Teaching materials: To share or not to share?

Since creating this website, I've been playing around with different ideas about what to include on it. The main reason I created it was to collate all of the resources I produced about my doctoral research in one place to make it easily accessible to students growing food at universities and the university and students' union staff that support them. I had peer-reviewed and popular publications on ResearchGate, and had created a video that I posted to Youtube. In the back of my mind, I also had some teaching materials I developed that I wanted to make publicly accessible. I haven't made these available yet, but I plan to, especially after learning a little more about Creative Commons licensing in the Open Networked Learning (ONL202) course I am taking.

However, in the past few weeks, the question of how open to be with my online educational material has become a more pressing question. Those working within the Strategic Student Recruitment project at my university have urged all 'Course Responsibles' (Kursansvarig in Swedish) to make their courses publicly available on Canvas, our online learning management system. Since I will have course leadership on the new course we are developing called 'Understanding Green and Sustainable Transitions,' my ears perked up at the mention of this. Do I want my course to be public? What good would it do? And what risks might there be?

The first consideration that I entertained was the motivation of the Strategic Student Recruitment committee. They wanted our courses to be made public on Canvas to give students better insight into what the courses offer, and thereby to increase student recruitment. So, this motivation was a matter of marketing rather than pedagogy or open learning.

However, making our material public does have educational implications. If large portions of the course are available to students without needing to enrol, what is the incentive for them to register? This is problematic because I believe my Department's online courses come alive through the live webinars and assignments, which would not be accessible to unregistered students. The facilitation, coaching, and interaction with other students is where the magic happens. Much of our asynchronous material (although interesting) is relatively static and is only one piece of the learning environment. Yes, it is an accurate picture of what content students might expect to learn, but it certainly does not capture how students will learn and the depth of the learning that might take place.

Another question is that if I were to make my teaching material readily available for other educators, am I risking putting myself out of a job in an already highly competitive sector? Traditionally, when universities hired academics it was based on their subject knowledge expertise. In his TED talk, David Wiley suggests that open learning is a matter of generosity, and that expertise is 'non-rivalrous' - that is, it can be given without giving away. This is certainly true of knowledge, skill, competencies, and so on... but when it comes to academia, early career academics are in competition with one another for jobs. And indeed, many early career academics feel that the COVID-19 pandemic has further damaged their prospects for an academic career. Sharing teaching and learning material that I develop doesn't mean that I can't use it anymore - but it does mean that other people can. Furthermore, Cheverie et al. (2009) found was that "word of mouth to younger colleagues discourages digital scholarship in the hiring, tenure and promotion process." Does that mean I will lose my competitive edge if I put my material online?

From discussions in my Problem-Based Learning group in ONL202, the answer to this was a resounding no. Like I said before, the magic is in the facilitation, coaching, and interaction amongst students in the courses I teach. Making my teaching materials available online might be useful for other educators in their teaching, and indeed, for students deciding whether to take my course. But my soft skills for delivering online learning live in me. Furthermore, sharing materially openly might help me shape my online identity through which I can create a name for myself (Weller, 2014) - especially if I require attribution through a Creative Commons licence for sharing or remixing my material.

Coming to the close of this post, I recognise that some of the concerns I raise here are less pedagogical and more instrumental. And when I think about my identity as and academic (and indeed, as a person), I tend to think of myself as a being driven by idealism. Idealism drove my interest in sustainability, and it is where I find my sense of purpose in teaching. I feel resentful that I have been taught to consider my career trajectory in a way that pits it at odds with ideals related to collaboration and access to education.

As such, I plan to lean into my idealism and make more of the teaching materials I have developed more widely accessible online. Likewise, trying to increase the number of students on our courses in order to balance departmental budgets, while necessary, will always be secondary to my primary concern: equipping students with the competencies necessary to face a world fraught with complex sustainability challenges.

So watch this space! Soon you might see some of the teaching materials I have developed popping up, free for you to use in your own teaching - with attribution.

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