Does Open Pedagogy require OER?

I recently had the opportunity to attend a student showcase of Digital Humanities projects, put on by the Digital Pedagogy Network. The Digital Pedagogy Network is a collaborative project between the University of Victoria and Simon Fraser University.

The context of the event was to give Digital Humanities students an opportunity to showcase the DH projects they have been working on to fulfill the requirements of their various undergrad/graduate level DH programs at UVIC and SFU. I am grateful to SFU Digital Scholarship Librarian (and Whitecaps soccer fan) Rebecca Dowson for suggesting that I attend. I am very happy that I did.

First and foremost, the student projects are fantastic. These are students that are working hard to capture and preserve significant, but often overlooked, pieces of our cultural heritage, like the Fred Wah archives. Fred Wah is a Canadian writer and Parliamentary Poet Laureate. His online archive is a DH project by English student Deanna Fong. Then there is the Wosk–McDonald Aldine Collection a digital preservation project being worked on by DH students and made available on the open web which celebrates the work of Aldus Manutius, “the Renaissance’s most innovative scholarly publisher”. There is a curated digital exhibition that explores authorship and readership of Victorian-era pornography created by BA students Erin Huxley, Keirsten Mend, Donna Langille and Leah de Roy, and a cultural mapping exhibition of the legends that are included in E. Pauline Johnson’s 1911 text, Legends of Vancouver,  which is based on the narratives of Chief Joe Capilano of the Squamish nation (and which prompted a great discussion around the tensions involved with non-Indigenous people researching and mapping Indigenous territories).

All of these educational resources, created by students and available on the open web. But none openly licensed.

Which made me consider open pedagogy and the way in which open pedagogy is defined. Granted, that term “open pedagogy” is fairly new and evolving. My first exposure to the term was in a 2013 (was it really 4 years ago?) blog post from David Wiley where David defines open pedagogy as being directly connected to the (at the time) 4R permissions of OER (emphasis mine).

Open pedagogy is that set of teaching and learning practices only possible in the context of the free access and 4R permissions characteristic of open educational resources.

So, with that definition, the assignments that these students have done are not open pedagogy. While some of them do use open access resources (mostly public domain resources), none of the students have released their material with an open license, and, in fact, some resources are made available with full copyright and only under academic fair use policy.

But yet publicly available. On the open web. Students working on the open web, on meaningful projects.


But yet, not open pedagogy, at least by David’s definition.

Which made me wonder: is open pedagogy only possible if the work by a student meets the 5R open licensing criteria? Or is what makes open pedagogy open is that students are working in the open with their work on display to the world? Is that the defining feature of open pedagogy?

Don’t get me wrong. Encouraging students to release meaningful and significant work they do with an open license is the best possible outcome as it enables the widest possible distribution and application of their work. But if a student creates a meaningful piece of work and simply makes it open access on the web without actually assigning and open license to the work, does that make it a less meaningful and impactful open pedagogy experience?

To the students who created these projects, I would say the answer is no. In a Q&A I asked them to talk about working in the open and how they felt as students to have their work in the open and view-able to the world.  Their responses were that they felt it was important to have their work in the open; that they felt the work they were doing needed to be open and accessible to the wider world, and the world needed to know about this work. Not one said the reason they wanted their work open was to have it reflect favourably on them, or that it would look good as part of a digital resume/portfolio. They felt an urgency that their subject matter be made available to the broader pubic.  It mattered to them, and that motivated them. They wanted to do justice to their subject matter.

To me, this is open pedagogy. The motivation that it gives to students that what they do matters in the world. That they are contributing to something bigger and greater than themselves. That the work is meaningful. Yes, it would have an even greater impact if this work was released with an open license, but the fact that this work is not openly licensed doesn’t make it any less of an open pedagogy exercise to me.

As I was expressing this point on Twitter, Tannis  Morgan at the JIBC sent me a link to a wonderful blog post she wrote that made me realize that, despite having a French-Canadian last name, I should have paid closer attention to French class.  In the post, Tannis digs into the history of the term open pedagogy and finds traces of it in the linguistic culture wars of a 1979 Canada with Quebec educator named Claude Paquette.

Paquette outlines 3 sets of foundational values of open pedagogy, namely:  autonomy and interdependence; freedom and responsibility; democracy and participation.

In her post, Tannis wraps up with an astute observation

In other words, open pedagogy is currently a sort of proxy for the use and creation of open educational resources as opposed to being tied to a broader pedagogical objective.

Which begs the question; what is the broader pedagogical objective of open pedagogy? Does open pedagogy only exist when it is connected to the use and production of OER’s?

Addendum: After I wrote this, I realized that I had read an excellent 2014 interview with Tom Woodward in Campus Technology where Tom spoke at length about open pedagogy as a broad and holistic set of values and approaches.

Looking at open pedagogy as a general philosophy of openness (and connection) in all elements of the pedagogical process, while messy, provides some interesting possibilities. Open is a purposeful path towards connection and community. Open pedagogy could be considered as a blend of strategies, technologies, and networked communities that make the process and products of education more transparent, understandable, and available to all the people involved.

I think this holistic view of open pedagogy as a messy space where the values of openness inform teaching and learning practices is one that appeals to me.

Photo: BCOER Librarians by BCcampus_news CC-BY-SA

 

Open Network Learning at Royal Roads University

Next week I begin teaching a course in the Royal Roads MA in Learning & Technology (MALAT) program. The opportunity to teach in the program came up via George Veletsianos and the MALAT program head Elizabeth Childs.

This is a course that George usually teaches in the MALAT program, but George (and Elizabeth) are currently busy developing a new MALAT program at RRU.

Last week, I had the chance to see the new program when I attended a 2 day session at RRU with other associate faculty from both the MALAT program and the wider School of Education.

The new MALAT program at RRU is intriguing. Really intriguing. Theoretical foundations for the program emphasize open pedagogy and network learning.

Over the past 5 years, there has been extensive consultations with various stakeholder groups. The results are a graduate level education program that feels innovative, contemporary, and grounded in the reality of what it takes to learn in a digital, networked enabled world.

It’s a bold vision. Students in the program will take an active and participatory role with the wider education community. They will openly blog (on a newly set up WordPress network at Royal Roads) and develop a social media presence, using both of these tools as pedagogical springboards to take a deep dive into the world of open, networked learning.

Not to dismiss my own experiences as a MALAT grad and the program at the time I was a student (yes, I have all kinds of tendrils intertwined with RRU and this particular program), but there is a small part of me that is slightly remorseful that the timing for a program like this wasn’t quite right 8 years ago when I enrolled as a student. Blogging, using social media, developing a professional network, and using social media tools as personal learning tools is how I operate.

Needless to say, I am smitten with the vision for the program.

What has jazzed me the most in the days since the retreat is that my thinking has been re-energized. I have been jolted back to some of the past work I did on network learning and informal learning, much of which went into my Masters thesis. Things I haven’t thought or written about in years. I realize that I miss having the time and space that a graduate program provides to really think about this stuff; about how the Internet has changed the nature of informal learning, and how important it is to prepare learners with the skills and knowledge to truly become life-long learners.

I see it everyday in my kids as they digitally manouver between formal and informal learning situations. They follow their own interests and passions via YouTube videos and online courses. Beside the regular social stuff that teens and pre-teens do with friends, they do video hangouts with their friends to complete homework assignments. They get daily mobile prompts on their phones to complete micro-French lessons, and stay playfully motivated to keep ahead of their uncle on the leaderboard. They collaborate on school projects with their peers using web-based tools, conducting research online.

These are the types of learning activities I see pedagogically reflected in the new MALAT program that excites me. And I feel lucky to be part of the ride.

Photo: Open Teaching – Thinning the Walls – Revision #2 by Alec Couros CC-BY-NC-SA

 

Learning analytics & transparency

Just got back from EDUCAUSE. I’ll have more on the conference in future posts, but wanted to quickly post a couple of thoughts I have had around learning analytics and transparency based on what I learned at EDUCAUSE and as a result of an EdTech demo session I did this morning with an LMS vendor on learning analytics.

I went to EDUCAUSE with a few goals, one of which was to try to learn more about learning analytics. Specifically, what (if any) are the compelling use cases and examples of faculty and institutions effectively utilizing analytics to solve problems, what are the ethical issues around data collection, how are institutions informing their students & faculty of these concerns, and what technologies are being used to facilitate the collection and analysis of analytics data. And while I didn’t find complete answers to these questions, I did come away with a better 10,000 foot view of learning analytics.

The primary use cases still seem to be predictive analytics to identify academically at-risk students, and to help institutions improve student retention. I get the sense that, while student retention in Canada is important, it is not as critical for Canadian institutions as it appears to be for U.S. institutions. There are likely more use cases out there, but these 2 seem to be the big drivers of learning analytics at the moment.

Earlier today, I attended an LMS demo session on learning analytics where I had a chance to see some of the analytics engine built into the LMS. The demo included a predictive analytics engine that could be used to identify an at-risk student in a course. Data is collected, crunched by an algorithm, and out comes a ranking of whether that student is at risk of completing the course, or of failing the course. When I asked what was going on within the algorithm that was making the prediction about future student behavior, I got a bit of an answer on what data was being collected, but not much on how that data was being crunched by the system – that is, what was happening inside the algorithm that was making the call about the students future behavior.

This is not to single-out a specific company as this kind of algorithmic opacity is extremely common with not only learning technologies, but almost all technologies we use today. Not only are we unaware what data is being collected about us, but we don’t know how it is being used, what kind of black box it is being fed into, and how it is being mathemagically wrangled.

Now, it’s one thing to have something fairly innocuous as Netflix to recommend movies to you based on – well, we don’t really know what that recommendation is based on, do we? It is likely what we have viewed before is factored in there, but it is also likely that the recommendations in Netflix are pulling data about us from services we have connected to Netflix. Mention on Facebook that you want to see the new Wes Anderson movie and suddenly that becomes a data point for Netflix to fine tune your Netflix film recommendations and the next time you log into Netflix you get a recommendation for The Royal Tennenbaums. I don’t know for sure that it works that way, but I am pretty certain that this information from around the web is being pulled into  my recommendations. Search for a movie on IMDB. Does that information get shared back to Netflix the next time you log in? Probably.

As I said, the decisions coming out of that Netflix black box are fairly innocuous decisions for an algorithm to make – what movie to recommend to you. But when it comes to predicting something like your risk or success as a student, well, that is another scale entirely. The stakes are quite a bit higher (even higher still when the data and algorithms  keep you from landing a job, or get you fired, like teachers in New York State). Which is why, as educators, we need to be asking the right questions about learning analytics and what is happening within that black box because, like most technologies, there are both positives and negatives and we need to understand how to determine the difference if we want to take advantage of any positives and adequately address the negatives. We can’t leave how the black box works up to others.

We need transparency

Which brings me to the point that, in order for us to fully understand the benefits and the risks associated with learning analytics, we need to have some transparent measures in place.

First, when it comes to predictive analytics, we need to know what is happening inside the black box. Companies need to be very explicit about what information is being gathered, and how that data is being processed and interpreted by the algorithms to come up with scores that say a student is “at-risk”. What are the models being used? What is the logic of the algorithm? Why were those metrics and ratios within that algorithm decided upon?  Are those metrics and ratios used in the algorithms based in empirical research? What is the research? Or is it someones best guess? If you are an edtech company that is using algorithms and predictive analytics, these are the questions I would want you to have answers to. You need to let educators see and fully understand how the black box works, and why it was designed the way it was.

Second, students should have exactly the same view of their data within our systems that their faculty and institution has. Students have the right to know what data is being collected about them, why it is being collected about them, how that data will be used, what decisions are being made using that data, and how that black box that is analyzing them works. The algorithms need to be transparent to them as well. In short, we need to be developing ways to empower and educate our students into taking control of their own data and understanding how their data is being used for (and against) them. And if you can’t articulate the “for” part, then perhaps you shouldn’t be collecting the data.

Finally, we need to ensure that we have real live human beings in the mix. That the data being analyzed is further inspected and interpreted by human beings who have the contextual knowledge to make sense of the information being presented on a data dashboard. Not only does that person need to know how that data ended up on that dashboard and why, but also how to use that data to make decisions. In short, faculty need to know how to make sense of the data that they are being given (and I’ll touch on this more in a future blog post when I write about Charles Darwin University Teaching & Learning Director Deborah West’s analytics presentation which centered around the question “what do teachers want?”)

One approach from UC Berkeley

At EDUCAUSE, I saw a really good example of how one institution is making their data processes more transparent. In a presentation I saw from Jenn Stringer, Associate CIO of UC Berkeley, there was a slide that hilighted the data policies that they have put in place around the ethical collection and use of learning analytics data.

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These principles are reminiscent of the 10 learning data principles set out by the Data Quality Campaign and the Consortium for School Networking.

Additionally, UC Berkeley also makes a student analytics dashboard available to the student so that they get the same view of the analytical data that their faculty get. I think both of these are excellent starts to working ethically and transparently with learning analytics data.

But for me the big question remains – what are the compelling use cases for learning analytics, and are those use cases leading to improvements in teaching & learning? So far, I am not sure I came away from EDUCAUSE with a better understanding of how analytics are being used effectively, especially by faculty in the classroom. If you have some interesting use cases about how analytics are being used, I’d love to hear them.

Photo: Learning Analytics #oucel15 keynote by Giulia Forsythe CC-BY-NC-SA

 

Wikipedia and open learning at the Festival of Learning

The BC Festival of Learning is happening next week in Burnaby. This is an amalgam of a number of different workshops and conferences that have been supported by BCcampus; Educational Technology User Group (ETUG), the Open Textbook Summit, and the Symposium on Scholarly Teaching & Learning.

I’ve got a busy week ahead of me, facilitating or participating in a number of different sessions, including a three hour Wikipedia workshop on day 1 with Judy Chan and Rosie Redfield (UBC) and Jami Mathewson from the Wiki Education Foundation.

I am quite excited about this session as this is something I have wanted to see happen at an ETUG for the past few years. I have written about Wikipedia in the past and have been a semi-regular contributor for many years. I also maintain a curated Scoop.it collection where I stuff articles on how educators are using Wikipedia.

Getting ready for the workshop, I’ve been impressed with how much work has been done by the Wiki Education Foundation to help support educators who want to use Wikipedia in their class. The resources available to instructors – from handouts, how-to’s, lesson plans to real live people who can help support them – have really lowered the bar for educators to begin using Wikipedia. This is not the same unsupported landscape for educators as it was 10 years ago when early adopters like UBC’s Jon Beasley-Murray were trailblazing. Full credit to the foundation for making it easier for educators to engage with Wikipedia.

It’s been interesting to watch perceptions of Wikipedia change in higher ed over the years from the days when nobody knew exactly what Wikipedia was, to the backlash forbidding its use by students, to tacit acceptance that it could have a role to play in higher ed, to today where we are seeing active engagement on Wikipedia by many in the academic community interested in exploring open pedagogy.

I have also been heartened to see academics who treat the platform seriously and realize that the worlds largest repository of open knowledge is being heavily used by people in their daily lives. They understand that, as academics, they have an important role to play in helping to maintain the accuracy, breadth and diversity of Wikipedia. Faculty like Dr. James Heilman and Dr. Amin Azzam who regularly correct misinformation on Wikipedia articles about health.

Heading into the world of Wikipedia is not without its risks, as UofT professor Steve Joordens discovered when he had his (1,900!) students start editing Wikipedia articles, flooding the existing Wikipedia volunteer editors with tons of extra work as they had to filter the contributions. Wikipedia is, first and foremost, a community made up of volunteers, and learning to negotiate and engage with that community is just as important as contributing & fixing content. It’s one of the topics we’ll be discussing at the workshop.

Image: Wikipedia by Giulia Forsythe CC-BY

 

A BC HigherEd WordPress Community

South of the border, I am watching the WP in Higher Ed community growing, and it strikes me that there may be an appetite for  something similar to happen in BC.

WordPress has deep roots in the BC post-sec system, and there is a lot of WordPress use currently happening.  There are UBC blogs and UNBC blogs, WordPress course development happening at JIBC, eportfolio work at Capilano (who invoked both The Bava and Novak Rogic in their site credits and at their recent presentation at the BCNET Conference). When I was at Camosun College, I set up a WordPress instance that is still being used by faculty. There is the fantastic PressBooks goodness Brad is whipping up here at BCcampus to support the open textbook project, and the work at TRU being done by Brian Lamb and Alan Levine.

wordpress

I suspect this is the tip of the WordPress iceberg & there are many more pockets of use in higher ed in BC.

I’m hoping to start finding those pockets of WordPress use in the system in the hope of bringing together those who are using (and want to use) WordPress into some kind of community/network of practice.

I’ve set up a form to gather information from folks in the BC post-sec system who are using, or are interested in, connecting with others across the province using WordPress.

I have to stress that this is very preliminary groundwork on my part to gauge if there is enough interest in the province to bring together some kind of more formalized community and/or network. What this community/network will look like, what we work on, how we connect, where we find value is something that should be driven by the community, so if the shape/structure, feel of this community is a bit vague right now, that’s intentional.  But from my view, I can see areas where it makes sense to come together, collaborate, find shared commonalities and potential opportunities that could benefit all.

If you know someone in the BC post-sec world who is using WordPress, please let them know about this opportunity. I hope that we can get a good mix of people from both the technology and the pedagogy sides of the house to come together and participate.

Image: edupunkin by Tom Woodward CC-BY-NC

 

NGDLE and Open EdTech

I’ve been doing some research on Next Generation Digital Learning Environments (NGDLE) and think it might be another useful way to frame some of the work we are doing with open edtech. Educause has a 7 Things paper and a deeper white paper on NGDLE, and Phil Hill has written about NGDLE as well if you want to dig in further.

In a nutshell, NGDLE is the idea that the next generation of learning tools isn’t the single monolithic LMS, but rather a series of applications connected together using different sets of emerging and established learning tool standards.

The LMS may be part of an NGDLE environment, but it is probably more likely that the LMS would take on a more connective and administrative function in an NGDLE environment. The idea is to separate the course administrative tools & functions (like classlists and gradebooks) from the teaching and learning tools, and allow faculty to mix and match tools to fit their pedagogical needs. This gives faculty greater autonomy with what tools they want to see, while still being connected (with technologies like LTI & Caliper) to centralized institutional systems.

While it is being tagged with “Next Generation”, it is an idea that has been around for awhile now (see D’arcy’s eduglu post from a decade ago). It also strikes me that there is more than a nod to the concept of the PLE in this approach as well, although the PLE construct is about more than just technology and tools and is focused on learner autonomy, while NGDLE is more institutional and faculty focused.

We’re beginning to see institutions move towards this approach where the LMS is more the middleware that handles the administrative functions of course management, and faculty mix and match the learning tools to meet their goals. Phil Hill wrote a post about the University of North Carolina Learning Technology Commons where faculty can log into choose learning tools from an approved list of tools that will integrate with the existing LMS – the idea of a learning tools app store.

These tools are approved in 2 senses. First, there is a peer review process where faculty can review the tool and leave feedback for their peers, similar to the CASA model that I wrote about a few weeks ago, and which I love.

The second part of becoming an approved app involves vendors who submit their app to be reviewed and listed in the app store. In fact, a big part of the UNC app store approach is to, “iron out inefficiencies in edtech procurement.”

Smoothing procurement.

Now, I don’t necessarily have a problem with putting systems in place to smooth procurement, especially when part of the purpose is to make room for smaller players and not default to the 800 pound gorillas. But it does make me wonder how do faculty find tools that do not have a vendor pushing and backing them? The process (as it appears to me from the outside) seems to heavily favor commercialized vendor backed learning tools as opposed to open source community developed applications.

Certainly, there is a lot to like about the NGDLE approach. It acknowledges that there is seldom one tool that fits all pedagogical needs, and gives faculty the freedom and flexibility to try out different tools to fit their pedagogical goals. Indeed, I can see the NGDLE concept as one way to frame the open edtech experimentation we are doing with Sandstorm.  And UNC may have mechanisms to get tools in the app store that are not vendor driven, so I have to applaud the fact that they are doing this and making more teaching and learning tools available to faculty.

My caution is if the only options we put in front of faculty to carry out one of the core functions of our institutions are commercially driven options, then we’re not only missing out, but are locking ourselves in to a vision of edtech that is completely vendor driven. We are not putting all the edtech options on the table; options that often have much more involvement and development input from actual educators than many vendor solutions.

As Candace Thille noted in her recent Chronicle interview on learning analytics As Big-Data Companies Come to Teaching, a Pioneer Issues a Warning (may be paywalled)

…a core tenent of any business is that you don’t outsource your core business process.

Teaching and learning are the core business of most higher education institutions. How much of that core business are we willing to outsource?

Also, see Jim Groom.

Photo: Open source free culture creative commons culture pioneers by Sweet Chilli Arts CC-BY-SA

 

Bring on the festival

This year the BC post-secondary system is trying something new with conferences. Instead of multiple small conferences, there is going to be an uber-conference called the Festival of Learning, June 6-9 in Burnaby.

The Festival brings together a number of smaller events that BCcampus has supported over the years, including the Open Textbook Summit, ETUGSymposium on Scholarly Teaching & Learning, and the BC-TLN Spring Gathering. The Festival is being organized by the BC Teaching & Learning Council.

The idea behind the Festival was to bring all these different groups together in one place at the same time to provide some space for collaboration and co-mingling.

The challenge in doing this is to do it in a way so that the uniqueness of each singular event that made it important and special to that particular community isn’t lost in a larger event. So far, from the draft program schedule I have seen (being part of SCETUG this year and helping to coordinate some of the ETUG part of the conference), the Festival organizers have done a good job at pulling it together & maintaining space in the Festival for each of the different groups to flourish.You can see this reflected in both small ways (the way all groups are represented on the general call for proposal page, for example), and larger with each group having their own program committee.

I’m quite looking forward to the week in Burnaby, and think this is going to be a massive teaching and learning event for our system.

If you have attended any of these events in the past, then you’ll want to mark June 6-9 on the calendar. If you haven’t, then this year will be a great time to join BC post-secondary faculty, educational technologists, instructional designers, and others involved in EdTech &  SOTL in BC at the Festival. Calls for proposals are on now until March 16th. Keep an eye on the website for more information.

The Festival runs June 6-9, 2016 at both the Delta Villa Hotel and BCIT in Burnaby, BC.

 

 

On weak ties and faculty OER research

Yesterday BCcampus published a research report on how faculty at BC post-secondary institutions use open educational resources. I’m not going to do any analysis or synthesis of the report here. You can read the report.

Really, this is more a public thank you to the OER Research Hub (and in particular Martin Weller and Beck Pitt), and the BC Open Textbook Faculty Fellows Rajiv Jhangiani, Christina Hendricks and Jessie Key. This was an immensely satisfying project for me to work on for a lot of reasons, not the least of which was the opportune excuse to work with excellent people.

I always knew we wanted to do some kind of research with our open textbook project, but in those early days (not being a researcher) I had a tough time figuring out how to pull it off. I am not a Ph.D. and, despite the fact that BCcampus as a whole is a research project in the eyes of our parent institution SFU, we don’t do the kind of research typical of research projects. Both Mary and I tried to jump through a few administrative hoops to work with the SFU Research Office to make a research project happen, but it felt like we were getting bogged down in the weeds.

In the fall of 2014, I was pretty well convinced that a research project as part of the open textbook project wasn’t going to happen. Which made me feel like I was blowing an opportunity to be able to give something of potential value back to the OpenEd community. I was (and still am) acutely aware of the need for more research on all things open to further the work we all do, and the thought that we were seeing an opportunity slip away was eating at me.

Then, just as I was reaching peak frustration with our lack of progress on the research front and my own feeble attempts to will it into being, something serendipitously awesome happened. Martin Weller at the OER Hub contacted me and asked if we were thinking of doing any research and, if so, did we need help.

I literally wanted to reach thru the interwebs and hug Martin. But at that point we were still kind of weak tie social media friends and I thought I should wait a bit before commencing the hugging. Besides, he’s a Spurs fan and I’ve spent my adult soccer life rooting for the Gunners, so that would have just been awkward (this was before I knew of his love for ice hockey).

But…Twitter folks. Twitter made that connection happen.

<insert reflective pause to acknowledge the power of weak tie networks here>

Anyway, from there, Martin brought Beck Pitt in, and the research was looking more real than it had just a few days earlier.

On our end, around the same time, we had our first meeting with the BC Open Textbook Faculty Fellows. Rajiv especially latched onto the research angle right away and saw the importance of coming out of the open textbook project with data in hand. A few meetings between Rajiv, Beck and myself and we were off and running….and then stalled….and then took off again….and then stalled….and then took off again.

We collected the data in Feb/March of 2015 via a survey to faculty who use OER in BC. Rajiv, Beck, Jessie and Christina analyzed the data in the spring and summer, and we spent the fall writing the report. If you saw our presentation at OpenEd in November (Beck I am truly sorry that Rajiv and I changed your slides without telling you just moments before you hit the stage), then you got the high points.

And here it is.

All hail the power of the weak ties in enabling cool stuff to happen.

 

BC Open Education Infrastructure

As I wrote about a few weeks ago, my role at BCcampus has undergone a bit of a focus shift back to supporting & researching educational technologies in BC with an emphasis on open source technologies. And there are some exciting things happening in BC that I am going to be a part of.

One of the projects that I have begun sinking my teeth into post-opened conference has been the work done by Grant Potter, Brian Lamb, Tannis Morgan and Valerie Irvine, the former BCNet open education working group. Once BCNet announced the end of the group, Mary Burgess and I talked about how BCcampus could provide support for the open education work this group is doing, and I’m very happy that I’ve been given some time & resources to support this group.

The main project on the go right now is (what I’ve called) the BC open education infrastructure project. This is basically the FIPPA compliant (hosted on EduCloud at UBC) Sandstorm instance that I wrote about a few weeks back. I’ve been able to get in and kick the tires a bit more and am able to see a few clear potential use cases for the technology.

In a nutshell, Sandstorm aims to make the deployment of web applications as easy as installing an app on your smartphone. One click installs of popular open source packages like EtherPad and WordPress direct from an app repository/store .

Sandstorm App Store

Screenshot of Sandstorm App Store

At a high level, here are some of the ways I think this could be useful to my work, and to the system as a whole. These are things that are driving me to work on this project.

  1. A simple way for an instructors to deploy open source applications. Instead of having to use the LMS, which may not have the tools you need or even like working with, or impose a pedagogical way of working that you don’t want, Sandstorm provides an app marketplace where instructors can pick and choose the tools they want to use with their students. Need a collaborative document editor? Hit a button and you’ve got an Etherpad instance set up. Need an instance of Git?  Discussion forums? Pick from a few different alternatives, install and share with students. And all the data stays on a locally hosted server under local control. No corporate data mining of students information. Unbundling the LMS.
  2. A system wide sandbox platform. This is my own use case, as one of the projects in my portfolio will be to revive a system wide sandbox process to allow people to experiment with open source edu focused applications. A BCcampus instance of Sandstorm might make it easier to manage that process.
  3. A way to distribute education related open source applications. I’ve been thinking of ways to get Pressbooks Textbooks into the hands of more people, and making a one button install of Pressbooks in something like Sandbox seems like a doable project. Get an instance of Pressbooks into the Sandstorm app store has the potential to get it in front of more eyes and deployed. There are other open source tools that are edu focused that I think could be included, like Candela, TAO, Open Embeddable Assessments, Omeka, and Scalar (to name just a few). I envision an edu section of the Sandstorm app store. It’s premature to be thinking this way, considering the relative newness of Sandstorm, but, this is why we experiment and play.
  4. A powerful tool for students to work with the tools that they want to work with. Give a class a Sandstorm instance and let them decide how they want to collaborate, communicate and work together using the apps in the toolbox.

This work is obviously heavily influenced by Jim Groom & Tim Owens Domain of Ones Own which is, at its heart, about autonomy and control; about giving people the ability to control their own data and their own digital identity. It is also about recognizing that technology is not neutral, and that the systems we set up within our institutions (looking at you LMS) impose a way of doing things that may not be the way that our faculty want to teach. We should, at the very least, try to provide systems that support technology enhanced pedagogical models outside of the narrow confines of the LMS.

But what really excites me about this project is the chance to work with some of the most forward thinking edtech people in the province. And that is putting a big spring in my step.

 

This thing called the internet: part 2 of a post #opened15 textbook brain dump

This is part 2 of my post #opened15 brain dump on the role of open textbooks in higher education, prompted by many discussions about textbooks in the wake of #opened15.

In my first post, I touched on the role that open textbooks can play in bringing new people into the open community. This one is a bit more technology focused.

There is the tension around why we are even talking textbooks? Those static, information transmission devices of yesteryear. The textbook (like Powerpoint) is becoming a flashpoint symbol for bad pedagogy. That we should be post-textbook, even post-content, and that textbooks – even open ones – are prescriptive devices that enforce existing power and authority structures endemic in our education system. Textbooks are a barrier to truly progressive pedagogies, and open textbooks set up the the illusion of being progressive when really they are regressive and represent a content-centric view of learning.

Okay, that is likely just me heaping a lot of representational baggage on the poor old textbook. But this isn’t the fault of the textbook any more than a bad lecture is the fault of  Powerpoint. Poor pedagogy is poor pedagogy, regardless of whether a textbook is involved or not.

As I stated in my last post, the real problem (at least here in North America) is that, we have embedded a culture of textbooks so deeply within our education systems that it is almost impossible for many to imagine there are other ways of doing things.

And here is where I think open textbooks (and more broadly OER) are playing a crucial role, because they create an opportunity to see one different way of doing things, enabled by the internet.

See, I have this crazy belief that this thing called the internet has changed things, and I see OER and open textbooks as beautiful examples of what the internet enables. They certainly are not the pedagogical be all and end all of living in a networked world. I drank the networked learning kool-aid long ago.

the internet

But OER and open textbooks do represent one of the ways that higher education has responded to the new affordances of living in a digital, networked world where we can create, copy and distribute stuff with relative ease. And if it takes people using OER’s and open textbooks to help people see that the internet enables new ways of doing things, then that, for me, is progress. This is what brought me to open education. Open education is something the internet made possible.

So, to the innovators – keep on innovating and please don’t pull away from the community. Push the edges, do cool stuff, bring it and share it and show people that there is an open world post-textbooks (open and closed). We are all at different open paths along the spectrum, and in order to continue growing the community we have to have spaces for those on the edges to join – the legitimate peripheral participation places that allow people to build their own bridges into both open, and the net.

 

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. http://doi.org/10.5944/openpraxis.7.4.227
 

Effectiveness of Open Educational Resources (with update)

efficacy1

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

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

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

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

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

Here is the presentation.

 

 

Happy Birthday Wikimedia Commons

Sunday was a big day for the Wikimedia Commons.

Wikimedia Commons is turning 10 years old this Sunday — will you help celebrate? We’re asking everyone to join the Wikimedia community by sharing a freely licensed image with world.

You know, I have contributed, edited and created Wikipedia articles. And I have spoken of the love I have for higher education researchers & faculty who engage with Wikimedia and create clever and creative methods to add content to Wikipedia and the Commons. But, for some reason, it has never crossed my mind to actually contribute something to the Commons. I do contribute photos to the greater “commons” (the web) via my Flickr account where I license many of my images with a Creative Commons license, but I have never contributed something to the Wikimedia Commons.

So let’s fix that right now….

The Wikimedia Commons maintains a page listing image requests. There are a lot of image requests that post-sec faculty could contribute, especially in the sciences. So, if you have any of these specific images (or any image for that matter) consider uploading it to the Wikimedia Commons and improving the Commons.

Or, you can do what I did and contribute a photo of an historical monument in your community. Right now,  Wikimedia Commons has a contest running encouraging Canadians to upload a photo of a Canadian monument. So, over lunch I poked around the Wikimedia map of heritage monuments in my city, found a couple close to my house, took a walk with my phone, snapped a couple shots of the historical monuments in my neighbourhood and uploaded them to the Wikimedia Commons.

In the process, I even learned a bit about a (what I thought was) common structure that I have seen on a regular basis for close to 20 years going back to when I first started working at Camosun College. Turns out, this structure….

Richmond Road Streetcar Shelter - front

…which I have walked by and through hundreds of times over the past 20 years on my way to work when I worked at Camosun College (and was/is used by students as a smoke shelter), is actually a historically significant structure in my neighbourhood. Apparently, this little structure is a leftover from the days when a trolly used to roll up and down Richmond Road.

The heritage value of the Streetcar Shelter is as one of the last two remaining streetcar shelters in Victoria, the third Canadian city to have streetcars. The Victoria and district streetcar system was inaugurated by the National Electric Tramway and Lighting Company in 1890. The system was later bought in 1897 by the British Columbia Electric Railway (BCER) Company Limited, who operated it until 1948, when streetcars made their last runs. This shelter was constructed to service the Number 10 Streetcar, which made two trips a day to service the University School and then the Provincial Normal School.

I had no idea this little shack I used to walk through to get to work everyday for years was anything more than a fancy smoking structure.

I also grabbed a shot of another heritage structure at that location – the Provincial Normal School, now known as the Young Building at Camosun College, and contributed that.

Provincial Normal School (now known as Young Building)

But I digress because this isn’t about heritage structures. It is about contributing something to the greater good; something with educational value. By contributing to the Wikimedia Commons, I am, in a small way, making a bit of knowledge that much more accessible by making it visible in the web’s largest information repository. And it got me to thinking about why I share and how I share the stuff I create.

Like many of you, the reasons why I share my stuff on the web is multi-facted. To connect with others, to build relationships, to learn. But one of the really important reasons I share on the web is because I am an educator. I want others to be able to use the stuff I share to better understand their world. If a word I write, or a photo I take or a video I make helps someone somewhere understand something a bit better, then I am a happy man.

So, if by now I haven’t subtly encouraged you to contribute to the Wikimedia Commons, let me blatantly say it: contribute something to the Wikimedia Commons (which, right now, sits at around 22 million images in size). I know quite a few people who read this blog on a regular basis who share and contribute their content around the web (sometimes at the cost of using a particular service for free). Well, here is a chance to contribute something to a project that is a) non-commercial and b) educational. Share your content with the Wikimedia Commons and make it a stronger, better repository.

 

Connecting with faculty

Things are settling down into a summer groove and I’ve been able to do a bit of reflecting on what was a whirlwind spring of activity which included a very short – but highly impressionable – trip to the Canadian Chemistry Conference in Vancouver.

BCcampus sponsored a talk by Delamr Larson, founder of the ChemWiki project out of UC Davis. I’m a fan of the Chemwiki project  (an open pedagogy project that began as a student assignment and has now become one of the largest Chemistry open educational resources on the web) and jumped at the chance to have lunch with Delmar. I was also looking forward to reconnecting with Sharon and Bruno from the BC-ILN at TRU and to also meet Jessie Key from VIU who is adapting a Chemistry open textbook this summer as part of the BC Open Textbook project. But to be honest, the conference itself wasn’t much of a draw for me. I mean, I am not a chemist or have a chemistry background and attending a general chemistry conference wasn’t high on the list of conferences I was hoping to attend.

Man, was I wrong. It turned out to be one of the more revelatory experiences of my event filled spring.

From the moment I stepped into my first session I immediately regretted my decision to just spend the morning at the conference and head back to Victoria after lunch with Delmar. I had no idea – no idea – that there would be such a strong education track at a general conference. I mean, check out the edu focused stream of sessions list from the event. Sessions like Open Access Resources for teaching Analytical Chemistry, Service Learning: Contributions to Wikipedia, and a whole host of others made me wonder if I had accidentally wandered into an open education/edtech conference. There were more education focused sessions at this general chemistry conference than I’ve seen at many edu-focused conferences I’ve attended. And really excellent sessions, focused on innovative pedagogies and unique uses of technology in teaching and learning.

Wait, isn’t this the conference where chemists get together and talk about the science of chemistry? The business of chemistry? Where the heck did all of these educators come from? WHY DIDN’T I KNOW THIS IS WHERE THEY ALL HANG OUT?

It took me back. I mean, maybe this industry focused conference is different. Maybe the Canadian Psychology Conference or the Canadian Biology Conference doesn’t have such a deep connection to education as Chemistry does. Maybe I hit upon the exception rather than the rule. Maybe. But after seeing the level of edu involvement at the Chemsitry conference, it underscored that I need to find out and do some deeper research into discipline specific association conferences. And it double underlined for me how deeply higher ed faculty are connected to their discipline.

It is one of those retrospectively obvious epiphanies; want to connect with faculty? Then maybe the place to do it isn’t at edu conferences but at discipline specific conferences, like this. If I want to be a truly effective advocate for open educational resources and open learning, then these are the events I need to be at. This is where faculty connect with faculty. This is where they are talking about pedagogy, the role of technology in their classroom, teaching & learning practice, communities of practice and open educational resources, although that phrase wasn’t to be found, yet the practice was everywhere.

For example, at this conference I found out about the IONiC (Interactive Online Network of Inorganic Chemists) and VIPEr (Virtual Inorganic Pedagogical Electronic Resource). IONiC is an online network for teachers of inorganic chemistry, and VIPEr a repository of teaching materials freely available for inorganic chemistry faculty. Both these were started not by open education advocates, but by inorganic chemistry faculty themselves. They wanted space to share resources and develop community. It’s a grassroots lesson in sharing and connecting, driven by the faculty, driven by the community and not by a more formalized “Open Educational Resource” project. I mean, when you read about what VIPEr and IONiC are about, not once do you see the phrase “open educational resource” or “learning object repository”, or even the word “open”. Yet this is clearly an example of open education in action, just without the words we all use to describe open practices in education.

How many more communities like this are there out there? How many are being driven by faculty and living outside the boundaries of our more formalized “open education” world? And how do we in open education find and connect with projects like this; projects that have the potential to resonate with faculty even more deeply than more formalized OER projects (like the open textbook project I am working on) because they are being driven BY faculty FOR faculty?

Needless to say, I’ll be on the lookout for more opportunities to attend conferences like the Canadian Chemistry Conference.

Thanks to Pat Lockley and Tannis Morgan for a Twitter convo prompting this post.

 

The BC Open Textbook Sprint – the afterglow

Note: This is a cross-post from our BCcampus Open Education blog.

48,420 words. 8 chapters.

Day 1

The first BC open textbook sprint wrapped up late Thursday night after 4 long days of collaborative writing, researching, editing and reviewing. We’ll have a more thorough debrief of the event in the coming days. For now, here is what is happening with the book.

Mapping!

Over the next 2 weeks, we will be moving the book into PressBooks Textbooks, the platform we are using as our primary book creation platform. For the sprint, we did not use PressBooks but instead used a collaborative writing platform called PubSweet, created by the BookSprints team. After discussing whether to use the BookSprints platform or our platform, we decided to use PubSweet as the authoring platform for the sprint because the facilitators were familiar with the platform. And, given the mammoth task ahead of us to create a 1st year Geography textbook in 4 days, we decided that rather than add a level of complexity onto the process, we would stick with what our facilitators were familiar with working with. So, our first task post-sprint is to transfer the book from PubSweet to PressBooks Textbooks.

This should not be a huge issue as PubSweet exports the book in ePub and PressBooks Textbooks (thanks to the work of programmer Brad Payne) can import ePub files. We had a few moments of concern with our first attempts to import the book into PressBooks due to the way that PubSweet packages ePub files, but a few emails back and forth to the PubSweet developer by Barbara our facilitators and we think the issue is fixed. So, task one is to get the book into PressBooks.

IMG_1175

After that, I’ll be undertaking a thorough review of the book looking closely at how the resources we used are attributed. During the sprint, attribution of resources was often noting more than a link to where we found it (after we reviewed to ensure that we could use them under the open license we wished to publish with). But these resources are not attributed correctly, so that needs to be reviewed and corrected.

We will also have copy editors review the entire book. We are still working on the details of the contracts with our copy editors so that has added a bit of a delay in the release of the book. But, with some luck, we should have the copy editing underway in July and completed early August.

Finally, we will release the book. It will be available for download and reuse immediately after it is copy edited (we hope this will be done in August). Once it is publicly released, we will be soliciting peer reviews from Geography faculty from around the province, like we are currently doing with all the books in our collection.

There are many people to thank for making the past week possible. First and foremost, the 5 Geography faculty who were brave enough to commit to locking themselves in a room with a bunch of strangers to write a book in an incredibly short amount of time. The first to sign on was Arthur Green of Okanagan College, followed by Britta Ricker (SFU), Siobhan McPhee (UBC), Aviv Ettya (UFV), and Cristina Temenos (SFU). These people worked incredibly hard, putting in 12-14 hour days, to create the book. Barbara  Ruehling from BookSprints facilitated the entire event, assisted for the first 2 days by Faith Bosworth. UBC librarian Jon Strang was a priceless resource. The BCcampus support crew of Amanda Coolidge, Hilda Anggraeni (who was our illustrator and created & contributed dozens of maps and graphs during the sprint), Brad Payne and Christy Foote. Each of these people gave tirelessly to see the book created in 4 days and make this project happen.

See photos of the 4 day sprint on the BCcampus and BookSprint Flickr accounts. We also tweeted about it using the #bcbooksprint hashtag.

Day 1

All photos from BCCampus_news used under CC-BY-SA license

 

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

 

Fleshing out the pedagogical features of textbooks

In a post from last week I wrote about some of the research I’ve begun doing around the pedagogical features of a textbook as I try to identify the features of textbooks that we need to make sure we include as we begin to construct open textbooks.

In my initial scan, I’ve found a few interesting papers & studies looking at the effectiveness of pedagogical aids in textbooks. This morning I read two papers from Regan Gurung at the University of Wisconsin (Pedagogical Aids and Student Performance published in 2003 & Pedagogical Aids: Learning Enhancers or Dangerous Detours? from 2004) and one earlier paper from 1996 from Santa Clara University (Wayne Weiten, Rosanna Guadagno & Cynthia Beck) titled Student’s Perceptions of Textbook Pedagogical Aids.

These 3 papers are specific to Psychology textbooks and are primarily built around student perceptions of the pedagogical aids in the books & whether or not students used them.

Student perceptions are important, especially if they do not use a pedagogical aide since an “unused pedagogical aide cannot facilitate learning” (Weiten, Guadango & Beck 1996), but perception is just one factor I want to look at & Gurung’s research digs a bit deeper than student perceptions to see if there is a connection between student use of pedagogical aids and better exam performance.

Weiten, Guadango & Beck surveyed 134 students asking them how familiar they were with the different pedagogical aids in their textbook, the probability of use and their perceived value of each aid. From their research, Weiten, Guadango & Beck showed that the top 3 pedagogical aids students used in their textbooks were bold-faced technical terms, chapter & section summaries & glossaries.

Mean Ratings of Pedagogical Aids (Weiten, Guadango & Beck, 1996)

An interesting takeaway from their research (although it is over 20 years old now) is that at the time “virtually no research has assessed the usefulness of the numerous pedagogical aids that are now standard far in psychology texts”. Meaning that, in the views of these researchers, the features of a textbook that have been put in place to help student learn weren’t put there because they have been shown to help student learn.

Again, the caveat that I am looking at research from 20 years ago, but so far my scan has shown something similar – there is not a huge amount of empirical  research on whether these features of a textbook actually help student learn. In fact, some of the research from Gurung hints at something quite the opposite; that there may be some textbook features in use that we take for granted that may actually hurt student performance.

Do they help or hinder?

In Gurung’s 2003 research Pedagogical Aids and Student Performance,  Gurung surveyed more than 200 undergraduate students and asked them to rate the usefulness of 10 pedagogical aids and instructional techniques (Gurung’s research wasn’t specific to textbook aids, but included a number of textbook specific aids like outlines, chapter summaries & reviews, boldfaced & italicized terms, key terms & practice questions found in a textbook).

Looking at the types of aids mentioned in the research that are textbook specific (ie eliminating items like paper assignments and research participation) and the results showed that the top textbook 3 aids used by students were boldface terms, italicized terms and practice questions (with chapter summaries & reviews a very close 4th). In terms of helpfulness, students rated boldfaced (92%) and italicized (81%) terms as the most useful pedagogical aid, followed by practice tests questions (77%), and chapter summaries & reviews (73%) all as being moderately to extremely helpful.

Reported Use & Helpfulness of Pedagogical aids (Gurung, 2003)

Reported Use & Helpfulness of Pedagogical aids (Gurung, 2003)

When Gurung compared the reported use and helpfulness of the textbook specific aids and student performance based on their test scores he determined that “correlation analysis did not show any positive relations between the reported use of a pedagogical aids and learning as measured by exam performance” and that textbook authors, “…should not feel pressured to load their books with such aids.” Gurung also notes that the lack of effectiveness of textbook pedagogical aids isn’t an isolated finding & quotes research from 2001 by Blach (guess what is going high on my list for further reading).

Can pedagogical aids actually hurt learning?

One of the really interesting findings from Gurungs 2003 paper was that there was one correlation between a pedagogical aid and exam outcomes was “significant” and that had to do with key terms. Students who rated key terms as being helpful had lower test scores than those who did not use key terms. However, Gurung does note that “the correlational nature of the data does not allow for a true test of this question (can a pedagogical aid hurt exam performance)” and there are a few significant limitations to the research, including not accounting for student performance, ability or effort, nor the amount of time the student spent studying. Also important to note that Gurung only looks at one outcome; exam performance.

Still, it isn’t hard to see how a pedagogical aid could negatively affect student performance if the student tries to get by on the built in aids as an alternative to doing the actual reading. If a student sees the aid as a shortcut to doing the actual reading, then it isn’t hard to imagine that these tools could affect student learning. A scenario where a student is crunched for time and instead of doing the reading for the course instead relies on the chapter summaries to give them all the information could be fairly common.

Gurung followed up his 2003 research with a 2004 study that supports the ineffectiveness of the pedagogical aids we seem to take for granted. In his paper Pedagogical Aids: Learning Enhancers or Dangerous Detours? Gurung assessed 240 introductory psychology undergraduates (again looking at test scores) and showed that the reported use of aids “did not positively relate to student performance on any exams” and again showed that key terms might hurt test performance. In this research, Gurung did try to account for the 2 limitations he noted in his first, namely student ability & time studying.

My takeaway

I’m still early in my research so it is hard to draw any definite conclusions yet. But articles like these help me flesh out pedagogical features of our textbooks. For example, all the articles note that students use bold and italicized text (whether it is actually increases their learning is another matter all together). But knowing that those features will actually be used by students helps to guide our advice to open textbook authors. When you make a textbook, concentrate on the way you use bold and italicized text because students will be looking for that to help them understand the content.

This is also helping curb my assumptions that just because something appears in a lot of textbooks doesn’t mean it is either a good nor a proven aid to learning, or that students will use the aid in the way it is intended. What we may be doing when we add features that we think students will use to connect deeply with the material may, in fact, be convenient devices students use to shortcut their learning. I’ll be interested to see if this issue of pedagogical feature as shortcut instead of pathway to deeper understanding comes up more in the literature.

References

Weiten, W., Guadagno, R. E., & Beck, C. A. (1996). Student’s Perceptions of Textbook Pedagogical Aids. Teaching of Psychology, 23(2), 105-107. doi:10.1207/s15328023top2302_8

Gurung, R. A. R. (2004). Pedagogical Aids: Learning Enhancers or Dangerous Detours? Teaching of Psychology, 31(3), 164-166. doi:10.1207/s15328023top3103_1

Gurung, R. A. R. (2003). Pedagogical Aids and Student Performance. Teaching of Psychology, 30(2), 92-95. doi:10.1207/S15328023TOP3002_01

 

Complex Simplicity

Brian’s been a-blogging, and I am grateful for his latest post where he dives into his own personal edtech history.

I took part in a lot of conferences, workshops and focus groups with higher education people who attended those “learning object” sessions because they were interested in reusing materials using the as-yet untapped power of the world wide web. I listened as “serious” educational leaders dictated that the platforms require users to adopt unfathomable and complex metadata to ensure that no tangential learning materials be encountered by mistake. I took part in meeting after meeting where technology leaders and faculty representatives demanded strict access controls to limit sharing within elite consortia or collections of funding partners, or even within faculties or departments. Later on in the process, I would try to facilitate workshops with other groups of working educators that rightfully complained that the resulting systems were unwieldy and useless.

I’m grateful that he wrote that because these stories and experiences from early efforts to build systems that enable reuse of OER are important for me to hear. They help me understand what has and has not worked with these earlier efforts and give me a historical frame of reference for the work I am doing now. Learn from our collective edtech history.

Brian’s post (and a conversation I’ve been having with Adam Hyde in response to my post yesterday about the work Brad has been doing to extend PressBooks to enable some of that unfathomable and complex metadata that Brian referred to) have been making me thinking about remix & audience. Specifically, the different audiences we have who may want to reuse or remix the content we are creating as part of the open textbook project.

First, there are educators; the faculty. The people who are using the resource on the ground in their class. For this group, simplicity & ease of use are key consideration. As Brian points out:

Later on in the process, I would try to facilitate workshops with other groups of working educators that rightfully complained that the resulting systems were unwieldy and useless.

Adam’s comment underscores that point

The trick is in the re-use. Making it easy to reuse. I think copy and paste is MUCH slighted in this area. It solves a lot of problems that other ‘more sophisticated’ approaches don’t (and its OS independent). IMHO tech systems that try and ‘enable’ remix beyond what C+P can do often create problems and ‘dis-empower’ people since somehow the techno whizzy magic makes them forget that Cut and Paste even exists

The power of cut and paste. Such a simple tool. And one I bet that most educators use on a routine basis. I wonder what kind of answer you would get from faculty if you asked them if they have ever “remixed” content? Chances are the answer would be no. But ask them if they have ever cut and paste content from one place and used it in another and the answer might be different. Ever copied a photo off a webpage and used in a lecture presentation? Congratulations! You have just remixed content! You have taken something from one context and reused it in another (and I appreciate Adam’s point about the language we use to talk about this remix/adapt/translation behaviour that we are trying to enable).

Really, isn’t a course a remix? I mean, you are taking a whole bunch of disparate content – a textbook from here, some course readings from here, some quiz questions you create, a YouTube video – and you stick it all together to create “a course”. Something new. Something that didn’t exist before. Made from disparate parts. Isn’t a course the result of remixing a whack of content together? (Before the ID’s reading this go apoplectic, I know that there is much more than content selection that goes into course development. My example is merely to make the point that “remix” is something educators do all the time already).

So, when it comes to enabling faculty to “remix” our open textbooks, maybe we need to focus more on really simple things like cut and paste. I wonder if that message would resonate with faculty moreso than “remix this textbook” which, as you can imagine, is a pretty daunting task for reasons beyond the technical challenges (like licensing). Here is a textbook. Feel free to copy and paste a case study for your own course notes. Like that chart in chapter 3? Copy it. Put it in your presentation.

Easy. Simple. That is the mantra for audience #1.

Then there is the second audience group for our content where remix has a different, grander meaning. Bigger scale. I think of projects like ours. What can I do to our content now to make it easier for a future project like ours to reuse our material? This is where the importance of things like metadata comes in. For these projects, we need to pay attention to more complex pieces to ensure that the content can be shared and reused by these other projects at scale. Want to take 12 books from our collection and put them in yours? Here’s a way to do that. Want to extract all the self assessment questions from that Sociology textbook we made? Oh, here is an API that allows that.

Both those audiences need to be satisfied if we really want our project to have lasting value, both locally within BC and for the wider education system.

 

The pedagogical features of a textbook

Ever since I’ve started working on the BC open textbook project, one of the bits of research that I’ve wanted to do was deconstruct “the textbook” to dig into what exactly are the pedagogical features that make a textbook a textbook. As we enter into the creation phase of open textbooks – and with a book sprint coming up in June where we will be creating a textbook from scratch in 4 days – I’ve started taking a closer look at what makes a textbook a textbook.

Specifically I am trying to identify a couple of things.

First, I want to identify a list of common pedagogical features that textbooks have that make them different from other types of books. By features I mean what are the specific elements or attributes of a textbook that help students understand the content in the book. This can range from chapter outlines and summaries to practice questions and glossaries.

Second, I want to find out to what degree do those pedagogical features actually help students understand the content. Here I am searching for some empirical research that shows that specific features of a textbook may be more useful than others when it comes to helping students learn.

Third, does the format of the textbook change or alter the usefulness of a pedagogical feature? By this I mean are there features that were created specifically for printed textbooks that may not be relevant to an electronic version of the book, and are there pedagogical elements that can be done in the electronic version that can’t be done (or are done differently) in the printed version? This third question is challenging, but is important in the context of our work since students have the choice of format types – physical copies or electronic copies and the work we are doing has to be sensitive to the formats (and I think I have a future post brewing that may touch upon my frustration at having to work with both formats, both from a technical perspective and from an educational culture perspective. I’ve easily spent a majority of my time dealing with issues around “the print” vs issues with “the electronic”).

So far I’ve identified 24 different pedagogical features (or aids as I have seen them referred to) that are commonly found in textbooks. These are:

Pedagogical Aid/Feature
Chapter Objectives Chapter Learning Outcomes Chapter Outline
Checklists Headings & Subheadings Bold & Italicized text
Table of Figures Index Focus Questions
Chapter Summary or Review  Case Studies and Vignettes  Glossary/Key Terms
Demonstrations  Examples of Best Practices Maps
Interviews  Illustrations (which include photos, diagrams, charts & figures) Simulations
Further Reading suggestions Timelines Practice Questions
Multimedia (audio/video) Pronunciation Guide Table of Contents

From here, I am creating a description of what the feature is, what pedagogical purpose it might have for learners, what research I can find about that feature to see if there is any evidence that these aids help students, and, finally, some thoughts around how the feature might be different in the print and electronic versions of a textbook.

There is one pedagogical feature that I have intentionally left off of this list is, arguably, the most important pedagogical feature and that is structure. A strong structure provides a logical, well thought out path for students to navigate the content. But given the importance of structure, I think I need to tackle that on its own, perhaps using these 5 rules of textbook structure as a starting point.

Extending PressBooks

The other reasons I am trying to take this deconstructionist approach to analyzing features of a textbook is that we want to see if there are ways we can extend PressBooks to accommodate what we identify as the most useful pedagogical features. For example, in the user interface of PressBooks, Brad Payne has built some textbook specific buttons that insert specific types of content blocks into PressBooks (I spoke a bit about this in an earlier blog post). What we want to do is not only build buttons in the editing interface that inserts visible elements (like say a green box around a case study), but also inserts metadata that identifies that specific pedagogical feature as a chapter summary. Brad has been looking at the emerging Learning Resource Metadata Initiative (LRMI) to see how we can begin to tag bits and pieces of the content in our textbook.

This is pretty exciting stuff. Theoretically, if we create a button in the user interface to insert a case study into the textbook, it could also insert metadata that identifies that block of content as a case study. Once you have content identified, you could then build API’s that could extract the textbook specific content chunks. From a reuse and remixability perspective, this makes a textbook modular. Build an API that can, for example, extract just the practice questions in a book and you can create a separate practice question handbook with nothing but the practice questions from the book. In essence, we can make the book modular and with that modularity comes flexibility to potentially mix and match content in interesting and unique ways.

But before we get to the point where we could have modular & remixable content, we need to focus and determine what are the really useful pedagogical features of a textbook that improves student learning. Once we can answer that, then we have some footing to proceed to the next step & build the technology to enable that.

 

Coursera and Udacity are NOT Open Courseware

Baywatch The MOOC

For a guy who says he doesn’t blog about MOOC’s much, 2 in a week might be a record. But there is something about this Exporting Education article that really bugs me. It is the way that the article implies that Coursera and Udacity are the same as Open Courseware and they clearly are not.

At the heart of the difference is the way the content is licensed in the different courses. OCW courses use open licenses, meaning the content can be modified. Courses from Coursera and Udacity are not openly licensed; they cannot be modified for local contexts. In the context of the article, this is a vitally important distinction to make since the article states that:

MOOCs are being welcomed as a free resource and adapted to local contexts

Well, not if they are Coursera or Udacity courses since most of the content is copyright by those corporations (unless the participating institution negotiates to releases their Coursera MOOC material intentionally with open licenses, like, I believe, UBC has with their Coursera offerings).

This is the fundamental problem many in the open movement have with Coursera and Udacity – they are not open resources. But yet they are getting connected by association to the open resource movement. And this is wrong. Not only does it undermine the many years of hard work done by open education advocates to make sure educational resources are openly licensed resources, it is a vitally important pedagogical difference, especially when examined through the lens of this article.

The article makes the point that, MOOC’s as they are being implemented and used in developing countries have the potential to reduce local capacities and lead to the Americanization of education in the developing world. The MacDonald’s version of higher ed. Or, as the author puts it with a better metaphor, the “Baywatch” of learning.

It’s easy to imagine a future in which the educational equivalent of reruns of Baywatch—a limited menu of glossy American fare—comes to dominate the cultural landscape in developing countries around the world, making it more difficult for cash-starved universities in those countries to pursue scholarship relevant to local contexts

One of the ways to keep this from happening is by making sure the courses are openly licensed so that they can be legally adapted to a local context. If developing worlds end up relying on corporations like Coursera and Udacity who tightly control courses using copyright as their enforcement hammer, then developing worlds will end up with a corporate one size fits all educational model. Education outsourced to America. Whereas if those developing countries are free to take and modify courses & educational resources to fit their local context – like they are with OCW materials – then they will have a distributed, highly contextual model of education that better fits their community.

Coursera vs OCW are fundamentally different in this regard. Open Courseware material empowers educators whereas Coursera material creates dependency. Or a market, depending on how cynical your perspective is.

Photo: Baywatch The MOOC is released by me under a CC-BY-NC-SA license. It is a modified version of the following images: