Wednesday, April 27, 2011

CR receives $100,000 grant from Next Generation Learning Challenges

Earth Day at Armstrong Redwoods HealdsburgImage by Al_HikesAZ via Flickr
We are pretty excited about this grant. This is the press release from Paul DeMark's office here at College of the Redwoods:

College of the Redwoods announced that it has been awarded part of a $750,000 grant from Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC) as a member of the Kaleidoscope Project.

Designed and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates and William & Flora Hewlett Foundations, NGLC is focused on identifying and scaling technology-enabled approaches to dramatically improve college readiness and completion, especially for low-income young adults, in the United States. CR's portion of the grant is approximately $100,000.

The Kaleidoscope Project will implement a fully open general education curriculum across eight colleges that serve predominantly at-risk students. M.L. Bettino, dean of academic affairs for Cerritos College explained the benefits of the project: ''The Kaleidoscope Project’s use of open educational resources will virtually eliminate textbooks costs as an obstacle to success for low-income students. It will also allow institutions to collaborate to refine and improve course content, closing the loop between course design and student learning outcomes.''
''I am very pleased that CR has received this grant,'' said CR Interim President Utpal Goswami. ''It will enable us to continue to develop innovative instructional projects to serve student needs. The ultimate beneficiaries will be students.''

''This grant will help us to support the academic achievement of our students, many of whom are low-income, first-generation college students who live in rural areas a long distance from any of our campus sites,'' explained Maggie Lynch, Chief Technology Officer and Dean of Distance Education. ''Our participation in the Kaleidoscope Project allows us to bring the resources of the Gates and Hewlett Foundations, MIT, Carnegie Mellon University and our innovative Kaleidoscope college partners. We look forward to creating improved opportunities for access and success for our students through this important work.''

Led by Cerritos College, the Kaleidoscope Project includes partners, in addition to CR, include Chadron State College, Mercy College, Palo Verde College, Rancho Santiago Community College District and Tompkins Cortland Community College. The eight colleges collectively serve more than 100,000 students annually; 69 percent of these students are at risk of dropping out.

A team of respected, global open education experts will support the college partners including Norman Bier from Carnegie Mellon’s Open Learning Initiative, Chris Coppola from rSmart, Cable Green from the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, Vijay Kumar of MIT, Kim Thanos of Thanos Partners and David Wiley from Brigham Young University.
The project will also benefit from use of the Sakai collaboration platform for course delivery, and the use of both Sakai analytics and the Association of American Colleges and Universities VALUE rubrics to assess student learning.

About Next Generation Learning Challenges:

NGLC focuses on identifying and scaling technology-enabled approaches to dramatically improve college readiness and completion by addressing a continuum of interrelated issues spanning secondary and postsecondary education from grades 6 through college. NGLC is led by EDUCAUSE in partnership with The League for Innovation in the Community College, the International Association of K-12 Online Learning, and the Council of Chief State School Officers. In addition to funding, NGLC is gathering evidence about effective practices, and working to develop a community dedicated to these persistent challenges. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation helped design the Next Generation Learning Challenges, and fund the initiative.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

OERs and Money: The revolution will happen without you.

Stewart Brand in Sausalito, California, USA Im...Image via Wikipedia"On the one hand, information wants to be expensive because it's so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all of the time. So you have these two fighting against each other." -- Stewart Brand.

I ran across this quote while perusing some funny videos of Daedalus Howell from a while back who was eulogizing the "Ten Things Killed by the Internet." The video is from 2009 and I hope the updated version will one day include "over-priced college textbooks." This was one of those moments of serendipity because I have been reading the debate between David Wiley and Stephen Downes about whether OER should favor commercial use. OERs are "open eduction resources" such as Stephen Downes' book on critical thinking and logical fallacies. My first reaction to the debated question is "no." Why should an open license "favor" the very mechanism that it is trying to subvert? And my second reaction is "So what?" The kind of education that "favors" commercial licenses is going the way of the video store.

I do not envy David Wiley. Going up against Stephen Downes in a debate is no mean feat. Wiley has the credibility gap to over-come with his connection to commercial publishing, and Downes has been a long time OER advocate and contributer who has been writing on this from the beginning.

I personally feel strongly that learning materials should be created by the community that uses them. The publishers just get in the way. We have a number of examples right here at College of the Redwoods of a community of educators getting together to create a textbook and online testing system that works better than anything that a publisher could offer us. Why? Because it is customized and built from the ground up with the needs of the local community in mind. With commercial textbooks, one has to amend, adapt, and supplement. There is nothing wrong with that; it is just not better than community authored. No body ever said "Hey, lets go with the Pearson textbook; they have our students' best interest at heart."

There are good commercial text books, but there are some atrocious ones that cost just as much! And meanwhile, more and more textbooks and learning objects are being created and openly licensed to world. There are companies positioning themselves to facilitate open textbooks and they will be profitable for a while. They are poised to become the Netflix of education. How long will that paradigm last? Who knows. I find it hysterical that with the economy in the shape that it is, with education costs rising faster than inflation and healthcare that commercial publishers feel they have to protect and defend corporate profits in a debate. And it is all available to you for free.
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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Why the Library is No Substitute for the Internet

My apologies to many of the fine librarians I know who have really kept up on the changing world of networked knowledge and the internet. The image at the left was posted by Xeni Jardin from Joe Sabia at BoingBoing. It is a sign on a shelf in his public library in Milford, Connecticut. (Click on the image to see the whole arguments.) It is a shame that the gate-keepers of knowledge are so little informed about what is happening with the internet. My responses are below.

1. Not Everything is on the Internet. Not everything is in the library either. I do not know any library that could currently afford to contain all of the books that are on the internet.
2. The Needle (your search) in the Haystack (the web). It is not very hard to find things on the internet. If you are having trouble, go to a library where the librarians believe in the web. That would be a good reason to consult a librarian. Why aren't the Milford librarians taking the time to teach then online critical thinking skills required to find academically viable materials?
3. Quality Control Doesn't Exist. The internet contains numerous repositories of vetted information (open access journals, MERLOT, etc.) Librarians have the opportunity to catalog these repositories and again, teach the critical thinking skills required to find good information. What the sign really means is that there is no one controlling the information. This has its pros and cons but why can't a librarian help me through this?
4. What You Don't Know Really Does Hurt You. Exactly my point. What these librarians don't know about the internet is hurting our children.
5. States Can Now Buy One Book and Distribute It to Every Library on the Internet. They do not understand electronic books, digital rights, or open education resources. How sad. See #4.
6. Hey, Bud, What About E-Books? Reading on a machine is different than reading a book.
7. Aren't There Paperless Universities Now? There should be but there aren't. But, university libraries are getting smaller and smaller. They are becoming service centers rather than book storage facilities.
8. But a Virtual State Library Would Work Right? Yes, in fact it will, especially with open source textbooks. This is a ridiculous statement. Using the old paradigms and business models, it would cost a thousand times that estimate. The sign, I am hoping, was put up before Google, Amazon, and the Kindle and iPad were invented.
9. The Internet: A Mile Wide, an Inch (or Less) Deep. This only partially true, it is mostly hundreds of miles wide and very shallow but it also has a couple of deep canyons of information and networks of experts in there. It contains the warp and woof of human expression. Where are the librarians and information managers to help make sense of it all? Not in Milford's library!
10. The Internet is Ubiquitous but Books Are Portable. And orange trees make terrible espresso. Hey Milford! 1997 is calling and it wants its MLS back!

Disclaimer: I have a nice little library at home but not because the internet is shallow!

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Friday, April 08, 2011

New Education Technology Changes Everything

I am reading a book on a "new" educational technology. Everything in the book is hauntingly familiar. We have heard these warnings about technology and education before. Its "...importance as an instrument of instruction in the common school, has been insisted on in every periodical on education which I have seen, either of this country or Europe; as well as in almost every recent treatise on the same subject. It has also been introduced into most of our improved schools, of every grade, especially in New England and New York. In many of our common schools, however, it has been but barely introduced; the teacher knows almost as little how to use it as his pupils. It is vain or nearly in vain that our more intelligent Committees and even the Secretaries of our Boards of Education urge the importance of its use, from year to year, so long as no instruction is given concerning its use."

We hear this all the time: why are we providing technology but not providing instruction in its proper use?

"It is in this view that I have prepared the following manual. It is, of course, not designed for pupils, but solely for teachers. Nor is it intended to be used blindly, even by teachers themselves. Let such only of its methods be tried as seem adapted to the circumstances of the teachert and let even those be modified to meet the peculiarities of his own school room. Hardly any mistake could be greater than for the teacher, who should take up a book like this, to adopt its various methods without reference to existing circumstances."

So in other words, there is no one implementation of technology, but possible technological solutions to particular problems.

If you haven't guessed, the technology is the slate black board. The book is The Slate Blackboard &; Exercises by William A. Alcott from 1843.
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Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Spotlight on Innovation: Attacking High Text Costs While Improving Outcomes

Spotlight On Innovation:
Attacking High Text Costs While Improving Outcomes
Date: Monday, April 11th, 2011
Time: 3:30 pm ET / 12:30 pm PT
Duration: 50 minutes followed by a live Q&A session
As the high cost of college texts negatively impacts student retention and outcomes, what actions can faculty and institutions take to reverse this trend?

Register now for this webinar to learn about three of the most exciting initiatives aimed at driving costs down while enhancing innovation and outcomes.
Moderated by Eric Frank, President and Co-Founder of Flat World Knowledge, this panel will begin with an overview of what open texts are and how they've emerged as a force in past years, and then spotlight the innovative work of the University System of Ohio, Washington Open Course Library Project, and Virginia State University.
Join us on April 11th. Click below to register.
Featured Speakers:
Darlene McCoy
Associate Vice Chancellor, Affordability and Efficiency
Dr. Steve Acker
Research Director, EText Ohio Project; Emeritus Professor, The Ohio State University
Dr. Cable Green
Project Director of eLearning and Open Education, WA State Board for Comm. and Tech. Colleges
Dr. Mirta Martin
Dean, Reginald F. Lewis School of Business
Dr. Andrew Feldstein
Assistant Professor

Can't Make It?
Feel free to check out our pre-recorded webinar library which contains many 30-60 minute webcasts. Visit our webinar library.
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Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Diversity Matters: Read the Koran

An Ilkhanid Koran with Persian translation bet...Image via WikipediaI have been home sick lately with a ferocious cold. Unfortunately, this has lead to watching CNN and MSNBC far too much and one of the really frightening things to watch is news being interpreted by some of the people least likely to understand what they are reporting on. I am frightened by the lack of liberal arts education in the public sphere and the media. Okay, so you get the picture: sick, education guy descends into the depths of curmudgeonry as his fever goes up. I am stopping short of saying that education was better in my day because it wasn't. Knowledge of the Middle East in the 70's was a few notches above "Road to Morroco." It is obvious to me that by the surprise and befuddlement in the voices of the reporters and the inane questions they ask that they do not have even a basic grasp of Middle Eastern history or any acquaintance with Islam.

If you are in school, don't wait for the teachers. You owe it to yourself to get the education you need to make sense of the world. If you have graduated or never went to school, it is never too late. As unfashionable as this idea is, there are key books in western civilization and we are doing a great disservice to history and culture by not teaching them. For instance, reading the Bible and Ovid's Metamorphoses are essential to understanding art history. Without them, half of what a student is looking at is meaningless. Much of western art was created with shared texts, common cultural baggage. Although many in the Islamic world say that the Koran can only be read in Arabic, reading a translation in English is better than being completely blind to the fastest growing faith in the world.

So this is an education blog, why am I writing about the Koran? Because, like the world that inspires terrorism, the news is ruled by ignorance and fear. One of the goals of education is not just to provide information but understanding. Education should be about something. In order to think critically about what is happening in the world, we need the whole picture. A couple years ago, I read the Koran with a reading group at the Saltwater Unitarian church. We did this as part of a world religion study but also, I think, as a response to the fear and prejudice that has been growing about Islam in this country. The seventh principle of Unitarianism says that "we respect the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part." This is often interpreted as environmentalism, but I see this as cultural as well. Reading the Koran felt like a pretty subversive act given the reactionary mood of some in this country. We read from Approaching the Quran: The Early Revelations by Michael Sells which came highly recommended. It is a very clear and poetic translation that also comes with a CD of readings in Arabic with calls to prayer. These selections led many of us to keep on reading. There are a number of online editions as well:

  • The Online Quran Project. Readers can select multiple translations
  • The Qur'an. The The Center for Jewish-Muslim Engagement. This is a three translation parallel text.
  • ReadTheQuran.Org. This English translation also includes audio files of the original Arabic so you can actually hear the text as millions of people do around the world everyday.
  • The Holy Qur'an. A wiki version translated by Abdullah Yusif Ali, a popular Islamic scholar from the 30s.

Again, all of this needs to be put into context too, so I think it is important to read a history of the Middle East. And I mean, really, virtually any history at this point. You will be one up on almost all the the "experts" being interviewed on CNN. It is very important that we understand why people in the Middle East and especially North Africa are hesitant to accept our "help" with their political affairs. Peter Mansfield's History of the Middle East is a fairly detailed overview with useful chapters on North Africa. Again, no matter how you feel about what is happening in the Middle East, I don't know how not understanding their culture and history is going to help you.

If you have better suggestions or other favorites, please feel free to link them in the comments below.
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