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

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Higher Education

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.

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.

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.

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)

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

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.

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!

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.

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.

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

MOOC Rival OERu Puts Accreditation on Menu | Times Higher Education

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

Student Voices Heard in Maryland

Students have cried out to avoid the high cost of textbooks, and The Board of Regents governing the University System in Maryland has listened. At their October meeting, as per student suggestions, the board decided that there would be an initiative to examine the viability of open textbooks in the system. Interested faculty teaching lecture-sized, introductory courses have the opportunity to pilot the initiative by using open textbooks. The system allows professors to customize textbook material from a pool of online resources, videos, and graphics; all under a publically accessible copyright licence. In the Spring, the council will hopefully decide to join the state universities in Washington, Ohio, California, and Texas, and offer state-supported open-access textbook material to help lower the cost of high education.
Read more here .

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