An Open Syllabus from OE4BW for Teaching the UNESCO Recommendation on Open Science

This is from the abstract for a presentation that Jennifer Miller and I did for Open Education Global Conference. I am pretty excited about this work. Open research and open data are often things that scientists and other researchers do not hear about until AFTER they get out of college or at least until grad school, if at all. This bakes Open Science right into the curriculum early on. This is definitely Jennifer’s work and I merely served in an advisory capacity as “faculty mentor” for the Open Education for a Better World program:

Jennifer Miller (Open Education for a Better World (OE4BW),
Geoff Cain (GBC Education Consulting, Open Education for a Better World (OE4BW)

Existing scientific institutions must adopt open science principles and scientists will need local and disciplinary communities of open practice. Scientists-in-training must learn open science principles early in their careers. The 15-week syllabus was created by adapting the open syllabus template of the Creative Commons Certificate Program. The course begins with foundational readings on the role of science in human rights and the SDGs, introduces the UNESCO Recommendation on Open Science as a policy process and document, then leads course participants through exploration of individual principles of open science. The open syllabus format invites course leaders to add domain-specific examples. The course is ideally suited to build a local open science community within a lab, school, or department, or within a subject-matter community that spans the globe.

Open Education for a Better World (OE4BW) is an international online mentoring program designed to unlock the potential of Open Education in achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In this session, a mentor-mentee pair from the fields of public policy and instructional design will share a project in which they develop an open syllabus for a course introducing the UNESCO Recommendation on Open Science. By providing a forum to build open science communities, the project supports SDG 17, Partnerships for the Goals. Open sharing of scientific knowledge will be essential to realize the SDGs.

The presenters are seeking partners to teach or co-teach courses based on the syllabus starting in Spring 2022, following the Recommendation’s anticipated adoption by the General Conference at its 41st session in November 2021.

Here is the Extended Abstract.
And here is the Draft Syllabus in Google Docs.

If you are interested in talking to us about this or if you are interested in a possible review or pilot later, please leave a comment below or contact me at


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The Future of Education: The Class of 1989

The cover of the February, 1967 Look magazine.

LOOK Magazine, Feb. 21, 1967

This article is reproduced here for annotation purposes and is from an archived copy at Basically what I would like to accomplish here is to apply some of the ideas that Audrey Watter’s applied to Skinner in her book “Teaching Machines” to McLuhan. Why? McLuhan has always been an idol of mine – I would love to see how his thinking holds up in light of Watter’s analysis of Skinner and others.

Please feel free to comment below or avail yourself of the Hypothesis annotation tool which is used by this blog (linked in the upper-right of the blog window). I love McLuhan’s books on media and communication, but does he really get where tech and education are going? What do you think? What is he getting and what is he missing?

The future of education: The class of 1989

by Marshall McLuhan and George B. Leonard
from: LOOK magazine, February 21, pp. 23-25.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS [from: p. 24]
Marshall McLuhan is perhaps the most provocative and controversial thinker of this generation. His books, such as Understanding Media, have challenged many established notions about man and civilization. Now director of the Center for Culture and Technology at the University of Toronto, Professor McLuhan next fall will take the $100,000-a-year Albert Schweitzer Chair in the Humanities at Fordham University in New York. George B. Leonard, West Coast Editorial Manager and senior editor for LOOK, has received more national awards for education writing than anyone in the history of magazine journalism. Leonard often serves as an educational consultant on both the East and West Coast and has a book on education in progress. The authors’ present collaboration grew from a series of intensive discussions in San Francisco and Toronto.

[p. 23] THE TIME IS COMING, if it is not already here, when children can learn far more, far faster in the outside world than within schoolhouse walls. “Why should I go back to school and interrupt my education?” the high-school dropout asks. His question is impudent but to the point. The modern urban environment is packed with energy and information –diverse, insistent, compelling. Four-year-olds, as school innovators are fond of saying, may spend their playtimes discussing the speed, range and flight characteristics of jet aircraft, only to return to a classroom and “string some more of those old beads.” The 16-year-old who drops out of school may be risking his financial future, but he is not necessarily lacking in intelligence. One of the unexpected statistics of recent years comes from Dr. Louis Bright, Associate U.S. Commissioner of Education for Research. His studies show that, in large cities where figures are available, dropouts have higher average IQ scores than high-school graduates.

This danger signal is only one of many now flashing in school systems throughout the world. The signals say that something is out of phase, that most present-day schools may be lavishing vast and increasing amounts of time and energy preparing students for a world that no longer exists. Though this is a time of educational experiments, the real reforms that might be expected have as yet touched only a small proportion of our schools. In an age when even such staid institutions as banks and insurance companies have been altered almost beyond recognition, today’s typical classroom –in physical layout, method and content of instruction– still resembles the classroom of 30 or more years ago.

Resistance to change is understandable and perhaps unavoidable in an endeavor as complex as education, dealing as it does with human lives. But the status quo may not endure much longer. The demands, the very nature of this age of new technology and pervasive electric circuitry, barely perceived because so close at hand, will shape education’s future. By the time this year’s babies have become 1989’s graduates (if college “graduation” then exists), schooling as we now know it may be only a memory.

Mass education is a child of a [p. 25] mechanical [next page] age. It grew up along with the production line. It reached maturity just at that historical moment when Western civilization had attained its final extreme of fragmentation and specialization, and had mastered the linear technique of stamping out products in the mass.

It was this civilization’s genius to manipulate matter, energy and human life by breaking every useful process down into its functional parts, then producing any required number of each. Just as shaped pieces of metal became components of a locomotive, human specialists become components of the great social machine.

In this setting, education’s task was fairly simple: decide what the social machine needs, then turn out people who match those needs. The school’s function was not so much to encourage people to keep exploring, learning and, therefore, changing throughout life as to slow and control those very processes of personal growth and change. Providing useful career or job skills was only a small part of this educational matching game. All students, perhaps more so in the humanities than the sciences and technologies, were furnished standard “bodies of knowledge,” vocabularies, concepts and ways of viewing the world. Scholarly or trade journals generally held a close check on standard perceptions in each special field.

Specialization and standardization produced close resemblance and, therefore, hot competition between individuals. Normally, the only way a person could differentiate himself from the fellow specialists next to him was by doing the same thing better and faster. Competition, as a matter of fact, became the chief motive force in mass education, as in society, with grades and tests of all sorts gathering about them a power and glory all out of proportion to their quite limited function as learning aids.

Then, too, just as the old mechanical production line pressed physical materials into preset and unvarying molds, so mass education tended to treat students as objects to be shaped, manipulated. “Instruction” generally meant pressing information onto passive students. Lectures, the most common mode of instruction in mass education, called for very little student involvement. This mode, one of the least effective ever devised by man, served well enough in an age that demanded only a specified fragment of each human being’s whole abilities. There was, however, no warranty on the human products of mass education.

That age has passed. More swiftly than we can realize, we are moving into an era dazzlingly different. Fragmentation, specialization and sameness will be replaced by wholeness, diversity and, above all, a deep involvement.

Already, mechanized production lines are yielding to electronically controlled, computerized devices that are quite capable of producing any number of varying things out of the same material. Even today, most U.S. automobiles are, in a sense, custom produced. Figuring all possible combinations of styles, options and colors available on a certain new family sports car, for example, a computer expert came up with 25 million different versions of it for a buyer. And that is only a beginning. When automated electronic production reaches full potential, it will be just about as cheap to turn out a million differing objects as a million exact duplicates. The only limits on production and consumption will be the human imagination.

Similarly, the new modes of instantaneous, long-distance human communication –radio, telephone, television–are linking the world’s people in a vast net of electric circuitry that creates a new depth and breadth of personal involvement in events and breaks down the old, traditional boundaries that made specialization possible.

The very technology that now cries out for a new mode of education creates means for getting it. But new educational devices, though important, are not as central to tomorrow’s schooling as are new roles for student and teacher. Citizens of the future will find much less need for sameness of function or vision. To the contrary, they will be rewarded for diversity and originality. Therefore, any real or imagined need for standardized classroom presentation may rapidly fade; the very first casualty of the present-day school system may well be the whole business of teacher-led instruction as we now know it.

Tomorrow’s educator will be able to set about the exciting task of creating a new kind of learning environment. Students will rove freely through this place of learning, be it contained in a room, a building, a cluster of buildings or (as we shall see later) an even larger schoolhouse. There will be no distinction between work and play in the new school, for the student will be totally involved. Responsibility for the effectiveness of learning will be shifted from student to teacher.

As it is now, the teacher has a ready-made audience. He is assured of a full house and a long run. Those students who don’t like the show get flunking grades. If students are free to move anywhere they please, however, there is an entirely new situation, and the quality of the experience called education will change drastically. The educator then will naturally have a high stake in generating interest and involvement for his students.

To be involved means to be drawn in, to interact. To go on interacting, the student must get some-where. In other words, the student and the learning environment (a person, a group of people, a book, a programmed course, an electronic learning console or whatever) must respond to each other in a pleasing and purposeful interplay. When a situation of involvement is set up, the student finds it hard to drag himself away.

The notion that free-roving students would loose chaos on a school comes only from thinking of education in the present mode –as teaching rather than learning– and from thinking of learning as some-thing that goes on mostly in classrooms. A good example of education by free interaction with a responsive environment already exists, right before our eyes. Watch a child learn to talk or, for an even more striking case, watch a five-year-old learn a new language. If the child moves to a foreign country and is allowed to play intensely and freely with neighborhood children-with no language “instruction” whatever-he will learn the new tongue, ac-cent free, in two or three months. if instruction is attempted, however, the child is in trouble.

Imagine, if you will, what would happen if we set the five-year-old down in a classroom, allowed him to leave his seat only at prescribed times, presented only a few new words at a sitting, made him learn each group before going on to the next, drilled him on pronunciation, corrected his “mistakes,” taught him grammar, gave him homework assignments, tested him and-wont of all-convinced him that the whole thing was work rather than play. In such a case, the child might learn the new language as slowly and painfully as do teenagers or adults. Should an adult try to learn a language by intense play and interaction, he would probably do much better than be would in a classroom, but still fall short of a young child’s performance. Why? The adult has already learned the lessons that the old schooling teaches so well: inhibition, self-consciousness, categorization, rigidity and the deep conviction that learning is hard and painful work.

Indeed, the old education gives us a sure-fire prescription for creating dislike of any type of human activity, no matter how appealing it might seem. To stop children from reading comic books (which might be ill-advised), you would only have to assign and test them on their content every week.

Learning a new language is a giant feat, compared to which mastering most of the present school curriculum should prove relatively simple. Long before 1989, all sorts of equipment will be available for producing responsive environments in all the subject matter now commonly taught, and more. Programmed instruction, for example, creates high involvement, since it draws the student along in a sort of dialogue, letting him respond at frequent intervals. Programming at its best lets the student learn commonly-agreed-upon cultural techniques and knowledge-reading, spelling, arithmetic, geography and the like-in his own time, at his own pace. But present-day programming may soon seem crude in light of current developments. Computers will be able to understand students’ written or spoken responses. (Already, they understand typed responses.) When these computers are hooked into learning consoles, the interplay between student and learning program can become even more intense.

When computers are properly used, in fact, they are almost certain to increase individual diversity. A worldwide network of computers will make all of mankind’s factual knowledge available to students everywhere in a matter of minutes or seconds. Then, the human brain will not have to serve as a repository of specific facts, and the uses of memory will shift in the new education, breaking the timeworn, rigid chains of memory may have greater priority than forging new links. New materials may be learned just as were the great myths of [p. 25] past cultures-as fully integrated systems that resonate on several levels and share the qualities of poetry and song.

Central school computers can also help keep track of students as they move freely from one activity to another, whenever moment-by-moment or year-by-year records of students’ progress are needed. This will wipe out even the administrative justification for schedules and regular periods, with all their anti-educational effects, and will free teachers to get on with the real business of education. Even without computers, however, experimental schools (see The Moment of Learning, LOOK, December 27, 1966) are now finding that fixed schedules and restrictions on students’ movements are artificial and unnecessary.

Television will aid students in exploring and interacting with a wide-ranging environment. It will, for example, let them see into the atom or out into space; visualize their own brainwaves; create artistic patterns of light and sound; become involved with unfamiliar old or new ways of living, feeling, perceiving; communicate with other learners, wherever in the world they may be.

Television will be used for involvement, for two-way communication, whether with other people or other environmental systems. It will most certainly not be used to present conventional lectures, to imitate the old classroom. That lectures frequently do appear on educational television points up mankind’s common practice of driving pell-mell into the future with eyes fixed firmly on the rearview mirror. The content of each brand new medium thus far has always been the ordinary stuff of the past environment.

The student of the future will truly be an explorer, a researcher, a huntsman who ranges through the new educational world of electric circuitry and heightened human interaction just as the tribal huntsman ranged the wilds. Children, even little children, working alone or in groups, will seek their own solutions to problems that perhaps have never been solved or even conceived as problems. It is necessary here to distinguish this explore story activity from that of the so-called “discovery method,” championed by some theorists, which is simply a way of leading children around to standard perceptions and approved solutions.

Future educators will value, not fear, fresh approaches, new solutions. Among their first tasks, in fact, may be unlearning the old, unacknowledged taboos on true originality. After that, they may well pick up a new driving style in which they glance into the rearview mirror when guidance from the past is needed but spend far more time looking forward into the unfamiliar, untested country of the present and future.

In a sense, the mass-produced student of the present and past always turned out to be a commodity-replaceable, expendable. The new student who makes his own educational space, his own curriculum and even develops many of his own learning methods will be unique, irreplaceable.

What will motivate the new student? Wide variations between individuals will make competition as we now know it irrelevant and, indeed, impossible. Unstandardized life will not provide the narrow measures needed for tight competition, and schools will find it not only unnecessary but nearly impossible to give ordinary tests or grades. Motivation will come from accomplishment itself; no one has to be forced to play. Form and discipline will spring from the very nature of the matter being explored, just as it does in artistic creation. If the student of the future may be compared with the child at play, he also resembles the artist at work.

The little red schoolhouse will become the little round schoolhouse.

A strange dilemma seems to arise: It appears that, with the new modes of learning, all the stuff of present-day education can be mastered much more quickly and easily than ever before. Right now, good programmed instruction is cutting the time for learning certain basic material by one-half or one-third. What will students do with all the time that is going to be gained? The problem is not a real one. With students constantly researching and exploring, each discovery will on up a new area for study. There is no limit on learning.

We are only beginning to realize what a tiny slice of human possibilities we now educate. In fragmenting all of existence, Western civilization hit upon one aspect, the literate and rational, to develop at the expense of the rest. Along with this went a lopsided development of one of the senses, the visual. Such personal and sensory specialization was useful in a mechanical age, but is fast becoming outmoded. Education will be more concerned with training the senses and perceptions than with stuffing brains. And this will be at no loss for the “intellect.” Studies show a high correlation between sensory, bodily development –now largely neglected– and intelligence.

Already, school experimenters are teaching written composition with tape recorders (just as students play with these marvelous devices) in an attempt to retrain the auditory sense, to recapture the neglected rhythms of speech. Already, experimental institutes are working out new ways to educate people’s neglected capacities to relate, to feel, to sense, to create. Future schooling may well move into many unexplored domains of human existence. People will learn much in 1989 that today does not even have a commonly accepted name.

Can we view this future, the hard and fast of it? Never, for it will always come around a corner we never noticed, take us by surprise. But studying the future helps us toward understanding the present. And the present offers us glimpses, just glimpses: Seven-year-olds (the slowest of them) sitting at electronic consoles finishing off, at their own pace, all they’ll ever need in the basic skills of reading, writing and the like: eight-year-olds playing games that teach what we might call math or logic in terms of, say, music and the sense of touch; nine-year-olds joining together in large plastic tents to build environments that give one the experience of living in the Stone Age or in a spaceship or in an even more exotic place-say, 19th-century America: ten-year-olds interacting with five-year olds, showing them the basics (now unknown) of human relations or of the relationships between physical movements and mental states. In all of this, the school –that is, an institution of learning confined to a building or buildings– can continue to hold a central position only if it changes fast enough to keep pace with the seemingly inevitable changes in the outside world. The school experience can well become so rich and compelling that there will be no dropouts, only determined drop-ins. Even so, the walls between school and world will continue to blur.

Already it is becoming clear that the main “work” of the future will be education. that people will not so much earn a living as learn a living. Close to 30 million people in the U.S. are now pursuing some form of adult education, and the number shoots skyward. Industry and the military, as well as the arts and sciences, are beginning to consider education their main business.

The university is fast becoming not an isolated bastion but an integral part of the community. Eventually, nearly every member of a community may be drawn into its affairs. The university of the future could offer several degrees of “membership,” from everyday full-time participation to subscriptions to its “news service,” which would be received in the home on electronic consoles.

Already, though not many journalists or college presidents realize it, the biggest news of our times is coming from research in the institutions of higher learning –new scientific discoveries, new ways of putting together the webs of past and current history, new means for apprehending and enjoying the stuff of sensory input, of interpersonal relations, of involvement with all of life.

The world communications net, the all-involving linkage of electric circuitry, will grow and become more sensitive. It will also develop new modes of feedback so that communication can become dialogue instead of monologue. It will breach the wall between “in” and “out” of school. It will join all people everywhere. When this has happened, we may at last realize that our place of learning is the world itself, the entire planet we live on. The little red schoolhouse is already well on its way toward becoming the little round schoolhouse.

Someday, all of us will spend our lives in our own school, the world. And education –in the sense of learning to love, to grow, to change– can become not the woeful preparation for some job that makes us less than we could be but the very essence, the joyful whole of existence itself. END

FULL CITATION: McLuhan, M., & Leonard, G. B. (1967). The future of education: The class of 1989. Look, February 21, 23-24.

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Master’s Degree: Leadership in Open Education

logo of University of Nova GoricaThis just in from my contacts from the UNESCO program, Open Education for a Better World:

University of Nova Gorica and the UNESCO chair on Open Technologies for Open Educational Resources and Open Learning have launched an international Master’s Degree Program Leadership in Open Education and are inviting candidates to join the second generation of students, starting their study in October 2021. The program supports implementation of the UNESCO Recommendation on OER by providing excellent capacity building opportunities in this field. Students will be guided by an international team of experts towards understanding connections between strategic, pedagogical, technological, business and social aspects of Open Education. Graduates will master development and implementation of Open Education from the level of courses and study programs to institutional, national and transnational levels. They will be able to competently lead projects, initiatives, communities and strategic development in the field of Open Education in academic or non-academic environment. Study will be carried out prevailingly or completely on-line, depending on circumstances. Candidates are invited to apply. They can also send a message to to get information about options for financial support or to make an appointment for individual consultations. The call for admissions is open and ends on 1 July, 2021.

More information:

I think that it is great that this program exists. More and more colleges and institutions are turning toward OER, open textbooks, and open practices in general. We will need this expertise as institutions make the culture shift to open. Spread the word. If you have participated in similar programs or know of others, feel free to add them in the comments below.

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OER:  Matrix Algebra with Computational Applications 

This just in from Regina Gong via the Internets. I am particularly interested in interactive, openly-licensed math textbooks and materials:
Cover of Matrix Algebra with Computational Applications

Hello Everyone,

I hope you all are having a great almost weekend.

I’m here to announce yet another excellent OER from our MSU Libraries OER Program. It is called Matrix Algebra with Computational Applications by Dr. Dirk Colbry.

All of the OER materials that Dirk has created are provided as Jupyter notebooks, which are open-source tools that integrate multiple resources (websites, word processors, LaTeX, math, and programming) into a digital notebook. The OER were developed specifically for students and instructors working in a flipped classroom model. This means that hands-on problem-solving activities are done during class meetings, with students watching lectures and completing readings and assignments outside of the class. You will find a link to Dirk’s website as a button in the Pressbooks page. And like what Dirk mentioned in his website, if you are an educator and want to adopt his OER along with other instructor resources, please feel free contact him at

This brings our total OER publications to ten so far and I couldn’t be more elated. You all know that we are working on many more to contribute to the open education community so please watch out. 

Thanks everyone and I hope you share widely with your colleagues.

Regina Gong

This ticks off the boxes for a lot of things I am interested in: Pressbooks, Jupyter Notebooks, and teaching math. If you know of similar projects or materials, feel free to contact me or comment below. Thanks!

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Pressbooks and H5P from BC Campus

BC Campus logoThese are some rough notes from a BC Campus workshop I attended. These workships via BC Campus are an incredibly useful resource for faculty, curriculum designers, instructional designers and anyone interested in teaching, learning and technology. The utility of my notes are in the links. The “accuracy” of the notes merely reflect my interests.

Today, Thursday, April 29 at 9:00 am, I attended a webinar from the BC Campus on Pressbooks and H5P for creating interactive textbooks. I am interested in how they are doing that AND how they are supporting it institutionally. This presentation was facilitated by Alan Levine and featured Steel Wagstaff, Educational Product Manager for Pressbooks who shared much about the features and capabilities of Pressbooks, how H5P integrates with it, examples worth looking at, and provided some insights into future directions for the platform.

I have linked below some of the interesting links and examples provided.

Steel Wagstaff is coming from Wisconsin where they were working on open homework systems to remove the financial barriers created by commercial textbook publishers..

Wisconsin is using H5P because it is open and works well with Pressbooks. With H5P, they are able to put in interactive components into open textbooks that are hosted in Pressbooks.

Here are some of the things that they were looking for:

  • Accessibility
  • Open Source
  • Interoperable
  • Supports Annotations
  • Interactivity in an activity pane,
  • Connects to the Moodle gradebook.

Wagstaff gave examples of tools that were home grown and found problems with programmers moving on or retiring.

They have a Porteguese language book with embedded recordings and activities.
This was an early project in Pressbooks and H5P in Wisconsin. This book saw improvements in student learning. They were able to bring interactive textbooks to subjects that were not even covered by commercial textbooks like Tibetan.

Hypothesis and H5P will eventually speak to one another.

Pressbooks network with H5P installed.

There was a review of H5P and the different categories or kinds of activities that are available:

  • Simple quizzes
  • Image related activities
    • including virtual tours using annotated 360 degree pictures
  • Interactive videos
    • video can be stored anywhere
    • YouTube,
    • Vimeo,
    • home server, etc.
  • Complex learning activities
    • course presentation,
    • interactive book,
    • and branching scenario)

The branching activities that are basically a rival to Captivate or Storyline.

Arley Curruthers Corona Virus Journal

You can make new activities or adapt from a library of already created content.

There are great resources about what is happening now in h5p at:

Metadata fields are critical because they let you know what the re-use rights are and what learning objectives are addressed by the learning object.

OER Activity Sourcebook

We looked at the to find books that were openly licensed with H5P activities.

Users can be able to easily list and find the different activities in a book.

I am particularly interested in this work because one of the big arguments for commercial textbook publishers and homework platforms, is that textbooks need more interactivity (therefore we should contract with them). H5P is a way to easily include that interactivity.

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New Book – Teaching Machines: The History of Personalized Learning

Smiling girl using a teaching machine.Audrey Watters has written a new book about the history of education technology: Teaching Machines: The History of Personalized Learning. When I get a hold of a copy, I will write something up here and link to other reviews. A publication notice is warranted here. I think the topic is particularly important right now given the situation we are all in: the big rush to quick and easy solutions to online education during the pandemic. It is important that we keep a critical conversation about technology even during times when we need education solutions and corporate interests are there to exploit those needs.

Summary from MIT Press:

How ed tech was born: Twentieth-century teaching machines—from Sidney Pressey’s mechanized test-giver to B. F. Skinner’s behaviorist bell-ringing box.

Contrary to popular belief, ed tech did not begin with videos on the internet. The idea of technology that would allow students to “go at their own pace” did not originate in Silicon Valley. In Teaching Machines, education writer Audrey Watters offers a lively history of predigital educational technology, from Sidney Pressey’s mechanized positive-reinforcement provider to B. F. Skinner’s behaviorist bell-ringing box. Watters shows that these machines and the pedagogy that accompanied them sprang from ideas—bite-sized content, individualized instruction—that had legs and were later picked up by textbook publishers and early advocates for computerized learning.

Watters pays particular attention to the role of the media—newspapers, magazines, television, and film—in shaping people’s perceptions of teaching machines as well as the psychological theories underpinning them. She considers these machines in the context of education reform, the political reverberations of Sputnik, and the rise of the testing and textbook industries. She chronicles Skinner’s attempts to bring his teaching machines to market, culminating in the famous behaviorist’s efforts to launch Didak 101, the “pre-verbal” machine that taught spelling. (Alternate names proposed by Skinner include “Autodidak,” “Instructomat,” and “Autostructor.”) Telling these somewhat cautionary tales, Watters challenges what she calls “the teleology of ed tech”—the idea that not only is computerized education inevitable, technological progress is the sole driver of events.

If there are other titles or articles that you think should be considered with this, email me or comment below. Stay tuned…

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Exploring the OSCQR Course Design Rubric

In my work as an education consultant and instructional designer, I often collaborate with faculty and departments with course design rubrics. Previously in this blog I did a series of posts reviewing course design rubrics. My work has shown that rubrics are only useful to an institution if they address the particular challenges and culture of that particular institution. This makes open licensing on course evaluation rubrics critical. We need to be able to edit, adapt, and revise to address the needs of the specific population.

The OSCQR rubric has been around for a few years now, but the real news for myself is how they are implementing it. There are a number of rubrics have come out over the years, and I have reviewed or featured many of them in this blog. The exciting thing about this rubric is the system-wide effort to support it with an active community of educators and staff, funding for professional development, and basically a state-wide plan. Their site describes the rubric as “customizable” and “flexible.” This is critical for effective course review (or course design) rubrics. As I said before, they need to be adaptable to address the needs of the specific community of faculty and students. Each campus has its unique population, culture, and needs: adopting or implementing a rubric is a way to get people together to talk about solving specific issues. There is no one rubric to rule them all.

I attended a webinar from SUNY on the OSCQR rubric, the recording is linked below. The presenters were Alexandra Pickett, the Director of Open SUNY Online Teaching, and Erin Maney, the manager of Communications and Community Engagement.

The rubric covers six areas that are broken up into 50 separate standards:

  1. Course over-view and information
  2. Course technology and tools
  3. Design and layout
  4. Content and activities
  5. Interaction
  6. Assessment and feedback

Each one of the six areas can be examined in detail on the website:
Example menu from OSCQR site

When the user clicks on the standard, it leads to a page that has a description of the standard, a video, tips for implementing the standard, and, importantly, links to the research behind the standard. Each page has a separate section that read:

  • Review these explanations (which includes a video)
  • References to the research
  • Refresh your course with these ideas (how to implement the criteria)
  • Explore related resources
  • Share what you know (an opportunity to comment in a discussion or share examples from your course

This is far from the idea of a rubric as a generic checklist.

There are a number of trainings available for faculty on how to use the rubric and engage in the community built around the rubric. Each training also has a digital badge associated with it:

OSCQR badge examplesWhat problems does this rubric solve?
It is essential that a rubric for course design is tied to the community that is going to use it. That takes patience and work. If people do not do the work then you have nothing but a set of standards delivered from the top down that no one is going to use, or worse, just tick off some training boxes and then move on to what they were doing before. The OSCQR website basically provides a pattern for doing this right.

I also like that the rubric is flexible, customizable, backed by research, and includes accessibility criteria.

It is a rubric that addresses data privacy concerns. Student privacy and control over data is a big issue right now and this rubric is a starting point, but it could go deeper into the issue.

How could this grow?
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
This is one of the best rubrics out there for course design I have seen. The only thing missing is the diversity, equity, and inclusion piece. There are a lot of great DEI rubrics for evaluating course materials and classes out there: it would be great to see that here. In the webinar I attended one of the presenters said that it used to be included, but it disappeared at one point. Now would be a great time bring that back!

As with all of these rubrics, I would love to see studies that look at the effect of revised courses on student success and retention.

At the end of the day…
I would strongly recommend anyone interested in course design rubrics to look at the OSCQR program closely as an example of how to expertly integrate campus community, professional development, and course design quality. The meetings I attended and the materials I read all reflect a deep connection to the colleges, respect for teaching and learning, and collegiality: all essential components of a successful implementation of course design rubrics.

Additional resources
Again, what this rubric does is provide a discussion point in a greater community. That is evidenced by all of the support materials around it such as:

  1. Resources from OSCQR page
  2. Latest OSCQR webinar
  3. OSCQR User group

Postscript: Towards a Meta-Rubric of Rubrics
Much like the rubrics used to evaluate software – I have been thinking about a meta-rubric for reviewing online course assessment rubrics. My example includes criteria that are common in the education technology world: ease of use, cost, and validity of scoring. And then I have included criteria that would be useful for a few of the community colleges that I have worked for, as well as some of my own values: openness and creating community. My example rubric is meant to start a conversation about what is important for your institution.

This is my “meta-rubric” example. Please feel free to copy, share, or comment below.

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Designing for Open: Strategies and Processes

Open Education Conference • Nov.9-13, 2020 • Virtual

Presentation Description

In this session, participants will learn about the different roles that instructional designers, faculty course developers, and other education professionals can play in the advocacy and promotion of OER and open education practices. Example course development templates that utilize OER will be reviewed. This session will also provide a definition of open education practices, what the advantages of these practices might be, and review strategies for including open education processes into the curriculum. Resources and lesson plans that utilize OEP will be shared and discussed. There will be an opportunity for participants to share their own work and practice as well as time for questions. 


Participants in this session will be able to:

  • Identify the different roles that instructional designers and faculty course developers can play in the advocacy for OER and open practices,
  • Understand how to connect OER to the learning design process using course design templates,
  • Identify open strategies that can be applied to course development that promote student engagement and ownership of their learning.

Structure and Format

The presentation is in three parts:

  1. A discussion of the role that instructional design, course developers, and edu professionals such as librarians play in the promotion and advocacy of OER. 
  2. An exploration of practical applications of OER to the course design process. 
  3. A broader discussion of open education practices and how to create OEP assignments that leverage OER. 

Each section will include time for IDs and faculty to share their own practices. Each section will have links to relevant tools and resources. The session will end with Q&A.


This session goes beyond advocacy and how to find OER (both of which are important) and looks at how to apply OER and open education practices. We need to create a culture of open practices in education to foster student agency and engagement. This can only come from the education community – OEP asks us to let go of the old paradigm which sees education as a product and teaching and learning to be a transaction. 

Diversity Comments

Designing courses for OER and open education practices means that we are creating learning experiences where students are asked not to produce a product, but to engage in a collaborative process of knowledge creation. This vision of education relies on the diversity of voices and experiences that the students bring to the learning experience rather than expecting them to adapt to the traditional paradigm represented by traditional education. The instructional design process must rely on the affordances of OER and OEP to naturally include learning experiences that draw on diversity and inclusion in order to be successful. 


Collier, Amy. (2020) Inclusive Design and Design Justice: Strategies to Shape Our Classes and Communities. Retrieved from: 

DeRosa, Robin and Jhangiani, Rajiv. (n.d.) Open Pedagogy. Open Pedagogy Notebook. Retrieved from: 

DeRosa, Robin and Robinson, Scott. (2017) From OER to Open Pedagogy: Harnessing the Power of Open. Retrieved from:

Downes, Stephen (2007) “What Connectivism Is.” Retrieved from:

Evaluate and Align OER. (n.d.) Collection. OER Commons. Retrieved from: 

Gráinne, Conole. (2020) Learning Design and Open Education. International Journal of Open Educational Resources. Retrieved from: 

Hendricks, Christina, (2017) Open Pedagogy: Examples of class activities. Retrieved from: 

Jhangiani, Rajiv. (2019) 5Rs for Open Pedagogy. Retrieved from: 

Major, Aimelle. (2020) How to Develop Culturally Responsive Teaching for Distance Learning. KQED. Retrieved from: 

Morris, Sean. (2017) Subjectivity, Rubrics, and Critical Pedagogy. Middlebury Digital Learning. Last retrieved from: 

Paskevicius, Michael and Irvine, Valerie. (2019) Open Education and Learning Design: Open Pedagogy in Praxis. Retrieved from: 

Quality Standards for Open Educational Resources. (2020). Affordable Learning Georgia. Retrieved from: 

Siemens, George (2006) Knowing Knowledge. Retrieved from: 

Sinkinson, Caroline. (2018) The Values of Open Pedagogy. Retrieved from:

Zhadko, O. & Ko, S. (2019). Evaluation and Selection Criteria for OER. Retrieved from: 


Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Checklist for an Inclusive Classroom Community: 

Culturally Responsive Curriculum Scorecard 

Peralta Community College Equity Rubric 

Inclusion by Design: Survey Your Syllabus and Course Design – A Worksheet 

Course Design

WA State Board for Community & Technical College’s Course Design Checklist 

OER Adoption

Achieve Rubric for OER 

OER Starter Kit by Abbey Elder 


Concept Map of All Learning Theories 


Universal Design for Learning Guidelines 

There are more tools in readings in the References section above. 


Link to video of presentation.

These notes are also available as a Google Doc.

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Is Stock Photography Right for You?

Thoughtful caucasian with laptop.

I was on Twitter recently, and I posted something that needs a broader explanation. James Glapa-Grossklag (an OER superhero) posted a link to an interesting article from Science News “College biology textbooks still portray a world of white scientists. Recent shifts to include more women and people of color still lag behind students’ diversity. College biology students are getting more diverse. That diversity isn’t mirrored in the textbooks they study from.” Only somewhat ironically, the article used stock photography to illustrate the article. That is what magazines often do, but there are pictures of actual working scientists of color out there. I responded with: Friends don’t let friends use stock photos. Same with college websites! Digital tokenism is no replacement for supporting photographers or the marketing dept. to actually record students & faculty at work on campuses. If they need stock photos, they need to increase diversity. Now this is all great “woke” of me, but how I got here took a little growth.

Happy ambiguously brown person

This is an old favorite from the California Community College system.

Back in 2010 or so when I was working at College of the Redwoods, I was always in a hurry to put presentations and teaching materials together. My big short-cut was using stock photography. I didn’t even think about it. In fact, much of the artwork from the California Community College system was stock photography. They used so much of it, I started recognizing images. I started using some of them myself. In my instructional design team was a great artist and photographer, Bosha Struve. She was looking at an image that I had in one of our lessons and seemed annoyed. When I asked here what was wrong, she said that these were not our students and that with a marketing team and a photographer on staff, I should just get a release form going and have real people. I said that we didn’t have time for that. Later, when I was reviewing the project, I asked her what was different about the photo. Something had changed. She said that she kept the people but she at least should be allowed to put them in our library! I felt stupid and humbled, but grateful that we had an artist on the team.

Other stories have come out about non-diverse institutions using people of color in their marketing to make up for the lack of diversity with the staff and students. Sabrina Abbas in SMU’s The Daily Campus pointed out an article where researchers reported that African-American students make up an average of 7.9 percent of students in the colleges studied, but 12.4 percent of those in marketing photos. When they looked at predominantly white schools, African-Americans made up about 5 percent of the student body, but were photographed at 14.5 percent. Another study points out that “the whiter the student body at a college, the more often images of minorities were featured in its publications.”

This is artistically lazy and highlights the actual lack of diversity in education. The real answer to this that we need to transform how we think and fund education in this country as well as how we hire. If you are wondering what kinds of obstacles we might be facing, go to any stock photography site and do a search for “college administrator.” Wear your sunglasses though because you are about to be blinded by the white.

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Teaching in a Pandemic: We Have Solved This Problem Before

The situation here is familiar: circumstances demand that we change how we deliver teaching and learning. We need to employ different teaching modalities, and we need to quickly prepare students for that. Notice I didn’t say “new” modalities. We are in a situation, and we will be here for a while, where we are bringing students and teachers online who have never been in an online class. The initial results are predictably bad: it takes skill, knowledge, and experience to teach online, as well as to learn online, and most of the population is not prepared. There are a number of “quick fixes” out there, but Zoom is not an online class or a replacement for one. Thinking that any one tool or even a combination of tools is a replacement for a classroom is the result of thinking of education purely in transactional terms. Real learning takes place in community, an engaged, connected community – a webinar does not replace this. So what do we do?

The Connectivist Classroom

The good news is that we have solved similar problems before. Back in 2008, I was approached by a Health Information Management instructor who had some problems to solve: the teachers were spending has much time teaching the technology of learning as they were their subjects; the students needed more technical skills; the students also needed to learn how to manage rapid changes in technology. This is similar to where we are now except most teachers and admins do not see the problem this way – they still see it as a “how do we deliver instruction” question rather than a change management problem. Additionally, we had the added problem that most of our community college students were already working in health care with erratic schedules. We did not want to exclude students because they have to work.

The Design

Together, we wrote a syllabus and course outline, Health Information Management 101. This course was a credit/no credit, two unit, student success course where we taught the students all of the technology they would need to be successful in the HIM program: their learning management system, web 2.0 tools, and Second Life (it was used on campus). The idea was to get all of the technology, formation of learning networks, and information access all in one class. This lets the teachers use the the technology to facilitate the course without having to teach the technology to the students. We hoped that this would be rolled out campus-wide one day, not just in the HIM department. The course design was based what we saw coming out of Connectivism, a new learning theory about how learning happens in networks, the book “The Starfish and the Spider” (a book about leaderless organizations), and the 23 Things project that introduced new technologies to librarians each week.  I later came to understand the”leaderless classroom” more fully in Open Pedagogy.

It is important to stress here: even though there is a lot of technology in this class, it is about people and the connections they make, not the tools.

A map of the connections between students and facilitators.


The idea was that we would design the course around connecting students with second year students, students who had graduated and were now in the field, and facilitators for the course. How were they all connected? The course introduced students to blogs, wikis, Twitter, and what was then called “Web 2.0” cloud-based applications that allowed for online communication, collaboration, and sharing.

A map of all the tools used in HIM 101

We did not use all of these tools: we introduced many of them and let the students self-select which tools and platforms they wanted to work with and they tended to congregate around their shared preferences. The list of the tools changed from quarter to quarter, and sometimes week-to-week.

The “Classroom”

Remember, like today, we had to deal with people teaching and learning from different sites based on family and work needs. We decided to use a physical lab, a virtual classroom, and an LMS. The physical lab had a computer with a camera and microphone that was connected to the virtual room. The virtual room was Elluminate (an ancestor of Zoom). There were speakers in the lab so those in the lab could hear questions and comments in the the virtual class. Students could log into the virtual classroom with a laptop, microphone, and camera or they could dial in on the phone. Sometimes the physical lab’s microphone was the lab’s telephone.


HIM Classroom setup

Students could:

  • Come to the physical classroom (the lab)
  • Dial in on a phone
  • Participate in the virtual class via Elluminate
  • Go through the learning management system (Angel), do assignments there and link to recordings of the virtual classroom

The class was very successful, and by that I mean that we succeeded in creating and supporting a community of learners and practitioners that extended far beyond the classroom. One of my favorite moments in the class, one that told me we had it set up just right was when I was with a few students in the physical lab. A student in the lab had a problem, I could not get to that student yet as I was helping another, and I said I would be right there. Then a disembodied voice from the virtual class called the student by name and said “I know how to figure that out” and she proceeded to talk the other student through the problem using the camera as her “eyes” and the speaker in the classroom as her voice.

So What About The Future?

How does this help us now? There are a lot of alternative models out there that can support teaching and learning that do not require instructors and students to endanger their health. Technology is not the answer at all, but it can facilitate the community needed to make authentic education possible. There was nothing really revolutionary about what we did at Tacoma Community College. There were already people doing courses like this. In fact, the early Connectivist MOOCs  with Siemens and Downes, and Cormier’s Rhizomtic Education: Community as Curriculum, right on up to the ideas around Open Pedagogy, all point to answers on how to teach and learn in a time of pandemic, or any crisis. We are actually in a multilayered crisis of health, social justice, and access to education. The fact that universities are so focused on tuition and football right now points to the failure of the traditional models. Classes with multimodal delivery, student-directed work, flexible schedules and geography are long over due.

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