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This blog was created to keep our expanding audience informed about what is going on in the world of Open Textbooks and related topics. Please read and enjoy the posts. You are encouraged to add any comments that add to the discussion.



April 2014
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Barbara Illowsky

Connexions Conference 2011 (Part 3)

Part 3

Connexions has expanded its partnerships to several organizations. I will highlight some of them. Representatives from the following organizations demonstrated, presented and/or discussed their organizations: VOER (The Vietnam Foundation for OER: http://voer.edu.vn ), Upfront Systems in South Africa (there was an excellent demo of http://mobile.cnx.org and a demo showing MathMl and text on cell phones using just a mobile browser, i.e., not needing an iPhone or an Android), WebAssign (http://webassign.net – an excellent homework and grading system for the sciences and mathematics which I personally admire and use with Collaborative Statistics), Shutterfly in South Africa (all content in the K-12 curriculum is available via mobile cell phones, again, not needing a smart phone), Jesuit Virtual Learning Academy (resource for network for the Jesuit 53 secondary schools in US and more than 400 secondary schools worldwide which encourages the development, use, and sharing of educational resources ), UniqU (a spin-off from Connexions that helps folks use Connexions http://theuniqu.com ), Words & Numbers (a publisher that has developed open textbooks for Connextions and other organizations), AKADEMOS (provides an information and commerce platform that serves a single site for gathering all learning materials used in educational environments http://akademos.com). Bridgeport Education (the parent company of Ashford University and University of the Rockies), Full Marks (a South African nonprofit assessment bank that is completely open source; people can add your own questions, score sheets, etc.), and NOTA (OER for K-12).

Dr. Joel Thierstein, Executive Director – Connexions

I will finish up this blog with a few comments from Joel Thierstein. Joel proudly proclaimed that OER is transitioning from a “movement” to “mainstream” as we transition into K-12 market. He announced that in the last two months, Connexions received a grant from a consortium of grantors. It is going to produce publisher quality content initially targeted at community colleges. Phase I is 18 months long and will result in the production of 5 textbooks (Anatomy &Physiology, Sociology, Biology, Biology for non-majors, and Physics). Phase II will also be 18 months long and will produce 15 additional books). The major expense is expected to be clearing the copyright of images. Once that happens, the images will be available freely to all. The goal of funders to increase quality of education. The money folks used to spend on textbooks will now be available to spend on new and innovative ways to do content. “If we succeed in this, it will change education forever,” according to Joel.


Connexions Conference 2011 (Part 2)

Part 2

The first panel discussed Connexions in Higher Education. Connexions co-founder, Dr. Sidney Burrus,  gave a brief history of Connexions, describing how it started in the Electrical Engineering Department of Rice University 1999 with a text written by Dr. Richard Baraniuk. Later, Collaborative Statistics, of which I am a co-author, became a Proof of Concept book. Dr. Andrew Barron explained his current project of including lots of cross references in modules for searching for techniques in the Chemistry discipline. Tom Caswell from the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges described its open course library with a project to design and share 81 (summer 2010 – fall 2012) high enrollment gatekeeper courses (face-to-face, hybrid and online). The goals of that project are to improve course completion rates, lower textbook costs for students (< $30 per text), provide new resources for faculty to use in their courses and for the WA college system to fully engage the global OER discussion. The 81 courses will be included in Connexions. Jim Berry from NCPEA discussed his project, peer reviewed journals for K-12 principals. This is a free market of education global, not locally. He discussed the peer review so that manuscripts published are high quality. An organization goal is “educational administrative professional knowledge that is captured by the profession and made accessible via the internet .” The journals are housed on Connexions. More information is available at: http://www.ncpeapublications.org/

Perhaps most important to Connexions end users will be this technical update. EPUB (eReaders) has Connexions content on it. This eReader is used for most mobile devices (except for Kindles). Connexions content is on iTunesU (18 collections), is available with an Android App, has Mobile downloads, and has new math support that is better looking for users. I am excited that Connexions pages now load faster due to a technical change to have better load balancing.


Connexions Conference 2011 (Part 1)

Part 1:

I attended the, once again fantastic, Connexions Conference at Rice University. This year had a great emphasis on expansion efforts – both global and uses of Open Educational Resources. If you are interested in viewing conference photos, become a Facebook fan of Connexions. You can also view the tweets using the Twitter identifier of #cnxconf.

Dr. Joel Thierstein, Executive Director of Connexions, introduced the conference. He announced that there are now over 17,000 modules on Connexions, attracting over 2,000,000 distinct visitors. One of my highlights of the conference was the inspirational keynote speech by Mr. Hal Plotkin, Senior Policy Advisor in the U.S. Dept of Education, working directly for Dr. Martha Kanter, U.S. Under Secretary of Education. I am honored to have worked with Hal during his tenure as a Board of Trustees member of the Foothill-De Anza Community College District where I teach. Hal was an initiator and a champion of OER use locally and nationally and continues to actively promote OER worldwide.

Barbara Illowsky, PhD Professor of Mathematics & Statistics, De Anza College

Among the remarks Hal made were that part of Health Care and Education Bill passed in the Legislature allocates $2 billion of savings achieved by reforming the student loan system to the Trade Adjustment Assistance Act. The Department of Labor will oversee these funds.  All products produced under the first $500,000,000 of funding from these DOL grants require Creative Commons By licenses.

Hal went on to describe inspirational future scenarios of how OER will help careers, learning and even peace in the future. He also cautioned that to continue to receive funding in the future, we need EVIDENCE, as in data (double blind studies,honesty, documentation of success and failure, “open sharing of positive and negative results in as robust as possible”), to “make [the] promise of continuous improvement… real concern about customers … full commitment to a culture of evidence … [and to] adhere to principles of universal design.” Promoting OER, Hal stated that OER are the tools to increasing educational access for all, thus fulfilling one of President Obama’s goals. Finally,Hal described the eTwinning movement in Europe. This movement links primary and secondary schools across Europe to work together, such as a French school studying British History being linked with a school in England. (Note: More information on eTwinning can be found at: http://www.etwinning.net .)