A question of trust? Five tips to encourage innovative approaches to open learning

Posted on September 14th, 2015

In recent years, Coventry University’s position has risen in school rankings. According to David Kernohan, senior co-design manager for Jisc, a British nonprofit group that supports the use of digital tools in higher education, one of the contributing factors has been the development of a highly successful open media program at the university. Kernohan identifies the characteristics of the digital media department at Coventry and the suite of open courses they’ve been developing over the last five years.

Students enrolled in these face-to-face courses participate with a broader online community which comments on elements of the course, provides feedback, and participates in classroom conversation. A similar approach has been used in two cases at UBC, the law course, Video Game Law, and Arts One Open, a year-long interdisciplinary program that combines history, English, and philosophy to introduce students to classic texts.

According to Kernohan, a key feature of the success of the program has been to allow instructors the space and time to develop the courses. The department has been developing these courses over five years, and experimentation and allowing for iterations and mistakes has been encouraged along the way. Development has been led by small project teams which are agile and resilient. Kernohan also notes that the program didn’t require a big budget, and that by using tools like WordPress and Twitter there was little overhead required. Kernohan writes that “free online resources and tools may well mean that there’s no need for big, expensive IT support for your own experiments in open classes—although it will be necessary to take a look at the institution’s existing technology and systems to make sure these can all work together effectively.”

Kernohan also discusses the value of working with external collaborators, explaining that the team was able to draw on their expertise and practice in this area. He also notes that students in the Phonar open narrative photography course were able to build their professional identity as photographers and reflect on and expand what they can offer to the field. By participating with a variety of experts, students also expanded their employment and career opportunities.