Open Textbooks followup – Where to find good ones?

The feedback on “favourite Open Textbooks” was hugely valueable, but I felt a bit sheepish, like I shouted out for feedback before doing enough due dilligence myself. Because when I did some digging of my own, I found an enormous amount of helpful material already being produced by people focused in specifically on Open Textbooks

So I really appreciate the folks who spent the time offering links to what they felt where the best Open Textbooks. In addition to some twitter replies and emails I received the following submissions through the Google form.

These are really valuable, but I also feel a bit sheepish, like I shouted out for feedback before doing enough due dilligence myself (it’s ok, I can forgive myself if you can, I no longer can keep track of the number of balls in the air, plates spinning, irons in the fire or whatever metaphor for headswimming busy-ness you might care to choose.)

Because when I did some digging of my own, I found an enormous amount of helpful material already being produced by people focused in specifically on Open Textbooks (I am but a Johnny-come-lately.) So to make amends, I thought I’d share some of what I’ve found, lbeit not overly digested or analysed. Share early and often, right?

The first thing I found quite useful were two sites that laid out some criteria for assessing Open Textbooks. So from a Community College Open Textbook Collaborative page on Conexions I found the following criteria:

  • Quality of content, literary merit and format
  • Timeliness
  • Favorable reviews
  • Permanence/lasting value
  • Authority: author
  • Scope
  • Physical quality
  • Format: print, CD-ROM, online, etc.
  • reading level

while from the Open Textbook project at OER Commons I found this set of review criteria:

  • Clarity of course materials
  • Absence of Content errors
  • Appropriateness of course materials
  • Interface
  • Content usefulness
  • Consistency of course materials
  • Suggested changes
  • Exemplary features

as well as

  • Cultural relevance
  • Reading level
  • Readability in terms of logic and flow
  • Accuracy
  • Modularity (or the ability to take apart, mash up and remix the content)
  • Universal accessibility (thus permitting all populations – no matter the physical constraint – to access content)
  • Color printing and graphics as an available option, in all print materials
  • Meet as many specific course articulation requirements as possible
  • Ability to transport content to modalities other than print (cell phones, and other portable devices, for example)
  • Content should be as interoperable on as many platforms as possible
  • How does this open textbook compare with the best commercial textbook available in my discipline, and/or the commercially published textbook that I am using for my course.

These are all for me useful starting points in identifying “quality” Open Textbooks, a job made easier by groups like the Community College Open Textbook Collaborative providing this list of “endorsed” textbook content from the Connexions site, as well as more detailed Reviews on their own site. The Assayer is another site that is attempting to provide reviews of ‘Open Textbooks’ (understood a bit more loosely, hence the scare quotes.)

The other thing that should have been obvious to me but that only became clear as I began to dig into this a bit deeper,is that in addition to providing cheaper textbooks, we can do a service to students by pointing them to free copies of original source texts that are studied in many courses, especially in the humanities. So in addition to the VAST amounts of academic content being freed by the likes of the Open Content Alliance, and the trailblazing work by the pioneering Gutenberg Project, we can now look for (and suggest to students) free eBooks and digital versions from sites like feedbooks, manybooks, and more!

This is just the start of this for me, so expect more regularly over the next year, but I wanted to give back some of what I am finding, especially since I should have done more of this to begin with. – SWL

Another 1/4-baked idea – OER “virtual reference librarian”

This is another totally off-the-cuff not-well-thought-through idea (one wonders if I have any other kind!) but I do trust that smart folks out there will promptly tell me if it’s a terrible one, which is why I’m tossing it out here before I actually spend any more effort on it.

I want to put to the side ideological and theoretical debates around OER for a second because I am driven by a specific problem – it’s *my job* to help instructors and institutions in BC share online learning resources and in general to promote awareness of OER and their reuse. So I am always thinking of ways I might help people find useful resources.

Now I often make the mistake of thinking everyone is exactly like me, and so much of my effort has been in helping people help themselves. This often takes the form of technological interventions like teaching instructors how to grow their own PLN’s, or my work around client-side augmentation.

But a couple of things have given me pause to reconsider whether there are other ‘hands-on,’ ‘high touch’ approaches I should also be considering. One is the (disappointingly stillborn) Findanoerafrica twitter account that Dave Cormier setup at the Open Ed ’09 conference. The other was the experience last night of watching a friend wonder out loud on twitter about good resources on gardening for K-4 students, and within minutes seeing a fantastic reply from another friend and OER curator-type which seemed to exactly fit the bill.

So there could be no better example of informal learning networks “just sharing” than this, and I know enough about this network stuff to know that institutionalizing it can be the kiss of death, but both of these did make me wonder if there maybe isn’t some role for an “Ask the OER Virtual Librarian” service to help faculty new to the idea of finding and reusing open resources get off to a start. Maybe a twitter account or email address that would be easy to monitor as part of one’s normal workflow but that would allow a higher touch response. I suppose this is often the role for instructional designers, but in my experience not every faculty developing a course gets the chance to work with instructional designers (and certainly students don’t, and I wonder the extent to which *real* librarians avail themselves of OER versus more traditional sources.) So…

Is this a dumb idea? Would this be tantamount to admitting that OERs (as any sort of distinct thing) are a failure? (Certainly it would seem like acknowledging the current way of developing and sharing them might be.) Is “discoverability” even actually the problem with resources getting reused, or is it possible that the whole model is so flawed, so disconnected from how educators construct course materials, that it wouldn’t make any difference (and to be fair, it is important to distinguish OER aimed at educator reuse and OER aimed at student self-study). Please let me know. I like this idea simply because when I see this happen in my networks it brings me joy to observe, but it may be trying to squash the round peg of institutional roles into the square hole of personal networks. Wouldn’t be the first time… – SWL

Sharing, not just planning to share – Crowdsourcing OER Search for Africa

I am hoping that Dave Cormier will write this up fully, as it was his idea for which he deserves full credit, but the eleganceand simplicity of it, coupled with the real need it hopes to serve, compelled me to post something right away in hopes of helping it get going.

As I understand it, after Catherine Ngugi’s powerful opening keynote at Open Education ’09, Dave spent some time chatting with Catherine, in which he came to learn that there was a person tasked with locating useful open resources for faculty but that this was an overwhelming task. Dave, being Dave, immediately saw the potential for our existing networks to pitch in, sharing as we already do, and set about creating a twitter account, findanoerafrica to send out requests to the community for help finding appropriate resources. The idea was hatched on Wednesday and announced this Friday morning.

Only time will tell if it works and how effect it is. You can help, really easily. If you use twitter, then follow findanoerafrica and basically respond in the helpful way you already do. The difference being you’ll be helping someone who is in turn supporting hundreds of educators. The beauty – it isn’t asking you to do anything you’re not already doing, and the cost was essentially zero. Obviously, this is not going to solve all the worlds ills, but it’s one of those little steps to maybe make it better than it was. Dave – your energy and enthusiasm are both infectious and inspiring. Getting to hang with you this week in Vancouver has definitely been one of the highlights for me. – SWL

The Open Educator as DJ / TTIX reflections

So I definitely slowed down posting here, committed to only posting when I had something significant to say, but then I don’t seem to be even able to do that? Anyways, I haven’t passed away or anything, indeed I am just back from the fantastic gathering in Utah that was the TTIX conference. Put on by good friends Jared Stein and John Krutsch (amongst other talented folks) this annual FREE conference has much to offer both K-12 and post-secondary educators, and this year included keynotes from myself, Chris Lott and Brian Lamb.

Well, Brian urged us to “Go hard or go home” and I think each of us did in our own ways. Brian delivered another of his great talks on the “Urgency of Open Education,”  a ‘must see.’ And Chris…well Chris nearly brought me to tears with his talk on “The Idea of the Idea.” Far from being the dry talk the title might imply, this was a romp through the history of ideas which ended in a heartfelt plea for a return to deep humanistic teaching, not as a luxury but as an imperative. I strongly urge you to spend the time and effort this talk demands.

And me? Well cowed as I was by these stellar co-speakers, I did my best not to throw up and gesticulated wildly through “The Open Educator as DJ.” I am reasonably happy how it came off, and pleased that I will get at least a second chance at it this fall at the ADL Academic Fest in Madison, Wisconsin. I really did try to show, not just tell (you can see a demo of each of the steps in the workflow here) but ultimately I do think there was too much telling, so I plan to rework that.

I was especially excited to do this talk not only because some good friends had asked me to do a keynote (which always brings up your game) but because for me this talk represents the synthesis of a number of different strands of my work from the past years, bringing together stuff from “Mashups for Non-Programmers,” (2007) “Augmenting OER with Client-Side Tools: A Demonstration” (2007) “The Pros and Cons of Loosely Coupled Teaching,” (2007) “How I learned to stop worrying and love Web 2.0,” (2007) “Weaving your own Personal Learning Network,” (2008) “Becoming a Network Learner – Towards a Practice of Freedom,” (2008) and finally “Pimp your Browser” (2009). I’m not citing all of these to show off, but instead because for me this last talk on “the Open Educator as DJ” represents the synthesis of thinking on how OER, PLEs and network learning/loosely-coupled-teaching are initimately related, a synthesis which I did not start with but which I have been groping towards in each new presentation. I keep telling you, I am a SLOW LEARNER!

There was a lot for people to take in; if you don’t want to spend the time going through the talk, you may at least find the resources useful. Ultimately, if there were only 3 things to take away from the talk, I would highlight:

  1. clipmarks (and as a critical new method to add to your arsenal which lets you sample and feed individual chunks of the web in a way that still preserves linkability and attribution
  2. As I tried to demonstrate with the example of the resources page, the myriad methods available to aggregate and syndicate content wherever you want it to appear
  3. the very idea of a network enabled workflow inspired by a metaphor from an existing discipline – as I tried to emphasize in the conclusion, even if the metaphor of “DJ” doesn’t resonate for you, find the one that does, because whether you know it or not, you are already using one, and hopefully by becoming conscious of it, it can become one that helps you to swim in the ever-deepening sea of information that surrounds us.

I think there are lots of holes in this talk, and I am always learning, so please, let me know what you think, what parts don’t resonate for you, and how I can make it better? – SWL

August in Vancouver? Hmmm… Open Education 2009 Call for Papers

I know you have all been waiting with bated breath, well the wait is finally over – the Call for Papers for the 6th annual Open Education Conference (held for the past 5 years in Logan, Utah but this year moving to beautiful Vancouver BC, Canada) is now open.

I am pretty stoked about this, in no small part because I am helping to organize it with a few of my favourite people. I’m also excited because of some of the things we’re trying with the program; as you’ll notice in the CFP, we’ve introduced the notion of strands, the one I am most excited about being the StartUp strand. The Open Ed conference has never had any problem attracting leaders in the movement and encouraging a deep level of discourse around the topic, but I cannot imagine what it might have felt to be someone from a school not already immersed in OER to attend. Well I hope this strand (plus the number of great efforts currently underway to help people start their own Open initiatives) will attract those newcomers and catalyze another round of folks to start sharing openly.

So please, submit a proposal! Registration information is also coming quickly soon, I promise. Hope to see you on here in August. – SWL

3 week SCoPE Seminar on OER

(I swore I said I wasn’t doing any talks until June, when I head back to Utah for my first trip to the TTIX conference, but somehow I’ve managed to get 3 into my schedule in the next 4 weeks. Aye carumba!)

Luckily, the first, this three week seminar on Open Educational Resources for the SCoPE community that I’ve agreed to lead, will hopefully involve a whole lot less of me blathering away (though inevitably, there will be some of that, mostly in the initial Elluminate session at 11am PST this morning) and a whole lot more interesting discussion amongst ALL the participants. At least that’s my plan, and I’m sticking to it!

Not knowing ahead of time who is going to show up (nor what they are hoping to get out of it,) I’m mostly going into this without a lot of expectations; sure, I have some goals (like promoting open content as simply part of the good practice of network learning, and the idea of empowering individuals to just share already) but at the end of the day I’m willing to go where ever the conversation leads. So no matter what your level of experience with OER, I hope you’ll consider joining in. At the very least, there is an RSS feed for the discussion forums if you want to sit back and watch. – SWL

Translating “Networked student” – dotSUB, OER Localization and Language Learning Opportunities

As part of my talks last week on “Becoming a Network Learner” I used the incredibly timely video from Wendy Drexler, “The Networked Student,” as a bridge to tease out some of the characteristics of network learning. Wendy’s video borrows the “Common Craft” style and is both a thorough AND fun explanation of what the learning experience might look like for a network learner.

But my talks were to mostly Spanish speakers, and even though there was simultaneous translation going on (you DON’T want to hear my Spanish!), I worried about using 5 minutes of an English-language video. I only had just over a week to get a translation done; my first instinct was to reach out to people in my network, in this case Brian, who I knew to be in Spain and surrounded by Spanish speakers also interested in Network learning. But the time proved simply too tight.

I mentioned the desire to translate the video to my host, Diego Leal. And unbeknowst to me, Diego promptly jumped into action. He uploaded a copy of the video (garned from Youtube) to dotSub and next day told me he had started transcribing it. Diego was surprised I hadn’t heard of dotSub, but it was news to me, hegemonic English-speaker that I am. He explained it was a very popular service where the translation of videos could be crowdsourced.

So the purpose of this post is two-fold. One is simply to point at the work Diego has already done to transcribe Wendy’s ‘Network Student’ video and put a call out to any other language speakers who might be interested in translating it into their own language. If it strikes a chord with you, then why not consider it, Diego has already done a good chunk of work, and dotSub makes it easy for you to then translate it into your own language.

But the second part of the post was simply to document some ‘Blue Sky’ thinking about how dotSub, OERs and language education could work together that Diego and I did while in coversation during the educamps. This is extremely immature thinking (and MUCH of the credit should go to Diego, and apologies if this is something that’s already being done – I am in no way a language teaching expert, FAR, FAR from it) but here it goes:

  • increasingly there are many, many OER resources in the form of videos
  • one of the things hampering the use of these videos more widely is language, that many of them are in English, but some of the learners who might benefit most from them are not English speakers
  • dotSub (or indeed translation in general) seems to have two different components; transcribing the original video, then translating it into the second language
  • these two activities would seem to offer an authentic learning experience for language learners at different phases in their development; and indeed the collaborative nature of a system like dotSub would seem to offer an opportunity for language learners at different phases in their development to assist each other, help each other learn more
  • so…learning task 1, listen and transcribe an OER video as best you can; learning task 2 (done by someone with more experience in the language or someone else in the community) help improve the accuracy of the original transcription, both improving the translation effort but also offering feedback to the original transcription effort. Both of these would seem to go towards ‘comprehension’ and ‘writing’ skills of a foreign language
  • learning task 3, take the transcription and translate into a new language, have same community process provide feedback on initial efforts. A way for English (or whatever the language of the initial video) speakers to improve their written abilities and comprehension abilities of other languages.

Like I said, I am NOT a language teaching expert, and I expect there are ALL sorts of problems with this idea. But this model, of connecting people with different needs around an actual task and producing a result of benefit not just to them but then potentially to millions of other learners seems to me to hint at the best kind of virtuous cycle. So I guess I’m just wondering out loud; is there any merit to this idea? Are people in the OER community, especially those interested in the ‘localization’ issue, looking at approaches like this, especially ones that partner with existing (and amazingly good) services like dotSub? Or is this just another example of someone who doesn’t understand the problem space well enough spouting off (that certainly won’t be the first time)?

Anyways, it really tickled my fancy when this idea came out, and like I tried to tell the participants at the educamps, following the Open Source mantra of “ship early and ship often” I am trying to practice “share early, share often” in the hopes that this barely formed idea might be of use. – SWL

BCcampus OER site – Free Learning

If you read ed tech blogs, especially the ones I read, then conversations about “open content” and “open education” feel like they have been going on forever. Indeed, at the Open Education conference this year, we celebrated 10 years of Open Education, so it’s been at least that long.

But my experience travelling around my own province for the last few years is that OER is still not a widely publicized phenomenom, and that faculty and ed tech support staff are still living with “scarcity mentalities” when it comes to the availability of free and open educational resources.

So as one small step to address this, we built this new site, Free Learning. There are many other good OER portals out there. If faculty and students were already using these, then we wouldn’t have a problem. But, in my experience, they are not, and as someone who works for the Province of BC, I have a hard time justifying marketing budgets for sites like those. So we built this one, also to give more play to locally developed resources that are Fully Open.

But in building this, I did not want to create a monster we would then have to maintain forever more. I wanted something that was simple to use and provided straightforward value to end users, but was also simple (and free) for us to maintain. Thus we built the site in WordPress. Using the Exec-PHP plugin allowed us to include some additional PHP web service calls to the SOLR repository to display the Creative Commons resources there in a tagcloud, something that system does not do natively.

I am especially proud of the OER and Open Textbook search pages. These provide a tagcloud of sites stored in Delicious, and then allow users to perform a constrained Google search over just these sites.  You are guaranteed that the sites you search are explicitly “open educational resources” from high quality, well known producers. Adding new sites to the list of sites, to the tag cloud and to the Coop engine is as easy as tagging them in Delicious. Since I already do this… it means no extra work. The site ticks along simply because I am online and find new OER sites all the time.

Total time on the project (including wonderful work by my colleagues Victor Chen and Eric Deis) was maybe a week. The bigger job now is getting it known and used around the province. I demo’d it to folks from around BC at the “Learning Content Strategies” meeting we held last Friday. Hopefully that is the start. And we also mentioned that this site could itself be a service for them – using WPmU, we can easily spawn another version of this site that responds to their own domain name, with their own branding, yet still uses the same background engine (meaning their effort is almost none, if that’s what they want). The cost is close to zero, but for our trouble they get a custom branded OER portal they can market to their own faculty. See – I DON’T CARE if you use THIS site or SOME OTHER SITE. I just care that people ACCESS OPEN EDUCATIONAL RESOURCES. And if re-branding this makes it easier for them to sell this to the people they support, great. I’ll happily provide you a version, or give you any of the code. That is what building it on top of open source technologies (and freely available services) allows us to do.

Please have at ‘er, let me know if it is useful, or any criticisms or complaints you might have. After all, we aim to please. – SWL

Notes and Thoughts from Open Education 2008

Got back late on Friday night after spending most of last week in sunny Logan, Utah at the 2008 Open Education Conference. My notes are here for anyone who might care. As usual, the conference program itself was FAR outstripped by the hallway conversations and afterhour sessions, especially the chance to not just finally meet (after years of unabashed fanboy-dom) but spend a few days talking with Tony Hirst. And working most of Thursday night with one of my favourite people mashing up interviews from the conference attendees as they talked about their history with OER was lots of fun (even if the organizers ended up shelving the results due to a malfunctioning sound system.)

I won’t spend a lot of time commenting on the program except to say the one thing I was heartened to see was a renewed emphasis on getting the production of open content into the normal workflow and (and funding channels) of instructors and institutions. This clearly has to happen if we are going to move away from the $10-25K/year/course “publishing” model that seems all to prevalent in many of the OCW projects we heard about last week.

And a final note – next years’ conference is moving to Vancouver at UBC! There isn’t a site to point you too yet, but I can assure you, you will not want to miss it 😉 Much more to follow on that topic in the months to come… – SWL

Dynamic Wiki-driven OER Search Engine

So Stephen pointed to a Google Coop engine that Tony Hirst built out of the OER pointers on ZaidLearn’s OER collection page.

That’s cool, I’m a google coop/constrained search nut, and knowing Tony, he likely finagled some sweet way of automatically getting the links into the Coop engine.

But…why not drive the Coop engine right out of a wiki page? That way, as people find new OER sites, they can easily expand the engine. Sure, Coop itself will let you do this, but you gotta ask permission. This is actually easily accomplished on ANY web page using the “Generate Google Coop Engine on the Fly” javascript code. Ponder that for a second – ANY web page can also become a constrained search engine, simply by inserting a piece of Javascript. Google, I love you. If I were going to have any more kids, I’d name the next one Google. (luckily, I’m not 😉 – SWL