UBC course offerings feature students as producers of content

By Heather McCabe posted on November 7th, 2013

The first round of projects supported by UBC’s Flexible Learning Initiative are underway, and several undergraduate courses have already been transformed and are being offered this fall. In total, this initial round of funding will have an impact on 100 courses which comprise approximately 34,000 student enrolments.

Several themes emerged in these proposals which focused on transforming undergraduate courses at UBC. These include using a flipped classroom approach (approximately one-third of the projects will implement a flipped classroom model in some way), community-based learning, and student-generated content.

A number of instructors have incorporated the concept of students as producers of learning content into their courses at UBC for quite a while, and the new round of flexible learning projects features several more approaches for using student-generated content in a variety of ways and across a wide range of disciplines.

Simon Bates, the Senior Advisor for Teaching and Learning, Academic Director of the Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology, and Professor of Teaching in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, helped develop a project that will ask students to generate learning artifacts in two introductory physics courses. He has also used PeerWise, a tool that helps students create their own multiple choice questions based on class material, extensively in his teaching. He discussed the importance and the benefits of working with students to co-create learning content. “My view on this is I’ve kind of stumbled on this almost by accident, based on things that we’d been doing in my classes in the past and seeing first hand just how important it can be in terms of giving students a sense of ownership, having them involved in aspects of design or production or contribution to the content of the course, how important it is for their engagement or motivation with the course.”

“And, of course, it’s a kind of gradual thing,” he added, “because in a way, anyone who takes questions or comments or engages in a dialogue with students in a classroom setting and adjusts what they do on the basis of what other students have to contribute is making use of, in a small way, a student-generated piece of content or something into the flow of a class.”

Here are some examples of students working as co-creators of content from the flexible learning projects that are currently being developed.

  • In physics, a project being led by Doug Bonn, a professor and head of the department, will ask students to develop a learning object of their choice that relates to the pre-reading material for the class, such as a worked example, clicker question, media cast, or another type of artifact. These will be used to illustrate concepts from the pre-reading material in class, and instructors will be able to use learning objects in subsequent classes (students will have the choice of assigning a Creative Commons license to their creation). The instructors will develop a framework for using this content in two flipped classroom courses, Introductory Physics (PHYS 100) in September 2013 and in Energy and Waves (PHYS 101) in January 2014. The goal of the project is to further shift the dynamics of the class beyond a flipped classroom towards a genuine learning community in which all students can participate in creating learning materials for one another and alongside faculty members.
  • A project jointly proposed between the Department of Political Science and the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering will create a “flipped” course that brings students from the two departments together to apply their respective disciplinary methods and knowledge to problem solving projects related to nuclear weapons and arms control, and in particular the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. The project aims to create synergies between the course and the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), and to engage students in an interdisciplinary project that will become public record and may be housed or published on the CTBTO website. The course, Living with Nuclear Weapons? Arms Control and Verification Technologies (POLI 369T), will be offered in January 2014, and the instructors, Allen Sens from Political Science and Matthew Yedlin from Electrical and Computer engineering are also considering developing a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) based on the course in the future.
  • With the project “Your Chinese Learning, Your Way” led by instructor and Chinese Language Program Coordinator Qian Wang, instructors will ask students to create audio and video recordings based on dialogues presented in the course’s textbook. Examples of these recordings will be used as learning materials by current and future students. These assignments will be incorporated into two beginning Chinese courses, CHIN 101 in September 2013 and CHIN 103 in January 2014. The overall project is aiming to make the experience and activities associated with learning Mandarin Chinese, before and after class, more flexible for students.
  • Lisa Matthewson, an associate professor in the Department of Linguistics, is leading a project to redesign three courses: Introduction to Language and Linguistics (LING 100), Linguistic Theory and Analysis I (LING 200), and Studies in Phonology (LING 311). The courses will use a flipped classroom approach so that students can model the activity of linguists as they develop a deeper understanding of linguistics and how it is carried out. As part of the project, a team of upper-level students will help develop in-class activities. Undergraduate students are also working with faculty members on the redesign of the course.
  • Eagle Glassheim, an associate professor of history, is leading a project that will redesign the courses, Islamic World History (HIST 104, Section 101) and Global History of Media (HIST 105), and create two new courses, Global History of Media (HIST 105) and Global Encounters: A Material History (HIST 10x). Some course content will be organized as online modules, some of which will be student generated, through which students will be able to design and pursue their own pathways through the topics and material.
  • Janice Stewart, an instructor and chair of the Critical Studies in Sexuality program, is transforming both the online and face-to-face versions of Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice in Literature (GRSJ 224). Students will have assignments such as building a multi-section and multi-year wiki and using stop motion animation to create digital narratives.
  • HsingChi von Bergmann, an associate professor in the Faculty of Dentistry, is incorporating the use of PeerWise in two integrated clinical care Dentistry courses, Dentistry III (DENT 430) and Dentistry IV (DENT 440). The instructors involved with this project will start developing a question bank of highly ranked questions to be used in exams and to possibly share with other institutions.

Another UBC-based project that draws extensively upon student-generated content is David Vogt’s local open online course, or LOOC, which is part of the Master of Educational Technology program. The course, called Become Digital (M101) helps students “acquire, maintain, refine and promote your digital literacy skills.” The course description states that “M101 is a deliberate experiment in ‘networked participatory scholarship’: a course that is collectively, continuously created and refreshed by its learners.” The course is open to all members of the UBC community. The project received funding from the Teaching and Learning Enhancement Fund last spring, and the LOOC was opened in July.

Vogt also started a second Master of Educational Technology course called, Special Topics – Mobile Education (ETEC 565M). The course examines “the impact of mobile technologies on knowledge systems” and is “an experiential immersion in the proven and emerging potentials of mobile technologies for teaching and learning.” Most of the course, which is being offered for the first time this term, will be conducted on mobile devices. Students will apply what they learn by recreating the content and experience of the course, as well as by co-authoring the M101 LOOC.

Another example of student-generated content that began well before the Flexible Learning Initiative was a project started by Associate Professor Jon Beasley-Murray in his course Murder, Madness and Mayhem: Latin American Literature in Translation (SPAN 312) in Spring 2008. During the course, he asked students to edit and create Wikipedia articles on texts and authors they were reading in class and bring these articles up to what Wikipedia calls “featured article” status. Less than 0.1 percent of Wikipedia’s articles achieve this status, and they are determined to be the best articles that Wikipedia has to offer, according to the editors of the online encyclopedia.

An article written by Beasley-Murray’s students on El Señor Presidente by Miguel Ángel Asturias became Wikipedia’s 2,000th featured article, and it was showcased on Wikipedia’s main page. Pages on Mario Vargas Llosa and The General in His Labyrinth also received featured status, and eight others received “good article” status (approximately 0.4 percent of Wikipedia articles earn that status). Only two Latin American literary topics had previously received a featured article ranking. This meant, as Beasley-Murray noted in his essay on the course, that the class “effected an exponential increase in the number of quality articles about Latin American culture.”

These projects are just some instances of the ways in which faculty members and students are working together to produce a variety of different learning materials for current students, future students, and in many cases open resources for the wider community. “This is something that cuts right across academic contexts and academic disciplines,” Bates said. “It cuts right across levels from first-year to upper-year undergraduate, graduate student, post-graduate. It has potential absolutely everywhere, I think.”