Monday, January 28, 2013

OER: 12 Sources of Open Textbooks

Brigham Young University faculty survey seeks ...
(Photo credit: opensourceway)
With the State Department's announcement and posts on twitter about failed business models, I think this is a good time to revisit how to find actual free, openly licensed textbooks. There are many ways to find free, openly licensed textbooks on the internet. I have listed a dozen here, but if you are still not finding what you need, feel free to contact me. I really mean that. I think making education financially accessible to your students is just that important. Some of these resources over lap, but that is okay - you will find some of these sites easier to use than others. There are a lot of things happening in the world of open textbooks. A lot of the criticisms that you may have heard in the past are fading away as sites dedicated to the peer review and vetting of open textbooks become more prevalent. This is not the definitive list - if there is a site that you use or prefer, please post a comment and share.

1. Saylor Foundation
Each of the books listed below is freely available for download, online reading, and sharing, under one of various open licenses.

2. OpenStax
"OpenStax College is a nonprofit organization committed to improving student access to quality learning materials. Our free textbooks are developed and peer-reviewed by educators to ensure they are readable, accurate, and meet the scope and sequence requirements of your course."

"Putting educational innovations into practice. Find peer reviewed online teaching and learning materials. Share advice and expertise about education with expert colleagues. Be recognized for your contributions to quality education."

4. College Open Textbooks
If you run into any links to Flat World Knowledge textbooks here, be sure to go to the Saylor Foundation website to get free access to those titles. "College Open Textbooks has peer-reviewed more than 100 open textbooks for use in community college courses and identified more than 550: College Open Textbooks has already peer-reviewed several new open textbooks for use in community college courses and identified more than 250 others for consideration. Open textbooks are freely available for use without restriction and can be downloaded or printed from web sites and repositories."

5. Connexions
"Connexions is a dynamic digital educational ecosystem consisting of an educational content repository and a content management system optimized for the delivery of educational content. Connexions is one of the most popular open education sites in the world. Its more than 17,000 learning objects or modules in its repository and over 1000 collections (textbooks, journal articles, etc.) are used by over 2 million people per month."

6. Textbook Revolution
"Textbook Revolution is a student-run site dedicated to increasing the use of free educational materials by teachers and professors. We want to get these materials into classrooms. On this site you'll find links and reviews of textbooks and select educational resources. Some of the books are PDF files, others are viewable online as e-books, or some are simply web sites containing course or multimedia content."

7. Community College Consortium for Open Education Resources
"The Open Educational Resources (OER) movement encourages the creation and reuse of free, high-quality content and open source learning systems to replace expensive and proprietary systems. By promoting OER, community colleges can create sustainable academic resources for students and provide collaborative professional development opportunities for faculty."

8. Boundless Textbooks
"Boundless is pleased to offer open introductory textbooks in the following subjects. These textbooks are published under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike (CC BY-SA) license, which means anyone is welcome to quote, mashup, reuse, and republish any portion of any book, anywhere, so long as proper citation is given."

9. Wikibooks
Wikibooks is an "open-content textbooks collection that anyone can edit" with over 2,500 open-content textbooks.

10. Open Culture
A meta-collection of free textbooks.

11. Bookboon
"Online Textbooks for Free Bookboon's free online textbooks for students are focused and to the point. They are all written by highly respected professors from top universities in the world and cover topics such as economics, statistics, IT, engineering and natural science."

12. Directory of Open Access Books
"The primary aim of DOAB is to increase discoverability of Open Access books. Academic publishers are invited to provide metadata of their Open Access books to DOAB. Metadata will be harvestable in order to maximize dissemination, visibility and impact. Aggregators can integrate the records in their commercial services and libraries can integrate the directory into their online catalogues, helping scholars and students to discover the books. The directory will be open to all publishers who publish academic, peer reviewed books in Open Access and should contain as many books as possible, provided that these publications are in Open Access and meet academic standards."
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Friday, January 25, 2013

Books and The Latest Technology

Fredrick Furnivall, OED Editor
via Wikipedia
I write here a lot about technology and books, but specifically about open education resources and open textbooks, all of which tend to mean electronic texts. I love electronic texts and the internet. Through the internet, I have free access to centuries of research, articles, and books of all kinds: books now to costly to print or own, out-of-print books, rare books, books in libraries I can't travel to. I even get a chance to see images of ancient texts never before published as lexicographers and philologists put their research online. I have never been one to bemoan the so-called death of the printed word. I like being able to access nearly any text on my phone or netbook in a completely searchable format. But be that as it may, there are still three main reasons I love and use books as physical objects.

1. Linear Arrangement
I am thinking here of the Oxford English Dictionary. The one I have at home is the two volume edition. I don't know how to classify this first reason; it is the serendipity of linear organization I think. Please help me out if there is a word for this. The linear nature of information in books is a weakness in most cases and the non-linear nature of information on the internet is a strength. Before I had access to the internet, I kept a notebook next to me while I read and I would write down words that I found that I would want to explore later or ideas, concepts, and definitions that I would research in the library. Later, I would sometimes look a word up in the online version of an encyclopedia or the Oxford Dictionary which had for a time, an online version. I always came away from that experience feeling like I had only done half the job, like there were pieces of the puzzle missing. I realized that looking up a word in that dictionary is only half the fun. The best parts were getting to the word that you were looking for and what happens after you find it. Opening up the physical book, you begin to turn the pages and as you get to the appropriate section, you begin to read in a more focused way looking for the right word, and as you find it, you begin to see words before and around it that are related. They may have the same root or prefix. Those surrounding words may provide you with a deeper understanding or even a more fitting word. And afterwords, there is looking at the etymology and quotations which can lead you to even more words. Pretty soon, the entire afternoon is gone. I have not had a similar experience online.

2. The Physical Object
Books as physical objects can be works of art in themselves. The cover design, typography, illustrations, paper and cover all contribute to books as art objects. Well designed layout and typography can make reading a book easier and more pleasurable. Granted, this is purely a subjective experience. It is also what keeps books expensive. The photograph below is one that I took of my copy of Selected Epigrams from the Greek Anthology by J.W. MacKail. It was published in 1908 in two volumes on acid free paper, cloth bound, stitched binding. The paper has a thick, creamy texture and if you look carefully at the picture, you can see the type impressing in from the previous page. I bought the set for $2 because "there is not much call for this sort of thing now-a-days." I will not have a similar experience online. 

3. Utility
There are just some tasks that are easier to do on my desk or at the coffee table than they are on a computer. There is this great book called The Three Text Hamlet: Parallel Texts of the First and Second Quartos and First Folio edited by Kliman and Bertram. The book opens up to about 28 inches and has the complete text of the three versions of Hamlet with a fourth column giving the transpositions from the first quarto. This would be a difficult thing to recreate on a computer. I guess one could have a large enough monitor, but it is a real treat to be able to sit on the floor with this book and argue for one interpretation over another based on the text that, at the moment anyway, supports your argument. Again, this is a fairly subjective experience, it is like being able to take in a whole map at a glance to take in the context of a place rather than just seeing a small portion of it just to find out where you are going. 

There are some surprises for me in all of this - I thought I would be much more attached to art books but a couple of things have happened to art books over the years. The ink and printing have gotten so expensive that the publishers are using cheaper and cheaper materials. Some art books just stink now. Also, with Google Art Project, I can virtually walk through the door of the museum, see where the painting is hanging, and then get so close that I can see each stroke, hairs left by the brush, and threads from unfinished canvas. It does not replace seeing the paintings, but I think it is superior to some of the art textbooks that I have seen out there. SmartHistory is also a great alternative: 
"Traditional textbooks are prohibitively expensive for many and do not take advantage of the digital technologies that are reshaping education. For example, textbooks often use only a single image to represent a work of art, they speak with an authoritative but impersonal voice, and they rarely incorporate the many valuable resources that universities, libraries and museums make available. We built Smarthistory to emphasize the experience of looking at art by using unscripted conversations recorded in front of the work of art whenever possible, by incorporating numerous images and video, and by curating links to high-quality resources on the web."
Google Art Project is freely available and SmartHistory is openly licensed, and free. There is no reason that these sources couldn't replace the $200 plus art history or art appreciation textbooks. This is the right tool for that job.

The current costs of books, especially textbooks, is unconscionable. Despite that, sometimes the best technology is not the latest. There is a time to break out the 3-d drawing software and a time to break out the pencil and paper. 
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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

MOOCs: Why Do We Need Instructional Design?

Hierarchy of Instructional Design
Note: The following is an extended abstract for a paper. I was in the process of sending this out to journals when I realized that this needs to be an open document. I have always found the publishing process in education to be somewhat ironic: scholars publish papers on open education in journals that colleges can no longer afford to buy. What is wrong with this picture? If you are interested in MOOCs and Instructional Design, please email me or leave a comment if you would like to collaborate. I will be submitting it to open journals or we may turn it in to an openly licensed book or modular OER.  This feels like it belongs on a wiki. Maybe we should create a MOOC to develop these ideas?

Just as we need a new learning theory to account for new modalities in learning, we also need a new framework for instructional design, a rubric for MOOC development. New modalities of learning, content delivery, and engagement in online, hybrid courses and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have required new learning theory: Connectivism. Given this new theory, this paper suggests that a new instructional design model is needed as well. According to my reading of Connnectivism, instructional design for MOOCs should:
● Provide for a diversity of opinions
● Allow students to create connections between specialized nodes and learning sources
● Foster their capacity to learn (teach metacognitive learning skills)
● Increase their ability see connections between fields, concepts, and ideas
● Teach students to build networks that will allow students to keep current in their field
● Allow students to choose what to learn and how
Additionally, in a presentation that George Siemens gave on instructional design for the MOOC "Connectivism and Connective Knowledge 2008" he said that learning should be designed for adaptability, for "patterning, wayfinding, and sensemaking" and focus on "content, context, and connections." Siemens says that it is difficult to take all of this and try to build some mechanistic formula for creating learning experiences. This paper will introduce a new rubric of connectivist learning theory as applied to instructional design in order to examine and explain how successful learning takes place in MOOCs.

There are many definitions for “instructional design.” Some definitions are particularly narrow and limit the role as relating learning to technology. For the purposes of this paper, I will use Sheninger’s (2010) which is fairly broad: 
“Instructional Design (ID) is part creative arts and part science which utilizes theoretical as well as practical research in the areas of cognition, educational psychology, information technology, graphic and Web design, and problem solving. ID aims to create the best instructional environment and learning materials to bring a learner from the state of not knowing, not feeling or not being able to accomplish certain tasks to the state of knowing, feeling and being able to accomplish those tasks in a given subject area through carefully organized interactions with information, activities and assessments.” 
MOOCs are a relatively new modality of online learning and the basic research is still in its infancy, but this paper will develop its thesis and argument from research into Connectivist pedagogy, an analysis of the author’s experiences in MOOCs, and interviews with instructors and participants.

The kinds of problems that we can solve with instructional design include student success and retention. Just as some students need help in understanding how online education works (motivation, time management, study skills, etc.), students will also need help in understanding how to successfully take a MOOC. The skills students need to be successful can be built into curriculum. Many of the more successful MOOCs are based in colleges where the students are already successful learners, but this doesn't mean that MOOCs are only appropriate for those colleges.

Another problem is teacher preparation. Just as teachers need to learn how to be successful online teachers, the facilitation skills needed in a MOOC are different. It is a very different, certainly non-hierarchical model. There are ways to structure assignments and activities in a MOOC that will model the skills needed to be successful in a MOOC.

I would like to include a review of the literature of connectivism that compares Connectivism with previous models shows that as the teaching and learning modalities change, so do the theories. Theories such as Constructivism do not fully account for full online courses, hybrid online courses, personal learning networks, or MOOCs. Applying Connectivism to instructional design requires a redefinition of instructional design along the same lines as the changing role of the teacher (Siemens, 2010). The principles of instructional design, which includes a systematic approach to designing course content and learning events, will inform the creation of MOOC development rubric that will be included with this paper.

This project will include definitions of the skills, student success, and include a guide to the connectivist pedagogy for successful online learning and successful participation in a MOOC.

Consider this posting as a preamble. I am especially interested in hearing back from teachers with experience in online education and MOOCs, instructional designers, and other practitioners. 
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Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Create Your Own TED Talk in Six Steps

vintage magic tricks
I have written here and there about TED Talks in the past . I have gotten a lot out of TED Talks, there is a lot of good stuff there - they are also elitist, expensive, and closed in an era where the answer is going to come with opening things up, but never mind that now! There will soon be a TED Talk crisis. There are over 1400 of them online. Much of the drek, apparently, has been curated out for you by the corporate curators; ideas that are not linked on their site that may not, according to TED, be really worth spreading. This means that there are thousands and thousands that may not have made the cut. How many TED events and talks have to be held to find the ones worth spreading? I imagine a lot. This is the crisis. They are going to be running out of "geniuses" any day now. Pretty soon, ordinary gardeners will have to talk about plants, poets will have to talk about art, and bus drivers will have to give talks on psychology and human nature. Then again, who really knows more about the human psyche than someone who has been driving a bus for 20 years? But the problem is that bus drivers are not educators, corporate presenters, or lifestyle coaches, how will they be able to create an inspirational TED Talk? Fortunately, after much analysis and careful thought and a couple shots of espresso, I have found the formula.

If you want to create your own TED Talk, you only have to follow these six steps 1) Have a vague goal, you don't have time for details; 2) Distract the audience with a non-tangential demonstration; 3) Provide a link to your idea with the latest buzzwords in science; 4) About mid-way give an inspired rhetorical question; 5) Your breathless climax should be a double down on the rhetoric; 6) Finish off with the implication that your audience is what really makes it all possible. How does this work? Here is an example talk:
  1. Vague goal: You want to cure illiteracy while restoring wonder to the world. 
  2. Non-tangential demonstration: You perform a magic trick you learned once as a child. 
  3. Tenuous scientific link: You claim that the ball that disappeared from your hand and was pulled from an audience member's ear actually represents the quantum foam. 
  4. Inspired rhetorical question: “What if instead of one ball, there were a thousand? Or a million? Or one ball for every illiterate child in the world?” 
  5. Breathless climax: “Okay now imagine two.” 
  6. Finale: “This just goes to show that many large groups of passionate people with unlimited resources can make magic happen.” Bow to thunderous applause. Exit juggling. 

Note: For more on form and specific vocabulary, Stephen Warnicke did a mind-blowingly awesome TED Talk on that.
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