Open Dialogues: How to engage with a new generation of learners

By emi1989 posted on November 17th, 2016


If you google “video game law” the first entry directs you to a UBC course website for Law 423B. The course, first taught five years ago, started out as a conventional law course. It was based on a book. It existed in a closed space. And the only students who benefited from it were those who had registered in the course. But that soon changed as the course became more open and, its materials became accessible to those outside the classroom.

Video game law refers to the multi-dimensional grid of international and domestic laws relating to intellectual property, communications, contracts, torts, privacy, obscenity, antitrust and freedom of expression that govern the creation, dissemination and enjoyment of interactive entertainment, explained Jon Festinger, an instructor at the Peter A. Allard School of Law.

Festinger’s course started with an interesting experiment in the first year. “It was a course I co-taught at UBC Law, as it was then called, and the University of Victoria Faculty of Law,” he said. Every two weeks he would get on a plane to Victoria and teach the course to a group of students while videoconferencing into UBC Law. On alternating weeks he was at the Vancouver campus, videoconferencing into UVic.

At the beginning, the course had a simple website, featuring videos of lectures. That website gradually grew. First, there was video capture. Then Festinger added news, information, and resources by way of YouTube videos. “It grew out of adding features and then at a certain point we realized we were building a community. The course became less bounded because it lived online and it wasn’t just from September to December. It lives all year in one form or another,” he said.

Video game law was the first course on video game law in the world. There are now any number of courses in the area including at courses University of London and UC Berkeley. “From what I’ve seen and what I know, posting resources online is a useful resource to a lot of people. Hopefully it has helped inspire other academics and students to do good work,” he said.

Engaging a new generation of learners

Festinger says it all started by thinking about how to engage a new generation of learners. “[They] have so many powerful media tools at their disposal that take so much attention away from the classroom. Going open, having a website, and [incorporating] lecture capture struck me as a way of grabbing the students’ attention,” he added.

According to Festinger, nobody should be surprised that students aren’t as enthusiastic about learning management systems and closed systems as we think they ought to be. For this generation of students, who are on Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and YouTube, the value of information comes from it being available and accessible everywhere.

“The zeitgeist of students is to be in a world of open posting. Having an open course, having a WordPress website allows for that lasting value and it doesn’t turn the virtues of learning into something that is cloistered, that is circumscribed, that is narrow,” he explained.

That’s why Festinger believes that the fears around how students will react to open education or being asked to do things in the open is vastly overblown. “I’ve had perhaps one student who has preferred to engage in email rather than posting on the website in over five years,” he concluded.

Cultivating openness in law and education

For the largest part of his career Festinger was a freedom of expression lawyer. So he knows about the importance of openness, access to information and being able to express information freely. “When it comes to law, we say that everybody in society is responsible to know what the law is, so providing as much as we can those tools and making knowledge of the law open as much as we can, I think, needs to be part of the law.”

The legal world, he says, is built on a system of precedent. You don’t decide the case in a vacuum, simply on its own facts. You look at what the law is. You look at what previous cases are.

When it comes to education, a similar principle applies. “Education has always been based on openness. That’s why we publish. That’s why we require citations. If a student submits a paper, even if it has wonderful, original ideas, but it’s not built on the work of others, it gets downgraded and there’s a reason for that.

Because education is publicly funded it is logical that it be as publicly open and publicly shared as possible, he said. “The whole notion of teachers and students is predicated on the notion that there is knowledge to be shared. Anything that constrains the sharing of knowledge is not a good thing for education, and arguably, it’s not a good thing for humanity.”

Still sometimes, Festinger says the open tools we have are too vertically inclined. They address professor-student interactions, but we need to create a better layer of student to student communication. According to him, students do most of their learning outside of the classroom, with each other.

That’s why this year for the first time Festinger will use social media to facilitate discussions between students in his courses. “Building tools that allow for more student to student interaction and more student to student learning and teaching, I think that it’s the piece that’s missing, not just at UBC, but across the educational sector.”