Using Pressbooks to Curate Course Readings

April 7, 2021

As I mentioned in previous posts, New Year, New Blog & 2.5 Weeks + 7 Books= Emerging Ideas About Play, one aspect of my work for sabbatical focuses on learning more about play and considering how this information will influence my approach to the course Play and Learning in Early Childhood (ER 2155), a Wellness Connection course in Plymouth State’s (PSU) General Education program.

A couple weeks ago I decided to focus on the readings for this course. Most of the articles and videos used, or that I found recently, are available free online. Last time I taught this course, I used the learning management system (LMS) and listed readings by topic. Although this worked fine, I did have some students that needed guidance at the beginning of the semester to find the reading materials. I think that part of the challenge could be that students have more experiences with traditional texts and this course included links to many different resources instead of one resource that students could refer to for all their readings. I started thinking maybe there is a better way to help students engage with these materials.

I wasn’t really sure how to approach curating this list and what tools would be best to use. From my work with the PSU Cluster Pedagogy Learning Community and University System of New Hampshire Academic Technology Insitute, I am familiar with Open Education Resources (OER) and I know that some of my colleagues are working to write or modify OER texts for their courses. My first thought was I am not writing a textbook, so I am not going to create an OER, however, after meeting with Martha from our CoLab, she helped me to see that using Pressbooks might just be the tool to help me do this work.

When I first started, I thought basically I would create chapters by topic and then put the list of readings for each chapter in the text. The goal was create one resource with all the readings for the course.

In this first iteration of the text, I use this basic structure, but it is so much more than just a list of resources. Let me explain. One idea that I thought about as I created this text was how I facilitate class discussions of the readings in this course. I typically assign several readings about a topic and then students share insights (in different ways) that they gain as I guide the discussion as necessary with questions to help highlight key points about the particular play topic. I wondered if this is the best way to approach this work. I am thinking that often students do not have much to add during our course discussions because other students have shared these perspectives already. They are all working from the same reading material. What would happen if students had more choice in what they read? How would this change the way we construct knowledge together about a topic? This is where this list of resources becomes more interesting. I decided that I would provide students with choice in how they learn about the content.

For most of the topics, there are a couple of readings that I designated as READ FIRST pieces. These are the resources that everyone will read and will provide students with some background knowledge about the topic. I think that having some common knowledge is helpful. Also, sometimes students need a little taste of a subject before they know how they want to expand their knowledge. Below you will find an excerpt from the text that highlights both the READ FIRST sections and the student choice I will describe next.

Sample page from OER
Sample page from OER

For the student choice, I created an annotated list of resources about the topic and a number of recommended items for review. Students then can choose what content they are interested in. I also tried to include more video pieces across the topics. I want students to have choice in the content as well as the format of this information.

Another element I added that will help with student choice has to do with time. As I created the resource, I added times for the videos and then decided to also include approximate reading times for each of the resources. My thought is that this could be helpful for students as they decide how much time they will need to prepare for each class. I also thought it could help students that might be pressed for time. They could pick something shorter that still provides them with insight instead of just skipping the reading. I have never tried this approach but I came across reading times in a professional development experience I completed this summer and I know I enjoyed knowing this information. I could make the decision in the moment, “Do I have the time, the energy, or the focus for this work knowing the approximate time I need to complete the work?”

My hope is with this student choice, we will be able to have richer conversations about the content. Students will have more reason to listen to each other because some of their peers will share information from resources unfamiliar to them. My hope is that this will allow them to construct knowledge together and more deeply because of these different perspectives. I think this could be particularly helpful for a class with a wide range of experiences with play in early childhood. Not all the students will be able to share anecdotal experiences observing children’s play, a strategy students use when they would like to share but don’t have content from the reading at hand. In addition, students might approach reading differently when they have choice, particularly if it is something of interest to them.

I included one more element of student choice in the OER. As I collected new resources for the class, I came across longer articles, webinars, and podcasts. These materials had rich content, but were longer than the typical reading or video. I decided that I could still use these resources. For each topic, where I had these types of resources, I added a section Explore More to the chapter. I created an annotated list of the choices. I see this as a place where students can learn more if they choose about a particular play topic. I see these materials as another place for students to learn from each other and add to the richness of our conversations about play.

Sample Explore More Section from OER

I plan to include an activity in the course where students can select how they would like to learn more about play. (I am still working on the details.) I envision one of the choices will be to select resources from the Explore More section to extend their understanding about a topic. Another choice, related to the OER, will be that students can find new resources to add to the text. I am really excited about this possibility. The flexibility of the OER allows us to add and change the text as we go. I share this in the Introduction of the book as well.

Being an OER, we can decide to edit this book at any point in the semester. This flexibility will allow us to add new readings or topics of interest that might emerge from our class discussions. Or you might find a new resource that we can add to the OER for your peers as well as future students of the class to read. Or we might decide to change the format or content of the book. The choice and the possibilities are for us to construct.

Play and Learning in Early Childhood Education, Introduction, Format of Book

I planned to work on this OER for about two days, maybe a week at most. Three weeks later, I have completed my first iteration of the text. I am glad that I spent the extra time working on the OER and I am excited for how the students will engage with this resource. I know that I will continue to add to this work as I think more about the course and find additional resources. You can find the full OER here. If you have any suggestions, let me know. I am eager to continue my thinking about the potential possibilities.