Online Learning Has Its Advantages

learning online in cafe
    Image: pxhere

It is unfortunate that the emergency move to online classes in March 2020 is often being seen as the definition of online learning. This is especially true for administrators, faculty, students. parents and the general public who had no experience with it previously. I would say that what is being offered this fall should be of a higher quality if schools used the spring experience and a summer of planning to prepare for the possibility of being fully online again. perhaps the perceptions of spring will be improved.

In a journal article that I am working on now, I say something that may not be supported by research but is supported by every faculty member I have talked to for the article: It is easier to move a good online course to a face-to-face (F2F) format than it is is to take a good F2F course and put it online. Many articles have appeared this year saying that the elements of a good online course are essentially the same as a good F2F course.

For example, if I am designing a brand new online course, I will be including all the "handouts" I would use in-person but also ones I wouldn't have included in creating a new F2F course. For example, in-person I might take 15 minutes to explain to students an upcoming assignment. For the online version, I will need that explanation in a document or as an audio/video file. If my online course is ever used to teach F2F having that explanatory document or video available for students who want to review it again after class and especially for students who missed the class session would be very useful. For the online version, I will need to create "lectures" that are chunked into smaller segments. For he F2F class, I might use those mini-lectures to flip the classroom as before class "reading" assignments. For the online course, might even rethink my entire approach to lectures.

One thing we learned from the rise of MOOCs was that there were a lot of people who wanted to learn but had no interest in credits or a degree. They took courses to learn what they wanted to learn and most of the time were not even interested in using all of the course or "finishing" the course as we would expect in traditional courses or training. This was initially the biggest criticism of MOOCs - students did not complete the course - but we came to see that completion was not an objective for most of these learners.

Skills and career advancement are the primary motives for many nontraditional learners, and online courses allowed that with a number of advantages. While in some jobs an additional degree or a certificate can mean advancement in salary and position, you can also "move up" by acquiring new skills. Online courses, degrees and certificates allow learners to continue working while they study.

Pre-pandemic, Santa Clara University surveyed hundreds of distance learners about how online learning impacted them and more than 50% of respondents recognized and appreciated the benefits of online classes.

Traditional and non-traditional learners can take online classes and the advantages apply to all. Some of the most often mentioned advantages are:
- flexibility in scheduling (most of my online graduate students have been working full- or part-time)
- lower costs
- options for preferred learning spaces
- options to take courses from other campuses or institutions
- self-paced learning
- technology and other skills learned by being an online learner

Flexibilty includes MOOCs and other offerings that allow those seeking a degree, credit, a certificate or skills advancement to start a course immediately. Even traditional programs with a 16-week structure might also offer accelerated eight-week courses. This accelerated course should have the same academic requirements and only works well for learners with no significant work or family obligations. They are sometimes offered in "intersessions" between semesters when students may be taking only one or two courses.

Some terms that have become much more familiar this year in the online learning experience are asynchronous, synchronous, hybrid, and HyFlex. Asynchronous refers to a fully-online course that does not hold scheduled meetings and students complete work at convenient times but must still have assignment deadlines. Synchronous courses, like on-campus courses, have set meeting times where the instructor conduct classes using a video conferencing service. Hybrid courses offer a combination. A course might meet once a week synchronously (on-campus or online) and the rest of the time asynchronously online. A fully HyFlex course (AKA converged learning) offers the option of F2F attendance as well as a synchronous offering of that live class session and a recorded version that can be used asynchronously. 

Although most online courses run asynchronously in order to provide maximum scheduling flexibility, some also offer or require learners to participate synchronously at set times or meet with an instructor during virtual office hours. This year, I am seeing more schools offer the options of hybrid or HyFlex courses that combine online and F2F which can increase or decrease the flexibility of being fully online.

There can be cost advantages with taking online classes. The caveat to this is that in most of higher education, online learners pay the same per-credit tuition rate as on-campus learners. There are exceptions with MOOCs, certificates, and a few fully-online degree programs. An overlooked cost advantage is that the fully online student saves on not needing campus housing or meal plans and on commuting and parking costs.

Students can also save money by using cheaper digital textbooks. But the real saving there occurs when faculty embrace using Open Textbooks (generally available for free) and other open resources. I have found that faculty in designing online courses are much more likely to consider those resources than F2F instructors.

The learning space for the online student can be their dining room table, home office, work office during lunch, a local library, a coffee shop, or a park on a nice day. "Learning styles" may have fallen out of favor but clearly each of us have ways of learning and settings where we learn best. I write notes, drafts, and final versions directly on my laptop. My wife likes to spread out paper notes and references on a big table and work on her tablet.

One of the big attractions to MOOCs was that it allowed you to take courses from anywhere in the world. A student at a small community college could take a course in artificial intelligence offered by Stanford - an opportunity never available before. I took about a dozen free courses online back in 2012 when the MOOC was a hot topic even though I have no need or desire to acquire additional certifications or degrees. I took them from elite universities in the U.S. and beyond that I never had the opportunity to even consider for my own degrees.

Not having to be restricted by geographic location means attending an elite school or finding the best professor for a subject doesn't require relocating and possibly (in the MOOC option) not paying any tuition.

Anyone who has taught or learned online has probably discovered that they have learned technical skills that were not part of the formal course curriculum. Many of these skills will be needed in jobs, such as learning new software suites, doing research online, communicating by using discussion boards, and teleconferencing. 

The advantages of online learning are real. They are best appreciated when the instructor learner has made the choice to learn online. That was not the situation in March of this year, but hopefully, it has led schools, faculty, and students to learn by necessity how to learn more effectively in the online world.

Will education after 2020 be "forever changed"? I doubt it. The pandemic may have been a seismic event, but moving the tectonic plates of education is very difficult.

Useful Free Tools for Back to School From the Internet Archive

As students around the world resume their education - perhaps in a physical classroom - probably online - there is still a lot of uncertainty.

The nonprofit Internet Archive is dedicated to Universal Access to All Knowledge. They provide a number of free resources for parents, students, teachers, and librarians around the world—check out these tools for remote learning!

Over the past several months, the Internet Archive has collaborated with a number of educational specialists to determine how our collections can best serve teachers. You can leverage the Open Library to get new material or find lesson plans to make curriculum preparation easier.

oregon trail screenStudents can also access the Open Library books. For younger students, there are Kid-Friendly resources. For homework help, The Internet Archive has a huge array of textbooks and study guides. If you’re looking for primary sources to cite in your History assignments, our 26 million historical books and texts are a great place to start; if you’re trying to get through English class we also have thousands of works of literature from around the world.

There is even a huge collection of educational (and some less-educational) software and computer games if you need a study break.

The American Libraries collection includes material contributed from across the United States including the Library of Congress, many local public libraries, including material in the public domainand materials sponsored by Microsoft, Yahoo!, The Sloan Foundation, and others.

Might Your Fall 2020 Courses Be HyFlex?

The HyFlex model is one that is being considered by schools for this fall semester. In this model, teachers teach simultaneously to students in their classroom and other students connect synchronously to the class. It can be labeled in other ways - hybrid, flex, blended - but all of them provide options for students who can’t come to class for health or logistical reasons. For this fall semester, this can also allow for socially distant classrooms because students can rotate through classroom spaces on alternating days.

At my university, NJIT, one model is called converged learning and offers a third option for students to view a class recording asynchronously later. By reducing the number of in-classroom students, they plan to use large spaces to socially distance students in courses that require face-to-face teaching, such as labs and studio courses. For a science and technology university, using physical spaces is essential for many courses.

Some faculty feel it will be very difficult to engage students in multiple locations. HyFlex also pushes faculty back to the "sage on the stage" lecture format that we have been trying to move away from the past two decades in order to increase engagement. many faculty at all grade levels still do not feel comfortable with the online technology even after the emergency switch over to it this past spring.

As an instructional designer, I feel that you need to design a course as a fully online one and consider the in-person portion (if it does occur this fall) as the enhancement. Don't expect the in-person portion to carry more than half of the teaching and learning.

Some things are better done in the classroom. Lecture probably isn't one of those things. Teachers and designers need to consider the differences based on the course, the space, and the instructor. In a FLEXible course, group might be best in-person or easier with more time put online. You wouldn't want to waste any lab or studio time lecturing.

In "Active Learning in Hybrid and Physically Distanced Classrooms," Derek Bruff, director of the Center for Teaching at Vanderbilt University, posted about using the technology. He suggests that you might forego classroom discussion and have students respond to questions using live polling and web conferencing platforms.

For any of the flex models to work, all the class materials, assignments, group work, and other activities need to be ina a learning-management system so that they can be accessed no matter where they are learning. Bruff thinks it's a misconception that flex courses require two versions of a course for the classroom and for online.

If you want to know more about HyFlex, look into Brian Beatty's open-source book, Hybrid-Flexible Course Design.  

Kevin Kelly wrote a guest post, "COVID-19 Planning for Fall 2020: A Closer Look at Hybrid-Flexible Course Design" with examples of how a HyFlex class session might work. 

An Open and Shut Educational Case

OER knife
Open Source "Swiss Knife" - illustration by Open Source Business Foundation - licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Here are some concepts that I see used as hashtags, which is a sign that they have a following: lifelong learning, lifewide learning. open education, open learning, open universities. Around 2012, when MOOCs went large, the open of Massive Open Online Courses was a really important part of what defined those courses. Today, the open part has been lost in many instances where you see the MOOC term applied to an offering.

I created a category here in 2006 called "Open Everything" as an umbrella term for what I saw as a trend which would include MOOCs, OER (Open Educational Resources), open textbooks, open-source software and other things used in "open education" and beyond what we traditionally have thought of as "education," such as training, professional development and unsupervised learning.

It's not that this openness started in 2012. In 2006, I was posting in that category about a conference on interoperability, iTunes U, podcasts, Creative Commons and other open efforts. It wasn't until 2008 that I used the term "Open Everything" in a post as a movement I was seeing, rather than just my aggregated category of posts. 

That 2006 conference brought together schools using different course management systems (CMS such as WebCT, Blackboard, Moodle, Sakai) to see if there might be ways to have these open and closed CMS work together. Moodle and Sakai were open-source software and schools (including NJIT where I was working) were experimenting with them while still using the paid products. At that time, a survey of officials responsible for software selection at a range of higher education institutions responded in a survey that two-thirds of them had considered or were actively considering using open source products. About 25% of institutions were implementing higher education-specific open-source software of some kind.

On a much larger scale, there were open universities with quite formal learning, such as the Open University in Great Britain. There were efforts at less formal learning online, such as Khan Academy. There was also the beginning of less formal learning from traditionally formal places, such as MIT’s OpenCourseWare.

The MOOC emerged from the availability of free resources, such as blogging sites, that were not open in that you probably could not get to the code that ran it or reproduce it elsewhere but were freely available. 

The Open Everything philosophy embraces equity and inclusion and the idea that every person has a right to learn throughout their lives. It champions the democratization of knowledge. 

In the 14 years since I started writing about this, we have made progress in the use of OER. Open textbooks, which I literally championed at conferences and in colleges, are much easier to get accepted by faculty than it was back then.

Unfortunately, some things that began as open - MOOCs are perhaps the best example - are now closed. They may not be fully closed. You can still enroll in courses online without cost. You may or may not be able to reuse those materials in other places or modify them for your own purposes.

In 2017, I wrote that David Wiley makes the point about "open pedagogy" that "because 'open is good' in the popular narrative, there’s apparently a temptation to characterize good educational practice as open educational practice. But that’s not what open means. As I’ve argued many times, the difference between free and open is that open is “free plus.”

Free plus what? Free plus the 5R permissions." Those five permissions are Retain, Reuse, Revise, Remix and Redistribute. Many free online resources do not embrace those five permissions. 

I view the once-open doors are mostly shut. I hope they won't be locked.

Creative Commons Certificate Course

In response to the growing use of Creative Commons (CC) licenses globally and the corresponding need for open licensing expertise, CC offers the CC Certificate course.

The CC Certificate trains people in copyright, open licensing and the ethos of working with our global, shared commons using CC licenses. The program is an investment in educators and advocates of open movements, offering a way to build and strengthen their open licensing and “commons” expertise.

This course is open to everyone, from university students and entry-level professionals to experts in the fields of library science and education (more fields forthcoming).

cc certs

The Certificate is a community development program, investing in people like you, who work in and advocate for open movements and the Commons. The CC Certificate powers you with the knowledge to better advise your institution on creating and engaging with openly licensed works. You will learn how to adapt and innovate on existing openly licensed materials–keeping your institution’s knowledge base relevant and up to date. You will also learn how to best support learners accessing a wider array of open knowledge resources. Finally, the Certificate equips you with skills needed to meet open licensing requirements increasingly present in government and foundation grants and contracts.

To learn more about the course, visit certificates.creativecommons.org

Digital Humanities and Open Pedagogy

human network

I see that the Google Science Fair is back and, though many K-12 teachers are at the end of their academic year, this summer is the time to plan for what students could do in the fall. This seems like a "science" activity, but this is where the phrase "digital humanities" should be.

Looking at the the website googlesciencefair.com, you find projects that take the science well beyond the science classroom. Closely related are the activities in Google's Applied Digital Skills curriculum. Here you can find some well-constructed lessons that can be done in as little as an hour and ones that could stretch across a week or unit.

For example, one suitable for middle and high school students is on creating a resume. It's something I did with students decades ago in a non-digital way. The skills involved here are many. Obviously, there is the writing, some research and some analysis of your own skills and ambitions. There are also the more digital forms of collaboration, document formatting and submission. I did this with undergrads a few years ago and required each of them to research and submit their resume to an internship opportunity. 

A longer activity that fits in so well with topics currently at the top of the news is about Technology, Ethics, and Security. Students research technology risks and dangers, explore solutions, and create a report to communicate their findings.

I would also note that the digital humanities must include what humanities teachers do in their work. 

Quizzes in Google Forms have been around for a few years and educators have used them for class assessments and in unintended ways as a tool. New features were recently added based on feedback from teachers' creative uses of the Quizzes. 

One example is that now, using Google’s machine learning, Forms can now predict the correct answer as a teacher types the question. It can also provide options for wrong answers. A simple example is a quiz on U.S. capitals would use this feature to "predict" the correct capitals for every state.

That doesn't mean that Google doesn't have a special interest in the computer science side of eduction. They offer special resources in those areas and professional development grants for CS educators to support those in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

I don't want to sound like an advertisement for Google - though advertising free and open resources isn't like selling something. Much of what the digital humanities can do moves teachers into an "open pedagogy." It changes the way we teach. 

This is more important than just finding resources.

David Wiley has written
"Hundreds of thousands of words have been written about open educational resources, but precious little has been written about how OER – or openness more generally – changes the practice of education. Substituting OER for expensive commercial resources definitely save money and increase access to core instructional materials. Increasing access to core instructional materials will necessarily make significant improvements in learning outcomes for students who otherwise wouldn’t have had access to the materials (e.g., couldn’t afford to purchase their textbooks). If the percentage of those students in a given population is large enough, their improvement in learning may even be detectable when comparing learning in the population before OER adoption with learning in the population after OER adoption. Saving significant amounts of money and doing no harm to learning outcomes (or even slightly improving learning outcomes) is clearly a win. However, there are much bigger victories to be won with openness."

Too much emphasis when talking about OER is on free textbooks and cost savings and not enough on the many other resources available that allow educators to customize their curriculum and even allow for individual differences. The longtime practice of curriculum designed around a commercial textbook needs to end. 

I have written here about what I called Open Everything. What I am calling now Open Pedagogy would be under that umbrella term. Others have called this pedagogy Open Educational Practices (OEP). In either case, it is the use of Open Educational Resources for teaching and learning in order to innovate the learning process.  In this, I include the open sharing of not only the resources, but also of the teaching practices.

Currently, I would say the level of openness we see is low. Others have defined the levels as: Low - teachers believe they know what learners have to learn. A focus on knowledge transfer. Medium - Predetermined Objectives (closed environment) but, using open pedagogical models and encourage dialogue and Problem-based learning. And the goal is for the highest level when Learning Objectives and pathways are highly governed by the learners.

 

Why Create and Use Open Educational Resources?

open textbooksI'm currently working on redesigning courses to use only Open Educational Resources (OER). Ever since I have worked in higher ed, whenever I have discussed open resources that are offered for free some faculty will always ask "Why do people create these things for no money?"
Most of us do our work and create our "intellectual property" (some of which is called that isn't really IP) in order to make money, and in academia to gain promotion and tenure too.
Some of the main motivations for creating OER are the same as the reasons for using OER. In my current project at a community college, we are trying to create course that save students money. Ideally, the course has no cost after students pay their tuition. The biggest cost is almost always textbooks, so using free, open textbooks is important.
I feel that too much course design is based on the textbook used, so OER redesign offers an opportunity for real course redesign. 
On the pedagogical side, open textbooks solve the problem of students simply not buying the book and trying to get by without it. I taught in secondary school for years and all the textbooks were free and I will always say that a free book does not solve the problem of students who do not read the books.
We also know through many studies that students who are strapped for money often choose courses when possible based on low or no cost for textbooks.
Students get annoyed when a professor only uses a small part of the textbook. Using open textbooks allows us to select the sections that we really want to use. Many OER courses use portions of several texts - a few chapters from one and a few from another.
If you not totally happy with the content in an truly open textbook, you can edit it yourself. You can add your own content, add your own images. Of course, in most cases those edits also have to be made open to others to use. I think of an open textbook as a starting point.
Which brings us to the point that creating an OER course takes work. Finding resources is very time-consuming. Editing them is work. If you do it, you do it for your students, for education and for a love of learning that you want to share with the world.
OER creators don't usually make money from their efforts, although there are platforms that offer resources in printed formats for a price. But creators can get recognition and exposure for their efforts and that can sometimes help in the job-hunting and promotion and tenure processes.

OER: Downes Versus Wiley

Stephen Downes got news from David Wiley that he would be partnering with Follett, a company best known for managing college bookstores. But Follett is another company getting into courseware. In this case, they will make Lumen Learning’s OER courseware available to institutions. The Lumen course support is not free, but low-cost (($10 to $25) and meant to replace the more costly commercial textbook. Downes asks: "What if students don't want to pay money for these 'open' educational resources? Are they denied access? Isn't this exactly one of those closed marketplaces people said would never happen? This is why I defend the use of the non-commercial clause in open educational resources."

David Wiley has responded and the post is worth reading to anyone working with OER and those following the growing role that commercial vendors are playing in open resources and the further dilution of what "open" means in education.

Open Everything 2017

OER knife
Open Source "Swiss Knife" - illustration by Open Source Business Foundation - licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Back in 2008, I first posted here about what I was calling "Open Everything."  That was my umbrella term for the many things I was encountering in and out of the education world that seemed relevant to "Open" activities based on Open Source principles. The growth I saw nine years ago continues.

I had made a list of "Open + ______" topics I was encountering then, and I have updated that list here:
access
business
configuration
hosts
cloud
content
courseware
data
design
education
educational resources (OER)
format
government
hardware
implementation
innovation
knowledge
learning
music
research
science
source as a service
source licenses
source religion
source software
space
standards
textbooks
thinking

All these areas overlap with other categories that I write about on Serendipity35.

David Wiley makes the point in talking about one of these uses -"open pedagogy" - that "because 'open is good' in the popular narrative, there’s apparently a temptation to characterize good educational practice as open educational practice. But that’s not what open means. As I’ve argued many times, the difference between free and open is that open is “free plus.” Free plus what? Free plus the 5R permissions." Those five permissions are Retain, Reuse, Revise, Remix and Redistribute. Many free online resources do not embrace those five permissions. 

A colleague sent me a link to a new book, Open: The Philosophy and Practices that are Revolutionizing Education and Science. The book also crosses many topics related to "open": affordable education, transparent science, accessible scholarship, open science, and courses that share this philosophy.

That last area interests me again of late as I am taking on some work on developing courses using OER materials for this fall at a community college. These courses are not what could be labeled as "open courses." They are using Open Educational Resources. They are regular Gen-Ed courses with the traditional tuition and registration structure.
So, why remake a course using OER? 

Always on the list of reasons to lower the cost for students by eliminating (or greatly lowering the price of) a textbook and using open textbooks and resources. But there are more benefits to OER than "free stuff." This course redesign is also an opportunity to free faculty from the constraints of a textbook-driven curriculum. (Though, admittedly many faculty cling to that kind of curriculum design.)

David Wiley's warning is one to consider when selecting OER. Is a text "open" if it does not allow the 5R permissions? Wiley would say No, but many educators have relaxed their own definition of open to the point that anything freely available online is "open." It is not.

For example, many educators use videos online on YouTube, Vimeo or other repositories. They are free. You can reuse them. You can usually redistribute (share) them via links or embed code into your own course, blog or website. But can you revise or remix them? That is unlikely. I fact, they may very well be copyrighted and attempting to remix or revise them is breaking the law.

You might enroll in a MOOC in order to see how others teach a course that you also teach. It is a useful professional development activity for teachers. But it is likely not the case that you have the right to copy those mate rails and use them in your own courses. And a course on edX, Coursera or another MOOC provider is certainly not open to you retain, reusing, revising, remixing or redistributing the course itself.

There are exceptions. MIT's Open Courseware was one of the original projects to offer free course materials. They are not MOOCs as we know them today, but they can be a "course for independent learners." They are resources and you were given permissions (with some restrictionssee their mission video) to use them for your own courses.

I didn't get a chance to fully participate in the OpenLearning ’17 MOOC that started in January and runs into May 2017. It is connectivist and probably seems like an "Old School MOOC" in this 2017 dominated by the Courseras of the MOOC world. It is using Twitter chats, AMA, and Hangouts. You can get into the archives and check out the many resources. It is a MOOC in which, unlike many courses that go by that label today, where the "O" for "Open" in the acronym is true. Too many MOOCs are really only MOCs.

Is Your Professor Using An Open Textbook This Semester? (Probably Not)

free the book

I am a user and advocate of free and openly licensed educational resources (OER), and open textbooks seems to me to be one of the lowest-hanging fruits on that OER tree.

I believe the use of OER materials in general has increased slightly the past few years, but the use of open textbooks has not increased. In fact, according to a large-scale survey recently released, only 6.6 percent of faculty members are "very aware" of them. That is not a good thing.

Back in 2010, I worked with the community college oerconsortium.org and the broader collegeopentextbooks.org 

and gave many presentations on using open textbooks. 

There are some colleges that have made a campus effort to encourage open textbook use, but they are in the minority.  

Can you still require a textbook of your students. Yes. Maybe.

A recent survey report, "Opening the Textbook: Educational Resources in U.S. Higher Education, 2015-16," shows a mixed picture for OER and some "serious disconnects."

One of those was that 87% of professors who had recently chosen books or other materials for a coursone said the cost to the students had been important or very important to them, but only 5% percent of those had assigned a free or openly licensed textbook. 

So why didn't they opt for open textbooks? Their perceived barriers include that there were not enough resources for their subject and that it was "too hard to find what I need" (no comprehensive catalog of resources).

I heard those when I did presentations. But there are plenty of sites that catalog books. 

Looking at the textbook listings at collegeopentextbooks.org, I did a search for and found two very common gen ed course textbooks for statistics and economics

algebra coverI was working at a community college when I first started working with open textbooks. Those schools are a great place for low-cost texts, especially because students are often taking courses below college level and need basic texts. Of course, students often enter 4-year colleges and also need to work on more basic math skills in order to do college-level math. Math is possibly the best subject for open textbooks because those books have a longer shelf life. Calculus does not change dramatically year to year. 

Let's take a look at a great example of an open textbook on Intermediate Algebra. Now in its third edition, it is one of four open textbooks that are core teaching resources at Scottsdale Community College. Along with Basic Arithmetic, Introductory Algebra and College Algebra, it has been used by thousands of students, saving their students upwards of $150,000 per semester.

This could be used in an algebra course or as a remedial reference for students in higher level courses. Of course, this is not only something that college professors should be examining. Teachers in high schools can also make good use of many of these textbooks with their students.

This particular group of books are the result of the SCC Math faculty making a collective decision to adopt OER and the books were developed and are maintained at virtually no cost by those faculty members. They have been enhanced by a suite of ancillary materials that include online help sessions, quizzes, and instructor's guides. 

Intermediate Algebra consists of 12 lessons with a MiniLesson (topic coverage via video examples and You Try problems for students), Practice Problems, and an end-of-lesson Assessment.

Want to check it out or use it?  You can view/download the textbook as a PDF and access all four books at sccmath.wordpress.com.

Basic Arithmetic (MAT082) – Workbook Edition 2

Introductory Algebra (MAT090, 091, 092) – Workbook Edition 4

Intermediate Algebra (MAT120, 121, 122) – Workbook Edition 4

College Algebra (MAT150, MAT151) – Workbook Edition 1


Are Your Students Buying The Textbook?

As I have written before, as the cost of textbooks continues to rise, more and more college students are choosing not to buy them. Almost half of my class this semester has no textbook. They choose to either borrow a copy from a classmate or the library, or just rely on whatever parts of the book I cover in class (which is probably about 30%).

I would prefer to use a free and open textbook, but I haven't found one for that particular course (Critical Thinking).

Some scary stats:

According to huffingtonpost.com, 7 out of 10 undergraduates surveyed at 13 college campuses said they had not purchased one or more textbooks because the cost was too high when surveyed by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

The Government Accountability Office has estimated that textbooks cost a quarter the average tuition for state universities and three-fourths the average tuition at community colleges.

PIRG analysis also found the price of textbooks has risen 22% over the past four years, which is a much faster rate than overall inflation.

Rising prices come as student debt has also soared to record levels. In fact, that debt exceeds the total credit card debt in 2010.


College Open Textbooks: Winner for 'Most Open'

Education-Portal.com has announced the winners of their first annual OCW People’s Choice Awards, which honor the best of the Open Education Movement. Over 4000 people voted for their best educational resources in this inaugural contest, and College Open Textbooks was recognized as the OCW People’s Choice Winner for Most Open. 

According to Education-Portal.com, “Openness is a key part of any OCW - after all, it's in the name. But what providers excel at giving their users a wealth of material to access and lots of different ways to do it? The nominees in this category all understand that to make courseware truly open, variety and depth are key.”

Other winners included Open Course Library, FGV Online, African Virtual University OER, Open Study, MIT Physics and more.


Open Textbook Advocacy

Back in May 2009, I wrote about the Community College Consortium for Open Educational Resources, CCCOER, which had launched in 2008 the Community College Open Textbook (CCOT) Project with funding from The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. Their goals are to centralize open textbook information for use by community college professors and other educators and to document sustainable workflow approaches for producing, maintaining, and disseminating open textbooks.

What is an Open Textbook? 

Generally, they are:

- free, or very nearly free

- easy to use, get (download) and distribute

- editable so instructors can customize content

- cross-platform compatible

- printable

- accessible so it works with adaptive technologies

Recently, I began attending webinars offered by Open Textbook Advocate Trainers (a part of the Consortium) which uses a Ning social networking site as a learning stream for college campus promoters of open educational resources. Though I wasn't able to attend all the webinars yet, I am interested in being an Advocate/Trainer. These advocates foster interest in open textbooks, help faculty discover, select, and adopt open textbooks and help students choose a format (online, downloaded, printed, bound). Hopefully, they will work with all the stakeholders on campus (including bookstore, print shop, library, and administration) and also provide feedback to the authors and educational community.

Our own New Jersey Educational Activities Task Force is holding an event on April 9, 2010 on e-readers, e-books, e-textbook and I will present briefly on open textbooks. It will be held at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison and anyone is welcome to attend (information at http://njedge.net/activities/ ) I'm hoping to get some interest so that we can offer an open textbook adoption workshop soon.

Although open textbooks are electronic textbooks by their delivery, when there are discussions about eTextbooks, it often means textbooks from traditional publishers that are also offered in an electronic format at a reduced cost from the print editions. Open textbooks are a very different approach to using textbooks.

An nice introductory article from Educause Review about the CCCOER project is called "It Takes a Consortium to Support Open Textbooks" and that is probably true.

I have just started collecting some materials on electronic textbooks online at http://pccc.libguides.com/etextbooks that will include information on open textbooks, commercial eTextbooks and free textbook resources.


Open Textbook Project

In April 2008, the Community College Consortium for Open Educational Resources CCCOER launched the Community College Open Textbook (CCOT) Project, funded by The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation with the goals to centralize critical open textbook information for use by community college professors and other interested parties, and to document sustainable workflow approaches for producing, maintaining, and disseminating open textbooks.

What are the ways to make free, open textbooks a sustainable resource for faculty and students?

We can start by asking, "What is an Open Textbook?" That is something still being defined, but some working standards are that it is:

- free, or very nearly free

- easy to use, get (download) and distribute

- editable so instructors can customize content

- cross-platform compatible

- printable

- accessible so it works with adaptive technologies

You can help shape and define open textbooks by adding your voice to the standards, guide development, and vetting procedure to review textbooks and recommend texts that meet those quality standards.

Right now you can browse textbooks by subject but reviews are just beginning.

Math is the first area that is being reviewed and there are open texts on Applied Finite Mathematics, Dimensions (geometry), Elementary Algebra and Fundamentals of Mathematics. For example, if you look at Understanding Algebra and then check a review of it, you can see the rubric being used and comments on each of the existing chapters.

There is also an online meeting place for those involved in the project at http://collegeopentextbooks.ning.com/  using the popular Ning social networking platform.

It Takes a Consortium to Support Open Textbooks is a good introductory article from EDUCAUSE Review about the Community College Consortium for Open Educational Resources efforts.

Dr. David Yonutas, Associate Vice President of Academic Affairs, at Santa Fe College reports the launch of an initiative at his college to promote the use of digital textbooks. His argument, which has bee well-received, includes:

1. Digital texts require computers. Fostering a "Go Green, Print Less" culture at our campus and digital texts are a component of this culture.

2. Students receive money for technology as part of their financial aid awards.

3. Faculty are reluctant to adopt a "You MUST purchase a laptop" policy at the college because of hardships of cost.

4. Many Netbooks now cost less than $300, so using ONLY two or three digital texts that are OERs OVER HIS OR HER ENTIRE CAREER AT THE COLLEGE would save the student more than enough money to purchase the Netbook.

Visit Community College Open Textbook Project

Connexions is an open-source platform and open-access repository for open educational resources, enabling the creation, sharing, modification, and vetting of open educational material accessible to anyone, anywhere, anytime via the World Wide Web.

Mary Zedeck at Seton Hall passed on a link to a call for manuscripts for an upcoming special issue of Innovate on "The Future of the Textbook." Innovate is an open-access, peer-reviewed, online periodical published bimonthly by the Fischler School of Education and Human Services at Nova Southeastern University. The journal focuses on the creative use of information technology to enhance education and training in academic, commercial, and governmental settings.

The projected publication date is December/January 2010. This special issue is on the future of one key element of "old school" education that survives in a Web 2.0 world: the textbook.The questions that the issue will explore are good questions for any discussion you might be starting on the future of textbooks. If you teach, how do your students feel about e-textbooks?

1. What will textbooks look like in the future? Will the textbook as we know it continue to exist in some recognizable form, or is the future of the textbook limited?

2. How will emerging technology (downloadable textbooks, Kindles and cell-phone-sized readers) transform the content, function, and uses of the textbook?

3. How can textbooks be made accessible and affordable for disadvantaged learners and those in developing countries lacking the resources to acquire and maintain print textbooks?

4. What is the current state-of-the-art in textbooks? How are K-21 educators already experimenting with e-textbooks and other innovations? What can these experiments tell us about the future of the textbook?

5. What role will wikis and other Web 2.0 technologies play in the textbook of the future?

6. How can the textbooks of the future incorporate the best features of constructivist and authentic learning principles, by tailoring content to individual learner needs (including the needs of disabled learners) or through other technological innovations?

7. How will textbooks shape the interaction between teacher and student and the role of the teacher in education?

8. What developments -- in technology, in funding, in pedagogical theory, and in politics and copyright law -- will be required to make e-textbooks readily available, especially to students in developing countries?

If you would like to contribute a manuscript on this topic, review their submission guidelines. Deadline May 31, 2009.