As my Fellowship with eCampusOntario draws to a close I am immersed in an autoethnography that I hope to publish in an open journal. The purpose of the autoethnography is to share my experience as an Open Education Fellow and provide insights that may inform the practice of Ontario educators. In this blog post, I am going to share a sneak peek into the recommendations percolating in my head as I engage in deep reflection about my journey as a learner. Please note that these reflections are deeply situated in my own perceptions and do not represent the views or opinions of Cambrian College or eCampusOntario. Educators considering exploring the use of Open Educational Resources and Open Educational Practices in their context might benefit from consideration of the following insights.

The First Group of Fellows at Our First Meeting!

What Worked Well

Develop a Community

Innovation and advocacy for open education are both exciting and exhausting. Developing a sense of community to help you navigate daily struggles and continually learn to be better is important (Wenger, 2015). Throughout the fellowship, I developed and helped others develop communities of practice. These communities of practice enabled sharing of ideas, struggles and professional growth both online and in person.


Twitter has been an interesting source of information, encouragement, and discussion. I likely would not have found out about the opportunity to be an Open Education Fellow without this connection. Consistent with the findings of previous research, I have been inspired by suggestions and ideas of others online (Rosell-Aguilar, 2018). The idea to try negotiated grading was encouraged by people sharing their experience with radical approaches to assessment online. When used, Twitter can be considered a community of practice that enables informal professional development (O’Keeffe, 2019; Rosell-Aguilar, 2018). These ideas fuel innovation.


With the encouragement of eCampusOntario, I began blogging in August of 2017. Blogging has been a tool for my own reflection, but also has the potential to impact others (Guerin, Carter, & Aitchison, 2015). This activity was therapeutic, promoted connectivity with readers and informal learning (Guerin et al., 2015). I would encourage others to consider blogging as a professional growth strategy. Structures for blogging can enhance how we as academics approach blogging (Hall, 2018). As a member of the Ontario Extend and 9x9x25 blogging group, I found some guidance helpful for encouraging this deeper and more meaningful reflection. However, I also self-directed much of my blogging. A reflective blog doesn’t need to be public to be valuable. Some of my posts are private. You never know when you will want to look back on your experiences. I have used my past blogs for inspiration and now am engaged in research because of them.


Though I have gravitated to blogging, dialogue with other fellows and conversations with faculty have been transformative for my learning. In order to advance digital literacy among faculty, it is essential to respect diverity and make space for deliberate diologue and collaboration (Hobbs & Coiro, 2019). I still think about things they have said or done as I plan actions that I will engage in. For example, Aaron and I share a common interest in gamification. When I was struggling to plan my approach to quest-based learning in a course for this Winter it was a discussion with him on a Taxi ride on the way to TESS that stands out as the most influential conversation to the development of a successful learning experience with students.

Dialogue with future students, others teaching the course and members of the Cambrian Teaching and Learning Innovation Hub at Cambrian were also critical to the success of quest-based learning. On-campus support from Jess, Sarah, Marnie, and other faculty has been encouraging and impactful. It was incredibly supportive to be working in such close proximity to Jess and the Hub team so we could bounce ideas off of each other. Our challenges were different but we supported each other through them. Our community of practice sessions for bi-weekly discussion of open education helped to promote open practices across the College. These sessions encouraged discussion of context-specific challenges and opportunities, which can facilitate grassroots efforts in open education (Smith & Lee, 2017).

Zoom has been a great tool for connecting with communities of practice. Although I have not made it to as many sessions as I want, these interactions with others are the best substitute for in-person contact I have experienced. We should make time for more live meetings in order to promote ongoing growth.

Engaging with communities is my number one suggestion for anyone exploring open education. It is important that you do not feel alone in your struggles.

Awareness Building

After Open Day, there was an increased buzz, interest and general acceptance of openness on campus. More and more I am engaging with discussion about open education with colleagues from various departments. Building awareness builds communities of practice. Without awareness it is difficult to have advocacy and institutional support. I recommend using the resources our team shared on this Open Day website to host your own version of Open Day. The ongoing impact of this day is still unfolding.


Encouragement from the open community has helped. Being an open practitioner in a system that hasn’t caught up to the innovations possible is challenging. Change is difficult and slow. Both internal encouragements from colleagues and external acknowledgement have helped. Our team won an award for sharing the planning and evaluation of Open Day. I encourage you to consider nominating a colleague who is striving for excellence for awards. Even being nominated for your efforts is encouraging. What was even better than this acknowledgement, was seeing another institution adapt the materials we shared to host their own Open Day. What keeps me innovating is the impact it has on others. Hearing about this impact is a form of encouragement that can go a long way.

Inspired Message Cards from Participants
Inspired Message Cards from Participants

What Did Not Work

Unclear Top-Down Support

Support from eCampusOntario to attend and engage in professional development has been transformative. However, particularly in a College environment, growing support from my institution is a needed resource for ongoing open practices. Support is growing but not yet reflected in written documents. It is James Skidmore (aka Skid) who often talks about the need for Policy. I am happy he voices this need as often as he does. As a professor who is experiencing difficulty knowing how much openness I am “allowed” to engage in a digital strategy and associated policies in our institution is necessary.

It is challenging to balance the needs of diverse programs in the development of a digitisation strategy. Different programs have diverse needs, levels of structure and requirements. Innovation moves so fast that it is hard for organizations to keep up, which means that innovators are left to push the boundaries and find areas that need clarity.

Unclear Direction

As one of the first Fellows, we were part of a wonderful experiment. We had the opportunity to shape the experience to meet our learning goals. The problem was not knowing how much exactly was expected. Some people say I am doing too much while I feel like I have not done enough. I thought I had already met some expectations but was asked to do more. There also seemed to be some lack of clarity in terms of how integrated my fellowship was with my institution. In retrospect, I should have done what some other fellows did and had more regular communication with eCampusOntario. The next group of fellows seems to have a clearer plan moving forward, which will be helpful in knowing when they have achieved success.

Overwhelming Opportunities

The online community, while amazing, can become overwhelming if boundaries are not set. Personally, I have found it discouraging to see people talking about all the things they are able to do when I am unsure how much I can do. While I want to recommend engaging on Twitter I cannot do so without acknowledging that limits need to be set for one’s own mental health. So many amazing discussions happen but if one engages in all of them there would be no time for teaching. I identify with the findings from a qualitative study indicating that limited confidence, vulnerability, risk, concerns about belonging, and capacity to engage in online discussions are barriers for academics (O’Keeffe, 2019).

There seems to be conferences about open education all the time all over the country and globe. Strategically choosing which ones to try and attend can be tricky. Sometimes I have felt left out of really exciting opportunities because of timing, funding limitations and distance from Toronto. Often they are streamed, but that is less effective for me because I cannot focus on learning or engage in dialogue as effectively. Difficulty knowing in advance which opportunities would be the most impactful to engage in has been a challenge.

No Resources

There is a clear lack of appropriate open resources for specific areas of Nursing. I want to create them, but am not certain if I am allowed to or if I can find the time to. My desire to fully emerge in open education is tampered by contractual concerns and a lack of clarity from my institution. It is my hope that we can do what they did in the Netherlands and collaborate to fix this issue. Thankfully, eCampusOntario is starting the process of solving the issue through the open at scale project in Nursing.

The Side of My Desk

It feels like for me open education has gone from the center of my desk to the side, unlike what Maureen shares. It is Ironic because part of my pitch to be hired as Cambrian’s Innovation Champion was to explore open education. I tried being fully open. It was overwhelming. Due to a lack of available resources, poor clarity in terms of what I can do and advice to do less in order to protect my own level of workload I feel like Open Education is unfortunately likely to be left on the side of my very full desk. Open values still inform my actions and decision making. People who are privileged enough to be able to devote more attention to actually being open are inspiring and more effective than I can be. Partnerships with others on campus enable me to feel like I can contribute in realistic ways. If possible, alignment of open advocacy initiatives with the roles of people on campus and collaboration are strongly encouraged.

Learning Obstacles


Conflicting information has been a challenge for me. Depending on who’s perspective on what I am engaged in I am hearing “be careful you could be fired for that” or “wow that is really good work.” The uncertainty mentioned earlier about what I can and cannot do has slowed me down. I am often not sure how many of the threats are actual or merely perceived. Interestingly, Anderson (2011) suggests that working through uncertainty stimulates creativity. Being slowed down is not a bad thing when new ideas are generated. Until I have something in writing from my institution I am operating on the uncomfortable premise that “they” support innovation, exploration and risk-taking. I just hope that I am not going to get an unwelcome surprise.


I started my Fellowship right after a strike. It was a difficult time to try and navigate. It took a long time to get approved for the fellowship because so much was happening and the concept of open education was unfamiliar to decision makers on campus. If I was starting my fellowship after Open Day I think it would have been a smoother process.

Feeling Alone

When I was approved for the fellowship it was clear that this was my own professional development and was not being officially endorsed. Now, with more clarity on what the fellowships are actually about I think there would be more acknowledgement of the volunteer work happening by advocates like us. It is possible that more in-kind institutional support would be available. In the end I was not truly alone.


Everything happens in Toronto. Well, at least that is how it can seem. Traveling to conferences is more challenging for people who are in Sudbury. Some events are in-person only like the current Open at Scale project eCampusOntario is running. As an advocate for Open Education in Nursing it is unfortunate that I am unable to participate … yet. I am on the mailing list, but it feels exclusionary to be unable to contribute in the early stages. I understand that funding is limited and in-person work can be more effective. I don’t have a solution but I feel like a lot of the decision making happens in Southern Ontario. Luckily there are a lot of brilliant open advocates down there in nursing so I am confident that it will be well planned. It is just unfortunate that I cannot be more involved.

Imposter Syndrome

Over the last year I have experienced and experimented with many amazing things. From learning about open education to delivering a course through a fully open website. I co-created rubrics, negotiated grades, created open resources and more. Yet, I am constantly feeling like it is not enough. These feelings of self-doubt have been a barrier to my learning, but I am slowly becoming more and more comfortable with working within my limitations and being proud of my work. It is challenging when people talk about how NurseKillam is a great resource. I think about how I have not met my potential for a variety of reasons that are closely related to challenges of being an open educator in this time of innovation.


Continue Awareness Building

I feel like a lot of effort is put into awareness building among those that are already on board with open education. The impact of building awareness on the future of open education with “newbies” is incredibly valuable to people like me who want to dive in head first. I think efforts to spread awareness of what open education could mean for students is the foundation for enabling anyone to actually do open education. With increased awareness comes better understanding. Understanding breeds support, dialogue and achievement of shared goals. Our goal, after all, is student success. Open education seems intuitive.

By Laura Killam from an open discussion with faculty and staff

Be Realistic

It is easy to feel pressured, but remember that openness is an invitation (Hayman, 2018). This view is my biggest take-away from the entire experience. Everyone’s context is different. I have a tendency to want to set high goals for myself and do what is pedagogically the best but not necessarily consider my own workload implications. Context is important. Engage at whatever pace feels comfortable. Go easy on yourself and consider starting small.

Acknowledge the Struggle

Advocacy and innovation, in general, can be difficult to navigate. Values that push us to remain committed to openness are personalised and influenced by our context (Jhangiani, 2019). Do not use others as a measure of your success – every context is different. People struggle and often hide it. Know that what you see online is filtered. I am guilty of filtering out the struggle in my blog posts out of fear of the implications. Educators who are committed to good pedagogy but are working in an institution experience tensions while pushing the counds of innovation (Moate, 2014). Everything worthwhile is a struggle. Sometimes it is helpful to acknowledge the struggle. Acknowledgement doesn’t need to happen online or publicly. Discussions with a community of practice have been a good outlet for me. Talk to people about your challenges. Celebrate failures because they are learning opportunities.

Think it Through

Good communication with your boss, colleagues and personal learning network are essential to successfully making it through the struggle. Recognize that everyone needs time to process this paradigm shift in education. Give everyone time to realize what this may mean for them.

Do not jeopardize student marks for an experiment. Just to be clear, I didn’t do that. I put a lot of thought into the pedagogical decisions made for each course. In the end, student marks didn’t suffer (just my “free” time). Put thought into every decision made in your construction of learning opportunities. Ask around what the implications may be. Ask what challenges may arise and how you may be able to navigate them.

Drawing: “How Can We Open Up?” by Sarah Wendorf from an open discussion with faculty and staff


Take time to reflect. Reflection is important for solidifying learning. Reflection allows us to process the world around us and make sense of our experiences in a way that informs future practice (Hall, 2018; Killeavy & Moloney, 2010). It doesn’t need to be in a blog. A lot of my reflection was not on a blog. In reflecting I noticed that a lot of my challenges were self-created or could have been mitigated with better communication. It may be hard to find time to reflect, but it is important. That is why conducting a full autoethnography will be therapeutic for me.

More About the Journey

When I went to collect data to analyse for the autoethnography I was surprised by how much I have to reflect on. This post serves as a starting point. Data are being gathered from personal reflections, blog posts, social media interactions, interviews (Creative Commons, 2018; Greene, 2018), videos, presentation materials, and course materials. Events and media that inform this analysis occurred between August 2017 and April 2019.

The best decision is the decision you made
The best decision is the decision you made


Anderson, T. D. (2011). Beyond eureka moments: Supporting the invisible work of creativity and innovation. Information Research: An International Electronic Journal, 16(1). Retrieved from

Guerin, C., Carter, S., & Aitchison, C. (2015). Blogging as community of practice: Lessons for academic development? International Journal for Academic Development, 20(3), 212–223.

Hall, L. A. (2018). Using blogs to support reflection in teacher education. Literacy Research and Instruction, 57(1), 26–43.

Hayman, J. (2018). Open is an invitation: Exploring use of open educational resources with Ontario post-secondary educators (Arisona State University). Retrieved from

Hobbs, R., & Coiro, J. (2019). Design features of a professional development program in digital literacy. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 62(4), 401–409.

Jhangiani, R. (2019, April 11). 5Rs for Open Pedagogy. Retrieved April 12, 2019, from Rajiv Jhangiani, Ph.D. website:

Killeavy, M., & Moloney, A. (2010). Reflection in a social space: Can blogging support reflective practice for beginning teachers? Teaching and Teacher Education, 26(4), 1070–1076.

Moate, J. (2014). Dialogic struggles and pedagogic innovation. Pedagogy, Culture & Society, 22(2), 295–314.

O’Keeffe, M. (2019). Academic Twitter and professional learning: Myths and realities. International Journal for Academic Development, 24(1), 35–46.

Rosell-Aguilar, F. (2018). Twitter: A professional development and community of practice tool for teachers. Journal of Interactive Media in Education, 2018(1). Retrieved from

Smith, B., & Lee, L. (2017). Librarians and OER: Cultivating a community of practice to be more effective advocates. Journal of Library & Information Services in Distance Learning, 11(1–2), 106–122.


Laura Killam is an experienced nursing educator from Northern Ontario with a keen interest in improving student learning through innovation. For more information please visit


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