Welcome to the College Open Textbooks Blog

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.



June 2016
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Hats Off to California! (Part 4) – Weaving Open Resources into a Content Tapestry

Arguably, the open educational resource (OER) movement developed as a response to a strong desire to not only expand the free and open learning materials available to faculty, but also to reduce or perhaps eliminate the students’ costs for textbooks and supplementary tools.  These basic problems have led to a wide variety of attempted solutions.  Most notably, organizations such as College Open Textbooks, Connexions, Orange Grove Texts Plus, and others have worked diligently to create and collect complete open textbooks.  This is absolutely wonderful for today’s students and even rings as a louder success for future students.

One thing to consider, however, is the overall role and importance of the whole textbook in, say, five or ten years.  As our student population changes, and as information becomes so widely accessible with pervasive computing resources, so much time and effort goes into research and practice with different methods for reaching the student in the classroom.  Salman Khan, creator of the Khan Academy (a collection of short tutorials for math, sciences, and other subjects), recently presented a TED talk entitled “Let’s Use Video to Reinvent Education.”  Loosely speaking, he proposed the idea of using the classroom for homework and activities, and having students watch or experience “lectures” at home.  One might wonder where the traditional textbook fits in.

College of the Canyons Logo

Ideas and considerations such as these motivated us at College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, Calif., to apply for a U.S. Department of Education FIPSE (Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education) Special Focus grant through the College Course Materials Rental Initiative.  And though textbook rental was a significant component of our grant, our primary focus was to create academic content “playlists” of material to augment or replace existing textbooks.  With so much traction already in place to create full open textbooks, we wanted to develop a means by which existing galleries and collections of open educational resources could be put to effective use.

Our goals and plan are not entirely unique.  Already in place are tools such as OERGlue, which provides an assembly mechanism for OERs.  As such, we are mainly focused on the padding, of sorts, that needs to go between many of these objects.  After all, if learning objects for a given topic are all created and prepared by different authors, one misses out on the common “voice” that exists in a traditional textbook.

We have created several modules (approximating chapters of traditional textbooks) that bring together common learning objects, but also employ the efforts of a single author to narrate the collection.  As students view and interact with the materials, they are guided through the process.  We are currently assessing the student response to the use of these tools, but anecdotal evidence thus far indicates high levels of satisfaction and engagement with the learning materials.  And though work is required on the part of faculty to author the transition materials between learning objects, there is much less heavy lifting than creating a full textbook.  In addition, educators want to participate!  It becomes an opportunity to be published, while maintaining a manageable workload.

And so our work continues.  We continue to evaluate the feedback from students and faculty, and we are creating a guideline, or template, for the process.  If the work speaks for itself, as we hope and expect it will, then projects such as these are likely self-sustaining and can only help in the continued fueling of OER efforts worldwide.


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 .)


YSU Library Leads New OER Initiative, Blogs Resources

While beginning with the disclaimer that she simply compiled a random list of resources “to better understand open access textbooks in particular and the use of open educational resources in general,” Youngstown State University (YSU) Librarian Christine Adams has provided a wonderful online list of resources for all those who might want to share in her discoveries. As a member of a search committee for the newly created position of Director for a proposed Electronic Textbook Center, Adams researched OER issues and organizations and posted the results on her Maag Library Blog. Dedicated pages for Open Educational Resources include links to major textbook projects, definitions of keyterms, explanations of licensing issues, and a list with links to the leading portals, gateways, repositories, and projects.

When she set up the blog pages, Adams comments, she was surprised “at how much is already available.” Nevertheless, though still relatively new, the developing momentum of the OER movement has already been great enough that YSU faculty and library administrators have recognized it as an area they want to pursue in service of their students.

Paul Kobulnicky, Executive Director of William F. Maag Junior Library at YSU, comments that he has been following nationwide developments such as California’s Digital Textbook Initiative and Rice University’s Connexions, among others. He adds that since it’s the mission of libraries at public institutions such as his “to give students access to the materials they need,” the library “is a logical place” to be supporting faculty innovation. Looking at the issues more broadly, he observes that “you can do electronic textbooks, but they won’t be successful unless you also look at the underlying pedagogies.” So, the faculty needs to look at ways to teach that make the best use of these materials. Without knowing where these explorations will take them, Kobulnicky expects to see the proposed YSU Electronic Texbook Center creating textual, audio-visual, and assessment materials online using an open license model.

The immediate goal is to hire a Director for the Center who will provide high-level advice to faculty on architectures, licensing issues, and the current status of larger national efforts. In addition, the University is looking to staff the center with more technically oriented employees who can create the online resources. He invites potential candidates for the position of Director to visit the YSU job posting.


MERLOT Panel: Latest Trends in Open Textbook Research

At Merlot’s recent conference, Mitchell Levy – marketing chair, COT – led a panel of industry who’s who’s in Open Textbooks and the OER initiatives.  Talking to a packed room, Dr. Judy Baker offered a view on what the true cost of open textbook adoption is as well as the impact they have on enhancing teacher and learning.  Clare Mortensen, ISKME shared with the challenges and barriers to wide-spread open textbook adoption that they found through their reserach.  She also offered suggestions for how to address them.  Joel Thierstein, Connexions offered insights into accessibility and the role it plays in open textbooks and why they need to be addressed by all involved – author, faculty, university and more.

A copy of their presentations is available via download.