Question #3: Please tell me about an Open Education project, textbook, or group that you have been a part of.
When I first saw this question, I thought, “Oh no, I’m not Open Access-y enough for this question.” But then I was thinking a bit more about it [and realized] I have been involved. We have an instance of PressBooks at Mount Royal University. There’s been some great librarians there, Cari Merkley, for example, has been really amazing at championing that from the perspective of student research, from the perspective of “How do we make this more accessible?”, “How do we think about that?” That’s my experience with that kind of particular project that I know a lot of people are familiar with.
But then I was thinking a little bit more and I actually think that two of my longest experiences with all concepts of Open are Indigitization and Wikipedia. Indigitization is a project at the University of British Columbia (UBC), specifically the Xwi7xwa Library. They have an endowment where they provide grants for First Nations in British Columbia that allows them to digitize their own cultural material. They award them the grants and then they bring them in for training. Then they have these kits that can be sent out to the community so people don’t necessarily have to come down to Vancouver. Especially if they’re from a more isolated reserve, they can come down for the training and then they get sent the kits so that they don’t have to be there for weeks on weeks.
I had first heard about this when I worked as a student at the Xwi7xwa Library when I was there. But then they really got going in a big way when I was working at MRU, so I just admired it from afar. I always wanted to bring an instance of that to our province in Alberta but because of the endowment, the restrictions were based on provincial borders. It could only be a First Nation in British Columbia. Two years ago we were able to bring Gerry Lawson who is a trainer with Indigitization. We brought him to the Blackfoot Confederacy offices and we got a number of people from Treaty 7 Nations trained up in how to do this kind of Indigitization. One of the kits is currently on the Blood Reserve at Kainai with Mary Weasel Fat. She’s a librarian at Red Crow Community College and they’re doing some really exciting Indigitization stuff there.
It’s really nice to see that because, for me, that project really gets to the heart of what’s different about the way Indigenous people approach this. It’s not just sort of, “Let’s digitize everything!” “Let’s put it online.” Because so often funding bodies require [putting everything online] when we’re digitizing, they’ll say, “you have to make a copy available or you have to deposit a copy.” But what Indigitization does is it says we’re going to provide the capacity, the technology, and the tools that you might need but you decide what happens with this stuff. If it’s something that can be shared; maybe elders talking about their childhoods or something that they think is a really important thing to share with the broader community, absolutely, they can give a copy to the library. But if it’s something that needs a little bit more control, like sacred songs as a good example, or even things like legal disputes, like Chief and Council minutes, those kinds of things that might be useful for the community but might actually put (if they’re available to the wider general population) then that could be a risk for the community, they decide.
That was a really exciting nuanced project where they’re recognizing that we need to format shifts, we need to move things so that they don’t get obsolete. But in that process there needs to be a great deal of care and a great deal of knowledge from the subject matter experts, the people that are so familiar with this stuff. I’m really excited to have brought it to Alberta. The pandemic has put a bit of a hold on our training but we’re hoping that maybe in the fall, depending on what it looks like up here, we’re going to be able to offer that training again. I think there’s lots of people in the area that are excited and so many people have tapes in their grandparents’ basement or something. I think it’s a really cool example.
The other one is Wikipedia. I would say it was in my third year at Mount Royal, I was working with a professor who was thinking about something that would go beyond a research essay. We worked together and figured out this assignment where students would intervene in Wikipedia. They would either create a page that didn’t exist or they would substantially edit a page. For this first class, it was looking at Indigenous women. Where are Indigenous women in Wikipedia? Why are there so few female editors? Why is Indigenous content really poor on Wikipedia? There’s all these amazing artists that don’t even have a Wikipedia page or who are famous only in Indian Country. How do we make these people’s work known more broadly?
It was a really exciting project. We probably bit off more than we could chew that first year because we didn’t really know how much work it would be. But it allowed us to really think about what is created when students have to write for purpose. How do they do that? How do they write for an audience that isn’t just your instructor? So it’s something that is going to be out there in the world and that other people can interact with. [We gave them ] A little bit of familiarity with the tools that would allow them to engage in open pedagogy. That was really exciting. I’ve done it a couple of times. I’ve worked with a professor named Renae Watchman, she’s Diné. We’ve done it for a number of her classes where we’ve looked at gaps in Wikipedia. Sometimes it’s as simple as what activist organizations can we expand. She teaches literature classes. Where are the Indigenous authors? What do their pages look like? What kind of information do you have when we look at other kinds of books, how are they written about? That’s been a really exciting project thinking about filling in the gaps, recognizing that something that so many of us turn to all the time actually has massive gaps when we’re talking about Indigenous content. It’s not something that I think a lot of people realize. That’s been good in terms of pedagogy but also just having people aware that this is something that they can access and that they can edit. They are an invitation to that community of practice. Those are the areas that I’ve done the most in terms of projects.