Trying to balance the ed with the tech

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Photos for Class provides safe search and auto-attribute for Flickr images

Came across a site that may be a good one for k12 teachers looking for a way to safely search Flickr for Creative Commons material, and for anyone looking for an easy way to attribute Flickr photos.

Photos for Class is a site that uses a combination of Flickr’s Safe Search filter and a few in house filters and allow you to search Flickr for G rated CC licensed photos. Which is useful in itself, especially if you are in a k12 environment. But the bit that everyone will find useful about Photo for Class is that when you download the photo, the CC attribution is automatically added to the image using the CC recommend TASL (Title, Artist, Source, License) format for correct attributions. Which works great if you are simply wanting to find and use an image without modifying it.

I did a quick search for the phrase totem pole and came up with a number of images.With each image there is an option to download, view on Flickr or report (if an inappropriate image has slipped through the filtering process, there is community moderation). I downloaded the first result and got this photo with the attribution automatically added at the bottom of the photo.


One of the things I hear often from people new to Creative Commons licenses is how to attribute resources. Here is a nice tool that makes it very easy to find and correctly attribute a CC licensed photo on Flickr. There are other tools, like the OpenAttribute browser plugin, the Washington State Open Attribution Builder and Alan Levine’s Flickr specific attribution bookmarklet also available to help make it easier to attribute CC resources correctly.

h/t to Dr. Jo Badge blog post on teaching children about Creative Commons licenses.

Learning about digital learning through photography

I wrote a post a few weeks ago about purchasing my first DSLR camera. In February, I took an insane amount of photos with it. 1176 to be precise as I learn how to use and understand a piece of new (to me) technology.

The thing I love best about the new camera? It allows me to shoot 1176 photos in a month.

I used to shoot with film. I was by no means a good photographer, but I had fun fiddling with film, although I often found shooting with film a stressful experience to get the shot just right.

And this is the thing that has struck me most as the biggest difference between film vs digital photography: the scale. It has nothing to do with the actual quality or types of photos I can take, but instead it is how cheap it is to experiment with digital. In my film days, I would have never shot 1100+ photos in a month. Heck, I probably never shot 1100 photos in the entire time I shot with film. There was the cost of film and the cost of developing film that was a real barrier to experimenting freely with my film camera.

But with digital, that cost to experiment has been greatly reduced to the point where it costs me no more to take 1100 pictures than it does to take 1. Digital has allowed me to scale up the number of photos I take with little regard for monetary cost (the mental cost of sifting thru 1100 photos is another story). Digital has given me the ability to more freely experiment and, more importantly, the freedom to fail since the dollar cost of failure is very low.

I never felt that type of freedom to experiment when I was shooting film. When shooting film, there was always that nagging bit of pressure to get the shot right because every shot cost, not to mention the disappointment of  getting a developed roll of film back and discovering too late that you don’t have a single decent picture because you decided to use an ISO 100 film instead of 800. Money wasted. A barrier to experimenting with film.

Whoops. Didn't get that lighting right

Whoops. Didn’t get that lighting right

But that freedom to experiment afforded by digital photography alone doesn’t make the learning happen. Taking tons of pictures and having the freedom to fail is just the start. In order to learn, you also have to take the time to examine why you failed; why did that photo turn out so dark when the lighting in one 3 dial tweaks later turn out fine?

Le there be light!

Let there be light!

In order to learn, I need to be able to examine why one setting worked and another didn’t. And, in the world of digital photography, that means looking at the metadata. Digital photos give me so much more information(feedback) than film did about what was happening when the photo was taken. What was my aperture setting when I took that photo? Shutter speed? ISO setting? What lens was I using? All this metadata is automatically captured when I snap a picture and called up later by my software when reviewing my photos, allowing me to see exactly what settings worked and didn’t work in certain situations. From this information, I can make better decisions in the future.

Now, so far my digital photo learning has been pretty technical and fairly autodidactic. Other than a few tweets and reading some websites, I haven’t really begun to explore the social side of learning photography where I actively solicit feedback from others on the photos I take, and vice versa. At some point, I’ll need the input of some MKO’s about the things that the data can’t tell me. Things like composition that you can’t learn from just looking at data and taking lots of pictures. And I’d like to share what I have learned with others. Thinking my long underutilized Flickr account is about to become my learning network of choice for the next little while.

All in all, so far my new camera has been a wonderful edtech meta learning opportunity for me. It’s an example to me about how digital affordances give us the ability to freely experiment, fail, and try again at a scale that wasn’t possible in the analog days, all while providing both a rich set of data and access to a network of peers to help us improve. But above all, it’s a heck of a lot of fun, which makes for the best kind of learning.

Need a damn computer to keep track of all these open events *

Whirl Wind

Whirl Wind by Jonathan Trumbull used under CC-BY license


There are a slew of Open Education events on my radar/ToDo list right now.

Open Education Week

Next week is the global Open Education Week from the Open Education Consortium. There are events happening around the world for this week, both live and online (full schedule of global events). BCcampus is participating by sponsoring a week of Open Webinars on Open Education. These are (as you might have guessed) free and open for anyone to attend, and I am very grateful to all of the presenters who have agreed to participate, from Camousn College, UBC, TRU, UVic, KPU and the OER Research Hub, as well as my colleagues from BCcampus.

Full schedule & connection details for  our Open Webinars on Open Education next week (March 9-13).

The BC Open textbook Summit

The 3rd annual Open Textbook Summit is happening May 28 & 29 in Vancouver. My colleague Amanda Coolidge is putting this event together & we are looking  for presentation proposals. We’ve had a number of great proposals already submitted that have me excited. If you have been working on an open textbook project, the call for proposals runs until March 23rd. Consider submitting and joining us.

BCcampus Faculty Fellow and open textbook advocate Dr. Rajiv Jhangiani from KPU (fresh back from his dream vacation to New Zealand for the Cricket World Cup) is our opening keynote. Rajiv has become a real force in the open textbook world and has made incredible progress in both his discipline Psychology and at his institution advocating for wider use of open textbooks. He was our first “free range” adapter (leading me to do a happy dance) and has been actively using open textbooks as an instructor in a number of courses.

The second keynote for the summit is one that I think is a stroke of brilliance from Amanda as it is being done by three students who have been leaders in the open textbook movement in Western Canada. Chardaye Bueckert from Simon Fraser University, Max Fineday from University of Saskatchewan, and Erik Queenan from Mount Royal University. Max is a wonderful speaker, Chardaye has been a long time supporter and advocate, and Erik has been doing some very interesting work on the ground. I am really looking forward to their talk.

Registration is now open.

OpenEd 2015

Working with David Wiley from Lumen Learning on this one. The annual OpenEd conference is happening November 18-20 in Vancouver, and David has just released the call for proposals for that. Last year was my first OpenEd in Washington. I did attend briefly in 2012 when it was in Vancouver, but was sequestered away shortly after Gardner Campbell’s excellent morning keynote (go watch it) for a BC specific open education meeting hot on the heels of the announcement of the BC Open Textbook Project, so didn’t really experience OpenEd as I had hoped.

My first task was securing a location for the event in Vancouver – no easy task considering the event has grown and last year was over 500 attendees. We’re used to doing events at BCcampus, but nothing at that scale (although David assures me that it will likely be a more modest affair this time around). At any rate, trying to find a venue in Vancouver was a challenge, but we think we have found a good one in the historic Fairmont Hotel Vancouver that will give the conference a very west coast feel.

OEC’s Open Education Global

Finally, in April there is the OEC’s Open Education Global Conference in Banff. I’ll be attending and meeting others from the global open community. Being peripherally involved with the Mozilla community here in Victoria (never as much as I would like these days), I am especially jazzed to see & hopefully meet Mark Surman from Mozilla. Mark is doing one of the conference keynotes. Mozilla is heavily invested in lifelong learning with initiatives like Webmaker and OpenBadges,  and everyday I appreciate more and more the work Mozilla does advocating for an open web and empowering people – especially kids – to tinker, make and (most critically) understand how the open web works and why the open bit is fundamentally important to the future digital world they are/will live in.

* apologies Lou

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 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.


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