When it comes to personal reflection I find it incredibly challenging since I need to put something of my personal self out into the world and run the risk of exposing myself as a fraud… The wonders of the ever present imposter syndrome! However, here I am throwing out what is on my mind, for better or worse.

When faced with the topic of openness and sharing in education (Topic 2), my mind instantly goes to the ease of access to information faced by the students; and how they can share that information (but this second point is central to the theme of Topic 4 – so I will have to take my thoughts on that out of this reflection… Damn!).

Right, so at least now I can frame my reflection around a narrower theme of ease of access to information by the students. Or can I? With the wealth of information that is so freely available online these days is there even a need for me to stand in front of a class and actually teach them? Is this drive for openness in education making my job redundant? In my mind, there will always be someone who knows more on a subject that me. So why should I try teaching the students if I can direct them to the more knowledgeable teacher through the wonders of the internet? A pretty bleak outlook as a junior within the academic space…

However, there is a silver lining here. If you look at it from the perspective of the students, access to the highest quality learning materials will naturally give them the best possible education and resulting opportunities in the future. Am I out of a job? Absolutely not! I should not be afraid of embracing the wealth of information that is so freely available. Rather, I must shift my paradigm from that of a lecturer – the one who imparts knowledge, to that of the curator and shepherd – the one who guides the flock to a well-balanced set of information so that they don’t need to look for it themselves. In theory (and the emphasis here strongly is theory), by providing the students with access to a curated set of information that is already available, you (as the educator) will have more time to spend guiding them on how to unlock the key information in the material. This is a not so subtle shift in the classical sense of teaching. In fact, is it even teaching? Certainly not the specific course information – that is for the students to figure out through your guidance. However, it is most definitely teaching. Arguably more important than the information required for the course since it is teaching life skills that can be carried beyond the course.

At least in my mind, this sounds like a great idea because it will ultimately allow the students to take accountability for their learning and it will give the educator more time to focus on contributing to the latest developments. Yay! Did I just solve the problem that most academics struggle with – balancing research and teaching?

Alas nay… I have trialled this in one of my courses previously where a majority of the content that I was teaching was also publicly available as a MOOC that I had contributed to on edX. So, I adjusted my course design so that the students needed to work through part of the MOOC each week and then I used the lecture time for a “lectorial”. This is effectively a more informal lecture / tutorial where I can teach the class based on the questions that they raise, to address gaps in their understanding that may exist after they participated in the MOOC. Ultimately this experiment fell flat. Why you might ask? Well… I suspect for several reasons. The most repeated complaint from the students was that they didn’t feel like they were getting value for how much the course was costing them. Unfortunately, I was teaching first year students having just come from high school where they are spoon fed all the information needed to pass, and my course was the only one that had embarked on this experiment. After a semester of trying to convince them that my approach was going to be beneficial in the long run, I gave up and converted back to the more classical approach and duplicated the information that was freely available.

Reflecting on these past failings, there are some things I would do differently before trying something similar. I can go on and on about communicating with the students so expectations etc. are clear. However, the most important change that needs to happen to stand a chance at success is having this approach adopted across all courses. It needs to be an institutional norm, otherwise students will always have the ability to fall back into old habits.

All in all, this has been a rather lengthy rant, but the key take away that I want to impart is that openness in terms of access to information is the future. Why reinvent the wheel? Rather guide your students to the best and most reliable sources of information so that they don’t have to resort to finding other less-than-reliable sources. You can then put your focus on becoming the best and contribute to the wealth of information that can be drawn on for future iterations of the course!