Barbara Illowsky

CC Talks With: Collaborative Statistics — An Open Textbook Model

Jane Park, December 3rd, 2008

CC BY (Barbara Illowsky and Susan Dean)

CC BY (Barbara Illowsky and Susan Dean)

One of the most exciting sub-movements within open education is the current revolution regarding the evolution of textbooks. Old-fashioned publishers would often (and still do) rack up prices to hundreds of dollars per textbook, but this business model is rapidly changing to favor vastly cheaper educational resources based on more open licensing policies. One driver is that the information in textbooks becomes outdated the minute it comes out in print, to the point that what is being taught in schools is often inaccurate. Open textbooks better represent the dynamic nature of information because they are themselves dynamic. They can be manufactured collaboratively over the internet, are digital and thereby easily editable, and are openly licensed so that anyone can update the information in the future. The premise is that you should never have to throw out old content — only improve upon it. 

At the COSL Open Education Conference this year, Susan Dean, along with others, presented on Sustainability Models for Community College Open Textbooks. Her presentation was based on her own path towards open textbook publishing. She and Dr. Barbara Illowsky developed, over a number of years, the textbook Collaborative Statistics. Today, it is freely available for access and derivation via CC BY on the Connexions platform, but for Susan and Barbara, obtaining the rights to the book and cementing a publisher and platform were far from easy. 

Below are Susan’s and Barbara’s take on the path they chose. I was lucky enough to catch up to them via email and ask a few questions — about themselves, Collaborative Statistics, and open textbooks in general.

Can you say a few words about yourselves and your background in education?  What drew you to academia in the first place?  As an academic, how have your conceptions of education evolved?

Susan
I earned a secondary teaching credential to teach high school math and art and taught high school for the next four years.  I went back to school in computer science and worked for Honeywell and Hewlett-Packard and then was hired by De Anza College to teach math at the same time as I was working on a master’s degree in applied math at Santa Clara University.

I grew up poor but always did well in school and received a lot of attention from teachers, several of whom were outstanding.  I have always found math along with marine biology highly interesting and would tutor other students in both subjects in high school and found it fun.  I also tutored students, including blind and deaf students, in college. These factors combined to make me want to teach.

I have become a “hands-on” teacher in math.  Students, especially developmental students, learn best by “doing” and by working in groups.  I believe in having students use technology to help them learn.

 

Barbara
I tutored in college and really enjoyed it. I did not plan on becoming an instructor, though. In graduate school, I had a teaching scholarship and found that I loved teaching. I loved helping students; I loved when they were successful, especially after a hard struggle to learn.

About 15 years ago, I became interested in the scholarship of teaching and learning. I researched pedagogy and andragogy (the theory of adult learning).  Since completing my PhD, I have continued to study the learning process.

I now understand education to be much more of a life time process, than I had previously thought, as well as effective instruction to be much more constructivist than how most educators teach.

In your opinion, what are the important ways in which community and four year colleges differ — in terms of degrees granted, student populations, educational needs and challenges…?

Community colleges are for students who want a particular certificate (usually for a job), who want an AA or AS, who want to transfer to a four year school or who are interested in particular subjects.  Four year colleges, for the most part, are for students who want a four year degree.  Four year colleges typically have “academic” majors.   Many students would not go to college if there were no community colleges. Among a myriad of services, community colleges provide developmental help in English and math if students need it (and about 80% who come to the community colleges do), provide transfer programs, offer counseling that not only gives students advisory help for classes and programs but provides personal guidance as well, offer excellent financial advice for those students who need financial help and are cheaper than four year colleges.

Community colleges enroll almost half of all undergraduate students in the U.S.  As a result, a good many community colleges are extremely diverse in student populations (De Anza College is a very good example) and the preparedness of the students is wider than at a UC or CSU or private college or university.

How do you envision Collaborative Statistics being used in the classroom?

Collaborative Statistics has been used in the classroom for about 15 years.  The book is intended to complement an elementary course in statistics that is collaborative and practical.  Students work in groups to apply what they have learned to complete data driven labs and projects. The book was written to accommodate this mode of classroom activity.  It was also written with English as a second language (ESL) students in mind and has been used successfully over the years with many ESL students.

From what I understood from your presentation (Susan) at  COSL OpenEd ’08, writing Collaborative Statistics was far from the hardest part. The book was originally published with a commercial publisher under all rights reserved copyright.  What triggered the need to open up these rights?

We acquired the rights back from the publisher so that we could lower the cost of the book.  We had found that too many of our students struggled to pay for their books especially as the price of books went up (the cost increase has been dramatic over the years).  So, when we had the chance to open up the rights to the book and make it free online, we were ready to do it.

Can you tell us a bit about the process you had to go through to convert to an open license? What were the steps you took? What were the roughest bumps in the road?

Martha Kanter, Chancellor of the Foofthill-De Anza Community College District, is very interested in open educational resources.  She is acquainted with Bob Maxfield of the non-profit Maxfield Foundation (associated with Rice University).  She recommended our book to Bob Maxfield who in turn made the book available to the Connexions Project of Rice University.   Since we had control of the book (we published it), it was our decision to acquire an open license.  The roughest bumps involved the amount of time it took to find the right organization for our book.

If you could give a piece of advice to other textbook authors and/or teachers who wish to publish their work openly, what would it be?

Do it!  Think of the many students and faculty who could benefit from your work.

Why did you choose CC BY, as opposed to one of the more restrictive licenses?

We chose the license that Connexions requested for the least restrictions.  Plus, the least restrictive license allows for the most freedom of improvement of a product.

What would you say to someone who was worried about commercial uses of their work?

Choose an organization like Connexions to publish on the Web.   Connexions allows and encourages users to collaboratively develop, freely share and quickly publish content on the Web.  Anyone who uses any part of someone else’s content can modify the content but must give attribution to the authors of the content.

Open textbooks are certainly taking off in a big way these days, what with Connexions, Flatworld Knowledge, CK12 Foundation’s Flexbooks, and the recent bill signed into law enabling California Community Colleges to establish OER pilot programs. What do you think specifically about this bill — AB 2261?  Will you be involved with the execution of this bill, considering your ties with De Anza Community College?  If not, how do you see the program working?

We are highly in favor of AB 2261.  We are not involved with the execution of the bill.  Article 2 of AB 2261 lays out a plan for the program including a possible lead community college to coordinate the planning and development of the pilot program.  Especially important is Article 2 part (c) (3) which deals with developing “a community college professional development course that introduces faculty, staff, and college course developers to the concept, creation, content, and production methodologies that enable OER to be offered to students in community college classes.”

Lastly, what is the future of open textbooks? What would you say we have to change in order for open education to be maximally effective?

Open textbooks are here to stay!  Connexions has much improved our book with what they have done on the cnx.org site.  They have broken down the content into modules that can be linked together and arranged in different ways.  We are sure that the other organizations that are involved in open educational resources have done something similar.  There has to be some kind of massive ad campaign (similar to what California did with the big propositions in the recent November 2008 election but keep it honest) that shows the great benefits of open educational resources.  The ad must target everyone but especially faculty to show them the great educational possibilities that exist, the fact that the resources are easy to use and the fact that the resources are free.

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