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Student Input Changes Open Educational Resource Textbook

The 45th annual Science Atlantic Psychology Conference began in a somewhat unconventional way, with a Hackathon.

Hackathon organizers Dr. Erin Mazerolle and Dr. Erin Austen, psychology professors at St. Francis Xavier University, asked the 34 participating students and faculty to comment on an open educational resource (OER) textbook used to teach introductory psychology and neuroscience courses at Dalhousie University (Dal).

The goal of the Hackathon was to gather recommendations to improve the text’s level of equity, diversity, inclusion, and accessibility. As well, participants were encouraged to add logical content, incorporate hands-on activities, and represent disability as they moved through the OER.

Hackathon blog post drop quote 2

However, before the hacking could begin, the students discussed their experiences in introductory psychology, why they registered for the Hackathon, and what they hoped to learn from the experience. Seasoned OER users Dr. Leanne Stevens (the editor of the OER that was hacked) and Dr. Jennifer Stamp, both of Dal, also gave presentations to set the stage. Once the ideas were flowing, participants separated into teams and the Hackathon was underway!

George Fazaa

According to participant George Fazaa, a recent graduate of Dal’s BSc Psychology program and winner of the Hackathon’s Quantity and Quality Awards, “the organizers and professors who led and participated in the Hackathon were… friendly, sociable, and open to questions” which contributed to an open and welcoming atmosphere. George appreciated the opportunity to work in a team of students and says the Hackathon allowed him to connect with others in the field.

Dr. Mazerolle is a strong supporter of the value that OERs bring to both students and educators. She cites research showing that “OERs preferentially benefit students that tend to be underserved by postsecondary education,” and notes that the cost of textbooks prevents some students from buying groceries and paying bills. Perhaps even more important, she points out  that OERs make education more accessible and lead to educational outcomes that are comparable to traditional textbooks.

Dr. Erin Mazerolle

OERs are also easier to update than traditional textbooks. After the Hackathon concluded, Dr. Stevens and Max Dysart, Dal BSc Neuroscience graduate, reviewed the 158 comments made by participants. The area of the book that received the most attention, with over 25 comments, was the ‘Neurodevelopmental Disorders’ section of the ‘Psychological Disorders’ chapter.

Participants hacked the OER Introduction to Psychology and Neuroscience

With the participants’ suggestions in mind, Dr. Stevens and Max entirely rewrote the section. Now called ‘Neurodiversity’, the section tackles the content through the social model of disability instead of the medical model of disability. Additionally, participants’ comments made the section more representative of the characteristics and lived experiences of neurodiverse individuals. It is unlikely that these significant changes would have been made so quickly without the Hackathon. The large amount of feedback captured at one time provided the perfect conditions for this overhaul to occur. 

This opportunity to host the Hackathon would not have existed without the Science Atlantic Psychology Conference. Science Atlantic’s mission is to advance post-secondary science education by creating opportunities for students and faculty to share their knowledge and benefit the broader scientific community. This message is echoed by Hackathon participant Tessa Cosman. Tessa, an Acadia University Masters of Clinical Psychology student, says that “the Hackathon was a great opportunity to meet and collaborate with people who had different backgrounds and perspectives on the material.” She found it interesting to hear what aspects of the textbook resonated with others and what parts they thought could be changed. 

Tessa is excited to see how the textbook is updated over the years. Like George, she found the Hackathon to be an enjoyable opportunity to collaborate with other students and researchers. She hopes to continue this collaborative spirit in her studies and research going forward.

Science Atlantic would like to extend our appreciation to Drs. Mazerolle and Austen for their efforts organizing the Hackathon. Innovative events like this enrich the student experience at our conferences and demonstrate how beneficial conferences can be to individuals both inside and outside the Science Atlantic sphere. 

Both the Hackathon itself and the subsequent rewrite of the ‘Neurodiversity’ section of the textbook were supported by the new AtlanticOER Development Grants. These grants help Atlantic educators develop and embrace OERs in their classrooms.

Dr. Erin Austen

To read the new ‘Neurodiversity’ section of the textbook Introduction to Psychology and Neuroscience please click here