Week 43-44: Week(s) in Review

I missed last week so here is the blur of the past 2 weeks.

  • Attended & presented at COHERE in Regina. I’ve been trying to go beyond the free bit when talking about open textbooks these days and look at some of the other benefits of open textbooks beyond saving students money. I grew up in Regina until I was 8 so always nice to visit the ancestral homeland of my people :). And put a lot of faces to Twitter avatars.
  • Also presented at the BCOER Librarians event on the role of librarians in an open textbook sprint (thanks to Alec Corous for lending me his office in Regina to Skype in my presentation to the event in Vancouver.)
  • As pat of Open Access Week, Leva and did a presentation on open textbooks to CARL (Canadian Association of Research Libraries) on Wednesday Oct 22, the mrning things went apeshit in Ottawa. CARL headquarters are about 10 block from the hill, so that made for an interesting background for the presentation.
  • Still working on our trades project. Hoping this one gets off the ground, soon. So many moving pieces.
  • Met with Brad to discuss requirements to replace PrinceXML in Pressbooks. I want this thing to be fully open source and that PDF engine, as good as it is, isn’t.
  • Posted for a new co-op position in January to help us with the OTB project.
  • Met with Tony Bates and Leonora Zefi of Ryerson to talk about publishing platforms. Tony has been a bleeding edge user of Pressbooks Textbooks and is looking for other ways to incorporate rich media into his book, so we were talking to Ryerson about suggestions.
  • Administrata working on the language and timelines for our service agreements.
  • Worked on blog post with Beck about the upcoming research we are doing with Rajiv on open textbooks.
  • Finalized our incentives for that research (win one of 10 Kindles for filling out our survey!)
  • Also finalized the email distribution list of who will receive an invite to participate in our research.
  • Began work on a 4 week open online Adopting Open Textbooks workshop we will be offering in January
  • Lots of inter-provincial work with Alberta and Saskatchewan on open initiatives. Made contact with some key open textbook people at URegina while I was at COHERE.

More open textbook remixing in the wild

you are awesome

You are awesome by Torley used under CC-BY-SA license

Earlier this week I was at the COHERE conference in Regina, talking about open textbooks. Open textbooks seemed like a hot topic of informal conversation at the conference with one of the student participants, USask student society president and open textbook advocate Max FineDay, diving right into the topic on the first morning during the student panel.

While I was there I met Sheila Hancock, an English instructor at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. As we talked, Sheila told me about the open textbook she has been working on, inspired by the BC Open Textbook Project. Sheila and her partner, James Panabaker have taken two existing open textbooks and created their own customized English 1100 open textbook to fit their needs. They set up a WordPress site and, like Rajiv Jiangiani did last year, created a customized textbook. And they did this primarily off the radar of us at the project.

I love this so much. These are the types of examples that really make my day when I come across them. Here are 2 faculty who saw a need, found some openly licensed resources, set up a site, and then used that site to remix their own textbook. And they never asked for help! They did it on their own, quite autonomous from the project. Really, so wonderful to see faculty take the initiative, hear the message that they can take these resources and work with them to customize and mold them to fit their needs, and just go and do it. Because you don’t have to wait for us. You don’t have to ask anyone for permission. You can just do it.

This is the kind of action I always hope to see with this project. Open textbooks living without us. Ok, we did have some part in this by starting the conversation in our province and trying to address the traditional barriers to adoption of OER that faculty often face (where do I go, what is the quality, etc). But, in the case, of Sheila and James, we didn’t have to do much more than that. We set up the conditions, the executed their plan. Beautiful.

When we “formally” work on a book as part of our project (be it an adaptation or a creation from scratch), there is an administrative process that I often worry burdens us. There are contracts, timelines, project managers, people, etc. Adapting and creating a book is an entire “process” for us. And I think, at this stage, we have to do this to provide some guidance, instruction, and support for faculty we are working with. Every time we do an open textbook adaptation or creation project, we are building capacity within the system for people to be able to understand the concept of adapt. To see the realities of what an adaptation project might look like. At the end of the day, by doing projects in an open and transparent way, we are starting to tackle what it actually takes to do adaptations and, once people have had some guidance and support the first time through, they may not need as much for the second…and third…and so on. Every project we fund is a way to build capacity in the system to undertake open textbook initiatives without our involvement in the future.

But sometimes it feels like we are recreating a publishing process with the work we are doing. I think this is a necessary step for us as we push towards our goals of making open textbooks a reality in the target areas we have, but I know what we are doing isn’t scalable or sustainable. We always need to keep in the back of our mind that, our bigger goal with this project, is to build capacity within the system to ensure that adaptations and adoptions continue without us. Which is why I am so happy when I see these kinds of examples like Sheila and Rajiv, of faculty who have felt the open textbook project has empowered them enough that they are willing to tackle something like remix and adaptation on their own.

I don’t expect we will see a lot of faculty take this route right now, at this point in the evolution of our project. We still need to do a lot of work building more localized support structures at institutions to build local capacity within the institutions to help them support their faculty if they wish to pursue an open textbook project on their own. A distributed, localized support system with librarians, instructional designers and educational technologists in place at the institutions to support the work of local faculty at each institution seems like it could be one model of sustainability for open textbooks that I have been thinking more about lately.

Seeing faculty like Shelia and James undertake an autonomous adaptation of open textbooks is a powerful example that digital technologies have had a democratizing effect on the way we produce content. The barriers are being lowered, and people are taking advantage that we live in a world where, with a little technical know how mixed with initiative and an understanding of the needs of their students, anyone can create their own learning resources using the work of others as the base. And for that, I am doing my happy dance once again. Thank you Sheila and James!



Week 42: Week in Review


  • The BC Open Textbook project became a toddler this week, turning 2. I spent the early part of the week writing a lengthy blog post and working with our graphic designer Barb Murphy to create an infographic (see below) of how far the project has come in the 2 years since it launched.
  • Prepping for 3 upcoming presentations for Canadian Association of Research Libraries (CARL) on Wednesday, the BC OER Librarians workshop on October 27th, and COHERE on October 28th.
  • Meetings with Camosun, OpenSchool and the Industry Trade Authority as we continue to work out the release of a major common core trades open textbook over the next year. This is a really exciting project, but intellectually draining as it requires me to do a lot of facilitating and get up to speed on long standing relationships between at least 4 different organizations. So far, everyone I have met and worked with have been positive, receptive, keen and eager to see this project happen. But facilitating these types of meetings really stretches the boundaries of my skills (definitely not in my comfort zone) and reminds me that I am an introvert. It was great having the meeting at Camosun as I spent many years working there and had not been back on the Interurban campus for probably 4 or 5 years. Over lunch I ran into a lot of familiar faces and old friends.
  • Met with Bill & Jeff at FunnyMonkey and Hugh at Pressbooks to talk about some potential collaborations in the very near future. We have some projects that we would like to knock of the Pressbooks “to-do” list and I think with the work that FunnyMonkey has done with Lumen and the deep knowledge that Hugh has with Pressbooks that we can get these done in the new year. Specifically I am hoping that we can get much more of the content we have in the open library into Pressbooks to make it remixable. Currently we only have about a dozen of the 76 books in our collection living in Pressbooks. The rest are in other formats and we want to change that. We also want to be able to build a Word exporter (I am still convinced that if we are really serious about giving faculty the ability to adapt OER content we have to give them content on their terms and, for the time being, that means Word). We also want to replace the proprietary PrinceXML PDF engine to make it a truly end to end open source package. Those are the goals.
  • ViaTEC, the Victoria Advanced Technology Council, named the BC Open Textbook Project their Techtorian of the Week, which is really nice recognition from our local tech sector of the work we are doing.
  • Backed 2 Kickstarter projects. BulletJournal is a productivity method I’ve been playing with the past 6 weeks or so. And the StandStand, a portable standing desk (thanks for the lead, Amanda).
  • A 4 day work week for Canadian Thanksgiving and I ate much turkey with my family, including my oldest daughter who traveled to Victoria with her 4 children to spend the night at our house for Canadian Thanksgiving. Our house was hopping.

BC Open Textbook Project turns 2

Open Textbooks Turns 2

The BC Open Textbook Project Turns 2 by BCcampus is used under a CC-BY license




Week 41: Week in Review

Our Faculty Fellows Jessie, Christina and Rajiv

  • Monday was the first meeting of our Faculty Fellows Christina Hendricks (UBC Philosophy), Jessie Key (VIU Chemistry) and . All three will be working with us over the course of the next year working on three themes within their institutions and disciplines: research, advocacy and providing feedback to our team as we move forward in the next year. The fog almost grounded our face to face meeting as flights from Vancouver were cancelled, but Rajiv and Christina showed a great deal of persistence getting here to meet. Rajiv has more.
  • Left comment on the NPR Planet Money piece on the high cost of textbooks podcast.
  • Amanda released a brand new open textbook this week, authored by Dr. James Sexton English Literature: Victorians and Moderns.
  • Lined up a virtual presentation with CARL (Canadian Association of Research Libraries) on open textbooks for Open Access week (10am PST on Wednesday, Oct 22). Leva Lee, who has been working with the BCOER Librarians group, is joining me.
  • Finalized the contract wording for my Health OTB project
  • Hmmmm…can I figure out a way to go to this?
  • Attended CCCOER webinar where I watched the wonderful Kim Thanos of Lumen Learning talk about their course development process, which involved her showing some slides of Candela, Lumen’s LMS agnostic authoring platform. This tickled me to no end because Candela is a fork of Brad’s Pressbooks Textbooks plugin work revised by Lumen to meet their specific needs. That sounds familiar :).
  • Open Embeddable Assessments. Another thing I discovered during the CCCOER webinar.
  • Thanks to a tweet from Heather Ross, we heard of an adoption of an open textbook from the BCcampus collection by Assistant Professor Eric Micheels at the University of Saskatchewan.
  • Arranged an office shuffle in our Victoria office that will see all the OTB team (Amanda, Lauri, Brad and myself) in the same physical space. We only work together in the office 2 days a week, Tuesday and Thursday, but our offices were apart and down the hall. We were feeling that there was value in having us all in the same open space on those 2 days, so there has been some coordination and negotiations with co-workers for spaces.
  • Came across 4 new open Geography textbooks, thanks to a connection facilitated by Paul Stacey at Creative Commons.
  • Interview with another student newspaper, The Gauntlet, at D’arcy Norman’s home institution UCalgary.
  • Met with the ITA (Industry Trade Authority here in BC) to talk more about trades training materials.
  • Met with Janet Welch fro the University of Alberta. Janet is involved in an open project in Alberta, and is working to get it off the ground. We’re hoping to take this open thing beyond BC and into Alberta and Saskatchewan, and Janet is eager to see how we can all work together to make that happen.
  • Met with Hugh at Pressbooks to talk about the possibilities of adding an export to Word or Open Document Type (ODT) to Pressbooks. Also in early stages of thinking of other Pressbooks projects that we might go external with.
  • Brewed a batch of beer with Brad and a few others (although due to a scheduling snafu, I ended up arriving at the end, just in time to toss in the finishing hops). We bottle in 2 weeks.

Week 40: Week in Review

Felt like a big week of meetings this week.

  • Initial meeting with a new open textbook author who I’ll be working with to develop an open textbook in the area of mental health training.
  • Meetings with OpenSchoolBC, Camosun College and the Ministry of Advanced Ed to clarify deliverables on an open textbook project in fundamental trades training.
  • Spent a morning doing some research on cost of textbooks for students taking introductory mining courses at various institutions in BC – suggested retail price: $108.55 for one of 9 first term courses in this mining program. Add in the $212 Chem book you need in this course and the $165.80 Math book for this one, and your first term costs for textbooks is already close to $500…for 1/3 of the 9 courses you need for your first term…of a four term program. You only have 33 more courses to buy books for (I didn’t go any further).
  • Fleshed out some ideas for possible Hewlett funding application with Mary, Amanda & Lauri.
  • Completed the course on research ethics so that I can work with Rajiv and Beck on the OER research hub project we are doing this fall in BC.
  • Wrote a blog post  about the recent U.S. government announcement supporting OER
  • Also wrote a blog post on the release of the first adapted textbooks as part of phase one of the open textbook project.
  • Left a fairly long response to Tony Bates post on working with PressBooks Textbooks with us. I do want to follow up on that comment at some point with a bigger post here about advocating for more technical developers in higher ed focused on teaching and learning applications (of which I have a sense there are very few).
  • Followed up on a lead from our Ministry and rediscovered 6 Adult Basic Education Math Textbooks in SOLR that Amanda has now added to the open textbook collection. Score!
  • Open Textbook Summit 2015 planning meeting – looks like we have settled on May 28/29 in Vancouver for the OTB Summit. Save the dates. More details coming on that as we flesh out the plans.
  • Met with our open textbook editors
  • Set dates for next offering of Adopting Open Textbooks online workshop – January 12-Feb 2, 2015. We’ll see if we can’t get some interest from Alberta and Sask for that one as part of our tri-provincial agreement on OER cooperation.
  • Turned 48.

Remixing open textbooks redux

Out of all the blog posts I have written in the past few years, none continues to generate the type of traffic to my site as the post I did on remix and plagiarism 2 years ago.

In that post, I raged against Turnitin which sent out a poster that tried to portray some of what I consider important cultural acts of our time: remix, mashup, aggregation and retweeting, as acts of plagiarism.

Tonight I reread what I wrote 2 years ago. It was written right around the time that the open textbook project was announced here in BC, and before I joined BCcampus to work on the project. In that post, I talked about some of the challenges I thought the open textbook project might have working with faculty around adapting content created by others:

If this is the true and accurate sentiments of educators in general – that remix is, in fact a form of plagiarism – then it makes me realize just what kind of uphill battle we might face here in British Columbia as we move towards creating and modifying Open Textbooks. The challenge being that if educators have this underlying core value that remixing  someone else’s content to create something new is plagiarism, then they are coming into the open text book project with the preconceived notion that we have to build something from scratch; reuse is not an option because it is plagiarism.

For me, this is the wrong way to approach an open textbook project. In order for the open textbook initiative to be successful, I think we need educators to come to the table with an open mind about reuse and remixing existing materials; to modify already existing open textbooks and openly licensed content to fit their specific needs.

Little did I know that, 4 months later, I would be working on this project.

Fast forward 2 years and I am happy to report that we have had some successes in the adaptation/remix area with the Open Textbook Project. This week we released 3 textbooks that are significant adaptations of previously released open textbooks; Mastering Strategic Management, Introductory Chemistry and Principles of Social Psychology. All three of these books were previously available in the commons with open licenses, and all three have been heavily modified and adapted by British Columbia faculty.

I am very proud of the people who have worked on the adaptation projects. These have not been easy projects. These have not been easy projects. Yes, I just said that twice. And will say it again. These have not been easy projects. There is no template to follow for adapting textbooks on the scale that we are doing (and we are not done with some of the biggest adaptation projects still to come in the next few weeks).

Why has this been so challenging? Really, Amanda and Lauri (the two project managers responsible for the heavy lifting) and the faculty involved with adapting these books can fill you in in much more detail than I can, which is why I keep telling people who are interested in adaptation projects that the best BCcampus presentation to attend at OpenEd will be the hands on, nitty gritty adaptation session that Lauri and Amanda will be presenting. You want to get a view into the belly of the adaptation beast, that is where you will find out the work and the issues that are involved in an adaptation project. In a nutshell it boils down to the simple fact that there are not a lot of established processes for adapting an open textbook. If there was a process or a formula that others had developed, then these first projects might have been easier. But there isn’t a lot of operational material on how to actually adapt an open textbook. So, whenever we have an issue or challenge, we need to figure out/research how to solve this on the fly.

Emergent operations.

For example, we had this high level conceptual view (formed from the BC faculty reviews we received about the open textbooks in the collection) that we would have to “Canadianize” many of the textbooks we had found in the commons as they were written from a predominantly U.S. perspective. Great. Swap out a few case studies, replace some stats and we’re good to go.

Wait a second….all those descriptive measurements. Those are imperial units. Oh, wait, I guess we need to go through the entire book and replace all those as well with metric equivalents.

Spelling. They spell it labor, not labour. Oh. Guess we need to go through the entire book and search and replace those. Behaviour, too. Hmmm, there are a lot of those.

Wait. Are those copyright images in that book? We can’t release a book with copyright images. We need to find CC licensed replacements for those images. Crap, those charts are copyright as well. Isn’t this a CC licensed book? WHAT IS ALL THIS COPYRIGHT STUFF DOING IN THERE? Full stop. Content audit. Replace all those images.

Ok, time for copy editing. Oh, the copy editors want to know if there is a track changes feature in PressBooks.


Hmmm, okay, let’s try this plugin. It’s the friggin New York Times. If anyone knows about editorial workflo—–oh crap. Well, that plugin doesn’t play nicely with PressBooks. Ok, no, that’s not going to work.

And how exactly do we word the CC attributions again?  Where do we put them – within the caption of an image, or at the foot of the page, or in a separate document at the back of the entire book, like a glossary or index? How do we handle academic citations? What do we cite, and what do we need to attribute as per CC license requirements?

Ok, I know. I’ll stop because I am sure I am scaring people. Isn’t this supposed to be easy?

Yes, it is a lot of work. But ours is just one way. We are one project and are probably going to extremes because there is this intense desire among the people working on this project to be correct – to address these issues when they arise in a meaningful and thoughtful way. We have this opportunity to do something that, quite frankly, I haven’t seen done on this scale anywhere else. We are adapting a boatload of existing open educational resources for reuse on a system wide scale.

Which brings me back to the original post I wrote about the fear I had that the project would not be able to find faculty willing to remix the work of others. That was flat out wrong. The faculty we have worked with have been eager to adapt – to use others material. To remix. The have smashed those fears I had from 2 years ago, and have provided some tangible examples of remix and adaptation that rounds out the emerging picture of how educators are remixing open educational resources. These people get it. It has been hard work, but adaptation IS happening. And they are to be commended.

But equally commendable are the faculty who created the original material, and who had the foresight and understanding to release their content with an open license that allowed us to take their original material and rework it. They are the ones who set up the conditions to make our projects successful. For if they didn’t put the blood, sweat and effort into creating the original textbooks, or if they had and then decided to shop them around to a commercial publisher or release them with full copyright, then we simply could not do what it is we are doing. So, this post is really a long meandering thank you to David Ball, Dave Ketchen, Jeremy Short and Charles Stangor – the original authors of the three textbooks that have been revised by B.C. faculty Jessie Key (Vancouver Island University), Rajiv Jhangiani (Kwantlen Polytechnic University), Dr. Hammond Tarry (Capilano University) and Janice Edwards (College of the Rockies). For without their original work, adaptation would not be happening at all.