The (open) future is here, it's just not evenly distributed

This is post 1 of a 2 part #opened15 brain dump about open textbooks (part 2 here).

I’m post-conference OpenEd15 metaphorically hungover, so forgive me if this goes astray or meanders.

Textbooks. Ugh. Who needs them.

The one hazard of organizing a conference is that you don’t actually get to attend a number of sessions, so my context here is from the backchannels, the post conference wrap up blog posts and hallway conversations.

The one overarching narrative strand I have come away with is that open has grown to the point where pathways diverge as the nuance and details of actual on the ground projects begin to reach a certain state of maturity.  No longer are we talking of “the promise” or “the potential” of open. There is much “doing” of open in many wonderful ways.  The multitude and variety of projects flying open banners is impressive to see as the field matures.

But there is tension in the community around open textbooks. This tension that there is too much emphasis placed on both the “textbook” as pedagogical tool, and the financial savings to students.

Additionally, there is a divide as to whether open textbooks mark an entry point into open education for new people (and there was a massive number of people at OpenEd for the first time), or whether open textbooks are the beginning, middle and end of the open journey for some.

From my own perspective after working on an open textbook project for close to 3 years, all of the above are tensions I negotiate with myself constantly.

My experience with this project has shown that, for some, open textbooks represent a starting point into open. None of us who are working on this project want the open textbook to be the be all and end all of open. But for many  faculty it will be. For some, they will simply swap closed for open and that will be  innovation enough. And frankly, I’m ok with that. If, at worst, open textbooks saves students money and lowers the cost for access to higher education, that is a fine and worthy application of open that is a very student-centric solution to a problem, as Amanda nicely points out. Cost, in many jurisdictions (especially in the US and Canada) is a major problem that we can solve with OER, and as a community we need to recognize that open textbooks are one pragmatic and practical application of open being used to solve a real problem. There is no “potential to” or “promise of”. This is real and it is happening, and that is a wonderful thing.

However, for some, their switch to an open textbook will mark a deeper journey into open. I look at faculty like Rajiv Jhangiani, who started with an open textbook and found a like minded community at people. Open textbooks were an entry point for Rajiv, as they were for Gill Green, the UBC Geography Faculty that participated with us in the textbook sprint, who came away with the moment that really synthesized what we hoped would happen with that sprint project.

One of the most powerful lessons for me was that I should not simply be focusing on using open textbooks in my courses; I should be encouraging students to build open textbooks as course activities. By doing this, we teach not only discipline specific content, but also increase students’ ability to engage in the democratization of knowledge.

Sure, we created a textbook. But more importantly, an open textbook helped to create space for that moment to occur. For me, this moment was what the booksprint was all about.

Problematically, textbooks are so deeply ingrained in our education systems that trying to find others ways of doing education for many is very difficult, especially in an education world where we continually remove capacity for those faculty who DO want to change and experiment and try different things. Rarely will you ever find a faculty member who says they have enough time to do their job, let alone undertake a radical overhaul of their pedagogy. Often faculty are p/t, or only brought in at the last minute to teach a course and grab at that teacher-proofed course-in-a-box (which I’ve written about before).

But there are faculty out there who do want open who don’t even know that we, the open education community, exist. Or that what they are doing, or want to do, has a name and support and community. Open textbooks have created the space to allow others into the community who may not have even known this community existed. And we shouldn’t undervalue the importance of this.

Part 2.


Opportunities to virtually connect at #opened15

We’re just a few days away from the kickoff to the 2015 Open Education conference in Vancouver, Nov 18-20. The plans have all been planned and all that is left is the doing.

If you are not coming to Vancouver next week, we still have opportunities for you to participate.

First, the conference Twitter hashtag #opened15 is where I suspect most of the virtual action will happen.

We will be livestreaming the two conference keynotes. Michael Feldstein & Phil Hill will take to the stage at 8:30am PST on Wednesday, November 18th. Their talk is on Openness and the Future of Post-Secondary Education.

Then, Friday at 8:30am PST, current BCcampus Executive Director (and my boss) Mary Burgess and former BCcampus Executive Director David Porter will be talking about the BC Open Textbook Project and a bit of the history of open in higher education in British Columbia.

The livestreams will be accessible from the OpenEd site. We’ll also archive the keynotes post conference. And in keeping with the spirit of accessibility, we are planning on live transcribing and caption the keynotes.

The BCOER Librarians will be on site doing some impromptu Periscope sessions with session presenters. These will be short (5-10 minute) post-presentation interviews with presenters asking them to talk about the content of their presentation. These are not scheduled and will happen ad hoc at the conference.  Watch the conference hashtag for these Periscope interviews to pop up. And, being that it is Periscope, these will not be archived and will only be available for 24 hours.

I’m really excited about having the Virtual Connecting volunteers on site for the conference and giving people who cannot attend the ability to contribute and participate beyond the conference hashtag and Twitter backchannel. Maha Bali and the Virtual Connecting crew (led onsite by Alan Levine) will be doing some Google Hangouts from the conference. This is a chance for those of you who are not at the conference to be able to interact with conference presenters, keynote speakers and participants. Schedule of OpenEd VConnecting sessions.


This will likely be my final post before OpenEd next week, and I just want to take a sec to publicly acknowledge and thank some of the people who have been working hard for the past year to make OpenEd happen next week.

We, of course, have been working closely with David Wiley and the Lumen Learning crew, particularly Shannon Coates and Julie Curtis, for the better part of a year since OpenEd 2014 in Washington ended. Personally, it still blows me away that I have had this opportunity to work so closely on a project with David after following his groundbreaking work in Open Education for so many years. Thank you, David.

There are countless volunteers who were part of the program evaluation committee, and who you will see at the registration and information desks,  convening sessions and greeting people at the social event. People have  contributed to locally crowdsourced list of personally recommend Vancouver activities & restaurants, and are handling umpteen tasks, from setting up booths and tables, to hauling equipment, and coordinating the virtual participation (including the fantastic Leva Lee and the BCOER librarians). A preemptive thank you to all for your contributions to OpenEd15.

Finally, I want to acknowledge the BCcampus people who have been working so hard on this event with me for the past year. Erin Beatie will be handling social media and watching the hashtag during the conference, Tracy Kelly and Jason Toal will be doing the graphic recording of the keynotes (with Jason is doing double duty as Dr. Jones at the OpenEd15 social on Wednesday as well), and our extremely talented graphic designer and communications manager Barb Murphy who did all the wonderful visual design for the conference.

To Lauri Aesoph and Amanda Coolidge. Lauri has been the lead planner of the social event on Wednesday, while Amanda has pulled together all the session conveners and has coordinated the special accessibility area, all while planning her own presentations and juggling the demand of coordinating countless meeting requests from people to talk about the BC Open Textbook Project. Both Amanda and Lauri never cease to amaze me with their work effort and willingness to throw themselves fully into a project. I am truly blessed to have them as colleagues.

And then there is Christy Foote. I really don’t know how OpenEd would happen without the efforts of Christy. OpenEd is the last (and biggest) of 3 back to back conferences that BCcampus has organized this month, all of them with the support of Christy Foote. I can’t quite express how in awe I am of Christy and the work she has done, from sourcing venues, negotiating contracts (Christy is someone you want to come with you to the bank when you go to renew your mortgage) to coordinating payments, building menus, ordering shirts and umbrellas……you name it, Christy has taken care of it. Saying thank you somehow seems inadequate for the amount of effort she has put into making OpenEd happen. But, thank you.

Ok, that’s it for now, and likely from me until after OpenEd.  For those of you coming, may the rains hold off, may the conversations be stimulating, the connections plentiful…and the WiFi be strong.


When in Vancouver for #OpenEd15

I’m crowdsourcing/compiling a list of things to do when in Vancouver for people from our of town coming to Vancouver for OpenEd in November.

There are many places on the web to find “things to do” and best restaurants, etc in Vancouver for people looking. What I am hoping to do with this list is something a bit different & lean on the knowledge of the local open community to help uncover things that they love about Vancouver beyond what people can find on Yelp or TripAdvisor. We’ll distribute this list to people coming to the conference.

If you live in Vancouver, or know the city well, then please feel free to add one or two items to the list.


Turning #crappyconf15 into #awesomeconf15

David Kernohan started it this morning.

I’ve been tuning into the #crappyconf15 hashtag off an on this morning. As I wrote about yesterday, I’m working with David Wiley on organizing the OpenEd conference in November in Vancouver. So, timely. At the same time, funny…

….more than a tad bit terrifying (ooooooooohhhhhhhh the expectations!!!!!!!!!),

….and highly educational on what details I need to pay attention to.

So, I want to take the learning one step further and ask you to flip this from #crappyconf to #awesomeconf. In your opinion, what makes a great conference great? And before you say “the people”, let’s take that as the given starting point.

Thinking of the many, many conferences you have attended, what are those things that made it stand out? Maybe it were little touches that the organizers put in place that kicked the conference up a notch for you? Was it a cool extra-curricular event? Something that made the event easier/better/smoother for you? Was it an added event before or after the main conference that made the trip worthwhile?

What do you need/want that would make OpenEd15 a worthwhile conference for you?


Getting ready for #OpenEd15

For the past couple months I’ve been working with David Wiley on planning the November 18-20 OpenEd conference in Vancouver, and things are kicking into high gear as we head into the fall.

David released the program on Monday (and many thanks to our local program evaluation committee Brian Lamb, Will Engle, Valerie Irvine, Irwin DeVries, & Tannis Morgan for help vetting the plethora of fantastic proposals). Keynotes for the conference will come from Phil Hill & Michael Feldstein, and a couple of current & former BCcampus colleagues Mary Burgess and David Porter.

We’ve been working on organizing a social event. It likely won’t be of the same scale as the epic sea cruise of 2012, but, like 2009 and 2012, our location is uniquely Vancouver; the legendary Roof Restaurant on the 15th floor of the Hotel Vancouver. For you radio buffs, the Roof spent 20+ years as the Saturday night broadcast home of CBC radio back in the jazz days when radio used to broadcast off the floor live jazz and big band concerts. I don’t think we can secure 97 year old Dal Richards for a gig (although, amazingly, he still performs), but the venue will still be a great social space at the end of day 1.

The Roof circa 1940

The Roof circa 1940

A more recent photo of The Roof from 2014

A more recent photo of The Roof from 2014

Other than that, we don’t have a ton of planned social activities for the conference, knowing that many of you will be eager to use the time to reconnect with your own groups. We will be providing some ideas of things that you might want to do while in Vancouver – restaurants, clubs, events and such. But for the most part, we’ll leave that up to the people coming to plan how they want to spend their time.

Accessibility and OER will be highly visible at this years conference with a number of accessibility organizations in attendance. The Inclusive Design Research Centre at OCAD (developers of FLOE), the Centre for Accessible Post-Secondary Educational Resources (CAPER-BC) and CAST are working on an interactive accessibility station that will be set up and running for the duration of the conference.

Early bird rate is $349 US (and the way the Canadian dollar is tanking these days, if you are in Canada and planning on attending, you may want to lock in sooner rather than later). After September 30th the rate is $499 US.