Institution: University of Massachusetts Amherst
Institution Type: public, research, land-grant, undergraduate, post-graduate
Project Discipline: Political Science
Project Outcome: student-created podcasts; research study
Tools Used: Audacity, LibGuides, Institutional Repository
Resources Included in Chapter:
- Suggested resource list
- Survey Instrument
The course that this chapter is based on took place in 2018, well before the COVID-19 pandemic that occurred at the time of publication. The University of Massachusetts, along with other schools, closed its campus beginning in the Spring semester of 2020 and moved to online instruction and library services. While many of the library’s materials are available online, and services such as HathiTrust and the Internet Archive National Emergency Library provided digital versions of a wide range of print materials, there remained a huge gap in what students and faculty could access in the “new normal” of virtual education. More than ever, the need for open educational resources has become pressing. There is an opportunity, then, to engage students in the creation of open digital learning objects, such as digital textbooks, videos, podcasts, or study guides.
This chapter describes a case study of a course in which students were assigned the creation of podcasts about various topics related to Massachusetts history, which were to be made openly available on the Internet via the UMass Amherst institutional repository. This course is to be offered again in the Fall 2020 semester, only this time, it will be taught completely online. Further study is planned to investigate what is required to move a course like this to a virtual space (for example, how students will collaborate and how they will record and edit the podcast with limited or no access to the university’s physical technology), and how virtual education might impact students’ perceptions of their work and of their own abilities.
—Sarah, Lisa, & Paul
The End of the World (and the Start of a New Collaboration with the Honors College)
A public R1 doctoral university located in Western Massachusetts, the University of Massachusetts Amherst serves an undergraduate population of over 23,500. Around 3,700 of these students are part of our Commonwealth Honors College. Spanning the third and fourth years, the honors program includes two tracks, multidisciplinary and departmental, each with an honors thesis or capstone project. Honors faculty come from every discipline at the university. With the mission to create curriculum for the engagement of honors students in broad inquiry and the creation of new knowledge, instructors are able to design intensive and creative courses. Paul Musgrave, Assistant Professor of Political Science, is one of these faculty members, one who shares a joint appointment between his home department and the Honors College.
As the library liaison to the Honors College, Sarah Hutton, Head of Student Success and Engagement in the University Libraries, provides instructional and research support to honors faculty and students, and sits on the Faculty Senate Commonwealth Honors College Council (CHCC). This council advises the Honors College Dean on all academic matters relating to the administration of the college, and includes subcommittees that focus on specialized topics. Hutton additionally serves on the subcommittee dedicated to program approvals. As in other colleges at the university, every new course goes through an approval process, wherein a panel of reviewers reads through a proposed syllabus, along with plans for course management and materials. This subcommittee then works with each individual faculty member to make any necessary changes prior to final approval. While reviewing a batch of courses in Spring 2018, Hutton noticed a particularly interesting course, Politics of the End of the World, proposed by Paul Musgrave.
The course emerged from a long-developing research interest: theorizing the importance of apocalyptic recognition and denial to political life. While some bureaucratic and political systems aimed to make the apocalypse a possibility (as with Cold War-era nuclear weapons development), other end-of-the-world scenarios (such as climate change) have routinely failed to evince any effective large-scale political actions. Turning the end-of-the-world concept into a practicable course, however, proved challenging–how could an instructor ask undergraduates to research events that were so big, complex, and difficult to categorize?
As part of a separate yearlong workshop, Musgrave had also developed an idea for a different course based around producing a podcast series. Adapting the podcast series idea from that course, he solved the problem conceptually: a podcast could more easily function as a group project, which would allow for cooperation and division of labor, helping students grapple with the somewhat nebulous and undirected nature of research. Working in four groups, the students would create four 20- to 25-minute podcast episodes. These episodes would describe how Massachusetts society reacted to the possibility of, or the belief in, the end of the world across different scenarios and time periods.
The part of Musgrave’s proposed course that caught Hutton’s attention during the review was the final project assignment: “Your final project will involve you working in teams to develop an episode of a podcast series about the End of the World, and it will be released to the public” (Mugrave, 2018).
This podcast assignment clearly aligned with several of the Libraries’ strategic objectives and activities, which presented an opportunity for deeper collaboration. Following a committee course review session with Professor Musgrave, Hutton scheduled a meeting between Musgrave, herself, and Public Policy and Law Librarian, Lisa Di Valentino. In addition to serving as library liaison to Political Science, Legal Studies, Public Policy and Administration, and Government Publications, Di Valentino specializes in copyright, intellectual property, fair use and user-generated content (UGC). With Musgrave, Hutton, and Di Valentino working together on this course, opportunities arose to explore new directions.
From the start, the course was structured to incorporate multiple elements in collaboration with the Libraries, starting with media production workshops and support sessions (e.g. recording using Audacity) for the students in the Libraries’ Digital Media Lab (DML). We then facilitated consultation between Musgrave and our Scholarly Communications group for content-hosting in the institutional repository. Most importantly, Di Valentino worked with Musgrave to provide one instructional session (75 minute class) for these students covering open access and Creative Commons licensing, all within the context of their discipline, political science.
This collaboration, structured around a specific course, offered an opportunity to communicate the Libraries’ rich set of resources and services to both Musgrave and his students, neither of whom had much awareness of the DML, though course collaborations are a well-established practice in the DML. One of the missing pieces of course collaborations, which may lend to a lack of awareness by faculty, is the preservation of student scholarship and projects following the completion of the course. During initial conversations, Hutton and Di Valentino learned that Musgrave intended to use these openly published podcasts as learning objects for future iterations of the course. While students were aware of and had consented to having their work published openly online, it was not yet clear how deep the conceptual and ethical understanding of issues surrounding the use of open content was amongst students. In addition to seeing an opportunity for collaboration in supporting the instructor and students through the successful delivery and completion of this class, we saw an opportunity to take a closer look at how the creative production of learning objects shared in the public domain impacted students’ perception of how well they had learned the course content.
Our hypothesis was that students would be more motivated to learn with a course structured around the open publication of their research. Motivation plays a critical role in student learning, engagement, and achievement. Studies have unequivocally shown connections between how actively engaged students are in the curriculum and student ability to attain academic goals (Caruth 2018; Fredin et al., 2015). By conducting a study which could connect open pedagogy with student success via motivational theory, for example, Self-Determination Theory (SDT), and self-efficacy, our hope was to generate compelling evidence for other institutions to move forward with open pedagogy initiatives.
Open Pedagogy Opportunities Explored in the Literature
For this study, Hutton, Musgrave, and Di Valentino were more interested in the students’ personal view of the assignment itself. In particular, they were interested in how students evaluate their own ability to research and present information to the public, and how that self-perception and confidence impacted their work process. Some of the literature did address these considerations, in perhaps one or two questions, but in no case that we found were they the main focus of the study (Bravo & Young, 2011; Lin & Kelsey, 2009). In most of the literature on student confidence and motivation, the end product of the assignment was to be used by peers or junior students, or marked by the instructor, and not necessarily seen by the general public (Ertmer et al., 2011; Gehringer, 2011; Hemmi et al., 2009; Herman, 2012; Neumann & Hood, 2009; Croft et al., 2013). The literature in this area has predominantly focused on the quality of the end product as judged by the instructor, whether the students gained a better understanding of the subject, or broader discussions of the role of higher education. There are, to date, no studies focused on students’ perceptions of the process and confidence in their own abilities.
Since researchers Musgrave, Hutton, and Di Valentino share an interest in evidence-based course design, they looked at the literature to find similar studies having to do with the design of course assignments where students’ work would be made publicly available. The concept of students as active producers of content is not new (Neary & Winn, 2009), but digital learning and the internet offer new opportunities to embed this concept into course design. The literature surveyed generally fell into two categories: Wikipedia-related and non-Wikipedia-related (which may include use of other wiki platforms that are not publicly visible). Wikipedia is a popular tool for assignments which ask students to create content online; it is ubiquitous, fairly easy to use (with some training), and users can get help from seasoned editors. Wikipedia itself encourages classroom involvement, offering workshops and guidance for using the site in teaching (“About Us,” 2015). In a number of studies about Wikipedia, courses included an assignment to research and create a Wikipedia article (or to improve one) either individually or as a group (Bravo & Young, 2011; Chiang et al., 2012; Dawe & Robinson, 2017; Pollard, 2008; Simmons, 2013; Soler-Adillon et al., 2018; Sweeney, 2012; Witzleb, 2009). However, these studies focused on information literacy outcomes, rather than student motivation and perception of their own abilities and of the final product.
There are methods beyond using Wikipedia in which student assignments can contribute to the knowledge commons. Other studies have positioned learners as knowledge creators by having students produce screencasts for their peers explaining complex mathematical concepts (Croft et al., 2013), creating computer coding exercises for students in other countries (Denny et al., 2012), creating teaching resources such as quizzes and videos for first-year biology students (Hubbard et al., 2017), authoring open access textbooks in chemical engineering (Galarza et al., 2017), or using non-Wikipedia wikis and other Web 2.0 technologies to produce hands-on learning tools (DiPietro et al., 2010; Ertmer et al., 2011; Gehringer, 2011; Hemmi et al., 2009; Lin & Kelsey, 2009; Matthew et al., 2009; Neumann & Hood, 2009).
Student motivation was addressed in detail in only one study, in which students wrote Wikipedia articles on topics of regional significance (Vetter, 2014). Here, the students reported greater or equal motivation when working on Wikipedia articles than they did in traditional assignments. The most frequently reported reason behind the increased motivation was that their work would be read by the public (Vetter, 2014). Another study assessed students’ self-reported capability in finding, evaluating, and referencing information both before and after they created a Wikipedia article; the results demonstrated an increase in students’ self-rating (Dawe & Robinson, 2017). Other works described student collaboration with university researchers and faculty academics to produce publishable content (Mays, 2017).
Where student motivation was addressed, the answers from the literature were generally positive; however, it was not the focus of the studies (Bravo & Young, 2011; Ertmer et al., 2011; Hemmi et al., 2009; Lin & Kelsey, 2009; Matthew et al., 2009; Neumann & Hood, 2009; Pollard, 2008; Simmons, 2013; Vetter, 2014). The relative lack of in-depth research regarding student perceptions and confidence in their work led the authors to focus their inquiry into Musgrave’s course on how making students’ final projects openly available to the public might impact student motivation.
An Opportunity to Fill a Gap: Developing the Study
In developing the End of the World course, there was an opportunity for a case study of the inaugural class cohort, who were generally unfamiliar with copyright and Creative Commons. The researchers were interested in any effect on students’ motivation and sense of self-efficacy, as well as their confidence in their own understanding of the subject matter, when creating products that are meant to be globally publicly available.
As the instructor, Musgrave’s role was to design and run the class, in consultation with Hutton and Di Valentino. This included authoring a syllabus, crafting the assignment, and finding ways to keep students motivated and engaged. The syllabus included classes and readings devoted to theoretical issues (what is the end of the world, how can we know and measure how an end of the world affects people and societies), as well as sessions devoted to substantive and practical concerns. The substantive issues involved surveying other ends of the world, both in reality (using historical examples, like accounts of plagues and cultural shifts) and in fiction (such as Children of Men and The Handmaid’s Tale). The practical sessions included helping students learn how to appreciate and produce podcasts–breaking up a story into different beats, challenging them to put together interviews, learning how to pitch and revise stories.
Di Valentino’s role was to develop an instruction session to educate the students in researching government policy and Massachusetts history using the library’s subscribed and open access resources. Part of this 75-minute session involved a demonstration of how to locate Creative Commons-licensed and public domain audio materials and music using the CC website and other sites such as Internet Archive, Freesound, and Jamendo. Instructional materials from this session, including links to audio sites, information on copyright, and public domain, were collected in a library guide made available to students during and after the course, as well as to the public under a CC-BY license.
In addition, Di Valetino familiarized the students with the basics of copyright policy and law, and with the objectives, history, and use of Creative Commons licenses. Hutton’s role was to work with Di Valentino and Musgrave to craft the study. With experience in quantitative and qualitative research in higher education, Hutton was well-positioned to lead the development of a survey which could be administered during the class. She authored a question set in collaboration with Musgrave and Di Valentino, including a self-efficacy scale derived from the CATME 5.0 and a section of qualitative questions focusing specifically on the impact of course design on learning.
Partnerships are Crucial
The librarian-faculty partnership was integral to the project. A routine review of proposed new course syllabi put Musgrave in touch with Hutton. This connection solved a number of logistical problems to which he had not yet worked out the solutions. Like many faculty members, Musgrave did not know the variety of non-research services the library provided to students or faculty. The extent of the Digital Media Lab’s services and equipment, for instance, would prove essential to having the students actually produce the podcasts. Similarly, involving different elements of the more traditional services of the library, including a music and copyright librarian, and the subject-matter expert librarian Di Valentino, enabled the course and students to benefit from a much deeper and broader array of expertise.
Study Overview: Methodology and Ethical Concerns
The survey was 27 questions in length. The first ten questions were related to the students’ receptiveness to new expressions of scholarship, including how outgoing or anxious they might consider themselves to be. Questions 11-13 were related to course goals and content adoption, including how closely a student’s own goals were aligned with what their anticipated grade might be. Questions 14-23 were self-efficacy questions tailored specifically to fundamental, intermediate, and ultimate outcomes of the course as defined by the instructor. The final three questions were “designed to have you [the student] thinking about how your assignment being made accessible on the open web (Open Access/Open Educational Resources) has impacted your research process.” To ensure a higher response rate (20 of the 23 students participated in the survey), the survey was administered in person, in print, on the final day of class in December 2018. Collected responses were de-identified and compiled by Hutton, who then analyzed the data in NVivo, using basic frequencies for scaling and percentages with quantitative data, and Glaser & Strauss’ constant comparative method for all qualitative data.
While there were a few ethical considerations involved in this study, they did not include the usual worries when students are asked by their instructor to participate. To reduce any sense of pressure, the survey was administered by Hutton, whom the students had not yet met during the course; in addition, the students were assured that they were not required to take the survey, that their responses would not be identifiable, and that their answers would not be looked at until after the final grades were submitted. At the beginning of the course, the students had been made aware that they could decline to make their podcasts public, and, as the copyright holders, they retain the right to license or not license their work under the Creative Commons program, or to have their work used by future iterations of the course.
The results of the study were encouraging. When students were asked to rate their confidence level as a percentage out of 100%, on average, students reported a median confidence level of 79.11% across all categories of fundamental, intermediate, and ultimate outcomes. While a median of 79.11 confidence level was the average across all categories–it was noted that this confidence did drop as the outcomes became more complex. Confidence in the fundamental skill categories, such as the ability to “summarize written and audio visual texts” had a reported median of 83.45 confidence and “describe social scientific theories accurately” had a reported mean of 73.25 confidence, whereas the students were more doubtful of themselves when it came to the more complex ability to ‘Develop new explanations to account for general patterns of social and political behavior’ with a reported median of 72.25 confidence.
One of the nice surprises in the ultimate outcomes category was the response to question 23, where students were asked to ‘rate [their] degree of confidence/ability to solve the provided problems by recording a number from 0 to 100’, for the task of “Interact[ing] with peers and others in self-regulating, goal-oriented teams,” which reported at a median of 87.75 rating of confidence from students. This was noteworthy because so many of us hear from students about how much they hate working in teams or groups. This response is encouraging not only for this course, but is also in alignment with the University’s imperative to encourage teamwork and group learning. However, as with many of the multiple method studies we conduct, the richest findings are in the qualitative data. The overarching themes pulled from QDA done within NVivo were student emphasis on the quality of their research, the necessity to understand their topic(s) in greater depth to present to a broad audience, and the development of an understanding of Creative Commons licensing – many of them had never heard of it before. This was incredibly encouraging, since it indicated that the open pedagogical model of the course motivated the students to think more deeply about the quality of their work and how it would be communicated to a global audience. The fact that many students had not thought much about their own rights as publishers helped pave the way in their understanding of their role as scholars. Given that this was the pilot offering of the course, there was no pre-data to use for comparative analysis. For subsequent courses, the intent is to offer a pre- and post-course survey, including member checking (in-depth interviews).
Successes and Challenges Within the Course
When it came to the students completing the final assignments, a significant challenge, according to Musgrave, was finding appropriate audio resources using open access and Creative Commons licensed databases. The students were not always able to find the music they wanted, either because it did not exist or the search function of the database was not sufficient, or metadata was lacking. While there is a great deal of CC content available, students had difficulty locating appropriate variety for their podcasts. For general intro and outro music, the class eventually turned to commercial vendors, finding them easier to use, with superior metadata and more content than the open access alternatives.
Another challenge was deciding which Creative Commons license to employ. Musgrave had stated that he does not prefer the Share-Alike license, which is used by some prominent organizations such as Wikimedia and UNESCO. There was concern that Share-Alike binds producers in what they could do with a finished product. For producing podcasts, having CC-BY was preferable to CC-BY-SA; in the end, the class agreed on CC-BY-ND. The inclusion of the NoDerivatives (ND) component of the license would ensure that student work could be copied, displayed and distributed only in its original form; if the student work was to be modified in any way prior to distribution, permission would need to be obtained from the content creator. This provision of embargo for future derivative works helped the students feel more confident about putting their projects ‘out on display’ on the internet, and took away the worry that unknown by-products could be created, misrepresenting their original intent.
It is clear to the researchers that this course structure resulted in improved learning outcomes; the final student projects were outstanding, with high production quality and clearly articulated, deep understanding of course content. Final project topics explored the demise of the “Praying Indians” (Christianized Natives) during the seventeenth century; the disappointment and renewal of the Millerites (a religious sect) who prophesied the end of the world in the 1840s; the physical and social changes wrought by the Cold War and the build-up of nuclear weapons infrastructure during the 20th century; and how one coastal Massachusetts town is (mostly not) responding to global climate change.
As it was the first time these researchers had done such a study, there were lessons to be learned about the methods and how the class could be run in the future. For example, the next time a study like this is conducted, increased member-checking opportunities should be built into the study itself as an option respondents can check after the survey. Member-checking, also often known as respondent validation, provides a qualitative researcher with the opportunity to return to respondents after a survey or interview and ask follow-up questions to clarify topics or concepts that may remain unclear. However, asking respondents to identify themselves to be contacted has privacy implications, and the request would have to be made separately so as not to be connected to the respondents’ answers.
The study has potential to be broadened using a mixed-methods sequential explanatory design, in which results from the collection and analysis of quantitative data would be used to formulate a qualitative aspect to the study. An example of this approach might be a quantitative survey, the responses to which would determine who could be contacted for a follow-up interview. Another option is the sequential exploratory design, which is a similar approach, but flipped: e.g. doing interviews first, and then using that information to formulate a more focused survey. There is also interest in broadening the research into non-honors courses; while the study with Musgrave’s course is unique, undergraduate course collaborations with the DML at the undergraduate level are not, and there is great opportunity to expand research into multiple disciplines and ranks of courses.
Additional related research, currently being pursued by Hutton as a part of her Ph.D. dissertation, is a phenomenological case study model. She is investigating the use of Self-Determination Theory (SDT) as a theoretical framework in phenomenological case study with open courses. This could illuminate a direct connection between undergraduate student participation in courses with a participatory OER authorship or OA publishing of student artifacts model, to the development of internal goals and deepened engagement (Vansteenkiste et al., 2006). Hutton hypothesizes that the resulting analysis will create a compelling case for the adoption of OER materials beyond the affordability argument, further advocating for the engagement of students in open scholarship at the undergraduate level.
As for the course itself, Musgrave reflected that in the future he would include incremental assignments leading up to the final project, and more practice opportunities to build different skills depending on what the student’s role was in the group — for example, the person doing the narration would practice speaking and breathing into the microphone, and the person doing the mixing would have more practice sessions with equipment. This in many ways calls for more integration with Libraries and other co-curricular institutions, since the implication is to offer more audio production workshops. One challenge with running an innovative and creative classroom is that it entails giving up on the “sage on the stage” model, replacing it not only with a “guide by the side,” but with an entire support network beneath students. Increased workshops in support of the final podcast could potentially take away from class time focusing on the research content of the course.
Working out how to make this model succeed will entail differing practices for both curriculum development and credit-sharing practices. If a faculty member is the instructor of record, but not the only University employee providing instruction, how can the efforts of various people providing instruction be rewarded, measured, and compensated? The converse is that failing to incentivize and monitor such collaborations could lead to a mismatch in missions. If the library believes that its job is to provide digital media equipment but not, say, tailored modules instructing students in how to use that equipment in a class, then the equipment may not be utilized fully, or at all, because the burden of instruction in specialized, non-academic matters may be too great for the faculty member to bear. At UMass Amherst, there is an interest in continued research for this course, but broadening this model to other courses would require a stronger incentives model, potentially in collaboration with the Center for Teaching or other interested support organizations. Given the encouraging implications of the research, this is a model worth deeper exploration and implementation in additional courses.
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Considerations for Other Institutions
As we are from a large New England (U.S.A.) public university, the researchers are well aware of the privileges and resources that students have access to. For those institutions with fewer resources, it could be a challenge to undertake this sort of pedagogical approach. When reviewing the following considerations, interested faculty and librarians should additionally consider partnerships across their organizations, or inter-institutional collaborations for additional support.
- The class: How much experience do they have with the subject matter? How tech-savvy are they? What do they know about the country’s copyright and Creative Commons?
- The audience: Is the learning object geared to a particular audience, or the public?
- Resources available: Do the students have access to audio/video recording equipment, editing software, screen capture, stock sounds, music, video?
- Storage: Where will the digital objects be stored? Will they be downloadable or streaming? Is there an institutional repository, or will third-party sites be used?
The technology issue is particularly important, since podcasts and other audio or audiovisual learning objects require access to equipment, hardware, and software. Smart phones have recording capabilities, and once the recording has been uploaded to a computer, it can be edited and enhanced using open source or otherwise free software.
Some free-to-use and open source resources include:
- What is Creative Commons?: An explanatory YouTube video by Wikimedia Foundation
- Internet Archive: A collection of public domain and Creative Commons licensed sound, music, video, images, etc.
- FreeSound.org: A collaborative database of Creative Commons licensed sounds
- SoundBible: A collection of free sound effects
- Free Music Archive: Music under a Creative Commons license
- Jamendo: Creative Commons licensed music by indie artists
- Audacity: Open source audio recording and editing software
- Soundcloud: An online audio distribution platform website
- Podbean: A podcast-hosting site with free, basic options
- Vimeo: Video hosting with Creative Commons licensed content
Includes links to course library guide, survey instrument, and final projects
- Digital student scholarship, supported by Digital Media Lab (DML); advocacy for open access publishing, Creative Commons licensing, and teaching students about the importance of understanding their role in the global scholarship landscape ("Managing Your Data"); specialization in public policy, government and legal studies, where instruction regarding attribution licensing and open scholarship could be tailored to the discipline of the course ("Public Policy and Administration"). ↵
- In addition to supporting audio capture and production, the DML provides spaces, equipment and staff to accommodate video production, 3D modeling and fabrication, and the development of VR/AR/Immersive Technologies. ↵
- UMass Amherst Libraries, Scholarly Communication. ↵
- UMass Amherst LibGuides, Lisa Di Valentino. ↵
- UMass Amherst Libraries, POLISCI 390WH: The Politics of the End of the World. ↵
- Link to Survey Instrument: Student Perception of Self-Efficacy in Student Creation of Multimedia Open Educational Resources. ↵
- Final Examination. ↵