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.

CSU ALS: http://als.csuprojects.org/ 

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The LMS: The Crockpot of Education?

Fr. Sarducci Introduces Mr. Tea

“It does all the work!”

I am not particularly for the learning management system any more than I am for or against word processors. But no one expects that by owning word processing software, you are somehow a writer. Or that better word processing software will make you a better writer. Back in the late 70s on Saturday Night Live, Father Guido Sarducci introduced “Mr. Tea” – “You provide the tea bag and the hot water and it does all the work!” He was, of course, making fun of the Mr. Coffee and crockpot culture of the time – appliances that really didn’t solve any problems or solve them well. Anyone who has had a pot roast cooked in a crock pot knows what I am talking about. In many ways, the learning management systems colleges are using are part of the “set it and forget it” culture of our time: why have the students work on a project when we can give them a canned multiple choice test from the publisher? There is even software that will read student papers. There is something about learning management systems and how they are built that does not really bring out the best in teachers or students. As an instructional designer, I have noticed over and over again how instructors who knew how to teach had to adapt what they do to the tools that they used and sometimes sacrifice the teaching and learning experience – they start to use canned tests or commercial publisher’s content because the tools do not allow students to show their work, collaborate effectively, or engage with one another in a meaningful way. It takes a lot of experience to learn how to teach effectively over the internet just as it took time to learn how to teach face-to-face. But the new LMS is out there.  The latest LMS is always easier, faster, and better by any hyperbolic percentage you care to add here. It is brighter, shinier, and more Web 3.0-ish. But then the “problems” arise: faculty find out that in spite of all of the slickness of the LMS, it takes real time and real work to teach online.

What the new LMS will NOT do:

  • Provide a human presence to the class
  • Create engaging learning experiences
  • Develop authentic assessment in your discipline
  • Build relationships and trust
  • Read and grade papers or assignments with meaningful feedback
  • Provide students with your knowledge and experience
  • Cook a brisket in under an hour

Besides the brisket part, those are all things that you have to do as a teacher. This is the work of teaching. Online teaching doesn’t take more time: not knowing how to teach online is what takes time. Faculty spend 16 or more years in a traditional classroom and then teach for more years in a traditional classroom and then they are often asked (or told) to teach online with little training. And it is not the same as teaching face-to-face. It is not better or worse, but it is profoundly different. A new LMS will not solve this problem. It will be solved by mentoring, practice, research, workshops or classes. It is a problem faculty learn to solve.

So what options are there besides the canned classroom served up by the LMS? There are a number of them. Ironically, many of these ideas were being explored when I got into online learning as far back as 1997. Back then, at California State University, Monterey Bay, we were exploring eportfolios and portfolio assessment. Paloff and Pratt were talking about online learning as a means of creating learning communities rather than using the internet as a one-way delivery of information. In the early 2000’s, I was working with publishers on banks of data that would feed into simulations for studying things like epidemiology. The students would form disease a disease control task force and use the data to make decisions about what to do next. It wasn’t about the software or the data – the students had to use the tools in such a way as to build the relationships and communication that allowed them to solve the problem.

For the last 7 or 8 years educators such as Stephen Downes have been writing about what was to become the “personal learning network” idea. This where students combine their own tools to manage their own learning and connect with their teacher and one another to create learning. This is also an important component in the ideas around Downes and Siemens’ Connectivism theory.  What is really important about the idea of a PLN is that the students are learning, creating connections, and developing a network using the actual medium they will be working in when they get out of college. Since I left college no one has asked me to write a five page essay or take a multiple choice test unless you count the DMV – and judging from the morning commute, that system of testing is a utter failure. In fact, I was at a meeting once at a major education publishing house five years ago, and they were talking about a new hire. When the manager asked why one candidate over another, the other manager said one of them new all about blogging and had a great blog. The irony here is that despite understanding what was important for the operations of the business, they couldn’t see how the same processes were going to change the print industry and our relationship to knowledge and learning.

Jim Groom, Tim Owens and others are taking this to the next level with Reclaim Hosting. I first ran into Jim Groom via his course, DS106, which is project based, student directed class (some call it a cult) on digital story telling. This course represents a curriculum design that makes things like LMSs irrelevant as does Cormier’s Rhizomatic Learning. Reclaim Hosting enables students to register their own domain, install their own blogs and other tools and manage their own learning while keeping control of their own information. Why wouldn’t we want students to do that? I used to have concerns about teaching students how to do this but at the end of the day, I realized that we had to work just as hard to learn how to use the LMS. We had to work just as hard to teach students how to be dependent on a corporation to “manage” their learning. Why is that a good thing?

In the meantime, institutions are addicted to the promise of the LMS. For administrators, the LMS is great: it provides assurances of privacy and FERPA protections, it gets the students in and out at the end of the semester, and records all the grades (when the gradebook is set up right and working). But as John Culkin said “We become what we behold. We shape our tools and thereafter, they shape us.” What will become of us if the tools we use are open, collaborative, and in the hands of students? Learning shouldn’t stop once class is over, or at the end of the semester, or at the awarding of a credential. We don’t need an LMS that slices, dices and makes Julianne fries. We need open tools that facilitate real learning which is a life-long transformative experience that changes how one engages with the world. I am keeping my eye on Reclaim Hosting and implementations of it such as what Chris Mattia is doing at CSU, Channel Islands as something that could possibly be rolled to other California State Universities.

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The Allure of the Archives

English: Reconstruction of the Bastille in 1420

English: Reconstruction of the Bastille in 1420 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Arlette Farge’s book, The Allure of the Archives, is one of those books that belongs in its own genre. I love this book. Farge is Director of Research in Modern History at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris.I am not sure how to describe it: creative meta-non-fiction? It is a prose poem on thinking about research? In this book, she discusses her research into the 200 year-old police archives of the Bastille. In these archives she explores the testimony of criminals, revolutionaries, and ordinary people. She paints an extraordinarily intimate portrait of the the lives of of the everyday workers, the poor and women in pre-Revolutionary France. And yet it is just as much about the experience of the research: the tactile experience of opening old bundles of documents, notes, and artifacts; the people who are in the archive with her, and the furniture and building itself. It is a short book but well worth taking your time to read it. It is a deceptively easy book to read – but there are echoes of Foucault and Habermas there that will take you back to those writers. The Allure of the Archives is a lyrical gem from a deep and sensitive thinker.

This is a particularly fascinating book to read in 2014. The book was written in 1989, a time when we could not just get online and perform research on scanned documents. I know that internet research is not the same. I really appreciate the fact that there are those who have the privilege of being able to get the credentials that allow them to do the kind of research that Farge does – we need that. However, I am just as excited about the kinds of crowd sourced research that goes on now when researchers put scans of papyri online and ask for help with translations. There is something timeless about this book though that flies over the whole phenomena and culture of the internet.

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Promoting Academic Honesty Online

Every semester we deal with questions like “how do you know the person enrolled in the course is the one taking the test?” The instructional designers in Humboldt State University’s College of eLearning & Extended Education often assist faculty  in developing a wide variety of assessment methods that can minimize cheating, promote academic integrity, and increase the interactivity and engagement in online courses. Some of the methods to reduce cheating and to promote academic honesty include:

Course Design

  • Include a simple academic honesty pledge “test” that says, “I understand my college’s academic honesty policy. All of the work I turn in is my own” with a link to the policy.
  • Include the academic policy in your syllabus quiz.
  • Discuss the importance of academic integrity to your discipline in a lecture.

Assessment Design

  • Give many short, low-stakes quizzes instead of a high-stakes mid-term and a final.
  • Make assessments depend on the preceding course work.
  • Pose higher order, mastery questions requiring deeper knowledge and application of material (see Bloom’s Taxonomy).
  • Have students relate subject matter their personal, professional, or life experiences.
  • Have answers relate to current events in the news.
  • Display test questions one at a time.
  • Use a question bank and have the test randomly created for each student attempt.
  • Limit the times when the online test is available.
  • Create a set duration of time for students to complete the test.
  • Estimate how long responses should take to answer if someone knows the material well.

Alternative Assessment Methods

  • Use online quizzes as self-assessment only
  • Use online quizzes as pre-testing at the start of a course
  • Short essays
  • Group or individual projects
  • Discussion forums – whole class and small groups that report out to a main discussion
  • Portfolios
  • Debates
  • Simulations
  • Contributions to collective information pools like wikis or blogs
  • Online “poster sessions” or presentations
  • Create a video or audio presentation
  • Role-playing
  • Interviews

Essay Assignments

  • Use TurnItIn.com (We suggest that this is used as a teaching tool and not a policing tool.)
  • Have students relate subject matter to their personal/professional/life experiences
  • Have essay subjects relate to current events in the news

I personally feel that project based learning and portfolio driven assessment remove all of these questions about academic honesty and provide a deeper level of engagement and assessment.

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Open Textbooks in the Humboldt State Library

Humboldt State University

Humboldt State University (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The library at Humboldt State University provides online research guides for students in nearly all disciplines (seriously, it even includes Kinesiology). Our new Library Dean and open textbook guru, Cyril Oberlander set Tim Miller and Sarah Fay Philips to work on the Open Educational Resources Guide – this handy guide based on similar work at SJSU – will help faculty make smart and affordable choices for their course materials. This is a significant benefit for the students at HSU and elsewhere who are increasingly impacted by the cost of education.

There is a monthly group meeting, the OER Collaborative, in the library exploring open textbooks and developing an Affordable Learning Solutions plan for the campus. The LA Times ran a great story back in August about what the California State University system has in mind with ALS and how they want to lower costs. My favorite quote is from Gerry Hanley, our assistant vice chancellor for academic technology services who says that his “… goal is to cut costs by 50% for all students, so instead of paying $1,000 a student would pay $500…” and he says  “My real desire is to make materials free for everyone, but I recognize that the creation of content and publication is real work.”

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