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Necessary Illusions

I’m getting grumpier. It comes and goes, but I find myself yelling “get off my damn lawn!” more than the laid back 20 year old hackysack playing me would have ever even thought possible.

Is this really what today was all about? Is this how we sum up today?

The prominent discourse I saw on social media today. Tweets aplenty about blue dresses and llama chases.

Meanwhile, one of the most significant decisions about the future of the internet was made today; a decision that Open Media has called, “monumental, and historic” and “a historic victory for the Internet and for Internet users everywhere.” A victory in a battle that has been ongoing for 10 years. The FCC in the US has ruled in favour of Net Neutrality. Yet it seemed that every time I looked at my Twitter or Facebook feed today, or peeked into my Feedly account, all I saw was llamas and dresses (with the occasional much appreciated exception).

I know, I know. Grumpy. What is the harm in blowing off some steam and having some fun? I am guilty as charged of engaging in meme silliness. We all need to have some fun. And you can easily argue that it is the same internet that amplifies llamas and dresses that made possible today’s Net Neutrality win. Tweets, status updates, online petitions, grassroots democracy enabled by the internet making positive change happen. And you would be right. That does make me feel less grumpy.

But still…in the back of my mind, I know I am living in a world where llamas and dresses win. Perez Hilton and Buzzfeed. Necessary illusions. And the Net Neutrality victory today seems hollow when I know that tomorrow the zeitgeist will be populated with llamas in blue dresses.

Pressbooks Textbook development

It’s been awhile since I’ve written anything about Pressbooks development, and we have a couple of new development projects in the works that you might be interested in.

First, we are working with the excellent FunnyMonkey team to develop an open source PDF output engine. Right now, outputs of PDF in PB requires a commercial PDF output engine PrinceXML. Prince does a really fantastic job of creating PDF versions of the books created in PB, but the fact that it is a commercial license is a barrier for others who may want to adopt PB.

This project has been on our ToDo list for awhile, and I am really happy to see the work that Bill, Jeff and Brad have been doing to develop an open source PDF output engine based on mPDF.

The idea with the new PDF output plugin is not to replace Prince, but to provide an alternative for those who don’t wish to purchase a Prince license. PB will work with both.  mPDF won’t quite match the feature set of Prince, but it should still provide an adequate alternative for creating PDF’s without having to dish out money for a commercial Prince license.

Second, we are working with Hugh and the Pressbooks.com development team to develop an Open Document Type (ODT) output engine. This ODT output will also be suitable for use with MS Word (I can hear the sound of bemused puzzlement from some of you). Yeah, Word. I think that, if we are serious about making these books adaptable and editable, we need to make our content available in as many formats as possible, including formats that faculty are used to working with. And, for better or for worse, that is Word. I think that is what most faculty are used to working with, and if it means they will customize content and remix it and – ultimately – adopt it, then let’s make it available in a format that can be edited using Word.

The third bit of development revolves around the excellent work on accessibility that Amanda is doing with Tara Robertson at CAPER-BC and Sue Doner at Camosun College. We are going to be releasing an accessibility toolkit very soon that is targeted at faculty who are adapting and creation open textbooks to help them understand some of the basic design principles of accessibility. Based on some of the accessibility user testing Amanda, Tara and Sue have done, our new co-op student Ashlee from the SFU Computing Science program is working on baking some new accessibility features into PB to make the platform even more accessible for students.

Look for these to make their way into Pressbooks in the coming months.

* I updated this post after Brad informed me that these changes are not specific to Pressbooks Textbook, but will be submitted back to Pressbooks for inclusion with the core package.

 

Check your Telus contract

Telus has announced that they will begin charging users who go over their monthly cap. They also rolled out a new user website where people who use Telus can monitor their monthly data usage.

I am a Telus internet customer coming close to the end of my 3 year agreement with them, so I logged onto the new site to see how close I was to my 250GB monthly cap and was surprised to see this:

telus

Wait a sec. Does that say my limit is 150 GB? But Telus, we have a 3 year agreement that says I get 250GB.

telus4

When I called Telus to ask them what was up, they said the plans were changed in October, and my plan was downgraded to the 150GB cap plan. The customer service rep on the other end of the phone said that she could upgrade me to the 250 GB plan for an extra $5 per month.

What? Wait a minute. You want me to pay an extra $5 a month to get something from you that we have already agreed to in a contract that you would provide? I mean, we have a contract! This is exactly the type of behaviour that contracts are supposed to avoid. I agree to pay you each month for a service, and you agree to give me what we paid for for the term of the contract which, in my case, runs until April.

But yet we have a situation here where it seems like Telus has arbitrarily changed the terms of the contract I have with them and downgraded my account by 100GB —– sh0rtly before they announce that they are going to charge extra for people who go over their cap? That is just….wrong.

My “contract” expires in April. Telus has given me a higher cap and increased bandwidth for lower price for the rest of my contract. But this is an appeasement (and even then the rep on the phone told me that they were able to offer this deal to me, not because they messed up, but because I was a good customer with an excellent payment record).  Customer service reps being customer service reps can only do so much. They can’t change corporate policy with a customer on the phone. The pisser is, I don’t know if I would get much better service or value if I take my business elsewhere, such is the state with ISP’s these days. But come April, I’ll be looking to switch.

Or maybe I should just switch now and drop Telus, despite having 2 months left on my contract? I mean, if they can arbitrarily change the terms of our contract, then why can’t I?

If you are like me and signed a long term contract with Telus many years ago that agreed to give you 250GB monthly usage, check your current usage cap and make sure you are still getting what Telus agreed to give you in your contract.

Poor form, Telus. Poor form.

New camera

Just after Christmas I got my first DSLR camera. Nothing fancy. An entry level Nikon D3200 that I picked up at a Boxing Week sale.

I’ve wanted a DSLR for a long time. I used to shoot film with a Yashica 35mm, but when that bit the dust a decade ago, I switched to digital point and shoot as DSLR’s were crazy expensive at that time. But in the back of my mind, I always planned on getting a DSLR.

The proverbial straw came this past Christmas when I ordered our family printed calendar from Shutterfly. Each year for the past 8, I sift through the family photos for the year, pick the best, and print a calendar for the next year.

Well, this year when I got the calendar, I was extremely disappointed by the number of blurry, low light, fuzzy and generally craptacular photos from the past year…

A good photo made bad by a camera phone

Good photo op gone bad.

The phone camera just wasn’t cutting it, especially since the vast majority of photos we take are in the low light of our house.

A second reason I decided this was the year was the subject in the photo above – my daughter. This past year, she has taken a real interest in photography, claiming the ancient Canon Sureshot – that first digital camera I bought close to a decade ago – as her own. She didn’t mind the age. She was too busy enjoying taking pictures and making videos with the limited capacity of the camera. So, I thought this would be a perfect opportunity for both of us to kindle a common interest together, and this Christmas, she got a new camera as well. Not a DSLR, but a decent quality point and shoot number with a few manual overrides.

This month, we have been learning our new cameras together. I’ve been trying to take D’arcy Normans  advice to shoot a lot of photos, and my daughter and I have been going out on the town for photo walks together, taking pictures of whatever strikes our fancy. And we’re having a blast.

DSC_0154 Morning light photo shootDSC_0163These cameras have already proven to be one of the best purchases I’ve made in a long time.

Totems

Some totem pics. Emailing multiple pictures from Picasa to my blog.

Test post by email

Testing the post by email feature of WordPress. Hopefully if you are reading this you’ll see a lovely photo of our puppy, Tanner somewhere in this post.

Supporting what I use

For the past couple of years I’ve made it a point during this season to try to provide some financial support to the web tools and services I use that are open. And by open, I mean that are free to use, and who do not make money off of my data or advertising.

In 2012, I supported Wikipedia, Mozilla, Creative Commons and the work of Audrey Watters. Last year it was The Internet Archive, Bad Science Watch, MediaSmarts and OpenMedia. All these projects and organizations make a difference to my online life and I am appreciative of the work they do.

This year, I have returned to Wikipedia and Creative Commons. CC is becoming especially important in my professional life as it is a major component of the Open Textbook Project I am working on.

In addition to those two organizations,  I am also supporting three other open products and services that I use.

I have been spending a lot of time this year converting documents, and have come to rely on Pandoc, created by John McFarlane. This open source software package is the Swiss Army knife of document conversion, and has made my work life easier. So, a monetary nod goes to Pandoc.

Finally, there are two streaming music services that I use almost everyday. If you see me hunkered over a keyboard with my headphones on, then chances are I am plugged into either Radio Paradise  or Soma FM. Both are longtime streaming music service that are listener supported, ad free, and provide a great diverse soundtrack to my life.

I write and publish these posts because I want to encourage you to do the same, and support the open services and tools that you use. The open source software that makes your life a bit easier, the single person journalist or blogger trying to stay independent and free from the influence of chasing advertising dollars, the web service you use that isn’t mining your data as a business model. I know that, at this time of the year, there are many competing interests for your hard earned dollars. But if you have the means, I encourage you to put a few dollars to supporting the open sites, services and tools that you use.

Week 48 Week in Review

Truncated week as I took Monday & Tuesday off after OpenEd.

  • Shortlisted candidates for an 8 month co-op gig we have with the open textbook project. Brendan Lane, our current co-op (and an awesome one at that) is leaving at the end of the month after working on open textbooks for the past 8 months. I am sure he has cleaned up enough bad html code to last a lifetime.
  • Met with Ministry of Advanced Ed in Saskatchewan to talk about open initiatives in that province. We’ve recently opened up our textbook review process to both Alberta and Saskatchewan faculty and are looking for ways to make more collaborative moves under the tri-provincial MOU.
  • Brainstorming meeting yesterday on how to promote and support Open Pedagogy projects (like many of the UBC student as producer projects that Will and Novak talked about in their OpenEd presentation). We also talked about developing more localized sprints along the lines of the work being done by Lumen Learning where we go to institutions to build local capacity by engaging in a textbook adaptation project.
  • After OpenEd I came back wanting to have someone else check over our attribution statements for textbook adaptation projects we have done, and to ensure that we have done things correctly as per the CC licenses. Working on adaptations on projects (or, even more challenging remix projects) is complicated when you are mixing and matching sources of content with different licenses, so I have reached out to Creative Commons to see if they can help us by checking over our work on the first adaptation projects we are rolling out the door.
  • Our fantastic Communications Director, Tori Klassen, is leaving BCcampus & heading over to Vancouver Community College, so we had an impromptu office goodby lunch for her yesterday.
  • Began working on venues for OpenEd 2015 in Vancouver.
  • Open Education Week is coming up in March, and it looks like we are going to try to put together a series of lunchtime webinars for the week with different open textbook groups (faculty, librarians, students, adapters & others) participating in the webinars. I may be tapping some of you on the shoulder in the coming weeks
  • Heading to VIU to do a workshop with Jessie Key on Open Textbooks on January 15th. Also have booked presentations for UNBC and Selkirk College in the new year. The virtual open textbook roadshow is coming to an institution near you.
  • Getting ready to move the new Nursing and Mental Health textbook I’ve been working on to the editors for release early in the new year.
  • Added a cap of 5 reviews per faculty to our textbook review process to try to encourage a greater diversity of voices in our textbook reviews.
  • I’m facilitating a couple of open online courses – a one week course on OER’s starting Saturday with EdTechOpen (register here), and another longer, 4 week course on adopting open textbooks. Did some work prepping for those.
  • Did an interview with a group doing an evaluation of the work of the OER Research Hub. They wanted the opinion of a partner who has worked with the Hub about what it was like working with them. Really, if it wasn’t for Martin, Beck and the rest of the OER Research Hub reaching out to us after I flailed trying to organize some research on our project, I think we would have missed a valuable opportunity to add to the body of OER research that is in demand by practitioners around the world. For that I am eternally grateful for their help and support. I’ll add Rajiv to my grateful OER researcher list as well as he, too, helped push the current research project along.
Proudly sporting my shiny new OER Research Hub t-shirt.

Big fan. Proudly sporting my shiny new OER Research Hub t-shirt.

Week 47 Week in Review

It was all about OpenEd 2014 last week in Washington, DC. Brad and I presented on the work he has been doing to add an api to PressBooks. Amanda and Lauri also presented on managing an Open Textbook adaptation and how we have been doing things here in BC.

David announced that OpenEd 2015 will be held in Vancouver, BC next year & we (BCcampus) will be helping to host the event, so I was taking lots of notes on logistics organizing an event for 500+ people.

I wrote a blog post about OER efficacy after seeing John Hilton’s presentation on OER research.

I didn’t get to spend nearly enough time with some people as I had hoped to, but am grateful to have finally met folks like Audrey Watters, David Kernohan, Vivien Rolfe, Tim Owens, Pat Lockley, Rob Farrow, Bea de los Arcos, Mikhail Gersovich, Nate Otto, Mike Caufield, Rolin Moe and so many others in person after connecting online for many, many years.

And such a great representation from BC at OpenEd with excellent presentations from UBC’s Will Engle & Novak Rogic, BCcampus faculty fellow & UBC faculty Christina Hendricks, RRU’s George Veletsianos., and JIBC’s Tannis Morgan (who’s 11 year old daughter wins the award for best graphic illustration of a presentation with this beauty of Brad from our session)

While I was deep into conference networking mode for the majority of the week, Brad & I did get a chance to see some of Washington & spent a day playing tourist.

The backside of the White House with Washington Monument in bg

The backside of the White House with Washington Monument in bg

Flight of beer at Churchkey at the end of a long day playing tourist

Flight of beer at Churchkey at the end of a long day playing tourist

 

 

Proven efficacy?

I am at OpenEd in Washington DC this week. Earlier today I sat in on a session by John Hilton from Brigham Young University called A Review of Research on the Perceptions, Influence, and Cost-Savings of OER In lightening sequence, Hilton presented 12 empirical research studies that showed that students who used open educational resources do as well and, in some cases, slightly better, in their class. 

Now, many of these studies were cautious in drawing direct conclusions that it was the OER alone that lead to the results of the studies (and I’ll post the full link of research studies he quoted here when the slides of the presentation are released), but 12 studies that all looked at classes using OER’s returning similar results is encouraging, even if that result is, in essence, no significant difference. Because if there is no significant difference between learning outcomes with students who use free open learning resources and a $200 commercial textbook, then why use the commercial textbook?

One of the interesting points in the presentation came at the end during the Q&A when David Kernohan asked John if he knew of any studies that looked specifically at the efficacy of publishers textbooks. John’s reply, essentially, that he wasn’t really aware off the top of his head, but he may have come across 3 or 4. But there isn’t much.

Which is a similar finding that I discovered this spring as I was doing some research on what makes an effective textbook as I was preparing for our Geography book sprint. There is not a lot of research on efficacy of textbooks, period. One paper I looked at was from 1996 titled Student’s Perceptions of Textbook Pedagogical Aids by Wayne Weiten, Rosanna Guadagno & Cynthia Beck which stated that

“virtually no research has assessed the usefulness of the numerous pedagogical aids that are now standard far in psychology texts”.

Meaning that, in the views of these researchers, the features of a textbook that have been put in place to help student learn weren’t put there because they have been shown to help student learn.

Now, I noted at the time of that post that the research I was looking at was 20 years old, but the scans I did at the time showed something similar to what John Hilton had discovered – there are not a lot of research studies showing that publishers textbooks help students learn better (and if you know of studies, please point me to them).

Contrast this lack of empirical research on the efficacy of publishers textbooks with what the recent Babson report on OER’s said is the most important factor faculty consider when selecting teaching resources – proven efficacy. And not just a few faculty, but 59.6% of faculty said “proven efficacy” is the number one consideration for them when choosing teaching resources. Which is a huge disconnect for me. You have faculty saying they pick resources because they are proven effective, but yet reviews of the literature don’t show a lot of “proven efficacy” of publishers textbooks. Which should start to make educators reframe the question from “show me the proof that open educational resources are effective” to “show me the proof that publishers resources are”.

Weiten, W., Guadagno, R. E., & Beck, C. A. (1996). Student’s Perceptions of Textbook Pedagogical Aids. Teaching of Psychology, 23(2), 105-107. doi:10.1207/s15328023top2302_8

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