An Economic Argument for Economics OER

An Economic Argument for Economics OER

This guest post was written by John Lynham, grant recipient and project lead developing OER for the ECON 130 microeconomics undergraduate course at UHM.

One of the questions I sometimes ask students in my introductory Principles of Microeconomics class is “Why are textbooks so expensive compared to other books?”. Part of the reason is that the market for textbooks is not like the market for other books: the person who chooses the book isn’t actually the person who pays for it. Most of the time, when you want to buy a new book you go to a bookstore (or online), choose the book that you want and then pay for it. But with textbooks, the professor chooses the book and then the students in the class have to go out and pay for it. This creates a disconnect between the person demanding the book and the person actually paying for it. In economics jargon: demand is “inelastic” or less responsive to changes in price. If the price of a textbook goes up by 10% many professors might not even notice since they never have to buy the book themselves. In addition, for some reason I can never figure out, the Instructors’ Edition of the textbook that professors receive for free never lists the price of the book on the back…

It shouldn’t be too surprising then that textbook prices increased 300% from 1986 to 2004 but the prices of most other goods only increased 80%. One of the most popular textbooks for the class I teach has a list price of $249.95! You can buy a new hardback edition of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone on Amazon for $16.16. I know which one I would prefer to read! In response to the exorbitant cost of textbooks, I started using a free Creative Commons (CC) licensed OpenStax textbook a few years ago. It’s a very good book, my students really like it, and I always encourage other faculty members to adopt it.

Photo by Alex Read on Unsplash


However, one of the barriers to adoption of this free textbook is that the more expensive textbooks come with a great online database of practice questions. It’s really important to have access to lots of practice problems in order to understand the material being taught. I have tried to get around this by having my teaching assistants come up with questions and upload them to Laulima (UH’s learning management system). My simple goal for the OER Project is to develop an interactive online database of practice questions for the standard Principles of Microeconomics course that will be available to any teacher that wants to use the free textbook. Hopefully the more barriers to adoption that are removed, the more faculty will make the switch to free CC texts, thus lowering the cost of attending college for students. By making demand more elastic, prices should fall, and there should be greater investment in human capital. If that sentence doesn’t make sense, take my class in the Fall!

Project Lead

John Lynham

John Lynham

John is an Associate Professor in the Economics Department at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, where he is also a UHERO Research Fellow. He is the Director of the Graduate Ocean Policy Certificate and an Affiliated Researcher at the Center for Ocean Solutions at Stanford University. His research interests are in environmental/resource economics, marine ecology and behavioral economics. John is a Pacific Century Fellow, class of 2012, and was honored to receive the Board of Regents’ Medal for Excellence in Teaching in 2013.

Posted by Billy Meinke in Grant Projects, Open Textbooks
Finding Our Footing for OER Training: Information and Digital Literacies

Finding Our Footing for OER Training: Information and Digital Literacies

OER is becoming part of conversations throughout the UH system, with more than half of our campuses reporting new adoptions and opportunities. Excellent training and leadership from Leeward Community College (LCC) and Kapi’olani Community College (KCC), and continued advocacy are bringing OER to more students than ever. While we continue to support the OER project grantees, we are still hard at work refining processes for building and remixing open content.

Hawai’i will be well-represented at this year’s OpenEd conference in Anaheim, CA later this year, as two of our presentation session proposals have been accepted. And since my session will focus on our OER training initiative, it seemed a good idea to explain the structure and design of the workshops through a write-up. This post will walk through some of the concepts in information and digital literacy that are guiding the development of our OER training at UHM. For context, the overarching goal of our training is to help faculty gain confidence when creating and reusing OER for instruction, putting their hands at the helm.

On Spectrum

We can look to Helen Beetham and Rhona Sharpe’s (2010-2013) work on digital literacy for JISC for greater context around how OER training may fit into the professional identity of a faculty member. They provided a useful pyramid structure that stacks Access and Awareness, Skills, Practices, and Identity layers to represent an active progression from low to high literacy levels of students — which I believe carries over to adult learners (our faculty). Individuals grow from having discrete skills (such as being able to use the basic functions of a software tool) towards developing practices that reflect these skills (such as regularly updating their software toolbelt with new tools or techniques) and later to possessing advanced technical knowledge (such as critically reviewing a range of software of a certain purpose). To serve the diverse population at UH, our initial workshops will begin at the lower level skills that can become a foundation for later growth in digital literacy.

Beetham and Sharpe ‘pyramid model’ of digital literacy development model (2010) All rights reserved.

A branch of the same project from JISC yielded a set of “Seven Elements of Digital Literacy” that more specifically describe knowledge and skill areas within digital literacy — The Seven Elements describe what it means to meaningfully participate in a knowledge economy as a student, researcher, or academic professional. It’s easy to think of OER-specific skills that fit into each bucket, and that’s just what we plan to do with the compiled a list of learning objectives borrowed from other successful OER training initiatives from both outside and within the UH system.

Seven Elements of Digital Literacy by JISC / CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

And while we cannot possibly cover all areas of digital literacy through our OER training, understanding how the topics would fit into broader categories can help guide other literacy workshops at UHM that are beyond the scope of our work. I’ve found JISC’s documentation to be comprehensive and communicated well, useful if you are designing new training resources around digital literacy.

What About Information Literacy?

If this discussion around digital literacy rings your bell, then you may be familiar with information literacy, which typically falls into the realm of training that academic librarians offer. Many institutions (including UH) are members of the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL), and so we can look to the ACRL’s Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education* for overlap and weaving that might make sense with our OER training.

The ACRL’s information literacy standards are:

  • Determine the extent of information needed
  • Access the needed information effectively and efficiently
  • Evaluate information and its sources critically
  • Incorporate selected information into one’s knowledge base
  • Use information effectively to accomplish a specific purpose
  • Understand the economic, legal, and social issues surrounding the use of information, and access and use information ethically and legally

As with other structured information literacy descriptions such as SCONUL’s Seven Pillars and The Open University’s DIL framework, the ACRL framework focuses on knowledge, skills, and attitudes the individual should possess (or gain) to effectively and appropriately locate and use information — participate — in a knowledge society. Through an OER lens, the ‘information’ could be anything from a video to an ebook, or even a dataset. But where information literacy frameworks bring us to is a point that (in my opinion) suggests that digital content is largely used in whole, unmodified. One the other hand, digital literacy frameworks insist on participation and collaboration and the remixing of content that really leverages the open in OER. Open is the means to (or headway in the direction of) an end that I’d very much like to see, where faculty are collaborating across campuses and systems, building the kind of content and courseware that will do the most for their students.

To each their own, and until I hear screams of horror about weaving these frameworks together, we’ll go with it. UHM is currently without a comprehensive information literacy training program, and so our OER training may serve as a set of starting points for a broader information literacy training on our campus.

*Just before publishing this post I was reminded that ACRL is moving towards the Information Literacy Framework, which will be referenced going forward (thanks Sarah!).

Learning Objectives, Outcomes, Whathaveyou

At certain edges of the Open Education community you can hear calls for reform around outcomes, assessments, and grades. We don’t want faculty who participate in our training to feel as if they’ve been reduced to a number, but we do need a bar or standard of completion as we get skilled up so that learners can eventually become mentors.

Mapping instruments on a desk

Photo by Ruthie on Unsplash

To that end, we’ve combined the learning objectives used by the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC), those from Leeward Community College (LCC), and those from and Kapi’olani Community College (KCC) into a master list of sorts. Some of the objectives have been combined, but they are listed here:

  • Define and describe the importance of OER
  • Differentiate between Copyright, Fair Use, Creative Commons licensing, and Public Domain
  • Identify resources that are openly licensed, in the Public Domain, or all rights reserved
  • Distinguish between different types of Creative Commons licenses
  • License a work with a Creative Commons license
  • Upload a work into the UH OER repository
  • Combine work with different types of Creative Commons licenses
  • Properly attribute a Creative Commons licensed work
  • List useful repositories and search tools for finding OER
  • Find OER that are relevant to a specific area of study or research
  • Assess the technical openness of an OER (ALMS framework)
  • Download an OER from the UH OER repository
  • Describe techniques for creating accessible OER
  • Describe the steps necessary to plan for OER adoption

The above list gets most of the way towards covering three main areas that I specifically see value in issuing some sort of certificate or badge for:

  • Open Educational Resources 101 — Background and foundational ideas
  • Copyright, Fair Use, and Public Domain — Creative Commons, licensing/attribution/reuse
  • OER Creation and Adoption — Software tools and processes for publishing and remix

The curriculum supporting each of the objectives isn’t built yet, but in this post I am trying to explain the framing with regard to existing information literacy training. The idea is to identify which domains/pillars/elements from other frameworks are being supported by this work (that is specifically for OER), but with obvious overlapping information literacy benefits. In a perfect world, our training around OER would develop a common structure to inform faculty-directed workshops so that individual efforts across campus work in concert.

For example, objectives aligned to info/digi literacy frameworks could be described as such:

Objective Outcome Overlapping Frameworks
Properly attribute a Creative Commons licensed work Create a blog post or lesson plan that reuses a CC licensed image, giving proper attribution back to the creator. ACRL – Use information effectively to accomplish a specific purpose, JISC – Media Literacy (creatively produce media)
Differentiate between Copyright, Fair Use, Creative Commons licensing, and Public Domain Collect and share links to two educational resources found online (and that are useful for a specific purpose) that exist under each of four subsections of copyright status ACRL – Understand the economic, legal, and social issues surrounding the use of information, and access and use information ethically and legally, JISC – Digital Scholarship (participate in emerging tech-based practices

After this process is done in earnest, certain lessons in the curriculum could potentially be reused in training supporting other literacy domains — paired with lessons developed for related purposes. We have specific goals, but a little pre-work to see how our training may fit within a more comprehensive training program can go a long way.

To encourage our faculty to collaborate on OER beyond the walls of their own buildings, we will need to include the creation of tangible OER artifacts in the training. We are currently using Google Docs for collaborative planning and for sharing drafts of work, and since UH is a Google Apps campus, all of our faculty have access to Drive and Docs already. I admire the use of Github, Gitbook, and other open source and/or collaborative platforms, but in our situation we need to meet faculty where they already are and then focus on the skills. I’ve delivered one-off Pressbooks how-to sessions for faculty, and I expect that will be in a second level of the OER Creation and Adoption training. One we get an understanding of the digital skills our faculty are bringing to the training, we can adapt the lessons to also include a constructionist approach — where learners contribute to a public knowledge base.

Onward!

Now that I’ve done some explaining of my thinking around the why, and a little about the how of the OER training, I’m hoping to get feedback from the community. In a round table session at the OTNSI, I asked the group of librarians if they were conducting training in a similar way, one that a OER-specific training could potentially be aligned with. None were aware of information literacy training happening in a highly-coordinated way at their campus, at least not one that was aimed at hitting specific pillars or domains. This may suggest that a set of trainings that hit at the core of being confident working with OER is still needed.

Photo by Fleur Treurniet on Unsplash

If you’re coming to OpenEd, I’d be interested to discuss similar projects happening elsewhere. The hope is to publish one more blog post prior to OpenEd, reflecting on the feedback I receive and sharing more details of the lesson design and overall structure. While there are many directions this project could go, my goal is to to get open, adaptable OER into the hands of faculty as soon as possible — setting them up to take back control of their instructional materials. The more skilled collaborators we have within our networks, the better.

A special thanks goes to Rajiv Jhangiani and Sarah Cohen for feedback on this post.

Posted by Billy Meinke in Creative Commons, Training
Reflecting on the 2017 Open Textbook Network Summit & Institute

Reflecting on the 2017 Open Textbook Network Summit & Institute

Last week I joined over a hundred OER-friendly librarians, technologists, and instructional designers in Minneapolis for the annual Open Textbook Network Summit and Institute (OTNSI) at the University of Minnesota. UH Mānoa is a member institution of the Open Textbook Network, and this was our first time taking part in the face-to-face activities of the network. The OTN has grown to include over 600 higher education institutions through individual and consortial memberships, representing what I believe to be the largest U.S.-based coalition of OER advocates. While textbook affordability projects other than pure OER adoption are part of many groups’ strategic plans, the majority of attendees seem ready to push for 100% OER, bypassing lesser options such as rentals and “inclusive access” programs.

The lean OTN team of Dave Ernst, Sarah Cohen, and Karen Lauritsen delivered a four-day program, the first two days being an institute for newer members to understand what is already working for current members in terms of being able to land major adoptions, publish remixed or original OER, and generally be more effective when introducing the awesomeness of OER to new stakeholders. I was able to meet a handful of OTN members at last year’s OpenEd conference, and I had an idea of who the more active, vocal members were based on their participation on the OTN mailing list. As always, it was wonderful to put faces to so many names and connect with folks doing similar work in other places.

Lots happened during the week, but here are some takeaways that are worth diving into a bit.

Tailoring OER Messages for Different Audiences

This will come as no surprise to many of us, but effective messaging absolutely needs to take the audience into account. It’s easy to fall back onto the more obvious big-picture talking points around the benefits of open, but the same slide deck simply will not work with every audience. During the institute, Dave and Sarah explained their process for running the faculty OER workshop that has yielded hundreds of reviews of OERs and laid the foundation for adoptions across the nation. The faculty workshop includes some data-focused slides, a personal appeal from the presenter, and what ends up being a call for faculty to consider the ever-powerful social justice argument for supporting open education.

Consensus seems to be that administrators and decision makers respond well to hard numbers showing to-date and projected cost savings, total student enrollments affected, and other indicators of improved student success or improvement associated with the use of OER. I consider cost savings associated with OER to be the lever, the foot in the door that allows us to talk about empowering both instructors and students to take control of the learning experience. I’d love to talk to everyone about OER-enabled pedagogy, but these conversations with stakeholders should appeal to goals they have already established, not new ones that need to be added to their plate. OER have the potential to save students thousands of dollars over the course of their earning a degree, and we can do this without affecting departmental budgets — this will be an important point I hope will resonate with those in upper administration.

The Threat of “Inclusive Access” Programs

I mentioned earlier that many campuses are including more than just OER in their textbook affordability initiatives, and publishers have been eager to push digital-first textbook agreements dubbed “inclusive access” programs. These programs are similar to textbook rentals we’ve seen more of over the last few years, but they can also come with highly restrictive terms such as requiring students to opt out (as opposed to having them opt in) of buying the course materials and by offering print versions to students only when they have also paid for the digital copy — which can mean that some students actually pay more with “inclusive access” than they would otherwise pay when older version, used copies, and other buying options are present.

Beyond the obvious issues with these programs, they don’t begin to approach the potential of what OER can offer us. One OTN member suggested that inclusive access programs were just small steps towards OER adoption, but my stance is that when you choose to move towards OER you are on an entirely different path than with closed publisher content. If faculty are to put time and energy into something that will benefit their students, I want all of that energy captured and put towards going fully open. Why would we settle for discounted closed textbooks when OER are available and provide perpetual access to localized, customizable learning materials.

OTN as a Community of Practice

Community in the open source world has long been an interest of mine, and it is something that is difficult to create. I am of the mind that community can’t actually be created, but it can be facilitated by locating a common domain and stimulating existing groups of people working on similar issues to share their best practices (see the Wegner-Trayners for more). Librarians made up the majority of attending members at the OTNSI, and though I am not a librarian I do consider them to be “my people”. Librarians often possess a unique combination of personality traits that means they value structure and organization of information but are also socially aware — this is important when connecting with faculty. Introducing OER to faculty can seem like we are throwing caution to the wind, but those who are interested in OER can find excellent advocates in librarians.

This OTNSI was less focused on technology than I had hoped, but there were a handful of instructional designers and educational technologists in the room who are working with OER. We discussed the course refresh process as a prime opportunity to introduce OER to faculty, especially for the high-enrollment courses and those with instructors who delight in the possibility of customizing their course. Pressbooks was the only open source OER-publishing tool mentioned, but some institutions are using closed source tools that are either under threat of being bought up by larger companies or already have been — and their future is arguably less certain than the open source tools that power UH’s OER initiative.

Not to stray too far from the idea of community, the OTNSI allowed me to expand my network of OER advocates who are not only working on the same issues, but are willing to share their successes and struggles to help carry the group ahead.

Thanks for putting it together, OTN!

Posted by Billy Meinke in Conference, Open Textbooks
Designing an OER Physics Problem Database

Designing an OER Physics Problem Database

The OER Physics Problem Database (pdb) provides an open access resource to enhance problem solving skills and student learning outcomes. The pdb is built with the open source database management system (dbms) MySQL, well known to for its reliability, functionality, and performance.

Two other main components of pdb are JabRef and LaTeX, which are both published under free software licenses. JabRef provides a graphical user interface (GUI) for users to insert questions to the pdb, and LaTeX provides a high quality PDF document output. The following flow chart shows the relationships between MySQL, JabRef, and LaTeX in handling the information in the pdb in order to produce a document of chosen physics problems.

PDB flow chart

 

Figure 1: A flow diagram showing the main components of pdb.

Users will insert problems into pdb with the JabRef GUI, shown in Figure 2. JabRef is typically used as a bibliography manager and paired with LaTeX. The main features pdb will use from JabRef are customizable functionality and the ability to connect to MySQL databases. (See jabref.org for more information.) This the method of managing a database with mathematical expressions is an extension and modification from Mark Hickman’s database of math problems of University of Canterbury, which he has  offered available under the free software license, (mark.hickman@canterbury.ac.nz). The OER pdb differs from Hickman’s in that it is for physics problems;  it contains different customized fields for the question entries, it uses MySQL for dbms, and allows images to be added.

The questions inserted into pdb with JabRef have required fields that must be completely filled in order to qualify as valid pdb input. The necessary fields are: Problem, Ndim, Owner, Timestamp, Subject, Difficulty, Solution, and Bibtexkey. LaTeX commands may be used directly in the fields; this is especially useful for the Problem and Solution inputs. Ndim is the number of dimensions of the problem, the Owner field is the user submitting this question to pdb, Subject denotes the area of physics that the question focuses on, and Difficulty should be entered in as easy, medium, or hard. Also, each question has a Timestamp field in order to make sure the problems in pdb remain current.

jabref dashboard

 

Figure 2: Users input problems into pdb via the GUI provided by JabRef.

JabRef connects to the MySQL pdb and merges new questions with existing ones in the database. SQL is short for “Structured Query Language”, and is a standard for dbms. All information in the database is stored as tables and linked with keys, of which there is only one primary key. The primary key is a unique identification number attached to each problem in pdb. While JabRef provides a GUI interface for input, MySQL will handle the heavy lifting behind the scenes in managing the database. Such managing will be necessary as subroutines are developed to randomize and alter tables.

mySQL document for pdb

Figure 3: The pdb is named PHYSICS_DB, with tables named: ENTRY, FIELD, and METADATA. (Note that MySQL is case sensitive)

The pdb consists of three tables (case sensitive): ENTRY, FIELD, and METADATA. The ENTRY table holds the primary key, denoted as SHARED_ID, which is an increment in each physics problem, the TYPE of entry, and the VERSION. The FIELD table holds all the information about the physics problems, such as problem, timestamp, ndim, solution, etc. In FIELD, the ENTRY_SHARED_ID links to the primary key, NAME matches the title fields in JabRef, and VALUE holds the problem input. METADATA is a table that simply describes the information stored in this database.

mySQL tables

Figure 4: These are the tables in pdb, with a couple of rows filled. All of the question content is held in the VALUE column.

The entity relationship diagram (ERD) for pdb is shown in Figure 5. An ERD aids in visualizing the logical relationships between tables and data in a database; this also helps with design and performance. The ENTRY entity (table) holds the primary key, shown with a yellow diamond next to SHARED_ID. The dashed line linking to the FIELD entity means that there is a relationship between ENTRY and FIELD, and that FIELD contains attribute values from ENTRY. The fact that there is one, and only one ENTRY per row is shown by the two short double vertical lines on the relationship line. The pdb allows for question/answer variation, thus there may be one or many questions per unique row in entry; this is expressed as the “crow’s feet” and short vertical line next to the FIELD entity. METADATA does not relate to the other tables, but shows information about the type of data that pdb holds.

Figure 5: The erd for pdb.

In order to access particular problems from pdb, a user can search for a keyword from subject, ndim, difficulty, owner, or timestamp. For example, to select all problems that are under the subject of kinematics in pdb, the query syntax is shown in Figure 6. Note that the asterisk (*) is known as a wildcard, which returns all matches that fulfill the requirements of the given search. In this example, the subject search for all kinematic questions gives problem numbers: 1, 4, 6, 7, 9, 11.

mySQL file

Figure 6: An example showing how to select all kinematic problems from pdb.

Finally, a PDF document of the chosen physics problems is created with a short LaTeX file, displayed in Figure 7. LaTeX is a very common document preparation system used in mathematics and the physical sciences ( www.latex-project.org ). In the LaTeX file it is important to use the ‘problems’ package; this allows access to pdb problems. The user will simply input the desired problem numbers, and decide if they want to create a document with only problems, or problems with solutions.

Figure 7: The LaTeX file that will create your pdb document.

The two links below show the PDFs generated by the above methods with the OER Physics Problem Database. The first link shows the problems only, and the second link shows the output when the problems with solutions option is chosen in the LaTeX file.

The framework for the OER pdb is complete and the next step is to set up a server and provide remote access to users. From there, we will begin constructing the assessment content base and make plans to pilot the use of the pdb in Physics courses this academic year.

Posted by Christina Nelson in OER
OER Textbook for Animation Students : The Animatorʻs Companion Essentials

OER Textbook for Animation Students : The Animatorʻs Companion Essentials

“The Animatorʻs Companion – Essentials” is a technology-enabled animation textbook suitable for entry level and intermediate animation students. It offers historical context as it presents animation principles discovered by animators in the 1930ʻs and 40ʻs for todayʻs modern digital artists. Where traditional animation textbooks provide static illustrations, the Animatorʻs Companion Essentials offers moving illustrations and video reference movie clips to elucidate key concepts. Concepts such as Timing will benefit from this new approach of moving-illustrations. Examples and non-examples will clarify animation concepts with the added benefit of motion.This approach will not only enhance learning but also provides efficient way for students to absorb subtle visual differences. The goal is to have this digitally enhanced book ready for introduction into ACM curriculum by Spring 2018.

As an Open Educational Resource (OER) text book, the potential for widespread dissemination among university animation programs is possible. Although the Creative Commons license allows for free use of the materials in the book, the volume is designed for use in ACM Animation Track curriculum at UH Mānoa. It will be introduced in ACM 216 in Spring 2018. The hope is this text will provide a basis for other campuses in the UH System to provide a curricular experience consistent with ACM Animation curriculum core concepts. This alignment will improve articulation and smooth the pathway to ACM Animation from outlying campuses. It also is important to highlight that this book will be free to all students and replace current texts which result in additional financial burdens to our students.

Joints and angles in movement

A variety of software is being utilized in the production of this book. On the desktop front there is the Adobe Master Suite, most notably Photoshop, After Effects, Animate and Premiere Pro. Additionally ToonBoom and Maya software provided digital 2D and 3D animation support. In the tablet computer environment, apps like Stop Motion Pro, Animation Creator and Animation Desk provided additional support in creating the digital illustrations. Microsoft Word is the platform the boos text was written in. Through the technical assistance of the UH Outreach College specialists, other web-based enhancements will further distinguish this book. Digital web-based links and user analytics will be possible.

This textbook represents the work of one author. I wrote most of the text within the last 5 years and am currently editing while creating a blueprint for the illustration pass. This core text will eventually be a companion book to a larger comprehensive textbook which will go beyond the principles to include acting, figure drawing, sketching and design concepts. The body of knowledge in the book is the culmination of almost 30 years of experience as a professional animator and filmmaker. The illustrations are all from my own work or designed specifically for this book, so there will be no complex permissions necessary to complete the project.

Project Lead

Dan Boulos

Dan Boulos

Dan Boulos is a classically trained animator who has worked for such animation studios as Walt Disney Feature Animation, Warner Brothers and DreamWorks. His many screen credits include The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Space Jam and The Prince of Egypt. Dan has been teaching animation for over 20 years. He founded the Animation program at Leeward Community Collegeʻs Digital Media Dept., was the founding instructor for the European Animation Masterclass in Halle/Saale, Germany and is the head of the Animation Track for the Academy for Creative Media at UHM. He currently is Chair of ACM. He holds a Masters in Education from UHMʻs Learning Design and Technology program in the College of Education, and a BFA in Character Animation from California Institute of the Arts.

Posted by Dan Boulos in OER
OER for Online Learning: Contemporary Online Instruction Simplified

OER for Online Learning: Contemporary Online Instruction Simplified

This is a guest blog post by Michael Menchaca, grant recipient and project lead developing OER for the LTEC 612 graduate courses at UHM.

Online learning has virtually exploded over the last decade. Within the next few years, nearly every college student and most K-12 students will have experienced some form of online education. As is typical with any type of learning, student experiences in online environments range from exceptional to atrocious. Thus, it is incumbent upon those with both practical and theoretic experience to share their expertise to promote only the best practices for virtual learning.

To that end, there are many books on distance education, including some very good ones. However, there are fewer textbooks that take an Open approach that can be easily adapted and distributed as needed. Thanks to generous funding from the UHM Outreach College, this project will help to fill that gap with easily accessible and a simplified approach to teaching online. In addition to providing a broad overview of distance learning characteristics, theory, and resources, this project will provide specific strategies for delivering instruction in five major areas:

  • Hybrid delivery strategies where there is some face-to-face
  • Asynchronous delivery strategies
  • Synchronous delivery strategies
  • Organizing and assessing content, and
  • Appropriate mixing of categories

Each chapter will build essential skills incrementally leading to providing expertise to design and implement complex online learning environments. The text is designed to encourage others to connect the information provided to their own interests and areas of control.

Because of the reliance on Open Educational Resources technology, the delivery system also becomes a model for what is learned. Each chapter will also contain case studies about real world solutions in distance course design and implementation.

Project Lead

Dr. Michael Menchaca

Dr. Michael Menchaca

Michael Menchaca from the Department of Learning Design and Technology in the College of Education. Dr. Menchaca has over 15 years of online learning and teaching experience. He has helped design, implement and deliver online learning programs at several institutions, including Pepperdine, Sacramento State, and the University of Hawaii. He has authored papers and conducted research in online learning for over 10 years.

Posted by Billy Meinke in OER
An Open Textbook for “Mathematics for Elementary Teachers” courses

An Open Textbook for “Mathematics for Elementary Teachers” courses

This is a guest blog post by Michelle Manes, grant recipient and project lead developing OER for the MATH 112 & 112 undergraduate courses at UHM.

Students planning to major in elementary education at UH Manoa are required to take a one-year sequence of mathematics content courses: Math 111 and 112 (“Mathematics for Elementary Teachers I and II”). The goal of these courses is to help students begin to develop what education researchers call “profound understanding of fundamental mathematics.” That means that they understand not just the mechanics of standard K–5 mathematics topics (place value, the four standard arithmetic operations, fractions, decimals, geometry) but also know how the ideas connect to each other, and why things work the way they do. They can create examples and diagnose student errors. They can explore unfamiliar problems and convince themselves of their own solutions.

Another major goal is that we develop in students a growth mindset and a positive disposition towards mathematics. We hope that students who complete these courses believe that everyone (including themselves and their future students) can learn mathematics, that learning mathematics is worth doing, and that mathematics can be joyful and fun.


Sample content from the Math 111 OER textbook


Standard textbooks for these courses vary dramatically in quality. After extensive searching, UH Manoa faculty found all of them wanting in terms of the needs of our students. Furthermore, the books from mainstream publishers often cost $200 or more. Several years ago, Professor Manes collaborated with several graduate students in the department to create eBooks for these two courses, which have since been used by all faculty teaching the courses. These books are available for free to our students (either iBook or PDF format).

The current project is inspired by three recent developments:

  • The UH system move from the FS (symbolic reasoning) to the FQ (quantitative reasoning) foundations requirement means that we need to revisit and update the Math 112 class to meet the FQ benchmarks.
  • We have received inquiries from faculty at other institutions about using our materials with their students. We therefore plan to provide these materials in a format that is more easily modified by others.
  • We wish to make the updated text available under a Creative Commons CC-BY-SA license. This will require careful editing of pictures and some of the text so that we avoid issues of copyright infringement. Complete drafts of eight chapters already exist in iBook and PDF format, but these do not make it easy for other faculty to take, alter, and use the materials for their own purposes. We plan to move the materials to Pressbooks.

The outcome of the project will be a Mathematics for Elementary Teachers textbook, free to all of our students, meeting the UH quantitative reasoning foundations requirement, and available for faculty at other institutions to adapt and use for their students as well.

Project Leads

Michelle Manes

Dr. Michelle Manes

Michelle Manes is an Associate Professor in the Departement of Mathematics. Before earning her Ph.D. in Mathematics, she spent over 10 years working in K–12 mathematics education, including curriculum development and teacher professional development. She also worked as a 3rd – 5th grade mathematics specialist at a private school in the Boston area. She has been recognized for outstanding teaching by both the University of Hawaii (with the 2017 Board of Regents Medal for Excellence in Teaching) and the Mathematical Association of American (with the 2015 MAA Golden Section Award for Distinguished College or University Teaching of Mathematics). She is the co-founder of the Math Teachers’ Circle of Hawaii and an Ambassador for the Global Math Project.

Tristan Holmes

Dr. Tristan Holmes

Tristan Holmes is an Instructor in the Department of Mathematics. He earned his Ph.D. in Mathematics in 2015 for his work in the area of the study of partially ordered sets. Since then he has taught Mathematics for Elementary Teachers I every semester, in addition to other courses. While a graduate student at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa he was a fellow in the Department of Mathematics K-12 project SUPER-M.

Posted by Billy Meinke in OER
Getting the Message: OER for Communicology

Getting the Message: OER for Communicology

This is a guest blog post by Jessica Gasiorek, grant recipient and project lead developing OER for the COMG 371 undergraduate course at UHM.

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For most of us, communicating is like breathing. We do it frequently and easily (with occasional exceptions), without worrying about how it works. Despite feeling simple, however, communication is actually a quite complex—and in some ways, amazing—phenomenon: using a combination of sounds and body movements, we are able to change another person’s thoughts, and to take a wide range of otherwise invisible things going on in our own minds, and share those things with others.

COMG 371: Message Processing is a course designed to help students better understand the fundamentals of human communication.  The course addresses two related questions: How does human communication work? And, what happens— biologically, cognitively, and socially—when we communicate? COMG 371 is a required course for both majors and minors in Communicology, and the topics covered in it are often challenging for students.  In this course, students are asked to objectively and scientifically examine behaviors and experiences in their everyday lives (e.g., speaking, listening, making inferences about what others are thinking) that are so routine that they often go unnoticed.

The goal of this OER project is to develop the first sections of a flexible, online, dedicated text for this course. Currently, there is no textbook for the class because there is no single book that addresses all course content, and asking students to purchase several costly academic books (to use only part of each) is not reasonable. However, this means that students currently lack a comprehensive, written resource for this course. This project aims to fill that gap by creating an upper-level undergraduate introduction and explanation of the social and cognitive processes involved in human communication.

Message in a bottle

Given the project’s relatively short timeline, the text being developed over summer 2017 will focus on content covered in the first unit (i.e., approximately six weeks) of the course.  Specifically, this includes:

  • Introducing what “message processing” is and why it is important to study;
  • Introducing fundamental concepts to communication including interactivity, media, messages, and codes;
  • Providing a summary of common definitions of communication (used in contemporary texts in the discipline) and;
  • Introducing a “message processing” definition of communication which focuses on communication as a process of creating understanding;
  • Introducing the two extant theoretical approaches to modeling human communication, the code model and the inferential model.

This covers foundational concepts and theories required for success in the rest of the course. It also represents the area of course content for which there are the fewest other suitable resources (e.g., other OER content, academic articles or book chapters) available for students. We hope that having dedicated materials for this course should significantly improve students’ experience in COMG 371, and their learning (i.e., comprehension and retention) of course material.

Project Lead

Jessica Gasiorek profile image

Dr. Jessica Gasiorek

Jessica Gasiorek is an assistant professor in the Department of Communicology at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. Her research addresses message processing, social cognition, and issues related to communication and aging. Her published work includes both empirical articles and book chapters on communication accommodation theory, communication and aging, and communication in multilingual medical contexts. She can be reached at gasiorek@hawaii.edu

Posted by Billy Meinke in Grant Projects, OER, UH Manoa
An Open Physics Database for Students Learning with OER

An Open Physics Database for Students Learning with OER

Two main components are crucial for one's success as a physics student: access to proper studying resources, and developing problem solving skills. Beginning in 2015, the UH Mānoa Department of Physics and Astronomy has used the OpenStax College Physics OER textbook for their introductory physics courses, which is freely available online under a Creative Commons license. This eliminates the cost of purchasing a text book, and allows access to course materials for everyone; a print textbook also available to those who wish to purchase it.

About the Database

Particularly in physics, solving problems by working through to the solution is a key process of learning. We are building a physics database (pdb) of practice and assessment problems to pair with the Openstax College Physics textbook. The pdb will be open source, with the goal of providing a quality and free resource to students and faculty that others can extend or build on. Ideally, the problems in pdb will be randomized and mutable so that they are unique in methods of solution and time. This will help foster critical thinking, and reasoning in physics.
One of the main aspects of physics that is truly exciting is how mathematics is used to accurately describe the reality around us. It was Newton who first described gravity with a thought experiment. He considered firing a cannon from a very tall building, and eventually if fired with enough force, the cannon ball was sent into orbit around the Earth. Indeed, it is this falling motion in gravity that holds the planets and our solar system together. The planets are literally falling around one another! Problems in pdb will be algebraic and complementary to the content structure of the OpenStax College Physics text. Students will learn Newton's laws of motion, kinematics, work and energy relations, uniform circular motion, linear momentum and collisions, statics and torque, rotational motion and angular momentum.

Concepts in Physics

To give an example of the knowledge areas the pdb will focus on, here is a classic example of conservation of angular momentum. The concept is demonstrated by an ice skater who controls their speed by extending or pulling in their arms. When the skater pulls in his or her arms, their moment of inertia is decreased.

Thus, in order for angular momentum L to be conserved, if a skater changes shape by extending or lowering their arms, their rotational speed must decrease or increase, respectively.

ΔL = 0

The two videos below demonstrate this phenomenon. Conservation of angular momentum is applied to solving many physics problems. Examples include those involving orbiting planets, gravitation, motion of atoms and subatomic particles.

Chris, a graduate student in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Hawaii Manoa, demonstrates conservation of angular momentum.

Mechanical engineering junior at the University of Hawaii Manoa, Ana, demonstrates conservation of angular momentum.

Our goal is to create the physics database of problems to serve as a free resource for students and teachers that are using the Openstax College Physics book. OER can greatly offset costs for students, and we hope to provide a quality problem solving component to match.

Project Leads of the Physics Database of Problems

Dr. Mark Slovak

Mark H. Slovak is an observational astronomer in the Department of Physics & Astronomy at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, specializing in cataclysmic variables. Involved with STEM/OER initiatives for several decades, he has been recognized for his outstanding undergraduate teaching in both physics and astronomy. An early adopter of OER e-texts for physics (and astronomy), he is currently engaged in efforts to provide additional ancillary OER materials, including a non-proprietary database of physics problems and exercises. He can be reached at mslovak_at-hawaii-dot-edu

Christina Nelson

Christina graduated from the University of Hawaii at Manoa with a B.S. in Physics and a minor in computer science in the Spring of 2017. Motivated by a deep passion to learn and discover what nature is telling us through physics, she plans to continue her academic career in graduate school at McGill University, Montreal. Her main interests are experimental particle physics, the fundamental constituents of matter and their interaction, the very early Universe after the Big Bang; quantum mechanics, how matter on the smallest scale relates to matter on the largest, the role of a conscious observer; and computer science applications to physics analysis such as Monte Carlo simulations, machine learning, and algorithm optimization.

For more about this project, see their project page: College Physics

Posted by Christina Nelson in OER, Open Textbooks, Student, UH Manoa
2017 UHM OER project awards! And a new look at oer.hawaii.edu

2017 UHM OER project awards! And a new look at oer.hawaii.edu

We’re excited to announce the 2017 UHM OER project awards!

Each project will receive funding up to $5,000 to create an OER textbook or course, or develop instructional tools to support existing OER adoptions on campus. The selected projects come from a broad group of colleges and departments at UHM, representing diverse interests and applications for OER at the Mānoa campus. Several of the courses moving to OER are offered at other campuses throughout the UH System, providing a unique opportunity to collectively improve learning content.

The projects will develop their OER this beginning this month, with plans to share the outputs to the UH System OER Repository by the end of fall semester. These materials will be shared with a Creative Commons (CC) license for faculty and instructors throughout the UH System to reuse in whole or in part. All supporting software for the OER projects will licensed as free software and shared via Github as applicable.

A list of the projects (in no order):

  • College Physics
  • Contemporary Online Instruction Simplified
  • Human Nutrition*
  • Math 111 + 112
  • Musubi: A New Approach to Japanese Language and Culture
  • Message Processing: The Science of Creating Understanding
  • Practical Meteorology
  • Principles of Microeconomics
  • Siblaw Taraw: Tales of Enchantment from Barlig
  • The Animator’s Companion – Essentials
  • The Open Constitution

We’ve started a page on this site for each project, with more details about what’s being built:

http://go.hawaii.edu/shj

Be sure to subscribe to the UH OER blog to keep up with the progress!

A link to the original call for proposals can be found here.

*The Human Nutrition OER project began as a pilot in December 2016)

By the way

You may also notice some changes in the style and construction of oer.hawaii.edu, including a new landing page. We’re working to make our resources as usable as possible, so please get in touch if you notice anything our of the ordinary. Mahalo!

Posted by Billy Meinke in Grant Projects, OER, UH Manoa
UHM Open Education Week Summary: Students at the Front

UHM Open Education Week Summary: Students at the Front

Yesterday’s events marked the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa’s inaugural celebration of Open Education Week. As luck would have it, the UH system holds Spring Break during the global event’s official dates (March 27-31). Nonetheless, faculty, staff, and students attended presentations and workshops focused on many aspects of Open Educational Resources (OER) adoption at UHM.

Morning Sessions

The events were split into three clusters beginning with morning talks in Kuykendall Auditorium. UHM Outreach College Dean Bill Chismar offered opening remarks for the day. Dean Chismar touched on the local and global importance of expanding OER adoption throughout the UH system. He also spoke to the recently announced OER grant program focused on supporting faculty as they move their high-enrollment high-cost textbooks to OER alternatives.

UHM Outreach College Dean Bill Chismar

The morning then moved into my presentation outlining the current state of students and textbooks at UHM. We’ve been working on a strategy for the OER initiative that can provide targeted support for projects as well as broader impact for the UH system as OER begins to take hold. We will be accomplishing this through a balanced approach consisting of OER tool and process development, broad advocacy for OER adoption and creation, and connecting our work to the global open education community. Slides from my talk can be found here.

UHM OER Technologist Billy Meinke

To follow the OER strategy talk, an invited panel representing UH community colleges shared their work lowering textbook costs and supporting faculty adoption of OER. The excellent panel consisted of OER Steering Committee members Leanne Riseley (LCC), Wayde Oshiro (LCC), Carol Hasegawa (HCC), and Sunny Pai (KCC). Much of the session focused on hard numbers of student dollars saved, courses converted to OER, and the growing number of faculty and lecturers at the community colleges that have begun incorporating OER into their instruction. The panel’s presentation slides can be found here.

OER/Zero Cost Textbook Success Panel

Following the panel, UHM Associate Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Debbie Halbert gave a compelling talk entitled Academia as a Culture of Sharing. Debbie pointed to the restrictions of copyright when publishing work and shared examples of ideas that have been borrowed and built upon, but were fraught with legal complications when they were reused by others. An advocate for open copyright licensing (such as Creative Commons), Debbie argues that the culture of academia is based on sharing ideas and work. Her Prezi presentation can be found here.

UHM Associate Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Debbie Halbert

Lunch Events

Around 12noon we moved into lunch sessions at Hamilton Library that were intended to attract students and faculty who aren’t already involved in OER adoption at UHM. Mindy Boland from ISKME gave a great overview of the OER Commons repository for finding useful OER, and walked through the powerful (and free!) OER content authoring and remixing tools on the site.

The second midday event featured UHM ASUH President Roxie Kamoshida calling for student action supporting OER. Her presentation touched on potential cost savings for the highest enrollment undergraduate courses, and maintained that students often sacrifice their performance in a course based on high textbook costs and restricted access to learning content. Roxie finished with a call to action for all UHM students, asking them to spread the word about OER with their student colleagues, ask their instructors if they will move to an OER textbook, and leave requests for OER use in course evaluations.

Roxie Kamoshida’s call to action for student support of OER

Afternoon Workshops

After a break for fresh air, we moved into afternoon workshops beginning with a demo and overview of the Pressbooks authoring platform being supported at UH. As a UH system-wide platform, all faculty and staff (and student!) can request access to OER Pressbook sites for adapting and developing OER for courses. This will be the recommended platform for recipients of the first wave of OER grants through the UHM Outreach College, as it allows legally-and-technically open content to flourish.

We ended the day’s formal sessions with a conversation about the future of training and certifying UH faculty and staff in skills needed for OER adoption and reuse. As a capacity-building measure, leveling up the skills of folks within the UH system will be increasingly important as interest and demand for OER specialists grows at each campus. Interesting, sustainable ideas were brought to the table, and we will continue to work towards an approach that can serve everyone in the UH system.

Students at the Front

ASUH President Roxie Kamoshida, Landon Negrillo, and UHM undergraduate students

A theme that persisted throughout the day was that of remembering “why” we are pushing for OER adoption at the University of Hawai’i. OER offers us limitless opportunities to better serve our students, without which the university would not exist. If we are to equip our students with skills needed to succeed in their next professional or academic ventures, it begins by involving them in the curriculum. We need content and learning tools that involve students as co-creators, reinforcing communication and collaboration skills that will be demanded by technology-enabled jobs of the future.

Mahalos to all the faculty, staff, and students who helped make our celebration of Open Education Week a success. Out events could not have been possible without the support of UHM Library, UHM’s Center for Teaching Excellence (CTE), and UHM’s ASUH.

Posted by Billy Meinke in Conference, Open Education Week
Open Education Week 2017 @ UHM Events Announced

Open Education Week 2017 @ UHM Events Announced

We are proud to offer events on campus at UHM this year in celebration of Open Education Week 2017!

This year’s program will include presentations on a number of topics:

  • Student cost savings with Open Educational Resources (OER)
  • Copyright and Intellectual Property in the digital age
  • Free OER textbook adoption and publishing tools
  • UHM’s OER grant program

To RSVP for all sessions, go to: http://go.hawaii.edu/WSj

All are welcome to join us for a lunch-time demo of the OER Commons repository and authoring tools. Lunch provided! Location: Hamilton Library room 301 @ 11:30am.

Students are invited to join us for free pizza and a conversation about students and lowering textbook costs with Roxie Kamoshida, ASUH President. Location: Hamilton Library 301 @ 12:15pm.

This event is being is sponsored by the Open Educational Resources (OER) initiative of the UHM Outreach College, the UHM Center for Teaching Excellence (CTE), Associated Students of the University of Hawaii (ASUH) and UHM Libraries.

For additional information including a full schedule, see: http://oer.hawaii.edu/open-education-week-2017

Posted by Billy Meinke in Open Education Week
An OER Production Workflow for Faculty

An OER Production Workflow for Faculty

One of my goals when coming on board to lead the Outreach College OER initiative was to put tools in the hands of faculty. The faculty we work with at UH come from all walks of life and bring unique experiences to the table when looking at adopting OER textbooks. Comfort levels and savvy with edtech tools will vary, but that shouldn’t keep anyone from understanding the workflow that collaborators use when creating OER.

Back in January I wrote about OER workflows that visually represented the steps in the production workflow, but none seemed to be a perfect fit. Using these OER-specific workflows alongside tradition online course and journal production workflows led me to what we have here.

This diagram is my attempt to provide a visual for understanding the major steps in the production of OER.

A draft of this workflow was sent out via mailing lists and social media channels with a request for feedback on its design. More than a dozen folks left comments on the Google Doc, and I’ve done my best to incorporate the feedback that adds overall value to the workflow.

There were some enquiries about our mention of an OER specialist and a librarian that would be part of the process supporting OER adoptions. In the UH system, we are identifying two representatives from each campus as points of contact, so that we can more easily share successes and support our colleagues at all campuses. Ideally, this would mean that each campus would have an instructional designer and a librarian, both familiar with OER. These two-person teams would support OER adoptions and creations at their campus and be able to signal if they needed additional support from other UH campuses. Having a common roadmap like this for our OER projects will mean that we can lend a hand in specific ways to help each other along.

Now while I can’t guarantee that everyone who works with us on OER will leave with a deep understanding of instructional theory or design, I do hope that shedding light on the process will encourage more faculty to open up their own processes and practices. Teaching is an art, and this workflow doesn’t include pedagogical questions or structures like I know it could. But there will be other versions of this down the line, and as we use this workflow with more and more faculty, we hope to see extensions of the tool elsewhere.

Shaka icon

A big Mahalo to everyone who chimed in with feedback!

And if you found the workflow useful to you, drop us a line at oer@hawaii.edu and let us know.

PS The workflow will print nicely onto 11″x17″ paper for handouts

Posted by Billy Meinke in OER, Open Textbooks
OpenOregon and the $100 Textbook Explained

OpenOregon and the $100 Textbook Explained

Using student cost ($) savings as a primary metric for gauging success in an OER important is common, as it should be. But a word-of-mouth average is only as good as its supporting information and statistics. How did we get this figure?

Amy Hofer at OpenOregon went through the trouble of summarizing the supporting evidence for the widely-used $100 per textbook figure.

She writes:

It would be very handy to have an agreed-upon dollar amount that we could all use when calculating savings that result from OER adoptions. Many institutions rely on an estimate of $100 per student, per course. This post explains why that is a fair estimate.

Amy goes on to describe the different methods various folks have used to calculate student cost savings, being sure to mention that the most useful calculation will depend on which data is actually available. Having a reasonable median figure to refer to when discussing realistic cost savings is key, so this roundup of supporting evidence is greatly appreciated.

Open Oregon logo

Thanks to Amy Hofer and @OpenOregon.

Posted by Billy Meinke in OER, Student, Zero Textbook Cost
Reblog: Pragmatism vs. Idealism and the Identity Crisis of OER Advocacy

Reblog: Pragmatism vs. Idealism and the Identity Crisis of OER Advocacy

This is a reblogged essay by Dr. Rajiv Jhangiani of Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Vancouver, BC.

The original post can be found on his blog (shared under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license):  http://thatpsychprof.com/pragmatism-vs-idealism-and-the-identity-crisis-of-oer-advocacy/

I have shared his post here because I feel it is one of the most concise descriptions of paradoxes being revealed in the OER movement. As the movement matures, it’s important to examine the tensions that would delay our progress working towards free, open, and equitable educational resources and practices for everyone.

Enjoy.


In a couple of weeks I will be in Cape Town, presenting at the 2017 OE Global Conference. This long-ish blog post is a preview of some of the ideas I will discuss during my talk (which shares the title of this blog post). I welcome your comments as I continue to refine my ideas.

The open education movement has made and continues to make great strides, with the creation, adaptation, and adoption of OER slowly but surely becoming mainstream practice. However, as the adolescent OE movement enters a growth spurt that may see its use as primary courseware triple within five years, some noticeable paradoxes have emerged that hint at an identity crisis within the OE movement and, in particular, within OER advocacy.

Free vs. Freedom

Open education advocates customarily define OER as “beyond free,” based on the permissions to reuse, revise, remix, retain, and redistribute these resources. However, in practice, OER advocacy often centres on the unaffordability of commercial textbooks and the cost savings associated with the adoption of open textbooks (i.e. merely “free”). On the one hand, this appears appropriate, even pragmatic, given the significance of the burden of student loan debt in North America and the impact of escalating textbook costs on students’ educational choices and outcomes. Moreover, textbooks are a familiar entity to academics, and, unlike with tuition fees and costs of living, faculty control adoption decisions and consequently the cost of required course materials. At the same time, this narrow focus on cost savings is immediately less relevant in countries where faculty are less reliant on expensive textbooks. In fact, it may not even be pragmatic in North America, as recent research shows that the cost of resources is the least-considered factor for U.S. faculty when assigning required course materials. Moreover, although a cost-savings framing appeals most directly to student groups, as pointed out it is faculty who control adoption decisions. Finally, framing OER in terms of zero cost (one among many implications of open licensing) may unintentionally constrain the use of the permissions that come along with OER and disengage faculty from the opportunity to move away from bending their courses onto the structure of a textbook. Indeed, faculty who reuse, redistribute, and retain OER (themselves a minority) continue to greatly outnumber those who revise and remix OER, a pattern that may be perpetuated through the best of intentions of OER advocates. As Weller and his colleagues put it:

if cost savings were the only goal, then OERs are not the only answer. Materials could be made free, or subsidized, which are not openly licensed. The intention behind the OER approach is that it has other benefits also, in that educators adapt their material, and it is also an efficient way to achieve the goal of cost savings, because others will adapt the material with the intention of improving its quality, relevance or currency. (pp. 84-85)

Evolution vs. Revolution

OER advocates often highlight the advantages of the internet and digital technologies, especially as they enable the marginal cost of reproduction and distribution of educational resources to approach zero. However, the OER movement itself continues to grapple with questions from a pre-digital past, such as the responsibility of updated editions of open textbooks and the development of ancillary materials such as question banks. Although OER funders may (rightly) consider these matters stumbling blocks which, if not addressed, would inhibit uptake, employing the language of the commercial textbook industry runs the risk of dragging along a traditional mindset based on the top-down delivery of static and (falsely) scarce information. This begs a broader question: If open educational practices are a game changer, why are OER advocates playing by the rules of the commercial textbook industry?

Framing OER as free, digital versions of expensive print textbooks also risks playing directly into the hands of commercial textbook publishers who are in the midst of a pivot away from a business model based on selling “new editions” of print textbooks every three years to one based on leasing 180-day access to digital content delivery platforms. As post-secondary administrators begin to more seriously consider the social and fiscal consequences of high textbook costs, it will be tempting for them to capitulate to aggressive sales pitches from publishing coalitions that exchange faculty choice and student agency for slightly discounted digital textbooks. In order to avoid the most effective arguments of OER advocates being further co-opted by commercial publishers (e.g., see this product brochure from Pearson Education for their digital platform that cites data on the impact of OER adoption on student outcomes) and especially to realize the full potential of OER, the goal posts must be placed further than simply cheaper textbooks. As Robin DeRosa, an open educator who clearly favours revolution over evolution, puts it, “Fundamentally, I don’t want to be part of a movement that is focused on replacing static, over-priced textbooks with static, free textbooks.”

Resources vs. Practices

The tensions between cost savings and textbooks on the one hand and the affordances of open licenses and digital technologies on the other are manifested by contrasting emphases on OER vs. open educational practices (OEP). The latter is a broader, superordinate category that encompasses the adoption of OER and even open course design and development, but which places pedagogy (and therefore students) at its core. OEP most often manifests in the form of course assignments in which students update or adapt OER (e.g., with local examples or statistics), create OER (e.g., instructional videos or even test questions), or otherwise perform scaffolded public scholarship (e.g., writing op-ed pieces or annotating readings on the open web). Crucially, adopting OEP requires more of a shift of mindset than does adopting OER, more critical reflection about the roles of the instructor and the student when education continues to be based on content consumption rather than critical digital literacy despite information (and misinformation) being abundant. As David Wiley writes in his blog (albeit with the byline “pragmatism over zeal”), “when faculty ask themselves ‘what else can I do because of these permissions?’, we’ve come within striking distance of realizing the full power of open.”

Happily, advocating for OEP avoids the problem of inadvertently striking a judgmental tone when describing non-OER users (who may have excellent reasons supporting their choice) because discussions about innovation are not driven by guilt or avoidance. Rather, OEP articulates a vision of education that is aspirational and driven by an approach motivation. Within this broader vision, significant cost savings to students are the least significant benefit of OER.

Idealism vs. Pragmatism

The psychologist Erik Erikson articulated an eight-stage theory of psychosocial development that centered on an adolescent crisis between identity and role confusion (1956). During this stage, which persists through the college years, the adolescent begins to struggle with questions about who they really are and what they hope to achieve.

Although Erikson developed his theory to better understand lifespan development within individuals and not social movements, it is difficult to ignore the parallels between the tensions of an adolescent OE movement and the adolescent identity crisis that he described. Specifically, I believe that the frictions described above between “merely free” and “beyond free,” resources and practices, and evolution and revolution are each symptomatic of a psychosocial crisis within the OE movement that pits pragmatism against idealism.

Although OER advocates may understand and even experience both impulses, their goals and strategies often reflect one or the other. For example, whereas idealists push for for radical change that questions the status quo, pragmatists seek to build incrementally on the status quo. Whereas idealists work through collaborative networks such as faculty learning communities, pragmatists work to create grant programs for individual faculty to create, adapt, or adopt OER.And whereas idealists emphasize student-centered, personalized solutions that foreground process and agency, pragmatists emphasize instructor-centered turnkey solutions that foreground content and efficiency.

Outlined like this, it is easy to recognize the merits of both strategies. Indeed, idealists would do well to recognize that open textbook adoption tangiblybenefits students in material and educational terms that are not insignificant. On the other hand, pragmatists might recognize that the idealistic approach is appealing to those for whom the construct of a traditional textbook is a dinosaur best served by a meteor strike (and can therefore can be pragmatic).

An Integrative Solution to the Crisis

Given that Erikson believed that the individual could not be understood in terms that were separate from his or her social context (1959), I believe the key to resolving this crisis lies with an integrated approach that is sensitive to the diversity across and within the audiences whom we seek to serve.

As I have written elsewhere:

For faculty who enjoy experimenting and innovating, open textbook adoption does feel like a meagre position to advocate. These are instructors who care deeply about authentic and open pedagogy, who may take full advantage of the permissions to revise and remix, and who understand that adopting OEP is really just about good pedagogy and in that sense is not at all radical.

On the other hand,

there are faculty who currently adopt high-priced, static textbooks but care enough about their students to feel guilty about this decision (principled agents in a principal-agent dilemma). In at least some of these cases, the ensuing guilt leads them to bend the course to map onto the textbook, which, while not an example of great pedagogy, could be construed as an empathic response that ameliorates both their guilt and their students’ resentment. This is . . . where the social justice case for open textbooks may resonate particularly well.

According to Weller and his colleagues, there are three categories of OER users:

1) The OER active are

engaged with issues around open education, are aware of open licenses, and are often advocates for OERs . . . An example of this type of user might be the community college teacher who adopts an openly licensed textbook, adapts it and contributes to open textbooks. (pp. 80-81)

2) OER as facilitator

may have some awareness of OER, or open licenses, but they have a pragmatic approach toward them. OERs are of secondary interest to their primary task, which is usually teaching . . . Their interest is in innovation in their own area, and therefore OERs are only of interest to the extent that they facilitate innovation or efficiency in this. An example would be a teacher who uses Khan Academy, TED talks and some OER in their teaching. (p. 82)

3) Finally, OER consumers

will use OER amongst a mix of other media and often not differentiate between them. Awareness of licences is low and not a priority. OERs are a “nice to have” option but not essential, and users are often largely consuming rather than creating and sharing. An example might be students studying at university who use iTunes U materials to supplement their taught material. For this type of user, the main features of OERs are their free use, reliability and quality. (p. 85)

This taxonomy serves as a useful guide to OER advocates seeking to diversify or tailor their outreach strategy. For instance, OER consumers may be most interested in open textbooks and related ancillary resources that can be deployed with little or no effort. For this group, unfettered access for their students is highly desirable, with cost savings a nice bonus. On the other hand, the OER active group will be more sensitive to the impact of cost savings while also keen to learn more about the permissions to revise and remix OER. Finally, those in the OER as facilitator group will be excited by the potential to involve students in the creation or adaptation of OER via renewable assignments. Of course, this is far from an exhaustive list of strategic possibilities and only aims to illustrate the mechanics of an integrative approach.

Despite its merits, it would be naïve to believe that adopting an integrative approach would eradicate all tension within the OE movement. Idealists may continue to insist on the application of CC licenses that meet the definition of “free cultural works.” Pragmatists, on the other hand, will acknowledge that OER creators may have reasonable grounds for including a Noncommercial (NC) or even a NoDerivatives (ND) clause, even though an Attribution-only license (CC-BY) facilitates the maximum impact of OER. Pragmatists may also want to first ensure basic access for all whereas idealists may think it arrogant to insist that students first need access to required resources before partnering in pedagogical innovation. But while these tensions will not disappear, I believe it essential that we recognize both drives and have a deliberate, nuanced conversation about how best to harness both idealism and pragmatism in service of the goals of the OE movement.

So What’s Next?

In Erikson’s lifespan theory, the stages that follow adolescence pit intimacy against isolation (young adulthood), generativity against stagnation (middle adulthood), and, finally, integrity against despair (later adulthood). If these at all suggest a trajectory for the OE movement beyond its current adolescence, its advocates should aim for the next phase to involve a lot more collaboration among faculty and students, both across institutions and cohorts. This shift will require tools that support radically transparent collaboration (e.g., see the Rebus Community for Open Textbook Creation) but especially a break from traditional (opaque, territorial, top-down) approaches to curriculum design and development. As the proverb says, “if you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

Greater collaboration and a true democratization of the process of OER development will in turn engender a move away from philanthropic, government, and other unsustainable funding models in favour of a grassroots-based, community-driven, self-sustaining approach that resembles a bazaar in its connectivity and generativity far more than it does a cathedral.

Achieving this, while neither easy nor assured, is a necessary step for the OE movement on its path to becoming more critical, more self-aware, and more inclusive of a diversity of voices. In other words, a movement characterized by integrity, not despair.


You can follow Rajiv on Twitter at https://twitter.com/thatpsychprof and see his blog at http://thatpsychprof.com/.

Posted by Billy Meinke in OER, Open Education