Science and Biology Open Textbooks from BCcampus

English: Coat of arms of British Columbia

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sue Schmidt, the NANSLO/CHEO project coordinator for WICHE sent along some great links to openly licensed science and biology textbooks from BCcampus. I think the books and the model of peer review they are following could become of particular interest to us here at Humboldt State University.

BCcampus is a publicly funded organization that uses information technology to connect the expertise, programs, and resources of all British Columbia post-secondary institutions under a collaborative service delivery framework.  BCcampus is also one of North American Network of Science Labs Online (NANSLO) partners.  See for more information on NANSLO.

For its member institutions, BCcampus has identified a number of open textbooks that align with the top 40 subject areas in British Columbia and placed links to them on their website –  These textbooks have been reviewed by faculty experts in the science disciplines.

As part of the Consortium for Healthcare Education Online (CHEO) initiative funded by a U.S. Department of Labor TAACCCT grant, BCcampus was asked to review and identify several textbooks that could be used for pre-requisite science courses taught in the allied health field.   Here are links those textbooks that BCcampus engaged CHEO instructors in reviewing.  All were highly rated by these instructors and those it works with in British Columbia.

In addition, BCcampus suggested several others that might be useful in allied health:

I will be interested in talking to BCcampus about their system of peer review and how that works with their faculty. Watch this space…

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Putting the Design into Instructional Design

1st ed. cover by Paul Rand

1st ed. cover by Paul Rand (Wikipedia)

“To design is much more than simply to assemble, to order, or even to edit: it is to add value and meaning, to illuminate, to simplify, to clarify, to modify, to dignify, to dramatize, to persuade, and perhaps even to amuse. To design is to transform prose into poetry.”

– Paul Rand

Paul Rand’s Thoughts on Design is back in print and it should be. He has a lot of interesting things to say about design and the design process. This is a good time of year to go back to this because this is the time of year I most often get the questions “what is an instructional designer?” and “why do I need an instructional designer?” I come at the design world through the back door. In the mid-90s, some universities I worked for supposed that if instruction was to take place on like, we had better start teaching instructors HTML and Photoshop. This sort of made sense at the time: the web can be a visual medium, so understanding the principles of visual composition and visual learning together would be a good place to start. I didn’t like a lot of the web design books I saw because the color schemes, fonts and images all seemed to come from video games. One book that I used a lot was the Non-Designer’s Design Book by Robin Williams. I used this book as my quick introduction – it is still a useful book. I then thought, why let the programmers determine how the web should be presented? What can we learn from how we engage with the print world? What can be applied to the web and what can’t? I used to use social realist images in my posters for the tutoring center because I figured that they worked for the WPA in the 30s, why wouldn’t they work for me now? And they did, they were arresting images that made people stop and look. I began to read more about design. I know that there are faculty out there who shudder at the thought of looking to Madison Ave. for help with designing online courses, but think about it: how effective would the outcome of an advertisement be if all it did was communicate the bare information in text? But by using graphic design and typography, the best advertising asks you to engage with the information. It asks you to ask questions and to want to know more. Shouldn’t that happen in an online classroom? The best lecturers do the same: they lecture in ways that engage the students, lead them somewhere, and compels them (through curiosity) to want to know more.

Don’t get me wrong, advertising is certainly an ethically fraught enterprise. But in the absence of face-to-face interaction, design considerations, at all levels, are paramount in online courses. This includes graphics and layout – I don’t separate them from the pedagogical concerns of traditional instructional design because the visual elements become another voice in the fugue. Attention to images, fonts, layout, and graphics help students remember your course and the course material. Students begin to use the images and icons as mnemonic devices that organize the course and the information.

There is/was a movement in education around “design thinking” which I know is sometimes criticized. I don’t think there is a one-sized fits all ideal process, but I am not one of those critics – anything that gets instructional designers, teachers (and sometimes even students!) together at the table to discuss teaching and learning is a good thing.

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More on Academic Honesty…

De Cito Eindtoets Basisonderwijs.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have posted on the topic of academic honesty previously here. I know that some of my colleagues have solved this problem or have at least been addressing this since the mid-90s, so it would seem unusual to get a posting like this on this particular blog. But many instructors, especially instructors new to online learning, are very concerned about cheating. This is an issue that is preventing some college programs from going online. As I wrote in my previous post, project-based learning and portfolio assessment solves a lot of these issues, but we still have professors using high-stakes multiple choice tests as a significant part of their courses (specially those using canned courses from publishers). Interestingly enough, we are not really dealing with actual cases of online cheating in these discussions but the perception of online cheating. And the common wisdom (the collected prejudices of our time) take it that online cheating is more common than in the face-to-face classes. But there is a great study out there on this issue by George Watson and James Sottile called “Cheating in the Digital Age: Do Students Cheat More In Online Courses?” They questioned 635 students about academic honesty. In the study, the students overwhelmingly believe that more cheating goes on in online courses yet when they ask the students if they have cheated in a face-to-face class 32.1% said that they did. When asked if they cheated in an online class, 32.7% said that they did. In other words, there was no significant difference between the rates of cheating online versus face-to-face.

Again, project-based learning and portfolios can really make a huge difference. Not just with the cheating issue, but in providing academically rigorous, authentic assessment in any discipline.

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A Brief History of the Future of Education

This is the presentation I did at DET/CHE on how the future is represented in media reflecting the promises and fears of technology with some of the implications for our vision of education:

This is a subject I have been interested in since reading James Burke and Marshall McLuhan. My thin efforts in this area are for entertainment purposes only, and some contents may settle in shipping, but I think it is important to look at how we saw the future in the past because it can help us sort out what we think we are seeing now. I am also tired of seeing declarations via the Gartner Hype Cycle confused with research or insight. That will be drawn out in a later posting.

The team from Humboldt (Morgan Barker, Dan Fiore, Terri Georgopolous, and Kim Vincent Layton) did a stellar job of presenting and conferencing. It was a great conference!

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Implementing an Open Textbook in an Online Biology Lab Course

This was the presentation I gave today on our course design for instructor Chris Callahan’s online biology class:

After spending some time here talking to people about this, I have come up with some great ideas about better integrating the text with the course.

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Rubric of Wonder

Manifest Destinies

Manifest Destinies by Gopakumar

…and I am perpetually waiting
for the fleeing lovers on the Grecian Urn
to catch each other up at last
and embrace
and I am awaiting
perpetually and forever awaiting
a renaissance of wonder.

– “I am Waiting” by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

I was thinking about the course development rubric. It covers the usual areas that you would expect: “At the end of this course, students will be able to identify x, apply x in a typical y setting, etc.” All completely measurable to one degree or another. And also used to decide which textbooks or content to use in the course. Recently, I reviewed one of our courses that met all the course objectives and (on the surface) met the objectives of our course rubric. But the class is a complete failure. It is run like a correspondence course and the students get grades but that is pretty much as far as it goes. I began to realize how much course objectives do not cover. They certainly don’t measure the dedication or vocation of the teacher.

And there is no wonder, awe, or transformation measured by our rubrics or course evaluations. It boggles the mind that in a era where scientists spent ten years sending an unmanned satellite to a comet, actually landing on a comet, the formulas that got it there are more important than the aspiration. In the curricula, measureable objectives and transformation are forever separated like the fleeing lovers on Keat’s Greacian Urn referenced in Ferlinghetti’s poem.

Give some ideas about what kind of engagement that COULD be included in a rubric. Why not a Rubric of Wonder? I would like to see a time when WASC or ACCJC comes into a college and says “I am sorry, unless there is some kind of personal transformation in your Astronomy classes, this college is on sanction.”

Shouldn’t the learning that takes place in school change what happens in a student’s life? Education should be a transformative experience. I can’t tell you how many times I meet teachers who are dev ed teachers say “I majored in English but I am teaching developmental ed or remedial literacy.” I have more respect for that than teaching Shakespeare to a classroom of students who don’t care. And they don’t care because the teachers are teaching Shakespeare the way that college professors teach Shakespeare to students that did care. The changes that happen in a person who now knows how to read or fill out a job application are far more profound than a teacher’s satisfaction of being able to teach Shakespeare for herself and maybe a select few students. Most of the literature students do not learn Shakespeare, they learn how to take one of those classes where the teacher is more passionate about the topic but maybe less passionate about teaching.

Sometimes the excuse is that well in Math 100, the students are learning the foundational knowledge that just needs to be memorized. There is nothing cool about it. I remember questioning the reality of some of the numbering systems in my math class – the response I got convinced me that math was not something I should study which is one of the goals of that class: to weed out those students who do not have the “aptitude” to go on to higher math classes.

How do we provide evidence of transformation in a course? How do we measure wonder? Maybe it is enough to decide that there are occasions for the numinous experience. Maybe it is enough that courses take the time to provide the venue for personal transformation or even personal reflection. Evidence might be some impact the learning had on the student. A student should be struck with wonder at the complexities and the marvelousness of the human body, the universe, the creativity of their fellow humans; that might even lead them to quit smoking. Learning should be an encounter that changes the trajectory of their lives.

As an instructional designer or teacher, what would that look like? What kind of assignments can we create that finally join the fleeing lovers of the Appolonian measurable objectives and skills into the arms of the Dionysian transformative experience? Assignments that…

  • Connect with something that actually happened in the students life
  • That link the basic skill learned to something significant in the field
  • Assignments that ask the student to focus on why they are here
  • Assignments that as students to play with ideas
  • Link what they are doing with the news
  • Students create and share new knowledge using basic concepts in a particular field
  • ?

There are a number of possibilities. Feel free to comment to add to this list!

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Larry Lessig at #OpenEd14

These are some brief notes about this mornings keynote at Open Education 2014. I was a bit relieved here. My nightmare is that one day I will show up at OpenEd and it will have been completely taken over by corporate interests and big universities (I guess that is a little redundant). But Larry Lessig assuaged my fears. He is one of the founders of Creative Commons. He didn’t talk about open textbooks or OER per se but he talked about the political processes that are getting in the way of the kind of copyright and educational reform that would mean substantial and meaningful change.

These are some rambling notes of uncertain usefulness:

He also talked about Aaron Schwartz and his passion for the removing the corruption, the central problems of copyright. Aaron

He talked about how to understand the problem with our govt.
Tweedism (as in “Boss Tweed”) – Tweeds get to do the selecting and the citizens get to do the electing. and there is a filter between the govt and the citizens.

Tweedism is something that is continuing around the world. The democracy protests in China and elsewhere are protests against Tweedism. A two stage process that filters democracy.

Tweedism is US is supported by funding. Less than 1% are funding the elections. The majority are being excluded. The average voter has no effect on what public policies get passed.

In 1998, US signed into law was the copyright extension act by 20 years. You cannot extend the public good. 6 million dollars from disney and other corporations fought to move it forward and the money talked.

No changes under the Obama administration. The drug companies, media companies, take past employers of the US trade office.

Copyright law regulates copies – but does not really cover existing copies. In US – everything that you do digitally is presumed to be regulated. Even temporary copies. The laws are constantly bending to Hollywood.

The defeat of SEC 124 – the National Review wrote an expose on the restrictions that would have allowed companies to vet OER.

Solution is that we have to reform campaign funding. It needs to be decentralized. Matching funds, vouchers, – politicians can decentralize funding. Pundits say that “people don’t care.”

How do you push back against the resignation to corruption in politics.
Focus on feasible change. A statute that would regulate funding. Ideals about what we believe. Tithe ten percent of our efforts should be addressing the underlying problem of how campaigns are funded. (Corruption in govt).

“Hope is a state of mind…an orientation of the spirit. Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.” – Vaclev Havel

Just at the time that we are opening things up that regulations come in a close things down.

k12oercollaborative @k12oer

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Mushrooms, Neuroscience, and Education

English: Chemical structure of Psilocybin

Psilocybin (Wikipedia)

There is an interesting story about magic mushrooms in Wired Magazine this month. It includes a nice graphic that demonstrates the connections in the brain when on psilocybin. I find this interesting because there are a number of researchers attempting to confabulate what we know about neuroscience with pedagogy. The punchline from this article is at the end where the researcher, Giovanni Petri, a mathematician at Italy’s Institute for Scientific Interchange, says “The big question in neuroscience is where consciousness comes from…for now, we don’t know.” So my question is: if neuroscience can’t tell us where consciousness comes from, how do we use the same science to make proclamations about how we learn?

I really want to know the answer to that. To researchers like George Siemens and others: I would like to volunteer myself as a test subject. As a Californian, I am willing to hit the hot tubs in Big Sur and do the hard research.

Communication between brain networks in people given psilocybin (right) or a non-psychedelic compound (left).

Communication between brain networks in people given psilocybin (right) or a non-psychedelic compound (left). Petri et al./Proceedings of the Royal Society Interface

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Digital Loeb: Rebirth of the Book?

Books in the Loeb Classical Library at Borders...

Books in the Loeb Classical Library (Wikipedia)

Maybe now that Harvard Press is doing it, we can all breathe a sigh of relief that the book isn’t being killed off by the internet. I have a number of posts on this blog addressing the so-called death of the book (cause: etextitis) and about how the internet is making us stupider. I never thought the internet was making us stupider, I think the internet is a repository and facilitator of many things including human stupidity – we never needed the internet to help with that. Every once in a while someone puts something together though that makes at least some sense. There are so many ironies about what Harvard Press has done this last month. HP has an ad in the New York Review of Books for the online version of the Loeb Classical Library: the Digital Loeb Classical Library. The Loeb editions are classical Greek and Latin texts that, at least when I was in college, were in every college library and considered standard (if sometimes outdated and stogy) translations and texts. Some of them I really liked and some I found exasperating (their early puritanical translation of Catullus was hysterical). They have spent some time and money updating them and now they are putting them online. Now I am not promoting the online Loeb Editions as a great idea in itself – it is still way too expensive for that. But according to their add in the New York Review of Books, some of the features we should pay attention to include

  • Single- and dual-language reading modes
  • Sophisticated Bookmarking and Annotation features
  • Tools for sharing Bookmarks and Annotations
  • User account and My Loeb content saved in perpetuity
  • Greek keyboard
  • Intuitive Search and Browse
  • Includes every Loeb volume in print
  • New volumes uploaded regularly

I think this is really terrific. The pricing model is what you would expect: enough to keep the riff-raff out.  The irony is that as excited as I am about this, I, the director of academic technology, am going to keep my modest hard-copy collection from college because I prefer my online texts to be open and accessible. The model that Harvard is using is from an open model of sharing information but not an open model of sharing texts. A lot of what Harvard Press is doing is already happening with services like Diigo and MIT’s NB project.

The open textbook community already has its eye on this as the real meaning of the web – not just connecting us to the information, but connecting us to one another to share, annotate, and create. I don’t applaud putting information and texts behind pay walls but I applaud HPs understanding that the web can be more than a passive consumer pipeline, that it can be a medium for active engagement with texts and one another. But I am looking forward to a day when institutions as richly endowed as Harvard understand the value of open. That would be a real rebirth.

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David Harris of OpenStax at Humboldt State

A picture of a textbookThe ALS and OER conversation is a campus discussion group looking at affordable learning resources and strategies. In our next meeting on Nov. 6th, 12:00 – 2:00 PM in the HSU Library “Fishbowl”, David Harris of OpenStax will be visiting to lead the discussion.

OpenStax College is a nonprofit organization committed to improving student access to quality learning materials. Their free textbooks are developed and peer-reviewed by educators to ensure they are readable, accurate, and meet the scope and sequence requirements of your course. Through their partnerships with companies and foundations committed to reducing costs for students, OpenStax College is working to improve access to higher education for all. OpenStax College is an initiative of Rice University.

Our breakout discussion groups cover:

  • Adopting affordable or free course materials
  • Producing course materials
  • Incorporating undergraduate research and OER
  • RTP and policies associated with open educational publishing

Sponsored by HSU Library, the College of eLearning & Extended Education, and the Faculty Development Workgroup.


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