Reflection: Teaching openly is all I have #openeducationwk

Since it’s Open Education Week, here is a rare blog post of mine. Disclaimer: Opinions below are my own and do not reflect my employer’s view.

I’ve been reflecting lately about why higher education faculty members don’t embrace open education (and open teaching practices) as much as I do [in the time I took to write this post, I stumbled upon Martin Weller’s one that clarifies some of these issues as well]. This post is just some sort of brainstorm of reasons why I think the task at hand is harder that it seems to be. (Warning: I’ll be jumping around from a faculty perspective to a student perspective, and discussing the issue from and adjunct instructor’s point of view).

Can I use this opener on your teaching practices, please? Photo credit: CC-BY-NC Stephen Downes on Flickr.com

It hasn’t been around long enough

Even though the open education has been around for 15 years or so (I’m using MIT’s Open Courseware initiative as the start point), many people had not paid attention until recently, when Stanford-branded Massive Open Online Courses got some press. Academia is a very stable industry that rarely jumps on bandwagons without carefully looking at evidence.1 Not much literature has come up to my attention to really demonstrate the idea that open education is better for student learning, but, more importantly, better for tenured and tenure-track faculty members doing their every day job, which brings me to my second point.

Open education doesn’t appeal to full faculty

Many higher education institutions are composed of research faculty members, who were selected by colleagues for their accomplishments in a specific discipline. Those faculty have built-up their reputation through research, scholarship, and presentations at disciplinary conferences that value pushing the discipline, not the transfer of its basic principles to undergraduate students. Full faculty members already have promotion channels for what they do, so open education is not something they are looking for in terms of spreading their knowledge.

If they have any interest in teaching, one of the ways they have found to promote it is to write a textbook for one of the 4 or 5 big publishers. This also helps them get additional income if the title becomes popular (and if they assign it to their own students, they already have a niche for it). A chunk of full faculty do not want to support open education for fear of losing revenue generated by textbook sales, same goes for campus bookstores (which are usually co-owned by the universities).

Students are also a part of the issue. They are familiar and have become desensitized to the fact that they need to buy learning materials, no matter the cost, and no matter what the learning outcome for them is (and Daddy pays for it anyway). The real cost of textbooks is not as bad as the retail price suggests though, as Phil Hill has demonstrated in the past.

Course evaluations are private

Most institutions have a formal course evaluation made of online surveys taken by students near the end of the semester. Those usually measure satisfaction with your class, and sometimes contains nice messages about how good of a teacher you are. Unfortunately, that data is private, and can only be seen by you and your department chair. You cannot use that to promote yourself that much, outside of your current department.

Openly available course evaluation information, like Rate My Professors, is generally frowned upon by higher education as a whole.

Faculty are shielded from the real cost of textbooks

The deal is done between the publisher and the faculty. Faculty get free copies of the textbook and all the ancillaries, and forward the ISBN to their campus bookstore. The bookstore then packs the shelves with the assigned textbook, padding the price enough to justify their own existence.

In the end, the students are the ones coming out of pocket for the textbooks, and they figure out creative ways to lower the cost by reselling, renting, getting digital versions, etc., or they simply take a chance and go without, thinking that faculty will lecture the content of the course that will be covered in the exams anyway.

Faculty don’t pay enough attention to their online footprint

When you Google someone’s name, a lot more than academic articles comes out. In general, departments put out some sort of short bio and list and of academic papers (that is usually outdated). Conferences also leave traces of the faculty’s presentations and such, but again, those become outdated pretty fast. And like most of us, faculty use social media for social needs, not so much for developing their professional network.

But what about adjuncts?

If, like me, you have a day job and teach once in a while on a short-term contract, open education should be on your radar. Why? Because that’s all you have to show for all your work.

You don’t publish in academic journals. You don’t attend academic conferences. You might attend professional conferences, but those rarely make it on department chair’s radar. Unless you have the freedom to do research in your free time, the traditional promotion and tenure channels basically work against you.

So, what can be done?

I believe adjuncts, as much as possible, should consider themselves education free agents. We are most likely rooted in one institution, one physical area, but teaching is not. As an example, I teach for the Social Media Marketing Strategy certificate at the University of Delaware, a hybrid program, and for the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee in the M.A. in Education program. I have never set foot on the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus, but teach online for them.

As a free agent, you want to make sure that you leave a trace when you teach. I usually ask my employers if I am allowed to make my slides available online, if I can assign a Creative Commons license to my work, etc. It’s not always granted, but one way around it is to create or assemble a personal OER collection in advance (Laura Gibbs’ one is fricking impressive). One way I have done this is on Slideshare, another way was to run a webinar for Open Education Week about a class I taught in 2012. Once you have created and openly published content online, all you have to do is link to it from your walled garden also known as the LMS, or reference your own content under the Creative Commons license it was originally produced under. Participating in the Open Education movement is therefore a great way to “bypass” institutional legal firewalls.

Also, besides Rate My Professors2 (which I personally encourage my students to honestly complete because I know that’s where students will find information they trust), there are other ways to make sure people who find your profiles also know what your courses are like. For instance, writing recommendations for deserving students and displaying theirs on your LinkedIn profile or blog can be a great way to increase the transparency of your teaching philosophy.

Also explore other “opennesses”, as Martin Weller suggests. Open access, open textbooks, open data, open government, social media-powered personal learning networks, working out loud, etc. Whatever works for you to increase your value as an expert in your discipline, but also as an educator, will increase your chances of people finding you and wanting to collaborate or teach for them.

In the end, as an education freelancer, my online footprint is all I have, so it better be abundant, it better be current, and it better reflect who I am.


1. Although some might argue that the MOOC movement has been one of the most bandwagonish behavior seen in higher education for quite a while.

2. Here are my UD and USFSM profiles on Rate My Professors.

Why Open Matters recording #openeducationwk

This morning, I ran a local presentation/Google Hangouts on Air for Open Education Week at the University of Delaware. I tried my best to present what open education is, and how it should play a role in our institution. Below are the slides and the recording.

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One degree of separation

Yesterday, I was listening to Phil Hill‘s interview about MOOCs and trends in higher education (in preparation for the University of Delaware’s Summer Faculty Institute, where he will be one of the featured speakers), and something occurred to me. There was a discussion regarding the use of MOOCs to bring renowned experts to your regular classroom, by using some of their online videos.

The idea is basically to deconstruct MOOCs into little pieces, and using some of those nuggets as a part of your instructional sequence with your students in your (physical or online) classroom. Although I agree that the fact that all that video is out there and prime to be used, most xMOOCs (Coursera, edX, Udacity) are not designed to be deconstructed that way. Some might even prevent, through intellectual property or technical restrictions, to use the materials outside of their intended context (as a part of the course package). The first “O” in MOOC stands for “Open”, which refers to open enrollment, not openness in reusing, revising, remixing, or redistributing (David Wiley’s 4Rs).  This reminds me a little of the problem many of us have with only using certain chapters in textbooks instead of making students buy the whole book for three chapters.

What faculty really need…

Credit: Andrew Becraft on FlickrAs faculty start talking about deconstructing MOOCs, what they are really expressing is a need for open educational resources (OER). Well, guess what? OER have been around and largely ignored for the longest time, so maybe the time is right to reintroduce the concept. Open educational resources are learning objects of different shapes and sizes for which intellectual property rights have been licensed to allow the 4Rs by default. As an educator, as long as you comply with the rights’ holder intentions, you can do whatever you want with the OER you find online.

I created a list of sites where you can find OER as a part of Open Education Week. I will also run a workshop (called Treasure Hunt – handout here) during the Summer Faculty Institute.

Experts are everywhere!

As for bringing in experts to your classroom, yes, Youtube or some MOOC can provide video content that’s engaging. But what about connecting to the experts and conducting your own interview with them? With social media, especially non-reciprocal social media like Twitter or Google+, you can connect with experts everywhere. You can also use more official channels like LinkedIn, where you can ask a colleague you know to introduce you to someone they are connected to.

The idea is that if you can establish a direct contact with someone and ask them to participate in a webcam interview, most of them who are already active on social media will say yes. That’s what happened to me during my #udsnf12 class when I got Jane Bozarth to chat with me for 30 minutes on Google Hangouts on Air. The result becomes an engaging and customized Youtube video you can include in your class materials.

Join us!

Next week, May 28-31, 2013, we will be running a whole bunch for presentations and workshops as a part of UD’s Summer Faculty Institute. Most sessions will be streamed, so you’re welcome to sign-up to be a remote participant and learn with us, for free, even if you’re not from UD!

UPDATE: There is already a lively discussion going on on Google+ about this post and topic!

#OER – Washington SBCTC’s Open Course Library adds 39 courses

If you weren’t aware, the Washington State Board of Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC) has released 39 additional openly licensed courses, bringing the total to 81. Courses made available in the Open Course Library (OCL) are licensed under Creative Commons Attribution (CC-By), so they are prime for David Wiley’s 4Rs!

Open Course Library website

The courses are designed as Google Doc collections for easy remixing (how-to guide available here).

The Student PIRGs, a student advocacy group, has updated their cost savings analysis to include these new courses. Copied below are the highlights, as listed on their announcement.

  • Lower Prices: OCL materials cost 90% less than the materials that faculty members used prior to adopting OCL, saving students $96 per class. The average OCL material costs $12 while the average traditional textbook replaced was $135.

  • Massive Savings: The Open Course Library has saved students $5.5 million in textbook costs to date, including $2.9 million during the 2012-2013 academic year alone. The vast majority, $5.1 million of these savings are within the Washington community and technical colleges.

  • Return on Investment: The textbook savings have more than tripled the original investment of $1.8 million.

  • Branching Out: The mathematics departments at Green River Community College and Shoreline Community College have switched to using Open Course Library’s Precalculus textbook, which was developed at Pierce College. During this academic year alone, these departments have saved students $197,395 and $162,848 respectively.

  • Projected Savings: Our 2011 analysis found that savings could rise as high as $41.6 million if the materials are adopted for all 410,000 annual enrollments at Washington’s community and technical colleges. While 100% adoption is unlikely, usage at other colleges and universities across Washington and the nation will almost certainly produce even greater savings.

If you or a colleague teaches a college course, it’s well worth a look. Besides content, there are also instructional design elements included, such as activities, prompts, assignment ideas, etc.

March 11: Presenting about #udsnf12 during #openeducationwk

Open Education Week – March 11-15, 2013.

UPDATE: Link to the info and materials for this presentation.

Only a few days to go before my presentation titled “The multiple facets of openness for #udsnf12” for Open Education Week. It will basically be an extended and more complete report of the fall 2012 course I taught (EDUC439/639 Social Networking), and that I previously presented at the 2013 Winter Faculty Institute (where I only had 15 minutes to present –video of the presentation with Richard Gordon now available, and previous post here).

I am still working on my presentation, but I’d like to ask my great former students to attend, either online on Google Hangouts (please follow the Open Education Week’s G+ account to be included) or face-to-face at 201 East Hall. I’d like to draw upon your experience as students on the value of openness for teaching and learning. Please leave your responses as comments, or as links to your own longer response on your blog.

I’ll present from East Hall, room 201 (2nd floor, in the IT-ATS consulting space), starting at 10 a.m., EDT.

See you then, and stay awesome!