Remixing open textbooks redux

Out of all the blog posts I have written in the past few years, none continues to generate the type of traffic to my site as the post I did on remix and plagiarism 2 years ago.

In that post, I raged against Turnitin which sent out a poster that tried to portray some of what I consider important cultural acts of our time: remix, mashup, aggregation and retweeting, as acts of plagiarism.

Tonight I reread what I wrote 2 years ago. It was written right around the time that the open textbook project was announced here in BC, and before I joined BCcampus to work on the project. In that post, I talked about some of the challenges I thought the open textbook project might have working with faculty around adapting content created by others:

If this is the true and accurate sentiments of educators in general – that remix is, in fact a form of plagiarism – then it makes me realize just what kind of uphill battle we might face here in British Columbia as we move towards creating and modifying Open Textbooks. The challenge being that if educators have this underlying core value that remixing  someone else’s content to create something new is plagiarism, then they are coming into the open text book project with the preconceived notion that we have to build something from scratch; reuse is not an option because it is plagiarism.

For me, this is the wrong way to approach an open textbook project. In order for the open textbook initiative to be successful, I think we need educators to come to the table with an open mind about reuse and remixing existing materials; to modify already existing open textbooks and openly licensed content to fit their specific needs.

Little did I know that, 4 months later, I would be working on this project.

Fast forward 2 years and I am happy to report that we have had some successes in the adaptation/remix area with the Open Textbook Project. This week we released 3 textbooks that are significant adaptations of previously released open textbooks; Mastering Strategic Management, Introductory Chemistry and Principles of Social Psychology. All three of these books were previously available in the commons with open licenses, and all three have been heavily modified and adapted by British Columbia faculty.

I am very proud of the people who have worked on the adaptation projects. These have not been easy projects. These have not been easy projects. Yes, I just said that twice. And will say it again. These have not been easy projects. There is no template to follow for adapting textbooks on the scale that we are doing (and we are not done with some of the biggest adaptation projects still to come in the next few weeks).

Why has this been so challenging? Really, Amanda and Lauri (the two project managers responsible for the heavy lifting) and the faculty involved with adapting these books can fill you in in much more detail than I can, which is why I keep telling people who are interested in adaptation projects that the best BCcampus presentation to attend at OpenEd will be the hands on, nitty gritty adaptation session that Lauri and Amanda will be presenting. You want to get a view into the belly of the adaptation beast, that is where you will find out the work and the issues that are involved in an adaptation project. In a nutshell it boils down to the simple fact that there are not a lot of established processes for adapting an open textbook. If there was a process or a formula that others had developed, then these first projects might have been easier. But there isn’t a lot of operational material on how to actually adapt an open textbook. So, whenever we have an issue or challenge, we need to figure out/research how to solve this on the fly.

Emergent operations.

For example, we had this high level conceptual view (formed from the BC faculty reviews we received about the open textbooks in the collection) that we would have to “Canadianize” many of the textbooks we had found in the commons as they were written from a predominantly U.S. perspective. Great. Swap out a few case studies, replace some stats and we’re good to go.

Wait a second….all those descriptive measurements. Those are imperial units. Oh, wait, I guess we need to go through the entire book and replace all those as well with metric equivalents.

Spelling. They spell it labor, not labour. Oh. Guess we need to go through the entire book and search and replace those. Behaviour, too. Hmmm, there are a lot of those.

Wait. Are those copyright images in that book? We can’t release a book with copyright images. We need to find CC licensed replacements for those images. Crap, those charts are copyright as well. Isn’t this a CC licensed book? WHAT IS ALL THIS COPYRIGHT STUFF DOING IN THERE? Full stop. Content audit. Replace all those images.

Ok, time for copy editing. Oh, the copy editors want to know if there is a track changes feature in PressBooks.

<crickets>

Hmmm, okay, let’s try this plugin. It’s the friggin New York Times. If anyone knows about editorial workflo—–oh crap. Well, that plugin doesn’t play nicely with PressBooks. Ok, no, that’s not going to work.

And how exactly do we word the CC attributions again?  Where do we put them – within the caption of an image, or at the foot of the page, or in a separate document at the back of the entire book, like a glossary or index? How do we handle academic citations? What do we cite, and what do we need to attribute as per CC license requirements?

Ok, I know. I’ll stop because I am sure I am scaring people. Isn’t this supposed to be easy?

Yes, it is a lot of work. But ours is just one way. We are one project and are probably going to extremes because there is this intense desire among the people working on this project to be correct – to address these issues when they arise in a meaningful and thoughtful way. We have this opportunity to do something that, quite frankly, I haven’t seen done on this scale anywhere else. We are adapting a boatload of existing open educational resources for reuse on a system wide scale.

Which brings me back to the original post I wrote about the fear I had that the project would not be able to find faculty willing to remix the work of others. That was flat out wrong. The faculty we have worked with have been eager to adapt – to use others material. To remix. The have smashed those fears I had from 2 years ago, and have provided some tangible examples of remix and adaptation that rounds out the emerging picture of how educators are remixing open educational resources. These people get it. It has been hard work, but adaptation IS happening. And they are to be commended.

But equally commendable are the faculty who created the original material, and who had the foresight and understanding to release their content with an open license that allowed us to take their original material and rework it. They are the ones who set up the conditions to make our projects successful. For if they didn’t put the blood, sweat and effort into creating the original textbooks, or if they had and then decided to shop them around to a commercial publisher or release them with full copyright, then we simply could not do what it is we are doing. So, this post is really a long meandering thank you to David Ball, Dave Ketchen, Jeremy Short and Charles Stangor – the original authors of the three textbooks that have been revised by B.C. faculty Jessie Key (Vancouver Island University), Rajiv Jhangiani (Kwantlen Polytechnic University), Dr. Hammond Tarry (Capilano University) and Janice Edwards (College of the Rockies). For without their original work, adaptation would not be happening at all.

Week 39: My Week in Review

Another week down, another 2 new books in our open textbook collection! Kudo’s to Amanda, Jessie Key, Rajiv Jianghiani and Hammond Terry who, between them, rolled out 2 new BCcampus adapted textbooks this week: the first Canadian Edition of Introduction to Chemistry and an internationalized version of Principles of Social Psychology.

My week

  • Met with OpenSchoolBC about some resources they have developed for trades curriculum that could, potentially, be adapted into open textbooks.
  • Finalized the open textbook budget for the next year.
  • Reviewed open textbook creation proposals in skills and trades training
  • Did some outreach work with provincial college Deans in the Trades & Tech areas informing them of the Open Textbook project and the current call for proposals focusing on trades.
  • Attended the September advisory meeting of the CCCOER & contributed the BC Open Textbook Adoption Toolkit to the CCCOER beta campus toolkit under development.
  • Had first planning meeting on the 2015 Open Textbook Summit. I think we are going to try to go a bit narrower with this one and really try to engage the people who make adoption decisions – faculty, chairs and department heads.
  • Wrote a bit of a book length comment on this post from Anne Marie Cunningham on what OER’s can “replace” in higher ed. The convo was sparked after I was tagged in a Twitter convo, which lead me to a really interesting presentation from Norm Friesen on lectures as trans-media pedagogical form. THIS is the reason why I still love Twitter. To be openly tagged and brought into an interesting conversation, which then leads you down an unexpected path of discovery.
  • Attended an all BCcampus staff meeting with our new Associate/Assistant (still not exactly clear what the A in ADM means) Deputy Minister
  • Created 2 new PressBooks sites. One for a health related textbook (our first skills training project that had already been developing their book at PressBooks.com! FTW!), and one for one of our Geography textbook authors.
  • Sent a copy of the open Psychology testbank that we created this summer to a prof at University of Winnipeg.
  • Continued working on an “open textbook by the numbers” blog post for the open site.
  • Will be doing a virtual presentation with the OER Librarin group on how librarians can support a book sprint at the October 27th OER Librarians Event at Douglas College (know of a librarian interested in attending? Registration is open).
  • Spent much of Tuesday documenting the first 7 chapters of changes we made to our Canadian adaptation of the OpenStax Introduction to Sociology book (coming soon) before handing it off to Brendan, our co-op, to complete the next 14. Sent those off to OpenStax who may fold some of our revisions into their next version of the book. ’cause that is how open works.
  • About 35% of the way into To Big To Know by David Weinberger and am struck by the similarities between Weinberger’s thinking & connectivism.

And then there is Brad

 

Brad rolled out a killer PressBooks Textbook update that turns PBTB into a PressBooks eco-system with the potential to conduct a federated search across other PBTB installations and import CC tagged open content from those installations. It’s crazy what that guy is doing with api’s. I wish I could keep up.

 

Week in Review: Week 38, 2014

I’m trying to get into a habit of doing these week in review posts on Friday’s, but last Friday was a bit busier than expected as my Dad and his girlfriend arrived in town for a weekend visit.

  • Amanda and I had our first meeting with the Ministry of Advanced Education as part of my new (temporary) role at BCcampus.
  • Met with the OER Research Hub and one of our Faculty Fellows, Dr. Rajiv Jhangiani. Rajiv is going to work with Beck Pitt to conduct research with BC post-secondary faculty on open textbooks.
  • Started developing the faculty survey in LimeSurvey.
  • We released 2 new open textbooks, the BC in a Global Context open geography textbook, and an adapted Canadian Edition of Mastering Strategic Management.
  • Finalized the open textbook newsletter layout with our communications department.
  • Fixed the wording on the newsletter unsubscribe page.
  • Compiled some new open textbook stats for the Ministry meeting., The one that jumped out at me was that out of 962 students in BC using an open textbook, less than 19 physical printed books were ordered from our print supplier, Document Solutions at SFU. That represents less than 2% of students purchasing printed textbooks (and we can’t confirm that all the orders are actually students as many faculty are ordering printed review copies for themselves, so the 19 orders may also include faculty). We’ll be posting some of the stats over on the BCcampus OpenEd site. * this post was edited after originally published. See below.
  • Reviewed 7 open textbook applications from institutions and organizations for the call for proposals on developing textbooks for trades and skills training open textbooks.
  • Met with College Open Textbooks to discuss ways we can cooperate and share adoption data as this information is very difficult and time consuming to collect.
  • Met and had lunch with Tony Bates on Friday to discuss his experiences with Pressbooks Textbooks. Tony has been a beta user as he openly authors his latest book, Teaching in a Digital Age, and he had some very useful feedback that will help influence future development of the platform.
  • Reconciled the open textbook budget and did some financial forecasting for the next year. As much as this might sound like drudgery for some, I find I really enjoy cracking open a spreadsheet and both plan and reconcile the financial bits and pieces of the project.
  • Met with our new Manager of Professional Learning, Tracy Kelly, to discuss and plan the next 6 months’ professional learning activities and how the PL team can support the work of the OTB team.
  • Started working on fall offerings of the Adopting Open Textbooks online course.
  • Developed some research questions for our Faculty Fellows, who will be coming to Victoria on October 6 for a day long kick-off meeting with us.
  • Reviewed the application process for a Hewlett grant. We’re considering an application for some funding to support some of the activities of the OTB project that we don’t have the ability to do right now..

Finally, here in British Columbia, the labour dispute between provincial k-12 teachers and the provincial government that has kept kids out of schools since mid-June  was finally resolved. Today my kids did what many other kids across Canada did weeks ago and headed to school to start their new year.

Back to School* This post was edited to fix the reference to the number of students who are using open textbooks in BC. The original number posted was 2630. This was incorrect (I included students who will be using open textbooks in upcoming terms). The correct number of students using an open textbook is 962. I’ve also adjusted the % of orders of physical books. The number remains 19, but the percentage changes from <1% to <2% (1.9% to be accurate).

Our open Geography textbook is alive!

BC in a Global ContextWell, this is a few weeks later than I was hoping thanks to some last minute wrangling we needed to do with the PressBooks PDF output and image sizes, but it is finally ready for use.

British Columbia in a Global Context is a first year Geography open (CC-BY) textbook that was created by a group of faculty, designers, librarians, instructional designers and other open educators during in a four day book sprint held earlier this summer.

This first year Geography textbook takes a holistic approach to Geography by incorporating elements of physical, human and regional geography, as well as bringing in methods and perspectives from spatial information science.

The process of how this book came about has been well documented so if you are interested, you can check out the posts on the BCcampus Open Education site. For now, I just want to get the word out and start finding Geography faculty who might be interested in reviewing the textbook.

My week in review: Week 37 2014

  • Interviewed by the SFU student newspaper The Peak on open textbooks.
  • Was also interviewed (wearing my Dad gamer hat) by a Wall Street Journal (?) reporter about the Minecraft sale to Microsoft after a reporter there saw a tweet I made about the potential sale. As my daughter would say “that was random”.
  • Attended the regional Premier’s Awards for public service excellence where our open textbook was a regional finalist for the award. Even though we didn’t win, it was very nice to have our project highlighted to the pubic service across the province and make it to the finalist stage. They made a video about our project.
  • Worked with Amanda and Lauri to develop the final checklist for an open textbook release.
  • More working on wording of CC licenses for our derivative textbooks. I have a blog post on the Open textbook site coming soon about the complications of licensing a derivative version of an existing textbook.
  • Registered for OpenEd By the way, if you are going to OpenEd and are interested in the logistics of adapting open textbooks in our project, I highly recommend attending Amanda and Lauri’s presentation on our operational procedures around adapting open textbooks. The work they are doing as project managers is really on the ground nuts and bolts get it done stuff.
  • Presentation was accepted for COHERE, so registered and made travel arrangements for Regina.
  • Worked with Hilda to develop and Open Textbook email newsletter that we can send out to inform faculty once we release the newly adapted Canadian versions of our textbooks.
  • Working on some changes to the open site to make it easier to identify books and their child adaptations, and create some way to cross link the two to make people aware that the books have derivative versions.
  • Also with open site, we’re adding a “do you want to adapt this textbook?” type link to start opening it up for BC faculty who wish to make their own adaptations of the books. It’s still a manual process for us to set this up (this will not scale!), but we want to start seeding the idea that you don’t need us to adapt an open textbook, and see if we can get some early adopters into adapting a book on their own.
  • Continued reviewing new textbook adaptation creation funding applications, although this is primarily handled by Amanda.
  • Wrote blog post on 10th anniversary of Wikimedia Commons. Also contributed a couple photos for their Historical Monuments project.
  • Attended Amanda’s CCCOER presentation on open textbooks.
  • Met with our Equella reps.
  • Budgets are going to be a bigger part of my life with the recent org changes. Not a bad thing, but more administrative work as I need to set up a tracking system to keep me on track with budgets.
  • Great convo (as always) with Brian this morning that has my head swimming in the clouds in a really awesome way. And also wondering if we can build stuff with Alan while he is in BC this fall.

Random notes on my new productivity systems

My “check email 2x a day” system fell apart this week as I realize that the increased demands of juggling administrative tasks required more email checking. I still am hoping that “11and 3″ will work for me, but I might have to adjust as I felt myself pulled into email more than I hoped this week.

And finally

Those who know me know I am a Canadian soccer fan (yes, there are a few of us) and this week was noteworthy because I watched as we ended a 2 year winless drought and won an international soccer match beating Jamaica 3-1.

2 FRIGGIN YEARS!

Even Toronto Maple Leaf fans haven’t felt the pain of going 2 years without a win. Good on ya, boys. And because Getty Images now lets you embed images, I can even include a nice pic of the occasion.

Allez la rouge! That should bring up our FIFA ranking to, oh 120th or so in the world.

Happy Birthday Wikimedia Commons

Sunday was a big day for the Wikimedia Commons.

Wikimedia Commons is turning 10 years old this Sunday — will you help celebrate? We’re asking everyone to join the Wikimedia community by sharing a freely licensed image with world.

You know, I have contributed, edited and created Wikipedia articles. And I have spoken of the love I have for higher education researchers & faculty who engage with Wikimedia and create clever and creative methods to add content to Wikipedia and the Commons. But, for some reason, it has never crossed my mind to actually contribute something to the Commons. I do contribute photos to the greater “commons” (the web) via my Flickr account where I license many of my images with a Creative Commons license, but I have never contributed something to the Wikimedia Commons.

So let’s fix that right now….

The Wikimedia Commons maintains a page listing image requests. There are a lot of image requests that post-sec faculty could contribute, especially in the sciences. So, if you have any of these specific images (or any image for that matter) consider uploading it to the Wikimedia Commons and improving the Commons.

Or, you can do what I did and contribute a photo of an historical monument in your community. Right now,  Wikimedia Commons has a contest running encouraging Canadians to upload a photo of a Canadian monument. So, over lunch I poked around the Wikimedia map of heritage monuments in my city, found a couple close to my house, took a walk with my phone, snapped a couple shots of the historical monuments in my neighbourhood and uploaded them to the Wikimedia Commons.

In the process, I even learned a bit about a (what I thought was) common structure that I have seen on a regular basis for close to 20 years going back to when I first started working at Camosun College. Turns out, this structure….

Richmond Road Streetcar Shelter - front

…which I have walked by and through hundreds of times over the past 20 years on my way to work when I worked at Camosun College (and was/is used by students as a smoke shelter), is actually a historically significant structure in my neighbourhood. Apparently, this little structure is a leftover from the days when a trolly used to roll up and down Richmond Road.

The heritage value of the Streetcar Shelter is as one of the last two remaining streetcar shelters in Victoria, the third Canadian city to have streetcars. The Victoria and district streetcar system was inaugurated by the National Electric Tramway and Lighting Company in 1890. The system was later bought in 1897 by the British Columbia Electric Railway (BCER) Company Limited, who operated it until 1948, when streetcars made their last runs. This shelter was constructed to service the Number 10 Streetcar, which made two trips a day to service the University School and then the Provincial Normal School.

I had no idea this little shack I used to walk through to get to work everyday for years was anything more than a fancy smoking structure.

I also grabbed a shot of another heritage structure at that location – the Provincial Normal School, now known as the Young Building at Camosun College, and contributed that.

Provincial Normal School (now known as Young Building)

But I digress because this isn’t about heritage structures. It is about contributing something to the greater good; something with educational value. By contributing to the Wikimedia Commons, I am, in a small way, making a bit of knowledge that much more accessible by making it visible in the web’s largest information repository. And it got me to thinking about why I share and how I share the stuff I create.

Like many of you, the reasons why I share my stuff on the web is multi-facted. To connect with others, to build relationships, to learn. But one of the really important reasons I share on the web is because I am an educator. I want others to be able to use the stuff I share to better understand their world. If a word I write, or a photo I take or a video I make helps someone somewhere understand something a bit better, then I am a happy man.

So, if by now I haven’t subtly encouraged you to contribute to the Wikimedia Commons, let me blatantly say it: contribute something to the Wikimedia Commons (which, right now, sits at around 22 million images in size). I know quite a few people who read this blog on a regular basis who share and contribute their content around the web (sometimes at the cost of using a particular service for free). Well, here is a chance to contribute something to a project that is a) non-commercial and b) educational. Share your content with the Wikimedia Commons and make it a stronger, better repository.

Week 36 2014

4 day work week this week with Monday being labour day. This week was dominated by 2 events; one at home and one at work.

  • At home, the BC teachers strike – which began last June and closed schools down and started summer 2 weeks early for my kids – continued into the fall and looks like it is not going to be settled for quite awhile. On Tuesday, I joined my family for a day of protest on what should have been their first day of school.

Christy's Classroom protest

  • At work, it was announced that my current Director is going to be the Acting Executive Director for our organization for the next 6 months. Our current ED announced 6 months ago that he was leaving BCcampus, so it was no surprise that this was coming. Although with that change means a change in my role as she steps away from the Open Textbook project and focuses on the wider organization. This means my colleague Amanda Coolidge and myself will be picking up more responsibilities on the Open Textbook project, and we spent time this week working on what this will mean to our current tasks and projects.

Some other stuff that happened this week.

  • Welcomed my old colleague Tracy Kelly to the BCcampus team. Tracy is going to be working on the Professional Development portfolio at BCcampus. So happy to be working with her again.
  • Fixed the output errors and finished our open Geography textbook. Shipped it off to our POD service. Once they process, I’ll be able to add it to the open.bccampus.ca site.
  • Did some research on copyright and how it applies to screenshots of products we include in our Database Design textbook (Microsoft spells it all out pretty clearly. We’re all good to go.)
  • Got clarification from Creative Commons on the wording of our license for the OpenStax Introduction to Sociology book we are adapting.
  • I got VagrantPress working with Pressbooks (thanks to this tip about Apache config changes in Apache 2.4.7). I updated the VagrantPress mutisite install page with the solution I found in case others had this same issue.
  • Also upgraded the .Net framework on my PC, which fixed an issue I was having with the GitHub Windows app (in short, it wasn’t working. I was running into this issue. Now it is. Yay)
  • Discovered AppOpusBuilder, a tool for converting ebooks to Android apps. Haven’t played with it yet.
  • Came across a whack of open textbooks and other OER’s related to Health, Nursing and Emergency Services.
  • Worked with Amanda to flesh out some of the tasks for the three Faculty Fellows who will be joining our project for the next year. Think there is an official news release about the fellows coming from our communication people in the coming days.
  • After speaking with OpenStax, I’ve changed the covers on the OpenStax textbooks in our collection so they are consistent with their standard brand.
  • Decided on how to list adapted textbooks on the open.bccampus.ca repository site. Got some work on the open site to do with Brad to make this happen.
  • With Amanda, began reviewing proposals for projects to develop textbooks for health, skills & trades training. Think this will be a big focus of our fall.
  • The Open Textbook Summit 2015 edition came up a few times in conversation this week. We’re starting to think about a third annual one in the sprint of 2015.

And finally, going to drink some good, fair and bad beer with Brad at the Great Canadian Beer Festival in a few hours.

 

Week 35 2014

A couple days ago I blogged about some new habits I am hoping to cultivate this fall (which, as anyone who works in education knows, is the real start of the new year). One of the habits was to start spending some time each week documenting what I did that week. I’m hoping that it can provide some motivation to GTD during the week and, hopefully, give me a feeling that I actually did accomplish some things on my (now manually tracked) to do list. Thanks Doug for the inspiration (and I noticed that Audrey does something similar so I feel in very good company here).

Sprinting

  • Finished creating multiple formats of the question testbank that was created at the Psych testbank sprint & can be used as ancillary material for an open Intro Psych textbook. Also wrote up a process for disseminating the bank to Psych faculty who adopt an open textbook.
  • Also finished the final review of the Geography textbook created at our June textbook sprint. I’m hoping to have that out the door and released next week (after we fix a few validation errors on the export).

Gawd, it feels good to be getting those 2 projects out the door.

Open Textbooks

  • Met with OpenStax to discuss best method to attribute our upcoming Canadian adaptation of their Intro to Sociology book (to be released in the coming weeks).

Fine Dining

  • Had a wonderful impromptu lunch with Jack Dougherty from Trinity College who did a pop-in to BCcampus this week.

Tech

  • Fought with VagrantPress to see if I can get a virtual instance of PressBooks running on it. No luck yet, but that’s probably due more to my hacking skills than Vagrantpress itself. To be continued.
  • Dug into Adobe Premiere to repair a broken PDF of an open textbook.
  • Attended an Equella seminar on the upcoming 6.3 release and noticed that the BCcampus SOL*R collection is among the (1 million+ holy crap) OER resources being harvested at oer.equella.com.
  • Mashed up a simple RSS feed using Yahoo Pipes (which I haven’t touched for a looooong time and forgot what a great tool it is) to create a feed for a new widget on the open.bccampus.ca homepage (the Open News & Resources widget)
  • Worked on reinvigorating my long dormant Netvibes account as I consider migrating some of my Feedly stuff back to Netvibes.
  • Also stumbled across MAMP, which has beta for Windows. Might give this a go as a local dev environment.

Presentations

  • Submitted a proposal to present on open textbooks at COHERE in Regina in October. Thinking something along the lines of what I presented at the BCCAT JAM last fall – Beyond Free. Have a couple of nice local examples with the sprints to augment the collegial collaboration bit.

Other stuff

  • Started on my “only check email 2x a day” routine (11 & 3). I let the rest of my team know (and am still available on Skype). Really liking it. Side benefit: I know EXACTLY how much time I spent working on email-based issues & communication: 7 hours and 20 minutes (might be a tad off because I didn’t start tracking time until Tuesday, so Monday is an estimate). Another benefit: I found myself actually reading my email instead of skimming. I think this is because I had dedicated the time to dealing with email and had no other distractions pulling me away.
  • Attended a couple of internal meetings regarding sandbox apps we have running, and an upcoming Open Badges project.
  • Am totally digging using paper & pen again

Maybe it is because it is back to school time

I used to have a thing for stationary. When I was a kid, shopping for school supplies was the highlight of the back to school routine. Reams of paper bundled in clear plastic film, boxes of unsharpened pencils, notebooks and pads, pens, erasers – all pristine and full of the promise of a new year.

Once school finished, I kept up my love of all things notebook. In the pre-electronic device days, Daytimers were my stationary of choice to stay organized, holding my To Do lists, appointments, journal and various bits and pieces. I was using them so heavily that I would often rip pieces of paper and tape extra pages onto sheets for a day to keep myself organized. Each month I would take out my previous months filled up calendar and stick it in a box – an analog record of my achievements that month. At one point, I had about 5 years worth of filled daytimer calendars from my work life circa 1988-1992 archived (which I foolishly and carelessly discarded about 10 years ago with a “why am I carrying all this old crap around”).

Then the electronic devices came and, being a big fan of being productive and organized, I jumped on board. Not only did I see these devices as the next evolution of time management and planning, but anyone who has seen my handwriting knows that it borders somewhere between prescription writing doctor and psychotic asylum inmate off his meds. In the early 90’s I sported a unit that looked something like this:

It was my first handheld electronic device and from there I never looked back. In the mid 90’s I graduated to a PDA (oh how I loved my Handspring) and, eventually, a smartphone and tablet leaving the paper in the dustbins of history.

Once I went electronic, I looked for every opportunity to ditch the paper, and that feeling really accelerated when I got my tablet. I became anti-paper. Anything done on paper was a waste. I despise printing documents on a printer. I took notes in meetings using my tablet or laptop, used blogs for journals, brainstormed on wiki pages, and kept my To Do list with a hundred different apps searching for the right one to keep track of my tasks and projects (for awhile I was really hooked on Workflowy, a simple, but powerful web based system that is built around the humble bullet list).

But lately I have been feeling scattered, fragmented, and have, for the first time in probably 20 years, found myself longing for the tactile. I’ve been missing stuff as I juggle my way through life and work. My system isn’t working for me right now. So, I’ve decided this fall I’m going to go back to paper for awhile. Not for everything, but for my basic work to-do list.

My first instinct was to go back to a Daytimer, but there has been something of a revolution in stationary in the past few years with many more analog options are out there, including some really beautiful (and expensive) handmade journals that have brought back all those old back to school stationary love pangs of my youth.

A few weeks ago while vacationing with my family in Seattle we happened upon a stall in Pike Place Market who made these beautiful leather journals. My 7 year old son (so into fantasy and epic stories right now) fell in love with them and bought a journal, using up half of his holiday money in a single shot. He was so happy and proud of his book, and has been using it every day since (right now he’s keeping a list of Minecraft mods he wants to add).

While I love this journal, the handmade paper seemed like it was a bit too, well, out of place for what I wanted to do. With this type of book I would feel like I want to write SOMETHING IMPORTANT, not boring old to do lists. As much as I love this book, it doesn’t seem quite practical enough for what I want to do.

So, over the weekend, I went shopping for a notepad – something that was a bit above the standard Hilroy that makes me want to write stuff by hand.

I checked out all the cool kids fave these days, Moleskin, but, as nice as they looked, I’m much too cheap to part with $25 bucks for one. And it felt too much like I was buying into a brand.

In the end I settled on trying out a couple of different notepads that look and feel nice, but are more affordable – a 2 pack of Miro Utility notepads (which cost me $9 CAN), and a Rhodio DotPad ($6 CAN). I was hoping to find the classic orange Rhodio thinking it would be easy to find in my bag among my other black devices, but couldn’t find one.

I’ve started with the Miro and, even though it has only been a few days, am already starting to feel like I am more in control of my tasks. I like the canvas cover that is flexible enough that I can slip it into a pocket and not have it feel bulky. Makes it easy to carry around with me for notes. And the dot grid is a nice change from standard ruled lines that makes it a bit more flexible as I can make my own little boxes.

In addition to moving to paper for my to do list, I am also going to work on developing a few new productivity habits this fall. For my brand new paper to do list, I have been mulling over different ways to use paper to stay organized, and am intrigued by the Bullet Journal method and am going to give that a shot.

I am also going back to checking my work email 2 times a day at 11am and 3pm. It is easy to get sucked into working to the Pavlovian response of email and end the day with nothing really accomplished other than answering email. This system has worked well for me in the past and allows me the freedom to dig into a task (like writing thousand word blog posts about productivity and notepads).

Finally, I want to take a post out of Doug Belshaw’s blog and start a weekly recap of my activities. I don’t spend near enough time reflecting and too much time responding and I want to make a conscious effort to begin to spend more time reflecting. Doug’s idea of a weekly recap seems like a good excuse to do just that (and, with any luck, I’ll have a bevy full of notes from my ultra productive week stored in my notepad to pull from). I’m not sure if it will be public here on the blog, or if I decide to do it somewhere else (maybe handwritten it in my Miro?), but I’ve added it as a reoccurring appointment in my calendar each Friday at 1pm. And yes, I am still going digital with the calendar. I have absolutely no desire to ditch that and revert to analog.

Searching for the Mythical OER Beast

Alan Levine (@cogdog) is preparing another True Stories of Open Sharing presentation, this time focusing on reuse of open educational resources. I contributed a story for his latest call True Stories of OER Reuse highlighting the recent Geography Open textbook sprint and the textbook we created reusing open educational materials gathered from around the web.

I love contributing to Alan’s calls because they give me a great excuse to have a bit of fun, like this daily prompt from a few months back, urging me to: Create a visual that might accompany one of the mashed up headlines from @twoheadlines. The mashed-up headline I got was Photos: Seattle Seahawks shows off his table tennis skills in Chengdu which became:

Photos: Seattle Seahawks shows off his table tennis skills in Chengdu

His prompts always give me something to work with, and idea to run with, like this latest call for OER stories of reuse where he framed his pitch for stories around a hunt for a mythical beast. It was a good narrative hook and easy to play with and, just like the atomic testing awoke the mighty mythical Godzilla, our recent backyard renovations disturbed something hidden underground that has now taken refuge in my backyard.

If you are not familiar with Alan’s True Stories of Open Sharing, I urge you to spend some time poking around his collection of user submitted True Stories of open sharing (he has conveniently curated a featured section of stories, which might be a good place to start). What makes this collection so special is that these are personal stories told in a personal fashion. These are not scripted marketing videos to sell the idea of sharing, but rather personal anecdotes (both great and small) of sharing and connecting. There is power in anecdotes, made even moreso by Alan’s work aggregating and collecting the stories in a single space.

If you have ever created, used or reused an open educational resource, consider submitting a video to his latest call. It doesn’t have to be a grand story of something amazing, or have impressive video production skills. Just turn on your webcam and tell your story that illustrates the everday power of sharing and connecting in our virtual world.