Our newest episode takes you to Vancouver, Canada, where the voice Julia Alards-Tomalin, faculty at the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) describe the inspiring story behind the award winning Buds, Branches, and Bark, recognized with a 2023 Open Awards for Excellence in Open Pedagogy.

We can trace the path from Julia’s childhood curiosity about the natural world growing up in Gimli, Manitoba to her studies as an undergraduate at BCIT. Her observation then that the primary time of year, in winter, when students learn to identify plants and trees is a challenge given most guidebooks contain photos and descriptions from full summer display. This experience literally planted seed germinated as an idea when Julia, as an instructor at BCIT, decided to develop an open educational resource winter identification plant guide.

Inspired by a presentation (we guess it might have been one by Robin Derosa), Julia adopted an open pedagogy approach by having her students collaborate in researching, writing and illustrating the first edition of Buds, Branches and Bark. Presenting this work at BCIT initiated an expansion of its open pedagogy approach via a conversation with colleague in the media design program, who suggested having their students provide design support. Since then more than 200 students from three different academic departments have been part of this continually growing resource.

You will hear in Julia’s voice the excitement and enthusiasm for the the newest third edition released in December 2023. The production level of Buds, Branches, and Bark rivals commercially published guides. Listen in to our conversation to appreciate this award winning example of open pedagogy in practice.

Three photos of smiling participants in this episode, 2 women and one man, each with headphones in their different locations.
In the OEG Voices Studio with (left to right) Julia Alards-Tomalin, Marcera Morales, and Alan Levine

This Episode

FYI: This section of show notes alone was generated by AI Actions in the Descript editor we use to produce OEG Voices.

In the journey of open education and passion for natural world, Episode 65 unfolds the captivating conversation with Julia Alards-Tomalin, an open education enthusiast and instructor at the British Columbia Institute of Technology. Featuring her remarkable open pedagogy project ‘Buds, Branches and Bark,’ the episode delves into Julia’s roots in Manitoba’s woodlands, her educational path through BCIT, and her innovative approach to creating an open educational resource (OER) on winter plant identification. Host Alan Levine and co-host Marcela Morales engage in a rich dialogue about the inception, challenges, and triumphs of Julia’s project, highlighting how open education, collaboration across disciplines, and student involvement have been key in crafting an accessible, evolving guide for learners worldwide. The conversation also explores the broader impact and future possibilities of open educational resources in fostering a more equitable and connected learning environment.

  • 00:00 Early Motivations and Open Education
  • 00:28 Developing ‘Buds, Branches and Bark’
  • 01:58 A Childhood in Nature
  • 06:50 The Open Education Journey
  • 24:35 Looking to the Future

Additional Links and Quotes for Episode 65

So the time of year when you’re a student, like it’s not ideal for looking at plants. Courses start in the Fall and they go from September till May. And in that time period, it’s mostly the winter here. It’s really hard to learn about the natural world when all of the resources that we had were focused on looking at plants during the growing season when they have leaves.

I remember standing outside in the forest looking at little trees and trying to figure out what the heck they were. And all we had was our book that only has pictures of leaves and things in it. And I was so frustrated.

I remember talking to one of my instructors about it being like, well, why aren’t there any resources? And he was like, well, you’ll just have to make one. I guess that kind of where seed was planted. I really wanted there to something to help me.

Julia Alards-Tomalin on inspiration to create Buds, Bark, and Branches

I was so honored. I was like almost in tears really. And when I went to school the next day and told students like they just burst out into a round of applause. People were hugging each other. I was so proud to see people working together, using each other’s different strengths, collaboratively. It’s just really touching to see what we can do when we work together.

Julia Alards-Tomalin on hearing the news of winning the OE Award

Our open licensed music for this episode is a track called  I Don’t See the Branches, I See the Leaves by Chris Zabriskie and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Like most of our intro music, it was found originaly from the Free Music Archive (see our full FMA playlist)since the time of researching, this track is no longer available at the FMA.

This was another episode we are recording on the web in Squadcast. This is part of the Descript platform for AI enabled transcribing and editing audio in text– this has greatly enhanced our ability to produce our shows We have been exploring some of the other AI features in Descript, but our posts remain human authored unless indicated otherwise.