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.
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.
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.