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

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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.