The #otsummit in Vancouver next week

Busy week next week. We are hosting the 2nd annual Open Textbook Summit in Vancouver. Last year I had been on the job for only a few weeks when this event rolled around & remember feeling very n00b-ish in a room full of people from well established projects like OpenStax, Siyavula, CCCOER, and Open Course Library (along with others like Creative Commons & student advocates). There were about 30 participants and it proved to be a great introduction to the open textbook community.

Me in full gesticulation at the 2013 Open Textbook Summit in Vancouver. Image from Creative Commons & used under CC-BY license.

This years event has scaled up. There are over 130 people registered. Many are from those same projects & groups, but there are also many new people in attendance. We have more faculty attending. Librarians will be well represented, as will senior post-sec administration. Students will again make up a good portion of the crowd, including some from Saskatchewan, where that province (along with Alberta) have recently announced their own open textbook initiatives. There has been a provincial agreement (pdf) signed between the 3 western provinces to work collaboratively together on OER projects, which is a really wonderful development in terms of encouraging further use and development of open educational resources in Canada. Because of that agreement, there will be some pretty high level government officials from BC and Saskatchewan in attendance.

That is a lot of people representing different stakeholders in one room talking open education.

Brad and I will be speaking for about 20 minutes on some of the technology we are using for the Open Textbook project. Much of my short piece will be built around some of what I have written about before about the decisions we made when architecting our sites to reach some specific goals, like findability of the resources (a long standing complaint of many faculty that we wanted to try to alleviate with our project as much as possible), the public display of reviews of the books, and the ability to enable choice of format for students. Brad is going to dig into PressBooks and the work he has done extending it for open textbook authoring (and I am happy to see that Hugh McGuire, the developer of PressBooks is going to be attending)

This year, I am heading into the 2 days with some clearer conversations in mind, and the biggest one that I am looking forward to is with David Wiley & Bill Fitzgerald around their work developing a new OER publishing platform called Candela. This is very exciting because Candela is being developed on WordPress, which is the same DNA that PressBooks has. I am eager to find out about their roadmap and see where the connections between Candela and PressBooks Textbooks may intersect.

I am also eager to connect with some of the faculty members who will be participating in our open textbook sprint in June as I know they will be in attendance. So far, I have only conversed with this group of faculty via email, and I know some will be in attendance.

I am also looking forward to conversing with faculty in general around a very specific issue we continue to grapple with – enabling customization (or remix or adaptation – pick your term). As we head into this phase of the open textbook project, we need to start making some very deliberate development choices to enable adaptation. So I want to take this opportunity to ask faculty questions about the best way to enable customization to happen. I am fleshing out some thinking around the ways we can enable customization of open textbooks to happen, depending on a number of factors. But much like the conversations I want to have with institutional IT staff when I am at BCnet in a few weeks, I want to hear from those that are on the ground what we can do to enable them to do the types of adaptations they need to do in order to adopt the material.

Registration is closed, but we will be live streaming if you want to join in virtually. Twitter hashtag is #otsummit.

See you in Vancouver next week.


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


Add a Creative Commons search widget to a site

Been meaning to post this code snippet for awhile. Maarten Zeinstra posted this bit of code to the CC-Community listsrv last fall. It allows you to embed a Creative Commons search form on a webpage. This form will launch a CC search on a number of different search engines, including Google, Flickr, the Wikimedia Commons and YouTube. The form also allows you constrain the search based on the different types of reuse restrictions.

The search box works like this:

Enter your search query:
use for commercial purposes;
modify, adapt, or build upon.
Search using:

If I use the above form and search Google Images (for example), the results of the image search from Google Images will already be filtered and will only include items that are cc’d license based.

For example, if I use the search form above & Google Images for the term “database” and click both the “use for commercial purposes” and “modify, adapt or build on”, the results I get look like this:


The results from Google Images are already filtered based on the code restrictions.

The code snippet is:

<form target="_blank" name="CC_Search" action="" method="get">
Enter your search query: <input type="text" name="query"><br><br>
<input type="checkbox" name="comm" value=""> use for commercial purposes;<br>
<input type="checkbox" name="deriv" value=""> modify, adapt, or build upon.<br><br><br>
Search using:
<select name="engine">
<option value="google">Google</option>
<option value="googleimg">Google Images</option>
<option value="flickr">Flickr</option>
<option value="jamendo">Jamendo</option>
<option value="spin">spinXpress</option>
<option value="openclipart">Openclipart</option>
<option value="wikimediacommons">Wikimedia Commons</option>
<option value="fotopedia">Fotopedia</option>
<option value="europeana">Europeana</option>
<option value="youtube">Youtube</option>
<option value="pixabay">Pixabay</option>
<option value="ccmixter">CC-mixter</option>
<option value="soundcloud">Soundcloud</option>
</select> <br>
<input type="submit" value="Search">



Enhancing & Remixing Video with YouTube

It has been awhile since I’ve done any video editing or enhancing with YouTube so when I popped the hood to tweak a couple of personal videos earlier this week I noticed that the production tools within YouTube have grown and matured since I last edited a video.

Slow Motion

One (new to me) enhancement that educators might be interested in is the slow motion enhancement. A few weeks ago I wrote a post about what I thought was a good piece of instructional video that relied on slow motion that really enabled learners to see the phenomena the instructor was talking about, in this case an octopus camouflaging itself. The change from recognizable octopus to unrecognizable piece of sea rock & coral happens really quickly – too quick for the human eye to really understand what is going on. So, the instructor slowed the video down. This gives students time to see all the processes unfold & also gives the instructor time to explain what was happening. In YouTube, adding slow motion to your video is a snap.


Add an Audio Soundtrack

They have also beefed up the audio soundtrack since I last played around with the tool. You can add background music to your video, with a number of YouTube suggested (and legal to use) background soundtracks from the (150,000 piece strong) YouTube music library. The difference between the last time I used the editor and now is that you can now mix the music with the original background of the video, and you can set a start point for when you want the music to begin on your video. The last time I used it, you could only replace the audio track with the music track. The mix feature is pretty rudimentary compared to a more advanced video editing system, allowing you to choose whether you want the audio to favour the original audio or favour the music soundtrack. But as an easy to use tool you can’t beat it to spice up your video with a bit of bg music.



Finally, for an educator, annotations can really enhance the video by adding additional information as a text overlay to the video. Going back to the octopus video from a few weeks ago, the original video had a number of bullet points appear on the screen as the instructor spoke about the points. In YouTube, you can do this in the Annotations tab which allows you to place text blocks at certain points of a video. You could use these text blocks to point out specific areas of the screen you want students to pay attention to in the video or, like the octopus video example, add bullet points to help explain what the student is seeing.

These are just a couple of tools within YouTube that let you enhance, edit or remix videos. If you want to experiment with video as a pedagogical tool, you don’t need a lot of fancy equipment or expensive software to enhance your videos. For most educators, your smartphone & a little time time invested in learning to use the YouTube platform as a production tool will do the trick.