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

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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

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.

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 .

Why Open Education Matters

Published on Jun 5, 2012
Degreed’s entry in the Why Open Education Matters video competition.

Open: Decreasing Costs, Improving Access, and Increasing Quality of Education

By David Wiley, Prof. at Brigham Young University, March 29, 2013.

While “open educational resources” initiatives like MIT OpenCourseWare generated media buzz during the 2000s, a new wave of initiatives is leveraging OER to dramatically decrease the cost, improve access, and increase the quality of secondary and higher education for the average student. This presentation demonstrates how “open” is shaping the field of education, and what is coming in the future.

This talk was delivered at the University of Georgia during March, 2013.

Intro to Open Assembly

Open Assembly is a free, cloud-based platform for social learning, collaborative teaching, and content curation using open textbooks, open courseware, and other open educational resources (OER).

By unleashing the Power of Open, we’re encouraging innovation based on networked learning in hybrid and online environments. The platform is free for any user–students, self-learners, instructors, admins, institutions–for open education purposes.

Assemble a playlist of learning resources. Remix, adapt, or clone an existing playlist.  Share it with a colleague or peer, at the course or module level. Engage with comments and resources of your own. Analyze engagement. Archive only what you want to keep when the course or project is over. Take it with you on your learning path from course to course, or from one learning goal to another. Accessible on any web-enabled browser device.

Open Assembly can be used in numerous ways: to create a playlist or course, to assemble a digital curriculum, a coursepack or collection of resources, and to undertake research, on your own or better yet, in collaboration with others.

Our goal is to make teaching and learning online more accessible, more engaging, more interactive, and a lot more intuitive. We’re setting a new standard for teaching and learning with others. We combine teacher-centric and learner-centric tools, which makes us learning-centric. 

Interested in checking us out? Open Assembly is currently in private Beta, but feel free to Request an Invite on our website if you would like to explore Open Assembly or pilot our platform in your hybrid or online classroom. Here’s a preview:

OpenAssembly

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