I’m still working on the third edition of our physical geology open textbook (I really should be done by now, but you know how these things go), and thought it would be a nice touch to include vignettes about how geological events have affected people.
Not lists of damage to property and infrastructure, or the costs incurred, or the number of fatalities. I was thinking about descriptions in the words of people who were there. What did they see or hear or smell? What did the air taste like? What did they think about as they watched the event unfold? What was it like to be there?
I wanted students to have a connection with those events that went beyond knowing a list of facts. Why? As Maya Angelou put it, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Making vignettes for an open textbook was an opportunity to expose students to the idea of “open.” I told them that many people have generously shared their work online, often permitting it to be adapted and remixed in addition to allowing others to re-use and redistribute it free of charge. I told them about Creative Commons licenses, and Public Domain, and made it a project requirement that they use only open-access materials.
The vignettes themselves took the form of posters. I provided detailed criteria, but key points were that students must use language accessible to another student who has never taken a geology course before, and that posters should be 1 part science and 2 parts lived experience. Less important, but really cool, the poster also had to include an augmented reality component via HP Reveal. Here’s the sample I gave them.
To see the augmented-reality element of the poster—a pop-up video montage of images from the eruption—download the HP Reveal app for your smartphone or tablet, and follow my account (username karlapanchuk). Then view the poster through the app. Or, click here to see the video.
I had a few questions going into the project:
Will the posters be appropriate for the textbook? There’s the matter of accuracy, but in an open textbook accuracy isn’t enough. Materials must also have the right license.
In the limited time available, is it possible to teach students enough about open access and Creative Commons to have them make the right choices about which materials to use, and how to use those materials?
Can I be reasonably certain that students understand what it means to release their own work under a Creative Commons license, and that they have a choice about whether and how to do that?
Mostly, I still have those questions, but here are some things I learned:
Thing 1. A 20-minute lecture is not the best way to give students a working knowledge of open-access resources, and how to find and use them.
Thing 2. I’m not confident about how to balance teaching about open access with teaching geology. Should I minimize the time I spend Creative-Commons-proselytizing and restrict students to sources where I know materials have appropriate licenses? That seems like a missed opportunity, though.
Thing 3. An entirely realistic outcome is that a student will add “Public Domain” to all figure captions regardless of whether the images are in the public domain or not. I need a way to make students accountable for their choices that isn’t me spending days tracking down the copyright status of every image students use. Perhaps this is a job for peer review.
Thing 4. Some classroom experiments generate a roomful of quizzical eyebrow gymnastics that translate roughly as “I thought this class was about rocks.”