Epiphanies with Verena Roberts

Verena Roberts smiling!

Verena is an Adjunct Assistant Professor with the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary the  Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada. She was a 2018-2019 OER Research fellow and 2018 Global Open Graduate Network (#GO-GN) member. Verena has taught and designed online/blended courses and consulted about curriculum and technology integration from pre-K to Higher Education in Canada and the United States.

Becca Price

Verena began speaking to us with a land acknowledgement, including pausing to think about what it meant to her. I often wonder about how to present land acknowledgements in a way that is deeply meaningful rather than performative, and from my perspective, Verena modeled this depth very helpfully. Thank you. Along the same topic, the Burke Museum has a very nice series of thoughts about Land Acknowledgements in the On Our Terms project.

In addition to paying homage to the original stewards of our lands and their descendants, Verena acknowledged International Women’s Day. In this context, her inspiration toward open education as a mother and in her previous career as K12 teacher are all the more powerful. 

What are the epiphanies that we talk about around our digital fire in these discussions? Those little moments that are significant to us as individuals that spark a change in how we think. Verena’s epiphany is an especially fun one, because it was based on an interaction–but only she knows the profound impact it had. It’s the kind of interaction that I dream about as a teacher. Verena was taking an online course, chatted in a comment, and heard back from the instructor immediately. The fact that that immediacy can occur in an online environment inspired her!

A theme in Verena’s philosophy is Ethics of Care (Nel Noddings), an approach that Sarita and I have written about with some other colleagues (Shukla et al. 2022). I describe this somewhat pragmatically as “how do we teach by building relationships with our students?” Verena used a particularly colorful explanation. The goal is to discover students’ passions and use those as a bridge. So, one of her Kindergarten students loved chickens. How could she use their love of chickens to teach about light?

Verena is currently working with Hugh McGuire on how to make pressbooks more interactive, alive. That’s taking them to think about how AI and other tech can take on some of the administrative tasks of teaching so instructors can spend more time directly with learners. Let’s dream big here! And while on the subject…can Canvas add a screencast option to the gradebook? Please?


Well, it was OpenEd Week and we did have a finale! Not much else happened here at UW Bothell, but our little LC went out with a bang! How wonderful to meet Verena after watching her name fly by on Twitter for many years. To me, she came from a community of those amazing Canadians from Thompson River University or UBC, or Simon Fraser. Not to mention the other provinces and people up there. I’ve learned a lot from the good people there and their dedication to Open Ed is impressive. 

As I sit here now I am recalling the path Verena took to her current role and how similar it was to mine. Both K12 teachers and then college teachers. Now both instructional designers. She, like me, is very driven by connections and people. And I do mean people, like individual students or coworkers, not entire “classes.” She is clearly focused on each person rather than the whole class. I remember a principal I used to work with always telling us that, “We teach students, not classes.” Yes, it is about developing relationships with people, not telling large groups some information. This notion extends into our work as instructional designers too. We work with faculty as unique people, not so much seeing them, or working with them as schools or groups. 

Verena seems very aware of that too. Verena shared an article she co-authored around Open Ed and how the Pandemic shaped some of our teaching and learning community efforts. The authors note that they, “integrated through a focus on human-centered learning and an intentional desire to consider student personas, needs, and to promote equity in terms of access and infrastructure. Human-centered learning was also emphasized…” I think we do that here in our learning community and our collaborative efforts. As the wonderful Michael Franti likes to say, Stay Human.After our fireside chat we discovered there was some good energy around getting a book club going for the summer! One of us mentioned Cathy Davidson’s newish book, “The New College Classroom.” That would be fun so I am looking into getting some copies. Perhaps we will have some good resources for fellow faculty as a result of our reading group?

Sarita Shukla

The epiphany series that we have going in our little learning community is such a generative space. It simultaneously acts as a “window and mirror” (borrowing this phrase from Emily Jane Style’s work) into my own evolving philosophy of teaching and learning on the open web. One poignant moment during this session with Verena Roberts was when a colleague referenced the watershed moment of the pandemic and how as instructors we may reference teaching-learning as BC (Before COVID) when referencing learning from the before times (before the pandemic).  

Hearing Verena describe her own evolution as a teacher-scholar, curriculum creator and researcher was fascinating as she painted a picture of her own professional journey. Verena traversed through all of these different aspects sharing big learnings from varied learning experiences. Her foray into the open web as a result of a chance engagement with an online instructor  was particularly powerful. It reminded me of Albert Bandura’s work on fortitude. One moment that particularly stood out to me was when Verena described the curriculum she created as a part of a project that would be taught to students in Singapore. Drawing from Style’s work, I wonder about creating educational spaces that provide a window into varied lived experiences while also finding materials that resonate with and are personally meaningful to students. Verena shared that the application of this curriculum had broadened her thinking about the need to meet students where they are and to lean into and reflect on relationships and build community and networks. This observation made me pause and grapple with ways to create authentic learning opportunities for students whose lived experiences might differ significantly from mine. Verena also discussed the importance of promoting an ethic of care. This point resonated with me in light of the recent work that Becca and I did for ways to reframe the achievement gap narrative (Shukla et al., 2022).

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