Our department has several opportunities for undergrads to conduct original research. In the Research Practicum (Ling 3RP3), students work as lab members on a faculty member’s research project. In the Honours Thesis (4Y06), students conduct an original research project of their own, guided by a faculty supervisor. Students might also conduct a smaller-scale research project under the Independent Study (4II3) course code, though this course code also covers individual reading courses and the like. I created the Honours Thesis course and guidelines in 2009, but in recent years we learned that many students (and indeed, some faculty members!) were not aware of the process for requesting access to these courses. In 2017, I re-wrote the instructions for applying for these courses, and revised the suggested course outlines. The updated guidelines are now available on the department website.
In March 2018 I learned that I had won the OUSA Award at McMaster. OUSA is the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance; it represents eight Ontario universities, each of which makes an award to one instructor per year. In 2017-18, OUSA focused its awards on professors who worked to make course materials affordable and accessible, highlighting the burden that textbook costs place on students with the hashtag #textbookbroke. The award recognized my work in creating the OER Essentials of Linguistics for my Intro Linguistics classes.
I received the award at a ceremony organized by the MSU on March 21. There was also an OUSA ceremony in Toronto on April 4, which I was unable to attend because I had to teach a class. At the MSU ceremony, I was reminded that students genuinely value the work that professors do. I’m grateful that my students trust me as a partner in their learning, and grateful to receive this award recognizing one element of the work I do that supports their learning.
Open Access Materials for Intro Linguistics
When I changed the format of Intro Linguistics (Ling 1A03 and 1AA3) from a lecture + tutorial course to a blended format, I relied more heavily on the textbook than I had in previous years. The blended format relies on students preparing for class ahead of time, so that they’re prepared to work actively on exercises and data analysis in class. And, of course, one of the components of this before-class preparation is to read sections of the textbook.
The commercial textbook that I had assigned for several years reached the price of $147 in 2017, representing a real financial burden for many students. I discovered that fewer and fewer students even purchased the textbook, which had consequences for their learning. So when eCampusOntario offered a grant in to adapt existing materials into an OER (Open Educational Resource), I applied for the grant, with the support of the MacPherson Institute. We were awarded $15,000 in September 2017, with a due date for the final product of March 2018.
The grant paid for two staff from the MacPherson Institute, a Digital Media Specialist and an Instructional Designer, to provide technical and logistical support as I updated the materials from my blended class (and created some new ones!). We packaged these materials into an eBook, Essentials of Linguistics, which we published on McMaster’s Pressbooks site on March 16. We’re told that it will appear on eCampusOntario’s site some time in April.
Starting in May 2018, I’ll assign Essentials of Linguistics as the textbook for my Intro Linguistics courses, saving hundreds of students hundreds of dollars each year. This OER is not just free to my students — it is free for any instructor anywhere in Ontario or the world to adopt. And because it is an entirely open resource, its content is licensed under a Creative Common Attribution 4.0. International License; therefore, anyone is free to redistribute, revise, remix, and retain any of the parts of the OER.
Accessibility in the Blended Classroom
A former student invited me to contribute to the FlexForward resource that the MacPherson Institute developed in collaboration with the Equity and Inclusion Office and the McMaster Accessibility Council. The authors interviewed me about the accessibility practices I use in my large blended class. I’m featured in several places in the eBook, but I’ve also pulled out my appearances here to make them easy to view: