Open Education Week Series: “Tell Me 'Bout the Good Old Days”

This article is one of a series celebrating Open Education Week. It is brought to you by the Open Scholarship Committee.   

Despite living in a world with a large, aging population, not all of us have direct personal access to older adults.

OE Week 2023 logoThis is what Elena Neiterman, Continuing Lecturer, and Catherine Tong, Adjunct Professor, School of Public Health Sciences, realized while teaching a course on the sociology of aging.  For some students, a “simple” activity that required students to talk to an older adult was actually quite difficult. “Some students, especially international students or maybe first- or second-generation families, might not have older adults in their lives to talk to,” said Tong.

Life Stories of Older Adults: Insights on Life and Aging fills this gap. The newly released open education resource (OER) received funding in 2022 via the OER Fellows Grant, sponsored by the University of Waterloo Library (it is now the Staebler Insurance OER Fellows Grant).

Eight Life Stories

Designed to be used as either a stand-alone tool or incorporated into courses and programs, it includes eight unique videos where older Canadians from a wide range of cultural and social backgrounds tell their life stories.

Still from Insights on Life & Aging video.While the project was realized within the context of a sociology course, these recorded stories can be used across a variety of disciplines and levels of study. There are also prompts such as interactive reflection activities after each video as well as a final list of suggested applications for further discussion that showcase the OER’s versatility. For example, a colleague at Toronto Metropolitan University, who teaches a course on urban planning for an aging population, has been eagerly awaiting the launch of Life Stories of Older Adults. “She’s emailed me twice to [ask] when are your digital stories going to be ready”? Tong said.

Neiterman and Tong’s OER was designed for this exact purpose: to be reused and modified for anyone interested in these kinds of stories. Housed on eCampusOntario’s Open Library Publishing Platform, it is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence, which permits copying, reuse, and modification by anyone, anywhere in the world.

Stories can be viewed altogether or one at a time, said Neiterman. Instructors are therefore able to customize and embed these videos as part of their own content, highlighting elements relevant to their individual needs.

Student collaborators

Neiterman and Tong feel that this OER is a success because of the level of student involvement. Neiterman called it a “collaborative experience” where she and Tong acted mainly as facilitators, guiding the project while the students found older adults to interview, collected the data, and added their reflections on the experience.

Elena Neiterman, headshot.Catherine Tong, headshot.“The students gave us great insight on how we could use these stories as teaching tools…and how to integrate that into learning because they’re close to that,” Tong said, adding that it “engaged students so much more.”

The students also helped tap into a more diverse community than an instructor might have access to. For example, one interview was done entirely in Italian and the student involved then provided an English transcript.

Neiterman (right) and Tong (left) share the same philosophy that teaching is about engagement with students and listening to their voices. “This whole project is for students,” Neiterman said. And with this unique focus on the students and their direct involvement in the project, Neiterman and Tong are confident that Life Stories of Older Adults is an educational tool many students and educators will find valuable.

Image: OE Week 2023. [Graphic]. Used under CC BY 4.0

Image: Neiterman, E., Tong, C. (2023). Life Stories of Older Adults: Insights on Life and Aging. Used under CC By NC SA 4.0.