OER and Exploring Pressbooks

Cover of the Healing and Reconciliation Through Education Pressbook.
Cover of the draft Healing and Reconciliation Through Education Pressbook.

I recently starting working with Pressbooks as a way to develop an Open Educational Resource (OER) about residential schools and the history of the Shingwauk Indian Residential School in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.

For folks not familiar will Pressbooks, it is a publishing platform that you easily create ebook and print-ready files for printing physical books.  In Ontario, eCampus Ontario has a dedicated Pressbooks instance for folks at universities in the province who are looking to develop OER and open textbooks.   The platform is extremely user friendly, and if you’ve used WordPress you’ll find the navigation and content entry system very similar.  I love the idea of using digital tools to create accessible, open access material for students to use in the classroom.  I also think there is a ton of potential for archives to work with historians to provide primary source material for this type of project.

We’re still very much in the content development phase of this project; but it has been really interesting to think about ways to illustrate the unique history of the Shingwauk Indian Residential School site in connection to the larger residential school system.  This is a history that the Children of Shingwauk Alumni Association and the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre have been collecting and discussing for decades. It’s also a history that has become past of my daily work for the past eight years, either through archival practice or educational outreach programming. The development of OER content has the potential to deliver this history in new ways and to expand the reach of this important work.

I’m also really seeing the benefit of using a platform which supports collaboration.  I’ve been able to bring in a number of conspirators  co-authors to this project and we have been able to jointly develop content and design. I also like the flexibility a digital platform provides – hyperlinks, embedded audio-visual, and photographs are some of the obvious advantages.  In the case of our project we’re also embedding primary source material held by the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre.  It is allowing us to directly connect learns will archival records, archival photographs, and documents which are central to telling the history of the Shingwauk site.

I would love to hear what other public history and Canadian history folks are doing with Pressbooks, OER software, and open textbook development. What are you working on? What resources do you wish existed to support your students? 

Oral History and Documentation Sharing

Earlier this week, Canada’s History Society hosted an oral history webinar with Alexander Freund.  The webinar focused on the basics behind oral history, planning and implementation of oral history, and general best practices for oral history projects.  The webinar was recorded and can be viewed online. 

The webinar provided a good starting point for those with little or no exposure to oral history. Freund’s presentation was broken down into preparation, interviewing, processing and dissemination.  He provided high level overviews of each oral history component using general examples and suggestions.  

I was particularly pleased to hear Freund’s emphasis on the need for oral history projects to work with archives from the very early stages of the project.  Freund suggested that projects should be conducted with a long term goal of archival preservation and that archives should be consulted regarding preservation, donor details and other pertinent documentation.  As someone who works in an archive and who has used archived oral history recordings, Freund’s emphasis on a proactive collaborative approach makes me very happy.

Though the content of the webinar was fairly introductory, the resources and samples provided as part of the webinar have the potential to be invaluable.  These resources included items such as an interview guide, audacity audio software guide, sample forms, and interview checklists. Having examples of other policies, guides, and best practices greatly assists in the creation of program specific procedures.

Anyone who has ever written a best practices manual, training guide, or policy knows the value of not reinventing the wheel.  I find looking at the established best practices of other organizations is one of the best ways to gain perspective on your purposed best practices.  Granted, these established practices can (or should) very rarely be copied wholesale — rather they are considered, incorporated, elaborated on to fit your organization.

Currently, only a limited number of heritage organizations post their documentation online.  It seems redundant for every heritage organization to start each policy from nothing, when so many other organizations have essentially the same basic policies. In particular, smaller organizations with limited resources can gain a lot from looking at studies, working groups, and policies that have been crafted by larger resource rich institutions.  This can apply to everything from effective collection policies, heritage specific software guides, to donor forms. This webinar highlighted the value of sharing resources and community collaboration.  I sincerely hope that as online collaboration increases that so does the use of shared resources in the heritage sector, as most organizations have much to gain from joint efforts.

Continuing Education: Online Learning and Records Management

Kayla Jonas Galvin over at Adventures in Heritage recently wrote a great post about attending school while working full time.  Her post highlights a few tips which she has used to help her juggle education and work.  Kayla’s post got me thinking about how I am going to approach a continuing education course that I just started.

This fall I am taking the online Records Management Fundamental’s (RMF) course through the iSchool Institute.  I’ve been looking into continuing education options for awhile now and decided on this course for a number of reasons, including: the course is completely online and can be tailored to fit my schedule, it is seven weeks which is long enough to have depth without becoming too demanding, and records management has a lot of practical applications both inside and outside the heritage field.

I don’t live close to a University/College that offers courses in my field, making an online course ideal.  However, prior to signing up for this course I had a bit of trepidation about the course format, mostly inspired by correspondence class flashbacks.  During my undergrad years I took two courses on women’s history via correspondence.  I remember doing well in the classes and liking the content, but I also remember how horribly devoid of collaboration and communication those classes were. Learning through reading can have benefits, but I really wanted an interactive approach to continuing education.

The iSchool Institute uses Blackboard for its online courses.  Though Blackboard definitely has challenges and faults, it does allow for an online collaborative space.  The RMF class assignments include participation in online chats, discussion boards, and a project where students work with partners.  Students learn not only from written materials but from each other.  I think this is a particular benefit of taking a continuing education class that is made up of individuals from a wide range of professional backgrounds.  Everyone brings something different to the discussion and can provide different insight into common problems.

As for my approach to taking the class, I’m trying to set aside specific times early in the week to tackle readings and assignments.  Weekly assignments are due on Sundays each week, but I really don’t want to be spending my Friday evening or Saturday working on the material.  I also believe that like in a classroom setting, you get out what you put into an online course.  Active participation is crucial to a good course experience, be it in a seminar setting or in an online environment.