Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Open Textbooks:
The College Student Speaks Out

Tuesday, April 5, 2011
2:00-3:00 PM EST / 11:00AM-Noon PST

Moderator: Nicole Allen
Textbook Advocate for the Student PIRGs and Director of the Make Textbooks Affordable campaign.

In the national debate surrounding textbook affordability and adoption, the student voice often goes unheard. Join Nicole Allen, the national Textbook Advocate for the Student Public Interest Research Groups (Student PIRGs), and college students from around the nation as they discuss their initiatives to make textbooks affordable through the use of high-quality open textbooks and other cost-saving solutions. Learn what motivates students to become and stay involved, and how they impact teaching and learning along the way. Don't miss this lively discussion!

TextbookImage via Wikipedia

Information and Free Registration

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Saturday, March 19, 2011

OER: The Myth of Commercial Textbook Reliability

Japanese high school textbooksImage via WikipediaAn "OER" is an open education resource and the most common example is an open textbook. An open textbook is a book, most often electronic, that is licensed in a way that allows re-use, repurposing, editing, and republishing. One of the main advantages in an open textbook, apart from the fact that they are free, is that open textbooks can be edited by the instructor. Some "open" textbooks managed by commercial publishers may not be editable at the sentence level. One of the criticisms leveled at open textbooks is that the quality somehow suffers because they do not have the "imprimatur" of the commercial publishers. Even some advocates of open textbooks believe this myth.

According to the Educause article "7 Things You Should Know About Open Textbooks," "The traditional publishing model features robust editorial..mechanisms designed to ensure the quality...of printed textbooks." In my experience as a former manager for a commercial textbook publisher, their motivation was to bring a textbook to the market as quickly as possible, not ensure the quality. The authors go on to say "an open textbook may seem to be missing an essential credential that speaks to its validity." This is a more accurate statement because this is about perception, not reality. There is a presumption that a textbook that was not vetted by a project manager at a business conglomerate must have quality and reliability issues. Those who are arguing this do not understand the commercial textbook industry. Textbook publishers don't always get it right, and often, textbooks are bought by school districts and colleges departments without being reviewed carefully because buyers assume that commercial publishers are careful. Why else would they be so expensive? Here are a few glaring examples (of many) where they were not careful:
I will let these examples suffice for now. You can go to Google yourself and search for "textbook errors" and find many more examples. In that search, I also found articles about how to turn textbook errors into "teachable moments." How sad is that? Why would we accept these textbooks? How helpless are we that we are content with these errors? The traditional publishing cycle of commercial textbooks means that it can take two years before a corrected commercial textbook makes it back to the "customer" (that is our students). Texas has talked about fining publishers for each error - now there is a teachable moment!

How did we get here? Getting back to the Educause article which says that reliability issues in open texts "places an extra burden on the instructor to ensure an open text is complete, accurate, and appropriate for the student needs." This should be the work of all instructors and administrators no matter what the licensing looks like.

But the solution can only come from open texts: an instructor or department cannot correct a commercial text, cannot add to it, or adapt the materials to the specific needs of the local student population. That can only be done with texts that are open licensed. With an open textbook, any errors can be corrected as they are found.

Lets do our job as educators and not rely on commercial businesses to teach our students. We should be engaged in the curriculum at all stages and not hold open texts to a higher standard than commercial textbooks. Instructors and academic departments should partner to author, revise, adapt, and vet course materials. We should be partnering with other institutions to support these efforts - a textbook should include a network of subject matter experts, expert practitioners in the field, and advanced students.

Besides all of that, a textbook is not a course. It is a single tool, a reference point. A textbook is not teaching. If the answers to your questions can be found in a textbook, you are not asking the right questions.

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Friday, March 18, 2011

8 Open Source Project Management Tools

Project development stagesImage via WikipediaOne of the consequences of a depressed economy in a college work environment is the pursuit of and reliance on more grants. And multiple grants means that project management is all the more important. I will be looking at open source project management tools over this weekend and I am specifically looking for scalable software that can be used by a worker in a one-person department or a small group, and eventually be able to grow with the department or the college. The criteria that I am using right now for reviewing project management software is that it has to be open source, user friendly, and scalable. We are not interested in anything that is supposedly "free" but handled by a commercial company. Our experience is that when we use free tools, they go away when the company is sold or folds. That is the inherent instability and unreliability of commercial software in this economy. Who thought we would be looking to open source for stability? Project management will help us keep track of projects, assist in reporting out to grants, and help manage multiple due dates and time lines.

Collabtive is web-based project management software. The project was started in November 2007. It is Open Source software and provides an alternative to proprietary tools like Basecamp. Collabtive is written in PHP and JavaScript. Collabtive is intended for small to medium-sized businesses and freelancers. We offer commercial services for installation and customization of Collabtive. It can also be installed on an internal server as well as in the cloud. All major browsers like Internet Explorer (7/8), Firefox, Opera, Safari, and Chrome are supported. Collabtive is developed by a team of professional volunteers. Everyone involved is a pro in their respective areas, providing high quality contributions to the project.

"dotProject is a volunteer supported Project Management application. There is no "company" behind this project, it is managed, maintained, developed and supported by a volunteer group and by the users themselves."

Project Management LifecycleImage by Ivan Walsh via FlickrGanntProject
"GanttProject is a cross-platform desktop tool for project scheduling and management. It runs on Windows, Linux and MacOSX, it is free and its code is open source."

Project HQ
Project HQ is a collaborative open source project management tool, similar to Basecamp and activeCollab. Project HQ is built on open source technologies like Python, Pylons and SQLAlchemy and is fully database independent. Project HQ uses a structured workflow to assist you in managing your projects."

"Projectivity is an Open Source Enterprise Management Platform combining unique tools for:

  • Portfolio Management
  • Project Management
  • Knowledge Management
  • Collaboration   
The Projectivity Platform makes the implementation and running of an Enterprise Management Application an easy task. Projectivity is what you decide it to be and can fulfil your specific needs."
Projectory is an open source, platform-independent, web-enabled project management tool designed to track software projects through all phases of development. Where traditional project management software is primarily useful only for planning and reporting purposes, Projectory lets you track actual development effort expended by teams or individuals across multiple projects and activities. It's easy to configure for small or large software development groups, and its streamlined user interface."

"ProjectPier is a Free, Open-Source, PHP application for managing tasks, projects and teams through an intuitive web interface. It must be downloaded and installed on your own web server. ProjectPier will help your organization communicate, collaborate and get things done Its function is similar to commercial groupware/project management products, but allows the freedom and scalability of self-hosting. Even better, it will always be free."

"TaskJuggler is a modern and powerful, Free and Open Source Software project management tool. Its new approach to project planing and tracking is more flexible and superior to the commonly used Gantt chart editing tools. It has already been successfully used in many projects and scales easily to projects with hundreds of resources and thousands of tasks."

If you are using project management as a consultant (single user) or as a small dept., we would love to hear back from you with your suggestions. Thanks!
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Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Japanese Earthquake: New Roles for Social Media

Tsunami warning sign on seawall in Kamakura, J...Image via WikipediaI think we should all be getting now how important social media has become in politics (Iran, Egypt, Tunisia, Wisconsin, etc.) and in natural disasters such as Haiti and now with Japan. The earthquake and tsunami are terrible disasters and my focus on social media is in no way meant to trivialize them, on the contrary, social media will be an important component in the international response. Social media and networks after the tsunami were the only way millions of people in Japan were getting information about the scope of the disaster. So many people photographed, filmed and tweeted the tsunami that not only do researchers now have a historically unprecedented amount of data available, but lives were saved. Trapped people were able to tweet or text their location and get help. Families were able to communicate for hours after the event to let one another know where they were and what was happening.
Tsunami Evacuation Platform in Yaizu, Shizuoka...Image via WikipediaSocial media is also part of the solution afterwards. With services like HelpAttack!, people are able to easily pledge money to the Red Cross and spread the word to others on how to help. It is very easy: you just log-in with your Twitter account, pledge an amount for every update (up to a limit you set), and after 30 days, you pay your donation. 
The Red Cross also has a mobile giving program: you can text "REDCROSS" to 90999 to donate $10.
Groupon has an online offer inviting customers to donate $5, $10, or $25 to support International Medical Corps' emergency efforts in Japan. They have raised $16,000 in donations so far.

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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Catching Up or Leading the Way

Yong ZhaoImage by David Warlick via FlickrYong Zhao presented on education today in CCC Confer (Elluminate! Live) on Catching Up or Leading the Way: American Education in the Age of Globalization. Yong Zhao is currently Presidential Chair and Associate Dean for Global Education, College of Education at the University of Oregon, where he also serves as the director of the Center for Advanced Technology in Education (CATE). He is a fellow of the International Academy for Education. Zhao has published over 20 books and 100 articles. His most recent book is Catching Up or Leading the Way: American Education in the Age of Globalization and the Handbook of Asian Education. He has also developed computer software, including the award-winning New Chengo/ZON (http://enterzon.com), the world’s first massively multi-player online role-playing game for studying Chinese.

These are my notes from his talk:
Zhao compares Asian and U.S. education. He looks at the phenomena of each culture feeling like they have to catch up with the other. The challenges he says lie in globalization and technology. He said that in the village he grew up in in China, they did not value his ability to ready and write - the village only needed a few people to do that. They really needed someone who was good at "driving water buffaloes."  Globalization in his mind is merely the shortening of distance. He compared Columbus' voyage with current travel; a telegram across the seas used to take 17 hours - "The Death of Distance." What are the implications of the death of distance? The fist challenge is the development of global supply chains. The cost of production becomes cheaper. He used the global supply chain of Dell Computers as an example. Everything now is made in multiple locations. Why are we preparing our students for work that is already being out-sourced? We are producing qualified workers but they cost too much.

All "local" problems are now global - unrest, poverty, climate change, etc. What kinds of skills do we teach that will allow the workers not be obsolete in a few years? Or to address the real problems?

Technology isssues: over 10 million jobs lost due to automation in the last 10 years.

Volcanology Building, part of the science comp...Image via WikipediaWe should not try to be like others. We can't rely on "common standards" - creativity, passion, diversity of talents have always been America's strengths. Since the 60s the U.S. has always been at the bottom of  standardized testings. Yet, we have the most innovative economy in the world. We rely on new talent and new industries. We need more people to come up with new ideas. Have of the jobs in the U.S. will be coming in the creative industries. Move away from standardized testing and curriculum - we need to encourage creativity. We value individual talents in America. We should not be creating workers but entrepreneurs. New jobs in the U.S. came from new industries, not the old ones. We need to teach students to take initiative. Zhao talked about the "bohemian index." We have multiple criteria to judge talent and we celebrate the differences.

1. We need to create an education system that plays to our strengths.
2. We need education to cultivate the entrepreneur spirit which is to:
  • Take risks
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Creativity
3. View others as partners not competition

Student learning outcomes may not be very helpful because they are chasing after certain kinds of knowledge; knowledge should be acquired when someone needs to use the knowledge. We need to promote individual curiosity. He says that he has been reading reports about the death of American education since the 80s and has an interesting and funny blogpost on that topic. He uses words like "inspiration." He talked about the "creativity crisis" as well: we should reward creative thinking, give students opportunities to create, and provide opportunities for creative people to gather.

This talk was a refreshing antidote the standardized testing and STEM-at-all-costs thinking.
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Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Net Generation Myth

TRS-80 Model IIIImage by John Biehler via FlickrThe ETC blog has an  interesting post by Jan Schwartz on the net gen myth. The article talks about Prensky and Tapscott's research which Marc Bullen, in a presentation to the British Columbia Institute of Technology found to be mighty thin - small samples and biased. What is the Net Generation myth? By accident of birth, all those born after a certain year, somehow have these wicked mad technology skills because, regardless of economic class or geographic location, the kids are surrounded by technology and just intuitively get it. This may be pretty much true for a certain strata of middle class kids and possibly for those in urban areas but the rest of the world, which represents a huge population, just does not experience the world that way. I live in Humboldt Co. California. We are five hours plus away from San Francisco. We are pretty isolated and since the
British Columbia Institute of TechnologyImage via Wikipediacollapse of fishing and lumber, economically depressed. Currently, the students here do not have the kind of infrastructure to support smart phones and internet access is expensive and patchy (better than when I arrived a couple of years ago but not by much). But I will not take the students' situation today, look at how they communicate with what little infrastructure we have and then extrapolate a generalization about how ALL learn or relate to technology - it just isn't warranted. I recognize that internet access and web-enabled phones are rapidly spreading. But critical expertise in the use of these tools is not going to happen just because someone is currently a teen. We cannot afford to make assumptions because the digital divide still exists for many. We need a curriculum strategy that integrates the tools students will need to be successful in the growing world of networked knowledge based on actual assessment, research, and experience, not accidents of birth.

While teaching health information management and English, I found that there were Baby Boomers like myself who were more comfortable with technology than any of the students. A few of the students knew how to chat online, download music and play some games but they had no idea what academically reliable information looked like, how to contact experts in the field, how to collaborate online, or anything else that was not related to entertainment, and no, for those few, not many of those skills were transferable. In the high schools, IF a student went to a high school that used technology it was something to be heavily filtered, managed and feared. They were not comfortable with the technology at all. We changed that by creating lessons that used the tools in a scaffolded way (something like the 23 things), not by making assumptions based on their age. I feel the same way about digital native/digital immigrant stuff although just to be on the safe side I got my digital immigrant green card:

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Friday, March 04, 2011

Smarthistory: a Kickstarter success story

Beham, (Hans) Sebald (1500-1550): Dialectica (...Image via WikipediaI was really glad to see that people have stepped up and supported Smarthistory - this is a really amazing site that needs and deserves our support. Their Kickstarter page is here, but PLEASE contribute; this is an incredible project that can really promote art history and online education, and despite reaching their financial goals, we have to think about on-going support. These are just the kinds of courses that are on the chopping block right now in these hard economic times and we need to step up.

We don't know what is going to happen as we lose liberal arts education. This used to be one of the most important parts of learning: participating in a shared culture. When we lose the liberal arts, we lose our sense of history. Being able to access arts on the web means that students in schools across the world get to benefit from the curation of professional art historians. Yes, looking at pictures on the web is not the same as being there. But this is the next best thing. It is also something completely different. It is a guided view of art and art history scholarship that you could not get in a static textbook. Also, I have seen paintings here for the first time that I could not get to experience any other way. Please support this site!

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Wednesday, March 02, 2011

OER Africa: Course Development Handbook

The OAR model is an Instructional Design model...Image via WikipediaI am currently reading Santosh Panda's textbook Handbook on In-House Style for Course Development.  This would be recommended reading for new course developers or distance education admins who are new to the field or need to develop a systematic course development program
 with new staff. I am always on the look-out for possible training materials for new instructional designers or ways to enhance or streamline the course development process. This handbook contains a lot of useful materials and seems to be written with an awareness of what actually happens in online classes. It is light on theory and heavy on the practical. I have been in presentations on instructional design where the why was the focus instead of the what and the how. This inevitably leads to having a teacher stand up and say "Great. How does this actually supposed to work?" This not to say that Panda's book is theory-free somehow - the book models a lot of good theory through its use of concept maps and emphasis on course structure, and his discussion of constructivism. I would like to see more examples of student interaction in the example assignments but again, this is a practical handbook for getting things off the ground.

To think I had to travel all the way to Africa to find a book that was written in our own backyard :-) I am always looking for good instructional design materials. If you have a favorite online, please post a link to it in the comments.

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