Follow that open educational resource!

This morning I was taking a look at some of the Piwiks website analytics for the Geography open textbook we created 2 years ago as a textbook sprint project. For me, the really interesting data is always the referring website data as that can give you a glimpse of how the content is being used and by who.

The BC Open Textbook Project tracks adoptions of open textbooks with an eye to reporting back student savings. But there is much more value in open resources than just a displacing adoption where a commercial textbook is replaced by an open one. When you create open resources, you may have one specific group in mind, but you often find there are unexpected audiences using your resources.

This is a big value proposition of open resources. Once you make an open resource, it is available for others to use and refer back to. Each open textbook in the BC open textbook collection contributes to improving the knowledge available on the open web.

This is one of the major reasons I love open resources created by smart people in higher education. Every time an edu contributes resources to the open web, we make the web a better, more informed space for all.

I like to think of it as making the web more educational, less Perez Hilton.

Onto the Geography open textbook.

First, there is a lot of evidence that the book is being used by the intended audience of BC post-secondary institutions as there are referring links back to sections of the book from post-secondary domains at KPU, UVic, Langara, VCC, UBC and VIU. Most of the referring links I follow back take me to a landing page for an LMS at that institution, telling me that the content is being referred to from inside a course. This may not be a full adoption of the resource by the faculty, but it does indicate that the resources are being used by the intended audience.

But use of the resources extends beyond BC higher ed. A large source of referral traffic is from the Oslo International School, which appears to be an International Baccalaureate primary school. Again, when I follow the referring link I am met with an LMS login screen. It’s crazy to think that a regionally specific resource aimed at a first year Geography student in British Columbia is finding use at a primary IB school in Oslo, Norway. You never know where you’ll end up when you go open.

It is not the only K-12 school referring to these resources. Teachers from School District 43 in BC have recommend (Word) the section on Residential Schools to their students as a resource for students doing a research project.  Teachers in School District 63 are using the section of the textbook dedicated to the BC Gold Rush as a learning resource in their classes.

Those two resources have also found use outside of education. The Royal BC Museum Learning Portal has included a link back to the textbook section on the Gold Rush as a resource on their learning website dedicated to the BC Gold Rush, and Vice included a referential link back to the section on Residential Schools in an article it published on the Canadian Truth Commission on Residential School.

The textbook is also showing up on some kid friendly search engines. A referral from a KidRex search on the Hope Slide led me back to the search results page for the search and shows that the Hope Slide case study in the textbook comes up as the second result (behind the Wikipedia entry).

None of these uses save students a penny, but show the value of an open resource beyond the financial. No doubt that the student savings are important as the financial barriers are real. But to me, seeing this kind of usage of OER shows the benefits extend beyond students. These resources make the web better for all. It is higher ed freely contributing knowledge to the world. It is higher ed making the world much less Perez Hilton.

Addendum: Gill Green, one of the original book authors and current Open textbook Faculty Fellow sent me this tweet about a resource we created for the book.


The Impact of OER on Teaching and Learning Practice

OER Research Hub is in the Cards

The OER Research Hub has published a new study in OpenPraxis looking at the impact of OER on teaching & learning practice.

The Hub has been working with numerous OER and open education projects around the world, gathering data clustered around their 11 hypothesis, and this report pulls data from 15 open projects, including the BC Open Textbook Project, where I’ve been working closely with Beck Pitt and the BC Open Textbook Faculty Fellows for the better part of the past year gathering regional data from BC faculty.

Aside: I think it’s quite excellent that we have a project like the OER Research Hub around capturing data on all these projects and enabling the kind of meta-analysis (like this report) to happen. Big thumbs up to the Hub.

While there is much to dig into here around the 11 hypothesis, a couple things stood out for me.

First, contrary to other findings on remix and adaptability that have shown relatively little customization of OER’s and open textbooks, the Hub’s research reports a relatively high degree of adaptation of OER’s (77.7% of educators, formal, and informal learners reported adapting content). However, this wide difference could be attributed to the fact that adaptation wasn’t explicitly defined in the research and was left open for the respondents to determine what qualified as adapting content.

Interestingly, it is not the open licenses that enables more experimentation with the content (only 14.8% of educators reporting that they use open licenses to share content), but rather the fact that the resources are online that enables adaptation. Being online is a much more important factor in reuse and adaptation that being openly licensed.

With all the recent post OpenEd talk of the value of open textbooks for changing educators practices, one of the more tentative findings that stood out for me showed that educators who are exposed to OER’s tend to seek out more OER’s and are more likely to share their own resources.

The findings here are primarily clustered around 2 projects: OpenStax and Siyavula. In the case of Siyavula, I know they have done extensive work in teacher training around the use and creation of OER’s, using book sprints as a workshop model. So, teachers using OER’s as part of the Siyavula project are not only using OER’s, but are deeply immersed in creating and adapting OER’s with support, which would tend to increase their overall understanding of OER’s. These types of collaborative sprints may also account for the fact that Siyavula teachers reported more collaboration with their colleagues as a result of using OER’s (50%) with over 70% of Siyavula teachers also saying that they often compare their teaching with that of their colleagues.

Also relevant to the open textbook debate and the value that open textbooks & OER’s in general have in changing faculty practices, there is evidence that faculty who use OER’s reflect strongly on their practice with 64.3% of those surveyed saying that they use a “broader range of teaching and learning methods”, and they are likely to compare their own teaching with others. There is also an interesting tidbit that over a third of educators who use OER have blogged in the past year, showing a connection between using OER’s and other forms of open participation.

Photo: OER Research Hub is in the cards Alan Levine CC-BY

Weller, M., Arcos, B. de los, Farrow, R., Pitt, B., & McAndrew, P. (2015). The Impact of OER on Teaching and Learning Practice. Open Praxis, 7(4), 351–361.

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.



Effectiveness of Open Educational Resources (with update)


Much of this post has been cross-posted at the 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 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 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.



Week 48 Week in Review

Truncated week as I took Monday & Tuesday off after OpenEd.

  • Shortlisted candidates for an 8 month co-op gig we have with the open textbook project. Brendan Lane, our current co-op (and an awesome one at that) is leaving at the end of the month after working on open textbooks for the past 8 months. I am sure he has cleaned up enough bad html code to last a lifetime.
  • Met with Ministry of Advanced Ed in Saskatchewan to talk about open initiatives in that province. We’ve recently opened up our textbook review process to both Alberta and Saskatchewan faculty and are looking for ways to make more collaborative moves under the tri-provincial MOU.
  • Brainstorming meeting yesterday on how to promote and support Open Pedagogy projects (like many of the UBC student as producer projects that Will and Novak talked about in their OpenEd presentation). We also talked about developing more localized sprints along the lines of the work being done by Lumen Learning where we go to institutions to build local capacity by engaging in a textbook adaptation project.
  • After OpenEd I came back wanting to have someone else check over our attribution statements for textbook adaptation projects we have done, and to ensure that we have done things correctly as per the CC licenses. Working on adaptations on projects (or, even more challenging remix projects) is complicated when you are mixing and matching sources of content with different licenses, so I have reached out to Creative Commons to see if they can help us by checking over our work on the first adaptation projects we are rolling out the door.
  • Our fantastic Communications Director, Tori Klassen, is leaving BCcampus & heading over to Vancouver Community College, so we had an impromptu office goodby lunch for her yesterday.
  • Began working on venues for OpenEd 2015 in Vancouver.
  • Open Education Week is coming up in March, and it looks like we are going to try to put together a series of lunchtime webinars for the week with different open textbook groups (faculty, librarians, students, adapters & others) participating in the webinars. I may be tapping some of you on the shoulder in the coming weeks
  • Heading to VIU to do a workshop with Jessie Key on Open Textbooks on January 15th. Also have booked presentations for UNBC and Selkirk College in the new year. The virtual open textbook roadshow is coming to an institution near you.
  • Getting ready to move the new Nursing and Mental Health textbook I’ve been working on to the editors for release early in the new year.
  • Added a cap of 5 reviews per faculty to our textbook review process to try to encourage a greater diversity of voices in our textbook reviews.
  • I’m facilitating a couple of open online courses – a one week course on OER’s starting Saturday with EdTechOpen (register here), and another longer, 4 week course on adopting open textbooks. Did some work prepping for those.
  • Did an interview with a group doing an evaluation of the work of the OER Research Hub. They wanted the opinion of a partner who has worked with the Hub about what it was like working with them. Really, if it wasn’t for Martin, Beck and the rest of the OER Research Hub reaching out to us after I flailed trying to organize some research on our project, I think we would have missed a valuable opportunity to add to the body of OER research that is in demand by practitioners around the world. For that I am eternally grateful for their help and support. I’ll add Rajiv to my grateful OER researcher list as well as he, too, helped push the current research project along.
Proudly sporting my shiny new OER Research Hub t-shirt.

Big fan. Proudly sporting my shiny new OER Research Hub t-shirt.


OER, teacher proofing and writing blog posts close to lunch means food analogies

Senidal®: Acciones rurales

About 8 years ago, I had the opportunity to teach a face to face course in web development through the continuing studies department at a local community college. The course was developed by the head of the certificate program that the course was part of.  As I started talking to him about the course & the content to cover, he handed me a massive paper textbook that he created and said “here is the course I want you to teach.” Well, never having taught this course before, I was grateful to have the resource. Here was the entire course. All I had to do was deliver the content in the book and all would be good.

As I went through the course the first time, I noticed a number of problems. I made notes of things I wanted to change the next time I taught it, concepts I thought were missing or needed to be enhanced or dropped. I also received a number of constructive comments from the students after the course finished on ways that the course could be improved.

Post-course I went back to the original developer with the changes I had that I thought would make the course better. I asked him for the source file for the textbook (students could only buy a print copy of the textbook at the time) so I could both modify the content & make it available electronically for the students. His answer was an emphatic no. This was his content, he didn’t want it changed and he certainly didn’t want to “give away” the textbook to the students.

The course WAS the textbook, and, for him, the value of the course was the content (ironic since it covered web development which, even at that time, there were no shortage of great free resources available on the web). I taught the course for a couple of years and, despite the insistence on teaching from the book, I found ways to incorporate the things I wanted to do into the course. I could have rebuilt my own book from scratch, but there were really good pieces from his book that I wanted to use. Gradually my enthusiasm for teaching his content his way waned. I wasn’t passionate about teaching someone else’s way with someone else’s content. And I wasn’t making much headway into changing that core book, although he did eventually relent and let me post a PDF version of the book online. Everything I did on my own was peripheral to that book – it still formed the core of the material – and eventually I grew bored & quit.

I didn’t know the term “teacher proofing” at the time. In fact, until this week I had never heard the term (thanks Mary & David). But I now realize that my personal experience was “teacher proofing” in action.

Teacher proofing is a very curriculum centered approach to education where the content IS the course and designed generically enough that (in theory) anyone could teach the course & have the same outcomes. The teacher is interchangeable. Their input is not needed. Anyone can deliver the course.

It’s an old, long-discarded industrial model that considers students as products and teachers as replaceable parts, far more suitable for building cars than educating children. Dr. Richard Curwin

You can see the danger here, for not only students, but for the teacher.

Not only do students suffer from scripted programs, teachers suffer, too. Teachers lose their creativity, their enthusiasm and their love of teaching. They lose their desire to be teachers. Many quit. Dr. Richard Curwin

Not only is this disillusionment possible (as I experienced through my example above), but teacher proofing can also lead to a deskilling of teachers by distancing them from the act of designing curriculum, which means that teachers lose those key skills and become nothing more than the deliverers of content.

When a school decides to adopt OER, on the other hand, this policy requires teachers to identify resources, judge their quality, align them to standards, aggregate them in meaningful collections, and choose or design accompanying activities and assessments. Teachers and staff also become involved in ongoing processes of evaluation and continuous quality improvement. Where “teacher-proof” curriculum assumes few or no skills on the part of the local teacher, adopting OER is the ultimate expression of confidence, empowering teachers to bring all their expertise to bear in the classroom. Tonks, Weston, Wiley & Barbour, 2013

OER’s can help counter teacher proofing because they give educators control over the learning resources. Because they are openly licensed, educators can modify, customize and personalize the content to fit THEIR style to meet THEIR learning needs.

While OER’s may appear the same as copyright materials in that they are often built by others, the difference is that the open license gives educators the legal ability to modify the content. It puts the control of curriculum back into the educators hand and encourages a deeper connection to the material. You become personally invested in something that you create. It then becomes something unique to you, something you become passionate about because of that personal investment you have to the material.

Teacher proofing leads to generic plug and play courses. The McDonaldization of higher education where someone (paid at $8 an hour) delivers a generic meal to you that tastes the same as every other meal. That $8 an hour person doesn’t really care about the meal they are putting down in front of you. They’ve followed the recipe. They know that it will be good enough. Beyond the final steps of heating the food, they have no idea how the food is actually made. Chances are, they really don’t care. They are completely divested of any involvement in the actual quality of the food. They are more concerned about filling orders and pushing bodies through the door. Feed and move on. Feed and move on. For $8 an hour.

The university system has turned into a “cookie-cutter” system. One can expect to find the same courses being taught, the same teaching system being utilized, the same textbooks being used, and the same type of examinations in just about every university. Because of this, a unique college experience is difficult to find. The McDonaldization of Higher Education

Using OER’s and, crucially, developing the digital skills to modify and adapt OER’s to meet specific learning needs, helps fight against this McDonaldization of education. It helps create better learning experiences by empowering educators to connect deeply with their learning resources because they are creating those resources. They are connected to the “food” in the same way that a good chef is, picking and choosing what they think the best ingredients are and then turning that into something delicious and wonderful. And along the way, by using their skills on a regular basis they are improving their skills and becoming better chefs.

But what makes a truly great chef, like a truly great educator, is passion. For me, what I’ve learned  from my own experience that when I am teaching using content I have had a hand in creating and adapting based on what I am seeing happen in my classroom, I become a more passionate educator. I am doing the course the way that I think it should be done to meet the needs of my learners, and not the way that Pearson or McGraw-Hill think it should be done.

Photo: Senidal®: Acciones rurales by Left Hand Rotation used under CC-BY-NC license


Bing's Creative Commons filter country specific

I rarely use Bing. Ok, I never use Bing, but a Twitter conversation with Laura Gibbs earlier today had me checking out the search engine.

Laura sent a tweet responding to a conversation I had earlier in the day with Dave Cormier about finding OER science images (as an aside, Dave ended up aggregating the tweets recommending possible sources of OER science images using Storify; a nifty way to use Twitter & Storify to crowdsource, aggregate and archive on the fly).

One of the suggestions I had for Dave was to use the Google advanced license search to filter image results by open license.

Laura saw that tweet and responded that you could also use Bing

I didn’t realize Bing also let you filter by license type, so I followed Laura’s link and saw a collection of images in Bing, but there was no way that was obvious to me on how to filter my license. This is what I saw:

Chem1No license filter. So, thinking that there is another place where this is set, I start rooting around the Bing settings, but find nothing to filter on license types. So I ask Laura, who responds with a screen shot of what she sees.

Wait, what is that license dropdown on her menu? Why don’t I see it on mine?

Turns out, the license filter was not appearing for me because my country settings were set to Canada. If I changed my country settings to US, the license filter appears.


So it appears that Bing’s license filter only works if you have your country settings set to US. Which strikes me as odd. Why not just make it default for all geographical locations? t first I thought that maybe there was some legal reason why they restrict filtering on license by country, but then though if that was the case, why would they let users so easily override it by switching their country settings? Wouldn’t they have some more sophisticated geo-location mechanism in place if that was a serious concern?

At any rate, if you use Bing and want to use it to search for Creative Commons licensed material, you need to change your Worldwide settings to US.

Oh, and as was pointed out on the conversation thread by Pat Lockley…

You do sometimes find images that are not correctly licensed. If you get the feeling that the CC-BY licensed image might not be, do a bit more digging to find the source of the image. TinEye is a good tool that might help you track down the source of the image.


You don't have to wait for BCcampus

I’ve been on the road for the past 3 weeks speaking to educators in this province about the BC open textbook project attending & presenting at a number of BCCAT articulation committee meetings and various institutional and provincial faculty professional development events. There was also a trip to Houston, Texas in there to attend the 2013 Connexions conference and code sprint at Rice University, which I will write more about now that I am getting my head above water.

Generally, the reception to the open textbook project has been positive (again, I need to write some reflective debriefing posts about what I have learned in the past few weeks beyond the advice to never do a flight transfer to Victoria through Vegas). But the one point I want to make to any faculty who might read this blog post:

You don’t have to wait for BCcampus.

Sure, there is an “official” project underway in this province, and there are timelines and deliverables and all the other stuff that goes along with a project like this. But adopting an open textbook doesn’t have to happen within the confines of a formal project.

Open textbooks are open educational resources – openly licensed with Creative Commons licenses and openly available to any faculty who wishes to use them.

Go. Evaluate them. Adapt them. Adopt them. Use them.

Now, if you are faculty and want to evaluate and adopt an open textbook, you certainly can do it as part of the BCcampus open textbook project (and we are looking for reviewers of textbooks right now), but you don’t have to wait for this or for any other project to make it happen. If you are a Physics instructor and take a look at an open resource like the OpenStax College Physics textbook, for example, and find it useful – go ahead and use it. In fact, we have already heard of 2 Physics instructors in the province who are seriously considering adopting this textbook for this fall, well ahead of the timelines for adoption that we have for our project. Awesome.

That is the beauty of open textbooks and open educational resources in general. You do not have to work within structures of “official” projects. If you – as a faculty – review the resources and are happy they meet your quality criteria, use it. This is how open works. Yes, there is a bit more work involved in finding quality open textbooks – there is no wine and cheese reception hosted by open textbook authors showing off all the latest new releases. But if you find an openly licensed resource with a Creative Commons license and want to adapt and adopt, do it.

This may sound obvious to some, but over the past few weeks talking to faculty, I have noticed that this basic point is not always obvious to those coming at open educational resources for the first time. OER’s are free to use, adapt, remix, adopt. There is no barrier between faculty and resource. No copyright holders to ask permission from. No gatekeepers. These resources are meant to be used by you in your classroom right now.

This is the beauty of open.


OER and Open Textbooks presentation to Douglas College

I was invited to speak on OER and open textbooks to the Science faculty at Douglas College. This is the first time I have presented in my new role at BCcampus, and the first time I have spoken directly with a group of faculty at any institution about the open textbook project so I was very curious as to the types of questions I would get.

Overall, I think it went well, especially when I got to the bits about what students think about textbooks & the cost of textbooks for students. There were many nods of agreement and acknowledgment. And as I spoke about OpenStax College and their excellent open Physics textbook, a Physics instructor was busy downloading the textbook to check it out and declared at the end of the session that it looked “really good.” Positive stuff.

There were also some critical questions. While I was showing off some of the available textbooks, there was a question from an instructor about the sustainability of the textbook. She said that, while these textbooks may be good now, what guarantees are there that it will be good in the future? Who will update the textbooks, and how will a faculty know that the updates are legitimate and valid? I think this question was brought on because I showed an example of a Wikibooks textbook and the discussion page that included a plea from someone who had adopted the textbook asking editors to take care when editing the contents of the textbook because it was an authoritative text. While I saw that as a quality indicator sign for faculty (someone at another institution has adopted this and made it known to the community), it came across as a red flag for those in the audience because it underscored the point that the wiki can, technically, be edited by anyone. And if you are going to build your course around this wiki-based textbook, the fact that someone can edit it at anytime is a concern.

I didn’t have time to delve into the intricicies of wiki’s and how you can mitigate this. Or get into how an instructor who adopts a Wikibook as a text can actually take an active ownership role in the stewardship of that resource. But I think if I am presenting to faculty on this again, it might just be easier to remove the Wikibooks reference and concentrate on projects like OpenStax College and Open Textbook Catalog out of the University of Minnesota.

Another question came from a Geography instructor who was concerned about an American-centric perspective in the textbooks since most of the open textbooks I was showing were created by U.S. based foundations and organizations. My response to both was that these were examples of the beauty of open licenses – that we can take an American open textbook and Canadianize it. That we can update and maintain our own textbooks without waiting for a publisher to do it. That we can take ownership of these resources.

I don’t know if I got that point across really well. Something to improve upon for next time.

Here are the slides for the presentation.


And without doing anything, I created an Open Educational Resource

Last week I let loose a rant against Turnitin and a poster they sent me which painted the acts of remixing, mashups, aggregation and retweeting as plagiaristic.

Tonight I receive a pingback notification from a blog being used in an open online high school Philosophy 12 course being offered by Bryan Jackson. Bryan has included my blog post as a suggested reading for his unit this week on Ethics in his open online class for students interested in discussing the ethics of intellectual property.

I don’t know where Bryan saw this post. He might be subscribed to my blog, a colleague might have passed it to him, or he might have caught it on Twitter as we are connected there (and I have a pretty good idea where he did see it). But he would have never seen it at all if I had confined my rant to my office colleagues and not decided to put fingers to blog and post something in the open space of the web – something that another educator could find and link back to.

Which goes to underscore a point that Scott Leslie has been making for years about sharing and serendipity:

Much of the sharing that happens in my learning network happens through serendipity. People publish a blog post, bookmark a delicious link, etc, as a normal part of their own workflow,and whether through syndication or the “All seeing eye of Google,” it comes my way, as John Krutsch would say, “Right On Time.”

A normal part of my workflow is writing blog posts and publishing on the open web, then disseminating that via Twitter, Facebook, & (increasingly) G+. All that backroom posting to those networks happens behind the scenes. I’ve spent some time setting up this blog to post to those networks, where it was picked up by another educator, who then decided to use it as a resource in one of his classes.

Without doing anything extra, I managed to create an educational resource for another educator.

Okay, maybe it isn’t entirely true that I have done nothing. I did have to do a few things to make that happen. I had to create the ecosystem to make sharing possible. But that work was done years ago when I made the concious decision to publish on the open web with a Creative Commons license that allowed for reuse (which didn’t even need to be in place for Bryan’s case as he has just simply linked back to the blog post and not actually copied or reused it). But that’s it. That’s all I had to do. The simple choice of deciding to post on the open web with a license that allows for reuse means that something I create (whether I think it is useful or valuable or not) can be used by another educator.

With those 2 conditions in place – open and licensed for reuse – everything I create and publish here becomes an open educational resource, free for any other educator to link to, copy, use and modify as they see fit.


Open Education Matters Why it is important to share

Earlier this year, the US Departments of Education held a video contest asking for videos that answered the question “why does open education matter?” The top three videos are located on the Department of Education website.

All the videos are well done, but the third place video caught my eye as it really emphasizes what can happen when content is shared and reused, and how it could then benefit the original creator of the content, creating the type of virtuous cycle that is possible when resources are shared.

This is open education. Knowledge as a public good.


Submitting OERs using the OER Commons bookmarklet

I was checking out some resources on the OER Commons, and noticed that they have created a JavaScript bookmarklet to make it easy for anyone to submit a resource to the Commons (have I ever said how much I love bookmarklets? No? Well, I do. They rock.) So I installed the bookmarklet and took it for a spin, looking for an OER to submit to the Commons (you do need to have an OER Commons account to submit a resource).

While installing and using the bookmarklet is fairly easy, figuring out some of the non-technical bits for submitting an OER is a bit trickier.  The language used by OER Commons implies that you can submit any resource to the Commons.

And I think that is the intent of the bookmarklet. So I began to look for some guidelines for what could be contributed. I was thinking primarily about licensing (could you, for example, submit something that wasn’t explicitly an OER, or tagged with a Creative Commons license?) and how do you give author attribution for a submitted resource?

OER Commons does have a wiki that covers submitting materials to OER Commons, but it seems to be written much more for authors who want to submit their own content and not for a third party person who wants to contribute a resource they stumble upon on the web. There is a section entitles Recommend New OER, which got me wondering; if I submit an OER via the bookmarklet, am I actually submitting an OER to the Commons, or am I just submitting for consideration to be added to the Commons?

Mission: DS106

Despite these issues,  I decided to move ahead and submit an OER, the fantastic Mission: DS106 Anthology of New Media Projects. If you are not familiar, this site is the assignment repository for UMW’s open, online ds106: Digital Storytelling course (which, as an aside, will be running again this Fall).

There are a couple of wonderful things about the Mission: DS106 site. First, this collection of digital storytelling assignments has been submitted by…well, by everyone. Anyone who has an idea can submit an assignment into the mix, and students can pick and choose which assignment they want to complete as part of the course (which, as Jim Groom points out, helps with student engagement by allowing students to program and participate in the creation of their own assignments).

Additionally, each assignment has examples attached to it so students can see what the finished assignment will look/sound like (for WP buffs,  Alan Levine touches on how they did this using WordPress tags). And, once a student completes an assignment, they can then rate the difficulty of the assignment on a scale of 1 to 5 stars for the benefit of future students.

So, with OER in hand, I head to the Mission DS106 site and click the Submit OER bookmarklet, which pops open step 1 of a 3 step form for submitting.

Step 1

Step 2

Step 3

This was a tricky bit. I figured that (knowing a bit about how Alan and Jim operate) that these assignments would at the very least be Creative Commons resources. But I couldn’t actually find the license type on the site. So a quick tweet to Alan and, well… you can read for yourself how he feels about sharing these resources.


Update: since Alan posted a response regarding licensing, I have gone back to the OER Commons site and changed the license type with a link back to Alan’s blog post which should make it abundantly clear to anyone who finds this in the OER Commons that this material is there to be used.

I clicked submit and the resource is now….well, not yet on the OER Commons site. If I log in, I can see the resource. But it doesn’t appear to be live on the site. I am not sure if it now has to be vetted by someone before it appears on the site, or ????? I’ll keep you posted as to where the resource has gone now that it has been submitted.

Well, technically that was pretty easy, but….

As you have probably guessed, submitting an OER right now is not a straightforward process, but not for any technical reason. What would make this process infinitely easier and more transparent is a set of guidelines specifically targeted at third party users who want to submit OER’s from the web that explains the entire process a bit clearer and spells out exactly what the heck happens to that OER when you submit it.  But technically, the bookmarklet does its job and is an easy way to tag and add resources to the OER Commons.


PLNs and OERs

While I have always been interested in OER’s, this issue has taken on greater professional significance for me since arriving at an institution that has active OER projects on the go, and I have begun paying closer attention to reports like the one released this summer by JISC in the UK examining the the impact of Open Educational Resources (OER) (pdf) on teaching and learning.

While I started reading the report from the perspective of someone who works at an institution sensitive and supportive of OER’s, I quickly realized that there is a lot in this report that connects the creation of OER’s with Personal Learning Networks and with what I discovered during my thesis research.

The JISC research looked at the benefits OER’s offer to educators and learners, and examined the pedagogical, attitudinal, logistical and strategic factors that enable or inhibit the uptake and sustained practice in the use of OER’s.

While some of the benefits to educators for adopting OER’s are not surprising (saving teachers effort in that they do not have to create resources themselves, and enables educators to teach topics that may lie outside of their expertise), there were some conclusions that are maybe not so obvious, and sound very much like the kinds of activities people who cultivate PLNs might take part in.

OER’s are collaboratively created in networks

For example, the research found that using OER’s can “stimulate networking and collaboration among educators” and can “improve possibilities for new collaborations in researching fields of common interest.” Additionally, the report notes that one of the enabling factors for uptake of OER’s among educators is a decidedly social one in that:

Impact on individual practice is most likely to be achieved within the dimension of social practice: networks of like-minded individuals who are receptive to ideas and suggestions from each other and ready to share their own resources.

This reinforces something I discovered in my own thesis research on the role that Twitter plays in Personal Learning Networks. Every participant I interviewed for the research indicated that Twitter played an important role in coordinating the creation of collaborative resources related to their professional educational practice, and, quite often, those collaboratively created resources were shared not only with their PLN, but beyond as well (pg 79-83).

One of the participants in my research spoke to the importance of creating collaborative resources that get shared back to the community.

 I like the word professional for learning network, but I use the word collaborative learning network because there’s a sense of symbiotic nature, like we benefit one another by being involved. It’s not just me that’s getting the benefit. It’s not so much personal. But for me it’s very much collaborative benefit; there’s a whole bunch of people that are benefiting from it.

In this passage, the participant suggests that there is a “symbiotic nature” to collaborative projects, and that “we benefit one another by being involved” which implies a reciprocal relationship at play here; that if you help with my project, not only will you get to reap the rewards of this project, but I will participate in future shared projects as well because we will both benefit.

OERs are created by people being open and willing to share

The JISC report goes on to make a number of recommendations for educators wishing to enhance their teaching and learning practice with OER’s, including one that is very connected to what I discovered in my PLN research.

Adopt an open approach to your academic practice, seeking to share resources and ideas both within your disciplinary community and beyond it.

This echoes another story I heard from another participant during my research who initiated a collaborative project with her PLN by tweeting out a call for collaborators on Twitter. Shortly after, she received a message from a member of her PLN saying that they wished to contribute to the project not because they wanted to use the project, but rather because they witnessed how this participant had, in the past, created these collaborative resources and freely shared them back with the larger community.

I think it was probably <name removed> in <location removed> who wrote in and said “You know, I don’t even know what’s on your document but I want to be part of it because of your openness and your willingness to share, and your willingness to let everyone collaborate and use it again.” That’s the kind of attitude that we need. And I’m not saying that I’m special for having that attitude, I’m just saying that idea of openness I think is really critical.

By conducting this work in the open on Twitter, the work of this participant became transparent and visible to the members of her PLN, which builds up goodwill in her PLN. This goodwill then translates itself into motivation among members of her PLN to participate in collaborative projects she initiates. In the end, the shared resource was not only shared back with the PLN, but to the wider educational community.


Google Body and Art

Two resources created by Google have popped onto my radar screen this week that will certainly be valuable for educators; Google Body and Google Art Project.

Google Art Project is a series of interactive virtual tours of some of the worlds top art galleries built using the same technology that powers Google Maps. You can take virtual tours of the Museum of Modern Art and view works of art like van Gogh’s The Starry Night in incredible detail. Here are some screen captures I took of a close up of this work.

Now, I am no Art student, but even I can see the inherent value for a student  to have access to this level of detail as they understand the techniques of the masters. How much pressure did they use? How did they mix the paint to achieve those colours? What brush did they use to achieve this or that effect? You just can’t get this type of perspective by viewing the work from behind a rope 15 feet away from it.

The second resource is Google Body, an interactive 3d model of the human body (this one requires Google Chrome, Firefox 4, or another browser that currently support WebGL to get the full effect). This is an immersive 3d body simulation that looks to me like it was built using similar technologies to Google Earth. You can fly around and into the body at different angles, strip away layers and examine the body from it’s various system perspectives. If you don’t have a browser capable of viewing, here is a short video of the technology in action (there is no audio with the video):


An interesting dichotomy in formal and informal online learning

More lit review reading for my thesis, this time an article called “Exploring the Role of ICT in Facilitating Adult Informal Learning” in which an interesting dichotomy emerged from the research. It’s one that I have heard before which goes something like this.

The researchers conducted a survey of 1100 people in the UK on the role that ICT (information and communication technology) plays in learning, both formal and informal. Among their findings was the tidbit that people who might never use ICT for formal learning use it regularly for informal learning. That is to say, they would not consider taking a web-based college course in, say, photography, but yet they are likely to use the web to learn about photography.

Interesting. And raises some questions. The first one is why the hesitation to take a formal online course in a topic they are interested in? Here is the first response, from a 38 year old woman who owns her own web development company, who the researchers suspected would be a prime candidate for an online learning course.

Researcher: But have you been tempted by all the online courses you can take, never actually having to leave the comfort of your front room?

Interviewee: I’ll tell you what puts me off those—I’ve had scan through the leamdirect courses—and it’s the feeling that they’re trying to teach basic skills without teacher interaction, and I personally like classroom interaction. And I don’t think you can get the same buzz doing it online. I chat [on the Internet] quite often to friends in the States. In chat rooms the difficulty is that it becomes very disjointed and you lose threads very easily and you lose the interaction that you get when you’re face to face. And I think that’s the disadvantage of it…if I wanted to learn maths or something I think it would be great. But I think if you were learning something that required a bit more interaction, I would treat it with a bit of distrust.

Distrust. Strong word. So, not only does she perceive that there would be a lack of interaction with classmates in an online course, but she also goes so far as to say she would approach a course that didn’t offer interaction with a “bit of distrust”. Her preconceived notion is that a formal online course would lack interaction. Granted, this research was done 6 years ago and I suspect her perceptions were probably closer to truth in 2004 than in 2010, but it is surprising how often I hear attitudes like this in casual conversations with people, especially those who have been away from formal learning for the past few years.

What about that photography example from earlier? Here is the response from a 63 year old male:

Researcher: Would you consider doing a formal photography course on the Internet?

Interviewee: Yeah, there are camera courses. I’ve thought about It, but I’ve probably got to the stage now that I don’t want to be bothered. I think I’ve learnt enough, but I pick most things up. I can sit down and read something on the computer and I’d have the gist of how to do the job.

Now, there is no explanation as to why he can’t be bothered (maybe it’s too expensive, or he considers this “just a hobby” and does not require a formal course – his incentive to attend isn’t great), so this speaks as much to learner motivation as it does to the perception of the quality of an online course. Seems to me, however, that his response is an endorsement for his perception of the quality of open educational resources and open communities available on the web. Not that he thinks they are better than what he might find through an institution, but they are good enough to satisfy his learning needs.  If a learner is getting what they need from the open sources on the web, then does that reduce the motivation for them to attend college or university? Is their learning itch being scratched by the availability of open resources on the web?

According to the authors, these two examples are not isolated responses in their study, and “these attitudes towards ICT-based formal learning permeated our interviews.”

Neil Selwyn and Stephen Gorard, “Exploring the Role of ICT in Facilitating Adult Informal Learning.,” Education, Communication & Information 4, no. 2 (May 2004): 293-310.


YouTube launches YouTubeEDU

Brian Eno predicts YouTube

Seems like I have been all about free and open video collections lately. I’ll move onto some other fun tools I have been playing with soon, I promise. But I couldn’t let today’s announcement by YouTube go unblogged.

YouTube launched YouTube EDU, a special section of YouTube dedicated to educational videos from over 100 universities and colleges.  According to the YouTube blog, the task of collecting and organizing the collection was a volunteer project undertaken by a group of YouTube employees who wanted to highlight the educational content being uploaded by college and universities. The result is a subsection of YouTube dedicated to us educational types, complete with a lovely search engine that searches just the EDU section. Nice.

Flickr Photo:  Venezia 042 Tez – Brian Eno predicts YouTube by watz. Creative Commons license.

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Academic Earth: free and open video lectures

Open Educational Resources

I am not a big fan of iTunes U. I know there is a lot of great content there, but unless you use iTunes it is inaccessible (and if you do know a way to access iTunes U content without iTunes I would love to hear about it). So, I am always on the lookout for resources like Academic Earth.

Academic Earth is a website featuring video lectures from Berkeley, Harvard, Stanford, MIT, Princeton and Yale.

While collections like Academic Earth are not new (you could find many of these lectures on each institutions YouTube channel), what is nice about Academic Earth is that it filters and packages the collections in a very friendly and easy to use way. For example, on the Playlist page you can view thematic collections put together by the site editors that group lectures from different instructors and institutions around certain themes like Love is in the Air, a group of videos on emotion, love, dating, marriage, and sex that cross disciplines and combine lectures from Psychology, English, and Economics.

The site also features all the Web 2.0 goodness you would expect from a video site these days – embedding, the ability to subscribe to specific courses, and user feedback where logged in users can grade the lectures. One added academic feature of the site you don’t normally find on other video sharing sites is the citation feature, which gives you a nicely formatted snippet of citation code that you can cut and paste when referencing the video. There are also links to transcripts and other related resources like PowerPoint slides and (in some cases) captures of blackboard/whiteboard notes, adding further value to the video lecture.

Right now there are over 1500 lectures on the site, which seems to be heavy on Business lectures. But as the site grows I would expect that to change and balance out in terms of subject matter. Still, sites like Academic Earth are nice alternatives to the locked down world of iTunes U.

Image Credits: Open Ed Poster by riacale. Used under Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic license

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When Chemistry meets YouTube you get reaction

I am no chemistry expert, but I have a strong suspicion that the periodic table has never been this much fun.

Fun you say? Chemistry? Yes, Chemistry.

The Periodic Table of Videos, put together by video journalist Brady Haran and Professor Martyn Poliakoff at the University of Nottingham, is a great example of what you can do with a video camera, some inspiration, a dash of sodium and a group of eager scientists. The result is an interactive periodic table with each element represented by a video. Here’s the sodium video:

In all seriousness, you have to love it when a chemistry professor says that, during the course of making these videos, they discovered new things which they never really realized before. It was through the act of creating this project that learning took place. This is a point that Educause makes in 7 Things You Should Know About YouTube.

Many educators believe that the act of creating content—in virtually any form—is a valuable learning exercise, helping develop a deeper understanding of the subject matter and the tools used to create that content. To the extent that YouTube facilitates such creation, it has the potential to expose students to new insights and skills, as well as link them to various online communities.

The good professor also speaks to that point; the linking to various communities and the value of transparency. Rather than locking this resource away, they made it free and open on the web using a simple website and YouTube as the video delivery platform. This allowed people from anywhere to comment on the videos. And comment they did. In fact, one user asked if they ever considered expanding into molecules, which got the gears turning for Professor Poliakoff and has inspired him to continue on now that all the elements in the periodic table have been covered. Transparency breeds inspiration.

I also love this quote:

I’ve realize that, in the past 5 weeks, I’ve lectured to more people than the whole of the rest of my life.

Okay granted, the dynamic periodic table probably beats the periodic table of videos for information  and functionality (itself compete with a nifty Wikipedia integration that makes me go yum). I can’t say for sure, I am not a chemist. But for sheer learning fun, the periodic table of videos is an excellent example of a very well done open educational resource.


On Free and Open Learning Content

I spent the day in Vancouver yesterday talking content with a great group of EdTechies from around BC. The one day Learning Content Strategies session was organized by Scott Leslie from BCcampus.

Much of the talk revolved around open education resources and some of the common barriers we face when trying to open content to the outside world, beyond the confines of the LMS. Copyright, collective agreements between faculty and institutions, and a reluctance on the part of some faculty to open their content (for a number of reasons) seem to be the major hurdles institutions are facing when it comes to making their content open.

I was thinking about this more last night, and wish now that I would have contributed more to the conversation. Specifically, there are 3 additional issues that I see as potential hurdles to adopting open content practices.

You want me to change this?

Issue one is existing process. Over the past 10 or so years since the LMS emerged as the primary vehicle for delivering content, considerable time and energy has been expended by institutions to establish LMS centered processes for content creation. No wonder talk of inserting a new strategy to make content open is seen as potentially disruptive to established processes – processes that took many people much work to establish. We have to figure out a way to incorporate strategies into our process that allows for open content without making it seem like we want to reinvent the process wheel.

What’s in it for me?

Faculty hesitation was touched on at the session, but much of it revolved around notions of the fear some faculty have that they might lose control of their work, or their effort would somehow be taken advantage of by others.

But for some faculty, I think the reason why they don’t adopt open content policies is a bit more pragmatic – they could view it as extra work.

I think there has to be something in it for them before they contribute. I don’t mean this as an ego bash against faculty, but rather an acknowledgment that they are busy people. They have to see some value in doing this otherwise it becomes just another task. The last thing they probably think about when creating content is the value of sharing it with others, if they even think of it at all. Which leads me to…

What do you mean open?

The last issue is awareness. At my institution there are probably many early adopters who would be happy to contribute their material to the common good if they were even aware this was an option.

This is where I can play an immediate role in my institution. Talking about initiatives like Creative Commons, pointing them to existing OER resources and generally raising awareness of open content on my campus will, hopefully, draw some of them out. I need to keep the conversation going that Brian Lamb started at my institution last spring (zip ahead to 11:50 to see Brian’s presentation, or check out his presentation notes).

Free Learning

One of the tools given to us by BCcampus yesterday to help continue the conversation is a new website called Free Learning. A custom Google search engine that only searches vetted, high quality open education resources, Free Learning allows educators to search for free and openly licensed educational resources that they can then reuse or remix for their courses.

The second resource I have are some of the loosely coupled presentations. Brian Lamb and Novak Rogic’s presentation has some fine examples of how content can live outside the LMS and the advantages to using blogs and wiki’s as content delivery platforms (as well as some super spiffy JSON code for embedding content from one page into another). Grant Potter from UNBC also demonstrated how distributed UNBC faculty are using a wiki to create a course and Richard Smith from SFU gave us the faculty perspective with a look at some of the tools he uses in his class, most notably livestreaming his lectures using uStream.

When it comes to bigger picture issues in educational technology (like Open Educational Resources), I am a neophyte. I haven’t spent nearly the amount of time working on these types of issues as my contemporaries. In the edtech scheme of things I am much more tech than ed. So I truly appreciate events like these that make me stop and critically think beyond the code about the work I do.