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.


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)


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.



Week 48 Week in Review

Truncated week as I took Monday & Tuesday off after OpenEd.

  • Shortlisted candidates for an 8 month co-op gig we have with the open textbook project. Brendan Lane, our current co-op (and an awesome one at that) is leaving at the end of the month after working on open textbooks for the past 8 months. I am sure he has cleaned up enough bad html code to last a lifetime.
  • Met with Ministry of Advanced Ed in Saskatchewan to talk about open initiatives in that province. We’ve recently opened up our textbook review process to both Alberta and Saskatchewan faculty and are looking for ways to make more collaborative moves under the tri-provincial MOU.
  • Brainstorming meeting yesterday on how to promote and support Open Pedagogy projects (like many of the UBC student as producer projects that Will and Novak talked about in their OpenEd presentation). We also talked about developing more localized sprints along the lines of the work being done by Lumen Learning where we go to institutions to build local capacity by engaging in a textbook adaptation project.
  • After OpenEd I came back wanting to have someone else check over our attribution statements for textbook adaptation projects we have done, and to ensure that we have done things correctly as per the CC licenses. Working on adaptations on projects (or, even more challenging remix projects) is complicated when you are mixing and matching sources of content with different licenses, so I have reached out to Creative Commons to see if they can help us by checking over our work on the first adaptation projects we are rolling out the door.
  • Our fantastic Communications Director, Tori Klassen, is leaving BCcampus & heading over to Vancouver Community College, so we had an impromptu office goodby lunch for her yesterday.
  • Began working on venues for OpenEd 2015 in Vancouver.
  • Open Education Week is coming up in March, and it looks like we are going to try to put together a series of lunchtime webinars for the week with different open textbook groups (faculty, librarians, students, adapters & others) participating in the webinars. I may be tapping some of you on the shoulder in the coming weeks
  • Heading to VIU to do a workshop with Jessie Key on Open Textbooks on January 15th. Also have booked presentations for UNBC and Selkirk College in the new year. The virtual open textbook roadshow is coming to an institution near you.
  • Getting ready to move the new Nursing and Mental Health textbook I’ve been working on to the editors for release early in the new year.
  • Added a cap of 5 reviews per faculty to our textbook review process to try to encourage a greater diversity of voices in our textbook reviews.
  • I’m facilitating a couple of open online courses – a one week course on OER’s starting Saturday with EdTechOpen (register here), and another longer, 4 week course on adopting open textbooks. Did some work prepping for those.
  • Did an interview with a group doing an evaluation of the work of the OER Research Hub. They wanted the opinion of a partner who has worked with the Hub about what it was like working with them. Really, if it wasn’t for Martin, Beck and the rest of the OER Research Hub reaching out to us after I flailed trying to organize some research on our project, I think we would have missed a valuable opportunity to add to the body of OER research that is in demand by practitioners around the world. For that I am eternally grateful for their help and support. I’ll add Rajiv to my grateful OER researcher list as well as he, too, helped push the current research project along.
Proudly sporting my shiny new OER Research Hub t-shirt.

Big fan. Proudly sporting my shiny new OER Research Hub t-shirt.


If Piaget were alive today…

This is another cross post from my Masters blog.

I love Jean Piaget. As a parent, I have been a witness to his research in living colour with my own kids. While they are still young, I can see their transition from Sensorimotor to Preoperational and, as my daughter closes in on 6, her emerging Concrete Operations. In the week before I began my residency, she spent some time demonstrating for me her newly found ability to add and subtract on paper.

But the thing about Piaget is, his research methods (let me struggle here for the correct academic word) sucked. Okay, maybe they didn’t suck as he was already a published researcher before his seminal works were written, but the works that have been the most influential today were largely based on observations of his own children. Talk about bias, conflict of interest, and a whole raft of ethical red flags, let alone such a fully qualitative approach with an extremely small sample size.

How could he develop such resilient theories of development that, as history has shown, have held up quite nicely to both time and academic scrutiny to become fundamental building blocks in the the field of developmental psychology? I mean, the guy is listed as one of the 10 Most Influential Psychologists. Pretty impressive for someone who got to hang out with his kids all day.

So, as I enter into the world of research and critical thinking, the question for me is this; Judged by today’s peer reviewed, ethical board, informed consent need to be published in recognized academic journal world, would Piaget get published? Would his ideas see the light of day if he were conducting research in this environment?

Yes, it is not fair to judge yesterday’s research methodology by today’s standards. If we did, so much research that has contributed the basic blocks of human psychology (Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment comes to mind) would be tossed out. And I am not advocating tossing out all ethics and research methodologies. That would be silly. But still, as we delve into the realm of research, the figure of Piaget looms in my mind. While I work on developing my critical thinking skills, I am aware of the danger of critical thinking sliding into cynicism and missing out on the likes of a Jean Piaget.

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Learning online: Factors associated with use of the Internet for education purposes

I haven’t been able to fully digest the information here yet, but last week Statistics Canada released the latest version of their online newsletter Education Matters with an article titled Learning online: Factors associated with use of the Internet for education purposes.

This article investigates the use of the Internet for education-related reasons based on findings from the 2005 Canadian Internet Use Survey (CIUS). After providing an overview of Internet use in Canada, the article describes selected social, economic and geographic characteristics of those going online for education-related reasons. It then examines specific reasons for going online for education-related purposes, including distance education, self-directed learning and correspondence courses.

Some points have jumped out at me. As Stephen Downes has noted, 26% of Canadians using the internet for some sort of online learning is impressive.

Some other points from the article:

  • People who use the internet for education tend to be younger and better educated than average internet users.
  • Nearly 80% of all full- and part-time students reported going online for education, training or school work.
  • Residents of Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick and Quebec reported the lowest rates of Internet use for education, training or school work, at around 20%, and those living in Ontario reported the highest rate (32%).

The report also noted that people who go online for education-related reasons “appear to be more “engaged” Internet users than individuals who did not go online” because they go online more frequently, for longer periods of time and have more varied activities than those who are not using the net for education related purposes.

By far and way the most common activity educational users of the net do when they are online is research (71%), followed by distance education (26%). Interestingly, according to the data, more education related users used the net to communicate with school administration than to communicate with a teacher or instructor.


A walled garden falls

The New York Times is opening up their website, ending a two year experiment in charging for online content.

Despite the fact that they had over 250,000 subscribers and their subscription revenue was over $10 million dollars, in the end The Times decided they could make much more with online advertising than with keeping the lock on the door. Which really says something about the state of online advertising these days.

It was also interesting to read this rather naive quote from Vivian L. Schiller, who is the senior vice president and general manager of the NYTimes.com site.

“What wasn’t anticipated was the explosion in how much of our traffic would be generated by Google, by Yahoo and some others,” Ms. Schiller said.

Your kidding, right? The senior vice president of a major web property like The Times didn’t realize that search engines drive traffic? Doesn’t that strike you as odd that someone in such a position of authority at a major online property in the media publishing business failed to understand one of the most basic web marketing truisms that search engines drive traffic – lots and lots of traffic – to web sites? I’m missing something in her statement.

For academics and researchers the most exciting part of the announcement might be the fact that they are opening up their archives.

…The Times will also make available its archives from 1987 to the present without charge, as well as those from 1851 to 1922, which are in the public domain. There will be charges for some material from the period 1923 to 1986, and some will be free.

Not sure why the material from 1923 to 1986 is still locked up, but nonetheless the thought of being able to freely access articles and data from The Times via their website should make research a little bit easier.

As a fun little search, I searched the term “internet” from 1981 on to see when the word first appeared in the NY Times and it looks like the date of the first mention of the internet is November 5th, 1988 in an article about a computer virus called “Author of Computer ‘Virus’ Is Son Of N.S.A. Expert on Data Security”. This is really early days as the virus is in quotes and doesn’t even have a name. They simply refer to it as ‘virus’. Fun. And note the number of computers in infected.

The program eventually affected as many as 6,000 computers, or 10 percent of the systems linked through an international group of computer communications networks, the Internet.

Less than 20 years ago there were only 60,000 computers on the internet. Crazy. Today there are probably 60,000 computers in my neighbourhood.