By Jonathan E. Westfall, Ph.D., Delta State University
The term “deliverable” is not one often heard in education, it being more at home in a project management context. Deliverables are tangible or intangible products that are delivered to customers. The closest thing we may have in education are “learning outcomes.” In a certain sense, a deliverable captures attention and sparks memory and association in ways that we don’t always consider. Over the past five years, I’ve attempted to use Open Educational Resources (OER) to create deliverables in my classroom, producing tangible products that my students can refer to long after our class has concluded. The goal in mind: provide something that keeps the content alive in some way. To do that, I’ll discuss three methods using OER.
The Custom Textbook We Published
David Wiley, from Lumen Learning, relates a story about the custom textbook. The idea is simply to take an OER textbook that allows derivative work (which is specified by using a Creative Commons license that does not specify “no derivatives”) and have students expand the work, customizing it for niche classes that otherwise would not have a specific text. Over a number of semesters, Wiley’s students have created such a book that becomes the book for the class, which students can download in PDF format.
However a PDF can sometimes lack the “realness” and “concreteness” of a book. We hold books to be standards of information, and while the PDF is quickly becoming a similar standard, there is something fulfilling about holding a book or seeing a book in print. Several years ago, I challenged students in a Learning & Memory class to write a parenting manual based upon the learning concepts they’d just mastered (e.g., classical conditioning, operant conditioning, modeling, incidental learning, etc…). Students were given sheets of acid free paper and asked to illustrate their tip or suggestion. These were then scanned in and a PDF created which could be uploaded to a print-on-demand service. The result was “My Future Parenting Manual: Advice from Childless Me” (http://amzn.to/2vIn4Mt), a collection of work from the class that they could download for free, or order a print copy for a small fee. Indeed, today anyone can order it, as it has an ISBN number and is stocked at Amazon.com and others. An added bonus to this is that it can also be used as a fundraiser for a group or class, with profits going toward a group activity.
The Class Slide Deck
Students often struggle to remember what specifically they learned in each course. Therefore, one method I’ve used is to ask students to create a PowerPoint slide (or several slides) with the big ‘take aways’ from the semester. I’ve asked them to include their photo and name on the slide as well. I then assemble the slides together and we go over them in class. But most importantly, I make the slides available for download to the entire group. This allows students to have a tangible memory, in electronic format, from the semester. It also includes the people they took the class with, allowing them to tap into memories not just of material, but also student reactions. Coupling this activity with an OER resources (for example, material that could be modified/expanded upon, or freely distributed) and a self-publication service, can again create a tangible item that the students can keep. The modern “yearbook,” only specific to a course, department, or discipline.
The Learning Tools We Build
Statistics can be a difficult course because of the many concepts learned. These concepts tend to be best learned when integrated into examples and visualized. For many years we’ve been dependent on publishers to create such examples, or to build visualization engines that allow students to see how, for example, a distribution changes based upon established parameters.
Today, however, a set of open-source software tools exists that can change that. R, the statistical language (http://www.r-project.org), provides sophisticated statistical operations to anyone at no cost. RStudio (http://www.rstudio.com) along with Shiny (http://shiny.rstudio.com) allow students and instructors alike to create immersive statistical examples. A classic example of this is the “Old Faithful” dataset app (http://shiny.rstudio.com/gallery/faithful.html) which allows students to change the size of the bins in a histogram to see how it affects the data visualization. The code that runs it is shown on the right. With practice, one can easily create these apps on their own. In my classes, I’ve used Shiny to produce analyses that would be too sophisticated for a student to run on their own, but not too sophisticated to interpret. Seeing their data come alive in a series of inferential tests or descriptive plots adds a level of realism to my statistics and upper-level seminar classes. Future plans include prompting students to write their own scripts and apps, to show off their research.
Through these examples, I hope that you’ve seen what I mean by the term “deliverables” in the classroom. By providing these physical or electronic products to students, we not only make information more memorable, but also enhance their skills and backgrounds. Remember that the student who helps build onto an open source textbook is not only your student, but also now an author. The student who uses R to analyze her data is not only going to do well in your statistics course, but also can now run complex calculations for her employer without the common complaint of “If I only had SPSS installed.” By working together to integrate OER and deliverables to our classes, we enrich our students, our institutions, and our disciplines.