The (open) future is here, it's just not evenly distributed

This is post 1 of a 2 part #opened15 brain dump about open textbooks (part 2 here).

I’m post-conference OpenEd15 metaphorically hungover, so forgive me if this goes astray or meanders.

Textbooks. Ugh. Who needs them.

The one hazard of organizing a conference is that you don’t actually get to attend a number of sessions, so my context here is from the backchannels, the post conference wrap up blog posts and hallway conversations.

The one overarching narrative strand I have come away with is that open has grown to the point where pathways diverge as the nuance and details of actual on the ground projects begin to reach a certain state of maturity.  No longer are we talking of “the promise” or “the potential” of open. There is much “doing” of open in many wonderful ways.  The multitude and variety of projects flying open banners is impressive to see as the field matures.

But there is tension in the community around open textbooks. This tension that there is too much emphasis placed on both the “textbook” as pedagogical tool, and the financial savings to students.

Additionally, there is a divide as to whether open textbooks mark an entry point into open education for new people (and there was a massive number of people at OpenEd for the first time), or whether open textbooks are the beginning, middle and end of the open journey for some.

From my own perspective after working on an open textbook project for close to 3 years, all of the above are tensions I negotiate with myself constantly.

My experience with this project has shown that, for some, open textbooks represent a starting point into open. None of us who are working on this project want the open textbook to be the be all and end all of open. But for many  faculty it will be. For some, they will simply swap closed for open and that will be  innovation enough. And frankly, I’m ok with that. If, at worst, open textbooks saves students money and lowers the cost for access to higher education, that is a fine and worthy application of open that is a very student-centric solution to a problem, as Amanda nicely points out. Cost, in many jurisdictions (especially in the US and Canada) is a major problem that we can solve with OER, and as a community we need to recognize that open textbooks are one pragmatic and practical application of open being used to solve a real problem. There is no “potential to” or “promise of”. This is real and it is happening, and that is a wonderful thing.

However, for some, their switch to an open textbook will mark a deeper journey into open. I look at faculty like Rajiv Jhangiani, who started with an open textbook and found a like minded community at people. Open textbooks were an entry point for Rajiv, as they were for Gill Green, the UBC Geography Faculty that participated with us in the textbook sprint, who came away with the moment that really synthesized what we hoped would happen with that sprint project.

One of the most powerful lessons for me was that I should not simply be focusing on using open textbooks in my courses; I should be encouraging students to build open textbooks as course activities. By doing this, we teach not only discipline specific content, but also increase students’ ability to engage in the democratization of knowledge.

Sure, we created a textbook. But more importantly, an open textbook helped to create space for that moment to occur. For me, this moment was what the booksprint was all about.

Problematically, textbooks are so deeply ingrained in our education systems that trying to find others ways of doing education for many is very difficult, especially in an education world where we continually remove capacity for those faculty who DO want to change and experiment and try different things. Rarely will you ever find a faculty member who says they have enough time to do their job, let alone undertake a radical overhaul of their pedagogy. Often faculty are p/t, or only brought in at the last minute to teach a course and grab at that teacher-proofed course-in-a-box (which I’ve written about before).

But there are faculty out there who do want open who don’t even know that we, the open education community, exist. Or that what they are doing, or want to do, has a name and support and community. Open textbooks have created the space to allow others into the community who may not have even known this community existed. And we shouldn’t undervalue the importance of this.

Part 2.

 

Opportunities to virtually connect at #opened15

We’re just a few days away from the kickoff to the 2015 Open Education conference in Vancouver, Nov 18-20. The plans have all been planned and all that is left is the doing.

If you are not coming to Vancouver next week, we still have opportunities for you to participate.

First, the conference Twitter hashtag #opened15 is where I suspect most of the virtual action will happen.

We will be livestreaming the two conference keynotes. Michael Feldstein & Phil Hill will take to the stage at 8:30am PST on Wednesday, November 18th. Their talk is on Openness and the Future of Post-Secondary Education.

Then, Friday at 8:30am PST, current BCcampus Executive Director (and my boss) Mary Burgess and former BCcampus Executive Director David Porter will be talking about the BC Open Textbook Project and a bit of the history of open in higher education in British Columbia.

The livestreams will be accessible from the OpenEd site. We’ll also archive the keynotes post conference. And in keeping with the spirit of accessibility, we are planning on live transcribing and caption the keynotes.

The BCOER Librarians will be on site doing some impromptu Periscope sessions with session presenters. These will be short (5-10 minute) post-presentation interviews with presenters asking them to talk about the content of their presentation. These are not scheduled and will happen ad hoc at the conference.  Watch the conference hashtag for these Periscope interviews to pop up. And, being that it is Periscope, these will not be archived and will only be available for 24 hours.

I’m really excited about having the Virtual Connecting volunteers on site for the conference and giving people who cannot attend the ability to contribute and participate beyond the conference hashtag and Twitter backchannel. Maha Bali and the Virtual Connecting crew (led onsite by Alan Levine) will be doing some Google Hangouts from the conference. This is a chance for those of you who are not at the conference to be able to interact with conference presenters, keynote speakers and participants. Schedule of OpenEd VConnecting sessions.

via GIPHY

This will likely be my final post before OpenEd next week, and I just want to take a sec to publicly acknowledge and thank some of the people who have been working hard for the past year to make OpenEd happen next week.

We, of course, have been working closely with David Wiley and the Lumen Learning crew, particularly Shannon Coates and Julie Curtis, for the better part of a year since OpenEd 2014 in Washington ended. Personally, it still blows me away that I have had this opportunity to work so closely on a project with David after following his groundbreaking work in Open Education for so many years. Thank you, David.

There are countless volunteers who were part of the program evaluation committee, and who you will see at the registration and information desks,  convening sessions and greeting people at the social event. People have  contributed to locally crowdsourced list of personally recommend Vancouver activities & restaurants, and are handling umpteen tasks, from setting up booths and tables, to hauling equipment, and coordinating the virtual participation (including the fantastic Leva Lee and the BCOER librarians). A preemptive thank you to all for your contributions to OpenEd15.

Finally, I want to acknowledge the BCcampus people who have been working so hard on this event with me for the past year. Erin Beatie will be handling social media and watching the hashtag during the conference, Tracy Kelly and Jason Toal will be doing the graphic recording of the keynotes (with Jason is doing double duty as Dr. Jones at the OpenEd15 social on Wednesday as well), and our extremely talented graphic designer and communications manager Barb Murphy who did all the wonderful visual design for the conference.

To Lauri Aesoph and Amanda Coolidge. Lauri has been the lead planner of the social event on Wednesday, while Amanda has pulled together all the session conveners and has coordinated the special accessibility area, all while planning her own presentations and juggling the demand of coordinating countless meeting requests from people to talk about the BC Open Textbook Project. Both Amanda and Lauri never cease to amaze me with their work effort and willingness to throw themselves fully into a project. I am truly blessed to have them as colleagues.

And then there is Christy Foote. I really don’t know how OpenEd would happen without the efforts of Christy. OpenEd is the last (and biggest) of 3 back to back conferences that BCcampus has organized this month, all of them with the support of Christy Foote. I can’t quite express how in awe I am of Christy and the work she has done, from sourcing venues, negotiating contracts (Christy is someone you want to come with you to the bank when you go to renew your mortgage) to coordinating payments, building menus, ordering shirts and umbrellas……you name it, Christy has taken care of it. Saying thank you somehow seems inadequate for the amount of effort she has put into making OpenEd happen. But, thank you.

Ok, that’s it for now, and likely from me until after OpenEd.  For those of you coming, may the rains hold off, may the conversations be stimulating, the connections plentiful…and the WiFi be strong.

 

An open edtech playground infrastructure (or the magic of Grant Potter)

experiment

Grant Potter and Brian Lamb have been cooking up some open edtech goodness.

Earlier this week, Grant sent me a tweet with a link to a project that he and Brian have been working on, and it is exactly in line with my musings lately around an open web edtech infrastructure.

What Grant and Brian have done is take a whack of current open web infrastructure platforms and launched an open edtech web playground for BC edtechies to try out.

In the backend there is the UBC hosted higher ed virtualized cloud services EduCloud, a fully FIPPA compliant cloud hosting service. On top of this, Docker containers running Sandstorm, a web application platform that has, as a primary goal, making the deployment of web applications as easy as installing an app on a smart phone. One click and you have a fully functioning web application, like Etherpad or WordPress.

While this development stack is mighty impressive in that it represents a very modern web workflow, it is Sandstorm that holds real interest to me because it allows you to build customized web apps that can be deployed with the click of a button. This is incredibly powerful as it allows you to define the defaults of programs that you want to deploy, and controlling the defaults often means controlling how a user interacts with an application. This is powerful.

Say, for example, that you wanted to make a number of different WordPress installations available to your faculty, each with a separate set of defaults, plugins or themes enabled by default. Theoretically, you could create a Sandstorm SPK file (via Vagrant) for the different versions of WordPress you wanted to make available to your users and let them decide which version they wanted to install. Want the standard blog platform? Here is the WordPress button. Want Pressbooks? Here is the Pressbooks button. All deployable with the click of a button.

Well, that is my working theory of how this works right now. How it works when I actually dig deeper into the system may vary from this high level conceptualization. But if this stack works like I think it works, this will make an excellent platform for the simple deployment of customized web applications where the default is set to “education”.

We really need to come up with a proper way to recognize the technical wizardry of Grant Potter. Maybe a medal?

The Award Winning Grant Potter

 

Forget self driving cars, Matt Reimer has a self driving tractor

And he learned how to build it using open courseware from MIT and open source software.

Matt is a grain farmer in Manitoba. Like most farmers (at least the ones I have known in my life) Matt is resourceful and always looking for ways to improve his processes, especially when it comes to saving time. For a farmer, time is critical, especially at harvest when the window of time to get your crop off the field is short.

To help with the harvest, Matt wanted to try to make the tractor that automatically pulls up alongside a combine to collect the harvest. As he talks about in this story from CBC’s excellent weekly tech show Spark, harvesting is normally a 2 person job; one driving the combine, and a second driving a tractor. Normally the tractor driver spends about  5 minutes collecting the grain, then 20 minutes sitting in the tractor doing nothing waiting for the combine hopper to fill up again.

So, he wanted to try to make his tractor doing this automatically and autonomously. Where did he learn how to do this? He found an open course from MIT’s open courseware MITx and taught himself the basics of robotics. He then used open source software to build the robotics that powers the tractor. Bingo. Robot tractor that frees up his hired help to spend their time doing more useful tasks around the farm than sitting around waiting for a hopper to fill up.

Open made this happen. A farmer with a bit of curiosity, access to free and open knowledge and open source software is able to develop a robot that saves him time and money. Love this story.

 

Is it Time for Canada to Implement A Unified Open Strategy for Higher Education?

Transcript of my talk at the UBC/SFU Open Access week forum on October 22, 2015

My perspective on the question is influenced by my work in open educational resources, especially the work I’ve been doing for the past 3 years as the Manager of Open Education at BCcampus, and working on the BC Open Textbook project; a multiyear project funded by the BC Ministry of Advanced Education to promote the use of Open Textbooks in the BC post-secondary system.

Open textbooks are a subset of Open Educational Resources.OER’s are openly licensed teaching resources, like videos, courses, textbooks and lesson plans. Most often these are licensed with Creative Commons licenses, which allow the resource to be freely copied, shared, modified and reused by educators without having to ask for permission from the original creators. The permission to copy and reuse is given ahead of time by the creator of the resource when they choose to license with a Creative Commons license.

So my perspective on the question “Is it time for Canada to implement a unified open strategy for Higher Education” emerges from this field of OER and the work I have done over the past number of years.  And the fact that I am framing my response as coming from a very specific open perspective tells me that, yes, having a unified national strategy on all things open is likely a good idea for the simple fact that it gets all the various strands of open – open access, open education, open source software, open pedagogy, open data –  in the same room. And any reason to bring people together to talk about their commonalities is a good thing.

However, we can’t assume that open is always a good thing. Facebook, for example, would like us to all to be open and share everything about us. But this desire by Facebook for us to be open is motivated by their business model. The more open we are, the more we share, the more Facebook can better target advertising at us. For Facebook, open is their business model. Is that a good thing?

We also cannot assume that there is a common  understanding of what open means in education… as MOOC’s have shown us. Many Massively Open Online Courses use the word “open” to mean “open registration”. However, to open educators involved in OER, Open also means openly licensed. And for those of you who have worked with, or taken course by a commercial MOOC provider like Coursera or Udacity know that these courses are not openly licensed for other educators to take the content and reuse.

But these are not arguments against a unified strategy. Indeed, a unified strategy for higher education could help to address these issues. To develop a collective voice to help define what it is that we mean by open, and call out openwashing when we see it. Rather than a multitude of diffused voices crying out, a single unified voice can carry weight. So, +1 for a unified approach.

On the other hand, perhaps there is more power in supporting a multitude of smaller voices. After all, the world we live is increasingly built on network models, and the nodes are full of a diversity of opinions, voices, and ways of being and doing that could get lost in a unified strategy approach. A unified approach is not alway an egalitarian approach, and a unified strategy would need to both acknowledge and respect the diversity of voices inherent in an increasingly network oriented world.

A unified open strategy would also have to tread carefully so that it isn’t viewed as a “top-down” approach to open. We have all likely experienced initiatives that have been perceived, correctly and incorrectly, as “top-down” and have likely failed for that very reason. So, the best unified strategy approach is one that acknowledges that real substantive change often comes from both directions, and rarely from one alone.

I know I am coming across a bit down on the idea of a unified open strategy, which I am not. A unified open strategy for higher ed is an admirable goal and one that would have great benefits, like providing a clear and purposeful focus, a single vision often needed to help coalesce support and make projects happen. And in many parts of the world, having a unified open strategy has given open educational resources a boost in profile and credibility.

For example, according to the 2014 State of the Commons report from Creative Commons, 14 countries around the world have made national commitments to open education and open educational resources. These commitments often originate with government in the form of policies driven by the simple rationale that publicly funded resources should be openly licensed resources. If we, the public, pay for something, then we should put into place measures that make that something as widely usable as possible and provide the maximum benefit to the public.

When it comes to higher education, many countries have it easier than Canada enacting unified strategies because in other countries post-secondary education is often a national responsibility. In Canada, the responsibility for post-secondary lies with the provinces, not the federal government.

Not that a federal government is the only place where unified strategies can happen. Provinces can work together on unified open strategies, as was the case in 2013 when the premiers of BC, Alberta and Saskatchewan signed the tri-provincial Memorandum of Understanding on Open Educational Resources. This three year agreement signed under the New West partnership agreement, has provided projects like the Alberta OER project and the BC Open Textbook Project a collaborative framework to work together on open education initiatives. Recently, the province of Manitoba has launched an open textbook initiative, and we have worked closely with them to set up an open textbook repository and textbook review process with Manitoba faculty. These collaborative initiatives may not have happened if there was not a unified western Canadian framework to enable them.

So, despite opening my talk with some cautious concerns about developing a pan-Canadian unified open strategy, I ultimately agree that the time had come. Open education has been bubbling along for the past 20 years, slowly and consistently building a movement and momentum that is showing some real tangible benefits. The potentials are being realized. Open textbooks, for example, have saved students in British Columbia over a million dollars in textbook costs, and research into the learning outcomes of students using open textbooks vs publishers resources are showing encouraging results that students using open educational resources are doing, at least as well if not better in some cases, than students who use publishers resources in the class. We now need to build on the successes of the past 20 years and push to make open education the default, not the exception. A unified open strategy can help make that happen.

 

When in Vancouver for #OpenEd15

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

HOW MUCH DO THOSE TEXTBOOOKS COST???????

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.

 

 

 

US Court Ruling Adds Clarity to Creative Commons License

Last week there was an important US court ruling that helps to legally clarify the freedoms and limitations of Creative Commons licenses. While it is a US court ruling, I think the ruling is still useful here in Canada as the global body of legal decisions involving  CC licenses is fairly small, so any legal interpretation is a useful thing.

In essence, the court decided that a company that used a CC licensed photograph did not violate the photographers copyright to that photo because the photographer licensed their photo with a CC-BY-SA (Share-Like) license, and the company did not use the photo outside of what the CC-BY-SA license allowed. Or, as the TechDirt byline nicely states “from the but-I-didn’t-think-anyone-would-do-the-thing-I-told-them-they-could-do! dept”.

A photographer named Art Dragulis uploaded a photo to Flickr with a CC-BY-SA license. A company called the Kappa May Group then took that photo and used it as a cover image on an atlas they produced and subsequently sold. Dragulis said that Kappa May violated his copyright by using his photo on the cover of an atlas that they then sold. He also stated that Kappa May didn’t attribute him correctly.

The court, however, disagreed with the photographer, saying that the -SA license does not prevent his photo from being used for commercial activity, primarily because CC licenses have an explicit Non-Commercial clause that he could have applied instead of the -SA clause.

The court ruling also supports how I have always interpreted the -SA clause, and that the -SA clause only applies to derivatives of the original work, and not to a collection that the original work is used in. That is, the original licensed item must be modified in some way that makes it different than the original before it needs to be shared back with a CC-SA license. In this case, the original photo was not modified and was used without alterations, so there is no obligation for the atlas company to re-share the photo. Nor is there a requirement for the company to release the entire atlas with a share-alike CC license as the ruling states that the atlas is not a derivative of the photo simply because the photo was used in the atlas. Instead, the courts considered the atlas a “collection” and the cover image is simply one item in that collection, therefore the entire atlas does not have to be released with a CC-BY-SA license.

This is important because this case will help people understand how items licensed with the -SA clause can be used. This has always been a bit tricky for people working with -SA licensed materials; if I use something with an -SA clause, do I have to release everything I create with that -SA licensed material with an -SA clause? As this ruling shows, no, you do not.

Additionally, it shows that an -SA work does not undercut the financial incentive for someone to use your work, thus somehow “protecting” your work from being used for commercial purposes.  For example, in this case, the photographer may have mistakenly believed that, by adding an -SA license to his photo, that he was removing the commercial incentive for anyone to profit from his work. That is, anyone *could* use his photo for commercial purposes, but they would then also have to freely make available a CC-BY-SA licensed version of their work, thus undercutting their own commercial use of his work. Why would a commercial organization use -SA content when it just meant they would have to release what they created for free? As this court ruling shows, this is not how -SA works when the -SA item is used in a collection and you can use -SA content for commercial purposes when used within a collection.

But more broadly (and more importantly) I think that this case hilights the general disconnect with how people expect (or hope) a CC clause works, and how that clause may actually work. Another recent example of this disconnect is the kerfuffle Flickr found itself in when it announced that it would sell wall art based on 50 million CC licensed photos that had been uploaded to the site by Flickr users. After the community protested, Flickr backed down even though Flickr had the legal right to use those photos under the terms of the CC licenses.

Now, I agree that just because you have the legal right to do something doesn’t mean you should just rush ahead and do it, especially if you are a major corporation. Flickr could have handled this better and rolled their program out in a way that would have benefited both Flickr and the community. I mean, c’mon Flickr, why not compensate the photographers who have their photos used?

But commercial use, like the -SA clause, is one of those clauses that has always been a bit tricky because what is “commercial” is often interpreted in different ways. For some, releasing content with a non-commercial (-NC) clause means absolutely no commercial activity whatsoever. For these purists (for lack of a better term), anyone using their content for any reason where money changes hands is not ok. For those purists who licenses with an -NC license, this may mean even using their photo in a way that might say, raise money for a charity or a non-profit, or offset legitimate costs, like the cost of printing is a no-go.

For others who choose the -NC clause for their material, they may define -NC more closely to the phrase “non-corporate” than “non-commercial” in that they don’t want something they create being used by a private company, but would be ok for a charity or another educator or a non-profit to use for something like fundraising. Still others use -NC to mean “not for profit” but would be ok with charging for a cost recovery. To the point, -NC is an attribute that is open to interpretation, and people often interpret it through their own lens and context.

While there are certainly prevailing attitudes within the CC community as to how to interpret the different CC clauses, the fact remains that working with CC licenses is theoretically simple, but practically complex because we are dealing with law and law is complex. And while CC per se is not law, it does have legal implications because it is so closely tied to copyright law.

Which is why I think that this court ruling is important. The wider CC community needs more legal decisions like Deagulis vs Kappa May to help bring greater certainty and clarity to the many nuances of working with CC licenses. More clarity through legal decisions helps to clear up some of the ambiguity, which ultimately makes it easier to work with the licenses because the community then has something very clear to point to and say, “this is what -SA means”.

Kevin Smith at Duke University has an excellent post about this specific case.

 

Turning #crappyconf15 into #awesomeconf15

David Kernohan started it this morning.

I’ve been tuning into the #crappyconf15 hashtag off an on this morning. As I wrote about yesterday, I’m working with David Wiley on organizing the OpenEd conference in November in Vancouver. So, timely. At the same time, funny…

….more than a tad bit terrifying (ooooooooohhhhhhhh the expectations!!!!!!!!!),

….and highly educational on what details I need to pay attention to.

So, I want to take the learning one step further and ask you to flip this from #crappyconf to #awesomeconf. In your opinion, what makes a great conference great? And before you say “the people”, let’s take that as the given starting point.

Thinking of the many, many conferences you have attended, what are those things that made it stand out? Maybe it were little touches that the organizers put in place that kicked the conference up a notch for you? Was it a cool extra-curricular event? Something that made the event easier/better/smoother for you? Was it an added event before or after the main conference that made the trip worthwhile?

What do you need/want that would make OpenEd15 a worthwhile conference for you?

 

Getting ready for #OpenEd15

For the past couple months I’ve been working with David Wiley on planning the November 18-20 OpenEd conference in Vancouver, and things are kicking into high gear as we head into the fall.

David released the program on Monday (and many thanks to our local program evaluation committee Brian Lamb, Will Engle, Valerie Irvine, Irwin DeVries, & Tannis Morgan for help vetting the plethora of fantastic proposals). Keynotes for the conference will come from Phil Hill & Michael Feldstein, and a couple of current & former BCcampus colleagues Mary Burgess and David Porter.

We’ve been working on organizing a social event. It likely won’t be of the same scale as the epic sea cruise of 2012, but, like 2009 and 2012, our location is uniquely Vancouver; the legendary Roof Restaurant on the 15th floor of the Hotel Vancouver. For you radio buffs, the Roof spent 20+ years as the Saturday night broadcast home of CBC radio back in the jazz days when radio used to broadcast off the floor live jazz and big band concerts. I don’t think we can secure 97 year old Dal Richards for a gig (although, amazingly, he still performs), but the venue will still be a great social space at the end of day 1.

The Roof circa 1940

The Roof circa 1940

A more recent photo of The Roof from 2014

A more recent photo of The Roof from 2014

Other than that, we don’t have a ton of planned social activities for the conference, knowing that many of you will be eager to use the time to reconnect with your own groups. We will be providing some ideas of things that you might want to do while in Vancouver – restaurants, clubs, events and such. But for the most part, we’ll leave that up to the people coming to plan how they want to spend their time.

Accessibility and OER will be highly visible at this years conference with a number of accessibility organizations in attendance. The Inclusive Design Research Centre at OCAD (developers of FLOE), the Centre for Accessible Post-Secondary Educational Resources (CAPER-BC) and CAST are working on an interactive accessibility station that will be set up and running for the duration of the conference.

Early bird rate is $349 US (and the way the Canadian dollar is tanking these days, if you are in Canada and planning on attending, you may want to lock in sooner rather than later). After September 30th the rate is $499 US.

 

An idea for sustaining accounting open textbooks

It happens often enough that I think we in the open education community need a special copyright irony icon for those times when you come across research articles about open education locked away behind copyright paywalls.

Ironic sign post for company called Copyright

Copyright? by Stephen Downes CC-BY

Here is another one (U.S. accounting professors’ perspectives on textbook revisions, Journal of Accounting Education) that contains a great suggestion on how the accounting education community can create & sustain open accounting textbooks.

The paper is a research study on publishers textbook revision cycles, and while it contains some interesting information about how publisher textbook revision cycles are too aggressive for most accounting faculty, the real meat of the article is at the end where the authors present a potential sustainable open textbook community publishing model  along the lines of the NOBA project.

The study was done through the lens of textbook cost and how textbook revisions are one of the major contributing factors to high textbook costs for students. Quicker textbook revision cycles benefit publishers as new editions undercut the used market. The quicker new editions of a popular textbook are released, the greater the opportunity publishers have to sell new books. Since publishers make no money off of used textbooks, there is a strong economic incentive for them to have new editions hitting the market every few years.

How often? The researchers looked at the revision cycles of 69 accounting textbooks over the course of 28 years and found that the time between textbook revisions is shrinking from a mean of 4.2 years in 1988, to 2.4 years in 2016.

While there are changes that need to happen to textbooks over time, it appears that faculty who teach the subject think this cycle is too aggressive. The researchers conducted a survey of 998 accounting faculty, and showed that 54.3% of faculty felt that this revision period was “too short” or “far too short”, preferring a 3.15 year revision cycle. As the authors note, “there is a disconnect between publishers’ current practices and faculty perception of the frequency with which new editions are needed.”

But the recommendation at the end of the paper for accounting educators to establish a Free Textbook Initiative is a fantastic one.

The authors would like to suggest another version of open-source textbooks, a Free Textbook Initiative (FTI) whereby a non-profit entity is created (led by a university, a major accounting firm, the AICPA, or the AAA) to oversee the collection and distribution of funds for writing textbook materials. This would be accomplished primarily with summer writing grants which would be awarded on the condition that all materials created would be put into the public domain and distributed electronically to students and teachers free of charge. For instance, five different professors might write chapters on accounting for leases. Teachers could then choose which chapter they prefer and assemble textbooks on a chapter-by-chapter basis with one chapter authored by professor A and perhaps another by professor B. Those professors with high usage rates for their material would be prime candidates for additional future funding. In this way, the FTI and the absence of frequently revised commercial textbooks would materially lower the cost of education for accounting professionals and create a role model for other disciplines.

Initially, the FTI model could be maintained and periodically updated by faculty in lower-level, static courses, such as principles of financial and managerial accounting, as our survey results indicate that professors teaching in these disciplines prefer longer periods between revisions. Many of the concepts covered in accounting principle courses have changed very little over time (e.g., transaction recording, preparing budgets, etc.), and any initial efforts to develop and compile new course material will potentially be useful for many years.

This does strike me as very similar to the model that NOBA uses in psychology, with individual faculty authoring and submitting openly licensed chapters on specific topics of expertise that other faculty could then mix and match to make their own custom textbooks.

Where the models are different is in the funding structure. NOBA is also a non-profit with sustaining funding coming from the Diener Education Fund. The authors in the accounting example propose a different source of funding.

Accounting education is uniquely placed to be at the vanguard of change in the creation and distribution of textbook materials because of the unique funding opportunities that are available from the profession. The AICPA (American Institute of CPA’s), individual accounting firms, and many businesses are capable and interested in funding initiatives that benefit accounting education. This is almost unique in higher education.

While I am not as keen about having commercial enterprises fund the development of educational material (see Canadian Geographic),  I do think that professional organizations like AICPA (or CPA Canada here) who already have an established interest in maintaining training and credentialing for their profession are well positioned to take on the task of financially support the development of open educational resources specific to their profession. Indeed, the AICPA in the U.S. already supports students through a scholarship program that gives $32,000 in scholarships to 4 students each year. While $5000 and $10,000 scholarships makes a definite impact for those 4 students, imagine the thousands of students who would be financially impacted with lower textbook costs if some of that scholarship money was turned into sustaining an open textbook initiative?

Source: Hammond, T., Danko, K., & Braswell, M. (2015). U.S. accounting professors’ perspectives on textbook revisions. Journal of Accounting Education. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaccedu.2015.06.004

 

Positive moves from University of Guelph on OpenEd

Some positive news today from the University of Guelph on the Open Ed situation.

The UofG was not opposed to sharing the mark more broadly within the post-secondary sector as evidenced by our efforts to provide a license to BC Campus. However, it is evident that the various meanings of the term ‘OpenEd’ will be challenged to co-exist and therefore, the University of Guelph is taking steps to release the official mark in its entirety, although this will make the mark available for others to attempt to make it their official mark or to apply to register it as a traditional trade-mark.

 

 

On using OpenEd: an opportunity

Update:  On June 8, 2015.  Some positive and encouraging news  from the University of Guelph. From the statement on their website they say, “it is evident that the various meanings of the term ‘OpenEd’ will be challenged to co-exist and therefore, the University of Guelph is taking steps to release the official mark in its entirety, although this will make the mark available for others to attempt to make it their official mark or to apply to register it as a traditional trade-mark.”

For the past 6 months my organization BCcampus has been in a dispute with the University of Guelph over our use of this:

BCcampus Open Education logo

Current BCcampus Open Education logo

Like many of you, we have always used the term OpenEd as a short form way of saying Open Education. It’s a term that is familiar to anyone working in the field of open education. In our community, many of us host forums and events using the term OpenEd. Around the world, people write blog posts, create websites, and host conferences using the term OpenEd. Our global community uses the term OpenEd interchangeably with Open Education to mean a series of educational practices and processes built on a foundation of collaboration and sharing.

BCcampus has been working with higher education institutions in British Columbia for over a decade on open education initiatives, so when it came time to redesign our main open education website (open.bccampus.ca), it was only natural that we would gravitate to the term that many people in BC and beyond associate with us: OpenEd. Our graphic designer, Barb Murphy, developed this logo in the fall of 2013 and, at the end of November, 2013, we launched our new website with our new OpenEd logo. We thought nothing of it and went along our merry way chugging along on the BC Open Textbook Project.

Little did we know that, on December 18, 2013, the University of Guelph trademarked OpenEd.

Last fall, we received an email from UGuelph asking us to stop using OpenEd. At first, we thought it was a joke. Someone trademarking OpenEd? Anyone involved in the open education community would realize how ridiculous that sounds. But after numerous emails, it became apparent that they were, indeed, serious about wanting us to stop using OpenEd.

We went back and forth with Guelph until it became apparent that they were not going to give up on their trademark claim, but for the cost of their legal paperwork to write up a permission contract ( $500), they would allow us to use the term in perpetuity to describe any open education activities in BC that we were associated with.

We considered the offer, and thought it a fair request from Guelph. They didn’t ask us for a licensing fee. The would give us the rights to use the mark for basically the cost of their lawyers writing up the contract. $500 is not a lot of money.

But then we thought about the rest of the open education community in Canada and how they will not be able to use the term unless they negotiate with Guelph as well. And we thought that, if we agreed to the terms, we would be legitimizing their claim to a term that runs against the very ethos of what we practice. We decided we couldn’t do it.

Then we thought perhaps we should fight and win the mark back? Wrestle the trademark from Guelph and then turn around and release the trademark with a CC0 license for the entire community to use (even Guelph). We thought we could prove our prior use, not only based on the fact that we started using the logo on our new website weeks before their claim was finalized in December of 2013, but going back even further to the 2009 OpenEd conference BCcampus sponsored at UBC in Vancouver where a wordmark very similar to what Guelph has trademarked was first used.

The 2009 Open Education Conference Logo. The conference was at UBC and sponsored by BCcampus

The 2009 Open Education Conference Logo. The conference was at UBC and sponsored by BCcampus

But after speaking with a lawyer, we discovered that the best we could do is win prior use rights for BCcampus, which would be good for BCcampus, but lousy for the entire open education community.

So in the end,  we have decided to change. We are currently working on dropping the term OpenEd from our logo and replacing it with the words Open Education.

This will not be cheap for us. The redesign is simple, but that BCcampus OpenEd mark is used in many places. Most notably, we now have to redo the covers for close to 90 textbooks in our open textbook collection as that OpenEd mark appears on the cover of every book.

Each cover on every open textbook in our collection needs to be changed

Each cover on every open textbook in our collection needs to be changed

And then once the cover is changed, we need to update 3 different websites where that cover might be used. Plus, we have created a ton of additional material that has the mark OpenEd on it that will now need to be scrapped.

In my mind, however, this is the right move. If BCcampus pays even a modest fee, then we accept that it is ok to copyright and trademark something that, I believe, should rightly belong to the community. Given my own personal values around openness and sharing of resources, it’s a bargain I did not want to make. And it doesn’t make sense to fight a battle that will win a victory for BCcampus, but not for the wider open education community. It would feel less than hollow.

So, we change.

The opportunity. If you are from Guelph and are reading this, there is another alternative. You have the trademark to the OpenEd mark. You control the IP. You can always choose to release the mark with a Creative Commons license and show the wider open education community that you understand the community and the open values that drive our work in education everyday. You can be a leader here by taking the simple act of licensing your mark with a CC license and releasing it to the community for everyone to use.

Update June2, 2015:  Trademarks and copyright are different ways to protect intellectual property, and the suggestion I made in the post is probably too simplistic a wish as CC licenses are meant to alleviate copyright, not trademark, restrictions (h/t to David Wiley for pointing me to this distinction).  However, it appears that the two can co-exist and you can openly license and protect trademarks at the same time, as this document from Creative Commons on trademarks & copyright suggests.

 

Week 22 in review: the #otsummit edition

Keynote speaker with slide that sayse don't just adopt an open textbook, foster a textbook

Rajiv encouraging faculty to not only adopt an open textbook, but foster an open textbook.

Last week was all about the 3rd annual open textbook summit in Vancouver.

The summit was bigger than ever this year and marked a number of firsts for us; the first time we have done a more traditional conference format, soliciting presentation proposals from the wider community for concurrent breakout sessions. For the first time, we hosted a pre-conference event celebrating our authors, adapters, reviewers and project partners, and it was also the first time we charged a modest conference fee ($150) to help offset costs. This last bit had me especially worried as I have always seen a free event as a way to attract the interest of those on the periphery of open textbooks. I wasn’t sure we had hit a kind of critical mas in interest to justify charging just yet for a conference. I didn’t want to put up any barriers, and cost to attend a conference can often be a barrier.

Boy, was I wrong.  Over 170 participants (40+ more than last year) joined us in Vancouver to talk open textbooks. In the end, we had 31 sessions and 2 exceptional keynotes from KPU’s Rajiv Jhiangiani on day one, and students Chardaye Buekert (SFU) and Erik Queenan (Mount Royal University) on day two. And the BC Minister of Advanced Education came by to share a few words with the attendees.

We’re just in the process of gathering all the slides and keynote videos and will post them on the OT Summit website in the coming weeks (we’ve started posting some photos on our Flickr site and here is the hashtag archive).  My own takeaways in scattered, bullet form…

  • The keynotes. I could not have been happier with both. I have glowed many times about Rajiv, and he bowled me over with his keynote that was equal parts gracious, thought provoking, challenging and funny.  The man is truly an all-rounder, clearly and passionately engaged with the scholarship of teaching and learning and his discipline, plus a formidable researcher. His framing of open textbooks as a social justice issue resonated with many in the crowd.
  • It is not an easy task keynoting a conference, let alone being a student asked to speak in front of a room full of faculty (and the Minister of Advanced Education),  but our student keynote went even better than I hoped for, thanks to our extremely eloquent, passionate, informed and charming student keynotes. They both did a superb job in presenting a student perspective on how OER and open textbooks can address inequalities in education.
  • We had a strong student turnout. In addition to the keynotes, there were 18 other students from various post-sec’s in attendance.
  • Both Jessie Key and Christina Hendricks (who, along with Rajiv, make up our trio of Faculty Fellows) were busy presenting, meeting and connecting with others at the conference. Along with Beck Pitt from the OER Research Hub, we set aside some time to talk about writing a report with recommendations based on some of the findings from our faculty OER survey from last fall and this spring. We’ll be co-writing and releasing a report looking specifically at institutional barriers faculty face when using OER and open textbooks, and try to make some recommendations on what institutions can do to help remove those barriers.
  • My colleagues Amanda Coolidge, Lauri Aesoph, Christy Foote and Barb Murphy did most of the heavy lifting to make this thing happen. Thank you. I work with exceptional people.
  • Met with Janet Welch (eCampus Alberta) and Trisha Donovan (the Alberta OER project) to talk about the OER initiative in Alberta and how we may collaborate on some specific initiatives under the tri-provincial Memorandum of Understanding around OER’s that was signed by BC, Alberta and Saskatchewan 2 years ago.
  • Gill, Barb (who got up at the ungodly hour of 3am to co-present live via Skype from Tokyo) and I did a presentation on the BC Geography Textbook Sprint. We’ll be doing this again at OpenEd in the fall. This caught the attention of some BC institutions who are intrigued by the model and have asked me to follow up with them. Adam Hyde from BookSprints was  at the summit and I finally had a chance to meet him f2f and hang out. The way he thinks and talks  about information, knowledge production, ownership, authorship, books and communities resonates strongly with me, and I am happy to have made the connection.
  • Speaking of progressive thinkers about the future of books, Hugh McGuire from Pressbooks attended and made an announcement about a new Pressbooks EDU hosting service he has set up specifically for educational institutions who are interested in using Pressbooks, but may not have the internal IT resources to set up an instance themselves. Hugh has been a terrific partner with the open textbook project, and I am really happy to see him launch this initiative as it provides another way for faculty and institutions to engage with open textbook creation and hosting.
  • Met with our print on demand service providers, SFU Document Solutions, on some new initiatives around print books that we have in the works. SFU is big on Bitcoin, and we are exploring the possibility of making Bitcoins a payment method for students who order the low cost, print on demand open textbooks. As well, we are exploring alternative ways of shipping physical books using the existing inter-library transfer system. KPU and SFU have been testing this out as a way to reduce the sizable shipping costs of open textbooks, especially around the lower mainland where there is a concentration of institutions and students sometimes pay up to $15 to have a physical textbook shipped just a few blocks away.
  • Post-conference, I met with the BC Earth Sciences articulation committee. We have funded the development of a Geology textbook (being created by Steve Earle from VIU/TRU-OL), and the articulation committee has been involved with the development of the book by acting as the peer reviewers on the book. As a result, the interest is high among this group in adopting the book once it is released. I think including the provincial articulation committee in the development of the resource is a fantastic move as this is the community that will make the book stronger and be the group who ultimately has a lot of influence in the adoption of the textbook throughout the province.

Finally, I had some fun last week getting ready for the conference riffing off some of the themes in Rajiv’s keynote. A few weeks ago when I was at TRU-OL for their faculty event, Rajiv and I had lunch together and had this fun idea of making an infomercial around the current textbook sales model. We had a laugh and I thought nothing of it until later on in the afternoon, Rajiv emailed me a script he wrote. I put my old hardsell radio voice on, went digging around Flickr and had some wicked fun making this to close the conference.

 

 

Week in Review: Week 20/21

Open Textbook Summit 2014 Day 1

Brad getting excited for next weeks Open Textbook Summit. CC-BY BCcampus

Covering the past 2 weeks.

  • Prep for next weeks OT Summit and authors thank you event. We have over 150 people coming for the Summit and another 70+ to the authors thank you event. Super happy with these numbers as this is the first year that we have run the Summit more like a conference with session proposals. It is also the first year that we have charged a registration fee for the event, and I was very concerned that would hurt our numbers. But we’ve surpassed last years numbers and I expect we will still have more once the final numbers are collected.
  • Met with the Noba project, an open textbook Psychology project. Noba co-sponsored the testbank sprint last summer and now have a copy of the textbank for faculty who use their open textbook. We’ve both been fighting with Respondus trying to use it to make our testbanks. It;s a beast. If anyone knows of a better tool to make test question pools for numerous LMS, please let me know. I am dying to find an alternative that will make multiple testbanks for multiple LMS’s from a single source.
  • Completed a first draft of an open textbook sustainability plan and a draft three year tactical plan for open textbooks & circulated to a few BCcampus team members for feedback.
  • Working on a video project with Rajiv. My editing skills are rusty and I hope I can pull this off in time for the OT Summit cause his idea is very funny and I want to do it justice.
  • Saw a noticeable upswing in number of faculty review requests this week, which is fantastic. We are always looking for faculty to review open textbooks, and it looks like a few BC faculty are adding an open textbook to their summer reading list.
  • Met with our Faculty Fellows. They are going to be busy over the next few weeks at various events around BC. We are planning to meet f2f with Beck Pitt from the OER Research Hub next week in Vancouver to start working on a report with the findings and recommendations from our open textbook faculty survey that wrapped up this spring. I am hoping we will be able to release this report this summer.
  • Met with Nicole Allen from SPARC last week. Nicole and SPARC were involved in organizing OpenEd in Washington last year, and she had some good tips for us as we continue planning OpenEd 2015 in Vancouver this fall.
  • Mucking around with embedding interactive Excel spreadsheets in Pressbooks. Also had some PB frustration tracking down more security headaches. This one actual affected an author who lost a few hours of writing after he was inadvertently locked out of PB. Took the better part of a morning figuring out what happened and seeing if we could recover his stuff.
  • Updating & reconciling OTB budget.
  • Was Victoria Day in Canada last weekend and I took some extra time around the weekend to hang out with family and friends, do some biking & bbq’ing.
 

Week 19 In Review

I like sharing some personal stuff about my week in the reviews. Normally, I do it at the end of the post. But this week’s overriding memory is a personal one. My 8 year old son, after living with an egg allergy for his entire life, was given the green light to eat eggs by our allergist after a successful oral challenge.

The immense impact of this on our family is difficult to fully explain as we have lived with dietary limitations for his entire life. For the first 3 years, his total avoidance allergy list was all nuts, eggs, soy, dairy and wheat. Slowly, over the years this list has been reduced to where it is now just nuts and dairy. This development means a pretty massive change for our family, and will likely go down as our families biggest collective memory of 2015.

Onto work stuff.

I was invited by Colin Madland at TRU-OL to participate in their annual Open Learning faculty development workshop. TRU is a fantastic supporter of the open textbook project, and open education in general. I presented on the open textbook project with a few people at TRU who are involved in the project, Rajiv Jhangiani (who gave one of the clearest explanations on the basics of cricket that I have ever heard using a set of flight beer glasses), John Belshaw (who authored the new Canadian History textbook in our collection), and TRU librarian Brenda Smith (who has been involved with the BC-OER librarians group). I also facilitated a couple of f2f workshops on finding and using OER. Slides from my plenary presentation, my workshop, and the workshop outline.

While at TRU, I also met with Irwin DeVries and the instructional design team at TRU-OL on how they can use open textbooks in their course development and redesign courses around open textbooks. I also met with Val Peachy, who is the Director for Program Delivery at TRU-OL. Also met with another open textbook adapting author at TRU Bill Little (Intro to Sociology) to do a bit of a f2f Pressbooks overview with him. Spent some time with Nancy White &, of course, hung out with Brian. Also good to see Grant Potter and Jason Toal.

OpenEd 2015 proposal reviews. Coordinated an external review panel of BC post-sec folks to evaluate OpenEd 2015 proposals. We had a quick turnaround time as proposal acceptances are going out this week. Thank you to the group of you who helped with the proposal evaluations. There are just shy of 150 proposals for OpenEd this fall – a phenomenal response.

Other OpenEd 2015 work: put together outline of possible roles for BC (and especially Vancouver based( higher ed folks as I continue to work towards getting a local organizing committee together for the event.

Spent a day working on both an open textbook sustainability plan, and an open textbook tactical plan for the next year. This summer we will be wrapping up the creation phase and will have met the official goals of the project (textbooks that align with the top 40 academic subject areas in BC and 20 textbooks for skills and trades training) and now need to start looking towards what is next for the project. These 2 documents are my big rock projects right now.

Attended a webinar from John Hilton III about efficacy of open textbooks. Prompted a blog post from me.

We’re working on a self-serve stand alone instance of Pressbooks for BC faculty. The idea behind this instance is that faculty (or anyone with a BC post-sec institutional account) can sign up for their own Pressbooks site and use it to create a textbook. These books won’t be added to the curated collection at open.bccampus.ca, but will be connected with the larger collection in the sense that faculty who sign up for an account can create a copy of any book in our collection and use that as a starting point for their own textbook. This is a way to support faculty who have the technical skills and knowledge of open licensing a venue to D.I.Y. an open textbook. I’ve got the keys from Brad this week and have been playing with it in preparation for a limited summer launch.

Working with Lumen and University of Minnesota on textbook conversion program. We are trying to coordinate our efforts on converting existing open textbooks in the commons into our common Pressbooks platform. First step was a list of what we are all working on in terms of conversion projects and we got that done last week. Next step – how to best share these resources so we don’t duplicate efforts.

Ministry meeting to give them an update on our activities.

Registered for ETUG at SFU in June.

The OT Summit is just a few weeks away. Registration closes May 25.

Was involved in a few emails with folks around rebooting Creative Commons Canada.

We added a number of books to the collection last week as the 20 skills and trades training books continue to roll off the shelves. Notably Introduction to Tourism and Hospitality in BC, and an ABE English textbook and accompanying reader.

One more personal note. Celebrated not only Mothers Day this weekend, but 12 wonderful years of being married to my wife, Dana.

Image credit: Happy Face by abhijith CC-BY-NC-SA

 

Effectiveness of Open Educational Resources (with update)

efficacy1

Much of this post has been cross-posted at the open.bccampus.ca website, but I wanted to repeat it here because I think that the work that John Hilton III and others are doing at the Open Education Group is important work for the entire OpenEd community. It helps build the case that open resources are viable resources for educators who are concerned about the efficacy of their teaching resources which, as the recent Babson survey tells us, is the most important quality faculty look for when choosing their resources: proven efficacy (a problematic point which I’ve talked about before).

John Hilton III is one of the leading researchers in the area of efficacy of open educational resources (which includes open textbooks). Recently, John has been gathering empirical research on the efficacy of open educational resources compared to traditional publishers resources and publishing the studies at the Open Education Group website. The Right to Research Coalition sponsored a webinar with John where he presented some of the findings comparing the use of open resources with closed resources.

Here are the slides from the presentation, and the archive of his webcast is below.

The “big picture” takeaway from John’s presentation came in a slide he shared early on (see above). The aggregate result of eight different studies he examined shows that 85% of students who use free open resources in a class do as well or slightly better than students using traditional publishers textbooks. (updated May 14, 2015: John left the following comment about this post over at the open.bccampus.ca site that reads “Thanks for this post – one quick clarification. The “50-35-15? breakdown in the image is actually about student and teacher’s perceptions of OER. That is about 50% say the OER they have used is as good as traditional texts, 35% say it’s better, 15% say it’s worse. 10 different academic studies have focused on whether students who use OER do better or worse than their peers using traditional resources have largely found no significant differences. See http://openedgroup.org/review for more details.” So, the empirical evidence from 10 research studies actually shows an even more compelling argument).

Students performing as well or even slightly better while saving hundreds of thousands of dollars in textbook costs is an important finding. However, a John notes, this is just eight studies and there needs to be more research done to be able to see if this result can be replicated in other cases. But still, it does beg the question that if students are doing as well or even slightly better in classes that use free open resources, then how come we still are asking them to spend hundreds of dollars on textbooks when the outcomes are the same?

Here is the presentation.

 

 

Are you analog or digital?

I left a fairly lengthy response on Tony Bates blog post about an issue he has been experiencing.

Tony used our instance of Pressbooks as the platform for his latest book, Teaching in a Digital Age. Tony noticed that the PDF version of the book had a problem with how the images were rendered. They were not in the correct flow of the text when the conversion from web to PDF happened in Pressbooks.

Pressbooks does the conversion from web to PDF better than most, but this is an issue we have been dealing with as part of our project. Images that are placed in the correct flow of a book in Pressbooks often get moved and pushed around in the PDF version of the book.

I understand the annoyance, but it illustrates beautifully the dichotomy of the borderlands we currently live in, straddling the digital and the analog worlds of publishing.

Here is my response.

Nate hits it on the head – these are the complexities involved in digital publishing as we straddle the world of print with the world of the web (and other digital formats). Digital publishing formats are fluid, and print formats are rigid. By choosing to use a publishing platform that values digital over print (and Pressbooks is designed to favour web over print), you are making a choice to value flexible over rigid.

However, as you have discovered, the two don’t play well. While Pressbooks and the PDF engine does an admirable job of creating an acceptable print ready document, you are still going to end up with having to compromise the layout of the rigid print for the flexible digital.

This is actually the biggest conceptual hurdle that most people moving from print based publishing to digital publishing have to contend with. It is often very disconcerting for those who have designed for the rigid formats of print to make the transition to the fluid world of digital. And they are often disappointed because they have to give up their pixel (or point in the print world) control and surrender to the fluid layouts of digital that put the user, not the publisher, in control of the appearance of the content.

The dilemma I have, as someone who is developing tools that attempt to straddle both worlds, is how can I satisfy the expectations of those who are accustomed and expecting rigid print, while still satisfy those who understand and expect the fluid digital. It is a heck of a challenge and someone is going to end up unhappy in the end, as you are seeing. Your book website looks great and works well. Your PDF (which I consider print, not digital as it enforces a rigid layout vs the digital flexible) is expecting rigid and cannot accommodate the digital flexible flow.

This is at the heart of why I find PDF so frustrating to work with. It appears to be digital, but is really analog hiding in a digital sheep’s clothing.

In the end, the decision is the author as to which compromise they are willing to make. Are they a digital publisher first making an analog version available out of convenience to those who still live in the analog world, in which case the PDF output would be acceptable. Or are they an analog publisher who wants to create rigid layouts (ie PDF and print) first with the web/ePub and digital publishing as the afterthought.

 

Making WordPress Accessible with FLOE

I’ve installed the FLOE WordPress plugin on this site.  FLOE (Flexible Learning for Open Education) is a project out of the  Inclusive Design Research Centre   at Ontario College of Art and Design University (OCAD U) in Toronto.

The plugin adds accessibility feature to any WordPress site, and is designed specifically to address the needs of those using WordPress to develop and deliver accessible Open Educational Resources (OER).

If you look at the top right of this site, you should see a box that looks like this:

showdisplay

Click on that and you will see a number of options appear that let you change the display of the site to address some common accessibility issues, such as text size, line spacing and contrast.

somePreferences

Amanda Coolidge (along with our partners at CAPER-BC and Camousn College) has been doing a lot of work on accessibility with the BC Open Textbook project. Recently, this culminated in the addition of some accessibility features to the Pressbooks plugin, developed by our co-op student Ashlee Zhang. The accessibility features developed by Ashlee match some of the work done by FLOE (like increasing font sizes and line spacing).

I first became aware of FLOE in February around the same time that Amanda, Tara and Sue were conducting our accessibility workshops with students. Unbeknownst to us, while we were doing this in BC, there was a similar sprint workshop on accessibility being held concurrently in Ontario. In retrospect, I wish we had been aware of the Ontario event as it would have been a great opportunity to combine forces and collaborate as we work towards the common goal of making OER the most universally accessible resources available to students.

That said,  Amanda has since made contact with the project. Considering that Pressbooks Textbook, our platform, shares the same DNA as WordPress (it is a WordPress plugin), it seems to me that there is a lot of benefit by connecting with the FLOE project and working together on making OER’s as accessible as possible.

As for the plugin itself, I’d appreciate your feedback on how it works. Play around with it and leave a comment. Click “Show Display Preferences” in the top right corner and get started.

If you want to add the plugin to your site, here’s the GitHub repo.