You don't have to wait for BCcampus

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

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

You don’t have to wait for BCcampus.

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is the beauty of open.


Privacy and cloud based apps – a background paper from BCcampus

Descending Clouds

Ahead of their province wide conference on Privacy and Cloud-Based Educational Technology happening on April 4th, BCcampus has released a background white paper on Privacy and Cloud-Based Educational Technology in British Columbia (PDF).

The report is based on questionnaires and interviews conducted by BCcampus with a cross section of institutional stakeholders (instructors, teaching and learning centres and IT administrators) at 9 BC post-secondary institutions (25 were contacted) in the Fall of 2010.

The paper highlights some of the concerns and benefits post-sec institutions in BC are grappling with when considering using cloud-based applications and services (specifically those hosted in the US), and illustrates some examples of how BC post-sec’s have addressed these issues within their institutions.

Some institutions are afraid to authorize any “web 2.0” technologies because of privacy concerns, some have used workarounds, and some have just gone ahead and implemented institution-wide technologies to the best of their ability.

If you are involved in IT or EdTech in BC, this report is well worth the read and provides some real-life examples of how post-sec institutions in BC are addressing the ambiguous issues inherent with the big elephant in the room. As the report notes:

All (post-secondary institutions) have one thing in common: the need for clarity around what is or is not aligned with B.C.’s privacy legislation.

This ambiguity is reflected in one of the questions raised by Vancouver Island University:

Getting clear-cut responses from the Office of the BC Privacy Commissioner is important to  enabling post-secondary administrators to provide correct advice and guidance on FIPPA  related questions. What can the BC government ministry [responsible for FIPPA] do to  facilitate this?

Gina Bennett from the College of the Rockies also reflects this clarity concern.

According to Gina Bennett at COTR, FIPPA requirements aren’t well understood. “[Postsecondary institutions] use extreme caution, they don’t act -out of fear– or they fly under the  radar,” when they consider using cloud-based services or social media.

But my favorite Gina Bennett quote has to be this one, which nicely encapsulates one of the big picture issue that are at stake here.

“I wish we could have ‘openness people’ rather than ‘privacy people” at institutions. We  should be all about sharing. What is the purpose of the academy if not for sharing ideas?”

Hear, hear.

Photo: Descending Clouds by Gary Hayes used under Creative Commons license


A couple of upcoming events for BC EdTechies

ETUG Mosiac

I want to give a heads up to BC IT/EdTechie types about a couple of upcoming events some of my colleagues are busy organizing and that you may be interested in attending.

The first is the Vancouver Island Higher Education Information Technology Day (VIHET) being held next Wednesday, March 30th at Royal Roads University. I’m looking forward to the day and the opportunity to connect with my island colleagues from Camosun, UVic, VIU and North Island. The theme is Global Connections: International Trends in Educational Technologies. David Porter from BCcampus is the keynote speaker. I always enjoy seeing David present. He is one of the most progressive voices in our field in this province, and his recent excursion to Mongolia will no doubt provide him with some rich material for the theme at hand.

The second is the upcoming Educational Technology User Group (ETUG) spring workshop, being hosted by Selkirk College in Nelson, BC.  My colleagues Tracy Roberts and Amanda Coolidge are part of the organizing comittee this year and are planning a great conference built around the theme of Open4Learning. Think open professional development, OER’s, open courses (MOOC’s perhaps?), open source software & some of the non-teaching & learning issues (privacy) related to being open. Personally, I’m hoping Grant Potter does a bit on open radio & show us all how he set up & manages ds106radio, but I know he’s on the organizing committee & will have his hands full as it is. Call for proposals is on now until April 8th for the event on June 2 & 3.

Photo: ETUG Mosaic by Sylvia Currie used under Creative Commons license.


North Island College Remote Science Lab

I was reading Grant Potters account of the 2009 Canadian eLearning/ETUG Conference held last week in Vancouver and was highly impressed by a robotics project being done by North Island College.

One of the traditional challenges for remote students studying in lab based courses is how do you simulate the lab environment? The Remote Science Lab addresses that problem. A project of Ron Evans aege nd Albert Balbon from North Island College and funded by BCcampus and Inukshuk, the lab allows students to remotely control lab equipment by robotic arm through their web browser.

North Island College – Remote Web-based Science Lab from Devin Clarke on Vimeo.

Because this project was funded in part by BCcampus, the software is being offered to other to all BC post-secondary institutions who wish to explore a similar project.

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On Free and Open Learning Content

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

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

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

You want me to change this?

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

What’s in it for me?

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

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

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

What do you mean open?

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

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

Free Learning

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

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

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