Open policy #ioe12

This topic, mostly covering Cable Green’s pilgrimage for open policy, should be made mandatory for all members of congress. Really, this would be a win-win for everyone, except maybe for our fat cat publisher friends, of course.

We already have a universal learning machine

It’s called the Internet. It’s there, mostly free to use. It’s non-rivalrous, pretty much everyone can enjoy it without taking it away from someone else. It’s a free distribution system that has decreasing storage costs, increasing connectivity and reach, and supports generous sharing behaviors.

In addition to being pretty awesome, it has the potential to actually solve serious problems, such as the fact that there are too many young people seeking a college degree for the capacity of the current higher education offering. So what if more people could access the same quality materials that are used in Ivy leagues schools like Harvard, MIT, or Stanford?

As Howard Rheingold puts in in Net Smart (Kindle locations 1909-1912):

If you can cast your search query, the exact words you submit to a search engine, in precisely the right terms, screens full of up-to-date knowledge in multiple media appear before your eyes, literally out of thin air. Your Internet provider charges you for transmitting the data back and forth, but the knowledge comes to you free of charge. What could be more magical than that?

The capacity is there, and unlike brick and mortar, it scales up as fast as it needs to, because it’s digital.

But it needs to be turned on…

Although technologically possible through the use of the Internet, the majority of learning content used in schools today is locked down, either by keeping the resources in walled gardens, or through copyright and licensing restrictions. The market has not been able to generate enough momentum yet to open up learning content to the extent it needs to to make access to learning materials accessible.

Cable Green stated in his 2011 ALN Conference Keynote that “most of our policy makers do not understand 21st century technical and legal tools that collectively can enable and turn on this learning machine we started talking about.”

Indeed, policy makers are clueless of the potential impact their legislation can have on the business of learning, as demonstrated by the recently shut-down Research Works Act (RWA), that was aimed at restricting the initiatives of government agencies such as the National Institute of Health and their open access publishing policy. Elsevier got some serious backfire from their decision to support the RWA with a boycott movement of a magnitude rarely seen before in academia.

Publishers want to continue leasing the content to academia, keep us renters for life. California recently signed a bill against this, stating that if students have to pay for e-content, they need to own it afterward, taking away the expiration date on e-textbooks. (looking for the reference here, anyone can post it to the comments, please?)

Cable’s point is mostly that if you’ve paid for it as a taxpayer, you should be able to get access to the results. RFPs for open textbooks could be initiated by states to create the content and make it available for free, saving millions to taxpayers in un-bought traditional textbooks.

Education creates and consumes its own content

… so why are we adding a middleman that keeps renting us our own content anyway? Faculty create textbooks, give the intellectual property away to publishers, who, in turn, sell textbooks to schools (in K-12) and to students who use government loans (in higher education). So we’re paying twice for something we created…

Same thing with academic journals. Faculty write articles for free, faculty peer-review for free, publishers make the file pretty and add it to a database, and then the library has to subscribe to the journal to get access to it. It wouldn’t be so bad to outsource the publication if the prices were reasonable, but even a rich Ivy league institution like Harvard says they can’t afford it anymore.

The tide is turning

Some non-profit foundations, aiming at getting the most bang for their buck, are also pushing for open-access, such as Saylor, MacArthur, 20 Million Minds, etc. Countries and states are also starting to impose some strict rules regarding public spending and the use of OER, such as Brazil, Poland, and the states of Utah ($5 K-12 textbooks project) and Washington (OER K-12 bill).

There is a need for a grassroot effort from content creators, to open up their content using Creative Commons for instance, but also from taxpayers and legislators to understand the potential savings and benefits of turning the learning machine on, for everyone



Finding and selecting quality open educational resources

As the spring semester slowly fades away, here is an opportunity for faculty members to start planning for the next time they will teach classes. We all know the internet is a treasure trove of learning materials, but how can one find the right resources without spending too much time digging in the wrong spots?

Step 1: Attend an hour-long webinar

First, on Tuesday, May 1st, you are invited to attend a Community College Consortium for Open Educational Resources webinar titled Finding and Selecting High Quality Open Educational Resources.

“Hear from a community college librarian, the director of a statewide open textbook project, and an open textbook publisher on best approaches for finding and selecting high-quality, accessible open textbooks and open educational resources to enhance teaching and learning in your classroom and expand access to education. Our featured speakers are:

  • Kate Hess, Librarian, Kirkwood Community College, IA
  • Dr. Robin Donaldson, Director Open Access Textbook Project, Florida Distance Learning Consortium
  • David Harris, Editor-in-Chief, OpenStax College, Rice University, TX”

You are invited to register for a viewing party at 1:00 p.m. in room 011 Smith Hall, or attend the webinar on your own.

Step 2: Attend a workshop

OER logoParticipants interested in working with IT staff are welcome to stay in 011 Smith after the webinar to explore some of the tools and strategies for their own classes (register here for the Tuesday workshop). If this time is not convenient for you, register for a second workshop on Friday May 4th at 9 a.m.

#TED-Ed allows educators to enhance and assess the viewing experience

We’ve all grown accustomed to the high quality of TED videos over the years. Now, TED has released TED-Ed, a collection of animations and videos aimed at educators.

In addition to each video, multiple choice and open questions can be created and answered. Links to additional resources to dig deeper are also available.

TED-Ed also includes a Flip feature that allows educators to modify or create their own enhanced videos and questions from TED or Youtube videos. The unique URL provided for those flips allows scores and answers to be collected from your students.

Social media coaching for faculty

For the last two weeks, I’ve been engaged in a very interesting experiment. Five faculty members from the Fashion and Apparel department have agreed to explore social media for personal productivity, professional development, curriculum redesign, and program promotion.

The overall goal it to help them push their thoughts and practices about the use of technology a couple of steps up to allow them to become 21st century faculty, the connected kind.

Taking a couple of steps back, this all began with a guest appearance I did in a Fashion class to discuss media literacy and social media marketing. The instructor really thought that I had a good thing going on, and students were reacting well to the session, but I felt something was not right. Having me doing a one-of 60 minute dog-and-pony show did not fell like it was enough. So I spoke to the instructor, and suggested to offer a Summer-long weekly coaching session on media literacy and social media, and she was able to sell the idea to four of her colleagues, including the department Chair.

So two weeks ago, we had our first meeting. I came in this meeting with one item, no slides, no presentation. All I had was a the following Wordle, printed 7 times:

… and I opened the floor for discussion.

For more than an hour, we exchanged ideas on how technology is changing the discipline, the industry, teaching practices, and networking. In the end, we agreed to meet weekly until the end of the summer to discuss, reflect, and experiment, with the final goal of making sure everyone would start living a digital professional life, one that, hopefully, will be sustainable and will lead to lifelong learning and a better integration of those new trends in the Fashion curriculum.

I will follow-up on this projects as we move along, but I have to say that I am totally impressed by the energy and willingness of the involved faculty members, and that I think this is going to be an excellent experience to guide future faculty development efforts.

Open business models

Juggler from Fantata on Flickr

Gotta keep all those balls in the air to make your open business sustainable!

This is my post on open business models. This topic, like previous ones, revolved around the concept of sustainability, and how not taking the long term financial impact of your decisions seriously not only reduces your chances of succeeding, but also perpetuates the “free = shaky” misconception.

Opening up education: It’s not for everyone

In A Sustainable Model for OpenCourseWare Development, Johansen and Wiley build their argument on exposing Utah State University’s decision to shut down its open courseware initiative, based on funding issues, and MIT’s astronomical operating costs ($3.5M per year). Many projects, such at the Foothill De Anza Community College District’s SOFIA project, end with the end of external funding.

In order to determine the institutional benefits of opening the courseware, the three questions exposed in the article are the following:

1) What is the cost of development?

How much does it cost to open up a course? In some cases, digitizing materials and scrubbing copyrighted materials (by paying a license fee to use the materials openly or replacing the copyrighted materials by OER) might end up being the most expensive parts of the operation.

2) What is the impact on current business practices?

Would regular students feel left out if the course was shared with non-matriculated students? How would you sell your campus experience as a premium experience?

3) Is the effort sustainable?

Would opening up a course prevent students from enrolling at your institution, or put downward pressure on your tuition fee structure? Does it generate enough new revenues to justify staff and infrastructure investments?

In the case of BYU, it seems the new revenues generated by the open courseware initiative is sustainable, but mostly because of the choices that were made to make the conversion process as affordable as possible. Table 4 reveals that if an open course generates between 1 (higher education) and 10 (K12) new enrollments over 4 years, they have recovered their development cost.

More control = More money

Coming back to MIT’s example, because they are investing to create professionally edited materials that promote the MIT brand, the production costs per course are elevated. Other models, such as Rice’s Connexions are crowdsourced and require less internal resources to maintain. Cases where instructors develop their open course themselves, or with the help of students, have virtually no direct costs associated with them besides the time required to register keystrokes.

My rule of thumb is that the more your public relations people get involved, the more costly your endeavor will become. No offence, marketing folks 😉

What’s in it for authors?

Authors interviewed in Free: Why Authors are Giving Books Away on the Internet reveal many aspects of the new digital economy.

When asked what motivates them to openly publish their works, authors responded most frequently that (1) they had a desire to increase the exposure of the book, and (2) open publishing is, morally speaking, the right thing to do.
Another quote that caught my eye was from Tim O’Reilly:
Publisher Tim O’Reilly once quipped that, “Obscurity is a far greater threat to authors and creative artists than piracy” (2007)
By making their work available for free, authors increase the chance for people to actually read their work, pumping their reputation up, and allowing them to be recognized as experts. This reputation comes with keynote address invitations, consulting gigs, offers to sit of boards of directors, etc.
Opening up a book also allows for the work to reach unexpected places, such as described by Lessig regarding his Free Culture book.
[…] it “has been translated into seven different languages, audio versions are freely available, and it has been put into sixteen different ebook formats. All of these translations and format changes are freely available for others to download. Allowing others to remix Free Culture vastly expanded its reach.”
In terms of e-textbooks, as stated in A sustainable future for open textbooks? The Flat World Knowledge story, I was surprised to see that authors of Flat World Knowledge books got a bigger share of the sales than for traditional textbooks (20% versus 15%). What the authors lose in the sales price of the textbook, they can probably make up in volume over time.

Flat World Knowledge: Back to a shaky model?

To me, Flat World Knowledge has a pretty solid plan for the short term. Students, in my opinion and observation, are not ready to switch to digital, at least not for reading a textbook as a web site. So as long as the derivative products are marketable and that they keep their production costs under control, FWK will thrive.
I think their new push to sell the All Access Pass is a step in the right direction to play nice with campus bookstores, that still remain the powerhouse of textbook sales (for now anyway).