Research on Renewable Assignments (Clinton-Lisell & Gwozdz)

This article just popped in my notifications.
(12) (PDF) Understanding Student Experiences of Renewable and Traditional Assignments (
As our movement deepens its actions in a broader sphere than OERs, this type of research is likely to become increasingly relevant.

Thanks for sharing this research, Alex. How about digging into it a bit here? Can you say more about the relevance?

For me the original framing of the “disposable” assignment was/is powerful because it’s an experience most every learner/education can tie to an experience. I understand the turn about to call the opposite “renewable assignment” is to focus on the goal rather than the opposite but to me it always felt a bit sanitized.

But I digress.

I do agree that the study’s goal is relevant in bringing in the social justice lens to the importance of renewable assignments. All the methodology seems well thought out.

But cautiously putting IANAR (I Am Not A Researcher) hat on, I am left wondering what us being measured is really some attitudinal feedback asking students to compare some instructional strategies they experienced. Is there is some factor built in when being surveyed of thinking about what the surveyor seeks?

Furthermore, we are told nothing about the “traditional” and “renewable” assignments the students experience. How controlled is that as a comparison -yes the study is not comparing the content and focused on the student perceptions, but I as a curious mind want to know more of the things the students are responding too.

I am also thinking of David Wiley’s recent provocation on OER adoption and impact on student outcomes that questions if it is as much the “stuff”-- the OER, the renewable assignments or the instructor / student relationship.

First, a pop quiz for you. Which has the greater effect on students’ outcomes – their teacher or their textbook? Of course the teacher has a far larger effect on student learning than their course materials do. For example, in Robinson et al. (2014), the standardized beta weight for OER effect was 0.03, while the beta for teacher effect was 0.21 – the effect of the teacher was seven times larger! This rather obvious point matters to us because in many studies of OER efficacy the faculty each individually chose whether or not to adopt OER (as academic freedom dictates they may). This means that, in many studies, the effect of OER on student success is perfectly confounded with the effect of the teacher on student success – they are completely inseparable. And given how much larger an effect the teacher has than the textbook does, studies that don’t control for teacher effect probably aren’t answering the question “how does students’ learning change when their faculty adopt OER?” They’re likely answering a question more akin to “how does students’ learning differ when they’re taught by the kind of faculty who are willing to experiment with teaching innovations (like OER) compared to students taught by the kind of faculty who aren’t?”

I am not downplaying the findings of this research-- and focusing on the learner experience is absolutely key. But it does aim to isolate as a factor what is not just content (like the open textbook) but does remove the activity/assignment from it’s association and influence of the source/instructor.

Or am I just trying to be critical over my morning coffee? I absolutely want to encourage more nuanced discussion here; the paper you shared is a grand jumping off point.

And lastly, as an observation, isn’t the tidal wave of furor over ChatGPT et al and implication for essays and indication of how much disposable assigning is out there?

Back to you, mon ami et collègue I do appreciate your presence here…

So, first, despite my identity as a (field) researcher, I’ve shared the link to this piece before reading it. The reason was that I surmised it might be relevant… and wanted to do a kind of “distributed reading”.
Which is pretty much what you offer me. Thanks for that!

Wiley’s “provocation” has been on my mind for a while, now. I’ve discussed the piece with a colleague. My initial reaction (explicit and obvious in my tates) was that this is something many OE folks have been trying to tell OER folks like Wiley for a while. While I genuinely want to avoid the attitude implied by “told ya” statements, it just felt like one of those times you hear someone make the point you’ve been making. One the most striking cases in my experience was when Chomsky came to Montreal and eventually allowed some of the obvious points we’ve been making in language sciences outside of his sphere of influence to make its way into his awareness.

At any rate… (Digression is part of my “'branding”… :wink: )

A significant part of SoTL is dedicated to identifying factors which influence learning experiences. Time and time again, some form of the “Instructor Effect” reveals itself to be the one key factor that nobody controls. At least, that’s what this qual researcher perceives. I realize quants have another approach.
With OERs, the data we have would support the argument that “OER use is effective if it fits the instructor’s approach”. With enthusiastic profs, there’s a real gain from OER adoption… because the enthusiasm itself is a driver for pedagogical effectiveness. It’s a version of the Hawthorne Effect that OER-savvy courses studied by skilled pedagogues end up having a positive impact on learners. And, yes, the same could happen with those pieces of learning material that we’re trying to replace with OERs.
In other words: it’s about the learning experience, not about the “open content”.

Now, going back to Clinton-Lisell & Gwozdz…
Clinton-Lisell is among few scholars of OE effectiveness whose research is widely known. Simply put, her “citation impact” is pretty high and her “H-Factor” is likely to be high as well. Of course, it doesn’t garantee that her work is of high quality. It’s just a clue that she’s made a space for herself in this specific part of the field. (Others are better known for success criteria behind OER projects, for instance.)

When it comes to assignments (done by learners), it’s easy to think about OE beyond “open content” (done by learning pros). And that’s a whoooole big part of OE which often takes second chair. The type of Open Pedagogy @actualham has been doing for some years is associated closely with a learning process which happens in the creation of the material instead of the learning experience of merely “ingesting” the material. Though I don’t think Robin has called the work an “assignment”, it’s obvious that its renewable aspect is key to the experience.

Of course, there’s quite a bit of material on renewable assignments on this very site, though some digging is sometimes needed. One which really struck me at the time it happened was this talk:
An International Faculty Fellowship Focusing On Open Pedagogy and the UN SDGs :sync: - OE Global 2021 / Webinar Presentations - OE Global Connect. Though there’s material involved, what I’ve heard @UNizami, @Shinta, @mmills, and @DebbieB went beyond consulting documents to an experience of getting inspired by a collaborative practice.

And the SDG part is probably a key to unlock the UNESCO-driven assessment of our OE(R) practices. That obviously includes socioecological responsibilities, as Bisaillon & @mariannedube have reminded us.
La valeur ajoutée du libre ou la gestion écoresponsable des connaissances – Perspectives SSF (

Indeed, we might want to measure social impact of our actions. Here, we could draw inspiration from the Social Economy:
Evaluation and impact measurement for the social economy | Territoires innovants en Économie sociale et solidaire liaison et transferts (
(As should be obvious, OE is, like SE, about The Commons.)

Soooo… What makes this study relevant? Dunno, really. It was mostly one of my weird questions. What I do know is that there’s work to be done on the impact of Open Ped.
In the aforementioned OEG21 webinar, @Melissa_A presented useful results on stakeholders’ perceptions of OEPs. In the end, by working together, we might derive deeper insight on a wider range of practices.
Faculty and student perceptions of open pedagogy: A case study from British Columbia, Canada :sync: - OE Global 2021 / Webinar Presentations - OE Global Connect