The Charger Blog

University Educators Are Leaders in Fostering Open Pedagogy

The University’s Open Pedagogy Project offers faculty and students exciting opportunities to collaborate to create meaningful educational experiences. The program and the grant-funded projects that several faculty and staff members are a part of also foster the creation of open educational resources, which provide important learning tools while reducing textbook costs.

September 7, 2022

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications

Students in class at the University of New Haven.
Students in class at the University of New Haven.

For Ryan Crawford, Ph.D., his role as director of the University’s First Year Writing (FYW) program is an opportunity for creativity and discovery. He’s aware that, because FYW courses are a requirement, some students expect them to be boring, and he is inspired to make sure the University’s FYW program is anything but.

As a fellow in the University’s 2022 Open Pedagogy Project, Dr. Crawford is using the fellowship as an opportunity to further brighten the spark of creativity at the core of the FYW program. Focused on exploring message creation – including signs and symbols, visual and otherwise – he views the FYW classroom as a place to explore the nuts and bolts of how language and image operate, as well as how they can shape one’s beliefs and worldviews. This, he believes, enables FYW classrooms to be truly transformative for new students. He wants to change their expectations of what their experience in class can be, disrupting the judgments that can hinder creativity, motivation, and critical thinking.

“My goal is to have students explore the concept of self and identity, what influences have shaped them over time and are shaping them now, and discover through that what they want most, and therefore, what they might most want to learn more about,” he explains. “I want them, too, to challenge their ideas of value and meaning, and to learn to view bias as a lens they have the power to expand, contract, deconstruct, and reconstruct.”

‘I want students to develop their own definitions of success’
Ryan Crawford, Ph.D., is passionate about his research in areas such as neuroscience and psychology.
Ryan Crawford, Ph.D., is passionate about his research in areas such as neuroscience and psychology.

Dr. Crawford hopes to shift students’ classroom experience away from one that is based on extrinsic reward, such as grading and the approval of others, and toward an exploratory desire that is based on intrinsic motivation. As a fellow, Dr. Crawford is focused on a project that will contain a space and tools that further allow students to explore who they are, develop their intrinsic motivation, and foster creative production rooted in exploration.

Dr. Crawford is creating a digital hub for student creation, extending what he already offers and encourages in the physical classroom. Passionate about his research in areas such as neuroscience and psychology, he is drawing from his own work in which he has explored the self and how the concept of the self is created by the brain/body’s homeostatic system.

“In general, the fellowship has afforded my own creative exploration to expand my students’ creative possibilities,” he said. “I want students to develop their own definitions of success that aren’t based on comparison with the external agents around them or the parameters set by cultural messages, such as advertising and social media.”

‘Students and faculty are creating something together’

Dr. Crawford is one of seven faculty fellows who make up the Open Pedagogy Fellowship’s 2022 cohort. The faculty development initiative is centered around open pedagogy, enabling faculty to design courses very deliberately – not just for students but with them.

Open educational resources (OER) are a key element of open pedagogy. They include openly licensed and freely available educational materials, such as full courses and, even, previous class assignments. Materials are easily accessible to students free of charge, and they can reduce students’ textbook costs. OER can also empower students to be a part of creating materials that will benefit future students, explains Matthew Wranovix, Ph.D., co-director of the Open Pedagogy Project.

“Involving students in the creation of course content makes the classroom feel like a more collaborative environment because students and faculty are creating something together,” explains Dr. Wranovix, director of the University’s Honors program. “OER materials also live on after the course is over. Typically, college assignments are completed for the professor’s eyes only, and that can sometimes feel artificial. When students know that their work will be used by future University of New Haven students or by another external audience, then they become more engaged. That kind of work feels valuable and authentic.”

‘Their actions are making a difference’

That’s exactly what Marie Paulis, RDH, MSDH, director of the University’s dental hygiene program, is hoping to achieve as part of her role in the fellowship. She was approached by several students who had attended a course though the Connecticut Dental Hygienists’ Association about introducing more environmentally friendly practices into dental offices, which typically generates a great deal of plastic waste as part of their infection-control practices. She saw the fellowship as a perfect opportunity to collaborate with students to enact lasting and meaningful changes in the University’s own dental hygiene program and clinic.

Plastic is often used as part of dental offices’ infection-control practices. Marie Paulis, RDH, MSDH, and her students are collaborating to reduce this waste.
Plastic is often used as part of dental offices’ infection-control practices. Marie Paulis, RDH, MSDH, and her students are collaborating to reduce this waste.

The fellowship is enabling Prof. Paulis to serve as both the teacher and the student, as she and her students are trying out and reviewing new products and environmentally friendly options in the clinic. Her students are creating a website and other resources they will be sharing with other dental sites, and Prof. Paulis hopes to share what she has learned with the dental hygiene community at a conference. She is also creating an open-source textbook for her “Introduction to Dental Hygiene” course for first-year students.

“I want students to know they’ve identified something that was important to them and that they opened the doors to enabling them to take action and achieve something because they spoke up and made it happen,” she said. “I hope they learn their actions are making a difference in the environment and that every step matters.

“I also hope students learn about the management and financial considerations in implementing a project like this,” Prof. Paulis continued. “I hope it will create opportunities for them to institute some of what they have learned into different dental settings in the future. The knowledge and experience they have gained concerning dental products and managing the project will certainly add to their marketability as dental hygienists.”

‘Real-world contexts for their learning’

The fellowship brings together faculty from a variety of fields, disciplines, and backgrounds, enabling them to draw from their expertise and passion to create resources that will benefit members of the University community and beyond. Now in its second year, the Davis Educational Foundation-funded program continues to be an opportunity for fellows to be trained in the principles of open pedagogy, including OER.

The fellowship is just one of the ways in which University faculty and staff are promoting the use and creation of OER. Separate from the fellowship, teams of educators are collaborating on three separate projects funded by the State of Connecticut.

Members of the Henry C. Lee College of Criminal Justice and Forensic Sciences are collaborating with staff members to develop OER materials for “Professional Practices in Criminal Justice,” a required course for criminal justice students. They are aiming to identify high-quality educational resources while eliminating the high cost of textbooks.

Several faculty are also developing OER materials for an algebra course that all science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) majors take. Another team is focused on generating materials for “Writing for Business and Industry,” an English writing course that includes students of diverse majors, such as national security, music, and health sciences.

The grant funding, which covers expenses such as licenses for software and training costs, is intended to create courses with rich OER and lower textbook costs. It has already brought together faculty from several departments as well as library staff and instructional designers. Mary Isbell, Ph.D., co-director of the Open Pedagogy Project, says these endeavors have helped to create a University-wide focus on the use and creation of OER.

“We have built a fantastic community in which faculty can revise their courses to make them less expensive and more engaging for their students,” said Dr. Isbell, assistant dean for student recruitment and retention in the College of Arts and Sciences. “We're seeing the tremendous value of a community committed to open educational practices. Working together in this way is going to mean more and more students will encounter faculty who are bringing OER into their courses and using techniques that encourage students to find real-world contexts for their learning.”

‘Addressing the shortfalls of publications’

That community includes Brian A. Marks, Ph.D., J.D., an Open Pedagogy Fellow whose legal career has focused on licensing intellectual property, particularly in the software industry. Despite the push to protect and monetize intellectual property, Dr. Marks, a behavioral economist, is driven by a passion to offer resources that will benefit his students in ways that, he believes, many of the current textbooks on the market cannot.

Brian A. Marks, Ph.D., J.D.
Brian A. Marks, Ph.D., J.D.

This summer, when teaching a law and public health course, Dr. Marks had to tap into his own creativity. When the U.S. Supreme Court made several monumental decisions in late June, including overturning Roe v. Wade, he realized the textbook he was going to use for the course was already out of date. With the course set to begin during the first week of July, he turned to OER materials, constructing a slide deck of court cases that reflected the “new state of the world” while also helping students understand how it had changed.

Dr. Marks is also developing a resource on game theory, since he was not able to find a textbook that presented the material the way he intended to. He’s found creative ways to bring his own passions to the project – for example, the resource consists of seven chapters, an homage to the seven innings that make up a softball game, a favorite sport of Dr. Marks.

“I’m concerned that people get lost in the mathematics, and math then becomes the master instead of a tool that can be used,” explains Dr. Marks, executive director of the University’s Entrepreneurship and Innovation Program. “Trying to find an appropriate textbook that achieves the objective of not being driven by the math but by logical analysis and that still promotes understanding and discussion would be a good way to go about addressing the shortfalls of publications, which are often priced at a point that can be challenging for students.”