is you don’t know what— you don’t know what any other experience is like, right? So, it’s like, I do sometimes wonder, like, would a person who didn’t have as many diverse identities, would they have necessarily brought the same perspectives? Probably not. But I think that that’s something where white people have an obligation—or people of privilege, whatever your privilege is, have an obligation to be developing those kinds of perspectives and interventions.

Josie: Yeah, I’ve been reading— as part of this project I’ve been reading different people who have wrote on epistemic justice, without using that terminology, but particularly recently found writing on white ignorance and ignorance that comes specifically due to white supremacy and racism. Which allows white people to not understand or to like, be ignorant of, either willfully or not, of the experiences of people of colour. So that’s been really helpful reading for me.

Marco: Now, that you’ve said that, it does make me think that I should also mention that I do think that working on these projects was also very affirming because it was a place where I got to sort of be more open in these different identities, right? And faculty position is still fairly conservative in many respects. And so, there’s not necessarily as many places on campus where I feel quite as comfortably being open as I did and those partnerships. And I think it then partly showed up in these kinds of dynamic interventions, that I could be a bit more my full person in those spaces, and then that brought that additional perspective in.

Josie: Yeah, for sure. In your presentation at Open Ed 2020, you talk a little bit about citational practices, and like the intellectual genealogy—you don’t use that word, but—

Marco: [laughter] I should have.

Josie: But, of open education scholarship, like who we point to as thought leaders or like the origin of the values that we claim in open pedagogy. So, could you talk a little bit more about that?

Marco: Yeah, I will say I feel a little reluctant. Because I don’t feel like I’m an expert on this by any means. I think there are probably other—I hope there are other people who know more. But basically, my perspective was, you know, as I mentioned, I was pretty new to open librarianship. So, in 2019, I believe it was, I took the Creative Commons licensing course to learn how the Creative Commons licenses work and so on and so forth. And, you know, they had a sort of typical introduction to open, you know, I now know is kind of the standard open narrative. But I remember reading it and it—and no disrespect to any Creative Commons, authors who contributed to the textbook or whatever—but to me, I was like, what I’m reading sounds like open education started in the 1990s. Like some white tech dudes invented it, and then like, some other white tech dudes were like, “Oh, yeah. This is great.” And then some, like white education dudes were like, “Oh, yeah. We love this.” And now here we are. And I was like, this is really weird, because, you know, as I mentioned, I’ve been working on this Chicana por mi Raza Digital Memory Collective. One of the big kind of sites of feminist activity in the 1970s, 1960s, 1980s, that timespan, is in education. And I was like, well, that’s weird that you would… why is it like, “Open education starts in 1990 with XYZ cisgender white man,” and not “It starts in, you know, 1970 Detroit, when Lucy Cruz is making her own museum to educate kids about Mexican American history because there’s all these kids living in southwest Detroit—to the point that it’s literally called Mexican Town—and they don’t have any curriculum, you know, there’s nothing.” There’s no curriculum that supports Mexican American history, and you have people in the community who are like, “That’s fine. I got curriculum. I make it, I scan it, I give it out for free.” She’s got a museum, it’s full of like, artifacts, you know, she’s giving out tours. And I’m like, that, to me, is a genealogy—you know, as you say, an intellectual genealogy—of open education. And I am really not an expert in Black feminism, but the tiny bit that I know, I was, like, you know, education is where so much of the core Black feminist thought that we now think of as the Black feminist kind of ideological canon. I mean, that’s where it comes from. So, I was just like, I don’t understand how you can have this history of open that ignores what systematically impoverished, poor people have been doing to make sure that we’re educated. I didn’t understand. And so, I thought, well, maybe there’s something missing in the research. But I think, you know, unfortunately, it’s the very kind of, this sort of meta thing, where it’s like I’m talking about while the “standard narrative,” right? And who’s not in the standard narrative, and how the standard narrative really just serves to sort of uphold typical white supremacy power structures. And I was like, and here it was again, where we’re talking about open education and acting like it’s sort of a technological intervention from the 1990s. You know, and also kind of ignores sort of, like, English open school stuff, you know, it’s like a weird…. I don’t mean to totally denigrate white folks, by any means, [laughter]. It’s like, this kind of like, this sort of history that’s like, so technology focused. I was like, this is very… It just feels very “of our time,” that has a culture that has a very particular attitude towards technology and likes to think of it as being this very recent and very particular thing that sort of particularly mastered by particular people, which happens to be the same old people who we tend to think of as wielding power in this country. And so that was my just immediate and obvious criticism. And as I looked into it more, I was like, “Oh, yeah, it doesn’t actually seem like this piece has really been connected.” And for me, it’s important for my work to be liberatory for me, personally, as much as that’s possible within these very confining systems. And it just seemed natural to kind of connect those things. And, you know, hopefully, seed some conversation in the community about the actual ideological history of OER.

Josie: Yeah, it really got me thinking a lot. I’ve been doing lots of reading on citational practices and like, particularly in the context of white feminism, and its appropriation and all of that. So, I’ve been doing lots of that kind of reading and so when I heard you make that critique of open, I was like, yeah, our definitions do point back to not that long ago, mostly tied to the internet, mostly tied to open licenses, which are under Western colonial understandings of copyright, and…

Marco: Yes, yeah.

Josie: Yeah, so that was a big “lightbulb” moment for me, for sure.

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Josie: Thank you for joining us today. If you liked this content, let us know. You can find us on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn under @bccampus, and on Instagram

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You can also find more information about our podcast at, and tune in next week for the next episode of BCcampus Mixtape.

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—End of Episode—

Disability-Informed Open Pedagogy

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Josie Gray: Welcome to the BCcampus Mixtape. This podcast is a remix of previous recordings from BCcampus offerings such as Lunchable Learning Radio Show, Open Knowledge Spectrums, and more.
My name is Josie Gray. I am on the Open Education team at BCcampus. If you love to learn, you’ve come to the right place…

I am speaking to you from Moh’kins’tsis, which is what the Blackfoot call the area that is now the city of Calgary. This place is territory that is covered by Treaty 7, which was signed in 1877 by the Crown, the Blackfoot Nation (including the Siksika, Piikani, and Kainai Nations), the Tsuut’ina Nation, and the Stoney Nakoda (which includes the Chiniki, Bearspaw, and Wesley Nations). This place is also home to Métis Nation of Alberta, Region 3. I am really grateful to be here, and to share this virtual conversation with you today, wherever you are based in the world.

The conversation that we are sharing with you today was originally published as part of my master’s major research project at OCAD University, a podcast titled Open Knowledge Spectrums. The episode was shared under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 4.0 licence, and you can find it at

In this episode, I speak with Arley and Samantha about their experiences as physically disabled instructors and where they see the potential for disability to be a positive disrupter in open education spaces and for students. We discuss the value of difference and making space for diverse bodies and minds, and the assumptions people make about who will be in a space or use a resource.

Let’s listen in…

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Arley Cruthers: I can start. My name is Arley Cruthers, and I teach applied Communications at Kwantlen Polytechnic. And before that—which is how I know Sam — I played wheelchair basketball. I was on the national team for, I think, seven years, went to the Paralympics. And yeah, definitely interested in open education. I’ve written an open textbook called Business Writing for Everyone that tries to take a more, sort of, story-driven, inclusive approach to a textbook. And yeah, interested in disability justice, open pedagogy, all sorts of things.

Samantha Walsh: My name is Samantha Walsh. I’m a doctoral candidate at the University of Toronto-OISE. My program is social justice education, and my degree is going to be a PhD in sociology. My research looks at the inclusion of people with physical disabilities in Ontario, using Toronto as a case study. So specifically looking at like, what are we doing post AODA? And moving from inclusion and accommodation as a legal standard to a reflexive politic of difference, where we expected different bodies and different ways of being in the community, and it’s not a big deal. And as Arley referenced, we met when we were in high school through wheelchair basketball. And then that has interesting significance because it was—I don’t, I can’t speak for Arley—but for me, it was my first experience of like peer support for disability, as well as an assemblance of disability pride and valuing my experience as a wheelchair user.

Josie: Thank you. And I was wondering what brought you both to open education, like early on, like, what was your introduction to open education?

Arley: Yeah, so my introduction was basically that I was teaching at University of Illinois. And then I graduated the height of the recession and took basically seven years off from teaching. And when I came back, I was like, “Okay, great. I’ll just use the same textbook as I used before,” and realize that that textbook had gone from like $40 or $50, to like $250. And so I kind of panicked and assigned something that was not great, and I had a student who had come to every one of my office hours and take the book and go read it, and then bring the book back. And I thought like, there’s got to be a better— This is— The book doesn’t even really reflect— like a lot of business communication textbooks are very, like, really directive of like, “Here are the five steps to write a proper email.” And I wanted something that was a bit more sort of process based. And so I thought that I would kind of write it myself, and then slowly realized that like a lot of other things that I was doing was open pedagogy and sort of hopped into the community.
Samantha: My path was both as a student and also a professor. So I have taught a number of contracts at both the university and college level. And it’s always been fascinating to me—well, someone else’s experience might be different—often, when I show up, the expectation—both in the physical environment as well as the social—is not that the person leading the class would be disabled. And it really gave me poise to think about like, who do we expect to show up as a teacher? Who do we expect to show up as a student? What happens when the person who shows up is not who we expect? And the idea of creating a more accessible, less elitist approach to access an education is something that I’m passionate and excited about, both like, professionally and personally. Additionally, some of the background, I think, in my interest to gravitate to, how do we manipulate the environment and the social context as opposed to change the person? Not only do I use a wheelchair, but I have a number of fairly significant learning disabilities. So I’m also very used to interacting with the idea that I do not perform “student” well. I am often late. I very much don’t look like I’m paying attention. I use colloquial language when I lecture. So it’s also from a selfish perspective in wanting to create a place for myself and be able to engage with material in different ways to suit my own learning needs. And I think too, there’s also value in making manifest and highlighting disability in different ways of being within pedagogy. It’s not always just able-bodied white men.
Josie: Yeah, absolutely. So last year, you were both scheduled to facilitate a session at the Festival of Learning titled “Disability and Open Education,” which was unfortunately cancelled due to COVID. But in your session description, you say, and I’m going to quote this directly, “Conversations about disability and open education often focus on accessibility, which is framed as a process done for disabled students by abled instructors or instructional designers. Relatively little attention has been paid to the idea of disabled people as OER content creators, change makers, or disruptors.” So I was wondering if you could expand a little bit on the intervention that you’d like to make here. And like, how you want to shift the conversations?
Arley: Well, actually, what’s interesting is that I think our kind of original title was actually “Cripping Open Education,” and it was changed to “Disability and Open Education.” And I think it really sort of speaks to that, that language kind of hasn’t yet come into the open education or that, that way of… sort of, thinking about disability hasn’t really yet gained traction, even though the idea of cripping is a pretty, you know, in disability studies, you know, circles is sort of pretty well established. But the reason that I had, kind of had the idea for the session is that while we went to an open conference, and besides your presentation, Josie, like, a lot of the presentations that are about accessibility were like, they were not in accessible rooms, they didn’t have advanced copies, they didn’t, you know, have sort of basic accessibility. And it really made me think about, what’s the assumptions that are being made here? And it seemed like the assumption was the people who create the OER are abled, and the people who consume it are often assumed to be abled, and kind of accessibility is sort of this problem to be solved. That we have the small group of students who need it, and so we have to do it for ADA compliance. But there’s just sort of this idea that— I hadn’t seen a lot of attention paid to the idea of, you know, if we actually sort of center disability, center disabled people as content creators, and kind of even reimagine the process of like creating open through the lens of disability. What sort of things would happen? And you know, I’m thinking of books like Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha’s book Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice, Aimi Hamraie’s work on like, crip time or slowness. So kind of shifting the focus about, you know, what would happen if we, rather than sort of assuming who the content creators are, and who the consumers are, made space for a different way of being, and rethought what assumptions are we making about who’s in the room here?

Samantha: I concur with all of Arley’s thoughts, it’s probably why we decided to work together. One of the things I’m interested in too when we think about creating space for disability or disability perspective in the classroom, is also thinking along with Dorothy Smith, who writes about the concepts of standpoint theory, and the idea of insider knowledge. So the notion that what’s understood as like the dominant or overarching view of the world is not always like the “one monolithic truth.” That different experiences and different ways of moving through the world produce different ways of being, different knowledges, different perspectives. And really creating space and opportunity to celebrate those different perspectives, as well as legitimize those perspectives. So I think about like, not glorifying, busy or anxiousness. Or like, I don’t have to test you to know your knowledge, like we could do something different. We could do like narratives, or write on our perspectives, things like that. And also shifting the idea of accessibility as something that needs to be, that there’s a “norm” and then there’s an “accommodation.” As opposed to like, the classroom is a community and we create space for the people who turn up in it. And so if that means we’re having one less chair because there’s a wheelchair user there, or you know, we’re not using the blackboard because the prof is short, or in my case, also using a wheelchair. We need to disrupt this idea that disability is like a marginalized, limited thing that will only make appearances in the classroom occasionally, and when it does, it will be like best case scenario, something you can be taught to accommodate, worst case scenario, it will be like a burden. But rather thinking about disability as an open-ended category and a different way of moving through the world. And when I say open ended category, that’s from a gentleman named Rene Gadacz who talks about like, it’s a category that folks can enter in and out of, or like Tobin Siebers talks about, if we all live long enough, we’ll all have the opportunity to be disabled. So the idea that like, this is not actually like a small minority, and this is a way of being that folks move in and out of, so it’s best to create space for it in the classroom.
Josie: Mhmm. My introduction to disability and accessibility work in particular, was very much through technical like web accessibility standards. And like that was my understanding and conception of that space for a while. But being introduced to the social model of disability really kind of expanded, quite quickly, my understanding of that area. So I was wondering if one of you could provide people with an introduction to what the social model of disability is.

Samantha: The social model is the idea that the issues with disability come out of, not an individual’s problems, or the way they move, but rather the way we’ve designed society. I like to use the example of the subway. The medical model of disability says, “I wish Sam could walk so she could take the subway. We teach Sam how to walk, then she can take the subway.” And the social model says, “Why don’t we build a public transportation system that relies on being able to use the stairs?” Or why do we assume that everyone who comes into a room is going to need lights? Or how come there’s only one way of opening a door. So the idea that we create the “average” or the expected body through both the environmental spaces we create, as well as the social spaces we create, so the social model is constantly looking at like the interactional part of disability. And the folks to read to learn more about that are Michael Oliver and Tom Shakespeare. And again, it’s the idea of like, instead of the only narrative of disability being a medicalized one, like Sam is disabled because of a birth injury. The social model says like, Sam uses a wheelchair, so how do we create so that there’s always space for a wheelchair? And it creates more communal approach to disability rather than a medicalized individual one, where like, it’s biology going wrong, or some sort of mishap.

Josie: Mhmm. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, I think abled people, people who don’t have a disability, often only understand disability as something that could be negative or a shortcoming. So I was wondering if you both could share, like, where’s the potential for disability to be a positive force or offer this critical perspective?

Arley: I mean, I think that, like my feeling about my own disability is basically that, like, it’s one of many traits in my body, you know, like, it’s kind of like a neutral force. But I think one of the really beautiful things about inviting disability into the conversation is that it draws attention to difference, I think in really interesting ways, and I think it disrupts assumptions in really interesting ways. So you know, Sam and I have often talked about how I got my start in teaching through coaching junior wheelchair basketball. And when you coach junior wheelchair basketball, because it’s such a small population group of the 20 athletes, you could have, you know, ranges from age like six to 20, you could have different disabilities, height, sizes, strengths. And so, when you enter into that space, you learn right away to design for difference. If I go into that practice, and say, “Okay everyone. We’re going to shoot at 10-foot hoops. Everyone’s going to do the same activity,” would just fundamentally not work. And so, you know, that logic, I think, is something that has really helped me in my career as a teacher in terms of not making the assumption of, “Okay, everyone’s going to have the same skills, the same background. We’re going to do the same things,” but imagining how can we use that difference, you know, as a strength? How can we put people in positions to be successful? Because you know, this idea that I don’t think students have ever really interacted with textbooks, especially, you know, if we’re talking about that side of open, the way that instructors think. You know, I’ve had my students do these projects, where they— For example, we did one semester, the students work together to write a report about textbook barriers. And it was really interesting to me to see how they were using textbooks. Even when they bought textbooks, often they would go Google like, you know, a YouTube tutorial or something. So I think when you invite disability and you invite difference in, you start thinking about how are people actually using this tool? And are they using it the way that I expect? And what do they actually need? And, you know, especially because open is so customizable. What is this group of student’s needs? You know, that might be different from what another group of students need. So I think it, it sort of opens… invites really interesting questions.

Samantha: I like the idea Arley was talking about, about like disability just being like one of many character traits. Like, I think that’s a really cool way to think about it. I’ve written papers before where I’ve lamented, like, you know, someday I hope that like, the refrain is not like, “Why do you use wheelchair?” but rather like, “Hey, cool wheelchair!” like, “Where’d you get it?” Or like, “Why did you pick that one?” As opposed to being like, “I’m sorry, you’re using it.” One of the positives—and Arley’s kind of already touched on this—is the idea that it makes manifest and to some extent normalizes difference. I also like the idea that like disability calls into question the fragility of all of our bodies. So I think that one of the things that has been really interesting for me, both in my own kind of personal journey and also teaching and engaging with post-secondary education, has been the idea that like, me existing in this space calls into question the idea that like, your body might be fluid, or it might change, or your situation might change. Or the student who is like “Ah man. Like, tests are hard,” or “I’m tired.” Like, this person isn’t lying. Like these are legitimate pieces. Like there’s not a mind-body dualism where we exist one or the other, like these are real pieces of legitimacy. So standing as a hallmark of difference and creating legitimate space to talk about, like, if you think your student is lying about being tired or not understanding, like, would you say the same thing to me? Like, would you be like, “No. You’re not tired. You’re fibbing.” And so I think like I appreciate—on most days, I appreciate how disruptive my body can be to like, the taken for granted. And I like the idea that I often stand outside like cultural expectations. Like, I think… I think there’s something really powerful to be a cultural disrupter. On the flip side of that, like, it can also be exhausting. And then one of the things I’ve been thinking about, as well, it’s been fascinating. So I have a professional job. And one of the things that I’ve had to do for my professional development is, I’m taking a college certificate that is geared towards professionals. And I’ve been super fascinated by the fact that like, I didn’t request any accommodations, because why not. But all of the accommodations that have been extended to folks under the guise that they are busy professionals who have busy lives, are the same accommodations that I had to produce, like, massive amounts of paperwork in undergrad to receive. So the idea of like, it’s no trouble to email a professor in this context and be like, “Hey, work went long. My assignment is going to be supes late”—I don’t use the phrase “supes” in my professional life. [Laughter] And the professor to respond back with like, “No problem. I understand. like, it’s been a busy time,” or like, “Sorry, I had to take care of the kids.” Like, these are all things that— Like it is assumed that everyone is busy. It is assumed that everyone is, you know, an active member of their family. And I think about like, I had a very good undergrad experience and was, for the most part, very well supported. But I still had to produce quite a bit of documentation to get those supports. And I know— I can think of at least twice where I emailed a professor being like, “The wheels came off. Like, I can’t do this right now.” And they’ve basically written back, “Well, life is hard. And like, you’re here to learn that.” And I think it’s fascinating that like, we are able to accommodate hallmarks of disability if we understand them as being for a different reason. Versus, there seems to be a lot of concern about whether or not disability is a legitimate reason to do things differently. And I’ve just, it’s been really fascinating. Like, I find it’s far easier to get accommodations and make reasons for my lack of time management skills, as someone who is perceived as almost 40 and working in a professional capacity, versus when I was 21. There was a large focus on like, “You’re going to suffer the consequences of your lack of executive function.” My disability provides me with the opportunity to think deeply about these things. And I don’t think that I would if I didn’t have one.

Josie: Yeah, that’s such an interesting observation. For the inclusive design program that I’m in, at least when we were in person, it was a, kind of like a hi-flex model. So you could attend in person or you could attend remotely. And the remote option was advertised as something for like, working professionals and to allow people outside of Greater Toronto Area to attend that program. But being able to attend online is a huge accommodation that disabled people have been trying to get for their education for a long time and have generally not been permitted, in a lot of those standard classrooms. Yeah, a great example of when those accommodations are made, and for what reasons.

Arley: I think it’s really interesting to that, like, you know, I see sort of two sides of the coin of sometimes people make the case that say things like universal design for learning benefit all students, and that is erasing disability. And so therefore, we should only focus on sort of, like the needs of disabled students. But I think that, you know, you can both honor that, like, disabled people should be accommodated and deserve to be in that space. And also, that, you know, the ways that universities have traditionally been set up, don’t work for a lot of groups, and doing some of these simple accommodations benefit everyone. You know, like, they benefit so many groups.

Samantha: Yeah. And part of the purpose of the presentation Arley and I wanted to do is to also think about like, also questioning like a bit of the pedagogy and the tools we use to track pedagogy. So, I had a story relayed to me by one of my friends who also works in post-secondary education, who talked about— She was really proud of herself, because there was no timed test in her course, so you can take as long as you wanted to finish your exam. And a student with a disability came to her and said, “You know, it’s still not fair because I’m going to use the full three hours to do this, and my friend who also takes three hours, is just going to use the full three hours, to once they’re finished writing, they’re going to go through and edit, they’re going to find different things.” She was like, like it takes the stress off, because they don’t have to, you know, get a doctor’s note and provide a letter from the accommodation’s office. But like, it’s never going to be even. And at that point, like, I think if we’re looking for like, performing social justice and education, we also need to start to think about not just how can we create a level playing field, but like, maybe we should burn the playing field down, maybe we should change how we do things. We need to find better ways to perform knowledge and engage with people from a pedagogical perspective. We’re interested in structural justice. I don’t have a lot of great ways to do that other than, like, differentiated instruction. In the classes that I’ve taught, I’ve always tried to give people the option of like, “you can write a test. You can write an essay.” Things of that nature.

Josie: Right, giving people more options to actually do something that plays to their strengths, rather than everyone having to do the same thing, recognizing that equality is not the same as equity. So you mentioned earlier about how your original title for the session was about cripping open education. So could you talk a little bit about what does it mean to crip something? And like how you think that concept can disrupt or shift our understandings and approaches to open education and open pedagogy?
Arley: Yeah, so I think in our sort of proposal, we use the Hutcheon & Wolbring’s definition, which defines cripping as “A verb to describe a process of critique disruption and reimagining, that’s deployed and re-deployed for political purposes as a way to reimagine conceptual boundaries, relationship, communities, cultural representations, and power structures.” I think we’ve touched on a lot of, sort of, how we’re using cripping, but basically, as a way, you know, thinking about the open community, is how can we use disability as a way to, you know, think about making more spaces for different types of bodies, different types of brains. You know, first if we’re designing textbooks and open pedagogy assignments, that are still predicated on the assumption that there’s like, one way of moving through the world, or one way of interacting with the text, you know, it has to be reading or it has to be kind of dense, you know, paragraphs. Often, we can reproduce norms. Or if we’re saying, “Okay, we have to publish on this schedule,” or, you know, “We have to use this type of language.” Inviting disability in really does disrupt a lot of systems, you know, you begin to think about grading, you begin to think about your workflow, you begin to think about who you’re inviting in, and how you’re compensating them. And, yeah, so rather than viewing accessibility as like, kind of a one-way street, or you know, thinking about expanding the conversation using disability to look at, like, the entire open community.

Samantha: Yeah, I would say like, if it lines up to some extent, although perhaps more politicized and more radical, with, like inclusive design, or concepts of universal design. But like, what I think stands out for me or like, differentiates it from those things, is cripping also is a reclaiming and like a… validating—that’s that word—of the disabled body being like legitimate and one that should rightfully take up space.

Josie: Yeah, for sure. How does disability and openness inform and show up in your own teaching practices?

Arley: Well, I think disability has sort of been, you know, both in implicit and sort of explicit ways. You know, I’ve moved through disability categories a lot through my life. So I started teaching when I walked on forearm crutches and used a wheelchair. And then I sort of reentered teaching again—I had a couple years where I could kind of pass as able bodied. And so I had a couple of years where I really was not very visibly disabled. And, you know, now I’m back to walking on forearm crutches. And I’m a lot more explicit about my disability. And so I think on sort of a basic level, I am not able to lecture. So I can’t stand for more than like 20 minutes. I’ve always had to look for a different way to do things. So I kind of got into experiential, you know, sort of more hands-on approaches. Both because I came from a coaching background, where that is how you coach. And then also, because I just couldn’t do it, right. Like, I can’t stand for 60 minutes, so I’m not going to just stand and talk at you. So I think my disabled body sort of informed my pedagogy early on in really interesting ways.

I think now, I am trying to be a lot more intentional about actually claiming identity as disabled. I sort of realized based on some of the conversations I have with Sam is that, you know, my body doesn’t really critique systems in the same way that Sam’s does. You know, like, I don’t show up in a wheelchair. I have to, especially when I was teaching before I went back to using forearm crutches. You know, I’m tall, I can reach things, I don’t really disrupt that space. And so I’ve tried to be a lot more intentional about talking about my disability to students, and really accessing, trying to access, accommodations, and thinking a lot more about how I can invite other disabled— like how to make it easier on the next disabled instructor who comes after me.

But, you know, I think that a lot of my teaching practice is about— I think I, you know, I already gave the example of starting my introduction to pedagogy really being from coaching, and being about trying to accommodate and make a practice, where students from a wide range of backgrounds, and abilities, and ages, and stuff, could thrive. But I also think that disability kind of shows up, in the sense of—A lot of the principles of Universal Design for Learning I sort of was doing accidentally. And then when I learned that there was actually a word for it, then you can actually access a community of people who are doing it, and you can be more intentional. It’s not just like, “Oh, I’ve noticed that when I give students options in terms of assignments, they produce richer work.” You can actually be like, “Oh, other people have been working in this space for a really long time. And I can, I can learn from that.” But yeah, I think that it’s connected to my experience with open, in the sense of really being cognizant of the time pressures that my students are under, and feeling like, if we’re going to do something, like, let’s try to make something that’s meaningful to students. And let’s try to figure out together, what’s meaningful, and what we want to do here, and how we can show our work in the best way. Because I have definitely had spaces in academia where, you know, my experience was about sort of trying to normalize myself rather than, be like, “Hey, this is what I need.” And because I can pass as able bodied in certain spaces, it’s very easy to sort of normalize and mask and be like, “No, no. I’m— It doesn’t impact me at all.” Now, I’m trying to be more explicit about how it does.

Samantha: Could you just repeat the question?

Josie: Yeah, no problem. The question was, how does disability and openness inform and show up in your own teaching practices.

Samantha: So it does so by default, for the most part. So Arley pointed out that I don’t necessarily have a choice to be able to pass. And much like Arley, by virtue of the fact that I can’t do a lot of the like, really traditional things that teachers do, I’ve had to find different ways to make things manifest or make things happen. And I have been successful in this. I have also failed spectacularly. But one of the things that it has really made salient to me, is that my experience of teaching becomes incredibly symbiotic and more community-based by the fact that, because I don’t show up in normative ways to be an expected teacher, where I have the most success is when I am able to work with students and we’ve all collectively agreed, that like, I will be the teacher, regardless of what supports I need. And it’s been really interesting to me to have that. And in some ways, it creates a really accessible learning environment for my students, because I’m able to ground that in my own lived experience of like, “I’m different. So like, I appreciate how like, this could be hard for you or this could happen.” It’s also like from a positive perspective created really, really rich kind of conversations. In particular, I’m thinking of—I taught sociology of mental health for a while, and I used the social model and inclusive design principles to talk about, “Is it important that we all think and act the same? Or like, have we oriented ourselves such that you need to be able to wake up at 8am and work seven hours to survive?” And like, is that where the problem is? And it was super interesting with mental health—and I think, hopefully, there’ll be a point where someone is listening to this and this won’t be true—a lot of students were somewhat bewildered by the idea that like, you could just think, or be, or feel, differently, or be erratic, and that that might be okay. But then when I was able to be like, “How many people here would be like, ‘We should never build the ramp’? Or like, ‘Accessible parking is silly’?” And everyone was like, “No, like, ramps for everyone. Accessible parking everywhere.” And then I was able to be like, “You know, how does that translate into like supporting someone with an invisible disability? Or supporting someone who identifies as having a mental health diagnosis?” So just even in grounding my pedagogy and creating space, I think is how it shows up in my own teaching. I’ve talked about differentiated instruction, like I do that both for the benefit of my students, but I’ve also done it for the benefit of myself. So marking is often overwhelming for me. So if there’s the option to do group presentations or YouTube videos, I can mark those things faster than I could like a 100-page essay. I like to mark things online, where I have access to spellcheck and grammar check, because the like significant learning disabilities, if I had to do it with like pen and paper, I don’t know that it would translate as well. So again, like my own accommodations create supports and differences for my students.

Josie: Mhmm. So you’ve kind of both touched on, like, one potential here is to make space for more diverse and pluralistic ways of knowing, and to actually bring that into the classroom, and to make that valid. Could you maybe expand a little bit more about what that would look like?
Arley: I mean, I can expand like, in my, in my sort of own practice, a lot of my pedagogy involves, I guess, as Sam said, sort of offering multiple ways of accessing, you know, materials. A lot of it also involves collaboration with students and really working with students to say, “Okay, what do we all need to be successful here?” Like, what are the, what are the things that are going to help us learn, in this community, this moment, this group of students. And I also think with my work and kind of creating open textbooks, the nice thing about doing some of the open pedagogy projects where I’m co designing with students, is that it also helps me kind of test my own assumptions. So for example, my students this semester are creating—we decided that we want to create an instruction book, because it covers a lot of the learning outcomes of the class. And it was interesting to sort of see it evolve, where I had sort of thought initially it would be a kind of a more traditional, like, everyone’s going to kind of write on the same topics. But it was interesting to see the project emerge, and how students really wanted to create lessons that they had learned from the pandemic. And so we actually turned that into an alternative assignment where they could write reflection letters to their pre-pandemic selves and reflect on what they learned and why. And you know how some of them—even though I hadn’t explicitly said, like, I had expected to get a bunch of letters in a written format—many of them produced videos, some of them produced cartoons. Like really, really kind of making space for that beautiful work and giving students permission to… That they have some agency and that they can transform learning. You know, I think sort of on the basic level as well, with my textbook, is trying to involve student narratives and really center disabled people as well. So I have tried really hard in my open textbook to de-center whiteness specifically. So you know, if I am adapting something, I’m trying to take out sort of the more like, “We have to learn ethos, pathos, and logos.” And, you know, make space for different types of scholars and the scholars from outside the Academy. I got a grant to work with someone from the Kwantlen Nation to share about how she uses the seven teachings of the Kwantlen Nation in her business practices. So really trying to kind of disrupt what a textbook is supposed to be, and think hard about what knowledges I am valuing, and which ones I’m upholding. And like, I’m also making room for the fact that I’m not perfect, like, I try to talk a lot about failure. And, you know, times when it’s like, “Oh, I gotta get this textbook thing done, I got to teach it,” and looking back and being like, oh, shoot, I actually included tables there. And that’s not a super accessible format. I need to go back and fix that. So, you know, I think a lot more attention to thinking about failure and making space for failure, and making space for— the learning might not happen in the step and the ways that I expected to happen. So it might not happen in 13 weeks, we might need an incomplete contract to extend it. It might not happen in the middle of the semester, but it might happen towards the end. Like just thinking—trying to be willing to disrupt systems.

Samantha: Yeah, I tend to agree with a lot of that. I think for me, too, like the recognizing that inclusion and accessibility aren’t necessarily going to be a destination. Like it’s constantly going to be in flux, depending on, like, who shows up to the classroom.

Josie: Mhmm. Absolutely. Arley, do you want to share a little bit about the UDL project that you’re working on?

Arley: Yeah, so I am working with Lilach Marom and Seanna Takacs. Seanna Takacs is a UDL specialist, and they’re both wonderful colleagues of mine. And so we are working on—there’s a lot of UDL guides that are kind of, “Here’s how you implement UDL.” And we wanted to take more of a narrative approach. So our resource is going to first foreground the experience of disabled students. You know, I think that often— When BCcampus hosted that Studio20 and I had hosted a panel of disabled students talking about their experiences. And, you know, when you uplift the voices of disabled students as experts and learners who are navigating these systems that are hostile to them, I think it really, you know, you can really learn a lot from their expertise. You know, that students are able to talk about all of the things they do in order to thrive in these systems that aren’t necessarily set up for them. You know I think that’s an important perspective to have. So the goal is that the students will be— We’ll be paying them to sort of share these stories in whatever format is accessible for them. They can kind of create whatever they want. But we’re also going to be sharing stories of student teachers who are navigating UDL to just give that richness as sort of, what challenges are they coming up with? How is their understanding shifting? Really taking a kind of story approach. And we’ll be building it in a WordPress site, so that people can move through it in the way that is right for them. So you can do it as kind of a traditional module. But you can also say, like, I just want to read the stories about the students, or I really want to just read the student-teacher story. So that the idea is to again, complicate, you know, who we center as an expert? That, you know, we could center students as experts and value that expertise.

Josie: Yeah. I’m really excited to see what you— what you all pull together. I think it really fills a gap, for sure. So maybe as a final question to wrap us up, given your experiences, what are your dreams for education to make it more inclusive?

Arley: I mean, I think my main dream is just getting people to really think about what systems need to be disrupted. You know, I think, obviously, the pandemic highlighted a lot of these systems. And it’s been really interesting to see some faculty kind of going in the direction of, “Okay, I’ve— You know, I’m going to be more sort of compassionate. Or I’m going to, you know, take up these UDL principles. Or I’m going to rethink how I do it.” And others just really feeling that fear and trying to say, “No. We have— I have to do exactly what I did face to face in this online environment. It has to be exactly the same. And I have to use proctoring software.” And, you know, really kind of looking for that control. Like I think it… My hope is that we are able to make systems that are more equitable. And like, I think often a lot of the conversations about teachers should do this to students. But, you know, it is often, you know, how do we do this without burning people out? You know, how do we do this in a sustainable way? You know, I think a lot about, for example, we don’t have a degree in applied communications at Kwantlen. And so everyone I teach are students where it’s either an elective or it is a required course that’s outside of their major. And so when you are the person who is giving the extensions and providing, you know, the feedback and the flexibility and the patience, you’re doing that in the system that is often where other professors are more inflexible. And so you’re taking kind of the full burden. You’re the one who students are coming to when they have mental health crises, or… And so, how do we sort of spread that load out? Because right now I see that there’s a smaller percentage of faculty who are doing a lot of this work, and often they’re precarious. How do we spread that load out? How do we value that work? How do we value the care work that’s going on in higher education? How do we compensate faculty for this work? How do we do it in tenure? How do we make it so that it is, you know, supporting adjunct faculty? Like I think that right now is sort of, the focus is like, you can do this in your own teaching practice. But I would love, my dream would be to move to a system where some of the systemic barriers are removed, rather than me just having to be like, “Sure, here’s an extension. Here, you can do this, you can do that.” So that it’s more equitably distributed.
Samantha: That was really good, Arley. That was very eloquent. I would really like to see a disruption of like, stereotypical or traditional elitism in post-secondary education. And I think open education and the themes of this podcast really speak to that, that disruption. And it’s interesting that you’re from the inclusive design master’s program, because one of the things that was really impressive to me about how that program is designed, although it may have changed, is they’re not necessarily looking for someone with like, the highest grades or a master’s degree. They’re looking for someone who is passionate about design and has had an interesting life and like, cool things to share with their community. And I, I like that disruption of stereotypical elitism, because I think there’s such value in welcoming other voices to the discourse, who are not necessarily going to perform, like, “student” well, or like the hallmarks of someone who is like, quite academic or book-smart. I think about for myself, like, I made it and it was good. But I had a lot of professors and teachers who were really engaged with like, the ideas I was thinking, and were able to, like, not focus on the fact that my grammar was terrible til I did my masters, or like, I still can’t spell, and I’m gonna be 15 minutes late every class. And I think about— there are so many people who just never get to engage with all of these emancipatory concepts and ideas or think about their disability differently because they don’t perform “student,” or because they don’t… There’s an individual I’m thinking of in Ontario, whose sole reason for not being able to access post-secondary education is that the amount of work they would have to do to coordinate public transportation to the school they go to is it’s too much, like it’s, it’s a suburb of Toronto. So, he has to take the suburb paratransit to the Toronto paratransit to the other side of Toronto where there’s another paratransit system. And it’s just, it’s too much. And I think there’s such value in disrupting that elitism so more people can think deep thoughts about society and how we organize things. And that’s, that’s I think, what is most exciting about open education and some of the work that Arley and I are doing.

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Josie: Thank you for joining us today. If you liked this content, let us know. You can find us on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn under @bccampus, and on Instagram

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You can also find more information about our podcast at, and tune in next week for the next episode of BCcampus Mixtape.

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—End of Episode—

Student Perspectives on Open and Inclusive Education

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Josie Gray: Welcome to the BCcampus Mixtape. This podcast is a remix of previous recordings from BCcampus offerings such as the Lunchable Learning Radio Show, Open Knowledge Spectrums, and more!

My name is Josie Gray. I am on the Open Education team at BCcampus. If you love to learn, you’ve come to the right place…

I am speaking to you from Moh’kins’tsis, which is what the Blackfoot call the area that is now the city of Calgary. This place is territory that is covered by Treaty 7, which was signed in 1877 by the Crown, the Blackfoot Nation (including the Siksika, Piikani, and Kainai Nations), the Tsuut’ina Nation, and the Stoney Nakoda (which includes the Chiniki, Bearspaw, and Wesley Nations). This place is also home to Métis Nation of Alberta, Region 3. I am grateful to be here, and to share this virtual conversation with you today, wherever you are based in the world.
The conversation that we are sharing with you today was originally published as part of my master’s major research project at OCAD University, a podcast titled Open Knowledge Spectrums. The episode was shared under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 4.0 licence, and you can find it at

In this episode, I speak with three graduates from in my Inclusive Design cohort: Jaime, Mitali, and Caleb, who I had the privilege to work with and learn from during the two years of our master’s degree. At the time of this recording, we were in the final stretch of our master’s projects, and they volunteered to record an episode with me to talk about their perspectives as students and inclusive designers. We talk about their master’s major research projects (or MRPs), reflect on positive and challenging learning experiences, and discuss how education could be more inclusive.

Let’s listen in…

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Jaime Hilditch: My name is Jaime Hilditch. I’m a designer and author of a children’s book called The Earth Needs a Break from Plastic. I have a background in graphic design and communication design. And all the design work I did, when possible, served companies, people, organizations wanting to do good. So, for example, branding for Fashion Revolution in Calgary, Alberta, graphics for an environmental company working to serve Henvey Inlet First Nations, and exploring dangers of plastic pollution. And I realized through inclusive design, I had an interest in early education as well as design. So my major research project is titled “Pre-Braille Implementation into Early Education,” more specifically in the kindergarten classroom. And we’re working to introduce pre-Braille. And pre-Braille is activities done before learning the formal Braille writing system—so Braille grades one and two. The activities work to build two-handed coordination, finger sensitivity, grasp and release, light touch, finger dexterity and mobility, which are all important to formal learning of Braille. And it’s my hope that with this project, introducing these pre-Braille exercises and activities, students will be more engaged in the Braille writing system if they need to later on learn Braille, there will be more inclusive lessons conducted in the classroom, and starting it at a younger age.

Josie: What brought you to the inclusive design program?

Jaime: So, I was in graphic design at OCAD, and I heard about this program through my professor during my undergrad thesis. And I was working on a project, which was the book I ended up writing and illustrating. And she thought I should, you know, attend one of the sessions, and I did. And you know, being really interested in social design, I thought this was another area that could broaden my design perspective. I think, you know, learning design was very helpful—graphic design—but I was more interested in how it could be accessed by a wider audience. You know, web accessibility and more inclusive education. Yeah.

Josie: Mitali, how about for yourself?

Mitali Kamat: I’m going to give you the short version, because the long version is really long. But um, I’ve been an occupational therapist for a while now. So I’ve been practicing about seven years now. And I’ve tried to sort of… you know how you’re in, you’re practicing in a field, and you’re trying to find what you want to do, or like your niche in that field. So what ended up happening was, I was on that discovery, and I landed in a school, which was heavy on assistive tech—so I’m a school-based occupational therapist, and that’s what I do—and because of the caseload I had in the school, I had to learn a lot more about assistive technology; I ended up getting certified. And there was this 3D printer at the school, or in my department, which was not being used. And we also had this incredible tool guy—or a carpenter—who would sort of customize devices for therapists. So it was like therapists basically engaging in design without actually knowing that they’re doing it. And I started doing like adaptive 3D-printed aids for my students because they had unique preferences, like they wanted to use one type of water bottle that would fit on their wheelchair. And there was not a cut, like, you know, something that was off the shelf that was out there. So we ended up designing an adaptive aid for her, for her wheelchair. So things like that. And I realized that I enjoy that process of actually working with someone to design an adaptive aid or assistive tech device. And that’s when I started reading about it. And I started connecting with organizations, and I came across the book Design Meets Disability. And I read it. And I was like, “Yes! This is… this is what I’d like to do.” Finally, after, like, 10 years of trying, or something. But yeah, then I started basically just googling what inclusive design is, and I came across this program, since, you know, there’s not a whole lot of them out there. Yeah, that’s how I ended up in the field.

Josie: Thanks. And do you want to share a little bit about what your MRP is?

Mitali: Yeah. So my major research project, I’m working with blind and partially sighted participants who have an art and design background or who are in the arts, to come up with tools and strategies that could reimagine what drawing looks like for blind, and maybe come up with a drawing toolkit that will help them create, help them access education programs and even industry.

Josie: Cool. Thanks. And Caleb?

Caleb Valorozo-Jones: So I have a bit of a weird background. So I have a certificate and diploma in music production and business. And through doing a lot of like music production and marketing, like on an indie level, I started building websites, and I was designing stuff for people because I knew how to use Photoshop—which was all that you need to know at the time on the local level—and got more and more into it, and learned about interaction design as a field so then I got a degree in interaction design. And now I’m doing a master’s of inclusive design at OCAD. So kind of like a weird transition from like doing music and like pop culture-based things to more design and service design.

Josie: And what was it about the inclusive design program that really appealed to you?

Caleb: That’s like, complicated because like, I think I’ve always to a degree been passionate about inclusive design. Although it wasn’t like called that when I was younger. And like design education, especially like in high school to when—because like, I went back to school as a mature student—like the degree did not exist when I had graduated high school. And when we took design in high school, it was communications class, and you had to do certain things that— It was primarily graphic-design based, and like—no offense to Jaime—that’s just not what… I’m just not into it the same way. Like I like to digital design and like multimedia design. And you had to take art, and I was terrible at art classes, and I wasn’t into it. So we didn’t really have the vocabulary to understand that like how things are designed or industrial design, or like all these things that can encapsulate inclusive design. But it was largely because like, my sibling is autistic. And he has other learning disabilities, and they required a lot of assistive technology and accommodations going through schools, and what they have IEPs in Ontario. And it was such a battle to just do the simplest things, like get a computer with like assistive technology, so that they could participate in school. And my family was kind of like always embroiled in these battles about it and seeing the same thing, like my mom is also dyslexic and has ADHD. And like, there’s whole complexities around the education system that like… like now I identify as neurodivergent, as well, but didn’t have those same access needs or barriers to be a “problem” student. And so I was always kind of like, very aware of the lack of access and inclusivity for certain people, because we make exceptions and inclusions and access needs or exceptions for people all the time. But we just don’t consider it that if it’s not above and beyond what we want to do. So I became very aware of that. So when I was doing my interaction design degree, they always talked about, “You have to make it accessible. And it’s easier to make it accessible before, than after, the fact. And it’s cheaper,” which is like always how things are framed in education, because it’s capitalism. But we didn’t really like go beyond how to do that beyond like WCAG. And like, I was like, well I want to know more. And because I was kind of passionate, especially about like neurodivergent and autistic accessibility and the getting involved and following people on Twitter in those communities, you eventually find out about the IRDC and learn about those projects. And they were so cool and finding out about how it’s linked to the program.

Josie: And you want to share a little bit about what your MRP is.

Caleb: Yeah, so my MRP is Dungeons and Dragons for neurodivergent adults. So a lot of neuro-diverse programming—or program for neuro-diverse populations— focus on having them change their behaviors to fit more into society. And there’s specific therapies that are very harmful and can cause a lot of psychological damage and PTSD. So this is looking at, instead of asking neurodivergent people to change themselves or come from a deficit-based approach, using hobbies or activities that use a lot of role play and imagination and creative opportunities to imagine and construct neuro-diverse spaces that are a) safe spaces for neurodivergent people, but also to have them work and build on the skills that they identify as needing, so like, self-advocacy, self-determination, etc, which all happens in Dungeons & Dragons, but unless you’ve played you might not know that. But it’s, that as alternative. And also helping neuro-diverse people who may not have access to support systems or funding for accessing programming. So it’s like, a more inclusive, hobby-based, less expensive way to do it.

Josie: Yeah. So one of the questions I’m exploring through the podcast is this idea of openness. And how people think about openness, and how people understand openness. And I was wondering how you three have experienced openness in education? And that could be in kind of, whatever way that word makes sense to you.

Jaime: So for me, before I went to OCAD, I did a diploma in art and design at Kingston University. And so it was a one-year program, and the first six months you’re encouraged to explore. So we tested out fashion, 3D animation, fine art. A lot of those I realized I was not good at, at all. I remember creating a fashion piece with one arm hole.. but actually, sort of inclusive because then I was like, well, you know, this could be for someone who is pregnant, or it could be for someone who has hurt their arm. Anyway. So we did have briefs, as most design projects do, but there was always room to go speak to people in the community—which would inform our designs—guerrilla marketing and campaigns, and collaborating with one another. So we did eventually—after the Christmas break, so halfway through—we focused on one of those areas, and I chose the communication design. But we were still able to work on projects with people in fashion, and people in, you know, 3D modeling and stuff. So I think those, you know, learning from people in different areas was very beneficial and just really interesting.

Josie: Yeah, for sure.

Mitali: I don’t remember a whole lot of openness, honestly. I think the only times I can remember are like when we had sort of, project-based activities. So I remember when I was in undergrad, there was this one, one time, that we had to do like… audio-visual presentation. And I ended up, with my friends, making a movie out of interviews from these people who are working in a school with children with disabilities back in India. And I was completely out of the context of what our curriculum was. Yeah, I think I didn’t have a whole lot of opportunities for openness in my programs until I got to OCAD, I guess. And getting— the only things I remember being, like flexibility and like, the creativity to go out and explore and do whatever makes sense to you out of this school or this learning goal was probably everything that was project based, I would say.

Josie: Mhmm. The videos you describe, so you were— was that in the States?

Mitali: That was not in the States. I was in India, in Mumbai. And I was at a point where I was getting frustrated with the curriculum, and I really wanted some real world, like, experience. So we ended up going to this school. And they had, you know, a lot of children with multiple disabilities and Down syndrome. And in India, you don’t have the education system that’s like, sort of funded by the government. So you don’t have like IEPs, and all of that. So you have these schools, which are special-education schools, which support students. So we went to that particular school, and it was my first sort of… exposure into real-world application of students in a school environment with regards to OT. So, yeah.

Josie: Yeah, I think that’s a great example of just like, how making learning more “real world” can be so much more impactful and motivating and feel like it’s worth the time. How about you, Caleb?

Caleb: In terms of, like open education resources, I think, not a lot of exposure to that stuff. With having taken like design fields and stuff—and I don’t know if Jaime had a similar experience—but because there is a lot more informal or like, grey literature, about design.. Like there’s like oodles of blogs and media posts. And most companies now post their, like, design systems, so that you can understand how they develop them. And, and like Microsoft’s Inclusive Design package, I forget what they call it—

Josie: Toolkit, I think.

Caleb: Yeah, their toolkit. So there’s a lot of resources in that sense, that we have access to in learning, and that they were free and were referenced. Because they are like industry examples and case studies and resources, so they’re useful in that regard. But like Mitali said, I— my instinct is to say there was not a lot of openness in education, but like, the more I think about it… And in my interaction design projects and the briefs, like yes, we had to do specific things to learn specific hard and soft skills, but we could do whatever we wanted with the project, usually within approval of the professor.. Like I still— [laughs]. No, I shouldn’t tell that story, [laughter] but like, if they didn’t think it was a good idea, you wouldn’t do it because you, you’d get a bad grade. And ultimately, even if it was the most fulfilling project for you, your scholarships and funding and bursaries are ultimately based on your grades. So you’re not going to do that in pursuit of it, unless maybe you have better like, ethics than I do to like not compromise your principles… [Laughter] But to me, I was like, yeah, well, I’m not going to lose my funding.

Josie: Mhmm. Yeah, that the topic of grades in that context is so tricky, and I feel like it’s one we’ve had in practice with this cohort in the last year, right? Like how grades are so limiting, but also how they still have a lot of power over the type of work that we do. And like, as long as there are grades, we can’t not consider grades. I follow a lot of people on Twitter that talk about “un-grading” and changing— Like they still have to submit grades, but they change their grading practices. So it’s more about… Like, they’re not grading the work, they’re more grading how students reflect on their own learning over the semester. And like, that’s the grade. There’s a lot more collaboration between instructor and student, and a lot more self-reflection and self-grading. So yeah, those conversations are very interesting. And, when you want to… when you want to give students the ability to like, explore and do things maybe outside of what’s expected, stepping back from grading is pretty important, just because they’re so limiting, and they’re so oppressive.

Caleb: And I love those systems, but also like, the thought of that sends me into like a panic spiral because it’s like, we’ve learned nothing else other than to achieve the grade.

Mitali: It does make you happy also. It’s like—

Josie: Oh yeah!

Mitali: It doesn’t mean anything! [Laughter] Like it really doesn’t.

Caleb: Yeah. Because I also hate it when professors are like, why are you so obsessed with grades? And it’s like, because…

Jaime: We’re made this way?

Josie: Grades got me scholarships.

Caleb: Yeah, like, how do you think I am here? If my grade drops, so does the money…

Josie: In past educational experiences, what are some times you have felt included, or excluded, or otherwise? Like, what kind of challenges have you faced in the education system.

Mitali: I feel like my largest barrier or challenge, has been being on a visa… [Laughs] I didn’t realize how much that limits your options, like even in my master’s program for occupational therapy. You know, all of these students had the chance to go and explore an externship. You know, they went to Ghana, and they went to, I think multiple other places where they got to explore. And, because of money and because of visa and because of all of these things, that was just not an option for me. I mean, the process was so different from back at home that the time it took to sort of navigate and understand what kind of environment I was in, I was pretty much out of school by then. So you know, you just kind of follow this traditional path that, you know, most people have taken before you. And it’s safe, and you know, you’re going to graduate and get a job at the end of it. Yeah… not a whole lot of room for exploration, even at OCAD. OCAD, though, I did try to like— I had the chance to sort of edit my program to my needs. But it took a lot of, sort of, reaching out myself and trying to see what I can get replaced with, you know, what I needed to do.

Josie: Yeah, you did a lot of self-advocacy work.

Mitali: Yeah, like, this is my second master’s. So I was like, I don’t want to get through another program and be like, I’m not happy with what I learned, you know. So I did replace a lot of things with more experiential learning, like an internship, an independent study project. Anything that’s a project for me, I found was like, a good place to learn. [Caleb: Yeah] Something that was not an assignment or like, like a graded assignment or something like that. Yeah, I think that has been my biggest challenge or barrier, I would say, is navigating the international aspect and trying to find scholarships, and trying to find classes I can take, and stuff like that.

Josie: Mhmm. Yeah, I think that challenge of being an international student, for sure. I think you faced a lot of barriers with that. And it’s interesting that OCAD—or at least the inclusive design program—isn’t better equipped to deal with those barriers, considering it’s a program that aims to be welcoming of international students and to build more global communities.

Caleb: I wonder how much… well a) that will change. And I just find it interesting too like, with Mitali doing all this self-advocacy to get all these experiential and like more custom and well suited to your learning goals. And why like, we kind of talked about this prior, like, in class when you’re discussing about like electives and like, wanting to learn and trying to take electives at other schools, and the whole system kind of seems like you can do this, but they don’t really want you to.

Mitali: It’s true.

Jaime: Yeah.

Caleb: It’s not exclusive to OCAD. That’s just, I’ve noticed that other schools. Like even when I was trying to take electives in my undergrad and wanting to take them at a different school, because it was something I was interested in learning, and it was just like, such a headache.

Josie: Mhmm. Yeah. Jutta has talked about doing co-design sessions to see how we can improve the inclusive design program. And it would be interesting to see—it sounds like it used to be—but interesting to see how the inclusive design program could be more flexible and easier to personalize it to specific learning goals. Like I think those barriers are things that could be made… less

Jaime: For sure.

Mitali: It was interesting when she said that like, because it does make sense. Like, you know, it’s kind of like an individualized education program, or like plan. Which would be like, a perfect fit for an inclusive design program, right? You are basically using something that has been used for students who need that, to see if it works better for everyone else? And that makes sense. Yeah, I think it would be really nice if they can do that.

Josie: Yeah, Caleb or Jaime, do you have experiences or challenges you’d like to share?

Caleb: I have, like, two thoughts about it. And like, my first thought is always—not always—but like my first thought is kind of experiencing the education system as a queer person, as a queer man. And that’s always been a concern, like— It’s less so in post-secondary a concern because like, it’s impolite, especially in Canadian society to be like, outwardly homophobic. But that doesn’t mean like you don’t experience microaggressions. I know everyone experiences microaggressions for various things. But like, I have definitely had those moments in education. And I think like with any person who’s experiencing microaggressions, or oppression, or being marginalized in the classroom, that is going to take away from your experience. And you’re not focusing on learning, you’re more focused on your safety. And I’m sure that has been experienced by lots of people, having sexist or racist or xenophobic professors. Like, I’ve not met anyone who has not had that experience. And I know schools have policies to deal with these situations. But I think the reality for students is much different. And as much as— I feel like students are told a lot like, “Oh, well, you’re buying this education, like you’re the customer. It’s catered to you.” But there’s not that— There’s such a huge power imbalance that even making complaints or advocating for yourself, it very much does feel like you’re putting yourself at risk. And you’re risking your grades, which depend— Like it all, it all ties into, like the system where you feel excluded and also like, could hurt your academic or your professional career if once you graduate that you’re a “problem” person.
And then I think a lot about, in my undergrad, when I was sick, and I had to have surgery, and I was on, like, accessibility, the Student Accessibility office. But it was a nightmare to deal with, and like to deal with teachers, and systems that like we’re not doing what they were meant to do. And just being a person with temporary accessibility needs. The hurdle for people who are not able bodied, or disabled, or sick, or experience chronic illness, I like, I can’t imagine having to go through schooling or post-secondary schooling with that. That’s, to me, like one of the biggest problems with exclusion—in society in general—but specifically education where they… they say they have these policies, but it’s still so difficult for the students themselves to enact them.

Josie: Yeah. Post-secondary is very ableist and not designed to support disabled people at all. And I think with COVID, we’ve seen a lot of like disabled people who’ve been asking for accommodations to be able to take their classes remotely and being told for a long time that that wasn’t possible. And now all of a sudden, oh, all of a sudden, it’s possible. And will those accommodations still be… will those be provided now as accommodations? Especially for people who are immune-compromised and chronically ill, where it’s still a huge risk for them to go back in person, even once people start to get vaccinated. Yeah, I’ve been reading a lot about the different kind of accommodation requirements that have come up with COVID, and around like, people not having quiet places to work or take tests because they’re at home and not having their own space, and with this online proctoring and how ableist those systems are and how racist those systems are. Yeah, academia is not a safe place for a lot of people.

Caleb: Did you see the thing about the York student in Myanmar?

Josie: Yeah, the email.

Caleb: Yeah.

Jaime: Yeah. Oh, yeah.

Caleb: It was—I don’t know if you saw it, Mitali—but it was a student who’s in Myanmar, who’s going through a military coup. He asked to reschedule his midterm because they were shutting down all the internet, the cell. And the teacher was like, incredibly rude and dismissive and questioned his sense of reality…

Mitali: Oh my god.

Caleb: And said, like, “Well, you better pass the exam, it’s going to be difficult.”

Mitali: [Laughs] Sorry. This is not like, laughter…

Caleb: No, it’s… incredulity. And that people were so shocked. I’m like, no, like, this is so exemplary of a lot of the mindsets. A school may have a policy, but that professor is a barrier to enacting that policy.

Josie: Mhmm.

Mitali: Yeah.

Jaime: Kinda reminds me of a classmate of ours talking about being like a half a semester behind because their accessibility was delayed, and like he couldn’t get the transcripts.

Josie: Yeah, accommodations not being the default, and having to go through all these hoops to get those required accommodations.

Jaime: And then having to catch up while you’re doing a giant project. And I think similar to Caleb, less so in post-secondary, but in high school and younger. I am a person of quiet nature, and I also have anxiety. So many times, but depending on the class or the project structure, I wasn’t able or didn’t feel comfortable contributing. So I think it’s really important to acknowledge the different learning styles, and mental health, and language barriers, and you know, to create a safe and inclusive space to learn. I did have some teachers in high school that would try and make these accommodations. But I was definitely extra work on my part to go and speak to them, even if I wasn’t comfortable doing that on my own and advocating for what I needed. But in terms of inclusion, I think this year in class with Jutta, definitely co-designing a class outline was something I’d never experienced before. I think that was really exciting.

Caleb: That just made me think, Jaime, basically, like what we’re kind of discussing is that it all— it puts the onus and the effort on the student. But I had a great professor. I only had her for like two classes, she was one of my favorite professors. But at the start of her class, she would do a survey so that we didn’t have to, like, speak up in class. Because a lot of times teachers say, “Who has accessibility accommodations?” and you have to put your hand up, and you’d be singling yourself out, and people who wouldn’t want to do that. And she said, “Regardless of whether you’re registered with the accessibility office, do you have any accessibility needs? Do you have any concerns?” And it would be in the survey, and like it also said, like, “What’s your preferred name? What are your pronouns? What accessibility needs? Are there any concerns that you have about this class?” And like, yeah, the onus is on the student, but you don’t have to, like, go initiate that conversation or out yourself in any capacity. She was initiating, and she was laying the groundwork for setting up that dialogue.

Jaime: That’s great. I wish I had that.

Josie: How do you think inclusive design practices can make education better?

Jaime: So many things. I think, you know, we all talked about this a little bit, but tailoring studies to unique interests. Kind of creating your own your own degree, your own study path. As well as something that includes cross disciplines and collaboration, combining different faculties. So like, even science and fine art. You know, having these conversations that would not typically happen. I think that’s one thing.

Josie: For sure.

Mitali: Yeah, definitely. I think it would help to have the intersections, right. I mean, the more that we get to… sort of interact with students or professors from different fields and different backgrounds. And I think it depends on what level of education we’re talking about, as well. Like, I feel like once you’re at a graduation and post-graduation level, you would assume that you a little bit know where you’re going. Whereas it would be harder to identify goals for someone who is very, very young. You have to, you know, come up with a lot of creative methods to do that. Yeah, I think tailoring a program according to your goal—like overarching goal—would be ideal, according to me. Like, so my goal at the end of this is I want to work on this one project, or I want to be able to learn how to do this. And whatever skills I need to get there, hopefully, the university or the program can equip me with those tools or those resources to get to my end point.

Josie: Mhmm.

Jaime: I also think it’d be interesting to look at post-secondary education models in Europe, ones that are free to attend. You know, cost is a big barrier for education post high school. I don’t know the school specifically or how they operated, you know, I have to look into that more. And I also think we’ve touched a bit on this in class, these schools in Europe are maybe more tailored studies, and they’re free to attend.

Josie: Yeah, cost is a huge barrier, right.

Caleb: Cost definitely. And I also think, like, the thing that I love most about open education and open education resources—and obviously I’m not the resident expert here, that’s Josie [laughter]—but just kind of the sharing of knowledge, in a sense that knowledge does not have to exist or be captured in one way. Like I was reading a survey and report of graduate students and professors, and the majority of them have at least one parent who has a PhD. And there’s like insights into the education system and participating in post-secondary education that you’re not going to have in terms of its culture, and also the understanding of its materials and the way it works, that if you don’t have that knowledge, like I don’t have that knowledge, my parents don’t have post-grad degrees. We always talk about the accessibility of journal articles and learning materials in terms of their accessibility for disability and needs, but also, the concept of plain language and understanding knowledge. I think that’s like the biggest opportunity for open education resources is just giving more people access to knowledge that is not paywalled and is also at different levels of knowledge scaffolding. Because journal articles can be like so, so painful when you want to learn about topic or get into it. And a lot of the time, it’s easier to read and start at these, like, simplified blog posts. But like, there’s somewhere in the middle that you can meet with open education and making it more inclusive in the sense that getting more people into different topics.

Josie: I think you’ve made great points, both talking about like for first generation students, post-secondary is like such a system in that it’s like, you have to learn how to navigate it and how it’s structured, and who to talk to, and like what kind of supports are available that, like if you don’t have those support networks that can help guide you through that, that’s a huge barrier for students who are first generation. And talking about paywalled articles and more access to information, but also more like public facing scholarship, where the goal is to make knowledge more accessible in all of those different ways. Like not behind a paywall, written in plain language, actually relevant to people outside of academia, digitally accessible, like can be worked with assistive technologies, those are all part of it.

Jaime: But a lot of times during the early part of the project and literature review, finding these journal articles, and be really excited about them, and then just… just not comprehending because it’s such scientific— Yeah, I guess… I don’t know the type of language. But it’s quite difficult to understand, and you have to, you know, review multiple times. And so, I’m trying with my MRP to make it very plain language, also something I’m comfortable with writing as well.
Josie: Yeah, it’s such a skill, right? Like you get people who do academic writing all the time. And they have such a hard time writing in plain language. Like it’s… both of those things are skills.

Caleb: Because I think it’s shown itself to be a very large problem. Like, with dissemination of information and knowledge surrounding COVID. And people’s understanding of how it works and the dangers it poses, because so much of it is written in academic language and scientific language and then disseminated through journalists who are trying to—and like, I know there’s science journalists and whatnot—but I think that’s perhaps one of the problems with it. And like trying to explain to my family about like, “Well, they’re saying a different thing every day. It’s changing. They keep saying different things.” I’m like, “You’re watching like, science and academia happen in real time, like, probably for the first time in your life.” We’re not used to that, like as a society, like we don’t have… it’s a completely different world.

[Theme music]

Josie: Thank you for joining us today. If you liked this content, let us know. You can find us on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn under @bccampus, and on Instagram
Subscribe to our newsletter at for the latest information and details on our offerings.
You can also find more information about our podcast at, and tune in next week for the next episode of BCcampus Mixtape.

[Theme music]

—End of Episode—

Leveraging Creative Commons Licenses

[Theme music]

Josie Gray: Welcome to BCcampus Mixtape. This podcast is a remix of previous recordings from BCcampus offerings such as the Lunchable Learning radio show, Open Knowledge Spectrums, and more!

My name is Josie Gray. I am on the Open Education team at BCcampus. If you love to learn, you’ve come to the right place…

I am speaking to you from Moh’kins’tsis, which is what the Blackfoot call the area that is now the city of Calgary. This place is territory that is covered by Treaty 7, which was signed in 1877 by the Crown, the Blackfoot Nation (including the Siksika, Piikani, and Kainai Nations), the Tsuut’ina Nation, and the Stoney Nakoda (including the Chiniki, Bearspaw, and Wesley Nations). This place is also home to Métis Nation of Alberta, Region 3. I am grateful to be here, and to share this virtual conversation with you today, wherever you are based in the world.

If you are listening to this episode when it is released, it is Open Access week! The theme of this year’s Open Access week is Open for Climate Justice. For more information, you can go to For those of us who are settlers on Indigenous lands, one thing for us to remember is that conversations around climate justice must absolutely centre the voices of Indigenous Peoples, who have cared for these lands for thousands of years and the land defenders who have put themselves at risk to protect the water, trees, and land.

The conversation that we are sharing with you today was originally published as part of my master’s major research project at OCAD University, a podcast titled Open Knowledge Spectrums. The episode was shared under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 4.0 licence, and you can find it at

In this episode, I speak with Dr. Amy Nusbaum, an assistant Professor at Heritage University. She shares projects she led to take advantage of the permissions of open licenses and adapt an introduction to psychology open textbook to make it more inclusive. In one project, psychology students provided suggestions on how the textbook could better fit their local context. In the other, Amy leveraged open tools to crowd-source the evaluation of the textbook through the lens of diversity, representation, and inclusion. We talk about open pedagogy, the importance of support, collaboration, and funding, and the real impact that small changes can have.

Let’s listen in.

[Theme music]

Amy Nusbaum: I am a first-year faculty member in psychology at Heritage University, which is in central Washington, in an area outside of Yakima, Washington. I just finished my PhD in experimental psychology at Washington State University—I guess just… it’s almost been a year now—after getting my undergraduate degree there as well. So I’ve been in Pullman, Washington, for a while now. I am a first-generation college student and really struggled with college costs, generally, but specifically, textbooks costs as a student, and so as a graduate student, as I was finding ways to get involved with these kinds of practices. I really fell into the open education world ,and I’m excited to continue getting to do that work with my current students and my current job.

Josie: So open education was something you came to as a student, is that right?

Amy: As a graduate student, yeah. So, during my time as graduate student, most of the students in my program end up teaching independently. So I, from years 2 through 5 of my program, was teaching courses. And, you know, was frequently running into students who couldn’t buy their textbook. And you know, as a student with a background who also couldn’t buy their textbooks at times, like, I couldn’t tell them to “Suck it up and buy it,” right? Because I know that’s not how life works. And so, by way of, I think, teaching practice and just experiences with those kinds of students, I got more interested in open education. And I was definitely coming at it from the angle of free textbooks, which I know is sort of how a lot of people get into it. I’m now more involved in sort of the other aspects of openness, but definitely got into it from the free textbook side of it. And then, sort of took a while to convince some other people in my department that that was a way to go. But for the last few years as a graduate student, we were using open textbooks in our intro psych classes, which are all taught by graduate students. And it was sort of— then trickling down to some other courses as well.

Josie: Cool. So, you were able to kind of make that shift in your whole department.

Amy: I certainly wouldn’t claim credit. [laughter] I think there was some seeds that were planted, and I have a tendency to be obnoxious about things that I want to see happen. So, I was poking, I think, some correct buttons, but there were definitely other people in the department who were doing some advocacy work on their own. Dr. Carrie Cuttler who’s been involved in open ed in different levels, was already using books in her particular classes. And so, there were a few entry points, but I will take some credit for being annoying and not letting people forget about it.
Josie: Yeah. Great strategy. [Laughs] So how does open education show up in your teaching?

Amy: As a framework, open education is everything that I do, right. So especially in the last few years I think I’ve taken open education to be more than just free textbooks, and really a conversation about who gets to decide what’s important? Who’s teaching content? What’s included in content? What are we asking students to do with their work? Because from a purely pedagogical perspective, I really hate assignments where student writes it, I grade it, and then it goes away for forever. So I think the thought process of open education really permeates everything I do. I think the two big examples are in terms of course costs. There are no costs in my courses from using mostly openly licensed materials, at least free materials. And then most of my classes have assignments that are also in the open pedagogy sphere. So things like, they’re creating infographics based on research articles that make their research articles more accessible to a general audience. Or this semester, my capstone classes are working on a wiki-education project where they’re editing and adding to Wikipedia pages. So, it appears differently depending on the particular class, but I really think it’s a holistic approach to what it is to teach and what you’re asking students to do.

Josie: Right, absolutely. The textbook is such a great entry point, but it does open up a lot of other possibilities in the general open education space.

Amy: Yeah.

Josie: So, from your experience, you talk about the financial benefits for students, but how else does open education support greater equity in post-secondary education?

Amy: I think finances are a big one, obviously. Having access to your textbooks early, though I know there’s some debate in the research world of whether that accessibility hypothesis holds. But I think it really… it evens the playing field. You know, I think of how— I knew a friend in undergraduate that was able to keep all her textbooks, and so like, when she was studying for the psychology subject GRE, she just had all of her textbooks available to her. I could never do that. I had to sell them back so I could buy my next round. So even if we’re not talking about, you know, a particular class or spending money in one class, those decisions I think are a bit of a domino effect. You know, in one of my papers, we look at whether students are going to select classes based on their— whether there’s an OER designator by the class, and we find it affects students course decisions, right. So, you think about things like—and I’m not going to make a causal claim here because there’s no evidence for a causal claim—but thinking about relationships that exist. And for instance, lowered percentages of low-income or Black and brown students who are persuing, like, medical degrees. Textbooks in those fields are also really expensive, right. So it would be really interesting to look at whether there’s a correlation there, whether students who can’t afford their textbooks are looking at classes when they’re registering and being like, “I can’t have that $300 textbook, so I guess I should find something else to do.” I think it goes beyond the one class that the OER text exists in, and is really a cascading effect that can have a lot of downstream issues. And so, I just think OER is… is often talked about in that one-class situation, like my class is using textbooks, but I think is we think about it at a broader level, we’ll actually find even more exciting stuff that we can do with these kinds of approaches.

Josie: Right, yeah absolutely. So, from your perspective, where is open education falling short?

Amy: Yeah. I think we very much run the risk of replicating the current systems of—you used the word systems of exclusion, which I like—if we re-design something where it’s generally the same people writing or working on OER that were always working on commercial textbooks, and the only difference is that they’re free. Free is certainly better. But as we’ve already talked about, there’s lots of other reasons why OER are good.
I think right now we’re falling short in terms of the people at the top of our movement. I mean there was lots of drama around the OpenEd conference in 2019 for some of those reasons, right. And I think that you’re seeing people start to realize that… “Well, crap. Did we just do the same thing and make it no cost?” And so I don’t necessarily think it’s a fatal flaw, but I think the movement is at a point where we’ve got traction, right. A lot of people know what OER are. A lot of students have had them in our classes. And so we’re, I think rapidly approaching a point where if we engrain what we’re doing right now as “this is what open ed is,” we run the risk of just being a copy-paste of a publisher’s—or a commercial publisher’s—format. So again, I don’t think it’s a fatal flaw, but I think it’s somewhere that we need to work on in terms of making sure that we’re following people who should be followed. Or maybe not having follower/following situations in the first place. [Laughs] I don’t know what exactly it looks like!

Josie: Right, like valuing those critical perspectives that cause us to reflect and consider what kind of system we’re creating.

Amy: Yeah, I talked earlier about the idea that open pedagogy really transcends just free textbooks, right. It’s how we think about who is important enough to talk about things. And I think that has to be reflected in our discourse outside of the classroom also. And making sure that we’re, you know, involving from community colleges, who aren’t necessarily always valued in the way that they should be. Or the student perspective. And I think people who get to OER often… want to do those things, it just perhaps hasn’t been modeled for them. And so I think making sure we’re following our own values is going to be important.

Josie: Yeah, for sure. I know people talk a lot about, like— I don’t work within a post-secondary institution, but people who do often talk about the lack of supports that there are for faculty to do open education work, to like create OER or to adapt. Have you had that experience, where either the supports have been there or haven’t been there?

Amy: Yeah. So I think a little bit of both. As a graduate student for most of my time I felt really lucky because my research mentors were pretty much of the mind that as long as I was doing what I needed to do for them, they weren’t paying much attention to what I was doing outside of the lab. So, I was lucky in that I was able to work on those kinds of things. And, you know, as long as I was willing to work 60 hours a week to fit all that stuff in, then that was fine. And so I don’t think my story is traditional in that sense. I was a single, child-free person, who could do whatever she wanted with her time, and that’s not a good system to replicate, right.

Josie: Mhmm.

Amy: I have seen a lot of faculty members, especially non-tenured, or non-tenure-track faculty members, who report really wanting to do these kinds of things. But they’re teaching four full loads and don’t get paid over the summer. So when, when is that going to happen? Some universities certainly have internal supports for that, so my graduate institution did have a grant program that was pretty prolific, just in terms of the amount of money it was able to give out to support either faculty or graduate students to create OER. So those are the kinds of programs that are great. My current institution is much smaller. So while it’s— they’re incredibly supportive of OER, and I think I’ll definitely be able to take the time to do that. There’s not like and internal grant program for that, because it just doesn’t make sense in this context. So, I think the answer is both, and. So, we—again sort of the colloquial “we”—need to think about how we support people who aren’t at institutions that have that internal support. And what it looks like to do that in an equitable way.
Josie: Yeah, for sure. I think that’s a lot of the big questions people are asking about that wider sustainability and allowing more people to participate where there aren’t always supports to do so.

Amy: Right, and it’s not an easy question, right. Money doesn’t just come out of nowhere, and we’re not making money. I was doing a presentation for our faculty at my new institution about a month ago, and someone asked like, how do you equitably support people? Because if you’re writing a textbook for a traditional publisher, you probably don’t make that much. But you go into it, you sign a contract on your own, you understand the conditions. How do you do that in a situation where the person is not able to make money? And one of the things we talked about, you know, is having appropriate state-level support, right. So in the state of Washington, we have decent support. It’s not as good as it could be, and so I think that’s like— State and federal governments are a way, or provincial governments are a way to get that kind of support. You know, the money we need is not… a whole lot, right. If you look at the state budget, it would be like one tenth of one tenth of a percent, right. It’s nothing in their eyes. But to us it could be everything. And so, being creative about how we access those the streams of a financial support.

Josie: Mhmm, for sure. So, last year you published an article describing a project to diversify the OpenStax psychology open textbook. Could you tell me more about that project?

Amy: It was sort of a two-headed monster, and it honestly wasn’t originally intended to be that way. But it just.. shook out that way. So, the in-class version: I was teaching an intro psychology for the fifth or sixth time. It was a class that I felt like I’d gotten the basic mechanics of and so was ready to do something a little more expansive. And so, as a class, the students took on the project of basically editing their own textbook, right. So, I like these kinds of projects because… textbooks need to be edited… But also, again it gets at this idea of who gets to contribute knowledge, right? Like I believe my students have valuable things to contribute to a textbook. I don’t think they realize that they have that power in themselves, or at least a lot of them don’t. And so for a couple reasons I like that project. It was a multi-step, semester-long project. The students, they could write on other things that were sort of outside the diversity scope. So, they could add general research articles as well, and make other modifications. We ended up with something like 900 annotations on the textbook. They used to like annotate directly onto the textbook. I then had a team—through the funding that my graduate institution offered—I was able to pay a team of undergraduates, who had previously been in the class but we’re now more advanced students, to go through the comments and basically select the ones that would be appropriate for a textbook-level content. I love my students but not all 1000 of those comments [laughs] were ready to be put into a textbook. So there was this next layer where undergraduate employees were going through and sort of selecting comments for their rigor and just the general sense of fit with the textbooks. And we ended up with something… somewhere around 80 comments that ended up integrated into the local version of the textbook that WSU uses. So, from the beginning of WSU’s time using the OpenStax book, they had taken advantage of the license and made a local Pressbooks copy. And so we were able to make it hyper-specific to our students. So, there were, you know, in the treatment and disorders section of the book we were able to link directly to our counselling services, right, and so there were some edits that were like that. There were some, like, for instance where Washington has a really high population of Latinx immigrant farm workers because the central part of the region is a big farm worker area. And so, a couple students added information in like, the diversity sections, that were specific to what students’ families often look like. And so, there were a wide variety of changes, but that was the student-lead part of it.

Around the same time, I think it was after OpenStax 2019—no 2018. I had reached out to OpenStax to ask about leading a project to diversify the national version of the text. This was an effort specifically aimed at diversification, and so it wasn’t just a general revision process. And they were super gung-ho and so, I was like, “Cool, okay now what?” And so, ended up basically doing a whole lot of cold emailing. So I set up the layers—like from the tech side had that all set up. And then looked for people who were doing research in areas that I thought made sense. Like, looked for some affinity groups that I thought made sense. So like the Black psychologist groups and things like that. Sent emails to our psychology teaching groups. I think on one day I sent like 1200 emails…

Josie: Wow! [laughs]

Amy: It was like publicly available emails, which means that like a lot of them are wrong by that point. So I remember I took a picture at one point of all of the “Return-to-sender emails” I was getting in my inbox. There was like a hundred of them. So it absolutely was not efficient whatsoever, and I would probably do it a little bit differently. Oh! And OpenStax also provided me—this is where all of the return emails came back—they provided me with like their list of people who are using the book and had said, “Yes, we can be contacted.” And there are a lot of people using that book.

Josie: Mhmm.

Amy: So it was a massive undertaking, and I’m not sure I realized how massive it was when I was like, “Yeah! Let’s do this.” But, got back some really awesome comments. So those were similar process to what the students did. It was a layer on a Pressbooks copy. And I basically… Once they were all collected, as I said, OpenStax was going through their own wider revision process at a time. And so I basically sent them on to their team, and was like, “Here. Here’s a bunch of really great ideas for how to make this book better.” And to my knowledge, some of those where then inserted into the national, sort of, core textbook that is used for intro-psych classes.

So those were the two projects that were sort of going on at the same time. One, a hyper-local effort to really both empower my students to be like “Yes! You can do this,” while also creating a localized version of the text that made sense for us, and then a more national effort geared at diversification of the book on a wider level, reaching out to subject matter experts.

Josie: Yeah. So you’ve mentioned and Pressbooks a few times. Could you describe what those tools are, just for those who aren’t familiar?

Amy: Pressbooks is basically like an online publishing tool. It allows people to publish open textbooks in a way that I think is familiar to students. So it doesn’t just look like, you know, someone just put a Word document on a website and said, “Here, read this.” At least in my experience, it’s incredibly helpful for working with other open textbooks because it’s really easy to utilize licenses and like, copy a textbook that someone used across the country into your own format and then just give students a link to yours after you’ve made edits, so you’re not accidentally editing someone else’s stuff without them knowing. is then an annotation tool—or I think they call it a social-annotation tool. You can embed into Pressbooks, so super great functionality between those two. And then when a student goes to read the textbook, there’s sort of a sidebar that pops up from Hypothesis, where they can highlight things and comment on them, other students can see what they’re doing. And so, it’s basically the idea that if you have a physical textbook, you’d be able to literally highlight it and write things (if it belonged to you). It’s sort of taking that idea and putting it into the virtual space. With the added benefit that other people can see and sort of collaboratively do that process.

So that’s how students were putting their annotations on. So they’d highlight a section and say something like, “Add this sentence here,” and they’d write their work. That’s also how we did peer review, so students could then see what their peers had proposed and make comments. It’s how we did grading. So it was really nice to keep both myself and my teaching assistants from getting overwhelmed with the process of doing something that was out of our learning management system, that was a little bit novel, because it was able to all be housed in one spot.

Josie: And so, with the instructor-focused project, did you do any kind of vetting about who could participate?

Amy: I mean, I vetted in the sense that I was sending direct emails. But I also posted things on social media and some Facebook groups and stuff like that. So sort of, but not really.

Josie: Was that really something that was— would’ve been important? Or were you more looking for general— like open to general contributions?

Amy: I think I was open to general contributions because I knew that there was— like it’s not like these things— Like someone made a comment and they were automatically in the textbook. Like I knew that there was going to be several more stages of looking at comments, and sort of a peer-review-like process. And so, if some malfeasance slipped in, I guess I wasn’t super concerned about it being problematic. And I think I was very clear in the call that I wanted—or was interested in—perspectives from people who— I can’t remember how I phrased it. But I made it clear that it wasn’t just Psych-PhDs who should be commenting. It was people who had perspectives or experience in the field of psychology, I think is what I said. And so, I think if there was a… highly structured betting process, that would’ve excluded some of the people who I was interested in reaching.

Josie: Mhmm, for sure. And so, what were the responses like?

Amy: On that side of things, they were pretty highly focused in the social psychology, the disorders, and the sort of sex and gender sections, which makes sense from several different angles. But mainly because a lot of the work in psychology that’s focused on diversity happens to fall within those subject areas. So, I guess that wasn’t particularly surprising.
There were comments like, “This would be a good place to talk about intergenerational trauma in Black Americans and Native Americans.” So in the section of the textbook where we’re talking about how chronic stress can lead to… like negative consequences down the line, someone came in and was like, “It would be really good to talk about how this is true both in an individual person, but also across generations.” And we’re talking about things like the consequences of slavery or the Holocaust—there was a study that was done recently on that. And so that was one example that I can think of that was, you know, pretty easy to embed in the textbook. Like, yeah, you’re absolutely right. We should talk about how the stress is experienced disproportionately.
There was another one that I can think of where the person said that the textbook doesn’t do a good enough job talking about the disproportionality in the ability to access mental health services. So there’s a section in the text that talks about how lots of people don’t—who can benefit from mental health services—don’t seek them. And the number’s abysmally low. It’s something like 13% of people who could benefit don’t seek services. But those numbers are even lower if you’re not looking at just white people, right? So, you know, you have some sentence were someone’s reading it and it’s like, “Wow, that’s unfortunate. We should do something about that.” But there’s— It’s even worse, like when we think about other systemic problems, and that information just wasn’t included.
So, there’s a lot of things like that, that weren’t even massive changes. It’s not like—well, there’s a couple places where entire sections could be added—but most of it was fairly minor stuff that just hadn’t been included, and it’s the kind of stuff that sparks really great conversations in classes if we’re talking about it.

Josie: Yeah, wow. So after you received the comments, you handed them off to OpenStax?

Amy: Yeah, because they were doing, again, their sort of full-fledged revision process of the text at the same time. And so I basically said “Here’s some stuff we did!” And they then had the option to integrate it or to not integrate it.

Josie: Right. And then the second part of your study was like, looking at how those edits impacted different students. So did you edit a few chapters yourself for that?

Amy: Yeah, so the way that I did that— So for the study part of it, the research part of it, I was interested in looking at whether… basically reading the diversified version of a textbook would change how people feel about their sense of belongingness on campus. That was my approach because we know that, one, we have gaps in retention and graduation based on a number of factors. I chose to focus on people who are marginalized by their race and by first-generation status. We know that those groups of students persist and graduate at lower rates and then their white, continuing-generation counterparts. When I say continuing generation, I mean people whose parents had bachelor’s degrees. And we… one of the hypothesized reasons for this, with some data to support it, is that those students don’t feel like they belong on campus as much. Because they don’t see themselves reflected in their peers, they don’t necessarily see themselves reflected in their faculty or their staff. And so, like, we should be able to do some things about that, right? We can’t necessarily overnight—or at least as an instructor, I can’t overnight fix… the college affordability crisis, right? But I can try to make students feel like they belong in my classroom, because they do. So, that was the approach I took, that if we provide students with materials that reflect them as human beings, that’s one way of saying “Hey. You and people like you belong in this space.”
So I took a sort of hybrid version of the textbook. So I took some of the edits that were done by my students and some of the edits that were done by sort of that the wider audience, and specifically focused on two sections: so the section in social psychology that focusses on discrimination and the section that focusses on gender and sexuality. Again, because those are places where it’s fairly simple to make these kinds of changes, right. If you’re not talking about diversity in those sections, then you’ve got a problem.
So I recruited a group of students, like 400 of them or something, through our department subject pool. These were not people who had participated in my class. They were totally separate group of students. In fact, they weren’t allowed to be enrolled in an intro psych at the time. And students were assigned to either read the sort of standard book—so the OpenStax book that had none of the modifications made. Or the “modified/diversified” book, even though I don’t love that name. And then they answered a bunch of questions, as we have them do in research studies, but these ones were specifically focused on their sense of belongingness on campus.
And I was, to be quite honest, not… I wouldn’t say I was hopeful that we would see some great finding. But I was sort of ready for that to not be the case. Because in my head, you know, I think is that as an instructor and as a person in the department, that all of these changes need to be really systematic, right. Again, we can talk about OER in one classroom, but those changes, you know, are going to have longer-term impacts. Like we’re going to have to look at the effects across, like, a multi-year period of time using OER. Not just like having someone read a book for ten minutes. So I didn’t have incredibly high hopes going into it. But what we found is that, specifically first-generation students who read the diversified textbook felt like they belonged on campus more than if they read the sort of standard text. So in the standard condition, we see a belongingness gap. So students who are first generation, whose parents do not have bachelor’s degrees, feel like they belong on campus less so than students whose parents do bachelor’s degrees, right. So we have this gap. When they’ve read the modified textbook, so the text that was “diversified” in some sense, that gap shrinks. It’s still present, but it’s much much smaller. So that was a really cool thing, right? Again, it wasn’t years of effort or even an entire class’s worth of effort. It was one snippet of one textbook, right. And so that was… I think a neat finding, in that it was affirming that even small changes matter. I think sometimes (myself included) we get bogged down in, “We must have all free textbooks in all classes tomorrow!” As opposed to like, “What does this allow me to do for the students that I have now, in the context that I have now?” And I think these results say that that matters. It’s certainly not the end-all be-all solution. I think we should be working towards those sorts of grander solutions. But it still was meaningful, and it still mattered, and I think that was a nice finding.

Josie: Yeah, for sure. Yeah, absolutely. So what would you recommend to people who want to take on similar projects?

Amy: I’d say, start small. The class project was wonderful. My class had 120 students. There’s no way I could’ve done it without a team of undergraduate teaching assistants helping me. So it depends very much on the context that you’re in. At the intro level, there are some interesting things that can be done. I think if we’re talking about making substantial changes to textbooks, focusing on your upper-division students might be more productive. These are students who have used textbooks for a while, right, and are imbedded in your discipline. So I think, taking appropriate-size chunks is helpful, not cold-emailing 1200 people [laughs] like I though was a solid plan. So, starting small.

Again, recognizing that the small things that you do matter. So maybe it’s that, you know, one summer you swap out some of the images in your textbook. That was one of the things I had done in the text, unrelated to either these projects. I was just sort of flipping through, and all of the images of couples were super heteronormative and super white. And so I just went to Unsplash—or one of, you know, one of the options with openly licenses photos—and put some queer people and brown people in there. That was like a really easy swap. It took me maybe an hour to do for several sections of the textbook. Again, starting small, but recognizing that those small things are still important things.
And then I think in involving students, whether that’s a lower level or the upper level, or honestly make it a project with your research lab, right. If you’re a PI or principal investigator studying the effects of a particular drug on the brain, right. A lot of the common discussions about addiction are not well-versed in science and are very blame-y of people who are struggling with addiction. And so, you know, we often think about this from a pedagogical lens, but it’s also really hard to communicate things, like your research, to a general audience, like people reading a textbook. So I think there are some unique and creative ways we can come at this problem that aren’t just class projects, or aren’t just someone laboring for an entire summer to completely revamp an entire textbook.

Josie: Yeah, and do you think that the crowdsourcing approach that you describe in your article, do you think that was successful? Would you— how would you do it differently?

Amy: It was successful in that there were some very good comments. I mean at the end of the day there was material created that would substantially improve the work. Was the cost-benefit ratio something that I would try to replicate in the past—or in the future? No. [laughter] I think, as a graduate student, and I think some now, I suffer very much from an obnoxiously gung-ho spirit that just says, “Well I want to do this, so let’s do it!” Which is good in some ways and then bad in others. I think getting some sort of internal support from organizations you want to work with is incredibly important. Like there were a lot of groups who were willing to let me send things out on their list serv. But how many emails do we get come through our list serv, right? So, you know, if you want to do a project aimed at, for instance, you know one thing that I will say the OpenStax book lacks is a chapter on gender and sexuality. It’s like a tiny section in the motivation unit? I don’t know why. Most textbooks have an entire chapter devoted to that. And so if I, as a human being—this is not me—but if I was like “Hey, I’m going to spearhead an effort to make that chapter, I think making sure that you have the buy-in of the organizations that study those things or the society for the teaching of psychology or, or whatever. I think those things are incredibly important as opposed to, trying to lone-wolf it. I think sometimes we do that a lot in OER, like, we are confronted with this massive problem. And again, maybe some—I’m not the only one with this obnoxious gung-ho spirit. [laughter] And so we try and tackle all of the problems immediately all by ourselves, and we burn out. And so I think utilizing networks that exist both in the OER space, but also trying to loop in other people, right? Other people are interested in this idea. If you want to get a researcher mad, talk to them about how their research is like misrepresented in a textbook and they will spend years [laughter] fixing the textbook, right. And so I think getting other people involved to see the benefits of these kind of things, using those networks that exist, those are important and I think will continue to be more important as we figure out what OER looks like five, ten years.

Josie: Mhmm. For sure. And do you think like having the kind of open…… like anyone-can-participate method was effective? Or would you want to have it more organized in the future?

Amy: I think a little bit of both. I think I liked the idea that it was still easily accessible. Right, so I think about— Like the area that I live in right now is a very rural area. We’re about a mile away from the Yakama Indian Reservation. Lots of people have issues with internet access. Putting up a boundary… like that involves you having to fill out a really lengthy questionnaire or like propose your changes in a really formal way, is going to leave out people like tribal mental health professionals, who probably have a lot to say about where our textbook can do better. So I think… if things are added, I think they have to be done really mindfully of those other challenges that exist. And again, being conscious of not replicating the previous systems of exclusion that exist.
I think there were certainly ways I could’ve organized it better. You know, I think has a lot of nifty ways of like, using hashtags or organizing material within their own systems that I could’ve used better. But again, I was one person who had never done a project like this, so I just went for it. So I think that gets back to the idea of looping in networks. Like, could I have reached out to someone at and said, “Hey, can you brainstorm with me, the best way to do this?” Yes, I could’ve. No, I didn’t do that.

Josie: Right. So I guess in terms of creating new OER, what do you think is needed so that those projects consider diversity and representation from the very beginning?

Amy: Pay people who are not just cis straight white dudes to help you with the effort. That sounds very simple, and I don’t necessarily mean it that way. I think it really gets back to the idea of, who are we asking to be important enough to work on these kinds of projects? Because that’s really what we do when we create textbooks, or even when we decide what we’re including in textbooks. We are making value decisions about who should count as “fancy” or “important enough” to be doing this work. And so I think from the very beginning, it has to be inclusive in terms of who’s working on the project. And I very much— I want to be very clear, that I do not mean you should harass Black and Brown scholars to do free work for you, and then like give them a brief acknowledgement section. It has to be diverse in terms of the team, but it also has to be— It can’t be just replicating hierarchical approaches. So I think that’s step one.
I think step two, you know there has to be consideration of all elements of the textbook process. So I think… Sometimes… If I say “diversification”—which again, I don’t love the word but I seem to have sunk myself in a hole of using it a lot—of a textbook, some people might just mean, “Oh, I just need to make the pictures, you know, less just white people.” Which is a good thing, but also whose research are you talking about, right? There’s been studies done looking at doing very systematic studies of like whose research is talked about in various textbooks: overwhelmingly white men. Which is not surprising, but you can’t just put pictures of— You know, if you’re talking all about the work of men and then you have some pictures of women doing science, that’s not helpful. Like you’re still codifying this idea of “Men are scientists” and they’re important enough to do the work. So, it has to be about content, it has to be about graphics, it has to be about the process. Like, it has to be about at all. If you’re doing the project on the beginning, don’t make it so in three years, someone else to come along and do a diversification project, right. [laughter].
And it’s going to be hard. Like, I think it’s not an easy process, trying to change fundamentally how we treat knowledge. That’s what we’re doing or at least it’s my head what we should be doing. For a lot of us there are 25 years of schooling engrained in our head about, “This is who is smart, and this is what counts.” And so bucking that, or working against that, is a lot of un-training our brains, and that’s hard work. And so, I guess I just, I don’t want— I made a joke in the beginning of this, but, I don’t want to take it lightly that it’s something that’s super easy to do. But it has to be done, like period. At the end of the day, it has to be done.

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Josie: If you want to check out Amy’s research on open education and the diversification project in particular, I’ve linked to her research page in the show notes. You can also connect with her on Twitter at @Amy_Nusbaum and Nusbaum is spelled N-U-S-B-A-U-M.

Josie: Thank you for joining us today. If you liked this content, let us know. You can find us on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn under @bccampus, and on Instagram

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You can also find more information about our podcast at, and tune in next week for the next episode of BCcampus Mixtape.

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—End of Episode—

Diverse Approaches for Learning

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Leva Lee:

Welcome to BCcampus Mixtape. This podcast is a remix of previous live recordings from BCcampus offerings such as the Lunchable Learning Radio Show, Open Knowledge Spectrums, and more. My name is Leva Lee.

Helena Prins: And my name is Helena Prins. We are both on the learning and teaching team at BCcampus. If you love to learn, you’ve come to the right place. I am joining you from the beautiful homeland of the Lək̓ʷəŋən speaking people, which include the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations.

Leva: And I’m joining you from where I live on the ancestral and unceded homelands of the hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ and Sḵwx̱wú7mesh speaking peoples. Today’s episode features an amazing conversation with Junsong Zhang. Junsong is currently a Program Manager, Simulations, at the Centre for Teaching, Learning and Innovation at the Justice Institute of British Columbia.

Helena: Let’s listen in.

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Junsong Zhang: Well, thank you very much to have me. I’m really happy to be here and chat with you about a few things.

Leva: Yeah. So you studied at the Center for Digital Media and you’ve got a master’s there, from there and also at UBC, where you got a master’s in education. So, tell us more about this background and what drew you to the work that you’re currently doing?

Junsong: Yeah, that’s a great question. I actually did my master’s in education at the UBC with a focus on pedagogy and curriculum. And I was introduced to building a virtual world for learning via Doctors and Jane’s work. And took some courses at SFU too, around multi-media learning and cognition. Also has an opportunity to work on a research project around use of technology, fact of land for systems. So all these course work on research inspire me, and I wanted to become better at design. And if you watched Dr. Strange, there is a line says, ‘you’re a man looking at the world through a keyhole’. And I definitely felt like that. I felt like I was looking at a design for a keyhole. So, I really want to expand what I know about design, about learning technology, about the social media. So, I’m on to see how design is done outside of the realm of education, and how to work with a team to build solutions in the digital age. So, I applied for the Master of Digital Media Program. It was really cool experience, also intense on the chaos at the beginning, but I learned a lot about design thinking, user experience design, agile project management and communication leadership skills by working with people from diverse backgrounds such as computer science, UI UX design, art to d3D design business. And I wouldn’t know what I know now if I didn’t go there. It was an audacious decision for me. So risky, uncomfortable and intimidating really, because my peers are very talented. They can code, they can design, they can do animation, they can just make out things easily. And I had to spend a lot of day and nights just trying to even just sketch something. So, and some of them are even unicorns. That’s what we call them, because they can do everything they can code design and you know everything. So part of the learning is for me is about how to take risks and also deal with a lot of ambiguity and being uncomfortable, you know. And the model, the project I did at Center for Digital Media, was super interested in designing with VR or mixed reality.

So, I had a lot of projects on that and I realized that there are lots of potential with emerging technology, especially now that devices are more affordable and with the right design, this technology can really help us to learn better. And I think what I learned from UBC and also Center of Digital Media, how to me, helped me to become a better instructional designer and helping to land where I am right now.

Helena: Ah! Such a fabulous background there. And I love your imagery of keyholes and unicorns. That’s awesome. And I think your current title, simulation manager is so cool. That’s why we wanted to have you on the show, too. Why do you do in this role? Can you tell us a little bit more about your title, and what you do?

Junsong: Yeah, definitely. It’s a quite interesting role and Center for Digital Learning and innovation that JIBC is still a position that under the umbrella of instruction design technology, but with a bit more focus on simulation design. So, just to give some context, JIBC has on tradition, is an experience of learning as a guide in pedagogy, and simulation is part of it. Simulation activities of JIBC range from in-class role play, to full scale prevention emergency exercises involving multiple stakeholders. At JIBC, we have also developed our own tool called Praxis ,to guide learners through events and situations where they’re called to apply their knowledge in authentic contexts. With a new developments in mixed reality, we have also partnered with the Center for Digital Media, and because I’m an alumni, I love to do, sort of reach the people. And then we’re working with them to build 3D or VR simulations. And we’ve done this project for fire investigation, paramedics, and soon we’re working on an active shooting, VR simulation for police recruits. Just super excited. We just got excited- our proposal is through. We’ve signed a document and paperwork with them and we’re gonna kick it off soon. And also at our center, we’re really looking at expanding our capacity to create immersive learning experiences for all areas in public safety. And we’ve been working with JIBC foundations, which is of great help. They’re fantastic. We called donors to contribute and help us build the capacity in the center. But broadly speaking, I also design online courses for different schools, such as leadership, conflict resolution, culture natural law enforcement, emergency management. And there are lots of external projects from youth justice, family justice or corrections. And this is what I like about my job too, that you get in different projects, you get internal projects and external projects, and those projects range from interactive online course designed to multimedia based projects that requires close collaboration from our web specialists, narrators, video producers, SMES and instructional designers. Just a great experience working on different projects. And I also got different opportunity to work on projects like UDL, technology integration. You might have heard of PebblePad. We’ve been piloting that too at JIBC. And next year we’re gonna do a bit more curriculum development around work in digital learning too. So lots of fantastic opportunities around simulation, around expensive learning and instructional design in general.

Leva: That sounds amazing and nothing, I mean, can’t say enough about how important it is the work that you do at the JIBC and the kind of support that you’re providing for frontline people studying to be frontline workers and having that experiential learning, which is so important. Are there any other sort of standout projects that you mentioned a few there already, but that you’d like to mention now that you’re working on?

Junsong: Yeah, maybe I just give two examples in our projects. Maybe I’ll start with UDL ’cause many of you are aware that I’ve been working with Shauna and a few of my colleagues, Helene, Lee, Dave, on a series of workbooks and workshops over the past year or two, probably actually two years already. And finally, in June 2021, we finished our last year the workbook focusing on assessment design. Right now we’re working on the three workbooks and turning them into an open book. We actually called Harper from BCcampus to help us, which is great.

Leva: Oh! Harper. Shout out!

Junsong: Exactly, Harper is very talented. I loved his background music and sciences, it’s fun. So, this wasn’t just really rewarding, we received a lot of positive feedback from JIBC and staff and also from folks in the community. We’ve all also learned a lot through writing and putting things together. Personally, writing these three workflows feel like a marathon for me, and something that I never imagined myself embarking on really, and yet there we were. When opportunity comes, I took it and I learned and continue working on the project. And we made it. Lots of great ideas and revisions from our teammates Shauna, Lee, Dave and Helen. And we loved how we collaborated on this project, writing, the facilitating workshops as a team. We hope we can continue some of this projects in the future too. The other part I wanna mention is the VR project we did for paramedics at JIBC by collaborating with Centre for Digital Media. I sort of mentioned it previous already. In fact, we’ve been working with them on a number of projects already. So, this one is really a special one for me because it was the first project we did at JIBC. And we wanted to use this project to raise awareness of how emerging technology could help build the… help the future of learning and help the gap, fill in the gap of learning in the classroom and also work in the field. So, just to give you some context for this project, the paramedics program at JIBC focused a lot on simulation. We have practical simulation manuals, detailing how instructors would describe this scenario for practice, but a lot of times the simulations take place in the classroom, and students rely a lot on verbose donations from those instructors. For example, students ask, ‘What can I see?’ The instructor says, ‘You can see a 32 year old male, lying, succumbed on the ground and bleeding’. So, imagine how the conversation goes in the classroom. So the students typically wearing their uniforms, carrying the emergency cases of a standing in the middle classroom and try to map the physical environment where they’re supposed to save lives. You see, in school, our student rely on verbal explanation from the instructors to assess hazards, and determine their next steps or in the field, or they’re actually required to observe the environment, identify risks, and save lives independently. So the gap between what is learned in the classroom and what is required in the field, is quite obvious for me. And the goal of our project is to design and build a user centred, immersive experience that could help students to assess a situation and make decisions on their own. And part is also reducing the trauma they might get from the field. Because if you don’t experience or you don’t see, you don’t sense and feel how it looks like, then you’re walking into a lot of scenarios on the street or in the theatre, you might get shocked. So, part of that is also for us to see if we can reduce the trauma, ’cause, you know, I learned this from our paramedic and program manager. They told me that 33% of paramedics are actually traumatized, and they can’t work. So, BCVHS are trying to, you know, talk to us about if we… about the possibility of using AR/VR or 360 videos ,or mixed realities to help reduce the trauma or, you know, help paramedics to better prepare for the field. And the project itself was a success, for sure. And the students and instructor loved it. And we hope to continue working on it and bring that experience to students.

Helena: Wow. That’s two amazing projects that you highlight. I love the trauma informed approach that you highlighted there of the last one. I do wanna go back to the first one on UDL and we think about technology and UDL, and how do you see the marrying of tech and UDL? Do they enhance each other?

Junsong: Yeah, that’s a really good question. I think first, no, UDL is a very comprehensive framework for learning design, modern means of engagement, representation, action and expression with an ultimate goal to cultivate expert learners. But within the guidelines, you’ll see a lot of similarities of the theories with adult learning principles or expensive learning, ’cause it talks about reflection and talks about engagement. So, UDL is very comprehensive, for sure. It is an umbrella for many, many theories. So, institutionally speaking, if you’re adopting a new learning technology, in a way it is already UDL itself because we get to offer learners different opportunities to engage with instructors throughout content or assessment. For example, if we’re turning a text based simulation into a 3D moment, and student get to see, feel, interact with objects instead of just reading from the manual. So, that’s basically creating multiple means of representation and engagement from the UDL perspectives. And that’s also why sort of s5p tool is quite popular nowadays ’cause it’s very easy to use, and you can create a lot of interactive content. Another thing I wanna mention is that UDL works very well with design thinking too, which we talked about in our UDL workbook. The heart of design thinking is about being iterative. Form an idea, put on ipad, get feedback, and test it, right. So when we’re implementing UDL frameworks, we want to tell everyone that it’s great to start something small and then a small idea, tried it out, tested and reviewed, which is basically the same approach we take with design in a product, or design and technology for designing. So when I think about UDL for technology can be overwhelming. If you trying to follow every guideline in UDL, is always good to start with something small. For example, in some of the course design, we really just want to add an additional layer of incorporate an opportunity for self- assessment and engagement and reflection. And that’s what we did in that class. So, I think offering diverse tools and technology it’s already UDL. Yet when you’re using the new type of technology, you don’t have to adhere to all the UDL guidelines because it’s too too big. Just pick something that works for you, try it out and repeat.

Leva: That’s wonderful to learn more about how you marry those two, the idea of UDL and tech, and the interactive approach that comes from design thinking. We’ll be sure to link in the show notes, the workbooks for the guide books that you’ve been working on with Shauna and team. So, as we winding down our visit with you, we have a couple of more questions. We were wondering what you’d like to do during your downtime, and that if we would find you in your downtime playing VR games after hours, or would you be liking to embark on other hobbies?

Junsong: Yeah, I mean, I actually play a lot of mobile games nowadays. So, like legal League of Legends and Pokémon. I play occasionally, to be honest, because there’s some sort of limit in terms of VR games. A lot of people get motion sickness if they’re in the VR games for too long. So, I think the general rule is that you should not go longer than 40 or 45 minutes, and that sort of informs our design too. We don’t wanna keep the experience in there for too long -10 minutes, 15 minutes. That’s what we’re aiming at this point. But if you go 20, 25, that’s fine too. But there are a lot of cool games in VR already. They are so immersive. Some of the games are really scary, like the zombie ones I played with my friends last week, I basically screamed all the time (LAUGHS). And then I love the lightsaber VR where you slash beats and pumping music as they slide towards you. That was a fun one too. And you feel the music and you acts, you know, you embody something. And I actually played a game last year, VR game with my mom. It was a shooting game. She actually did better than me. She’s 63 now, and then she actually got higher score (LAUGHS). We had a lot of fun. And so if you haven’t tried it with your family, I think you should try it. It’s very, very interesting.

Helena: I would love to meet your mom. Really.

Leva: I’m gonna have to ask my son what the games are to play. But yeah, that’s his realm. That’s interesting. So, as we wind down now, we have one more thing that we’d like to invite you to do is to pose a challenge to our listeners, in the… a challenge for them that’s related to our topic. So, what challenge have you chosen for them today?

Junsong: Yeah, we’ve been thinking about simulation or simulation means lately to us on our team. So my question for you, to your listener, will be, ‘what type of simulations are, widely used in the past and present in your institution or organization? And what is the impact of simulations to learning and assessment?

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Helena: Such important insights from Junsong on learning, assessment and digital spaces. Next, we’ll hear from three of our fabulous Facilitating Learning Online (FLO) faciliators. We asked Beth, Gina and Annie to share their biggest tips for facilitating learning online. Here is what they had to say:

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Beth: Hi there. My name is Beth Cougler Blom, and I’m the original designer of FLO Synchronous and one of the coauthors of the FLO Facilitation Guide. I think one of my biggest tips for facilitating learning online is to show up as the real human being you are. That includes vulnerability and includes authenticity. Our students want to see who we are. At the other end of the computer, that goes a long way toward helping them connect with us and then with each other. Good luck with your work.

Gina: Hi, I’m Gina Bennett and I’ve been involved with FLO as a participant, a facilitator and a manual writer for several years. And my online facilitation tip for you today is pretty basic: Post-It Notes. When I’m facilitating a live session, whether in Zoom or Skype or collaborate, I make sure to remember key housekeeping details, like remembering to record the session, by pasting a sticky note directly on the screen where I can’t miss it. That’s it.

Annie: Hello, my name is Annie Prud’homme-Généreux. I’m director of Continuing Studies at Capilano University. My favorite edtech tool is dotstorming. And dotstorming is basically a virtual way of doing an activity that we used to call dot voting or dotmocracy. This is an activity where learners would each put an idea on paper, post them around the room, and then they would be given a certain number of stickers to go around vote. And those ideas that got the most attention would be the ones that we would take for further discussion.

Helena: Yes, so as Annie explained there, dot-voting is a crowdsourcing activity that taps into the wisdom and resources of your group. It starts with a divergent thinking activity that gives everyone a voice and generates many ideas. It looks very similar to padlet or jamboard, but it has that added voting feature. So, learners can easily add multimedia or text based poster board, which is viewable by all in real time, and each learner can then vote for their classmates post. The instructor can control the anonymity of posts, visibility of the votes and the number of votes that each learner can award. It’s very intuitive to set up. In fact, I set one up for our listeners. It’s also free to try. There’s a trial period and it’s fun to use. So, the one I’ve created for you, we’ll add the link to show notes, it’s about adding your favorite icebreaker, and then you can vote on the ones that you see there. Some of my team members added some of their favorite icebreakers. So, yeah, we’ll just hope you’ll have fun doing that and participate.

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Helena: Thank you for joining us today. If you like this content, let us know. You can find us on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn under @BCcampus and on Instagram

Leva: Subscribe to our newsletter at for the latest information and details on our offerings. You can also find more information about our podcast at and tune in next week for the next episode of BCcampus mixtape.

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