Friday, July 29, 2011

OERs: Creating Assignments with Public Domain Documents kaleidoscopeImage via WikipediaWhile working on the Kaleidoscope Project (assisting faculty at eight colleges develop courses that implement open education resources or open textbooks), I have run into interesting instructional design challenges with creating assignments using materials that were written a hundred years ago. Typically, instructors will take assignments out of a teacher's edition of a textbook or from supplemental material. When they do that, they often trust that the publisher is aware of the learning outcomes of the course or subject. This is not always a safe assumption to make. We are not limited to using older public domain texts, but there are instructors using them. If one wanted to create an course using openly licensed materials, there are modern textbooks, essays and openly licensed journals that can all serve those purposes. If one wanted to use nothing except materials written in the past four or five years, it could easily be done. Such projects are becoming more and more common. Ironically, there are English textbooks out there that are still using excerpts from Toffler's Future Shock (1972) when discussing technology, so the openly licensed textbooks have opportunities to make vast improvements.

But there are cases where instructors want to take advantage of the vast wealth of public domain texts. This seems like a non-issue in most areas of the humanities where we still traffic in Plato, but the question comes up; how do we make it relevant? How do we make it new? The funny thing about that is that students have to do that all the time. They do this whether we want them to or not! One of the ways that we understand a piece of writing or new knowledge, is by applying our previous personal experience, what is happening in the world around us at the time, and combine it with what we have learned before. From this constructivist approach, the teacher's assignment is to give the student
opportunities to apply personal experience and previous knowledge to new information. We can add to that by facilitating the connections the students can make to one another and subject matter experts via twitter and other social networks. But given a public domain text, let's say an essay by psychologist Otto Rank, a teacher could ask the students, based on their personal experience, if Rank's description of interpersonal relationships is valid. What recent news stories seem to support or refute his theory? If the students are reading works by other writers, they can be asked how the theory differs from that author. If they are using a discussion forum (and they should be) then the students have the opportunity to share their experiences and benefit from the experiences and readings of others. They should also be encouraged to follow experts in the field on blogs and twitter and to participate in broader discussions outside of class. In other words, we make sense out of the world through our interactions, and these may be interior or exterior. We are connection-making animals. Learning does not come from a text by itself no more than a textbook is a class.

What techniques do you use in your classes to help your students connect to the broader issues? Feel free to email me or use the comment link below.
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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Jacques Tati: The Art of NOT Managing Technological Change

Monsieur Hulot in Mon OncleImage via WikipediaI just watched Jacques Tati's "Play Time" this weekend. I have been a fan of his ever since my dad took all of my brothers and I to a theater in Seattle one summer while there was a double feature of "Hulot's Holiday" and a Buster Keaton film. There was something about the man that we found almost uncontrollably funny. I thought for a number of years that it was because we were also Jerry Lewis fans and we had a soft spot in our heads (as many children do) for slap-stick. I had the good fortune of revisiting his films in college at the old Rainbow Theater in San Luis Obispo in the 80s and the films hold up - in fact, I think that "Jour de Fete," "Mon Oncle," and "Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot" are just as funny and particularly relevant for today. For those of you who do not know the Hulot character, he is a man who embodies all the simple bourgois comforts of the old France while comically navigating the modernism, technology, and American consumerism of the new France. His films contrast broken down villages, children playing in the streets, and Paris from the dog's-eye-view with the slick, industrial Mies Van Der Rohe graphite cube architecture, televisions, traffic jams, and plastic wrapped food. The modern world of Hulot is filled with loud machines, the hideous buzz of neon and florescent lighting, and the sterility of Bauhaus. Much of the humor comes in the misapplication of technology by a society that is just as stuck as Hulot in the past. Tati is an extremely talented and funny mime. His films do not depend on dialogue at all. And despite Hulot's challenges with the modern world, he is often playing loud Jazz on the radio or record player to the dismay of the clean, modern society around him. The Hulot character approaches technology and modern ways with childlike wonder, sometimes with amazement or just confusion. He is not afraid of technology; he just does not have sufficient knowledge or experience with which to interpret what is happening in the world around him.

And we see this relationship to technology and change everyday in the press, in government, and especially in education. Those are three fields where the professionals in all three of those arenas are the least prepared for rapid change. Each one of those fields depended on its students and initiates to have both feet planted in the old way of doing things in order to get ahead in their respective fields.  It is the clowns outside of these fields that are the answer. Comedy asks us to take a look at ourselves and our expectations of the world around us in startlingly new ways, and, yes, to laugh at ourselves. There is sometimes nothing funnier than someone interpreting new technology to us in the language and world-view of the old. I highly recommend at least "Mon Oncle" to be required viewing for anyone going into journalism, politics, or education.

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Friday, July 22, 2011

Finding Creative Commons Videos on YouTube

We are in the middle of helping faculty develop courses for a grant that requires that all of the content be openly licensed: Creative Commons or public domain. YouTube is making it easier to find such content:

The "Filter & Explore" link lets you find content that is licensed as Creative Commons as well as find content that is closed captioned.

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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

12 Sources of Creative Commons or Public Domain Images

A 2x3 segment panoramic view of the Great Hall...Image via Wikipedia
The search for quality images continues... We have faculty who are creating course materials and in some cases, replacing Fair Use images with public domain or Creative Commons licensed images. There are still some holes in our image searches. The links here are my most recent suggestions but I know that some of these are older than others and besides Wikipedia and advanced Google Searches (which are good), there must be something I am missing.

These are in alphabetical order - not in order of quality or breadth.
  1. American Memory - These are history images from the Library of Congress.
  2. Burning Well - This is one of numerous archives of public domain images.
  3. Cadyu provides public domain and Creative Commons licensed 3-d images of objects. This would be appropriate for a design class, autocad, etc.
  4. Creative Commons Search - This combines multiple search engines and gives you the results in one spot based on license chosen.
  5. Environmental Education Station - These are public domain photos that were funded by an environmental studies grant.
  6. Images in the Public Domain - Many of these are from old encyclopedias. Still useful.
  7. Library of Congress - Most of the images in these holdings are in public domain unless specifically cataloged otherwise.
  8. Public Domain Images - This site collects high quality public domain images.
  9. Public Domain Image links - This is from the University of Wisconsin.
  10. Smithsonian - They encourage educational fair use of all of their images as long as you cite the source. Many of their images are in public domain unless they specify copyright information.
  11. Wikimedia sometimes works... The best way to search wikimedia is to go to Google and type: searchterm  where “searchterm” equals a single word like “photosynthesis.” Notice that there is only a single space AFTER “org.” Do not put a space after the colon.
  12. U.S. Government Public Domain - The US govt. has made it easier to find images that they have produced that are in the public domain. They are freely available and need no permission.
What are we missing? Is there a source that you use? Which of these are best in your experience? We would really appreciate your comments, experiences or suggestions below or in an email to your humble editor. We are especially looking for images around biology. 
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Saturday, July 16, 2011

California Distance Education Report

The California State Capitol building in Sacra...Image via WikipediaThe Academic Affairs division of the California Community College's Chancellor's office came out with their latest Distance Education Report. They have been doing these every two years since 2002. It give the breakdown on how many students are taking DE classes, demographics, and learning mode. We stack up pretty well with how things are going nationally - California seems to be following national trends - the enrollments in DE are steadily increasing and this last year, there was a 5.96% drop in face-to-face enrollments and a 5.82% increase in online. Then there is that 10% gap between the success and completion rates that I have been chasing since I have been involved in distance ed. I think studies in distance education and interactivity have been addressing some of the issues.  There have been some breaks in that as well. The Instructional Technology Council released a report that said that "The gap between distance learning and face-to-face student completion rates has narrowed significantly, and individual campuses are reporting real progress in exceeding traditional completion rates."

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Friday, July 08, 2011

OERs and the Next Stage of Open Textbooks

By rubyblossom. via Flickr
There are some exciting things happening in the world of open education resources and open textbooks. I have worked in the recent past on projects that create or find open education resources, participated in presentations on open textbooks, and this latest project feels like the next step in all of this. I am working as a consultant (instructional design) on the Kaleidoscope Project. The purpose of the project is to create collaborative efforts between colleges to create courses using existing OERs with each course being developed by at least two partner institutions. A number of our College of the Redwoods faculty are participating in this grant. The focus on the grant is not the production of open textbooks or course materials (although that is happening anyway) but on design and results:

"Project Kaleidoscope will close the loop on improved course design and student learning. Using OER and a common assessment process will allow faculty teams to improve the course design and learning results based on analysis of embedded assessments and deeper learning results. Actually, the project requires this on-going, iterative review and improvement."

The learning outcomes piece of this is what is going to allow us to track the effectiveness of the materials used. Folks in the OER world have an idea of where this might go, that using open textbooks and learning objects can be just as effective and in many cases, more effective than a commercial textbook. Why? Because learning objectives and outcomes differ from institution to institution based on the needs of the local communities. This is especially true for the community colleges who often have to work on getting students up to speed academically. Faculty already have to adapt and remix commercial texts for the needs of the student populations often in the form of additional, costly supplements or multiple books. What I have been finding in my work with open textbooks is that textbooks are often supplanted (not supplemented) by openly licensed video, audio, images (and yes, open textbooks) making the course even more engaging for the students. When colleges work from the learning objectives and then find openly licensed materials that meet those learning objectives, everyone wins. But we have gone through that phase; it is now time to apply learning analytics to OERs and really show what works, what yet needs to be done, and what is possible.

Partners with the grant include Cerritos College, Chadron State College, College of the Redwoods, Mercy College, Palo Verde College, Santa Ana College, Santiago Canyon College, and Tompkins Cortland College. Advisers to the grant include Norman Bier, the ubiquitous Cable Green, M.S. Vijay Kumar, Terrel Rhodes, and David Wiley.  rSmart is supporting the project by hosting the Sakai sites where the courses will live. And Kim Thanos, CCH*, is managing the whole thing on amazingly tight deadlines!

If you are involved in similar research into OERs and learning analytics, I would love to hear about it via email or leave a comment.
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