Conference

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
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
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 Hypothes.is and other attendees. A big thanks to The Hewlett Foundation, the Moore Foundation, and Hypothes.is for organizing the event, whose primarily goal was to sync up the larger edtech-supported OER efforts.

Context

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 unsplash.com / 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 unsplash.com / 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

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