Why Open Educational Practices in Our Context?

In the previous post about open educational practices (OEP) at USask, I explained what they are. In this post, we will explore why so many people are already engaging in OEP, and why you should consider integrating these practices into your own teaching and research.

Our beliefs make us Open supporters

Open allows students to participate in the co-creation and sharing of text on current major issues (BLM / Indigenous lives, the pandemic, climate change, struggling small businesses) in their learning, demonstrating that USask is engaged with addressing major issues shaping the world and giving students relevant career skills they can demonstrate for potential employers.

When students create materials to share with an authentic, public audience, they work harder and care more, increasing student engagement with the course and discipline. Students who understand why a discipline matters take more courses in that subject.

It is principally important to share student work with the world (keeping it locked in the U of S isn’t what the world needs), because it engenders students with a deep understanding of the value of sharing and disseminating knowledge, making them allies of a primary mission of all universities, as described in Our learning Charter. These students become more effective ambassadors while on campus, and could be more inclined to see USask’s work as important when they become alumni.

Why now?

The COVID-19 pandemic has, in many ways, brought people together for a common cause, from neighbours getting groceries for neighbours, to scientists across the planet collaborating to find treatments and a vaccine for the virus. The U of S is playing a significant role in this research, but collaboration for and sharing of knowledge towards solutions to major problems doesn’t need to be limited to graduate students, post-docs, and those who have finished their formal education.

The world needs a place where students can learn about, engage with, and even create knowledge and find solutions to the problems we face, from issues around such problems as COVID-19, climate change, and racial and other forms of inequality. The world also needs such a place to share that knowledge and those solutions outside of the institution’s walls so that others can benefit and build upon the work being done. The U of S is in a position to be that place, to be “the university the world needs”.

Demonstrating our commitment to our students doing meaningful course work that contributes to knowledge

Undergraduate research, including through the FYRE (First Year Research Experience) program is being conducted in a growing number of courses across the U of S, with results being shared through poster sessions, on open websites, and in the open access Undergraduate Research Journal. Undergraduate research shared publicly allows for more than just the student researchers to learn from it, which is why the Undergraduate Research Initiative has begun promoting the open sharing of undergraduate research at the U of S.

The development of knowledge and finding potential solutions to the world’s problems can be embedded throughout the disciplines at the U of S. Providing students with opportunities to see how your discipline can contribute to these solutions not only increases student engagement within your courses, especially if that knowledge and ideas for solutions are shared beyond just your class, but may also encourage them to take additional courses in the program.

Support is available to help you engage in open educational practices

If you have questions about open educational practices (OEP) or need help finding open educational resources (OER) contact:

  • The Gwenna Moss Centre or Heather M. Ross directly
  • The Distance Education Unit if you are working with them on a course(s) where you would like to integrate OER or other OEP
  • The Library as your Library liaison may be able to help you find resources

What Are Open Educational Practices in Our Context?

We have seen significant growth in the use of open educational resources at the U of S in the past six years. As of this fall, more than a dozen open textbooks have been created or adapted at by instructors and students have saved well over $2 million dollars. “Open”, however, is about more than just textbooks and money saved, it’s about a way of thinking about teaching and learning.

This is the first in a serious of posts looking at the integration of open educational practices (OEP) already occurring at the U of S, as well as about the potential for integrating OEP into courses and programs across the institution. To start, what are OEP in the context of teaching and learning at the U of S during this time of COVID-19 where most of our courses are happening remotely.

OEP at the U of S in this context may include:

Materials are accessible

Open educational resources (OER) are freely available and shareable, increasing the access to the materials. Accessible also means that they should be available for those with differing abilities (e.g. use a screen reader) and for those who may not have access to higher-end technology, including high-speed internet.

Anyone can create, collaborate on, and share the materials

The principles of open not only allow, but rely on the ability for anyone to create / modify, collaborate and share materials. Examples of this include instructors collaborating on an adaption of an existing open textbook to better meet the needs of their students, and students engaging in the creation of learning materials to demonstrate their understanding of a concept (open pedagogy).

There are choices for the creator of materials as to what they will create and how they will share Whoever creates the materials may decide on the license they wish to put on their materials, which allows them to dictate how the materials may be used, changed, and shared. In addition, choice means providing creators / adaptors of materials, including students, to determine the format for the materials that they create. For example, for a particular assignment, students may be given the option of writing a paper, updating a Wikipedia article, or creating a poster for presentation

Making research data and publications available for everyone to access, use, and build upon

As most research is publicly funded, the data and results should, ideally, be made freely available to the public. In addition, such sharing of data and results allows for greater collaboration in addressing major issues facing the world such as COVID-19, environmental challenges, inequality, etc. This sharing and collaboration may happen with instructors, graduate, or undergraduate students (undergraduate research).

Reflecting on teaching and learning so that others may learn from our experiences

Reflecting on what has worked and what hasn’t in our teaching and learning allows us to learn from our successes and mistakes. Sharing those reflections with others through publications, blogs, and conversations allows others to learn from our experiences and the opportunity to offer us both support and potential solutions to problems.

Support is available to help you engage in open educational practices

If you have questions about open educational practices (OEP) or need help finding open educational resources (OER) contact:

  • The Gwenna Moss Centre or Heather M. Ross directly
  • The Distance Education Unit if you are working with them on a course(s) where you would like to integrate OER or other OEP
  • The Library as your Library liaison may be able to help you find resources

How to Make an Effective Rubric

Good rubrics have three key advantages:

  • If you develop them, they help you align your assignment with your outcomes
  • They help you have similar marks for different students’ assignments of similar quality (inter-rater reliability), if you practice using them with other instructors or your TAs
  • They increase student understanding of the skills you want them to demonstrate and focus your students specifically on those skills

Although a good rubric is very helpful, they can be hard to develop.  This video describes why we use rubrics, common mistakes we make as we create them, and how to make a good one.

Interested in more? View a one hour session from Sue Brookhart on creating and using rubrics.

Considerations for creating an open-book exam

An alternative to the traditional time-constrained invigilated final exam is the open-book exam.  “Open-book” implies that learners will have access to some type of references or resources during the exam, but the level of access to resources and time constraints are variables controlled by the instructor depending their exam design decisions.

If you are considering an open-book exam, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Focus on the Learning Outcomes – When making decisions about exam design and the types of questions you are going to have on your exam, think about the most important things you want your students to come away knowing (your learning outcomes / key topics) at the end of your course.  Ask yourself:
    • “Are there any learning outcomes in my course that require time constraints or limited access to resources for students to show me that they have met those outcomes?” If there are, you will need to consider the amount of time students will have to complete the exam and if some amount of exam invigilation is required.
    • “How can I get my students to show me they have learned the course learning outcomes?”  You may need to reframe questions that focus on recall or reproducing information to questions requiring learners to demonstrate how they use the information they have learned.
  • Use of Resources – Students will have access to an abundance of resources and it will prove difficult to limit access to resources without invigilation.  A few ideas to consider:
    • Reshape the assessment scenario: use context-rich scenarios-specific questions to reduce the possibility of quick Google answers.
    • Specify resources: specify which resources must be used or limit the resources to a few small excerpts of resources and ask students to demonstrate their course knowledge (compare/contrast, discuss, analyze etc). Help your students by providing information in advance on how to prepare and which resources to include.
    • Student Collaboration: see HERE for information on limiting non-permitted collaboration or building collaboration into your exam.
  • Time Length – Ensure there is adequate time for students to complete the open-book exam.
    • Typically, these exams take longer than closed-book exams, but make your time expectations realistic and clear (4 hours, 24 hours etc).
    • Help your students by sharing how they could organize their time – a good guideline is spend half the time on preparing and collecting information and half on writing the exam.
  • Grading – Have clear grading criteria and let students know in advance how they will be graded.
    • Remember to keep your weighting on the skills you are assessing (demonstrating critical thinking, synthesis etc.) rather than on basic knowledge and recall. **It is important to note that students should be well accustomed to these types of higher order questions prior to taking the exam (provide practice opportunities with clear marking rubrics over the course of the term for students to get accustomed to your expectations).
    •  Preparing a marking rubric (see examples) with your outcomes in mind for each question on the exam will prove invaluable and save time when marking.
  • Communication – Be clear about how students will access the exam and where / when they are required to submit the exam. Also be clear and transparent with your students about your exam design decisions and clearly communicate these to your students along with your grading criteria.
  • Academic Integrity – Consider using a personalized formal academic integrity statement to minimize academic integrity concerns. Sample – Open Book Exam Academic Integrity Statement (Word Doc)

Additional Resources:

How Do I Set Up My Notifications in Canvas?

As you’re getting started with Canvas, you’ll want to set up a few things to make it work more like the way you’d like.    

Within Canvas you’ll find a button under which it says Account. When you click on that you’ll see a list of links including Notifications, Profile, Files, Settings, and some other things we won’t worry about for right now.   

Notifications is where you can specify how and how often you receive notifications about updates within your courses in Canvas. These may include posts to discussion forums, submission of assignments, students signing up for appointments, etc. This resource created by Canvas details how to set up your notifications: 

Profile is where you can add a picture of yourself that will be your avatar, or profile picture, in all of your courses within Canvas. You can also add a brief biography and links to your website, Twitter account, or your presence on other online sites.   

Files is where you can store and fine any files used in your course within Canvas. There will be a folder for “My Files” and one for each course you have in Canvas. You can learn more about accessing and using Files in this resource created by Canvas:

Finally, Settings is where you can indicate what you want your display name to be for various purposes in the course (Discussions and Grading), your time zone, and contact information. See this resource for more information on how to change your settings: 

Places to Explore Further and Get Support for Canvas 

  • Everyone on our team is ready to help you with the transition to Canvas! Workshops for setting up your courses are available now for registration 
  • Canvas instructor videos and guides are available for those who prefer more independent learning or for those wanting to familiarize themselves with all the options. These guides are arranged by a Table of Contents at the top of the page, followed by video or guides for every Canvas topic you can imagine, alphabetically by category.  
  • For more information on technical and design support from our USask experts, or to contact Canvas help lines or live chats 24/7, please see Introducing Canvas on USask’s Training site. 

Office Hours, Remotely

When we move to remote teaching, we need to consider how we will continue to provide students with student-instructor interaction. One way of offering this is through office hours. While we used to offer office hours outside of lecture or class time, now we might be able to leverage our scheduled class time to engage with students to discuss problems, specific questions, or examples.  Transmission of content (powerpoints, videos, readings, etc.)  can then be reallocated to asynchronous hours.

Determine if it best suits your course to offer:

  • group discussions,
  • individual consultations
  • drop-in sessions

Be consistent with whichever options you choose. Remind students often via email and course notifications.

Use the flow chart below to help you determine which options work best for your course.

PDF Version Office Hours, Remotely

Click on the image below to enlarge.

Copyright and Remote Teaching

As you prepare for remote teaching this fall, you need to keep in mind issues related to copyright. The following key points were made in the USask version of the Canadian Association of Research Libraries (CARLs’) copyright guidance released as the University quickly shifted to remote teaching in March:

  1. Most of the legal issues are the same whether the teaching is done in person or online.
  2. If it was okay to do in class, it is often okay to do online – especially when your online access is limited to the same enrolled students.
  3. You can continue to apply the University of Saskatchewan (USask) Fair Dealing Guidelines.

The following resources have been created to help you in determining what you can and can’t do with copyrighted materials when teaching in a remote format.

In addition, if you will be showing copyrighted videos or other media within your course(s) being delivered remotely, you should include the following statement within the same page in the LMS as you are sharing that media:

“You are receiving access to this teaching resource under s. 30.01 of the Copyright Act, for use in this class only. Under this section of the Copyright Act, you are not permitted to keep a copy of this content after the course has finished.”

As noted in an earlier post, there are also considerations around student created works, such as posters. See Online Presentations and Poster Sessions Within Canadian Copyright Guidelines for more information.

For any questions related to copyright, please contact the U of S Copyright Coordinator, Kate Langrell.

Studio-based Remote Teaching

Studio-based courses are about the process of observing, creating, critiquing, and refining over time. Students learn techniques and process, attempt them, compare what they have created to criteria, intent, or other works, and then refine or iterate. 

The 4 key elements for a studio-course include:

  1. Observing a demonstration of a process or the creation of a product
  2. Performing a process or create a product using appropriate materials or space
  3. Comparing, critiquing, or observing drafts and final products
  4. Refining, iterating, and revising to improve skills and observation

Observing and Performing a Process

Would you typically be present to observe students’ create some artifact of their learning and is this process an important part of your assessment? Or, would you typically demonstrate for your students the steps they will need to follow in creating an artifact of their learning? 

Since we are unable to come together in a studio space to demonstrate the process of learning, we will explore here some ideas and remote learning tools you and your students can use to share steps in a process, from beginning to completion. 

Asynchronous Sharing in Your Course

Process in ideal times might be something we think of as more continuous. If we are together in a studio environment, a fuller version of the process of creating a painting or drawing, for example, can be demonstrated and observed. In a remote setting, this process needs to be made a bit more concrete. What steps are essential and how will a student know what differentiates step one from step two? This relates to a concept known as threshold concepts, which is defined in the U of C’s guide as a “core idea that’s conceptually challenging for students, who struggle to grasp it—but once grasped, it radically transforms the students’ perception of the subject.”

If you are demonstrating a concept, you might consider using a tool such as Panotpo to record the whole or clearly differentiated parts of the process and post your video(s) in your course online so students can download and watch the video on their own time. 

Eportfolios for Documenting Process

If students are demonstrating a process, they can similarly record and upload their videos, photos, or other artifacts as they work through the process. You might consider setting a series of staggered deadlines to ensure you are able to provide students with formative feedback as they work through a process that might be new and difficult for them. To keep all of their work together and private, you can use an online portfolio tool (“eportfolio”), in which students post work that you are able to view on a continual basis. 

The advantage to using an eportfolio is, as stated, the artifacts posted are private so students feel more secure in posting artifacts of their learning they perhaps aren’t confident about yet, and you as the instructor are able to observe your students’ learning in progress rather than as a single artifact handed in at the end. A digital point of checkin like an online portfolio also avoids what I call the “sketchbook problem” that results from assigning a task that is meant to engage students in a learning process (keep a sketchbook all semester and add one drawing each week) that ultimately ends in a student spending several hours drawing and trying to layer aged-looking coffee stains in their sketchbook the night before it’s due. 

Eportolio.usask.ca or words.usask.ca are Usask supported tools students can use to create portfolios of work. Process pictures can be taken of studio art work and posted as in a portfolio. These can be shared with an instructor who is then able to provide feedback as work develops, submitted with final work, or shared for class critique. 

Comparisons, Master Studies, and Critiques

One of the bright spots of what we are experiencing in response to this pandemic is the unprecedented access we all currently have to online content and experiences. Use this to your and your students’ advantage. If you are asking your students to complete Master Studies, you can send them to galleries and museums virtually. Many galleries and museums now have very robust virtual exhibits, including the Virtual Museum, the Metis Museum, and this great list of virtual exhibits collected by The Guardian.

Synchronous Theatre Events

Theatres are also finding ways to perform in safe and relevant ways that can serve as an example of how to create active online events, livestream performances, and drop-in improv jams.

Digital Critiques and Exhibits

If your students have sufficient internet access, you can engage them in creating their own online exhibits. There are many tools that allow users to build their own 3D virtual art galleries. Two examples include Roomful and this list of five free and open source tools. 

If internet access is not so reliable, you can also set us critiques in your discussion forum. Students can post their work and comments on others, following feedback questions you can provide in advance that take “netiquette” into consideration. 

If you are still looking for solutions to the challenges you’ve identified in moving your studio-based course into the remote context, explore the fulsome “Z.O.M.B.I.E. Survival Guide for VCUarts,” which includes tips about expectations, strategies, apps, and even some templates for you to use. 

Online Sharing Circle

Technology is excellent at allowing us to work remotely, but it can be more challenging for building community or keeping a community strong. Technology’s strength is for communication and is not as robust for building connection, especially with larger groups.


The goal is to create the ‘lunchroom’ experience where people share and ground themselves within their respective working group/community. We believe that this type of opportunity will contribute to the art of kiyokiwin, coping with the social isolation, allowing people to raise topics outside of work priorities, better understanding of each other, and so much more. Online sharing circles could be used by instructors to facilitate “courageous curiosity” with “boundless collaboration” for “inspired communities” in their remote instruction.

Kiyokiwin is a Cree word for visiting, but it is also a means of knowledge transfer and sharing. Kiyokiwin is becoming a lost art due to a multitude of factors, one of them being technology, where we think we are connecting with others but it’s usually not at a deep enough level that fulfills our human need for connection.

Process: Four rounds of sharing (following traditional protocols)

  1. On a piece of paper, write down a word that sums up where you are at this morning. When directed, we will all at the same time hold up our words to the camera for all to see.
  2. Going around the circle, in 1-minute or less explain why you chose this word.
  3. What’s going on in your life right now that you want share with everyone? How is remote working going for you? (Or another question that is suitable for your group/meeting)
  4. On a piece of paper, write down another word (or the same one) that sums up where you are at this morning. Now hold it up to your camera for all to see.

Participant Roles and Responsibilities

  • If possible, enter the room with camera on and mic off. Seeing each other is important for the circle and giving our full attention to each other is a way to show respect.
  • Set your view to grid mode (this is on WebEx) so that you can see everyone, just like you would in a circle. This would apply for other meeting apps as well.
  • The facilitator will start the circles. This will likely be the meeting host. Wait for their direction.
  • Please avoid using the chat box. Just like we wouldn’t be texting in a circle, we want to give our attention to the person who is speaking.
  • If you’re having technical issues, please try leaving the room and rejoining.
  • Share what you need – surface level or a deep plunge. Just keep in mind that there is a set time for the meeting, and you want everyone to have the opportunity to share.

Facilitator Roles and Responsibilities

  • Similar to chairing a meeting, your responsibility is to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to speak and to share.
  • You keep the momentum going, from one round to the next.
  • Assign a person to be the assistant before the meeting starts. The assistant will set the circle order, share it in the chat, and monitor the chat box for technical issues. The order will vary from week to week. The chat message can be worded like, “Imagine us seated in a circle for real.  At the start is (facilitator’s name), and to her left Person A, then Person B, …”.  The assistant will re-post the list if it gets bumped out of sight. If there is no chat on the app you are using, then it could simply be the names written on a piece of paper and the paper shared via camera to everyone. (with everyone’s audio off, the list of who speaks next will be good for the next person to prepare to turn their mic on.)
  • In an in-person talking circle, the direction of who goes next is to the left of the facilitator (clockwise), thus the comment about “imagine us seated in a circle”, it is a good idea to explain this as part of the talking circle protocols at the beginning.
  • You are not expected to answer questions or console someone, in an in-person talking circle, there would be an item that would be passed on to the next person, in an online format, you will be the one calling on the next person to speak. You can thank the previous person for sharing before calling the next person, but do not get into a back and forth discussion as this will disrupt the flow and power of the circle.
  • After everyone has held up their card in the 4th round, you thank everyone for sharing and explain that the purpose of the talking circle is not intended to be therapeutic (but it can be), rather it is an opportunity to share with others in a way that we may not necessarily be able to now that we are all working remotely.
  • You can end the meeting now if that was the purpose of it, or you can carry on to the next portion. Keep in mind that some people will need time to re-group, so if you have the option, call a break before getting to the next part of the meeting.
  • The first and last circle are nice ways to start and finish that can demonstrate the change in the group resulting from the talking circle. The 2nd and 3rd circles are amendable to different ideas for sharing related to the needs of the group. This can be open and expansive (how is working from home going?) or specific and intentional (describe challenges to ??) depending on the goals for the circle.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License by Rose Roberts with the Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching & Learning at the University of Saskatchewan

Field Work in the Classroom – Remote Context

Field work is important to your course because it provides a way for students to meet experiential outcomes, build a professional identity, feel engaged in their learning, and can help students retain knowledge and understanding. Some programs may rely on fieldwork for attracting new students and for maintaining outreach with community partners.

  • Can students meet experiential outcomes this semester in a remote context, independently?
  • Do students need this outcome to meet the course objectives? Take Inventory of what you already have.
  • How might students build a professional identify outside of the fieldwork context?
  • How might we engage students with their profession to build knowledge and understanding, outside of fieldwork?

In the remote context, concerns might include limited access to technology, risk management, funding of equipment, access to sites, the evolving public health situation. Plan to provide context and be prepared with back-up plans such as alternate ways of meeting course outcomes.

  • How will students access the appropriate equipment?
  • How will the risks associated with fieldwork be managed?
  • What is the access and safety at the site? What safety protocols are in place?

The USask Field Work Decision Tree is designed for USask Research, but may provide valuable insight as you plan for course-based field work.

The downside of fieldwork is that it can be hard to integrate with course content, difficult to assess, and student engagement varies. Field work involve logistics, scheduling, and human resources management.

  • Communicate with your students more deliberately and frequently than you would in a face-to-face environment. Communicating caring and flexibility whenever you can will reduce student anxiety and increase learning. Connect students and collaborators early-on to help build their relationship – particularly in isolated settings where students may need to rely more directly with collaborators for project and living assistance.
  • Keep it easy – Use USask approved tools that any student can access. Course Tools (Blackboard and Canvas) for planning and scheduling, WebEx for simultaneous and live conversations, Panopto for demonstrations. In addition to desktop recordings, Panopto can be used to record and distribute videos taken on your phone’s camera from the field. These videos can be linked and uploaded directly to your course or shared via email with a link. This might be a way to share fieldwork experiences with students, remotely.

Please refer to our post about remote placements and practicums for assistance on the logistics of planning for placements, specifically on how to onboard and supervise students remotely.

Seek support from the Gwenna Moss Centre, Distance Education Unit, and IT Support Services

Referenced in this post:  Munge, B., Thomas, G., & Heck, D. (2018). Outdoor Fieldwork in Higher Education: Learning From Multidisciplinary Experience. Journal of Experiential Education, 41(1), 39–53. https://doi.org/10.1177/1053825917742165

Additional readings

Hester, J. L. (2020, May 10). This is what scientific fieldwork is like during the time of COVID-19. Retrieved from https://www.motherjones.com/environment/2020/05/this-is-what-scientific-fieldwork-is-like-during-the-time-of-covid-19/

Beltran, R. S., Marnocha, E., Race, A., Croll, D. A., Dayton, G. H., & Zavaleta, E. S. (2020). Field courses narrow demographic achievement gaps in ecology and evolutionary biology. Ecology and Evolution. doi: 10.1002/ece3.6300