Have you heard the one about students writing their textbooks?

(Last Updated On: March 6, 2014)

No, seriously. Students at Albany Senior High School are taking ownership of their learning in quite a remarkable way … using open educational resources (OER) to write their own textbooks, as Mark Osborne explains.

A lot of our school’s vision for learning centres around student voice, student agency and student ownership of their learning, and using open education resources in the classroom is one way we can give life to this vision.

At the core of the school’s approach to open content is WikiEducator which, to put it simply, is like Wikipedia but for teaching and learning resources. It not only allows educators to create, share and collaborate on lesson plans and unit outlines, but it also means students become collaborators in their own courseware. Instead of being passive recipients of things like handouts and textbooks, they can actually be authoring the courseware, producing explanations, demonstration videos and activities for each other to complete.

WikiEducator includes features like the ‘watchlist’, which generates an email to the watcher when that page is edited, and is really useful to keep track of how pages are growing and evolving. Another great feature is the ability to ‘remix’ content. Don’t like chapter two of the textbook? It’s easy to remove it and either include another chapter or write one of your own. This model of flexible ‘collecting’ of resources is perfect for adjusting content to the needs of learners or for putting a local spin on content.

Encouraging the student voice

Another way that student voice is encouraged at ASHS is through the use of e-portfolios. Students use these in a number of different ways, but the key focus is on reflection and on promoting student ownership of learning. The school uses the Ministry-funded MyPortfolio (

Students in Spanish classes are recording themselves using Flip cameras, uploading these videos to their e-portfolios then providing feedback. The peer review and peer feedback students find very useful, even asking for more opportunities to provide feedback on each other’s work. Of course, the best thing about this kind of review and reflection is the fact that the students have much greater ownership of the process. However, they also learn regardless of whether they are giving or receiving the feedback!

Exploring their passions

Students are also using e-portfolios to capture their learning in project-based learning. ASHS spends one day a week encouraging their students to explore their passions through project based learning. Each 15-week ‘impact project’ must be accompanied by an e-portfolio evaluation that’s shared with project mentors, other teachers and parents. The portfolio has video, images and audio, including a high-stakes concluding presentation to staff and students at the school.

E-portfolios are the perfect vehicle for capturing this learning because they are collaborative, multimedia, easy to share, and a truly authentic assessment method for such a rich learning experience.

OER Projects involving ASHS students

  • A mathematics textbook that contains student-generated two-minute video explanations of challenging concepts like simultaneous and quadratic equations;
  • Moving the school’s coursebook into a wiki, which not only has the advantage of allowing departments to distribute the writing and proof-reading workload, but also provides prospective students with information about the course;
  • Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth and King Lear have their own digital, multimedia textbooks, including audiobook versions of the plays; and
  • The ASHS Recipe Book is a growing repository of recipes from the Albany (and wider) community. If you’d like to submit a recipe, go right ahead!

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Categories: Article, Issue 28

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