OpenEdTools Symposium: Translating msgs for normals

OpenEdTools Symposium: Translating msgs for normals

At the end of last week, I had the pleasure of spending two days in meetings with directors, consultants, and designers at an open education tools symposium. A more detailed transcript can be found by searching Twitter for the hashtag #OpenEdTools, or by reviewing the documentation authored by staff at and other attendees. A big thanks to The Hewlett Foundation, the Moore Foundation, and for organizing the event, whose primarily goal was to sync up the larger edtech-supported OER efforts.


Before jumping into the meat of this write up, it’s important to consider some context around my own involvement in the event.

1) I am not the producer of any OER tools. Yes, I’ve authored a fair bit of OER content, and have strung together multiple OER tools to serve my own purposes, but I had a different stake in this than many of the other attendees. I was there as a “power user” of sorts, and fully intended to exploit what I learned at the meeting to serve my newly-focused audience: teachers and learners in higher education.

And 2) I’m very fortunate to have this narrowed audience to serve, as opposed to the OER providers and organizations at the meetings. When I was with Creative Commons (CC), strategies often became blurry and it was easy to default to a position of “let’s serve everyone.” It would not be a stretch to think most of the other attendees were dealing with mission statements and strategies that are becoming blurred as well, and so I considered myself fortunate to have clear goals and a more well-defined audience to serve.

Also worth mentioning is that there was representation from several “big” OER providers/initiatives at the meetings, including Lumen Learning, OER Commons, OpenStax, NROC, and the K12 OER Collaborative. A full list of attendees can be found here.

You also may notice the title of this post is a little odd. What are “normals,” you ask? In short, “normals” was a term used throughout the meetings to refer to the many folks that open education tools are meant to serve. “Normals” are less often makers of tools themselves, more often the creators of OER content, and thus rely on existing technology to work with OER. On some level, I actually believe we are all “normals” and that distilling the conversations from the meetings will serve us all. Without “normals” there would be no reason for us to be creating tools for open education, anyway.

And now the fun stuff: Takeaways.

Field Notebook and a pencil

Image by Helloquence on / CC0

1) Accessibility and Inclusive Design remains an afterthought

Jutta Trevinarus and Jess Mitchell from the Inclusive Design Research Center (IDRC) in Toronto were on hand, ensuring that the conversations considered the needs of all learners. IDRC has created many resources over the years, such as FLOE, a tool that makes it simple to enlarge, highlight, and otherwise manipulate Web-based content to be easier for all individuals to consume. Still, I found it hard to look past the fact that tools for inclusivity like those put out by IDRC have not been implemented across the board. As I mentioned above, many of the tool and platform providers at the meetings have broad, expansive audiences that may or may not have inclusive design atop their own list of needs. But still, I was surprised to learn that accessibility features of open education tools are not consistently implemented. Folks at the meeting were sympathetic to the messages brought forth by Jutta and Jess but there (unfortunately) were more fundamental infrastructure and interoperability issues that took precedence these two days.

2) Underneath it all, HTML still rules

A topic that emerge at the meeting that I appreciated more than most was that of interoperability between platforms. How can the OER providers align their underlying technology to make passing content between them easier? What can be done for content re-users that prefer to move OER out of a platform and into their own learning management system? How can the ingestion process for getting content into platforms be made easier? What’s causing the friction?

At the core, the big OER projects all use content schemas that are similar, yet different enough than to allow easy migration of content. As a case in point, OER content released by OpenStax is being actively migrated into Pressbooks format, where it can be more easily adapted and localized. From my understanding, the migration of this content was done with permissions granted by the open license, but that it involves extensive hands-on checks that cannot be automated. Would a common schema between the major providers help ease the pain of migration? In a breakout session devoted to this topic, it eventually surfaced that content in the major platforms is primarily held in HTML, with an XML-based version (or wrapper) that relies upon the individual platform.

Without getting too lost in the technical jargon, let’s imagine for a minute that you find an wonderful piece of OER at OER Commons. But your institution provides professional development and support for use of Lumen Learning’s Pressbooks variant called Candela. You take a copy of the content exported from OER Commons and attempt to load it into Candela. Does it know what it’s looking at, or does it need lots of help and massaging to simply look similar to what it did in OER Commons? Because there is no common schema for describing OER content that may pass between platforms, these types of migrations always require intervention, and this intervention can be above the technical knowledge level of “normals”. I’ll admit that there was no simple solution found for this issue, but Kathi Fletcher from OpenStax expressed an interest in convening the major OER content providers to scope and prototype what such as schema could look like. It was highly encouraging to see this interest in making OER content interoperable across systems, because right now it is not.

3) Version control ain’t much of a thing, yet

Of all the topics discussed at the meetings, version control was at the top of my own list. Always in search of incentives I can offer faculty who are considering adopting or creating OER is that they will become part of the OER ecosystem, and that they will benefit from the collective adaptations, updates, and potential improvements of content they share into the system. For example, I’ve considered the idea of the University of Hawaii system having a core set of OER textbooks that are course-specific. At the beginning of the semester, faculty can take a fresh copy of the textbook and over the course of the semester make tweaks that improve the applicability, accuracy, and overall fit of the content for their teaching style and their learners. At the end of the term, there might be several copies of the textbook, each of which has it’s own unique set of changes that might be worthy of being rolled into the “master” copy of the textbook, providing an improved starting point for all teachers going forward.

But there’s no toolchain or mechanism in place to allow this.

The closest thing I found at the meetings was a parent-child marking system in OER Commons, basically allowing users to see if content they are viewing is a “child” (derivative) of another piece of OER. In a healthy OER platform, you’ll see lots of copying and forking of content, each copy a little (or a lot) different from it’s parent. After speaking with Lisa Petrides during a breakout session focused on version control, it seems that OER Commons can probably provide some of the version control functionality described earlier. But what about content that passes between system, or has been exported and lived outside any OER platform for some time. How do we easily signal that our OER has changes that can benefit others who are using similar content?

OER Commons version history

During the discussion, Mike Caulfield did mention work done with the Federated Wiki project several years ago, where metadata on a piece of OER content describes changes made since the copy was made, and allows users to “roll back” changes to earlier versions. But this metadata isn’t listened for or understood by any other OER platform, and so this functionality is lost the moment the content escapes into the ether. An undesirable yet function solution was brought up: Leave a code snippet hidden in OER content that can track content wherever it goes. But since we (everyone) is being tracked more than they’d prefer, this idea sank quickly. Another idea that surfaced was to indicate the parent OER content using HTML “rel” tags, but this is a hack and the “rel” tag was never intended to support the kind of functionality discussed at the meetings. I do think it’s worth paying attention to this topic, as the OER schema conversation ended up blending with the version control topic. I hope a working group is formed to carry this interoperability work forward.

4) OER assessments and outcomes alignment is not easy

Though there were many specific issues and topics about OER brought up at the meeting, none surprised me as much as the discussion around assessment banks. Assessment banks are essentially repositories where formative and summative assessment items (multiple choice questions, prompts, etc) are stored. During the breakout session specific to the topic, it became clear that there is no useful specification governing how OER providers store and share assessment items. Sure, you can use specifications like QTI and LTI to format assessment items for fitment in a content delivery platform, but each provider uses their own methods for storing and managing them.

A few themes emerged in this specific breakout session:

  1. Assessment banks are essential to the adoption of OER, since many faculty will be resistant to adopting OER if it’s not paired with an assessment system that can automate grading. Proprietary content producers have stepped up to offer a homework and testing solution that works in tandem with their content, and faculty who have grown to appreciate these systems will be less likely to drop the proprietary content or textbook if an OER tool to replace it is not available.
  2. Alignment with standards, competencies, and outcomes is tricky. In many cases, embedded assessments (often called formative assessments) rely on the context created by the content they live inside. When an OER is revised, it’s difficult to maintain the relevance and applicability of assessments when the content itself has changed. OER providers like Lumen Learning and NROC have aligned OER content to outcomes, but this has been done in a way that can (too) easily break when the content is removed from their system or revised without also revising the outcomes and assessment items. If there were a centralized clearing house for open assessments, the assessment banks of individual OER providers could be merged and shared between systems. There are many detailed that would need to be hashed out, but there was support for the idea. We’ll see.
  3. The question of how learners are tested also bubbled up. In an age where long-used assessment banks from faculty and proprietary publishers can be found with a Google search, should we be using these types of assessment anyway? Shouldn’t learners be offered varied opportunities to demonstrate their newly-acquired skills, knowledge, and attitudes? Yes, but the kind of assessments we’d prefer to give learners do not scale well, and cannot be as easily automated as multiple choice tests. This is an example of how concessions have been made to allow technology to serve more learners, even at the expense of authenticity in assessment.
Hand holding a compass

Image by Heidi Sandstrom on / CC0

There surely are other important points raised and ideas hashed out at the #OpenEdTools meetings, but the above are the items that stuck with me. As we head deeper into the Spring semester, I will continue to work with faculty who want to adopt or create OER, and will attempt to share our successes and struggles with the folks who dictate the direction OER platforms move in. It goes without saying that at the end of the day, I care most about the end-users (or “normals”) of open education tools. But providing important feedback with OER platforms and being involved as they recalibrate their compasses and rewrite their roadmaps is extremely important if we want OER to strengthen its hold. The University of Hawaii system has a commitment to provide students with the best education possible, and OER needs to be central to this mission.

If you have thoughts about any of the above, feel free to leave a comment on this blog post or tweet using the #OpenEdTools hashtag to become part of the conversation.

Posted by Billy Meinke in Conference, OER
1 Year Ago: UHM ASUH Passes Resolution Supporting OER

1 Year Ago: UHM ASUH Passes Resolution Supporting OER

At the end of 2015, two senators of the Associated Students of the University of Hawaii at Manoa (UHM) submitted a resolution supporting the adoption of OER. As something that sort of flew under the radar for some, I believe it is important to note this milestone and recognize the two undergraduate students who put the resolution forward.

Eugene Lao, Senator of the College of Arts and Sciences

Maggie Hinshaw, ASUH Treasurer

Senate Resolution 14-16: In Support of Incorporating Open Educational Resources into General Education Curricula passed the ASUH senate vote unanimously in December of 2015.

The resolution states that ASUH:

  • Recognizes the rising cost of educational resources as a barrier to college affordability and student success.

  • Recommends that the UHM further utilizes open educational resources and other zero-cost materials for general education courses.

  • Understands that the extensive implementation of OER will help reduce the cost of education, expand the use of internet and digital technologies in education, and transform teaching and learning by fostering academic innovation through increased curriculum options.

As we build our bottom-up OER efforts, having complementary support from the student body will help us carry maintain momentum into the coming years.

Props to Eugene Lao, Senator of the Colleges of Arts and Sciences and Maggie Hinshaw, current ASUH Treasurer for introducing this important resolution.

You can read the full text of the resolution here.

Posted by Billy Meinke in OER, Student
Discovering OER Production Workflows

Discovering OER Production Workflows

We’re building steam to carry our OER efforts into 2017 by getting into the nitty gritty of the production cycle, how open learning content is actually adopted and modified for use. Textbook production workflows are a useful place to start when you’re seeking a model of OER production that will work for your community. But there are some nuances about developing OER, such as designing for reuse and leveraging outside volunteer efforts that may place greater demands on a project and change the processes for creating content. This post will review some interesting examples of OER production workflows and how their ideas may support the UH system as we move into the production cycle for our first open textbooks.

Messy desk space

Image by Jeff Sheldon / CC0

Considerations for OER

The production cycle for an OER course often varies from that of an OER textbook, largely because textbooks don’t always have pedagogical or delivery dependencies that could require more of the project (beware of scope creep!). An OER textbook is a knowledge base for the course, and may or may not include activities or assessments, but is “alive” for continuous improvement as a foundation for a course or workshop. Developing an assignment or assessment bank, for example, means including another OER product that may need its own workflow or extension/inclusion in the primary workflow for a textbook alone. Properly scoping the OER project is essential, regardless of how developed the workflow might be.

OERu’s Workflow

I have a lot of appreciation for the OERu’s mention of Raymond’s  release early, release often approach to developing OER. Content improves as more eyes are put on it, and it’s important to realize how many other individuals might be working on an OER similar to yours. What could you learn from them? What could they do for you?  This relates to BC Campus idea of having OER projects live in Open Creations mode, where they publish after each piece of remaining production work, and advertise tasks still to be done. I’m not sure how many takers they’ve had, but the point is that there’s an invitation for collaboration. Their OPEN sign is lit up.

OERu points out the modularity of their approach, breaking the OER production cycle into 5 parts:

  • Select
  • Design
  • Develop
  • Deliver
  • Revise

There are expectations of following a series of milestones in each step or phase in the cycle, finishing with a delivery and feedback loop. In theory, the course feedback would inform anyone who wished to improve or update the course for themselves or for the existing course.

OERu Workflow

OERu OER workflow / / CC BY-SA

It reminds me of the ADDIE model for instructional content development, which is still a popular method despite being used to support behaviorist instructional strategies. In OERu’s cycle, OER receive peer review during their initial development, and then as part of each delivery of the course. This model can likely be used as a starting point for a unique OER production workflow, as it has useful descriptions of each step without other distracting details.


This framework was part of a 2011 presentation by Gabi Witthaus, (University of Leicester), Julian Prior (University
of Bath), Sam O’Neill (University of Derby), Alejandro
Armellini (University of Leicester) that explained the process for the University of Leicester’s (and others in their network) of OER production and development. The CORRE model is “a framework for transforming teaching materials into OER” which assumes that those who implement the model will have a substantial amount of known materials available to support the building of an OER. They emphasize four phases:

  • Content
  • Openness
  • Reuse & Repurpose
  • Evidence

CORRE framework for OER development

This framework gets into the specifics of OER production such as screening and clearing rights of OER, and preparing the OER for release in multiple formats. Colors indicate the specific collaborator/roles charged with delivering or helping complete part of a phase. Further on in the slide deck (linked in the image above) there is mention of a modified CORRE model by the University of Bath. Just like each person’s ideal version of the same OER – the way they would deliver it –  is different, I expect that institutions will have their own ideal version of a common production workflow . This one may be less off-the-shelf ready for application than OERu’s, depending on the staff and expertise available.

Additional Conceptual Frameworks

As part of the very-comprehensive OER Workshop self-learning wiki course, David Porter mentioned these two models. The first emphasizes the license on the OER as the key indicator of how others can share and/or modify the resource. The legal rights associated with OER are what give it wings, but not all CC licenses work the same way and can be edited or remixed with other OER.

OER workflow / / CC BY-SA 3.0

Another cycle mentioned on the wiki is one that assumes you are working with a pool of relevant OER, for which the rights have been cleared. The COMPOSE phase of this cycle encapsulates steps (again) similar to ADDIE, but as a loop and with the front end Analysis step rolled into the FIND step. An expectation here is that the desired knowledge or information has been clearly identified as the “something” a teacher or learner wants.

OER Development Cycle / / CC BY-SA 3.0

David did this work ahead of the successful BC Campus Open Textbook Project, so we can assume these above two models are along the path towards productive work with OER. They may be most useful when describing OER production in a zoomed out way, but do well to cover the basics when it comes to explaining how OER are created and reused.

Technical Diagram*

An output of the JISC #UKOER program, Lisa Rogers (Heriot-Watt University) shared a technical diagram for OER production, with useful indicators of decision points and transitions beginning with an OER content audit. Their detailed diagram includes five phases through which an OER being developed might move:

  • Creation
  • Quality Control
  • Technical
  • IPR Negotiation
  • Cataloguing

OER Workflow Diagram by Lisa Rogers – Heriot-Watt University is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial 2.5 UK: Scotland License

Provided there is the legal expertise available, this diagram would support the important rights-clearing steps associated with releasing and combining OER. What’s missing is the detail of the Technical Work step, which probably deserves a diagram of its own.

*Note: This diagram resource recently (today) disappeared from the Heriot-Watt University website, but an important Snapshot was saved by the Wayback Machine. Huzzah!

What’s actually going to support us?

My search for workflows was inspired by Rebus’ Hugh McGuire and his post on the forum inviting others to build on his draft project description. Signaling for others to contribute to a project is a nice gesture, but less useful unless discrete parts of the development process are identified. Thus, it makes sense to have a workflow to use for planning and mapping out milestones, not only for those formally involved with the project but also those volunteering from the outer community. Others need to know how they can pitch in.

Finding a workflow that works in our OER circle will involve answering some questions about the resources we have, end points we’d like to reach, and how each institution in the UH system can share steps in the production cycle. I’m hopeful for constructive dialog that will help refine workflows that work for us, and have already sent out a call for participation with our first open textbook creation project.

Happy holidays, everyone!

See you in the New Year.

Posted by Billy Meinke in OER, Open Textbooks

Technical Openness of OER and Pressbooks

Something we take for granted when it comes to Open Educational Resources (OER) is that there is a simple solution to the legal restraints on content. Creative Commons licenses are the gold standard for releasing content, making it clear that you would like others to build upon and share your work.

But the legal openness of content is only one side, and the technical openness of content is easily overlooked. Just because you have the legal rights to edit and revise or adapt an OER does not mean that it is easy to do so. Borrowing from Wiley’s Open Definition page that explains both legal and technical openness, this post will explain some of the reasoning behind our decision to use Pressbooks as the platform of choice for working with OER at UH.

Tools for craft making

Wiley offers the ALMS framework for assessing the technical openness of open content:

  • Access to editing tools
  • Level of expertise required
  • Meaningfully editable
  • Self-sourced

In a nutshell, the above criteria can be asked as a series of questions when trying to understand how easily you can edit OER. Does the file format the OER is shared in require expensive software to work with? Must you be an expert using specific tools to make changes to the OER? Are we talking about a PDF here, or an HTML page? These are all things to consider as they can present barriers to anything beyond an off-the-shelf adoption in which the adopting party makes no changes to the work. For educational uses, this rarely works well.

Enter Pressbooks.

Pressbooks is a variation of the popular WordPress content management system (CMS) that supports more than 60 million of websites, a huge chunk of the Web. Pressbooks is different than the WordPress you may have encountered in the past, in that it has been set up with controls and features designed to make the publishing process easier.

To be sure, lots of different content creation software and suites can be used to make OER. Tools ranging from MS Word to Google Sites can all create and house content, but a limiting factor of a many of these is that they require that same software to edit OER created in them. What if I want to re-use OER someone made in a piece of software I don’t have? This is often the case, and can drag a project to a halt.

Reason #1: No lock-in

Pressbooks export options

One of the most powerful features of Pressbooks is that it exports to a variety of formats that can be read and edited elsewhere. It should come as no surprise that editing a Pressbook inside Pressbooks is easiest, but a Pressbook can be exported to ePub, PDF, MOBi, and a range of XML flavors among other options. This means that content created in Pressbooks will be readable by almost any device, and is likely available in a format that you will be able to edit with free software. Content in, content out, so to speak.

Reason 2: Editor and reader all in one

Pressbooks editing screen

With Pressbooks, the editor and the viewer are all in the same location. Just like any other website, a Pressbook can be edited on the fly by an author or contributor. As I’ve been telling faculty lately, “if you can edit a webpage, you can edit a Pressbook.” This is what firmly places control over the content in the hands of instructional faculty, something traditional textbook publishers simply do not offer. For example, if you were reading one of BC Campus’ textbooks produced in Pressbooks, it takes very few steps to grab an export of their content and import it into your own Pressbooks instance. This is what we’re going to be offering to faculty within the UH system that first complete training in OER, copyright, and using Pressbooks. The power to create and adapt OER will be in the hands of everyone who wants it.

Reason 3: A community of makers

Pressbooks codebase on Github

One sign of a successful software project is that there is a community of end-users and developers who actively work to make the software better. Pressbooks only has one part-time developer working on the codebase, which on the surface may seem worrisome. But if you look deeper and realize that there are 23 developers who have committed code to the core codebase, and dozens more who are working on their own version of the software, you see that it’s a much bigger project. Pressbooks supports the BC Campus Open Textbook project, OPEN SUNY, and Lumen Learning’s flagship OER platforms. It’s the community of folks working on the codebase, and working with OER inside of Pressbooks that makes it a solid choice for us to begin our own OER initiative with.

This post hopefully provides some of the reasoning behind our planned use of Pressbooks at UH. I’m currently working with faculty inside a development instance of Pressbooks to give it a ride around the block and learn what aspects of working with OER inside Pressbooks will need support and training. If you’re interested in tinkering around with Pressbooks yourself, get in touch with us at oer @

Posted by Billy Meinke in OER

Say it like you mean it: Describing revision and remixing of OER

In my new role as the OER Technologist for the UH Manoa campus, I’m charged with helping faculty adopt OER resources, primarily “open textbooks”. Without getting into the details of it, faculty at higher ed institutions in the U.S. find comfort and confidence in OER resources that are packaged as a textbook. Although we are trying to move away from using the term textbook to describe OER, it’s still a term that helps us have more productive conversations with faculty who are new to (or are skeptical about) OER. I’ll keep using it for now.

A building in Montreal that has been built upon

A building in Montreal that has been built upon / Image from Imgur (no creator shown)

But just as we use the term textbook to have productive conversations about adopting OER, I’ve been brainstorming ways to describe the adaptation, revision, and remixing ultimately necessary to cement the adoptions. The open license on an OER permits reuse and repurposing, without which faculty could not make the book their own; they can’t take the steps needed to mould the OER content into materials that will work with their teaching style and with their students. So what language should we be using?

It’s important to mention here that a great deal of OER reuse and revisions happen in the dark, in places where we don’t see what changes have actually been made to the OER. Could these changes benefit others who are re-using the same OER? Maybe. Or would the original creators of the OER want to see how their work is being remixed? Probably. Heck, they might even want to roll some of those changes back into the MASTER version of the OER. I wrote about a need for better version control (git) for content back in March, if you’re interested.

Part of my interest in sussing out useful language to describe reuse and remixing comes from my upcoming work with faculty on their OER adoptions, specifically scoping the editing/revision work they wish to do with the OER. Will this be an off-the-shelf adoption, or one that includes sweeping changes to the structure and content of the OER? Probably not the former. So let’s begin.

Revision and remixing

Here are some terms to begin with:

  • Revising: Altering the textual content or media in an OER
  • Adding: Including new (previously unlicensed) textual content or media in an OER
  • Remixing: Combining two or more existing OER

On the surface, the act of revising an OER seems like a lighter-duty task thanremixing, but as the amount of content to be revised grows (ie a 1300-page textbook), even revision can take a great deal of work. Revising OER includes activities such as editing the tone or voice of the content, removing or reordering sections, and moving topics between chapters or modules. When we revise OER, we’re primarily talking about changing individual pieces of existing OER content, not adding new content.

Once the existing OER has been squeezed and stretched to the limits of its usefulness, we add content. This comes in the form of including more local examples that explain concepts, adding links to supporting research or media content, and including activities that can extend the content – such as curation or constructive activities that benefit the world’s knowledge (such as improving a Wikipedia article or contributing a choral explanation to the content). Whether we are adding new instructional content to the OER, or including new activities that encourage students to produce knowledge, the addition of content is the step important to any OER adoption.

The third of three terms, I expect many OER adopters to be interested inremixing multiple OER into one (or a cohesive set of them) that works for them. Now, we can safely assume that most new OER included in the remix will require some sort of revision (and possibly addition of new content) before its ready to be incorporated into the whole. If the base OER (the content we begin with) needed some work before prime time, the other OER we include will probably need some reworking as well. Exceptions to this exist of course, as it’s not reasonable to expect we can (or need to) edit or modify every openly licensed video, simulation, or research article we remix into our OER. But when we remix multiple OER, a certain amount of revision should be expected to help it “fit” into the base content.

Say it like you mean it

What this leads me to believe is that the more clearly we can describe the work needed to adopt OER, the fewer surprises and bumps in the road we’ll encounter. Instructional faculty have been reusing full-copyrighted instructional and research content without permission for decades, moreso since the mid-90’s when the Web made it dead simple to copy and share. And if they did revise or remix that content, it was done behind closed doors and in most cases never saw the light of day, for fear of legal issues, or simply because there was no reason to document it.

Now that we have explicit rights to reuse and repurpose content, we should be actively working to use language that describes OER activities. OER adoptions can include a great deal of work, and better tracking and describing of the work that goes into an OER adoption would go along way to support others who are considering working with OER.

Just as the Mozilla Science Lab has been working on badges that show who, what, and how folks have contributed to a published research paper, I’d to give credit to those who adapt OER and open the doors for all sorts of neat things to happen. Once we can better describe all the steps and work needed for successful adoptions, we can begin to look at giving credit to those who do the work. Now that sounds exciting, doesn’t it?

*This writing was originally published on and reposted here under the CC BY license.

Posted by Billy Meinke in OER

The UH Bookstores learn about OER

On October 21 managers from nine UH Bookstores arrived at Kapi‘olani Community College for a statewide meeting. The first item on their agenda was a four hour workshop on OER and the Textbook Cost: $0 program now in effect at Leeward Community College, UH Manoa Outreach College, Honolulu Community College, and Kapi‘olani Community College. As they had requested, Junie Hayashi (LCC), Billy Meinke (Manoa), and I (Kapi‘olani) provided a shortened version of Kapi‘olani’s 4-day OER workshop. We talked about the OER movement, Creative Commons, copyright, and how to find and use open educational resources available on the web.  They also learned that they could order OER textbooks from Open Stax and provide on-demand printing for OER as a service to our students.  Feedback was both enthusiastic and full of questions and insights as they face a changing world of educational resources.

Posted by Sunny Pai in OER

Takeaways from the OpenEd16 conference

This post is a collaborative summary of the Open Education 2016 conference by Billy Meinke, Beth Tillinghast, Sunny Pai, Helen Toregoe and Carol Hasegawa.

A handful of us were in attendance at this year’s OpenEd16 conference, which took place two weeks ago in downtown Richmond, Virginia. Record numbers were in attendance, and the conference served as common meeting ground for those building OER communities and resources.

UH folks at OpenEd16 conference

This year’s conference focused on a swath of topics including the “how” of successful open textbook projects, open pedagogical practices, and the future of OER content.

Here are a few of the highlights:

Open Pedagogy

Various projects were showcased at the conference, highlighting the possibilities of what can happen in the classroom when the content is open. As it was explained by David Wiley, organizer of the conference:

People learn when they do things

Copyright restricts what we are allowed to do

Open permits us to do new things

How will doing new things impact learning? Will we learn more? More deeply? Different things?

For those unfamiliar with Open Pedagogy, it essentially means that student in a given course are tasked with being producers of knowledge as part of their grade in the course, not just consuming content. OER are legally-open resources that can be built upon, and Open Pedagogy describes tools and methods of exploring how learners can benefit from knowledge co-creation.

Any example of Open Pedagogy can be found in Robin De Rosa’s blog post where she discusses the process she went through having her former students and student assistants help her create an open textbook covering Early American Literature. This is a great example of how students can contribute to OERs, becoming part of the content production process.

Meaningful Editing of OER

Adopting an open textbook often assumes that a certain level of adaptation need to be made before it will “fit” the style of the instructor and students. OER in come in many technical formats (ie .pdf, .doc), but not are as easy to edit as we like. Fortunately, the technical systems that make it easy to edit OER are improving, and many conference attendees were sharing their experiences using the Pressbooks platform to adopt and revise open textbooks.

Two groups who are building and supporting the adoption of open textbooks using Pressbooks as a platform are BC Campus and the Open Textbook Network. Each of them shared a guide to editing OER on the Pressbooks platform, which are worth a look.

Brad Payne from BCCampus gave a presentation that highlighted overlaps between the Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) movement, and hinted at work he is doing to build technology that improves collaboration on OER content. Two ideas that are supporting this work include 1) Stigmergy, which relates to the traces of our collective behaviors to collaborating on OER, and 2) Choral explanations, which are a form of stigmergy in which the collection of “good explanations” to answers about instructional content can help maintain and sustain effective OER.

Open Citation

David Kernohan’s (of JISC and the former UK OER effort) talk focused an intriguing historic lens on the tangled web of authors and publishers and how current measures of scholarly output & reputation need to be reconsidered and brought into the open. For more on this, see the Wikipedia article on altmetrics.

The OER Degree Initiative

The Open Educational Resources (OER) Degree Initiative, supported by Achieving the Dream, seeks to boost college access and completion, particularly for underserved students, by engaging faculty in the redesign of degree programs through the replacement of proprietary textbooks with open educational resources. This three year program started working with 38 community colleges in March 2016 and Bunker Hill CC, Santa Ana College, Central Virginia CC, and San Jacinto CC shared their early experiences. Some of their challenges included working with their institutions to change their class availability systems to identify OER courses, getting faculty buy-in, and navigating copyright questions.

A Synthesis of OER Efficacy and Perceptions Research: 2015-2016

John Hilton shared a few real life stories about how saving on textbook costs helps students with their basic living costs, then reviews studies that show how students using OER have been getting better grades and using their savings to sign up for more courses. OER use has also reduced drop rates, saving colleges significant sums as students are better able to persevere and finish their courses.

Netease: China corporate sponsor of OER

The 3rd biggest internet provider of online games & email service in China, Netease has spent 40 million yuan/year for the past 6 years to support a dedicated staff of 100 to service the higher educational needs of 18-35 year olds. High school in China, as in Japan, is rigorous; college is not, so Netease is addressing the learning gap to better prepare youth for the competitive and increasingly global job market.

Secrets to Success as a Faculty OER Champion

Linda S. Williams, a Business Professor at Tidewater Community College, is known for leading the first textbook free (Z Degree) program in the nation. She posits that “The most successful OER initiatives are those that are faculty driven and administratively supported. Key to this success are faculty champions who either by design or desire take on the role of OER advocate.”

She shared three important lessons she learned as a faculty OER champion at her school:

  1. Commitment – Takes an incredible level of commitment.  Commitment requires thick skin, because not everyone wants what you are selling.  But you can’t waiver.
  2. Consensus – Think about building consensus. Can you build consensus among the department?
  3. Community – Find people around you who will partner with you, to help you over the rocky times.  She formed a Z-degree advisory committee. Community is very important.

Finally, she stated “leadership is the ability to walk away from something and not have it fail.”

Pathways: Facilitating an online OER Training for Faculty

Since Fall 2014, 96 faculty at Tidewater Community College (TCC) have completed the 6-week online asynchronous “Adopting OER in the Classroom” training.  Per TCC’s OER policy, the librarians provide pathways, support, and training, and therefore facilitate the faculty training twice per semester.  It is not mandated but required of faculty before being allowed to teach a z-degree course.  Faculty choose to participate because they 1) want to teach a  developed z-course, 2) convert to z-course, or 3) interested but not yet teaching a z-course.

More stories & storytelling in presentations

Patterns emerge when you attend a marathon of 25 minute sessions over 2 days.

One thread noticed was the use of storytelling by multiple presenters, including the keynote speaker, Sara Goldrick-Rab. Narrative is a research method, the qualitative enriches the quantitative measures of assessment. Stories linger with us.

In sum

The OpenEd16 conference was a valuable experience for everyone involved, and the folks from the UH System who attended have brought back a renewed vision for OER and many great ideas. Looking forward to next year.

Posted by Billy Meinke in Conference, OER

Next steps for OER at UH

Over the last few years, Sara Rutter has done a fantastic job promoting OER adoption at the Manoa campus and supporting the OER community across the UH system. The UH community colleges have done amazing work themselves, with Leeward Community College and Kapiolani Community College leading the way with OER/Zero-cost textbooks, OER Fellowship programs, and broad creation/adoption of OER by instructors and faculty at their campuses.

We’ve had success at the Manoa campus as well, with the Department of Physics and Astronomy now a year-and-a-half into their adoption of the OpenStax Physics textbook in their PHYS 151 and PHYS 152 courses. Other adoptions of OER to replace costly commercial textbooks are imminent, but it will take a great deal of work to get there.

Creative Commons staff 2013

Although I’ve been in the role for several weeks now, I’d like to officially announce that I am now the OER Technologist for the UH Manoa Outreach College. I come into this role from the Distance Course Design and Consulting (DCDC) Group, an innovative digital design arm of the College of Education at UH Manoa, where I managed online program and course design projects. Before that, I worked for Creative Commons (CC), the global non-profit whose licenses have liberated over a billion digital works through open copyright. At CC I supported hundreds of institutions with open licensing their educational content as OER, and fell more deeply in love with free software and open practices.

I have big plans for OER at Manoa and throughout the system. Most of my time will be spent between advocacy and platform, meaning that I will be championing the use of OER in courses, and working on an OER platform for the UH system. One of the incredible benefits to working with OER is that they can be adopted, revised, remixed, and shared with others, but unfortunately, useful technology for OER revision hasn’t matured as well as the community would like. I am now working with UH ITS to spin up an instance of the WordPress-based publishing platform called Pressbooks.

Global leaders in the OER space such as BC Campus, OPEN SUNY, and Lumen Learning have all found success using Pressbooks, and I have high hopes for this platform and it’s ability to allow faculty to import OER and make it their own.

BC Campus Physiology and Anatomy open textbook

There will also be some changed to the website, but the core pieces will stay the same. The UH OER Repository will continue to accept OER submissions and ratings, and this blog isn’t going anywhere.

For those of you with whom I have already worked, I look forward to collaborating further. And if we have not yet met, I look forward to working with you for the first time 🙂

Billy Meinke headshot


Billy Meinke

Posted by Billy Meinke in OER, UH Manoa

Michelle Igarashi – Pass the Point of No Return or Regrets

This is a special guest blog post by Michelle Igarashi, English instructor at Leeward CC.


I started using OERs in 2014 when a publisher’s representative informed me that my textbook would be undergoing yet another round of “updating” and thus my students could no longer purchase used copies.

During a conversation with one of Leeward’s fine librarians, I discovered a wonderful new type of online text known as an “Open Educational Resource.” The clincher? These books were FREE!!!

I was dubious at first and thought there was no way a no-cost, and, gasp, online textbook could be as good as its bound counterpart. Also, I worried about accessibility. Socio-economic discrimination weighed heavily on my mind as I considered whether going 100 percent online would be appropriate and fair to all students. Therefore, for my first OER semester, I offered the students the option of printing chapters from our classroom printer (We have some tech in the room thanks to a grant.) if they so desired. No one took me up on it. I have been “textbook cost $0” from that point on, and every semester I offer students the printing option and not one has printed a single page.

My students have commented in class and on my evaluations that they love the online resources. I teach Career and Technical Education designated classes; many of my students spend their mornings in shop or in kitchens. Pupils have shared how they love having their textbook in their pockets, and how easy it is to pull out during breaks. Moreover, a couple of weeks ago, my classroom flooded, and we were relocated into the D building portables. I was concerned we’d have reading issues since we were without our usual classroom tech. I was pleasantly surprised, however, when, without missing a beat, students sat down, pulled out their phones and began reading. One even read from a flip! I captured the moment in the photo above. It looks like I have no classroom management, but as I walked around, every student had the OER pulled up, and, with no prodding, the day’s assignment was well done and completed on time.

Since adopting OERs, my students’ reading comprehension scores have gone up. Discussions are fuller as more students complete homework. No one “forgets” his/her book at home. Students like the interactive nature of OERs with clickable links as opposed to footnotes or having to flip to other parts of the book. Besides having to hide whenever a publisher’s representative walks through the Language Arts’ hallway, all is well.


Posted by Leanne in Faculty Leaders, Leeward, OER, Open Access Week

Kelsie Aguilera’s OER Journey with Anthropology

The following is a special guest blog post by Kelsie Aguilera, Anthropology instructor at Leeward CC.

kelsie-aguilera-oer-2016-2jn0m6d-300x258I first became aware of Open Access (OA) my first week working here at Leeward CC. My office mate at the time was Jayne P. Bopp, instructor in Sociology. Over the course of that first week sharing an office with Jayne, I noticed that she seemed to have found a magical way to avoid all the customary beginning of the semester drama revolving around textbooks. The customary beginning of the semester drama revolving around textbooks includes, but is not limited to, the following student gripes:

  • “Not knowing” what book is needed even though the syllabus clearly indicates the required textbook.
  • Not being able to afford the textbook.
  • Lamenting about not only having to buy an expensive textbook, but also having to read the textbook in spite of being far more adapted to acquiring information on demand (like a Google search) and via more interactive avenues (like educational videos on YouTube).
  • Seeing little value in textbooks. This idea is so pervasive among students that many avoid buying their required textbooks all together. For example, my older brother recently graduated from a well-known community college on the mainland and always boasts that he managed to acquire a B.S. in Education with a ‘B’ average, without ever buying a single required textbook!
  • Unwillingness to commit to my course with full 100% effort in the beginning of the semester because of “not having the book yet”.

Mind you, this list does not even touch upon the multitude of possible instructor gripes!

I soon learned from Jayne that this seemingly magical way of avoiding textbook drama was through providing Open Educational Resources (OERs) to students rather than assigning a traditional (paid) textbook. She then showed me how to search for free, open textbooks as well as how to make them available to my students. Unfortunately, I could not find an anthropology OER textbook, as anthropology is not one of the more “popular” college disciplines like psychology, math, and writing. I quickly abandoned my OER dreams until last Spring semester, when I took the Go Open, Go Free Using OER workshop series at Leeward CC, facilitated by the EMC and Library. If you’re interested, this workshop series will be offered again in the spring semester. Register at:

In the workshop series, I was guided through the process of curating a set of my own free, OERs. I learned that I no longer had to wait around for a perfect OER textbook to materialize; I could collect my course OERs myself! I loved the freedom and creativity involved in being able to pick and choose my course materials. With a traditional textbook, I disliked that so much of the content covered in the textbook was content that did not align with my Course Learning Outcomes (CLOs), and therefore, I would never assess. Why assign a dense textbook chocked full of material that is irrelevant to the goals of the course? With OERs, I was able to choose a set of relevant and diverse resources – academic journal articles, podcasts from NPR, latest blogs from professional anthropologists currently out in the field, and information from credible anthropological websites like National Geographic. I am lucky that in my discipline of anthropology, many of us have made a commitment to Open Access. In fact, many anthropologists are starting to avoid the traditional publishing route and make their research openly available. And yes, much of these resources that I now assign as part of my set of OERs have earned the esteem of being “peer reviewed”. And no, not a single student from any of the six course sections that I have transitioned to OER in has complained about not having access to online resources.

I personally believe that my ultimate goal with my introductory level anthropology courses here at Leeward CC is to inspire students to have a life-long appreciation and understanding of anthropology, whatever their academic or career paths may be. I personally believe that adapting to student needs by providing curated, relevant, and credible OERs in a variety of content types was an important step in helping me work towards this goal.

Posted by Leanne in Faculty Leaders, Leeward, OER, Open Access Week

OER Benefits for Students

By: Cara Chang, Writing Instructor at Leeward CC. Video produced by: Michele Mahi, Speech Instructor at Leeward CC. Special thanks to Michele’s COM 210H students for sharing their views on OER.

Students from Speech Instructor, Michele Mahi’s COM 210H class, candidly share why they appreciate using Open Educational Resources (OERs) in her class. In sum, students appreciate Michele’s incorporation of OER materials in the course because:

  • The text is available 24-7, so there is no excuse as to why students can’t do their homework.
  • It is free, which means students can focus on paying for their classes and not the added cost of textbooks.
  • The textbook is tailored to the course.
  • It is relevant for the class and provides many different perspectives.
  • It encourages the instructor to curate excellent materials for the content of the course, which means that he/she is involved and invested in the making of the course.
  • It is more fun than reading a textbook.
  • It is convenient and easily accessible.
  • It is easy to share information with others.
  • It is reflective of the “real world” which requires the use of technology.
  • It is environmentally friendly.
  • It is exciting and encourages learning!

View the video to see Michele’s students’ testimonies of why they like and how they have benefited from using OER in their COM 210H class.

Posted by Leanne in Faculty Leaders, Leeward, OER, Open Access Week, Student

Bureau of Labor Statistics: interactive graph shows 87.5% cost increase for college textbooks 2006-2016

The Economics Daily of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has an informative interactive graph of consumer price indexes for tuition and school frees from January 2006-July 2016.  While tuition and fees have risen 63 percent, college textbooks have risen 87.5%. See the graph and data at

Posted by Sara Rutter in OER