Open Pedagogy Award

Buds, Branches and Bark: A Guide to Winter Identification in the Pacific Northwest

British Columbia Institute of Technology (Canada)

As a student at British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT), Julia Alards-Tomalin noticed the timing of most plant identification courses over winter was a challenge as the vast majority of textbooks and guides provide photos and notes based on how plants and trees look in the summer.

Now a faculty member of the BCIT Renewable Resource, Julia teaches across three programs, the Forestry and Natural Areas Management and the Fish, Wildlife and Recreation Diploma programs as well as the BSc in Ecological Restoration. Julia’s focus on what students need led to her leading a collaborative and creative process necessary to create the open textbook: Buds, Branches and Bark: A Guide to Winter ID in the Pacific Northwest.

Julia and her team were committed to creating a positive impact in the community and successfully developed a legacy product and resource that will be added to and used for many years to come. No book like it previously existed in the region. In 2020 Julia received a BCIT Open Education Grant and adopted an open pedagogy approach by recruiting her students to conduct the field research. However, research for the first edition was limited by the restrictions of the pandemic.

For the second edition, the students were out in the field collecting notes and imagery. They built on existing resources, added plants, created new drawings and engaged not only faculty and students within our department, but gave students within the graphic arts program at BCIT an opportunity to share their skills and participate in a real-world task that benefits them both in their work experience and application for work in their field.

Julia established a collective group with generous and open invitation for others to join her in this work, provided the idea and context for open collaboration and used novel tools to open access to educational opportunities that were not only for the end user, but for the developer and participants in the project itself. The method and practice of learning employed here generated a beautiful interactive PDF and a digital online new 3rd edition. The resource is a result of open pedagogy, and it will support both instructional and self-directed learning across programs and courses as well as offer a valuable resource to industry partners and practitioners. This is an outstanding example of open educational practices and of using digital technology to collaborate, create, and share knowledge and skills.

The project involved the collaboration of nearly 200 students across three schools at BCIT. This project inspired many people and it brought many members of the BCIT community closer together. Buds, Branches and Bark demonstrates what is possible through open learning projects, collaboration, and interdisciplinary initiatives. It also highlights the talents and potential of students within our institute.

See also the news story “Life at BCIT: Natural Resources faculty partners with students to co-create an Open Educational Resource textbook.”

The book created opportunities for individuals to shine and build skills and confidence through sharing and creation of a living document. It was an authentic task that can now be developed and added to as a legacy for future faculty and students. This book is a model for the many who aspire to follow in the footsteps of this project

Award Nominator

Open pedagogy on even a small scale can be challenging, so to pull off an interdisciplinary project involving nearly 200 students across 3 schools is quite an achievement. It sounds like the project has not only succeeded in terms of the learning experience for students but has also benefited the institution in terms of building relationships.

Award Reviewer


Julia shared that the third edition of Buds, Branches and Bark was published in December, 2023. This new edition includes 28 additional plants, a series of plant tour maps, improved images and a photo gallery.

The third addition is available at

Explore more about this award…

Juilia Alards-Tomalin presenting at the Open Education Global Conference, October 16, 2023, Edmonton

About Open Pedagogy Award

An innovative open teaching practice that incorporates openness in several levels of the learning processes. Engaging not only in the production, use and reuse of content but also promoting effective open teaching practices.