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Open Assembly Blog

Open Assembly is cloud-based platform for collaborative knowledge creation with open educational resources (OER)

Future direction of the OER Research Hub

Congrats to the whole team! Have greatly benefited from some of your research findings to date. They’ve helped me make the case for OER in numerous contexts.

Dropping the R opens up the horizon that OER illuminates when the “openness” engine is in full gear. Looking forward to learning more about your new activities and research going forward. Thanks and see you at OpenEd in Vancouver.

From another enthusiast in pursuit of (more) openness in education,

Domi Enders

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The OER Hub team prepare for launch

July marked the end of the initial phase of the OER Research Hub. It’s been a great three years, and Beck has pulled out some of the highlights. But what next, you are all asking! Well, we’re delighted to announce that we have received further funding form the Hewlett Foundation. The aim of the last grant was twofold: to try and develop an evidence base for many of the beliefs that people held about OER, and to raise the profile of quality research in the OER field. The new project seeks to continue these broad aims, by establishing the hub on an ongoing basis.

Having gathered data and developed tools for OER we also want to broaden our scope to other aspects of open education, including MOOCs, open educational practice, open access, etc. To this end we’re slightly rebranding by dropping an…

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Career Pathways, Part 1

The question of whether a college degree–especially a four-year college degree–is still “worth it” is being asked by many graduating students as they discover sobering truths about the cost of their education. Here are some facts to consider.

The 2013 report from the Project on Student Debt found that average debt for college seniors graduating in 2013 was $28,400, the highest on record, and up 2 percent from the 2012 figure of $27,850. In recent years, that average debt figure has grown steadily and has generally outpaced inflation, even as earnings for bachelor’s-degree holders have stagnated.

The unemployment rate of young four-year college graduates today is nearly 7.8 percent, about the same as the population at large. Of even greater concern are estimates that suggest that the percentage of young college graduates working in jobs that don’t really require a college education might be as high as 30 percent. And these numbers mask the fact that nearly half of those who start out in a four-year college do not finish. The point about statistics like these is that in today’s economy what you study matters more than how many years you study. Recent data from Florida tell us that 2009 graduates with a technical degree from Florida’s community colleges are outearning the average graduate from the state’s four-year institutions by over $10,000.

In recent years it has become increasingly clear that our current (and future) economy’s jobs are requiring a higher level of skills and formal credentials — particularly in high growth industry sectors, such as healthcare and STEM fields. Many of today’s employers report difficulties in finding talent to meet their skill needs, and job seekers of all backgrounds are experiencing difficulties obtaining sustainable employment without a formal post-secondary credential.

This pressing demand for skilled and credentialed workers — which many employers and workforce developers have termed the infamous “skills gap” — has also contributed to a growing trend in conversations around education and workforce solutions: Career Pathways.

Career Pathway programs, although diverse in their specific priorities and strategies, are generally designed to more closely align education and industry and to establish a streamlined pathway for students and job-seekers to transition from education into living-wage employment. Stakeholders across the nation have been implementing a wide range of career pathway programs, which have addressed various focus-areas such as:

Young adults: Beginning with career-focused high school programs, transitioning students into career and technical post-secondary certification and degree programs

Working and older adult populations: Focusing on the specific needs of job-seekers who have already been in the workforce for a significant period and are now in need of further training and job opportunities

Special populations: Tackling educational and workforce-related barriers specific to populations such as returning veterans and individuals with disabilities

Employer-driven: Centralizing the need for employers to invest in linking training activities with opportunities for formal credentialing

As summarized in this 2015 Department of Education-funded study, career pathway programs have been found to share a number of important common characteristics, including: collaboration and partnerships, data sharing, resource coordination, and employer engagement — among others.

So what does all this mean for learners?

As the post-secondary landscape continues to integrate new transformations and innovations (e.g. online learning, open educational resources, competency-based education), there now exists a broad array of customizable training and education options, which, although empowering, can also be confusing for learners seeking career-oriented credentials. Many adults — whether they are recent high school graduates or second-career baby boomers — often find themselves taking courses or engaging in educational programs that do not ultimately lead to a marketable credential.

Career pathway programming can play an important navigational role in linking such diverse, and often non-linear, educational activities with actual opportunities for living-wage employment. For a high-school student who is responsible for contributing to a family income, for example, this focused approach to education and job training could result in years of time and thousands of tuition dollars saved before s/he can start earning sustainable wages.

Thus far, the career pathway approach appears to be a promising solution to help address some of our economy’s most pressing workforce concerns. As the model continues to develop and expand through further transformations in higher education and our economic climate, so much remains to be seen about its impacts for our nation’s job-seeking learners, as well as what role new innovations will play in bringing these programs to scale.

Stay tuned for Career Pathways, Part 2, about our quest to introduce Open Educational Resources (OER) into career pathway projects.

“Made with Creative Commons” on Kickstarter

Sarah Pearson and Paul Stacey of Creative Commons have created a case study for the very substance of the book project they are crowdfunding on Kickstarter: they’re raising funds to support the development of a book that they will ultimately give away for free under a CC license. The waiting-to-be-written-book Made With Creative Commons is about the ways creators and businesses make money when sharing their work for free under CC licenses. The dynamic duo’s goal is to empower others to create businesses that build upon open content and open licensing. The book will be written collaboratively with backers of the campaign, and Sarah and Paul will be writing regularly throughout the research and writing process in a Medium publication called Made with Creative Commons.

At stake is the idea that if “open” is to go mainstream, we need to develop and support sustainable business models that don’t depend on the generosity of non-profits such as the Hewlett Foundation to promote the open exchange of the knowledge we create.

You can get involved as a contributor to the project (for $150 or more), or simply as a fan (with a contribution of any amount). There are 15 days left to support this campaign!

Open Assembly has been working with Sarah and Paul on our own open business model, using the Business Model Canvas template they modified for the “open” attribute. The experience so far has been wonderful, providing much clarity and reaffirming our sense of purpose–and even suggesting new possibilities we hadn’t quite considered yet. There is no doubt in our minds that Sarah and Paul are laying an important foundation for defining a new generation of business models that reward “openness” and “sharing.” We who are already on the “open” spectrum of activities and initiatives will benefit greatly from sharing our various experiences. And hopefully countless others will also be inspired by coming to understand the ways in which sharing can indeed be good for business.

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The Adjunct Problems That Too Few Talk About. Possible Solutions at Our Fingertips?

During National Adjunct Action Week, Feb. 23-27, union-represented adjuncts joined with actions that ranged from creative picketing to teach-ins to in-class explanations of adjunct issues. These were designed to call attention to and illustrate the stigma of being an adjunct and the commitment to changing adjuncts’ status from second-class workers to well-respected, well-trained, well-paid workers with benefits and supportive working conditions.

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On a much quieter note, and with the expectation that over time adjunct working conditions can and will be improved through various union and institutional initiatives, is there something that we (the ed-tech-for-adjunct-faculty fan club) can do to reduce the thorny prick of chronic daily irritants affecting part-time adjuncts–and their part-time students?

Picture a Dunkin’ Donuts parking lot, perhaps at sunrise or dusk. Two drivers sitin two parked cars on opposite sides of the lot. The drivers happen to be part-time instructors at the same community college, where they teach different sections of the same course. It would be great if they knew they were both dealing with the same classroom challenge—but they don’t: They’re so pressed for time, they have to steal an hour in the parking lot to work undisturbed…even though talking to each other to resolve that common problem would help them get a lot more work done a lot more efficiently.

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To me, this parking lot illustrates the challenges facing part-time students and part-time educators at community colleges: Commuters who travel back and forth between work, home, and school—in the case of adjuncts, between multiple campuses—and who often work in isolation from their peers.

National Adjunct Walkout Day, on Feb. 25, became Adjunct Action Week (Feb. 23-27 ). We heard activists demanding equal pay for equal work, decent benefits, job security, and supportive working conditions, including academic freedom, for contingent instructors. In the meantime, entrepreneurs and researchers have been quietly chipping away at smaller adjunct issues. Theirs isn’t the galvanizing fight over unionizing adjuncts, but rather, the workday struggles of adjuncts. With roughly 70% of community college instructors falling into the adjunct camp (and 70% of community college students attending school part-time), there are means at our disposable to start alleviating these everyday stresses now.

Where does the trouble start? On-demand access to teaching resources is one place.

Let’s look at technology. To do their jobs, contingent faculty rely primarily on learning management systems (LMS). But this technology often fails to meet instructor (and student) needs. For one thing, resources become confined within the LMS. Think of an adjunct who’s teaching a Political Science 101 course at multiple colleges. Our part-time adjunct (Prof. PT) has digital assets ready to go: syllabus, teaching resources, reference materials.

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The problem is, each college has its own LMS, which means Prof. PT can’t easily transfer those materials between college  ”walled gardens”…so our Prof. PT has to do the same prep work all over again, creating a new collection of materials and “courseware” for each college at which s/he teaches. Adjunct professors are freelance education professionals and need to protect their intellectual property. If they don’t, an institution can use or disseminate Prof. PT’s courseware without his/her consent—simply because it’s contained within the institution’s LMS.

Adjuncts also lack the resources that facilitate faculty-student interaction. Chances are that our part-time adjunct doesn’t have an on-campus office, which makes it pretty tough to schedule office hours with students. Yet the most important factor in student success, according to a 2013 report, is interaction with faculty. Limiting these opportunities hurts student performance.

In addition, adjuncts have limited access to two kinds of human resources: professional development support and peer communities. These are traditionally campus-based, but adjuncts are not based on campus—they’re on the go and largely on their own when it comes to professional development. The Coalition on the Academic Workforce considers this reality “another indicator that institutions are not investing in maintaining and improving the quality of instruction,” which—you guessed it—hits the neediest college students the hardest.

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Researchers and startups such as Open Assembly are collaborating to figure out how technology can provide the greatest benefit and user experience for faculty and students. By sheer numbers the majority of these users are adjuncts and the non-traditional “new student majority.” These companies are exploring tech solutions that use existing LMS technology more effectively by extending its capabilities.

Campus technology that first and foremost serves its core users, the students and instructors, helps everyone work more efficiently. For adjuncts teaching on multiple campuses or multiple courses within the same subject, user-focused tech reduces duplication of tasks—no more reinventing the curriculum wheel all over again. Serving teachers first also means recognizing their intellectual property and giving them control of the IP that they have created on their own time and their own dime. This can give adjunct faculty more agency and perhaps eventually, more academic freedom.

Community colleges also need to do a better job of fostering greater interaction between learners and educators, and between the instructors themselves. Since colleges don’t provide enough private campus spaces for student-instructor conversations, how about creating private virtual spaces? Under the current professional, and even technological, structure of community colleges, adjuncts also have limited opportunities to connect and interact with colleagues. Since contingent faculty are not rooted on any one campus, they need an on-demand digital space in which they can share best practices with peers and colleagues, and social media isn’t going to cut it. They need adjunct-managed, adjunct-centered peer communities.

If an institution provides the flexible technology that can handle these suggested solutions, along with support from campus administrators, colleges can achieve a high ROE: return on education. What does high ROE look like? For starters, increased student engagement and success; improved efficiency of instructors and instruction; lower turnover rates among contingent faculty. All of which drive down costs for institutions.

Group of People Using Digital Devices with Speech BubbleMaria Maisto, English instructor at Cuyahoga Community College, member of the MLA Committee on Academic Freedom and Professional Rights and Responsibilities,  and president of the New Faculty Majority, which advocates on behalf of contingent faculty, has said that “authentic learning cannot take place in isolation.” Teachers and students who participate in that learning must belong to a community.

When they don’t belong to a community, they end up like our lonely drivers at the beginning of our story, on opposite sides of that empty, sprawling parking lot: struggling to work in the in-between hours they have, with too little time, and no one to reach out to in a pinch.

Open Assembly Beta: OER Meets Web 2.0

Developing education technology that truly serves the everyday needs of college educators and learners is not an easy task. It’s actually an incredibly humbling undertaking, and you need to be prepared for failure before you can achieve any modicum of success.

And the metrics for success? Nudging the needle, to any degree, on any of the many challenges facing learners and educators in the trenches of higher education: college readiness, student debt, unaffordable course materials, poor student engagement, insufficient faculty-student interaction, recognition of competencies gained outside of formal education pathways, development of collaboration and other soft skills, coping with walled technology gardens, need to improve adjunct working conditions…and more.

Open Assembly is a team of social entrepreneurs and educators on a mission to provide instructors and students with user-friendly, personal technology tools made for learning and teaching—in an integrated interface or “toolset,” and at a price point all can afford. These tools are designed to help educators and learners nudge the needle on the challenges they face every day.

The Creative Power of Open

Must-have tools for learning and teaching include those that facilitate collaboration in various forms, those that support formation of user-driven learning communities, those that enable portable content and data management from one environment to another, and those that permit both students and instructors to engage in content curation. In the realm of content, Open Assembly prioritizes open educational resources (OER), and not only because they are free to access online.

OER are inherently shareable based on the terms of Creative Commons licensing. At the bleeding edge of openness, the CC BY license can inspire new, open pedagogies by leveraging the remixing and sharing potential of OER for co-creation—via collaboration, connection, and interaction. Between educators. Between learners. Between educators and learners.

Paradoxically, most OER used in the classroom, which at its best is free to Retain, Reuse, Remix, Revise and Redistribute, is typically deployed in an LMS (a walled garden). There’s a conflict between the openness of OER and the closed, by-invitation-only nature of the LMS. Phil Hill has eloquently described this problem in recent blog posts.

Open Assembly has built an extension to the LMS that effectively bridges the walled garden and the Web. This allows OER to operate at its greatest potential, deployed in a secure technology framework that supports flexible, open learning. A win-win for institutions, instructors, and students.

OER can also make a significant contribution to reducing costs, and yet between two-thirds and three-quarters of all faculty nationwide report that they are unaware of OER, such as open courseware (e.g., MIT OCW) and open textbooks. Educators familiar with OER find them difficult to adapt. We believe OER need to become modularized in order to make reuse and adaptation easy enough for many more educators to adopt and make their own. You can Browse OER on our site to see what this looks like.

Who Owns the Data? 

In an age where data privacy and IP ownership are issues of increasing relevance for individuals (whether or not they think about it), Open Assembly insists that you own your data. We will not share it with any institution, organization, association, or governmental entity without your permission. It’s yours to retain or remove from our platform at any time.

It’s also portable. We know that you create and manage content in more than one context, and Google Drive and Dropbox are OK but are not made for education. For instance, you can’t do more than keep content in folders, and you can’t share easily with others via multiple channels, including social media. The LMS has limitations, too. Content gets trapped in course shells that expire. Instructors have to recreate the same course in more than one LMS, and students lose their work if they forget to remove it before the end of the semester.

Moreover, we’re all learning everywhere, in settings both formal and informal. At home, at work, at school, on the go. With Open Assembly you can integrate your learning across all of these contexts. This way you remain at the center of your lifelong learning path.

Owning Our Learning

Our goal is for Open Assembly to become a truly “convivial toolset” that enables educators and learners to remain in control of their privacy, their networks, and their learning. As Audrey Watters points out in a recent talk, “We all need to own our learning.” Technology in and of itself is not the answer, but can perhaps help us all move toward a culture of openness in education—the only sustainable future we at Open Assembly can imagine.

Open Assembly v2.0 (Beta)

We soft-released Open Assembly v2.0 earlier this fall, and as of Dec. 1 we’re officially in public Beta. The free trial ends Jan. 31, 2015, just in time to breeze through spring semester with our portable toolset for learning and teaching.

We are very grateful to all of our early adopters and advisors for believing in us and for helping us shape and develop the platform. A special thanks to the Education Design Studio and our colleagues in the 2014 cohort for giving us the tools, mentorship and support to transition from dreamers into increasingly effective entrepreneurs.

OERRH OER Evidence Report 2013-2014

Valuable insights for learners, instructors, institutions about how OER is being used.

It gives me great pleasure to announce that OER Research Hub is now ready to release the first of its dissemination reports. The ‘OER Evidence Report 2013-2014’ brings together a range of evidence around the research hypotheses of the product and provides an overview of the impact OER is having on a range of teaching and learning practices.

OER Evidence Report 2013-2014

If you’re lucky enough to be at Open Education 2014 this week then the research team will be presenting some of the results in person on 20th November at 10.15am in the Virginia Ballroom.  But if you can’t make that and you want to discuss the report then just come find us at the conference, comment below, or get in touch online.

We’re interested to know how useful this information is to you, and whether the patterns we have found in OER impact correspond with your own experiences as teachers, learners…

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The OER-LMS Oxymoron

As John Rindele pointed out in his presentation at Open Education 11, “a key factor in OER uptake is the ability of resources to be easily accessed, combined with other course materials, and presented in an appropriate context for learning.” For many instructors (for better or worse), the LMS is currently the hub of their course. And yet using OER within an LMS presents some interesting paradoxes and dilemmas given that LMS are still operating within the “closed course” paradigm. Of greatest significance is the near-impossibility of realizing OER’s full potential to enable open pedagogies.

Most online instruction takes places within a learning management system (LMS) such as Blackboard, Moodle, Desire2Learn, Sakai and others. Yet little research has examined how learning management systems structure participants’ experiences and replicate or diverge from traditional pedagogy. The ways in which course materials are presented and accessed — and who gets to present what and when — form a key component in the online classroom.

The technology used to deliver an online class influences how students and instructors interact with one another. More than previous technologies, online learning systems have the potential to enhance the collaborative performative nature of teaching, and at the same time, the potential to turn teaching into a static exercise. Just as the architectural design of a classroom qualifies student–instructor and student–student interaction, online course delivery platforms such as LMS provide the framework for class communication. And like the room seating arrangement, degree of access to (natural) daylight and other aspects of the bricks-and-mortar classroom context, the LMS structure largely goes unnoticed and unquestioned. Yet how a classroom is organized, whether in person or online, will influence how communicators interact within that classroom.

In her 2002 critique of online education, Megan Boler argued:

“The brave new world of digital education promises greater access, increased democratic participation, and the transcendence of discrimination through pure minds. We must interrogate the actuality of these hypes: who has access, is participation online transformative, and is transcendence of difference a goal of progressive pedagogies?”

To extend the reach of OER we feel it is critical for resources to be made easily accessible from within the LMS, until we have a better way. This need is greater than providing a simple link.

A Fine Hoax of Attitudes Towards Adjuncts in the Chronicle

Annals of an Adjunct: Open Assembly Test Drive

To better engage her students, this adjunct details how she used our platform to track their progress (and find out whether they were really paying attention in class).

This summer I had the opportunity to take the Open Assembly platform for a demo in my image-based humanities course at a large urban public institution.

As a teacher for 14 years in some way or another, I have developed my own style of teaching that I’ve honed over the semesters. I’ve found that as my confidence in my voice grew, I abandoned the podium to which I originally found myself tethered. Because of this style of instruction, I did not teach directly from the OA platform, but I did spend many hours crafting the course within OA using information that reinforced what we covered in class.

While some students are able to take notes and still follow along, for others this proves difficult.  This summer I had two foreign students who were somewhat new to the U.S. Their writing was fine, but when speaking with me, it became clear that they did not understand everything I was saying. This is problematic in an accelerated course where content is covered quite rapidly. Both of these students greatly benefited from reviewing the content on our OA course page, where they could review the learning materials at a slower pace and re-watch the video content until they understood.

This brings up the way I enjoyed using Open Assembly the most during these courses: taking advantage of the ANALYTICS function to track students’ access to resources that I uploaded for the course. Through blank stares and low test scores, I had a hunch that certain students were not following along. My suspicions were confirmed when I saw that they had not accessed either the readings or the modules on the OA platform. While it seems a little “Big Brother,” it is a useful tool that allowed me to follow up with students who were not accessing the course materials.

Another significant benefit of Open Assembly was that for the first time, every one of my students had access to the assigned textbook. Prior to this semester, I had not used an open textbook before. I found an excellent open educational resource (OER) alternative to the (somewhat costly) textbook I had been using before, and assigned it to my latest crop of students. For once I had a level playing field in my classroom, with every student being able to afford this (free & open) textbook.

One of the ways that I plan to use the Open Assembly platform in the future is for constructing debate and assignments that can take place outside of class time. Case in point: there is immense debate over a group of sculptures known as the Elgin marbles or Parthenon marbles. These relief sculptures decorated the interior and exterior of the Parthenon temple that sits on the Acropolis in Athens, Greece. Acquired by Lord Elgin during his time as the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire in the early 19th century, they are now on display in the British Museum. This debate involves repatriation of artifacts and the question of who rightfully “owns” the Parthenon marbles. The Greek government contends that they were taken out of the country illegally, and there are numerous documents and video clips giving alternate sides of the argument.

In a group-based discussion exercise, students often need prompting to start the debating, but once started, many join the conversation. Unfortunately there is not enough time in the semester to devote a whole class to this exercise, so this is how I plan to use the Open Assembly platform: through videos integrated within my curriculum, students will be able to form their opinions about the status of these sculptures, then make a statement through the COMMENTS interface, forcing them to take a position. This is followed up with a formal writing assignment where the student has to make a statement and then defend that decision in a two- to three-page written response. I’m really excited about the debate possibilities that Open Assembly can bring to my classroom.

The Upside of Informal Education and Learning at the Speed of Thought

For all kinds of learners, summer offers an extended stretch of time to discover new ideas and skills on an informal basis. With the fall semester approaching, this got Open Assembly intern Elise Melconian thinking about informal education within more conventional and formal contexts.

As easily as typing a question into Google’s search bar, Internet users are able to become their own instructors. The Internet has amplified the pedagogical influence of technology and revolutionized the way society has traditionally perceived learning.

The not-for-profit infed.org explains how informal personalized education develops from conversations with others and the spontaneous connection of people and ideas. It’s often difficult to predict where informal learning will lead once such a conversation inspires an educational pursuit. John Dewey explains how “the business of education might be defined as an emancipation and enlargement of experience,” and it’s through our growing life experience that we find questions we have the power to pursue. Rather than some curriculum or plan, thoughts, exchanges, or the discovery of new information and questions connect learning to emotions and to what sparks our own interest, rather than what someone else considers significant.

Although the lack of set curricula could leave holes in a student’s education, I’ve found in my own education, learning without emotional attachment is quickly forgotten. Fortunately, what’s fantastic in education is that there’s no incorrect way to learn. We can use technology and blend informal and institutional learning styles for an experience that’s inherently more effective than previous generations of students limited to textbook learning.

With the emergence of the CC license and OER, students have the opportunity to engage more deeply in their learning, stimulated by their own conversations and experiences, to become curators of their own content. Institutions and instructors can and should mix informal learning into the curriculum to further engage students in all aspects of the learning process.

For more thoughts on informal learning, read “What is Informal Education?” on infed.org.

OER Around the World: Next Stop, Greenland

“Valley of the Flowers hike-Greenland” by Christine Zenino on Flickr/Used under CC BY

The University of Greenland and its institute for educational sciences, Inerisaavik, have been leading a project to make information communication and technology (ICT) standard in European schools. The project, Open Discovery Space (ODS), aims to reinvent the educational ecosystem and provide teachers with better tech access in this digital age.

When it comes to integrating open educational resources into curricula, schools throughout the West can face similar challenges, among them technology-infrastructure restraints, resistance to change at the classroom or institutional level, and limited digital literacy among students. A country such as Greenland must overcome a few even-greater barriers to digitizing education.

The ODS Workshop found that some factors keeping Greenland’s teachers and administrators from adopting OER are similar to those of other European countries: not-invented-here syndrome, lack of OER awareness, and lack of knowledge about the intricacies of intellectual property rights, copyright, and licenses. Other problems are culturally and logistically unique to Greenland. Broadband access in the country is still very expensive in more isolated settlements, and translating OER to Greenlandic is a must because of how many monolingual teachers and parents live there. ODS is working to engage the country’s education stakeholders on how to improve digital tools, solutions, and services for young people, increasing their employment options while also tackling the challenges of digital and socio-economic exclusion.

What’s working in Greenland’s favor is that the country’s ICT and educational policies are very favorable for OER integration. Several national efforts have been launched in Greenland to facilitate OER implementation, such as the use of learning management systems and the creation of mobile-learning projects. Schools continue to discover how OER can provide high-quality education for diverse groups of learners. However, OER advocates must help institutions localize these resources, presenting them in native languages and incorporating learning activities that mesh with the cultural attributes of communities and the individual students living and learning within them.

Read the complete article on Open Education Working Group.

Textbook Bang for the Buck: Print, Digital, or Open?

With the fall semester upon us, students are already asking themselves which textbook option will best serve their learning needs and their wallets: is it print, digital, or open?

Because when it comes to shopping for course materials, students hold conflicting views about whether digital or print will give them more bang for their buck. That’s according to a fall 2013 study by the National Association of College Stores (NACS), which surveyed 20,000 students on 20 college campuses about their textbook-buying habits.

On the 20 Million Minds blog, Phil Hill sums up the most surprising findings from the NACS report: A majority of students reported that, in the long run, their most affordable option was “to buy the print textbook and then resell it at the end of the term.” Yet about 20 percent of students surveyed had rented or purchased a digital textbook because they thought digital was less expensive than print.

Edtech watcher Dean Florez has been calling out textbook publishers for their print offerings that can cost students more than $1,000 each semester. The industry’s digital options also have left Florez pretty unimpressed; Amazon.com’s Textbook Store, he writes, is charging for print versions of free, open-access texts and not providing much of a discount on the Kindle versions of popular texts, even the used copies.

As we’ve noted elsewhere on our blog, the affordability (or not) of course materials plays a huge role in whether a student will actually purchase the recommended or required textbooks, digital or print. Phil Hill notes the following patterns in the NACS survey (emphasis ours):

  • Price is the top factor in decision whether to acquire course materials
  • Price is the top factor in decision where to acquire course materials
  • Price is the top factor in decision on which format to choose for course materials
  • Students are becoming savvy shoppers, checking multiple purchasing channels for materials

Thanks to legislation that passed in 2012, college students in California now have access to very affordable textbooks via the California Open Online Library for Education (COOL4Ed). The state agreed to fund 50 open-source digital textbooks, targeted to lower-division courses in subjects including math, business, and art history. Students can download these books for free or pay $20 for hard copies.

Moreover, all of these new open textbooks are required to carry a Creative Commons license—which allows faculty at universities in other states to use these textbooks with their own students. The COOL4Ed collection also features free and open-access journals and open course materials (case studies, quizzes, and more).

The California Open Educational Resources Council, comprised of representatives from the state’s three college systems (community colleges, the Cal State University, and the UC), has already established the next round of peer-review panels for open textbooks, with more to come this fall.

Competency-Based Education and the Higher Ed Act

Earlier this month Congress made its first moves in rewriting the Higher Education Act, including the House of Representatives’ passing a bill that would create greater federal support for and investigation of competency-based education.

The Education Department already allows some institutions to explore alternative teaching methods, including competency-based education and prior learning assessment, and recently decided to award some student-based aid for such programs. In green-lighting experimental school sites, the Obama administration wants to see whether these innovations would ultimately

“improve student persistence and academic success, result in shorter time to degree, including by allowing students to advance through educational courses and programs at their own pace by demonstrating academic achievement, and reduce reliance on student loans.”

We love the idea of students working at their own speed and taking advantage of consumer and educational technology to plot their individual learning paths, especially if such personalized learning can help save money on tuition and textbooks over time. Some have said that competency-based education could work particularly well for older and part-time students who may not be able to spend as many hours in lectures or classroom discussions as full-time students.

Yet competency-based education has inspired criticism because of a perception that it could lower academic standards or turn colleges into diploma mills. How would schools assess student mastery in, say, the tough-to-quantify humanities fields? How do you determine competency in degree programs that don’t train students for an explicit career path, such as nursing or IT? There’s also the challenge of ensuring that individualized learning will allow for developing skills that today’s employers—large and small, corporate and non-profit, startup and legacy—expect from graduates, including collaboration, writing and communication across multiple formats, and content and media literacy.

The House has approved two other bipartisan bills that would mandate financial counseling for federal student-loan borrowers and simplify how the government provides college information to prospective students. The three bills passed so far highlight the difference between the way House Republicans and Senate Democrats have approached revising the Higher Education Act: bit-by-bit changes versus comprehensive reform. It’s unlikely that Congress will reauthorize the HEA before it expires at the end of this year.

A MOOC Runs Amok: Update

A pedagogical experiment conducted by a professor at the University of Zurich upset his institution, many of his students, and Coursera headquarters. The debacle surrounding his tinkering with a Coursera course highlighted important issues surrounding Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) that are actually NOT “open;” meaning, NOT providing users with “the freedom to use, customize, improve and redistribute educational resources without constraint….as part of a worldwide effort to make education both more accessible and more effective. (Capetown Open Education Declaration)

The emphasis is mine and used to point out alignment with Coursera’s mission: “We envision a future where everyone has access to a world-class education. We aim to empower people with education that will improve their lives, the lives of their families, and the communities they live in.” i.e., accessible and effective.

Those of us committed to open education would argue that such a mission can only be accomplished if education, pedagogy, courses, content, data, etc., are actually and truly “open.”

Meanwhile, back to the MOOC that ran amok.

The professor’s intention was to see if he could get students to migrate to a non-Coursera platform and spur a discussion of the hazards of data-mining in free online courses. Unfortunately, he was not “open” with his students and therefore, many reacted with anger instead of engaging in reflection about the fact that their behavior and Non-open MOOC-cow.jpgemotions in the course’s online forum were being tracked by Coursera, without their consent and for the benefit of Coursera.

Professor Dehaye’s position was described in a Wired Campus blog post:

“The professor (or someone posting in his name) wrote about how he did not want to assist the company in its efforts to collect and monetize student data. He said he had been contacted repeatedly by the company about the data.

‘I feel they are fishing for business models, which I am certainly not going to give them,’ Mr. Dehaye wrote in the post, which was first reported by Inside Higher Ed. ‘I don’t want to tell them how to track you.’ “

George Siemens provides a thoughtful update in a recent blog post congratulating Dehaye for having the courage to “draw attention to Coursera policies and practices around data.” He concludes by saying:

“The MOOC Mystery was about an academic doing what we expect and need academics to do. Unfortunately it was poorly executed and not properly communicated so the message has been largely lost. Regardless, Dehaye has started a conversation, raised a real concern, pushed buttons, and put a spotlight on unfair or opaque practices by organizations who are growing in influence in education. Yes, there are ethical concerns that need to be addressed. But let’s not use those ethical concerns to silence an important concern or isolate a needed narrative around what MOOCs are, how they are impacting higher education and faculty, and how control is being wrested from the people who are vital counter-balancing agents in society’s power structure.”

Paul-Olivier – thanks. Let’s have more of this.

CCK08: Connectivism & Connective KnowledgeA lively exchange of comments follows, and at one point Siemens draws a comparison to analogous experimentation within the first (ever) massive open online course, CCK08,orchestrated by George Siemens and Stephen Downes in 2008:

“Stephen Downes subscribed all learners to one of the discussion forums during the week on power and control in learning. Learners were understandably outraged. Suddenly their inbox was assaulted with dozens, hundreds, of emails. The point that he was trying to make was on the power that faculty have in a course. Numerous learners swore off the course and were understandably upset. The point was made clearly and concisely and most learners, once they finished deleted their forum notification emails, understood what had happened. Overall it was successful…”

Open Assembly firmly believes that the data that is aggregated on our platform belongs to our users. Users are free to request that data at any time, including its deletion from our databases. That is an important dimension of “open”, as important as the capability of engaging any course or other resource within usage rights defined by David Wiley’s 5Rs framework:

CONTENT  IS “OPEN” TO THE EXTENT THAT ITS LICENSE ALLOWS USERS TO ENGAGE IN THE 5R ACTIVITIES:

Retain – the right to make, own, and control copies of the content (e.g., download, duplicate, store, and manage)
Reuse – the right to use the content in a wide range of ways (e.g., in a class, in a study group, on a website, in a video)
Revise – the right to adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself (e.g., translate the content into another language)
Remix – the right to combine the original or revised content with other open content to create something new (e.g., incorporate the content into a mashup)
Redistribute – the right to share copies of the original content, your revisions, or your remixes with others (e.g., give a copy of the content to a friend)

Europeana: July is Public Domain Month

Happy Public Domain Month! Our open resource colleagues in Europe are especially busy this month promoting the Public Domain standard for shared European cultural resources:

Here at Europeana, we talk about the Public Domain a lot. Do you?

You know by now that we care about sharing the metadata and objects that you have carefully digitised. We have great ambition for how this data can be shared with and used by others, how it can be used in schools, in apps and to share memories with your loved ones. We also believe that where possible, the fewest restrictions should be put in place for those sharing and using your great, rich and colourful data.

So what has this got to do with the Public Domain? Why do we talk about it every day in the office here in The Hague? Why should you be talking about it? Well, making cultural heritage available to everyone is our business. One of our fundamental principles is that works that are in the public domain before they are digitised, should remain in the public domain (i.e. free from copyright) once they are digitised. With 7,607,443 objects available via Europeana declared to be in the public domain, we think this is also really important to cultural heritage institutions and we want to share with you a few tips and tricks on how to apply the Public Domain Mark. What better way to do this than to pack all of this into one month, dedicated to the Public Domain?

Follow this initiative via the #PublicDomainMonth hashtag or @Europeanaeu

 

Europeana: Open Data Gets Creative

The re-use of (open) digital content is an essential part of the Digital Agenda for Europe. Several activities are already stimulating the re-use of cultural heritage in order to demonstrate the social and economic value of cultural content. With the publication of the Europeana metadata under the terms of the Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication (CC0) in September 2012, further development of innovative applications based on this metadata is now possible. Europeana Creative takes this a step further by facilitating re-use of the digital objects themselves.

Europeana Creative is a new and exciting open data project and online portal providing access to more than 30 million digitized cultural heritage objects from Europe’s libraries, museums, archives and audiovisual collections. It aims to facilitate the creative re-use of digital cultural heritage content and associated metadata. The project was launched at the end of February 2013 at the Austrian National Library in Vienna and will run for 30 months. 26 partners from 14 European countries with diverse backgrounds are contributing to the project. These include content providing institutions with world famous collections, creative industry hubs and organizations, the tourism and education sectors, living labs, software developers and multimedia experts, as well as think tanks.

Partners will be developing a number of pilot applications focused on design, tourism, education and social networks. Building on these pilots, a series of open innovation challenges will be launched with entrepreneurs from the creative industries to identify, incubate and spin off more viable projects into the commercial sector.

Europeana Creative

Link to video

Edtech is Widening Skills, Achievement Divides. Why Not Narrow the Engagement Divide?

This work, “Kids at computer,” is a derivative of “Kids using the computers.” by San Jose Library, used under CC BY/Cropped from original
This work, “Kids at computer,” is a derivative of “Kids using the computers.” by San Jose Library, used under CC BY/Cropped from original

Despite efforts to provide technology access to poor and minority students and narrow the “digital divide,” educational tech may not be leveling the playing field after all.

A recent Hechinger Report story focuses on research conducted in two polar-opposite Philadelphia neighborhoods over a 10-year period. Susan B. Neuman of New York University and Donna C. Celano of LaSalle University studied academic and economic inequalities between children from affluent Chestnut Hill and those from struggling Kensington. They explored how kids used computers at public libraries, where they discovered just how differently poor and affluent students took advantage of the tech resources.

Chestnut Hill kids often went to the library with adult family members, who sat with them and answered questions or directed them to educational material. In contrast, the Kensington children tended to lose focus and interest while using the computers, and parents didn’t usually guide their children’s online learning.

Lack of tech savvy wasn’t the only problem for Kensington students in this study, nor is it the only problem for kids from similar neighborhoods:

Poor children also bring less knowledge to their encounters with computers…Not only are affluent kids more likely to know how to Google; they’re more likely to know what to Google for.

Edtech could very well exacerbate economic and achievement gaps that already exist between poor and wealthier students. Unless…we begin to address the “engagement divide.”

Why not attempt to work with the way that less-advantaged students prefer to interact with content: via entertainment or games? Why not try to meet these students on a 1:1 basis, as opposed to the one-size-fits-all approach?  Open educational resources (OER) for “productive gaming” could provide a solution; otherwise, poorer kids will fall further behind.

Productive Gaming
Image cropped from 10-Blended-Learning-Trends-Infographic, courtesy of http://www.dreambox.com

What if we developed an OER-based “Google Search Game” designed to support game-loving students in becoming more effective explorers in our knowledge economy by using tools that make the most sense to them?

Perhaps we also need to curate materials in OER repositories the way the best instructors do in prosperous classrooms—based on context, learning style, and skill level. This would give less-advantaged students access to higher-quality digital learning resources that narrow that “engagement divide” and the skills and achievement gaps—i.e., that foster and achieve “deeper learning” (expanding what students learn, deepening the experience through which they learn it, and improving the benchmarks for measuring their knowledge).

The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation believes that “OER provide a powerful means to grow the impact of Deeper Learning” and supports grantees such as Expeditionary Learning who are developing Deeper Learning OER resources.

Higher Education Act’s Stamp of Approval on Edtech Innovation

HigherEdStamp
This work is used under CC-PD-Mark

Recent legislative plans to overhaul education came in two forms: jumbo and bite-sized. Senate Democrats presented a 785-pages-long bill to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, while a House committee, equal parts Republican and Democrat, offered 11 pages of targeted proposals for reform.

When it comes to digital innovation in education—especially as it relates to Open Assembly’s mission with regard to open educational resources (OER)—here are the three sections worth checking out.

1) Section 795E recommends an innovations fund for minority-serving institutions to boost student success, in part, by assessing the needs of any given institution, then researching and prototyping educational innovations that can improve student outcomes. Those innovations can and should include OER and digital content.

2) Section 796D offers grants to states that are able to greatly increase access to higher education for and foster the success of low-income students by 2020—especially students facing such barriers to college as having no high school diploma and working more than 25 hours a week. To qualify, states have to present plans that, among other things, promote technology to increase personalized learning and student retention. This includes blended- and flipped-learning innovations.

3) Section 932 outlines ways to provide accessible learning tools to students with disabilities, though we believe that the recommended reforms must apply to all students. The proposal calls for efficiently developing and delivering these materials to post-secondary students with print disabilities, such as open textbooks and other digital resources. States would need to compete for public or private grants and contracts to implement these improvements.

The House and Senate have their mark-up period in the weeks ahead, during which they’ll add amendments to their respective proposals before they leave for their August recess. Ever a hopeful bunch, Congress hopes to vote on the Higher Ed Act reauthorization before the mid-term election.

Open Access Could Be the Solution to Rising E-Book Prices

ProQuest, a company representing 11 academic publishers, recently notified the Boston Library Consortium that the cost of short-term e-book loans would be raised, effective June 1. Each time a client checks out one of the e-books, libraries pay a portion of the title’s list price and after a certain number of loans the library automatically buys the title at full price.

Oxford University Press has raised the cost of short-term loans across the board. A 28-day loan that once cost 30 percent of the title’s list price will now cost 70 percent. The press also doubled the price of seven- and 14-day loans, while one-day loans jumped from 15 percent of list price to 25 percent.

Two months later, after the announced cost shift on short-term e-book loans, Ms. Stearns and John Unsworth, the Boston consortium’s president-elect, wrote a stern letter to The Chronicle accusing the commercial publishers of “price gouging.” The letter referenced continuing dissatisfaction with scientific-journal pricing.

Publishers contend that the e-book-pricing model was still in beta, and that recent changes are simply a market correction.

Publishers say that the model was intended as an alternative to Interlibrary Loan, but that it had instead became a way for students and professors to access low-circulation titles like scholarly monographs without libraries’ paying full freight for them. At issue is a short-term loan model for e-book purchasing that allows libraries to offer large catalogs but pay for only those books that are actually used—and not to pay full price until books have been used several times.

In March, the Oberlin Group, a consortium of 80 liberal-arts colleges published a statement calling for an end to “restrictive licensing agreements” that prevent e-books from being shared among libraries the way hard copies pass through Interlibrary Loan. The statement, signed by Mr. Geffert and 65 other academic librarians, called the current model of e-book exchange an “existential threat” to the “ecosystem of sharing.”

These pricing increases should drive the effort for affordable, Open Access alternatives to traditional publishers, promoted by organizations like SPARC. Digital technologies and the Internet have made knowledge accessible to all, leaving us with the potential to take the power back from publishers and remove the restrictions to access caused by the high prices imposed on consumers.

Read the original article by M. Scott Brauer for The Chronicle here.

The Age of Bite-Sized Learning: What is It and Why It Works

It looks like bite-sized learning is here to stay, according to e-learning professionals. Brain-based learning theory suggests that bite-sized learning may lead to improved learning outcomes. Proponents believe it perfectly suits the information-rich lifestyle of today’s learners: bite-sized nuggets of content are easy to engage, notably images and video, and have the capacity to “create deeper meaning by referencing shared experience or shared stories.”

A note of caution.

“Effective chunking….is about making sense of information. Don’t do it just for the sake of breaking content into pieces. Do it to make information more meaningful.”

More here: The Age of Bite-sized Learning: What is It and Why It Works

Catherine Cronin: Assessment in Open Spaces

Catherine Cronin shares her experience teaching in a truly open learning space as the progressive “thinning of classroom walls”, making an effective case for open pedagogy.

“Learning and pedagogical relationships are transformed when we engage with students in open online spaces or networked publics. These can become ‘third spaces’ of learning, beyond the binary of informal and formal learning. Once a closed classroom (physical or online) becomes open to the world, assessment options multiply, with many more opportunities for student choice, voice and creativity, and of course, feedback.”

Catherine Cronin: https://flic.kr/p/fEznQK
Catherine Cronin: https://flic.kr/p/fEznQK

“In terms of assessment in these open online spaces, students collectively created the rubrics for assessing their presentations and digital media projects. But that was not the whole story. Through engaging in open practices throughout the term, we became a learning community that was not confined to one classroom or one online space. The classroom walls thinned progressively as the term progressed, so that we truly became nodes in a broader network — sharing work openly, engaging in discussion, inviting and giving feedback. The main assessments for the module — the presentation and digital media project — were opportunities for students to chose their own topics, media, tools and ways of working (individual or team), to express their own authentic voices, and to share, engage and learn beyond the bounds of our classroom.”

Entire post here: http://bit.ly/1pa3vkf

10 Blended Learning Trends Infographic | e-Learning Infographics

Comprehensive infographic about blended learning: trends, components, aspects.

Via: www.dreambox.com

10-Blended-Learning-Trends-Infographic

Minoring in MOOCs

I have either the gift or curse of having eclectic interests. I major in engineering physics and environmental studies at a school that requires I take a range of liberal arts courses to graduate. Even so, I find myself interested in even more, to the point that employers have told me I have too large of a range of interests.

That’s where MOOCs come in handy. I have used online resources to supplement my education, and the ability to do this continues to grow. Since my school does not have a large course offering for engineering and I have little room to add courses that are not for my major or graduation requirements, resources such as MIT OpenCourseware (MIT OCW) come in handy. MIT OCW specifically is an amazing source, because it is not required to follow a class- although for many you can- lecture notes and videos are available just for reference! I also used MIT OCW in order to get an idea of what I would be dealing with when I took ‘Modern Physics,’ (totally mind boggling ideas in case you were wondering). From learning more about a topic I want to work with or preparing for next semester courses, their potential is invaluable.

Large universities are much more capable of providing of these courses. I have no way of taking courses specifically in nuclear energy and engineering at my home school, but online, the possibilities are endless. I can now tailor my skills to specific jobs, and while my transcript will not reflect it, I can still market myself in the workforce with the learning I have gained.

Beyond that, those of us that crave knowledge just for its sake have the opportunity to pursue it from open, high-quality sources.

A (Meaty) Question To Chew On: #FutureEd

Recently, in the context of an experimental MOOC she was teaching at Duke, Cathy Davidson asked the question: “Why have we so quickly adapted to a new mode of collaborative, cross-disciplinary, instrumental, just-in-time, non-expert knowledge-making everywhere except in school?”

Her argument:

“Whereas everyday, everywhere learning has become a hallmark of our social life and work life in the post-Internet era, education–K through 22–remains largely wedded to the disciplinary silos, formal knowledge taxonomies, summative assessment measures, and formal credentialing apparatus designed for the research university of the late Industrial Age. The Internet went public on April 22, 1993. We’re still teaching like its 1992.”

Open Assembly was founded with the goal of seeking a solution to the problem Cathy Davidson’s question highlights, with a software framework for collaborative teaching and learning designed to let us engage with each other and with content inside the classroom–much the way we do everyday, in every other context. Open educational resources (OER) inherently facilitate sharing and collaboration, and the Open Assembly platform is specifically designed to leverage that capability.

Julie’s Journey: Make It Open

As in my last post concerning collaboration, I have been doing some research about Open Research. More about that in a moment.

What am I researching? My goal is to extend the thesis I will be turning in for a grade this semester into an on-going research project that collects data about air quality on my school campus. The whole point of this project is to make more people aware of greenhouse emissions, something we cannot directly see, so it is a given that my results will be open access. The end goal is to create a website with the data, similar to what UC-Berkeley has done with BeACON.

So, I have found out a few new things. What I will be doing with my project is called “open access data.” Meaning all of the data, and results models and graphs, will be available to anyone. The Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) is a great example of efforts to create ways that data and research can be more available.

Then what makes “open research” different than what I described above? The answer: collaboration. A project can be considered open research if the “end goal,” or the final output, is likely to change, since multiple research entities are adding input and thoughts to the overall research. Besides the availability of data and results, as in open access, the experimental methodologies and techniques are also available for your studying pleasure and are open to improvement.

There are many websites that are trying to support this type of collaboration, and while Open Assembly is not specifically designed for research, it IS optimized for collaboration. As such, its tools can be adapted for any collaborative teaching or learning context. For example, with a research topic or project taking the place of an official college course and syllabus, the “Comments” feature allows other users to add notes, pertinent resources, and materials.

My current project has a certain end goal, but if you’re interested in providing input or getting a closer look, be sure to email me at julie@openassembly.com to gain access to the course and experience how I am using Open Assembly for Open Research.

CEO Domi Enders Presents at EdLab Demo Night 4/1/14

OpenStax College Survey Results (Part I)

From CNX 2014 in Houston via Beck Pitt of OER Research Hub comes Part I of the results from research conducted to determine the impact of Open Stax College textbooks on both educators and students.

“The top three types of OER used for teaching/training by respondents were reported as follows: open textbooks (98.8%), videos (78.0%) and images (72.0%).”

“The top three purposes for using OER in the context of teaching/training were reported as follows: 1) as a supplement to one’s own existing lessons or coursework (96.3%) 2) to get new ideas and inspiration (81.5%) and 3) as “assets” (e.g. images) within a classroom lesson (80.2%). Of note is that a third of educators reported using OER to interest hard-to-engage learners (34.6%) and a quarter reported that they use OER to make their teaching more culturally diverse (or responsive) (25.9%).”

“Almost 90% of respondents thought their students saved money by using OER (89.0%), whilst almost 60% thought their institution benefited financially by using OER (59.3%).”

ON OER AND TEACHING: Screenshot of CNX 2014 Presentation Slide (Beck Pitt, CC-BY):

Beck Pitt-OER ResearchHub

NB. The top 3 responses from students are in red.

Also included in Beck Pitt’s report were a number of interesting and insightful responses from educators to questions re. the impact of using the open textbooks on their own teaching practice, such as the following:

“[It’s] more satisfying to offer free materials and have the freedom to modify them as I wish, to make the product students receive more like how class operates.”

OER is not only the only sustainable path forward with regard to increasing the affordability of education, but is also key to providing instructors and students with content and courseware that they can actually adapt to their needs–and ultimately own.

Domi Enders, Open Assembly

Looking forward to Part II, thanks Beck!

Do the Right Thing: Pay for Feedback

I am behind on my reading, I admit, and only just got to Hack Education’s March 15 post “(How) Should Startups Compensate Schools and Teachers for their Feedback?”. I do indeed have some experience with this question, having prototyped Open Assembly v1.0 with adjunct instructors in community colleges last summer.

Let me first say that having been an adjunct did not in any way make it easier for me to reach my former colleagues and interest them in our platform and what we’re up to in general. It’s a tough and lonely crowd.

But having been an adjunct, I did understand the necessity to offer proper incentive to get instructors to a) take the time to try out a new product in their classroom, even for just a few weeks, and b) complete a detailed feedback survey after the fact. After all, the first question is always, and rightfully, “What’s in it for me?”

My very first prospect let me know that he considered testing, even so much as “glancing” at our interface, to be contributing to the IP of the company–for which he should be royally compensated and publicly recognized. Literally. For one crazy second, desperate for feedback and having no other prospects on the horizon that week, I actually considered giving him founder stock.

Equity? That would have been a better deal for me than for him. Equity in a startup is fool’s gold to an instructor, whose horizon is only a semester long, one semester at a time.

Our product is specifically focused on addressing the needs of adjuncts (and their students). This means:

  • It must truly save them time in the exercise of their teaching activities or it’s just bunk

  • It must not require any special training (our motto is “no manual required,” the gold standard of a good UX/UI, and glaringly absent from most edtech offerings)

  • It must at least show that it has the potential of improving student engagement and learning outcomes

All of this is a tall order, and without the participation of and honest reviews from our prime end-user, the adjunct, there’s no way we can come even close to creating a platform or service that they want and will use–so that their students also will benefit.

A choice between money or a seriously good piece of mobile hardware: yes, that’s what it took to get my “pilot adjuncts” on board. It makes sense. After all, I was asking them to spend time to set up courses and share their valuable observations in an extensive survey. We offered a sum that was significant enough to attract interest, but not too big to break the (startup) bank.

As a result, we received crucial, detailed feedback that helped us understand where we were on the right track, and where we were not. Without that feedback, we would not be where we are today: gearing up to publicly release our beta (Open Assembly v2.0, currently in soft release) that so far delights our early (adjunct) adopters.

Adjuncts are the backbone of the college instructional corps, the majority teaching impacted introductory classes. Adjunct faculty now make up a majority of the higher education instructors nationwide, in a reversal from just a few decades ago. In some departments it’s 100%, according to a 2013 research study, yet part-time faculty members make about one-fourth what a full-time faculty member gets paid per course, as reported in another 2008 study.

In a recent post Fabian Banga, (tenured) professor and department chair at Berkeley City College describes the financial and professional uncertainty overshadowing the lives of adjuncts: “…[L]ittle or no security of employment. Budget cuts affect the whole campus population but especially adjunct instructors. They are always the first to be cut when there is a reduction in the number of classes. They do not have the benefit of the academic freedom associated with tenure…[yet] they are also active in other curriculum development areas involving the adoption and assessment of materials and classes, the creation of OERs and the support and counselling of students. In a very cruel irony, many of them are very supportive of the department and do many extracurricular activities to gain the appreciation of students, of tenured professors and deans, with the hope of a security of employment that, in many cases, never materializes.”

I truly feel that adjuncts are the unsung heroes of higher education, and very much underserved. Long-term subs in K-12 schools (7% nationwide) are treated and compensated far better, even receiving benefits.

The build-measure-learn feedback loop with educators is crucial to successful product development, “successful” meaning a product that actually addresses the needs of instructors and learners. Unless you’re in edtech for the wrong reasons.

So do the right thing: 1) invite adjuncts and other instructors into your development process, and 2) compensate them properly. In the same way, pay teachers and schools for their invaluable feedback.

Julie’s Journey: Collaboration, or Why My Project is Getting Better Each Day

While my thesis and research this semester are technically independent, I’m starting to learn that not much can be done without collaboration. My work has developed and changed so much from when I first started, and a lot of that is due to discussions with peers and mentors. Going into the thesis, I only had an idea of what I might possibly want to accomplish. I went from broad ideas of different environmental issues to write my thesis on, to a project in which I am able to complete relevant and interesting research to include in my thesis as well as provide data on air quality around campus. It’s through conversations and trial-and-error of different ideas that I came to realize what would be possible, and what was too much of a stretch. Beyond that, the support I have received from my mentors is how I have gotten so far. This is my first time working with Arduinos, the micro-controllers I’ll be using to collect data on air quality, and with environmental monitoring in general. It’s also my first project that is this complex and large.

Embracing collaboration is just the culmination of how my education has been built. From English class in high school to my current physics courses, discussion and collaboration have played, and do play, important roles in how my peers and I have been taught and developed our knowledge. The tools available to support collaboration have come a long way from our 40-minute, in-class discussions about Shakespeare in high school. Now, courses use Blogger, Blackboard, Google Groups, and other resources to facilitate collaboration. Each has their own appeal, but these platforms are also lacking as far as trying to be the virtual classroom that teachers are attempting to create. Currently, my thesis class uses Google Groups as an email notification system and Blackboard for discussion. I find these limited compared to what I can do using Open Assembly.

Throughout my project development, I have had people sending relevant documents and information, others who just want a more detailed idea of what I am doing, and peers who have input and thoughts on my work. I have found that Open Assembly caters to all of these needs, more so than anything my professors have used to date. By inviting my mentors in my “course” with the role of  “Instructors”, they are able to upload pertinent material directly to the platform. Those collaborators invited as “Students” can comment on the work I have done, as well as upload other resources they think might be relevant and helpful. This set-up allows for fluid collaboration and discussion that would not be possible otherwise.

I’ll be sharing more about the collaborative power of Open Assembly further down the line. Stay tuned!

Open Research: OER Research Hub Course Launches June 2014!

The OER Research Hub, sponsored by the Open University (UK) and the Hewlett Foundation, focuses on the question ‘What is the impact of OER on learning and teaching practices?’ The project combines:

  • A targeted collaboration program with existing OER projects
  • An international fellowship program
  • Networking to make connections
  • A hub for research data and OER excellence in practice

OER Research Hub is launching a course on Open Research in June 2014, hosted by the School of Open (available as a stand alone during the summer). OER Research Hub will at the same time be releasing the remainder of their research instruments (e.g. interview and survey question banks, consent forms, a final version of the ethics manual etc.). These instruments are/will be available on a CC-BY license via their website, and are of great value to researchers,  instructors and admins seeking to understand, evaluate and chart the impact of OER.

Julie’s Journey: Keeping Tabs on Tabs

If you’re anything like me, the more tabs you have open on your computer screen, the more time you spend browsing the Internet. When I’m doing research, it only gets worse.

As I’ve worked on my thesis, especially looking at preliminary materials, it has gotten to the point where I cannot see the complete titles of the tabs. Even worse is when I close a window or click another link and “lose” a link or document (because my screen is so crowded with tabs and open windows) and cannot find the web page that seemed to be exactly what I needed.

Luckily I came to my senses and realized I was not using Open Assembly’s platform to its full potential.

Instead of keeping a tab or document open if I like it, I try to immediately upload it to OA. Not only does this force me to quickly evaluate the link for description, use, and citation, it also enables me to go back and review all of the uploaded material in one place. Once I upload a tab and then close it, it can stay closed, since everything I put on the OA platform opens on the platform. And my screen can be a little tidier and less crowded.

Another feature I’ve been using is the CrocoDoc on the PDFs. This is an HTML5 feature that can be embedded within a platform, such as Open Assembly, to enable comments and highlighting on the uploaded documents.

A lot of the resources I am reading are downloaded from databases as PDFs. Since my work is on an environmental-oriented thesis, I would be a hypocrite if I wasted paper printing each piece of material that caught my interest. Instead, I have been highlighting and commenting on my uploaded documents using CrocoDoc on the OA platform.

While it is not completely the same as physically highlighting and writing on a hard-copy printout, it comes fairly close. It will make actually writing quite a bit easier because of the organization it provides, at least compared to the messes of physical papers and bookmarked webpages; plus the added bonus, again, of not having an unmanageable number of documents open.

I won’t lie and say that I don’t have a ridiculous amount of tabs open anymore, but my research organization just got easier.

As promised in the last episode, I’ve taken some time to tackle the question of copyright. It can certainly be confusing, but I’m finding it worthwhile to learn more about how to share content responsibly.

When uploading content to Open Assembly, there are three main license types to choose from, with a few options in the underlying tiers. I have outlined them in hopes of making the laws and pertinent court-case decisions a bit more clear and concise.

Public Domain (“No Rights Reserved”)

CC0

This is when the creator of the material waives all copyrights. It means that anyone can build upon, enhance, and reuse the work without any restrictions.

A Public Domain (abbreviated as PD or CC0) license should only be applied to your own work unless you have the right to apply CC0 to someone else’s work, as well.

Creative Commons (“Some Rights Reserved”)

Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization that enables the sharing and use of creativity and knowledge through free legal tools. The CC license allows creators to retain copyright while permitting others to copy, reuse, distribute, and make specific kinds of use of the work. There’s an alphabet soup’s worth of Creative Commons licenses, each defining how much liberty the creator will let others take with their work. All of them however require attribution to the author(s).

CC BY

Others can distribute, remix, tweak, and build on the work—even commercially—as long as the user gives credit to the creator. The gold standard of “open” works.

CC BY-SA

Similar to CC BY but all derivative works and new creations must apply the same license. This means that anyone who changes or reuses the work, must keep the material as CC BY-SA instead of something more open or more restrictive.

CC BY-ND

Allows for commercial and non-commercial redistribution but must remain unchanged and intact as well as credited to the original creator. This does not allow for any derivative works.

CC BY-NC

Others can remix, tweak, and build upon the work, but the original must be credited and new, derivative works must be non-commercial.

CC BY-NC-SA

Similar to CC-BY-NC but all new creations must be under the same licence as the original. This means all others that change or reuse the work, must keep the material CC BY-NC-SA instead of something more open or restrictive.

CC BY-NC-ND

Others can download and distribute the material, but it cannot be changed or used commercially, and the user has to credit the creator.

If you love charts, here’s an easy-to-read illustration of what we’ve covered so far:

distribute and share with others

must credit the creator

remix, tweak, and build upon to the heart’s content

only for non-commercial use

must have the same license as the original creation

CC BY

x

x

x

CC BY-SA

x

x

x

x

CC BY-ND

x

x

CC BY-NC

x

x

x

x

CC BY-NC-SA

x

x

x

x

x

CC BY-NC-ND

x

x

x

CC0

x

 

x

And, here’s a helpful interactive tool for determining which CC license might best apply to your material.

If you’re looking for content that you can freely and legally use, there is a giant pool of CC-licensed creativity available to you. There are hundreds of millions of works — from songs and videos to scientific and academic material — available to the public for free and legal use under the terms of CC copyright licenses, with more being contributed every day.

Traditional Copyright (“All Rights Reserved”)

This is the default for all works unless noted otherwise. There are many nuances to copyright and intellectual property, but I will try to keep this as basic as possible. In short, if all rights are reserved under a traditional copyright, the creator of the work is the only one who can reproduce the work, make changes (remix, tweak, or build upon) to the work, and use the work commercially. This copyright does expire, typically 70 years after the creator’s death, although this is another area with exceptions and limitations.

Fair Use

Under “all rights reserved” falls the often-misunderstood “fair use” designation. Fair use is is a set of guidelines (rather than legal directives) permitting limited use under certain conditions, based on four factors: purpose, nature, amount, and effect. It can be quite a murky area but is especially important in education. It really can only be said that a certain utilization of the work “favors” fair use. Below are some explanations that are pertinent to education. Check out this checklist here for more detail and examples.

When the purpose of the work is  criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research, it is usually favorable for fair use. There is also favor for “transformative” uses such as being quoted in a paper or altered art for a mixed media project

The nature of the work is not favorable if it is not yet published or if it is and easily available material in the educational market.

The amount used can be difficult to determine, but it is not fair use if it is capturing the “heart” of the work, or too large of a portion of the work. This is qualitative as well as quantitative and really is a judgment call.

The effect concerns how the use will affect the market of the copyright. If it will cause market changes or loss in value for the original work, it is not favorable under Fair Use.

_______________________________________________________

Hopefully this information will help you as much as it’s helped me understand which license to use when uploading material. At the moment, Open Assembly has the default copyright set to CC BY as this is the “gold standard” of open licenses, especially in education, where it is enabling access to free textbooks and other resources for over a million students in the US alone.

If CC BY does not apply to your uploaded content, be sure to change it. Remember that this is a VERY BASIC guide and if you have ANY doubts about copyright licenses, err on the safe side and assume that all rights are reserved and carefully follow Fair Use–or look deeper into it.

Also, not to be forgotten, especially given the topic of the post, all my information was gathered from Columbia University’s Copyright Advisory Board, the Creative Commons website, and the U.S. government’s copyright site.

If you want to help the cause of Creative Commons for students and teachers in your circles, pass this info on. Let your teachers know about CC-based open textbook publishing, a growing and important trend improving access to education. You might even benefit one day with a much smaller textbook bill!

Open Education Week 2014

A movement and opportunities it creates in teaching and learning worldwide. Submit your contribution by February 28!

There are many ways you can contribute to Open Education Week: upload an informational or inspirational video, host an event in your community, send links to resources about open education, hold a webinar, and promote open education week in your social media networks. To contribute a video or resource, or to have your event or webinar featured on the Open Education Week Events calendar, use the submission form at openeducationweek.org. Multiple resources or events can be submitted. Click here to fill out a form for your contribution.

Deadline for submissions is 28 February 2014.

College Students Are Using Twitter to Protest Ridiculously High Textbook Costs

College students around the country are using Twitter to protest high textbook costs, uniting under #textbookbroke to publicly air how much they’re paying for one of the hidden costs of higher education.

Pictures posted with the hashtag show how students are dropping several hundred dollars each semester to pay for textbooks needed for their classes. Advocates plan on showing these tweets and pictures to university administrators and state legislators to demonstrate how much students are struggling with the costs.

Open Assembly supports the adoption of #opentextbooks. For the convenience of educators and students alike, Open Assembly provides the ability to access Open Textbooks at the chapter-level. For instructors, we also provide editable versions.

And yes, it’s free for open learning environments.

For more info or to see how it works, Request an Invite.

Open Assembly Moves to Next Level in Milken-Penn GSE Competition

Open Assembly is proud and tickled pink to have been selected to compete as a semifinalist for a series of prizes in the Milken-Penn GSE Education Business Plan Competition (EBPC). Launched in 2010, it’s the first business plan competition to focus exclusively on educational ventures. The Milken Family Foundation and the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education (GSE), entities committed to innovation and excellence in education, formed this partnership with the intent to nurture entrepreneurial activity in the education space.

We’re competing in the categories of Innovation in Online Education and Open Educational Resources. Deadline to submit our biz plan is March 11, 11:59 pm.

David Wiley Comments on the MOOC Hype

This comes from a report by Katrina Stevens from Educon 2.6 at the Science Leadership Academy on Jan. 28. Speaking on the panel “What Does it Mean to be Open?” David Wiley of Lumen Learning argued that the last 18 months’ focus on MOOCs has “sucked the air out of conversation around innovation in education.” Wiley acknowledged that MOOCs are interesting experiments, but also pointed out that they have crowded out other, equally important experimentation. Venture funding for MOOCs has driven public attention and “distracted people from the business of educating students to the business of selling to them.”  Wiley further argued that this misalignment in incentives will continue to drive true innovation to the margins.

Wiley also questioned how innovative MOOCs really are; he pointed out that in the 1960s, we thought that television “…will really open up education,” the same claim made about MOOCs now. Tone down all the claims around “innovation,” urged Wiley, and engage in more substantive conversation about the challenges of MOOCs and other new learning models. Otherwise, “we’re in danger of making bad education faster and more efficient,” Wiley warned.

Julie’s Journey: Uploading the Details

This is the second in a semester-long series taking an up-close look at the functionalities and potential of the latest release of Open Assembly’s platform for networked learning in open education environments. Open Assembly is a powerful framework for easily developing or remixing courseware, curating content, and managing research projects. Work on your own—or better yet, in teaching and learning networks you create by inviting others into your process.

After a few weeks of discussion and honing, I’ve finally determined my thesis topic. There’s nothing like a deadline to help things along, and since research grant applications were due this past Sunday, I needed to bring all of my outlying and random thoughts into a more detailed and clear plan. I had a big talk with my advisor, which helped me put together the preliminary bibliography, research abstract, budget and explanation, and project description. And as a double major, I’m incorporating pertinent research that covers both of my majors, into my thesis.

My thesis will explore whether household gas sensors that provide routine notices about air quality are a viable method to abate pollution. I will be experimenting with testing the air quality around campus, sending out reports to a number of students, and then surveying students on whether they believe that being reminded of gas emissions had an effect on the decisions they made. From there, the thesis will explore the cost-benefit issue: Was there enough of a change in decision-making to make household sensors cost-effective? How cheap they would need to be to make “cents?”

All of this work and topic-honing led me to the uploading experience on Open Assembly. Among the important items I uploaded were my materials for the research grant application, which I wanted to make accessible to share with anyone checking out the OA platform or my thesis.

The form to upload documents was tedious to use, but I ended up appreciating the process. It forced me to be extremely organized and fairly detailed about the documents and files I was uploading. I like having all my materials in one place in the cloud, and the ability to organize, or not organize, my “course” or project is intuitive and easy. Modules do not all need to look the same, and I can nest another group of topics with the module. At the same time, I can upload files that do not have a specific location in a module or topic of the course. The versatility really fits me and the project.

Resource Upload

The one thing that was not as easy for me was determining copyright. I uploaded a few of my own materials as well as some resources that my teachers had sent from journals. Everything I have uploaded is set to Copyright, “All Rights Reserved,” because I’m not sure how many of the documents are under that type of licence versus a more open type, like Creative Commons. Since I would like for everyone who can to use what I have compiled to the greatest extent possible, I will be looking further into all of the different options concerning licenses of the materials I use and create. Look for a blog post about this soon.

This is just the start, and there’s a long way of exploring and creating to come. Again, if you want to have a closer look to the journey, contact me at julie@openassembly.com. Feel free to leave any comments or questions below!

Once Upon a Time, Textbooks Were Hard to Create…

Kathi Fletcher, Shuttleworth Fellow, pitches the excellent software project she directs–an advanced and comprehensive textbook creator/editor–with a Pixar style of pitch: “Once upon a time textbooks were hard to create….”

The moral of the story is that textbooks can truly be “a pleasure to create, cheap or free to buy, always up to date, and part of a much more interactive and engaging experience….true engines of learning”

Check out the Textbook Editor and OER Importer at: http://editor.oerpub.org

What If a Community College or Technical School Degree Were Free?

Tennessee’s governor has an amazingly brilliant idea: make two years of community college and technical school free for all students. He believes it’s the best way to build a more competitive work force in his state.

Ticket price? The governor estimates $34 million a year for TN, paid for by diverting surplus revenue from the state lottery. That’s (10) 30-second ad spots for one Super Bowl, or the price of Sir Stirling Moss’s recently sold apple-green 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO, or two-and-a-half Air Force drones (MQ-9 Reaper)…..

Link to article

Julie’s Journey: Pilot Season Starts

This is the first in a semester-long series taking an up-close look at the functionalities and potential of the latest release of Open Assembly’s platform for networked learning in open education environments. Open Assembly is a powerful framework for easily developing or remixing courseware, curating content, and managing research projects. Work on your own—or better yet, in teaching and learning networks you create by inviting others into your process.

I’m Julie. I’ve been working at Open Assembly for several months, and after seeing the development of the revamped platform, I was beyond excited when I got the go-ahead to use v2.0.

Some background: I’m a junior at Fordham University studying engineering physics and environmental policy, with interests in technology, coding, and economics. The time has come for me to write a thesis for my environmental policy major; my thesis, at the moment at least, will concern dangerous gases in the atmosphere.

I will be using the Open Assembly platform as a project management tool, compiling materials, resources, and drafts for my thesis. I will be blogging about my progress, experience, and varying relevant topics every week. I will also be curating the topic “Julie’s Journey: Developing a Thesis on Open Assembly” on Scoop.it. You’ll be able to find my posts, as well at other relevant material on my thesis topic, educational technology, and other pertinent information.

If you’d like to follow closer and have even more of an inside look, contact me at julie@openassembly.com, and I can give you access to my course. Not only will this let you experience Open Assembly as I develop my thesis during this pilot season, but you will also be able to comment on anything I’ve posted—and even post content and links you think might be relevant to my research!

Episode 1

Why Publishers Aren’t Too Worried About Open Textbooks | Innovation Memes

Why Publishers Aren’t Too Worried About Open Textbooks | Innovation Memes. Article by  from 2010 still rings true re. the ongoing challenge of persuading faculty to select Open Textbooks. 

Open Assembly Has Moved!

A big thank you to the Varick Incubator for being our home for two years as we began our startup journey. We’ve now relocated to the Centre for Social Innovation, a buzzing social venture community. It’s an inspiring and beautiful space in the Starrett Lehigh building, and we already feel at home. Thanks for welcoming us with open arms.

Upcoming news: release date for Open Assembly v2.0, with a new interface and social learning features. We’ve made sharing OER in the context of a course incredibly collaborative and social. Thanks to all our users for your input!

Let Them Eat MOOCs

From Let Them Eat MOOCs, by Gianpiero Petriglieri in a recent Harvard Business Review blog post:

“This is why I am a MOOC dissenter. More than a revolution, so far this movement reminds me of a different kind of disruption: colonialism.

Given the resources and players involved in producing and praising MOOCs, it’s hard to argue that this is a case of enterprising outsiders toppling a complacent establishment. (Do you see any ‘outsiders’ in this galaxy of MOOC funders?) It is far more similar to colonialism, that is, disruption brought about by ‘the policy and practice of a power in extending control over weaker people or areas‘ and simultaneously increasing its cultural reach and control of resources.”

Full post here: Let Them Eat MOOCs

Free Public Domain Pics at PDPhoto.org

PDPhoto.org is a repository for free public domain photos. Most of these photos are free to use for any purpose.

Domitilla Enders‘s insight:

Help yourself! And pass it on!

See on pdphoto.org

Creative Commons Kiwi

Have you ever wondered how to download and share digital content legally? How do you let people know that you want them to reuse your own work? Creative Commons licenses can help you do both. These Kiwis will show you how.

http://vimeo.com/ccanz/cckiwi

MOOC Rival OERu Puts Accreditation on Menu | Times Higher Education

MOOC rival OERu puts accreditation on menu | News | Times Higher Education.

MOOCs Not Reaching Beyond Those Who Already Have Completed Degrees

Torbjorn Roe Isaksen, Norway’s minister of education and research, said MOOCs have the potential to “give people all over the world access to education.” But he said he knew of no MOOCs reaching into developing countries in South America and Africa.

He said that data from companies that provide MOOCs show that most of those who enroll in the courses have already completed degrees and are looking to further their learning. MOOCs aren’t necessarily attracting people who have never had a formal education in the first place, he said.

via International Reach of MOOCs Is Limited by Users’ Preferences – Wired Campus – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Kylie and Lyndal Make a MOOC | YouTube

Interesting video about the experience of 2 professors at UOW filming their first video segments for a new MOOC. Very cute trailer intro!

Video published on Oct 7, 2013

The University of Wollongong is partnering with Open Universities Australia\’s free online learning platform, Open2Study, in the production of 2 MOOCs over the next 2 years. This video clip charts some of the highlights of making our first MOOC. Here we see Graduate School of Medicine academics Kylie Mansfield and Lyndal Parker-Newlyn working with Open2Study Content Development and Production team over 5 days in Melbourne to record high-quality video lectures for their \”Understanding Common Diseases\” course, which opens for enrollments on October 14th 2013.

via Kylie And Lyndal Make A Mooc – YouTube.

OALIB_Open Access Library

OALIB_Open Access Library allows free access to a database of 125,546 openly accessible academic articles

7 Things You Should Know About Open Textbook Publishing

Excellent primer on the open textbook publishing model: what it is, how it works, who’s doing it, why it’s significant.

“The open textbook publishing model offers new collaborative opportunities for authors, who can join communities of writers on sites that offer open licensing. Authors, illustrators, and editors can choose to contribute many types of course content to the growing field of open educational resources, including essays, animations, video demonstrations, detailed drawings, and classroom activities—all without taking on the burden of writing an entire book.”

What’s really important is that this is not all about solving for the cost issue. It’s about creating textbooks that are truly engines of learning, by letting those who are in the trenches and know best what’s needed (teachers) drive the (textbook publishing) bus.

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