3D Printing in the Visual Arts (Mellon Project Report)

For the Digital Mellon initiative I proposed the addition of a 3-D design and printing component to all of my presently listed course offerings. Implementation of the project has been slow. In June of 2016 I attended a workshop that was an introduction to 3D digital scanning and printing technologies at “Creating in Cahoots” maker’s lab in McKinney, TX. In this workshop we received an abbreviated tutorial covering scanning printing and shaping software as well as open source options. Additionally we had tutorials in using Sculptris and Tinkercad, and introductions to Netfabb, Meshlab, and Skanect.  We then proceeded to hands on training in 3D scanning using the Skanect system and the iSense scanner. Inspired by this workshop I decided to use these techniques in my classroom this spring as the first step in the introduction of digital technologies.

In fall of 2016 I began with some select students to produce small projects in order to familiarize myself with the technologies as well as to get programs loaded on our classroom computers. Working with a selected student, we used Tinkercad to produce a “chop” or signature stamp for ceramics class. We couldn’t get his design to print because the foundation architecture was not developed in a way that the printer could understand. We then simplified the process and drew the design for the chop as a vector file, then saved it as a .svg and opened it in Blender. We converted the .svg file to a mesh file and extruded it into a three-dimensional shape. This process was pretty accessible for all students and I had plans to use this as my first 3D assignment. Unfortunately because of our department staffing I didn’t teach the spring ceramics course and instead taught an introductory art course where this assignment didn’t fit.  

For my sculpture class in spring 2017 we decided to conduct a digital version of the surrealist artist and writers exercise, “The Exquisite Corpse.” The Exquisite Corpse is a game where multiple participants, each without knowledge of the previous composition, compose either a drawing or poem; these works are then collectively assembled as a new unique composition. Our sculpture class divided into groups of three, and each group scanned one member’s head, another member’s torso, and a third member’s legs. The idea behind Exquisite Corpse is to move beyond conscious bias and inhibitions in order to create something new by letting the subconscious and serendipity take over the creative process.

This assignment seemed to be an ideal introduction to digital technologies for my non-technical students. The project is designed to be fun and the students enjoyed the scanning and planning process. The compositional part was a bit more taxing. Student groups were able to learn basic 3-D scanning and manipulating processes that culminated in a finished work that was printed with the Ultimaker 2+. Students worked to learn scanning with 3-D imaging and then manipulated body regions with the open source program Blender. These models were then printed and processed. These PLA products will be used as forms in the lost wax casting method, with plans to form them in bronze with a centrifugal casting process. I will also develop a file to be sent to a commercial fabricator, Shapeways, to better understand and to price prints made in more durable and aesthetic media.

In the future, digital design and printing will be a tool for prototype in advanced studio and an introductory feature in my fundamentals assignments. In Art 255, Ceramics, I plan to have students use Sculptris, an introductory modeling program that allows users to manipulate a 3-D model. These models can then be printed as a maquette. Students will critique work before continuing on to produce a full-scale version in clay. In Art 252, Sculpture, I will have students design using Tinkercad and Blender. Students will then be able to print maquette and proceed to fabricate the sculpture with steel or even direct cast in bronze.

Projected Student Outcomes

  • Introducing new technology into the classroomsThe art world is abundant with media forms; there is literally nothing off limits. Introducing digital media to our students as a critical component of art making will expand their understanding of the 21st centuryvisual vocabulary. With the pending addition of new faculty in our department, these beginning steps toward becoming digital versant will represent a foundation to build new initiatives.
  • Foster collaborative learning. Many tired project scenarios feature collaborative work. Updating our classroom to include 3-D printing will bring a new energy and excitement to the collaborative artistic practice.
  • Artists creating better productsBuilding maquettes or drawing initial designs are often given short shrift by student artists. Product prototyping will result in a more deliberate and aesthetically rich final product.
  • Bridge the divide. The myth of emotive creativity is pervasive in young artists; planning and structure are not universally valued. Students will better understand that drafts and revisions are a key factor in art making.  

Considerations and Concerns

I was surprised by the considerable print time of 6-8 hours that even our small prototypes required to finish. For a class of 22 students, printing similar files would take two weeks of consistent print time and monitoring. If multiple classes were attempting to print, wait times would be significant. This could be resolved if students were given responsibility for printing files from a commercial shop, though to many students the extra cost might dissuade them from getting a project completed.

The scanners that we currently use don’t render much detail and are not sufficient for close up work. In addition to better scanners, we need more of them. Currently we use an iSense scanner that is on loan from the digital pedagogy design office. The art department also purchased a X-Box camera that is able to interface with the Skanect software. While this camera produces really interesting textural files, is very bad at details.

Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers

This week for the digital pedagogy workshop we continue our explorations of digital/information/media/civic/web literacies by working with Mike Caulfield’s curriculum, Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers.  Mike has now published the curriculum in an attractive Pressbooks format, which invites further additions and revisions via the Hypothes.is online annotation platform (we’ve explored both Pressbooks and Hypothes.is here in previous posts).

Last week we introduced a central component of the curriculum, the Digital Polarization Initiative, a structured set of practices by which students evaluate claims found in online sources. Students use practices and tools native to the web, such as wikis, tags, links, and annotations, to marshal evidence, enable analysis, and reach at least tentative judgments about the claims they find in online news sources. The practices build various forms of literacy (digital, information, media, web, civic) as well as domain knowledge in particular fields. No matter what subject you teach, there are sure to be numerous opportunities to help your students become more proficient in assessing the information they access online.

We’ll gather again this Friday, February 17, at 1:30 in the Johnson Center space (Abell 102). Join us then or here online.

A Student Powered Snopes: Building Digital Literacy with the Digital Polarization Initiative

Fake news, misinformation, hoaxes, alternative facts … there is a growing sense of urgency to equip students with the resources, skills, and critical thinking necessary to establish the credibility of truth claims, the authoritativeness of sources, and the soundness of evidence. On topics ranging from politics to science, health, environmental issues, foreign policy and more, we now live in an information ecosystem that circulates claims with near instant speed and with little context for evaluation. In the face of this, calls for specific forms of literacy are multiplying–whether these be digital literacy, information literacy, media literacy, web literacy, or some combination of all of these. The problem is not new, and for some time we have had rubrics and heuristic guides, such as CRAAP and RADCAB, to provide students with at least a basic framework for the analysis of claims and documents.

But increasingly, we see the need for a more robust set of resources that will help build student competence in the analysis and evaluation of truth claims, especially those found in online environments and social media spaces. One of the more promising projects that has emerged is the Digital Polarization Initiative, developed by Mike Caulfield with the support of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. The “DigiPo” initiative goes well beyond a simple checklist, and involves an infrastructure and space for students to fact-check, annotate, and provide context for information that appears on the web and in their social media feeds. The Digipo site, which functions as a wiki, is open to any user but is specifically oriented toward college students and classes. Here is how Mike Caulfield introduces the initiative:

Beginning this week and over the course of the next several weeks, we’ll have workshop gatherings to discuss strategies for addressing these issues in your classes and to work through the process of participating in the Digipo initiative and the other elements of the curriculum for digital/information literacy that Mike and others are building. We’ll begin this Friday at 1:30 in the Johnson Center space (Abell 102). If you can’t make it then, let me know and we’ll work out other arrangements.

For further reading:

Spring Forward: An external review of AC Digital Pedagogy

Hi everyone and welcome to the spring 2017 semester. It is a season of new beginnings within a heightened climate of dissonance and resistance in our cultural and political climate. As we go forward, we want to bring you up to date on our thinking and planning for the semester and beyond.

For starters, Brett and Mo would like to invite conversation on this external review of the “Collaborative Pedagogies for a Digital Age” grant recently conducted by Dr. Rebecca Frost Davis, Director of Instructional and Emerging Technology at St. Edward’s University. The report lays out findings, concerns, and recommendations for the future sustainability and progress of the digital liberal arts, learning, and pedagogy at Austin College. We look forward to multiple opportunities for dialogue, beginning this Friday afternoon when Brett and Mo, along with Randi Tanglen, Charles Curtis, and Barbara Cornelius, will facilitate a discussion of the report with all interested faculty. We’ll gather in the Johnson Center space (Abell 102) from 1:30–2:45.

The Mellon Foundation grant, “Collaborative Pedagogies for a Digital Age,” which launched the Austin College Digital Pedagogy initiative, reaches the end of its formal funding period at the end of this semester. As part of the evaluation and assessment of the initiative, we invited Dr. Frost Davis to conduct an external review of our activities and programs. Rebecca was on campus late last fall to observe classes, meet with faculty, students, and administrators, and gather information. As I indicated, her report will serve as a basis for us to strategically plan for the future of digital learning and pedagogy at Austin College, especially given the decision to discontinue the staff position of the Digital Pedagogy Designer.

Here are a few highlights from Rebecca’s report:


  • AC has successfully built capacity for digital pedagogy and has created faculty community around digital teaching practices
  • Digital teaching practices have had multiple positive effects, including projects that focus on students and active learners and producers of knowledge, from first-year students using Scalar to engineering students prototyping designs through 3D printing
  • Many projects focus on digital communication, presentation, and publication, which supports the Austin College strategic plan pillar, “Liberal Arts in a Digital Era”
  • Opportunities for advancing the work of the grant include the curriculum revision, collaboration with the Johnson Center, the e-portfolio pilot, the focus on undergraduate research, the writing across the curriculum initiative, and the emerging use of new practices such as 3D printing


  • Sustainability of the program is a key concern, especially with the loss of the instructional designer position, but more broadly, can this work continue without key faculty, staff, or administrators?
  • There is not a common understanding of digital pedagogy on campus. Some faculty members perceive digital pedagogy as transformative for their practice, while others view technology as a support tool
  •  Sustainability of grant activities depends on finding a path forward rather than just maintenance of current practices.  The capacity for digital teaching built among faculty needs to find its purpose
  • There is a need for intentionally scaffolding student technology skills within the curriculum (building student capacity).  Currently, the student experience of digital learning depends on individual faculty initiative


  • Focus on digital learning for students. This initiative has focused on faculty; now focus on students through active student learning; students as digital creators rather than digital consumers, students partnering with technology to solve problems.  This approach might tap into the professional preparation culture at Austin College
  • Consider intentionally scaffolding digital learning into the curriculum. The upcoming general education revision (with a very ambitious timeline) offers an opportunity to scaffold student technology skills within the curriculum, which builds student capacity to match faculty capacity.  Integration with general education would ensure that all students benefit rather than just those who take classes from faculty practicing digital pedagogy.  A campus-wide conversation about these ideas may build faculty ownership of digital pedagogy.
  • Develop a common definition for digital pedagogy that is shared across campus based on work done for this initiative as a basis for work going forward.  This definition might be a project for faculty participants. Productive definitions shared by faculty focused on thinking with technology, students as producers of knowledge, networked learning, and crossing the boundaries of the traditional classroom and course
  • Link capacity that has been built to other campus initiatives (e-portfolio, writing, AC Create, etc.); partner rather than compete. Develop an advisory group on digital pedagogy practices with representation across campus. Consider what structures could be created on campus to build on the collective experience and lessons learned of the grant.

There is much more, but perhaps these observations will give you a sense of where we can begin with our discussions. Again, invite you to join us for conversation this Friday, and we welcome your comments and observations here on the blog, at the AC DigPed Facebook page, or however you want to share your ideas.

Roo Products: 3D Design and Printing in Pre-Engineering Physics

During the latter part of the fall semester, students in David Baker’s Introduction to Statics class (part of the pre-engineering curriculum) worked to design products using 3D modeling and printing. Working in teams, the students not only applied their knowledge of physics and design, but also took into account marketing, finance, and other business considerations. This is the first class at Austin College to make use of our recently acquired Ultimaker 2+ printer. Students used AutoCAD 123D and Fusion software for 3D modeling, and Cura for final print preparation. Each team developed multiple iterations of its design, testing and refining the performance of their products and documenting their thinking and practice in a collaborative Google doc.

During finals week, the four teams held a demonstration showcase outside the cafeteria for public engagement with their final products. The visitors and passers-by were duly impressed and got to try out each item. Here’s a gallery so you can see what each team produced. And maybe you’ll get some ideas for the gift-giving season 🙂 Congratulations to all the teams for your excellent work!

RooBoost (Evan Wyatt, Will Winborne, Trini Balkaran)

Have you ever wished you had a convenient, stylish, and inexpensive way to up the volume on your smartphone? The RooBoost might be your answer. Just set your phone in the dock, and the phone’s output is routed through fourteen specially designed acoustic portals to enhance your listening enjoyment without distortion.

The Sauce Boss (Sophie Anderson, Dani Dewitt, Carlye Lide)

You’re stirring a special dish on the stove, but you don’t want the spoon to fall into the pot? Enter the Sauce Boss, which fits snugly on the rim of the pot to hold your spoon in place, and doubles as a spout to smoothly pour the contents into another container.


KangaBroo (Brennan Ellis, Charles Rambo, Jake Williams)

Are you a coffee nerd? How about some cold brewed joe? Check out the KangaBroo, which will fix you up with several cups of coffee brewed with a special method that actually removes many of the bitter compounds left in by regular brewing methods.

Can-dle (Matthew Gilbert, Cal Schone, Dearl Croft)

Don’t you just hate it when you drinking a cold can of your favorite soft (or not so soft) drink, and holding it with your hand both warms the drink and gets your hand moist from condensation? Then take a look at the Can-dle, which gives you a smooth and sturdy grip without messing with your drink.

Write and Publish Your Book with PressBooks

As we have explored digital writing and publishing in previous posts and workshops, the focus has been on short to medium length texts, such as blogs and Google Docs, with which most academics are familiar. But when it comes to book-length manuscripts, you may not be quite as informed about the options for digital publication. This week, our AC Digital Pedagogy workshop will introduce you to Pressbooks, a platform developed for web-based and e-book publication, and designed in particular to permit open access, an open peer review process, and the collaborative production of open textbooks. Our workshop times will be as usual…4:30 pm on Tuesday, and 1:30 pm on Friday, in Abell 102.


As a book publishing platform, Pressbooks competes with alternatives such as iBooks and Scalar, but with some notable advantages. It is actually a specialized version of WordPress, so the interface and dashboard layout and functionality will be quite familiar to WordPress users. You can use a free hosted version of the software at PressBooks.com, where you can be up and running in a matter of minutes. While you can create books for free on PressBooks.com, when you output the final PDF or ePub version, there is some PressBooks.com branding and watermarking, though with upgrade options you can remove the watermarks and increase storage capacity.

However, with access to a self-hosted version of WordPress (such as acdigitalpedagogy.org, or acsites.org, or your own WP version), you can roll your own PressBooks installation, because it’s actually just a particular theme in WordPress that is activated via a plugin. Still free in itself, this version of PressBooks also allows you to maintain the book as an HTML document or export it to .epub, .mobi (Kindle), and .pdf versions, as well as various formats designed specifically for printing. Epub is the most flexible and open format for e-books, and displays smoothly on various screens and e-readers. It does not display natively on the Kindle (which uses Amazon’s proprietary .mobi format), but you can either export a .mobi version of the book for reading on a Kindle, or use the free e-book management application Calibre to convert the .epub file to .mobi. Calibre is an outstanding tool for management a collection of e-books and other long-form digital publications, supports all major formats, and gives you a wide range of features. It probably deserves its own post and workshop, but if folks are interested, we can talk about it this week as well.

As noted above, PressBooks incorporates support for a collaborative and open process of writing, editing, commenting upon, and annotating the text. Some instructors are making use of PressBooks as a platform for textbooks, including textbooks that are produced in collaboration with students. For example, Robin de Rosa of Plymouth State University describes how she worked with students to create The Open Anthology of Earlier American Literature. In the context of describing her practices of open pedagogy and the creation and use of open educational resources, de Rosa observes that, when it comes to textbooks, students are particularly well-situated to create, and not simply consume:

People often ask me how students can create textbooks when they are only just beginning to learn about the topics that the textbooks cover.  My answer to this is that unlike many other scholarly materials, textbooks are primarily designed to be accessible to students– to new scholars in a particular academic area or sub-specialty.  Students are the perfect people to help create textbooks, since they are the most keenly tuned in to what other students will need in order to engage with the material in meaningful ways.  By taking the foundational principles of a field– most of which are not “owned” by any prior textbook publisher– and refiguring them through their own lens, student textbook creators can easily tap their market.  They can access and learn about these principles in multiple ways (conventional or open textbooks, faculty lecture and guidance, reading current work in the field, conversations with related networks, videos and webinars, etc.), and they are quite capable, in my opinion, of designing engaging ways to reframe those principles in ways that will be more helpful to students than anything that has come before.

So if you are interested in exploring your options for writing and publishing a book, either on your own or as part of a larger project, join us this week for some conversation and demonstration.


Digital Writing Month: Blogging Basics and Beyond

Digital writing and composition can take so many forms and happen in so many different spaces. There are micro-spaces such as text messages and Twitter, where every character is meted out on a strict limit, and sometimes emojis and icon suffice for expression. At the other extreme there are platforms for book-length projects, such as PressBooks (about which more in an upcoming post). The full scope of “writing” and “texts” now embraces composition with media that includes images, audio, video, and other digitized materials. Digital writing can remain the province of the local individual, working within word processors and text editors, or it can be networked–composed, circulated, read, and replied to in digitally connected systems. The digital environment expands upon the already variegated profusion of literary genres and styles of discourse and rhetoric, creating new forms of writing, expression, and communication. Indeed, we struggle to keep up with everything that falls under the term “digital writing.”

But perhaps one modality of digital writing continues to be most definitive of the term, and that is blogging. Blogging may be the Swiss army knife of digital writing; the tools and practices of a blog allow for almost endless permutations of composition and voice. Do you want to write just for yourself, for a small group or class only, or for the whole world?  Do you want to write a couple of hundred words, or a journal-length essay? Do you want to invite comments, annotations, and other forms of audience response? Do you want to compose with words only, or incorporate multimedia, animations, graphs and maps, gifs, and the like? Do you want to write every day, or once a month? It’s all up to you…a blog can be what you want it to be, for personal and professional purposes and as part of your pedagogy.

We visited the realm of blogging in a couple of posts and workshops from last fall–“Got Blog? Getting Started With WordPress,” and “Incorporating Student Blogging into Your Course.” Now for Digital Writing Month, it seems a good time to revisit the topic, provide some updates, and continue conversation and demonstration about academic blogging for professional and pedagogical purposes. Our sessions this week will be as usual, on Tuesday at 4:30 and Friday at 1:30, in Abell 102. We hope you can join us at one of those times or participate via comments on this post. Depending upon who gathers for these sessions, we’ll move in whatever direction seems most helpful, whether that’s getting started with a WordPress site, looking at other blogging platforms like Medium, considering questions of site design, using blogging in your courses, or discussing how to improve your posts and build an audience.

Writing is first and foremost about claiming your voice. As I provide tutorials and support to faculty and students to set up their blogs, I usually mention that the most difficult part of blogging isn’t the technology. Getting comfortable with the dashboard and the widgets and all that comes fairly easily. No, the true challenge of blogging, as with any writing, is having something substantive and interesting to say, on a regular and consistent basis. A blog is the idea platform for finding your voice. And perhaps more often than not, you write not only to express your thoughts and ideas, but to discover them. And if others hear that voice and respond in kind, then genuine dialogue and conversation leads to yet further discoveries.

Thus, while a blog is the idea platform to find your voice, it may just be that the most powerful element of blogging is the chance to build a community of interest, readership, and conversation around the subjects that you care deeply about. So in our sessions this week we’d also like to showcase some blogs of Austin College faculty, staff, and students (at least those that I am aware of). At root, a college is a community that reads together, and that should certainly include reading (and therefore writing) for others in our community. Here’s are some examples of faculty, student, and organization blogs at Austin College that you might want to explore and follow:


Digital Writing Month, Week One: Collaborative Writing and Editing with Google Docs

A few years ago, the folks at Hybrid Pedagogy announced a project to make November “Digital Writing Month,” a thirty-day challenge to explore the promises and potentialities of “digital” writing. According to Sean Michael Morris,

The event is designed to give writers from all over the world the opportunity to experiment and play with, and explore digital writing. We begin with the premise that digital writing is essentially different from traditional writing — especially in that it is not always text. “Digital writing is emergent writing. It mutinies at the imposition of form, the edicts of the grammars of old. It rails to change the rules. It raises the flag of anarchy.” As such, invention is the singularly most important ingredient for a rambunctious DigiWriMo project… invention, ambition, and fearlessness. The point is creation; the method to the madness is up to you.

For a couple of years, the event was structured around an online community (hashtag #DigiWriMo) with weekly prompts, twitter chats, and activities designed to help people set goals and commit to mutual support in meeting those goals. The 2015 announcement observed that

DigiWriMo can be about motivating ourselves to simply write more, blog more often, finish that book, revamp that website; it can be about starting new projects: launch that podcast, create a new Twitter hashtag; it can be about questioning our notions of writing and voice and their place on our lives; or it can be about trying new things – experimenting with different art forms – doing old things in new ways. It’s about pushing boundaries and tiptoeing beyond comfort zones – mixing it up, remixing – doing whatever feels or seems right to you at this time in your life.

The Hybrid Pedagogy editors have decided to step back from the project this year, but many folks are continuing with the idea on their own, in a kind of self organizing movement. So, this month Austin College digital pedagogy is taking up the challenge with a series of workshops on topics and issue in digital writing. This week we’ll start with some basics. Our session, “Collaborative Writing and Editing with Google Docs,” will explore uses of Google Docs for both personal composition and for group authoring and editing projects. Even if you’re already a user of Google Docs, chances are that there are features that you haven’t discovered that might be worth learning about. And we’ll be particularly focused on how you might use Google Docs for class assignments and exercises.

In his essay, “Co-Writing, Peer Editing, and Publishing in the Cloud” (part of the collection Web Writing. Why and How for Liberal Arts Teaching and Learning), Jack Dougherty of Trinity College describes his discovery of Google Docs as a pedagogical tool:

Long before the web, innovative faculty began teaching collaborative writing techniques as a challenge to the tradition of solitary authoring. The transition from typewriters to word processors made this technique easier to teach, as students could independently author text and assign one team member to merge it into one document, or collaborate on writing one document by passing it back and forth….

But the writing tool that dropped my jaw—and reawakened the pedagogical side of my brain— was Google Documents, which enabled multiple users to edit the same web document and view collaborators as they typed changes in real time, in contrast to the delayed view of editing in wikis. Looking back to May of 2009, I originally understood that users could upload and share files on Google Docs but did not fully grasp its multi-authoring features until 2010 at my first THATCamp (The Humanities and Technology Camp), where session organizers shared links to Google Documents for multiple participants to simultaneously share notes…

Five years after the public release of Google Docs, educators continue to invent new ways of incorporating this writing tool into their liberal arts classrooms, building on a shared sense of community to enhance learning. Some focus on creating one collaborative document by multiple authors, such as when two or more people co-write an essay or pool together their notes. Others use Google Docs to highlight variations of the same text by different authors, such as Brandon Walsh’s “Writing Out Loud” activity. While writers usually try out alternate versions of a sentence in the privacy of our own minds or our notebooks, Walsh models how to make this editing process more visible and tangible for the entire class.

So if you are interested in learning more about Google Docs, join us this week for conversation and demonstration–Tuesday at 4:30 pm or Friday at 1:30 in Abell 102.

Further Resources:

Using Open Educational Resources with Your Students

large__neonopensignOne of the key elements of planning a course is selecting the textbooks and other materials for your students. Books, journal articles, essays, videos, and other resources need to be collated and organized; in addition, class preparation typically involves pulling together slide presentations, in-class exercises, assignments, quizzes, and other materials for the course. Instructors create some of this content on their own, but, of course, also use content that is available, often in digital formats, in an ever expanding ecosystem of materials.

Within higher education, concerns about pedagogical effectiveness, affordability and accessibility have created a movement to promote “open educational resources” (OER). The Hewlitt Foundation has defined OER as “teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or that have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and re-purposing by others. OER include full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, streaming videos, tests, software, and any other tools, materials, or techniques used to support access to knowledge.” The high cost of textbooks is certainly one factor driving interest in openly licensed materials. We know that a significant number of students struggle to afford their textbooks, and some simply try to get through their courses without buying them.

Beyond the issues of cost, however, there is growing recognition that proprietary course materials, which are usually locked down to prevent revision, adaptation, and remixing, do not promote the degree of student participation and knowledge generation that is possible with open materials. OERs give educators the ability to adapt instructional resources to the individual needs of their students and to ensure that resources are up-to-date. Moreover, openly licensed materials give students the opportunity to modify and remix content and to construct their own explanations and presentations of particular topics, which can deeply enhance their learning. Imagine a scenario, for example, in which students revise and remix the core instructional materials of the class (which are OER) with other OER and with their own original work in order to create a small tutorial (in any medium) on a topic that students in the course generally struggle with. They can then use their tutorial to teach the topic to one of their peers. The best tutorials will be integrated into the official OER collection or open textbook for use by other students starting next semester.

You may be wondering, though…as a faculty member, how do I get started with the possibility of using OER in my courses? Our digital pedagogy workshop this week is intended to help you find out about the major repositories and sources of OER (such as OpenStax and OER Commons) and to learn about the process of sharing and using open content…not only textbooks, but other materials such as assignments, lesson plans, course modules, slide decks, assessments, and more. We’ll gather as usual on Tuesday at 4:30 and Friday at 1:30 in Abell 102.

The fundamental philosophy of OER and of open approaches to pedagogy is encapsulated in the notion of the “5 Rs” as developed by David Wiley, a pioneering advocate of open education.


Wiley’s articles, “What is Open Pedagogy?” and “Open Pedagogy: The Importance of Getting in the Air,” provide an accessible entry into the perspective of the 5 Rs. There are also several other points of references that I would recommend as useful places to get started learning about open education in general and open educational materials in particular. For example, the University of Mary Washington recently held a “OER Summit” and made videos of the sessions available for viewing. UMW economics professor Steve Greenlaw provides a reflection on his approach to open textbooks for his classes. Another example comes from Ohio State mathematics professor Jim Fowler, in a recent Educause article entitle “An Open Perspective on Interactive Textbooks“:

Because they’re low-cost or free, open-source textbooks address issues of affordability, accessibility, and equity. Moreover, because they are generally editable and reusable, open-source textbooks provide an opportunity to reinforce a constructivist understanding of learning. An open-source textbook is, after all, a textbook and thereby addresses the practical need for an expert, authoritative reference. And yet, it immediately calls that authority into question. Because it’s editable, it invites students to reflect on their learning and on how the exposition could be improved and, ideally, to propose some specific edits. Like many open-source software projects, an open-source textbook allows users to file “bug reports.” And because an open-source textbook is reusable, it permits other instructors to not only “adopt” the text but also “raise” the adopted text as if it were their own.

A third example is provide by literature professor Robin DeRosa of Plymouth State University in New Hampshire. In “My Open Textbook: Pedagogy and Practice,” Robin describes how she and her students created The Open Anthology of American Literature to replace a commercially available anthology priced at $85. Among her many rich reflections on the experience of creating a textbook collaboratively with her students, Robin observes that

People often ask me how students can create textbooks when they are only just beginning to learn about the topics that the textbooks cover.  My answer to this is that unlike many other scholarly materials, textbooks are primarily designed to be accessible to students–to new scholars in a particular academic area or sub-specialty.  Students are the perfect people to help create textbooks, since they are the most keenly tuned in to what other students will need in order to engage with the material in meaningful ways.  By taking the foundational principles of a field–most of which are not “owned” by any prior textbook publisher–and refiguring them through their own lens, student textbook creators can easily tap their market.  They can access and learn about these principles in multiple ways (conventional or open textbooks, faculty lecture and guidance, reading current work in the field, conversations with related networks, videos and webinars, etc.), and they are quite capable, in my opinion, of designing engaging ways to reframe those principles in ways that will be more helpful to students than anything that has come before.

So if these ideas and examples have piqued your interest, let us know, and join us for conversation and demonstration in our sessions this week.

Open to the Public: Developing Scholarly Presence and Identity Online

© Copyright Evelyn Simak and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons license CC BY SA

Within the academic world, “publication” has long been the gold standard for validating scholarly activity and providing evidence of one’s original thinking and creativity. The term, of course, assumes a “publicness” to one’s work. But while that publicness has traditionally been associated with the “final product” of research and thought, today’s era of digital networked communication involves newly emerging possibilities and, increasingly, expectations for being a public thinker, learner, and creator. Or, to use the more prevalent term, to do one’s thinking, learning, and knowledge creation in a space that is “open.”

This week in our Digital Pedagogy workshop, we explore the practices and rationale for building a professional academic presence and identity in an open, public, online space. We follow up on last week’s theme of creating a “home on the web” with a program such as a Domain of One’s Own. Now, to be sure, you can develop a fairly robust web presence without your own personal domain, with free or low-cost solutions such as WordPress.com, Wix, Weebly, Tumblr, and other services that will host your content. But in terms of complete ownership of your data, the most control of your digital identity, and the fullest realization of the possibilities of the open web, a personal domain is the way to go. And it is also low-cost and technically accessible to boot.

There are many dimensions to the concept of “open,” both online in general and with respect to education in particular. There is a flourishing movement around “open educational resources,” or OER, learning materials that may be freely used, modified, remixed, and republished. Some of you may be familiar with open textbook initiatives such as OpenStax. “Open source” and “open access” content, materials, and journals are reshaping the scholarly landscape for both teaching and research. “Open notebooks” brings a public dimension to the process of research in both the sciences and the humanities. “Open courses,” whether massive or not, have proliferated to broaden access to learning opportunities. And “open pedagogy” represents an approach to teaching and learning that consciously embraces the values of working in visible spaces with open materials.

We’ll return to these themes in the weeks ahead, but this week we’ll focus on “open presence and identity,” both for faculty and for students. This is the foundation for all the other senses of open referred to above. One of the most ardent proponents of these principles is Chris Long, professor of philosophy and Dean of the College of Arts and Letters at Michigan State University. In a recent post entitled, “Going Viral With Your Scholarship,” Chris explains the idea of a domain as a “digital CV,” not simply as a digitized version of a paper document, but as the hub of a vibrant online presence:

Your digital CV is the beating heart of your online presence. It is a repository for your work; it’s a place to think and write and research in public with others. It feeds your social media sites and offers others a place to comment and engage with you. It is an archive and a space to make your scholarship openly accessible to others.

Often when I talk to faculty and students about cultivating a public online scholarly presence, I am met with trepidation. They worry that going public with their work too early will put them at a disadvantage, will expose their work before it is ready for public consumption. While I do not deny the need for quiet, private time for thoughts and reflection, those who keep their work locked down in private even at the early stages miss opportunities for insights and collaborations that become open to them when they share their work more broadly even in its inchoate stages….

Young faculty and graduate students have long been advised to carefully guard how their work appears in public. Here I am not arguing for less care, but for the benefits of curated exposure at early stages so that by the time the work is ready for publication, a community of interested readers has already been cultivated.

And in this short video clip Chris makes the case at his own university for building an online scholarly presence:

The theme of “working out loud,” “observable work,” and “narrating your work” has been percolating for some time, now that the Web has made it possible for knowledge workers to communicate, write, and create in a public space. Internet pioneers such as Dave Winer and Jon Udell have been prominent champions of this practice.  In some ways, this goes against the ethos of what “school” and “academia” have long promoted, at least implicitly: that you don’t show your work until you think it’s your final, best product, that you only share rough drafts and tentative ideas with a few close colleagues, if at all. But as Chris Long and others point out, the very act of exposing our work at early stages can make possible the kind of constructive conversation and criticism that more quickly leads to refinements and improvements. The ultimate benefit of openness, even at the early stage of our projects, is to create a community of interest around our work, which often leads to unanticipated discoveries and spontaneous collaborations.

A growing number of colleges and university are providing resources and guidance to help faculty and students build their online presence in a thoughtful manner. Another example comes from Cal State University Channel Islands, which Maris Ballesteros-Sola references in “Digital or Die–Building Our Academic Digital Identity.” Maria provides some helpful reflections for a young scholar, not only about technical options for digital presence–domains, open course platforms, academic publishing sites, social media–but also about the prior questions for reflection:

  • Goals, Message & Audience: What are my ultimate goals? Career advancement? Get a first academic job? Engage in conversations with scholars in my discipline? Post-doc opportunities? Entice students to register for my classes? Support promotion and tenure reviews? Solidify my big grant/fellowship application? Attract a potential book publisher?
  • What are the top scholars in my field actually doing? What can I learn from their approach?
  • What other scholars’ approach to DI do I respect and I admire? What can I learn from them?
  • How much time can I honestly dedicate to build and maintain these efforts?
  • How can I find and communicate my inner-voice in a consistent and uniform way across such a multitude of platforms?

This week, we’ll continue to investigate about steps that you can take to move toward the kind of digital scholarly presence that Chris and Maria refer to. And really, it’s not just about you…it’s about modeling for our students how to craft their own professional academic presence and to begin building their own digital portfolios and personal learning networks.

Our sessions this week will take place as usual, at 4:30 pm Tuesday and 1:30 pm Friday, in Abell 102. We hope you can join us.