Open Textbooks

IOE 13, Pedagogy

This post is in connection with David Wiley’s “Intro to Openness in Education” MOOC.

For the 5th module in class, we are looking into the development of Open Educational Resources and open textbooks.  I am fairly familiar with open textbooks because my state, Washington, launched an initiative a few years ago The Open Course Library to develop open textbooks for the 80 most highly enrolled classes in the state.  I thought that the project was fantastic for many of the purposes that we have explored in class.

Over my last 5 years of teaching, I have definitely seen my students attitude as well as my own toward textbooks change.  When I started, they were an assumed cost.  Textbooks were something that I had to purchase when I went to school and as such I felt that it was a right of passage that my students purchase them as well.  However, over time I have seen that the content from these books have become less relevant and current, and that I am instead building my curriculum from resources that I am finding on the internet.  Even when I require my students to buy a text-book, they do not, knowing that they can receive similar knowledge by looking through resources on the web.  Overall, I think that there is a general perception of this among students.  They know the power of web technology, and they refuse to believe that there isn’t a cheaper way for them to come across this content.

That’s where open textbooks come in.  By pulling OER content together into pre-packaged bundles that instructors and students can use in their courses, these textbook practically invite instructors to use them.  Students as well, are excited that they can get the same content for free or little cost (for printing).  I personally think that open textbooks and OER resources are ready to hit the big time, and many faculty would be excited about the prospect of using them in their classrooms, however we still have a few stumbling blocks.  I would like to explore some of these perceived stumbling blocks and possibly chart out some solutions to get past these.

One of the stumbling blocks to the adoption of open textbooks is the ability for instructors to review the materials before adoption.  In the traditional textbook model, instructors are able to order desk copies to use in their course.  They can then easily look through the content and learning activities in order to determine if the content will work for their course.  I haven’t seen an equivalent in the world of open textbooks, while OER Commons is a good place to view and sort open textbooks and other resources, its UI still makes it difficult for instructors to see how they might implement such resources in the classroom.  They often get overwhelmed with the amount of resources that are available and don’t see how they can be distilled down into their course — or they may be intimidated by the amount of development that would go into adapting the textbook/content for their course.  I am interested in the visual design of OpenTapestry and wonder if a similar UI could be applied more uniformly to these resources.

Another stumbling block that I see in the adoption of open textbooks is that there is little marketing to be done to let instructors know that these option exists.  This module of the course has really shown me that these resources are pretty comparable in terms of outcomes to traditional textbooks.  This news needs to be shared with districts and colleges around the world. It would help us increase the efficiency of our educational system. I feel that there are a lot of educators out there that want to create, and share their own content, but they may not necessarily know about these options.  I, for one, would love to develop an open textbook for an Intro to Film class (a class that I teach), however, I don’t know how I would start going about this and what I could do with the content once I was done.  It might be good to have a straightforward and unified platform on which we could develop these open textbooks.

What are your thoughts?  Are these valid concerns?  I am pretty new to this world, so if you are seeing things going in a different way than  the way that I am perceiving please let me know.

From Open Source to Open Content


This post is in conjunction with David Wiley’s MOOC “Intro to Openness in Education”.

This week in “Intro to Openness in Education” we learned a bit about the evolution of open content.  Beginning with the “free” and “open source” software movement and later culminating in the idea of “open content” in the late 90s.

As an introduction to the idea of open source software, we waded through Eric Raymond’s “The Cathedral and the Bazaar”.  While much of the technical details of his paper went over my non-developer head, I found many of the principles being pretty on point with the collaborative environment of software development today.  I think one of the most difficult things for me, in not being a developer, is really understanding the significance of the difference between something being free and something being open source.  In my digital workflow, I enjoy many of Google’s tools: Calendar, Google Docs, and Gmail — in reality, I have no idea if these software packages are open source.  I enjoy using them because they are free and they are conducive to “sharing”.  My hope is that Google will continue to encourage this type of sharing through the products that they use.  If their software is not open source — I guess I run the risk of it eventually being shut down or put behind a pay wall (which I’ve heard they’ve done for Google Apps for business), but that is a risk that I am willing to take.  I feel that open source software is more significant to developers.  They are the ones who have the skills to contribute to such projects, and I can only hope that they can then take those projects and make them meaningful to me as an end-user.

As for open content and open licensing, these are things that I have more strong beliefs in.  They are an evolution of some of the principles that were espoused in the open source movement, but the content is more accessible and reusable to the end-user.  Open content is cultural objects for which the end-user can perform the 4 Rs on: Reuse, Revise, Remix, and Redistribute.  The more freedoms that the creator of the object gives to the end-user in the performance of these activities, the more “open” it is considered. While I believe in open content as a principle, I still have a few reservations in its actual practice.  Some of these come from my own use of these in classroom situations.

Reservations in using open content:

1. Quality

I think that quality has always been a concern in the use of openly licensed products.  I know that this has been a concern for some instructors in adopting open textbooks (I actually haven’t had too much experience in using open textbooks, so I can’t make a judgement call), as they figure free material can’t be that good.  I have seen the quality problem more significantly in another realm: music.  In my classes (I teach video production), I require my students to use material that they have either created themselves, or material that is licensed through Creative Commons.  Students are able to shoot their own video, but they have a hard time finding good music for their projects.  Music licensed under Creative Commons is typically produced by amateur musicians or Nine Inch Nails.  This results in their being a lot of bad music out there, and students can typically spend hours scouring through the Creative Commons section of Soundcloud to find a track that matches the quality of their video.  With many artists wanting to make money from their music, they are hesitant to openly license their songs.  What can be done to encourage more musicians to openly license their songs?

2.  Thinking About Openly Licensed Content in Monetary Terms

I recognize that I am partly to blame for this, but I find that my students still think of Creative Commons content in primarily monetary terms:  they use it because it is “free”.  I get questions like “Rob, what is that site that has the free music?” “What is the site where I can find those free photos?”  When students are rushing toward a deadline, they are not thinking about what music they can find that was created by an artist who wants to share the music that he created, they are thinking about where they can get that content for free.  Creative Commons is a system that frees us up to share content, however, the receiver is often only thinking about how much they are paying for that content.

Overall, I believe in these ideals. I want more people to use and practice these types of sharing, yet as of right now I have a few reservations about the implementation of licensing systems.  Have you had any similar problems?  Have you struggled with the quality of openly licensed material?  I welcome any thoughts and comments that you have.

Here is a mind map that I created to connect some of the ideas that we talked about in class this week.

Create your own mind maps at MindMeister

Finding Instructional Resources with Open Licensing


This week in Intro to Openness in Education we looked at the issue of open licensing. Open licensing is something that I became familiar with a few years ago as part of my job as a faculty member.  I found myself continually frustrated that there wasn’t an easy way for faculty like me to share the curriculum I developed with other faculty (actually, I was probably more frustrated that I wasn’t able to find curriculum that other faculty had developed — I really hate duplication of effort, and I wanted to be able to piggy back on someone else’s work).  While Open Educational Resources weren’t the easiest to come by when working in video production classes, I was able to find a few resources that helped me in the classroom.

What became more valuable to me in my curriculum was the ability to use openly licensed music, text, and video to assist my students in producing creative projects.  Previous to coming across Creative Commons resources, my students would frequently use copyrighted music and video in their projects.  While this use could be justified in terms of “fair use”, I found that the use of these types of works significantly limited what students could do with these projects later on.  I decided to instill a better habit in my students by teaching them about Creative Commons resources and requiring them to only use original content or content for which they had the license in their projects.  The uptake on this transition has been fairly seamless, and my students have become well adept at finding content for their projects using the Creative Commons search engine.

For this week’s assignment in the class, I wanted to search for resources surrounding digital storytelling, which is a class that I am currently teaching in my program.  I used Google’s advanced search feature (which incidentally is difficult to find these days) and I was able to find several resources regarding digital storytelling with the appropriate license.  One common theme that I found from the search results is that a majority of them are actually wikis of the Wikispace variety.  I’m assuming that this is mostly because of Wikispaces option to license wiki materials with a Creative Commons license.  The top results, however, were quite helpful as they tended to aggregate a bunch of content surrounding the topic of digital storytelling.  Here are the top sites that I found:

Since each of these resources is a collection of other (mostly) openly licensed materials, it would be extremely easy to remix and reuse these into my content.  In the instance of my own digital storytelling class, I was extremely grateful to be able to use Allan Levine’s work to be able to demonstrate to my students the many possible paths that their stories could take.

One downside that activity has shown is that this resource space seems to be fairly fragmented.  Many of the results that I came across had similar link listings on each of the wikis.  I think it would be helpful to have some more definitive resources to which many people are contributing to rather than having these disparate sites with a lot of duplicate information.  What are your thoughts on this?  Would the centralization of resources defeat the whole purpose of this openly licensed environment?  Or would it further decrease the duplication of effort that we face in the sphere of curriculum development?


Sharing Film and Education


This post is for IOE13 Module 2 – Why Openness in Education?

This quarter I am participating in David Wiley‘s Intro to Openness in Education course that he is teaching using the Canvas Network (Well actually, I think I am more auditing the class because it was “full”). The first module of the class asks us to think of a time where we learned using the language of sharing rather than the language of education. One of the strongest experiences that comes to mind was a Super 8mm filmmaking class that I took at Brigham Young University. The class was taught by documentary filmmaker Tim Irwin, and it has a reputation as being one of the greatest classes on campus. While there was a lot of traditional learning that happened in the class (learning about visual storytelling, lighting, and exposure) the greatest thing that I received from that class was a love of documentary film. Because actual celluloid film is a non-instantaneous medium, we would need something to do while we were waiting for our projects to get developed at the Orem Wal-Mart. During this down time, Tim would share with us some of his favorite documentary films. It was in this class that I was introduced to Michael Moore’s Roger and Me and Bennet Millers The Cruise. These films transformed my view of what a documentary could and perhaps should be. The documentary screenings weren’t specifically tied to any learning outcomes, but they had a dramatic impact on my life. As a result, I continued to seek out more documentary films, many of which changed my view of the world.

I would later share that love with an undergraduate film class that I taught as a master’s student at BYU. In this class entitled “History of Documentary and Non-Fiction film”, I was able to share some of my favorite documentary films.  These films included many of the classes that I saw in Irwin’s classes as well as a few favorites that I had picked up in the time between: Grey Gardens and Off the Charts: The Song Poem Story.  My hope was that by sharing those works, I would be able to influence the students in my class and encourage them to share the films that they love and the films that they create with others.

This process of sharing my love of documentary film is something that I continue to do.  In looking back, however, I am not always willing to freely share these films with everyone.  If I suspect that someone will mock my love of Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, I will instead show them a more mainstream film instead.  Sharing requires a certain level of trust, and if done correctly, it forges a strong bond that will last through the years.  Hence why I still have such a vivid memory of the films that Tim Irwin showed me over a decade ago.

At the end of all this, I can definitely see how education is not something that should be restricted to only those who meet artificial admissions or registration requirements, but rather it should be shared with all those who have a true desire to receive.