Behind the Scenes: Reflections on December’s Office Hours (International Perspectives)

Office Hours

Rebus Community and the Open Textbook Network held an Office Hours session sharing some international perspectives on open textbooks. Keep reading to learn more about the process involved in this unique session. If you missed it, you can still watch the session online or read a full transcript.

For December’s Office Hours session, the Rebus Community and the Open Textbook Network did things a little differently. Instead of conducting the usual live one-hour session where people can join in via video conference, we made some deliberate changes to our format. This was partly out of necessity as the speakers for this session – Tomohiro Nagashima, Jessica Stevens, Werner Westermann Juárez, Mark Horner, and Thomas Hervé Mboa Nkoudou – were spread out around the world, and it would not have been possible to get them all on the same video call. However, it also gave us an opportunity to shake things up and highlight the limitations of our usual format. In the end, we pre-recorded the session, shared the video and transcript, and conducted a week-long discussion period in the Rebus Community forum. In another change, we thought we would use this recap to reflect on the process, more than the content, though we still very much encourage you all to watch the video or read the transcript to hear our guests’ insights!

Why did we change the format of Office Hours this month?

Since Rebus’ team is mostly located in Canada and the USA, we tend to fall back on North American defaults. The Office Hours events are typically scheduled for afternoons in the Eastern Time Zone (EST), and as a result, most of the attendees for these events feature people located in similar time zones. While we have been recording these sessions, and posting the videos and transcripts after each event, we felt that we could be doing more to engage people for whom our events aren’t easily accessible for lots of reasons. The Rebus Community is working hard to be a global community, and we are involved with projects and collaborators all over the world, but most of our projects are currently based in North America. Similarly, the majority of the Open Textbook Network is within the USA. However, last year the community welcomed new members in Australia, and is collaborating with communities in the UK and Chile. As Rebus also expands, we will be working hard to change this and ensure that collaborators all around the world can get involved in an open textbook project (or start their own!), but first we have to work to understand their unique contexts and challenges.

Given the topic for this session – International Perspectives – it only seemed right to find speakers from different countries. We tried to get broad geographical representation, aiming for at least one speaker from every continent, while at the same time being aware that guests couldn’t be asked speak for everyone in their region. We deliberately kept the focus local in our prompt questions for the guests, asking them only to speak about the context they were most familiar with. We also committed to preparing translations as needed, if our guests preferred to speak in a language other than English. Thomas took us up on this offer, recording his portion in French.

Online time zone conversion tool, showing the time in Montreal, Canada (12:00am, Dec. 4 2017), Chile Summer Time CLST (2:00am, Dec. 4 2017), South Africa Standard Time, SAST (7:00am, Dec. 4 2017), Australian Eastern Time (4:00pm, Dec. 4 2017), and West Africa Time (6:00am, Dec. 4 2017).
Converting the time of our video release across different time zones. It’s an extra step that people outside North America do to attend regular Office Hours sessions.

We also wanted to make a point about how those located outside North America often face an extra challenge when converting from EST to their local times and in trying to accommodate events in their schedules, which can often fall outside working (or even waking) hours. There’s also a sense of being an outsider when North American standards, such as time zones, are the norm. So, in our promotion for the event, we only included times in the speakers’ time zones: Chile Summer Time (CLST), South Africa Standard Time (SAST), Australian Eastern Standard Time (AEST), and West African Time (WAT). We hoped that our usual set of attendees, located in the USA or Canada, would run these conversions to see when the video would be available. Calculating these differences is fairly easy with online tools, but this is an extra step that people outside of EST do very often, so we felt it was time to switch it around.

Reflections on how we set up the international Office Hours event

As we were writing out the event description, we struggled to choose whether to keep the focus on Open Textbooks or Open Educational Resources, as the latter are more commonly used in some regions over others, but the former is typically the focus of our Office Hours events. We also realized that the very topic or name “International Perspectives” implies revolving around North America.

What’s more, as one of our guests, Tomo, rightly pointed out, our own assumptions of OER internationality led to our framing the event a certain way.

On a more logistical note, we could have done better with securing translators well in advance. We learned that captioning translations is difficult, and that uploading a video to YouTube with captions to match different languages presents its own challenges. We relied on YouTube’s ability to match captions to speech, but any French speakers watching the session will notice that the translation is not quite in sync with the speech. A lot more careful planning was needed than we initially anticipated, and had we more time, the results would be significantly better.

During the week-long discussion

We planned for an asynchronous discussion to take place on the Rebus Community forum once the video was released, to give viewers a chance to interact with the speakers, ask them questions, or share their own comments about the topic. Unfortunately, the discussion did not take off as much as we had hoped, which was disappointing. However, we plan to re-run the discussion as part of Open Education Week in March 2018, which we hope will bring a larger audience to the event.

Our regular Office Hours sessions have about 20-35 participants in addition to the guest speakers, and typically five to ten of these attendees tend to ask questions during the session. In contrast, this Office Hours session has ninety-three views, making it the third-most-watched video on our YouTube channel. In the forum, only five people posted questions for our guests, out of whom four were staff at Rebus or OTN. Three of our guests engaged in the discussion on the forum. We hope that people will go back to watch the video even at a later date, and if they wish to, share their reactions in the forum.

We made sure to promote this event in the same way and through the same channels that we have our previous events, so we believe the lower rate of participation had to do with the changed format. It is possible the time of year had an impact as well (the video was out on December 4), but we do think that the difference between a scheduled call and a pre-recorded session plus asynchronous discussion was notable. Again, we take this as an indicator of how difficult it can be for those unable to attend a scheduled session (for any reason) to then catch up later.

We learned some lessons (on inclusivity and OER internationally), and hope others have too

We’ve learned some valuable lessons from conducting this session, including that engaging community members who can’t attend scheduled events takes time, effort, and a bit of imagination. While the first attempt at this format perhaps wasn’t as successful as we’d hoped, we will be continuing in our efforts to create more inclusive events.

In particular, we will be keeping the asynchronous discussion option for future events. We hope that this will allow for more engagement from people in different time zones, but also for those who have a preference for written communication, or another language, as we can accommodate these preferences using tools like Google Translate.

In the future, we will also still make the effort to invite and include speakers from outside North America at our events, especially since we have learned that we have the technology options to support it.

Most important, we were thrilled with the video we were able to put together with our guests’ insightful contributions. We encourage everyone to watch it to hear more about the amazing work happening in OER around the world. It’s an opportunity for everyone to reflect on their practices, and think on ways to form more cohesive, inclusive communities around OER.

This Office Hours session was an important one for the team at Rebus; our mission has always to build a model for publishing open textbooks that can be used all around the world. It resonated deeply with Zoe and Apurva in particular, too, who both feel like they one foot in the North American context and the other out, being transplants to Canada from New Zealand and India respectively. We hope that it also resonates with you, and that you have also gotten something valuable from this session!

If you have any thoughts about our format, process, or this session, please let us know in the Rebus Community forum!


We will be reopening the discussion as part of Open Education Week March 5-9! Anytime that week, you can join the conversation in the Rebus forum.

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