A slight shift in focus

Just over a year ago, BCcampus went through a significant change in leadership. Mary Burgess, who was the Director in charge of the BC Open Textbook Project, was named acting Executive Director for BCcampus. This change left a bit of a leadership gap for the OTB project. Mary asked that I take on a leadership role for the project. I agreed and became Acting Senior Manager for the open textbook project.  The initial term was to be for 6 months, but was extended to a year as we went through a ministerial mandate review before Mary was named permanent ED.

During this past year, I’ve done interesting and challenging work as the team leader. Coordinating a project like the open textbook project is massive, and I have been stretched in ways I couldn’t have imagined. But I do feel stretched. And in the back of my mind I knew that I was getting farther and farther away from a significant piece of what I love doing, and that is working with educational technology.

While there is certainly a tech piece to the OTB project, it has been far from front and centre in my day to day work. This past year, you would be more likely to find me at Ministry meetings, preparing budget reports, and working with other provinces on tri-provincial MOU’s. All important and meaningful work. And while I think I am a competent and decent administrator and did achieve much in the role,  it’s not where my heart is. I am an educational technologist, and the work I have been doing has been taking me farther away from that.

So, this summer, I spoke with Mary about moving out of the open textbook leadership role, and back into a role with a deeper focus on educational technology. She agreed and posted the leadership job.

Helping to make the transition easier was the fact that there were extremely capable people working on the project. Earlier this week, one of those capable people, my colleague Amanda Coolidge, accepted the role as the new team leader for the open textbook project.

The timing is very good for me to step aside. We have exceeded the deliverables of the original project, and in the next few weeks, will release the final open textbooks in trades and skills training. Our original AVED project draws to a close, and it feels like we are shifting to a new phase of the project.

Amanda will take over the project for an exciting new phase where the emphasis will be, not on the creation of new material, but the deeper integration of the OTB material within new pedagogical models, like open pedagogy. While we can’t publicly talk about much yet, suffice to say that the next 3 years will see exciting new work in open textbooks in BC. And Amanda is much more capable in leading this next phase than I am. Her background in Instructional Design and deep history with open education going back to her work with TESSA make her a natural for the leadership role.

For me, I’ll still be involved in open textbooks. I’ll finish out a few projects I am committed to, like coordinating the OpenEd conference in November. I’ve got an Open Access week event to do, and am heading to Alberta in a few weeks to do a workshop with eCampus Alberta on OER. But my future role with OTB will see me return to my original focus for the project, which is on technology.

I am eager to get to work on PressBooks and work towards making a self-serve instance of PB available to BC faculty. I am also interested in seeing how we can extend the platform and begin to integrate other tools within an open textbook, and explore how we can deeply integrate open textbook content in other edtech systems.

I also have a couple of other projects that I want to work on. As Brian noted, the open education working group was recently cut by BCNet, and I think there is important and exciting work to be done here exploring the role that open source software can have in higher education. It feels like the state of edtech in higher ed these days starts and ends with negotiating the best procurement deal for vendor software. With the exception of Moodle (and I expect someday in Canada, Canvas), open source software rarely plays a significant role in teaching and learning. I hope that we can set up a group to explore this within the work that Brian, Tannis Morgan, Valerie Irvine and Grant Potter had been doing with BCNet.

There are exciting technology developments, like Sandstorm and Docker, that could provide interesting frameworks for delivering a more customizable and configurable suite of open source software tools to faculty and students. I hope we can explore this.

I feel very fortunate to work with people and an organization who allow me the freedom and ability to shift focus. And I do think that, for the open textbook project and where the project is going in the next 3 years, Amanda is the right choice to take this project even farther. I’m looking forward to working with her in her new role and doing more amazing open work.

Copyright, Privacy and the TPP

Sons and daughters, you ain’t getting much for free.
Chalk Circle, 1989

After 5 years of secret negotiations, and just a few short weeks before Canadians go to the poll, the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal has been finalized (although it still needs to be ratified in each of the member countries).

And still, no few details on the agreement have been released to Canadians.


Our Prime Minister has touted  this secret trade deal as being “in the best interests” of the Canadian economy. Because, you know, the economy is the only interest that matters to this particular government, never mind the other public interests a government is supposed to look out for.

Like the privacy of Canadians. Apparently, under the new TPP deal, Canada will lose some of the power it has to protect our personal data as the TPP will “prevent national governments from cutting off data flows, by limiting laws that require local storage of data.” Let that personal data flow!

They see gold in your trees and gold in your people
They’ll be panning for it in your water

It will also take longer for works to enter the public domain in Canada as the TPP will extend the term of copyright from 50 to 70 years after the death of the creator. 20 more years for publishers to make a few more dollars off of the backs of people who have been dead for decades, and keep our own culture out of our collective hands. What is even worse is that this clause could be retroactive, meaning that works in Canada that are currently in the public domain could become locked up again. And, as the Society for American Archivists notes in their opposition to the TPP, a healthy public domain is, “…essential in fostering new creativity and advancing knowledge. It provides a storehouse of raw materials from which individuals can draw to learn and create new ideas or works.”

Then there are the other aspects of the deal that smell, like removing the ability of web browsers to copy websites – a necessary function of web browsers as this is fundamentally how a web browser works. When a browser visits a website, what you are seeing in the browser is actually a copy stored in your browsers cache of that website.

Or the controversial whistle-blower clause that would make it a crime to post leaked corporate documents on the internet (a clause that was, ironically, first leaked on the internet from the secret negotiations).

Of course, none of these are known because details of the deal have not been released. Just a high level overview.

Here in Canada, we go to the polls in less than 2 weeks, so this timing is critical. The deal will be touted by the current government as a boon for Canada without the Conservatives having to share the actual details of the deal in enough time to make it an actual election issue. Once again, as it has done so effectively in the past, this Stephen Harper government has shrouded their activities in secrecy.

Hold my beer

When in Vancouver for #OpenEd15

The Commodore Ballroom by Chris Ghelen CC-BY-ND
The Commodore Ballroom by Chris Ghelen CC-BY-ND

I’m crowdsourcing/compiling a list of things to do when in Vancouver for people from our of town coming to Vancouver for OpenEd in November.

There are many places on the web to find “things to do” and best restaurants, etc in Vancouver for people looking. What I am hoping to do with this list is something a bit different & lean on the knowledge of the local open community to help uncover things that they love about Vancouver beyond what people can find on Yelp or TripAdvisor. We’ll distribute this list to people coming to the conference.

If you live in Vancouver, or know the city well, then please feel free to add one or two items to the list.

Helping Manitoba launch an open textbook initiative


For the past few weeks I have been working closely with our colleagues at eCampus Manitoba to help them with an open textbook initiative in their province. Today Manitoba launched their open textbook initiative and new site.

The site will look familiar to you if you have ever been to our site at open.bccampus.ca. Because the code is identical, as is much of the content. Thanks to Brad’s API programming and the network architecture we put together at the beginning of our project, the Manitoba site was able to launch in a matter of weeks, not months.

Essentially, the Manitoba site is a replication of the BCcampus WordPress site, including the api’s that pull the textbooks, files and books reviews from SOLR (our learning object repository) and LimeSurvey (where we store our reviews) into the Manitoba site. When you look at a textbook on the Manitoba site, it is the exact same information you see on the BC site since the data sources are the same for both. The only substantial differences between the sites is the branding, plus some of the content that Manitoba has kept off their site since their project is not of the same scope as ours is (yet, he adds hopefully :).

Manitoba is starting with textbook reviews. This has been an excellent tool for us in BC to both getting faculty engaged in open textbooks, and to help address the quality issue of open resources. Like us, Manitoba is offering their faculty a $250 review stipend to get them to look at the open textbooks.

To begin with, Manitoba is shooting for 25 faculty reviews of open textbooks (and if you know or are faculty in the province of Manitoba, consider applying to do an open textbook review). We’re helping Manitoba to manage this review process, and reviews from Manitoba faculty will be licensed with a CC-ND license so they can appear alongside BC faculty reviews of each reviewed textbook.

These reviews are important, not only to help address quality, but to also help recognize adaptation opportunities. If a textbook needs work, that will likely be uncovered during the review process and the reviews can help form the basis of targeted adaptations later on, should Manitoba decide to go down that road.

I’ll be doing a webinar on open textbooks and the review process for faculty in Manitoba on October 22d. If in Manitoba and interested, you can register for the webinar on the new open.campusmanitoba.com site.

Photo: Priceless Expression by Joel Penner used under CC-BY license

How Open Works

Got an email from Dr. Tony Bates today that made me very happy as it illustrates wonderfully what openly licensed resources enable.

Earlier this year, Tony published his open textbook “Teaching in a Digital Age” on our Pressbooks platform. It has been a huge success, with over 32,000 unique visitors and 12,000 downloads since it’s release in the spring. It is in use in courses across North America.

Today we had our first report of an adaptation of the book. Tony came across a version of the book that has been translated into Vietnamese (PDF). We are not sure who exactly has created the translated version, but they have done it and posted it freely online for others to use. And we’re all thrilled.

This has always been one of the example use cases used when talking about open textbooks and other Creative Commons licensed OER’s. The CC licenses gives someone the ability to create a translated version for their own market without having to first ask permission to do so. I know this has happened with other projects, but this is the first translation I have come across for a textbook that we’ve been a part of.

Yes, it’s time for me to do the happy dance.