October 23, 2014

Writing an open textbook: tracking an author’s perspective

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Image © to thePC, 2014

Image © to thePC, 2014

One of the key developments in online learning is the open textbook. These are textbooks that are published and available for free. This is one of the most direct ways to bring down costs to students, saving in many cases at least $1,000 per student per year, often much more.

What’s involved in writing for open publishing?

A big challenge though is to get authors to write an open textbook. There is no direct financial reward, and perhaps even more importantly, there is a much higher level of risk than going through commercial publishers. Who will read it? Will it be accepted in the academic community? Will it have as much influence?  And a very practical question: if I do decide to do an open textbook, how do I do this? What do I need to know? Who can help me? How do I preserve the integrity of the book if people can just copy or alter what I’ve written?

These are questions that I have been struggling with. I am planning to write a textbook, a guide, for faculty and instructors, on teaching in a digital age. I have decided – for reasons that I will describe in another post – to not only make it an open textbook, but to try to ensure that it is designed to fully exploit the affordances of open publishing, and to practice in the design of the book what I am preaching in the text.

Tracking progress

In the spirit of open-ness, I plan to share this journey through a series of blog posts that tracks my progress, my questions, the answers I find, and I also hope to encourage others to help me as I do this. Here are some of the issues I expect to address in subsequent posts:

  • the pros and cons of open publishing, and why I decided to go ‘open’
  • my vision for an open textbook and how it differs from a traditional book. (I suspect this will not only be practical, but also raise questions about the concept of a book in the 21st century, and the boundaries between electronic books, blog posts and wikis, and online courses)
  • what format should I use for writing and/or publishing the book? What exists at the moment? What are the limitations of the current technologies for open textbook publishing?
  • what editorial or writing processes should I go through?Crowd-sourcing of content? Instructional and graphic design? An  independent online editor? Formal external review?
  • what unexpected problems or challenges do I run into along the way? What unanticipated opportunities or benefits do I discover?
  • what resources are there available to help those who want to author an open textbook?
  • how do I market the book? What works and what doesn’t?
  • how do I track the use of the book? How well is it received, as much in terms of format as content? How do I find this out?
  • what are the real costs of open publishing? Is there a sustainable business model?
  • would I do it again? What would I recommend to other authors who are thinking of open publishing?

Why me?

I have some advantages in doing this:

  • I’m an experienced writer, with more than a dozen commercially published books behind me. I can afford to take the risk. I don’t need the money and if it falls flat it will be disappointing but not a disaster for my career, nor, I hope, for my reputation, nor particularly, for open publishing, since there will be better ways to approach it than the way I did, as open publishing is still in the very early stages of development
  • I don’t anticipate the writing is going to be a problem. I pretty much know what I want to write, why I want to write the book, and the target audience. I can therefore spend more time on the format and the how of open publishing
  • I’m stopping all paid professional work from April, so I can concentrate on the book
  • I have a good background in instructional design, so I can push the boundaries in trying to match the format to good educational practice
  • if the open format doesn’t satisfy me or my readers, I can always go back to a commercial publisher; the text after all will still be there, and at least legally, I will still own the rights, as it will have been be protected by a Creative Commons license
  • I have a good network of friends and colleagues who can help me – and have offered to do so. I’m very fortunate to be located here on the west coast of Canada, close to the headquarters of the Creative Commons and the British Columbia open textbook project.

I am not alone

With regard to the latter, I’ve already had good advice from Paul Stacey, Creative Commons, and BCcampus, which is leading British Columbia’s open textbook project, is also providing advice and support. Contact North in Ontario is interested also, and may be able to provide support in areas such as marketing.

I plan to extend this network as the project proceeds, starting with the Open Textbook Summit on April 16th and 17th at Simon Fraser University’s Harbour Centre in Vancouver.

I’m also hoping to draw on your knowledge and experience, the readers of this blog, if you are willing to share. So advice, constructive criticism and just good plain comments will always be welcome.

Next up

Why I decided to try ‘open’ publishing.

2020 Vision: Outlook for online learning in 2014 and way beyond

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 2020 visionTaking the long view

Doug Saunders in the Globe and Mail on  January 4 wrote an interesting piece on prediction, entitled: “Gadgets alone don’t make the future.” Having shown how amazingly accurate technologists in 1961 were in predicting what technologies would roll out in the future, he also showed how poorly they predicted how these gadgets would impact on our lives. In summary:

‘We are very good at guessing where our inventions might lead. We are very poor in understanding how humans might change their lives….the decision of what kind of life to live between the screens remains a political one, shaped not by our inventions but by our own decisions.’

Last year I spent some time discussing the value of predictions. One point I didn’t mention is the limitation of predicting just one year ahead, because you can’t identify the long term directions, and so often you’re driven by what happened in the very recent past, i.e. last year, because that’s the latest and often only data you have. More importantly, though, looking one year ahead assumes that there is no choice in what technologies we will use and how we will use them, because they are already entering our society. Also, this is likely to be the last year in which I make predictions for the future. I will be 75 in April, and I plan to stop all paid professional activities at that point (although I will keep my blog, but more as a journalist than as a practitioner).

So this seems to be a good point to look not just at 2014, but where we might be going five to ten years from now, and in doing this, I want to include choice or human decision-making as well as technological determinism. In other words, what kind of online learning do I expect in the future, given what I know so far?

The disappearance of online learning as a separate construct

In 2020, people won’t be talking about online learning as such. It will be so integrated with teaching and learning that it will be like talking today about whether we should use classrooms. In fact, we may be talking much more about classrooms or the campus experience in 2020, because of online learning, and how it is changing the whole way that students are learning. There is likely to be heated discussions about the role and purpose of campuses and school buildings, the design of classrooms, and who needs to be there (teachers and students) and more importantly what for, when students can do so much of their learning online – and generally prefer to, because of the flexibility, and of their control over their own learning. The big changes then are likely to be on-campus, rather than on-line.

Steelcase Node Classroom

Steelcase Node Classroom

Multi-mode delivery concentrated in fewer institutions – but more diversity

Quite a few public and smaller private post-secondary institutions will be gone or radically transformed by 2020. Particularly at risk are smaller, low status state or provincial universities and colleges or their campuses in metropolitan areas, where there is local and regional competition for students. They will have lost students to more prestigious universities and high status vocationally oriented institutions using online and flexible learning to boost their numbers. Government will be increasingly reluctant to build new campuses, looking to more flexible and more cost effective online delivery options to accommodate increasing demand. Nevertheless, politics will occasionally trump economics, with small new universities and colleges still being created in smaller towns away from the larger urban areas. Even these though will have much smaller campuses than today and probably as much as 50% of all course enrollments online, often in partnership with more established and prestigious universities through course sharing and credit transfer.

Those institutions that have survived will be offering students a range of choices of how they can access learning. Courses or programs will be deliberately designed to accommodate flexibility of access. Thus students will be able to decide whether to do all their studying on campus, all of it online, or a mix of both, although courses or programs are likely to have a common assessment strategy (see below). This will not be driven so much by academic or even political decisions, but by students voting with their feet (or mouses) to study at those institutions that provide such flexibility.

Multi-purpose, open delivery, with multiple levels of service and fees

Content will be multi-purposed, depending on a learner’s goals. Thus the same content can be part of a credit-based degree-level course, program or competency, part of a non-credit certificate or diploma, or available as open access. Learners will also be able to choose from a range of different course or program components, dependent on their needs and interests. Because most content will be open and modular, in the form of open textbooks, open multimedia resources, and open research, institutions will offer a variety of templates for courses and programs built around open content. For example, for a degree in physics, certain topics must be covered, with a strong recommendation for the sequence of study, but within those core levels of competency, there will be a variety of routes or electives towards a final degree, where broadly based learning outcomes are set, but multiple routes are offered for progress to these outcomes. Those content components can be accessed from a wide range of approved sources. It is the competency and academic performance of the learner that the institution will accredit.

Most institutions will have an open education portal, that contains not only a wide range of open educational resources, but also a range of open services, such as program templates or free academic guidance for specific target groups, as part of their enrollment strategy. Although such portals are likely to include materials from a wide range of sources from around the world, special emphasis will be given to open content developed by their own faculty, based on their latest research or scholarship, as a way of branding their institution. iTunesU, MIT’s Opencourseware, OpenLearn, and MOOCs are early prototypes, but content quality in the future will be greatly improved in terms of pedagogical and media design to accommodate online learners. Also states and provinces will also establish system-wide portals of open educational resources, particularly at the k-12 and two year college level (see eLearnPunjab and open.bccampus.ca as prototype models).

Because academic content is almost all open, free and easily accessible over the Internet, students will not pay tuition fees for content delivery, but for services such as academic guidance and learning support, and these fees will vary depending on the level of service required. Thus students who want a traditional course that covers guidance on and access to content, tutorial help, access to campus facilities, feedback and assessment will pay full fee (some of which may still be government subsidized in the public system). Students who want just open access will pay nothing, but will get few if any support services, and if they need a formal assessment, they will need to pay for this (although again this may be subsidized in a public system). Other students may want feedback and some form of continuous assessment, but will not want to pay for full tutorial support.

There are several consequences of this increased flexibility. Some institutions will specialize in small-class, on-campus education at high cost. Others will focus on high quality delivery through a variety of delivery modes, with a particular emphasis on course design and learner support. Some institutions will focus on low cost, competency-based open access programs, supported by businesses requiring specific skilled labour, and a few institutions will be specialists in fully online distance delivery operating on a national or international basis, at a lower cost but equally high quality as campus-based institutions. The majority of institutions though will become multi-purpose, multiple delivery institutions because of the economies of scale and scope possible.

Goodbye to the lecture-based course

In most institutions, courses based on three lectures a week over 13 weeks will have disappeared. There are several reasons for this. The first is that all content can be easily digitalized and made available on demand at very low cost. Second, institutions will be making greater use of dynamic video (not talking heads) for demonstration, simulations, animations, etc. Thus most content modules will be multi-media. Third, open textbooks incorporating multi media components and student activities will provide the content, organization and interpretation that are the rationale for most lectures. Lastly, and most significantly, the priority for teaching will have changed from information transmission and organization to knowledge management, where students have the responsibility for finding, analyzing, evaluating, sharing and applying knowledge, under the direction of a skilled subject expert. Project-based learning, collaborative learning and situated or experiential learning will become much more widely prevalent. Also many instructors will prefer to use the time they would have spent on a series of  lectures in providing more direct, individual and group learner support, thus bringing them into closer contact with learners.

This does not mean that lectures will disappear altogether, but they will be special events, and probably multi-media, synchronously and asynchronously delivered. Special events might include a professor’s summary of his latest research, the introduction to a course, a point mid-way through a course for taking stock and dealing with common difficulties, or the wrap-up to a course. It will provide a chance for an instructor to makes themselves known, to impart their interests and enthusiasm, and to motivate learners, but this will be just one, relatively small, but important component of a much broader learning experience for students.

61730023

Goodbye to the written exam – and welcome to the final implementation of lifelong learning

For most post-secondary qualifications, written exams will have been replaced by assessment through multimedia portfolios of student work. These will show not only students’ current knowledge and competencies, but also their progression over time, and a range of equally important skills, such as their ability to work collaboratively, self-management of learning, and general communication skills. Assessment will be mainly on a continuous, on-going basis.

As well as change in the method of assessing learning there will be greater variety in the range of accredited qualifications. Degrees, certificates and diplomas will still be important, but these will be complemented with a wide range of assessments of informal or non-formal learning, such as badges, some offered by post-secondary institutions, others offered by employers’ organizations or co-operatives of professionals. University and college diplomas and degrees will increasingly be seen as milestones on the journey to lifelong learning, and for demographic and economic reasons, the lifelong learning market will become a much larger market than the high school leaver market.

This means academic departments will need to develop programs and courses that range from introductory or foundational through undergraduate degrees to professional masters to lifelong learning, again using similar content modules adapted to different markets, as well as creating or adapting new content, based on the latest research in a field, for these newer markets. Much of the lifelong market will lend itself to online and hybrid learning, but in different structures (short modules, for instance) than the undergraduate and higher degree market. Universities and colleges will increasingly compete with the corporate training industry for these post-postgraduate learners, who will be able and willing to afford top dollar for top-level lifelong learning opportunities, based on the latest research coming out of universities, government and businesses.

However, a large part of the lifelong learning market will become occupied by communities of practice and self-learning, through collaborative learning, sharing of knowledge and experience, and crowd-sourcing new ideas and development, particularly assisted by an evolution of what are now known as cMOOCs. Such informal learning provision will be particularly valuable for non-governmental or charitable organizations, such as the Red Cross, Greenpeace or UNICEF, or local government, looking for ways to engage communities in their areas of operation. These communities of learners will be open and free, and hence will provide a competitive alternative to the high priced lifelong learning programs being offered by research universities. This will put pressure on universities and colleges to provide more flexible arrangements for recognition of informal learning, in order to hold on to their current monopoly of post-secondary accreditation.

Image: © Etienne Wenger, 2010

Image: © Etienne Wenger, 2010

New financial models

Because most content will be freely accessible, and because students will pay incrementally for a wide variety of services, new financial models will need to be developed, to support the flexibility and range of services that students will increasingly demand and require. The biggest move is likely to be away from block funding or enrollment-driven funding by government towards pay-for-service through student fees for teaching. There will be further separation of the funding for research and teaching (this has already happened in some countries, such as in England and Wales.) As a result government financing may well change, so that students are given a post-secondary grant at the age of 17, and have the right to decide how to spend that grant on post-secondary education, rather than funding institutions directly for teaching.

This may have some unexpected benefits for academic departments. Under this model it makes much more sense to fund programs directly from fees for the program, than to pool grants and fees centrally then break out money for teaching and filter it down through the departments. Thus program fees or service fees  would come to academic departments (or more accurately the program areas) directly, then the programs would pay for university services such as registration and financial services on a direct cost basis, plus a percentage for general overheads. This is already happening in some public universities at post-graduate levels, where tuition fees for online professional masters more than cover all the costs, direct and indirect, of a program, including the cost of full-time research professors who teach on the program.

This model would also have two other benefits. It would put pressure on service departments, such as HR, financial services, the Registry, etc., to become more cost-efficient, because direct costs to programs become more transparent. Second, since online students do not need a range of campus services such as campus building maintenance, lighting, and heating, it would lead to the different costs of online vs campus-teaching becoming more transparent and comparable, with an economic incentive to move more towards the most cost-efficient delivery model.

There are also disadvantages. Some model would be needed to support more expensive programs to deliver, or programs that are specialized but important in a university community. However, a program-based financial model may help save small departments who are struggling for minimal enrolments from their local market. Online courses can open the market to regional or international students and offer the chance of collaboration and partnership with other institutions, through course and student sharing.

The disaggregation of institutional activities required for the flexible delivery of programs in a world where content is free offers opportunities for rethinking how teaching and learning is funded.

Systematic faculty development and training

Since content will be freely accessible, institutions’ reputation and branding will increasingly depend on the way they support learners. This will put much greater emphasis on instructors having good teaching skills as well as subject expertise. Thus most universities and colleges will require faculty to have assessed teaching skills before tenure or permanent appointment, and equal attention will be given to teaching expertise as research in promotion. This will mean incorporating teaching practice and methods within most post-graduate subject areas, college instructors having compulsory pre-service teacher training, and regular faculty having systematic ongoing professional development as new technologies and new teaching approaches develop over time. The immediate benefit of this will be better student retention rates and higher quality learning outcomes.

Devolved decision-making and organizational models

A move to program-based funding, the need for effective course designs to attract students, the differentiation of services, the increased professionalism in teaching, and freely available open content will result in a move to systematic program planning and team teaching. A typical team will consist of a senior research professor, several junior or adjunct professors, an instructional designer/project manager and a media/web designer. The senior faculty member, in collaboration with the other team members, will be responsible for decisions about curriculum content, methods of learner support, and assessment standards. The team will develop assessment criteria and rubrics, and where necessary hire additional instructors for learner support and marking of assessments , under the supervision of the senior faculty members.

One consequence will be the disappearance of central centres for teaching and technology, except in small institutions. Instructional design staff will be located in program areas and will be responsible with academic faculty for faculty development activities, as well as with overall course design input. There will be increased demand for media designers, while instructional designers will be in less demand in the future, but still necessary to support faculty, especially as new learning technologies develop.

Student privacy, data security and student online behaviour will become more difficult

Learning will increasingly be delivered through student-owned devices, and learners will increasingly integrate social life, work and study in a seamless manner. Services will increasingly be delivered through the cloud. Security agencies, Internet-based companies and knowledge-based companies will constantly be seeking access to student data, especially student learning performance and online behaviour, as this information will be increasingly valuable for state security and commercial reasons. As a result it will become increasingly difficult for institutions to protect student data and their privacy. This may turn out to be the biggest challenge for students, institutions, and government in the next 20 years and could seriously inhibit the development of online learning in the future, if students or faculty lose trust in the system.

The future is about choices

This is my view about where we could be going with online learning in the next five to ten years. However, I will not be making the decisions, as I am retiring in April. If you do not like this vision, then you are in a position to influence a different kind of vision. Although as McLuhan says, we are shaped by our devices, we also shape the world around these devices. The worst thing we could do is to leave it to computer scientists to decide our future.

The value such a vision lies not in its detail, but in identifying some of the key choices or decisions that will need to be made. So here are the decisions that are thrown up by this vision for the future, for students, faculty, institutions and government (and some of these, such as those about campus facilities, should be being made right now):

Students and learners

  • at this point in my life, what are my learning goals? What is the best way to meet these? Where can I get advice for this?
  • do I need a qualification and if so, what kind?
  • what is the best way for me to access this learning? On-campus; online; or a mix of both?
  • what kind of learning support do I need?
  • how much do I want to – or must I – pay for these services?
  • what institution or other method of delivery will provide what I want? Where can I get independent advice on this?
  • how can I protect my privacy when I am online studying?

Faculty and instructors

  • why do students need to come to campus? What am I offering on-campus that they couldn’t get online? Have I looked up the research on this?
  • what teaching methods will lead to the kind of learning outcomes that students will need in life?
  • what should be my role if content is freely available online?
  • what kind of teaching spaces do I need for what I want to offer on campus?
  • how should I best use my time in teaching? In what kind of teaching activities can I really make a difference for students?
  • if I create new or original content for my teaching, should I make it openly available to anyone to use?
  • what methods of assessment should I use in a digital age? How do I assess prior or informal learning?
  • what kind of courses or programs should we be offering for lifelong learners?
  • what do I need to know about student data, and the protection of student privacy?
  • what training or professional development do I need to ensure that I can meet the learning needs of my students?

Institutions

  • what kind of campus will we need in 10 years time?
  • what proportion of course enrollments are likely to be accessed off-campus?
  • what will be the best way to accommodate more students – online learning or more buildings?
  • what kind and number of teaching spaces will we need?
  • what partnerships or strategies should we adopt to protect our enrollment base?
  • what are our strategies and policies regarding open educational resources?
  • what is our strategy for lifelong learning?
  • what financial models should we put in place to encourage innovation in teaching and to attract students?
  • how do we ensure that faculty have the skills necessary for teaching in a digital age?
  • how can we best reward innovation and high quality teaching?
  • what kind of organization and staff do we need to support faculty in their teaching?
  • how do we best protect student data and privacy (as well as our staff’s) in a digital age?

Government

  • what kind of post-secondary system, in terms of institutional differentiation, program delivery and innovations in teaching, do we need in a digital age?
  • how many, and what kind of, campuses do we need when students are also studying online? What is the best way to accommodate expansion in the system?
  • how can we best support system-wide open education, to reduce costs and increase quality?
  • how should we fund post-secondary education in a digital age? How much and what should ‘first-time’ students pay for themselves? What should lifelong learners who have already been through the system pay? What funding models would encourage innovation in teaching and help improve quality?
  • how can online learning help to increase the productivity of the post-secondary educational system? What can we do to encourage this?
  • what does government need to do to protect student data and student privacy?

What’s YOUR vision?

I won’t be around to make or influence these decisions, but most of you will. Are there decisions I’ve missed? What decisions would you make? What’s your vision for the future?

If you are willing to share just one response to any of these questions or decisions, this will be very much appreciated. Because the future will be increasingly about sharing knowledge.

Pakistani Punjab creates open content platform

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eLearn.Punjab

[Note: there was a similar post on this site on January 6. The post was accidentally destroyed during site maintenance. This replaces it.]

Business Standard (2014) Pakistani Punjab to launch e-learning platform, Lahore, Pakistan, January 5

The provincial government of the Punjab, Pakistan, though its Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB), this week launched an open content web site, eLearn Punjab, featuring free, online digitized versions of science subject text books initially for 9th and 10th grades, along with links to a range of supplementary material available over the Web. On launch, the site contains 8 textbooks, 1,744 videos (mainly but not solely Powerpoints with voice over), 369 simulations, 476 animations, 797 graphics and 944 assessments. Staff at PITB have scoured the world for these resources, many of which are in English, but also some in Punjabi (I’m assuming, as I don’t speak the language).

Comment

Welcome to the future. We will see more and more sites of this kind, as school boards and, more slowly, post-secondary education systems, look to use open content to reduce costs to students and increase the resources available to both instructors and students.

Well done, Pakistani Punjab – you are ahead of most of the world with this initiative.

Questions answered about British Columbia’s digital open textbook plan

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© BCcampus, 2012

Gilmore, D. (2012) B.C. to lead Canada in offering students free, open textbooks, British Columbia Ministry of Advanced Education, Innovation and Technology, October 16

Klassen, T. (2012) BCCampus to co-ordinate provincial open textbook project, BCcampus, October 16

Klassen, T. (2012) Questions and answers on open textbooks Part 1, BCcampus, October 29

Klassen, T. (2012) Questions and answers on open textbooks Part 2, BCcampus, October 31

What is being proposed?

On October 16, John Yap, British Columbia’s Minister of Advanced Education, Innovation and technology, announced that  his government will work with post-secondary institutions in implementing an open textbook policy in anticipation they could be in use at B.C. institutions as early as 2013-14, supporting students taking a variety of courses in areas like arts, sciences, humanities and business.

An open textbook is typically published under an open licence and can be read online or downloaded at no cost. Because the open textbooks are digital and open, they can be modified and adapted by instructors to fit different classes. It is estimated that the use of free, digital tetbooks could save students between $900 and $1,500 per academic year.

BCcampusa publicly funded organization that uses information technology to connect the expertise, programs, and resources of all B.C. post-secondary institutions under a collaborative service delivery framework, will be the executive agency for the project.

How will this work?

The two blog posts about this project by Tori Klassen provides more details, but I also had the privilege of interviewing David Porter, the Director of BCcampus, as I had my own questions. Here they are, with David’s comments:

TB: Can you say a little more about how you see these open textbooks being created? Are some already available that could just be adopted? Will others have to be created? If so, how will this be done?

DP: There are three paths forward that will each require faculty input. The first would be the adoption of existing open textbooks from freely available sources. In some cases these open textbooks are available from institutions, for example Rice University’s openstaxcollege.org, or from foundation-supported collections such as Saylor.org. There are also open textbooks available from a new style of publisher that builds open textbooks and supplemental resources aimed at adoption by faculty and instructors with special options for students.  Flatworldknowledge.com is one example of this sort of publishing entity.

The second potential process would be adaptation of existing open textbooks to support localized instances of courses to match course outcomes in specific programs. I think we all know that instructors tend to know their students best and would want to insure that materials are customized to meet those needs. The beauty of the open resource model is the boundless opportunity presented to instructors to customize and add value to existing open resources.

The third path would involve creating a new open textbook resource where none exists, contributing to the pool of available open textbooks and becoming an active player in the development of new materials for students.

TB: If new texts are being created, will they incorporate web features, such as video-clips, student activities, hyperlinks to other web materials, etc. or will they be mainly a digital version of a printed textbook?

DP: Exactly the scenario I would envision is the substance of your question.  With the adoption, adaptation and development potential in the open space, this may be the perfect time to bring together other forms of open resources such as simulations, lab materials, video materials and other web materials into the mix as we build a larger open architecture for learning.  There may be multimedia learning objects in the BCcampus in SOLR repository (http://solr.bccampus.ca) that could be incorporated into open texts. We already have a 10-year repository of OER from which to draw material.  In addition, many print textbook publishers provide sets of study questions and multimedia learning resources online and we intend to replicate that practice where it’s pedagogically appropriate. And, while textbooks may be only one form of open resource, they are still a major component of the academic ecosystem. The open textbook program in British Columbia provides us a launch pad in which to consider a more integrated approach to bringing all open educational resources into play.

TB: It’s one thing to create the textbooks; it’s another to get faculty to agree to recommend them to students. What incentives will there be to encourage faculty to adopt these open textbooks in their courses?

DP: Clearly faculty and instructors are key players in making operational any open resource model within classrooms. I would suggest that students have a big voice here, too.  In particular, if a peer-reviewed open textbook resource is evaluated to be as good as a conventional publisher resource, why not use it, given the customization and flexibility benefits available both to students and instructors by open licensed materials?

That said, we do expect to be providing stipends for faculty and instructors to review open textbooks and to consider them for adoption or adaptation. We need to engage with articulation committees as well.  The flip side is that we have already had deans and instructors signal their support for the idea and their willingness to test out some of the proposed open materials or to recommend others that they’ve identified.

The funding that will be available to us in British Columbia will be used to support all of the components of building an open resource program, including awareness building and training, implementing review mechanisms and adopt-adapt-develop processes, along with tools and infrastructure to author, manage and distribute open materials.

TB: Have you been talking to publishers about this plan? If so, what has been their response?

DP: We have been proactively approached by a number of publishers and publishing entities to talk about the open textbook program. In some cases, these have been publishers with existing open materials they would like BC educators to consider. In other cases they are textbook publishers that are seeking to better understand how they could become involved in any development processes that may be undertaken using a call for proposals. There are also publishers who have technology and infrastructure services that could be important to us. We were a pioneer user of Pearson Education’s Equella digital repository software to create BC’s first open education repository, http://solr.bccampus.ca. We are currently using http://pressbooks.com as an environment in which to develop five pilot open textbooks for an information-technology program. This particular open textbook pilot program pre-dates the bigger open textbook announcement, and was requested by northern institutions in BC.

On the whole I would say that publishers are intrigued by what is happening and want to better understand how they might play a role. It’s our intention to keep the public, including publishers, fully informed about our progress through our web site http://open.bccampus.ca.

TB: What protections or benefits will there be for authors or subject matter experts who participate in the creation or adaptation of these open textbooks? I’m presuming they will have a Creative Commons license, but is there anything beyond that, such as royalties or other benefits? If not, why would they do it?

DP: Authors or subject matter experts who participate in the creation or adaptation of open textbooks will be compensated for their efforts. We have used agreements with institutions in the past to fund development including release time and other stipends for developers. We expect to use the Creative Commons license model that allows authors and developers to extend reuse rights for works they author or develop.

TB: Is BCcampus getting any extra funding from government for this initiative? If not how will any costs be covered?

DP: BCcampus has traditionally managed the Online Program Development Fund (OPDF) for the British Columbia Ministry of Advanced Education, Innovation and Technology. The annual fund has been on average $750K – 1M. This fund has supported the development of online courseware, lab materials, online tools, video and other resources over the past 10 years. It is our expectation that OPDF funds will be re-profiled to focus on the open textbook program.

TB: You mention on the BCcampus website that this project is modeled after the recent California legislation. Does this mean that the provincial government has passed legislation for this to happen? Can you explain what the California legislation does?

DP: The BC provincial government has not passed legislation similar to the California legislation. Our approach is a focused program modeled on the key elements of the California legislation that we believe could also work in a British Columbia context. The things we liked about the California legislation that we will try to emulate include:

  • Free access to textbooks in the most highly enrolled first and second year post-secondary courses
  • Government funding to create a library of free textbooks for students and faculty
  • Open, to ensure faculty can utilize their skills to remix, revise and repurpose these textbooks for their students
  • Courses and textbooks overseen by the establishment of the “California Open Education Resources Council” (COERC). We’ll establish a similar group.
  • California Open Source Digital Library to house the open source textbooks and courseware.  We’ll use our own digital library currently in place.
  • Call for proposals process for faculty, publishers, and others to develop open digital textbooks and related courseware.
  • Creative Commons licensing structure for open textbooks and resources
  • All materials to be reviewed for quality.

Comment

First, I would like to thank David Porter for providing such a clear explanation of how this project will work. This should be read though in conjunction with Tori Klassen’s two posts, which provide more detailed information on the concept as well as the proposed project.

If you have further questions, or wish to submit a proposal for an open textbook, please contact David Porter directly at dporter@bccampus.ca

Next, I would like to say how important this project could be in driving down some of the costs of post-secondary education. It will be interesting especially to see how faculty and instructors, as well as textbook publishers, respond to this initiative.

Lastly, in spite of the fragmented provincial system in Canada, I really hope that other provinces will join this initiative – economies of scale and the quality of the open textbooks could both be enhanced from a national approach. This is a project that is worth doing well and across the country – and perhaps even internationally.

The world’s largest supplier of free online learning?

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Who do you think is the largest supplier of free online learning? MIT? Stanford? Carnegie Mellon’s Open Learn Initiative? iTunesU? The UK’s OpenLearn? The Khan Academy? The University of the People?

Well, what about ALISON? Who, you may ask, is ALISON? ALISON.com is ‘the world’s leading free online learning resource for basic and essential workplace skills. ALISON provides …. interactive multimedia courseware for certification and standards-based learning.

Alison celebates its 5th birthday this week, and claims to have one million registered learners spread across nearly 200 countries worldwide. Although only started in 2007, ALISON graduated over 50,000 people in Certificate and Diploma courses in 2011.

Alison stands for “Advance Learning Interactive Systems Online”. It is based in Ireland and uses mainly a mix of advertising and sponsored programs from partners and publishers to enable students to take the courses free of charge.

I’d be interested in hearing from people with experience of studying with Alison.