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Open Education

Man staring at his laptop

BCIT Open Education Grants

BCIT offers Open Education Grants to further encourage open education initiatives at BCIT. Open Education is defined by BC Campus as the “teaching, learning, and research resources that, through permissions granted by their creator, allow others to use, distribute, keep, or make changes to them.” Personally, I think of open education as free education (sources, materials, etc.) that is accessible to everyone.

Every year, BCIT’s open education grant program selects applicants to receive $5,000 grants to support the adoption, revision, and creation of openly licensed learning resources. Applicants submit their proposals on how to make education more accessible and a committee reviews their plans and selects winners accordingly.

I was able to interview Tara Mollett, Director of BCIT Student Services, and Joyce Lee, Career Specialist at BCIT Student Association, who collaborated with Indigenous Initiatives after being awarded one of last year’s grants. We spoke in depth about the purpose of open education and how the common goal of increasing employability for trades students (specifically Indigenous), brought together a diverse and motivated team that created an easily accessible learning resource.

Accessing Students’ Needs

Open education very widely focuses on making education more accessible. This can be achieved through numerous paths, commonly by reducing the cost by introducing free textbooks. However, Tara and Joyce’s team wanted to deliver more.

Tara and Joyce receive a lot of feedback from employers that new graduates are often lacking soft skills. BCIT students are well prepared technically but need to further develop their soft skills like their communication skills, ability to work effectively on a team, etc. In conjunction with Kimberly Carter, from Indigenous Initiatives, they identified a strong need to enhance soft skills development for Indigenous trades students. Once the difference between the graduates’ abilities and the employers’ expectations was identified, the advocates applied to the open education grant with hopes of creating something useful to minimize that gap.

Starting the Process

Wanting to ensure clarity and accuracy about the touch points between students and employers, Tara and Joyce’s team began their project with a “sprint” session. They invited Indigenous students and employers to discuss necessary developmental needs while various other experts listened with the intent to develop a better understand of Indigenous people’s approach to education.

This conversation became crucial for the project as it was the base for the course’s learning outcomes later. They brought elders, employers, and students into the same space and asked them to voice their opinions on key discussion questions like “What are the unique qualities that Indigenous students bring into the workplace?” and “What are your (their) strengths and weaknesses?” While they were aiming to determine which areas of soft skills to focus on and which delivery type to pursue, Tara mentioned that the focus of the conversation was to really listen to those at the focal point of the project. “Cultural issues and culture itself is very sensitive. So, recognizing (that) we’re not part of that group, it was really important to hear their own questions and their thoughts.” They had brought department experts in the room not to lead the discussion, but to instead observe “bring(ing) these kind of experts into the room to just be there and hear them talk about it.”

The Project

The goal of the project was to bring Indigenous voice into education. To do this, Tara and Joyce’s team worked to create an open-source textbook as well as educational videos. The textbook was a joint effort of five authors, each of which had different priorities. Since each author had a different perspective that provided different values and insights, it took a long time to complete the project. The team started brainstorming in 2018, with the first sprint occurring in January 2019.

Tara discussed some of the challenges of collaboration during our interview. She noted that the team “had this unique challenge of having different levels of engagement, availabilities, and training styles,” which caused some delays in the process. Not all members could work at the same time and sometimes the team would have to take a break while they waited for a specific task to be completed by someone else. In the end, the project took over two years to complete.

Moving Forward

First Nations culture traditionally passes information from their elders to their youth verbally through stories or visually by demonstrations, so delivering learning content via text or written guidelines would be ineffective. Tara and Joyce’s team decided to collaborate and create supplementary videos so that students could learn by listening to a variety of voices, including their elders and peers. The content that they created encourages a holistic learning style that mirrors Indigenous culture.

Pathways to Success: Opportunities for Indigenous Trades Students, covers a variety of topics including Self Care, Communication, Workplace Expectations and Values, and Mentorship and Career Advancement. While the textbook is geared towards Indigenous trades students, there is useful content for everyone. For example, the introduction, appropriately named “Why Do We Work?”, encourages students to reflect on their history and identify their purpose as they work through the chapter’s learning outcomes. Readers are encouraged to identify factors that motivate them and describe strategies to help them develop and maintain pride in their work.