Faculty in the Mathematics Department at Scottsdale Community College have been working hard this year to create, revise, and organize materials for our OER project in several of our courses. This is exciting for all of us!
Our goal is to offer all of our MAT 09x Introductory Algebra, MAT 12x Intermediate Algebra, and MAT 150 College Algebra courses using OER materials starting this Fall 2012. During the 2011-2012 academic year, we have pilot tested our materials, formed a learning community of very talented mathematics faculty, and collaborated with each other to further refine the OER textbook, student support materials, and online homework assignments. This summer, several faculty (Bill Meacham, Judy Sutor, Jenifer Bohart, Donna Guhse, and Linda Knop) will be working hard to take what we have learned from our spring pilot and, once again, refine these materials. The exciting part of the refinement process is that we have complete control over the quality of what we adopt to support our classes! We love this!
Recently, our OER team received the SCC Innovation of the Year Award. Only 1 team per college in the Maricopa Community College District receives this award. As a result, we were invited to give a presentation in hopes of receiving the widely sought-after District Innovation of the Year Award. The presentation slides are available at: OER Innovation of the Year. Wish us luck that we are awarded our District IOTY Award very soon!
As part of our OER project, our learning community has restructured the course so that we provide meaningful support for students, both inside and outside of the classroom. Before class, students can complete a “mini-lesson” to help prepare them for the next class session. During class, they receive instruction and engage in paired board work. After class, they use iMathAS and problem solving activities to support their learning. The next class session then allows for more active learning and engagement with the mathematics. Outside of the classroom, students’ learning is supported by the OER textbook and video tutorials created by MathIsPower4U’s James Sousa, as well as the Khan Academy.
Students have been appreciative of our efforts to use free (or nearly free!) materials for their mathematics courses. In fact, feel free to watch a couple of student testimonials about their experience in an OER math class. It’s exciting to hear that they are using technology — their smartphone, their tablet, etc. — to complete online homework and to access the textbook.
It’s a wonderful time to be teaching college mathematics!
by Andy Oram
The worlds of both education and publishing will be tugged from opposing directions, perhaps to the breaking point, by two recent trends. One is Apple’s well-publicized entry into the textbook market with its iBooks Author app, tied by license to its iBooks store. The other is the movement for open textbooks, on which the state of California recently placed its bets (for the second time).
But let’s slow down for a minute. The iPad, as an entertainment platform, will not morph easily into an educational tool, whereas developing open textbooks raises difficulties beyond the ones that open source software have encountered and surmounted. I recently discussed these topics with Open Doors Group’s Jacky Hood. She is part of a team trying to respond to the California open textbook challenge.
Empowerment versus entertainment
To evaluate Apple’s textbook strategy, compare it to the goals of the “One Laptop Per Child” initiative. The biggest problem with the Apple initiative–missed by most commentators—is that the iPad is an entertainment device, and has many interesting ways to interact with content but not to create it. In contrast, OLPC’s XO system was planned from the start to let children create and share text, video, and other content. It is an empowerment device. (Google claims that its Chromebooks are similarly empowering.)
The same reasoning drove the OLPC decision to distribute all free software on the XO. The use of free software promotes learning and exploration. Numerous other considerations (lower cost, rugged design, and orientation to underdeveloped regions with limited capabilities) also separate the XO from the iPad.
Now the iPad is obviously a beautiful product, so we can assume that its qualities will be put to good use by textbook authors. But authors will need help creating an effective user interface for their own textbooks.
If school districts respond positively to Apple’s textbook initiative, I hope they relinquish some of their zeal for aesthetically superior, expensive hardware and license some cheap device (several options are available) for student use.
The Limits of Open
Do open textbooks present as robust an alternative to the Apple model as open source presents to the Microsoft’s of the software industry? Not in practice. The development model used by Open Doors isn’t as radical as you’d expect when you hear of open textbooks.
Textbooks are extraordinarily detailed and have high standards for correctness in all those details. Good writing values–pacing, selection, the introduction of topics–all have to be top-notch too. Textbooks may be criticized as bland or timid, but they make their points without the nuanced ambiguity that authors can get away with in other settings.
Numerous open source activities exist in education, but they tend to deal not with textbooks but a broader set of material known as “open courseware.” (A survey of available courseware can be found in the appendix of UNESCO’s A Basic Guide to Open Educational Resources). It may turn out that, in a collaborative and action-oriented classroom, textbooks will turn out to be an obsolete concept and the pastiche of other courseware will be all that is needed. But this article starts with the premise that a textbook is still useful.
Of all the weapons that free software can wield in its battle for world domination, the heaviest guns are the ease of making and distributing derivative works. But textbooks are not used in a community the same way software is. Textbooks are designed for courses, and are chosen by instructors. Most instructors would need strong assurance that any derivative work was superior to the original before using it.
When I look at the demands made by students and instructors, and the constraints placed on textbook production–whether the Apple model or the open model–I sense there is a place for both and a place for expert authors and publishers to create the experiences that modern educational environments require.
To read more about my viewpoint on these initiatives, look at my in-depth article on O”Reilly Radar.
ABOUT ANDY ORAM:
He is an editor at O’Reilly Media. An employee of the company since 1992, Andy currently specializes in open source technologies and software engineering. His work for O’Reilly includes the first books ever released by a U.S. publisher on Linux, the 2001 title Peer-to-Peer, and the 2007 best-seller Beautiful Code. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Suggested listening: Alice Coltrane, The Impulse Story
I write this now listening to the late harpist, pianist, organist, virtuoso Alice Coltrane cast spells in her ethereal “Journey in Satchidananda.” I am privileged to have seen her perform with her son Ravi and members of the original John Coltrane Quartet in San Francisco, November 2006, one of only two performances before her untimely death, and after her protracted spiritual reclusion from the stage and the public. For me, her music, especially this exquisite creation, is an analogue for the best of poetry: deft in its experimentation and breadth; precise in its openness; welcoming of warmth, musicality, emotion; wise in its scaffolding of history; innocent in its play; and, generous to both the creator and her audience for, as a work of high craft, when the work is ineffable, one is still encouraged to explain it for there is always something familiar in the seeming unfamiliar, always something intimate in the deepening canvas of seeming generalized experience. As a writer and artist myself, I know that Alice Coltrane did not choose her craft. Her craft chose her. And we are most grateful for this arranged marriage!
I speak to the luminosity of Alice Coltrane because her body of work as well as her actual life illustrate the profound gifts art offers the mundanity, discord, and ravages of daily human life. At this time in our present history, the public display of contempt for intellectual vibrancy and its artistic articulation in the verbal, written, visual, and musical arts is at an all-time high. One can look anywhere in our mainstream landscape and find disparagement of that which is sophisticated, complex, and beautiful in the way only the search for truth, wisdom, and humanity can be. This attack has now infiltrated the very protectorates of art, intellectual integrity, humane humanity, and those who teach and live within such purview: public colleges and universities. Specific attacks are now being waged upon disciplines that encourage free thinking, intellectual diversity, and artistic expression, especially humanities and arts.
Because of the current groupthink among powerful decision-makers such as private industry moguls, government officials, and college and university administrators, all of whom are now forming alliances for profit-centered, assembly-line educational models, then certainly those courses and disciplines most vulnerable are those that provide intellectual space for human expression and possibility, not profit generation. Nationally there are stories of humanities, arts, and social science courses being cancelled or usurped. There are now instances where entire programs such as creative writing or music appreciation are being discontinued. When colleges and universities become businesses and teachers become sales executives, then students become products, commodities for sale in the market of linear conformity. This sabotage will result in intellectual docility and, most disturbingly, artistic death. Without art, culture does not survive.
Musical compositions, philosophical dissertations, visual arts, and poems are not widgets. Humanity is not a widget. Though the leadership efforts are dramatically in this direction, human experience – and the minds creating it – are not yet entirely for sale. Poetry is an acute reminder and reclamation of that which can never be bought or sold: truth, justice, generosity, compassion, beauty, and love.
Thus, the open education movement provides critical resistance to such nefarious profiteering by making art – especially written art – widely accessible and free. Moreover, because poetry is the elegant articulation, defense, and honor of organic experience, its accessible and free status via the open course environment ought to remind wayward educational profiteers that there are better, creative, humane ways to save and generate money in the noble profession of education. For artists and teachers, the issue is moot: art is human and humane. Art, simply, is self-sustaining.
There are some fantastic things happening in literary arts inside and outside academia. Yet, the most robust resources are housed and nurtured by academic institutions. There are ample offerings in traditional and experimental poetics, within a variety of platforms, such as open courses, open formats, institutional programs, electronic archives and magazines, digitized books and papers, and the viral glee of social networking technologies. Below the closing poem is a brief listing of innovative resources, by no means exhaustive. Please use and share generously.
In acknowledgment of the redemptive and restorative energies that poetry gives the world, I will close with one of my favorite poems by Lewis Turco. This poem is written in the Japanese form called Somonka, an epistolary love poem made up of two tankas, an extension of the haiku, wherein each tanka follows a line syllable count of 5-7-5-7-7. The first tanka is a statement of love, and the second is a response.
Epistles: The Tarot IX of Swords
I am writing you
from a pit. It is quite dark
here. I see little.
I am scratching this note on a stone.
Where are you? It has been long.
Thank you for your note.
I do not know where I am.
I believe I may
be with you. It is not dark
here. The light has blinded me.
–Lewis Turco, Poetry Magazine, July 1972
Open Licensed Internet Resources for Poetry
MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) Courses (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 license)
The Open University (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license)
Free but not open Internet Resources for Poetry
The Poetry Archive (copyright license)
The Internet Archive – search for “poetry” (copyright license)
Electronic Poetry Center at New York State University, Buffalo (copyright license)