Suzanne Wakim

Free knowledge lets students soar

Blog Post created by Suzanne Wakim on Mar 22, 2016

What does the phrase 'unlock the power Open Education' mean to you?


Education empowers people. Open education empowers ALL people.


Getting an education is hard work for many students. It takes time, it takes money, it takes perseverance. For many of our students, daily life is also hard. They need to work to survive and they are often supporting others. The more education costs, the harder it is to complete. They may not buy the materials at all because they cannot afford them. This places them at a disadvantage and makes it more difficult to pass the class (on top of all the other difficulties they face). Or, they may go into debt to be able to afford all the materials. And this weighs them down later and makes it even more difficult to move ahead in the world. The article “Data To Back Up Concerns Of Textbook Expenditures By First-Generation Students” provides excellent evidence showing how much the cost of textbooks is an issue of equity. Many of the points were ones I had not really considered before; it was very eye opening.


Open education frees knowledge from its bindings and makes it available to everyone. Everyone can be part of the same global educational community. The more people that participate in education, the more knowledge we as a species gain. The more we share our knowledge with each other, the more we strengthen the bonds between each other.



Share a time when you leveraged OER for teaching and it (the resource or the experience) turned into something awesome!


Take one, it’s FREE! Heck, take TWO.


A few years back I was involved in collaborating on an open textbook with online interactive components. We wanted to see how the use of this type of textbook affected student learning. So, I gave students the option of either buying the traditional paper book used for the course or using the online book. While this was not a controlled experimental design, I felt it was important to give students this choice. I had never considered giving students options in their textbooks, and was a bit worried about the potential for chaos in the class. What I learned was that giving students this choice was a GREAT idea! Some preferred the paper book because reading on a screen can be tiring on the eyes. Some preferred learning in an interactive format. And many used both! Since then I’ve added another free book that has a downloadable option so that students can save it and have it on their device wherever they go.


The survey data showed that students really appreciate being given these choices. It allows them to use the format that works best for their learning style. Students couldn’t use try out different texts if they had to pay for each one. But, when they’re free students often use all the books to find the one that covers each topic most clearly for them.


This approach also helps students become more information literate. Rather than telling students to learn the stuff on page 36-49; I give them a very specific list of what to learn. For example: identify the following structures on a picture of a cell and list a function for each structure. Since students are seeing these structures in different books, they don’t learn that the mitochondria is the purple thing, rather they see the similarities and differences between the books and identify what’s important (it’s the sausage shaped thing with a swiggly line – which is where the action happens). I have taken this one step further and have students find additional sources online. They then discuss the accuracy and usefulness of these sources. This allows me to discuss how to find credible sources of information online and how to evaluate the sources they find. 


This takes learning from a process of moving information from a book to your brain; and makes it a process of finding good sources for answering questions. This is much more useful in the long run. This is only possible because of the move to FREE and OPEN educational resources. [We couldn't afford it otherwise].



Name one (or more, if you want) OpenEd repositories or tools do you use and why?


Well…all of them – I hope! (Let me know if I’ve missed any; I’d love to expand the list.)  I have been helping faculty from our district find Open Textbooks for their classes. So, I’ve been searching for a wide variety of  content and have developed a list of resources here:


The rest of this site is part of a project I’m working that I’ve called “Starting at the top of the Pyramid: using the act of creation to build understanding.” As part of this project I’ve been developing a list of Open Online Tools that can be used to help develop interactive classes. These tools include a variety of things from storytelling to designing games and animations to creating concept maps and much much more!


The site also outlines a plan for designing a course where multiple semesters of students create an open textbook. This project began when I was collaborating on a textbook and realized that the discussions we were having are exactly the ones that I want students to have. What is the best way to explain this concept? What important applications of this concept should we discuss? How can this material best be organized clearly?  I want to move students from passive consumers of content to creators of content in the hopes that this will excite them to become part of the greater educational community.  This project is still in its early stages, so much of the content is still being developed.


The Open Education Group on Canvas also has a wonderful list of resources and content providers. Canvas Groups are a wonderful way to share ideas – thanks for creating this space!



Anything else about Open Education you want to share (a poem, a music video, a wordle, a drawing...)?


I’m not an artist. Or a poet. Or particularly creative. But because of the Open movement, I can have someone else help me express my thoughts: