UPDATE: As of 15 February 2013 this bill has been vetoed by the Governor of the State of Sao Paulo.
Last year we wrote about the introduction of an OER bill in Brazil. Yesterday, the State of São Paulo approved PL 989/2011, which establishes a policy whereby educational resources developed or purchased with government funds must be made freely available to the public under an open copyright license. The Governor must sign the bill for it to become law. You can view the bill text (Portuguese) linked from the State Assembly website.
Brasao Estado Sao Paulo Brasil
State-funded educational materials must be made available on the web or on a government portal. They must be licensed for free use, including copying, distribution, download and creation of derivative works, provided that the author retains attribution, the materials are used non-commercially, and the materials are licensed under the same license as the original. Essentially, the legislation language suggests a CC BY-NC-SA license, even if not specifically stated.
Congratulations to the State of São Paulo for passing this law. We’ve seen similar policies enacted in Poland, Canada, and the United States. PL 989/2011 will set a powerful positive precedent for other countries to follow, and São Paulo will be contributing to the worldwide movement to create a shared commons of high-quality Open Educational Resources.
For more information on these developments see the Recursos Educacionais Abertos site.2 Comments »
It’s been an exciting year for School of Open, from the P2PU residency in Berlin, to the curriculum building meeting in Palo Alto, to the various course building workshops we ran in Helsinki, London, Mexico City, Berlin, and more. Our community, which started off with two active volunteers at the beginning of July, has since grown into a diverse group of voices and interests. However, we all share the common goal of furthering openness in our respective fields, and helping others to take advantage of open resources to further their own goals — whether they are teachers, artists, researchers, or students.
Note: The “we” pronoun used below refers to the School of Open community collectively, which consists of volunteers from the CC and P2PU communities – and beyond!
- During the P2PU residency in Berlin, we put our heads together and figured out the what, how, and who of the School — including basic governance structure and logistics, philosophy, guidelines, and an initial set of short courses for independent learning.
- These courses are Teach Someone Something with Open Content (part one and two); Get Creative Commons Savvy; and the Open Access Wikipedia Challenge. Lots of people have taken these courses already, and you can, too.
- We planned the curriculum for more courses with a fantastic group of open advocates and experts at a two-day Convening on an Open Policy Institute and School of Open in Palo Alto.
- We also held smaller course building workshops and discussion sessions at the Open Knowledge Festival, the Mozilla Festival, the Open Ed Conference, the Summit on Open Strategies, and the CC- Africa, Europe, Asia-Pacific, and Latin America regional meetings. You can see all events on our roadmap.
- We held our first real world course sprint at the Open Video Forum, resulting in the draft course, A Look at Open Video. (A course sprint is like a book sprint, but the end result is a course instead of a book.)
- We also held our first real world class in Ann Arbor, Michigan, based on Get CC Savvy.
- We discussed and settled on a course review process for all School of Open courses…
…in the spirit of open governance, because we strive to work as openly and transparently as our name makes us out to be!
What to expect in 2013
The Library of Congress / No known copyright restrictions
- We will officially launch our first set of courses during Open Education Week! (March 11-15). We have 16 courses in development: the bulk of these will be designed for independent learning, such as Get CC Savvy, but a few, such as Copyright 4 Educators, will be facilitated for a set period of time beginning in March. You can check out the full list of draft courses at http://schoolofopen.org.
- We will run more offline workshops around the world. In fact, we are developing a course to prepare people for the delivery of workshops on open culture and related topics in informal spaces.
- We will run additional course sprints. We have one in mind around open science data (watch out Bay Area) and another on open video (Berlin or London).
With the development of 16 courses; the running of offline workshops in cool spaces; and the emergence of the course sprint — we have a very full year ahead of us! If you would like to help shape any of the courses or activities above, join us at https://groups.google.com/group/school-of-open and introduce yourself and your area of interest. Additional ways to get involved and more info at http://schoolofopen.org.
That’s all folks! We wish you a wonderful holiday and a happy new year.No Comments »
Just in time for Creative Commons’ 10th birthday celebration of its license suite, the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC) announced a 3.5 million dollar grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for a new program — Integrated Digital English Acceleration (I-DEA) — that will help adult English language learners improve their language skills while simultaneously providing career and college readiness training through technology-based tools and resources.
by blogefl / CC BY
The I-DEA program targets community college learners in the state’s lowest three levels of English as a Second Language courses, and aims to help learners achieve their language goals in tandem with career goals — with fewer hours of instruction than traditional programs that teach basic language skills separately from job-specific skills.
I-DEA derives its dual approach from the state’s I-BEST model (Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training), which U.S. Department of Education Under Secretary Martha Kanter recognized as furthering adult education faster than any other program: “51 percent of I-BEST students completed a certificate in two years, vs. 14 percent of the comparison group…” (Change Magazine of Higher Learning).
A significant part of this grant is that all online learning modules developed will be made available openly under a Creative Commons Attribution license, allowing anyone to access, reuse, translate, and remix the modules as long as attribution is given. I-DEA learning modules will be added to the Open Course Library, Washington State’s collection of high quality CC BY-licensed educational resources for its 82 highest enrolled community college courses.
The grant also includes the creation of new technology tools, laptop computers on loan, Internet access, and online advising and tutoring. From the press release:
Among other goals, college and partner community-based organizations (CBOs) will create open source curriculum and identify best practices of technology-enhanced instruction that allow more students to be served with less in-class instruction. Courses and techniques developed with the grant will be open sourced, allowing colleges and CBOs in Washington and around the world to replicate I-DEA.
This is fantastic news that couldn’t come at a better time. Thank you for this birthday gift to CC! Thanks to the SBCTC for spearheading this initiative and to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for making it possible.
For more details, including a list of the initial 10 colleges to receive and implement the grant, see the press release (pdf).1 Comment »
Today, I’m honored to be a keynote speaker at the Technology Affinity Group conference in Monterey, CA. I’ll be talking about my career and my experiences in the open space, and sharing three suggestions for the foundation community:
Technology deserves a bigger place at the table. Technology is what drives the big innovations in the philanthropic world, but all too often, the technology people don’t have enough of a voice in a foundation’s leadership. That’s a problem that I think foundations need to address before they can work at full potential.
Share by default. When foundations share their data, it’s often the exception rather than the rule. What if foundations made sharing the default? Yesterday, we blogged about a group of foundations making a commitment to share their grant data regularly, openly, and in a usable format. I’ll be applauding the Reporting Commitment and urging other foundations to get onboard.
Bake open into philanthropy. Every foundation wants to get the most good for its money. There’s a strong argument that grant dollars go further if they go toward openly-licensed work and resources.
Do you have any questions or thoughts from the session? Share them in the comments.No Comments »
Here’s an exciting opportunity for the open education community. Susan D’Antoni, a long-time leader in Open Educational Resources (OER), is coordinating an important effort to map the global OER space.
You can join the list by sending an email to: email@example.com and typing “subscribe” in the subject line. I have signed up to contribute. I hope you will too.
Read the complete announcement below for more information.
The following invitation is extended to any of you who might be interested in a discussion of how the OER community at large might design, create and sustain an OER world map of institutional initiatives – to help us connect and communicate.
The objective of this conversation is to consider together whether the global OER community could design and build a world map of OER institutional initiatives.
Over the past decade, there have been more and more initiatives in more and more countries. It has become difficult to have a sense of the global OER landscape. As we seek to communicate with stakeholders, as we seek to connect with potential partners and as we seek to learn from the experience of others, we might find useful a picture of the OER world – a global map of institutional and perhaps national initiatives as a starting point. Over time, an “OER World Map” could be enhanced as the community wished and found feasible.
Maps can be effective in communicating a message visually. There are already several global maps that have been created for specific OER groups, such as, the Open CourseWare Consortium and the Open University OLnet project in the United Kingdom.
As many of you will remember, the former IIEP OER community showed enormous energy in its interaction. And importantly, the community showed a capacity to self-organize. A number of groups came together to translate the report of the group’s consensus on priorities to advance the OER movement. If mapping the OER world were seen to be useful, perhaps the worldwide OER community could self-organize to build and maintain an OER world map together.
Our conversation is scheduled to take place online over a three-week period from 12 – 30 November. At the conclusion of the discussion a draft report will be sent to everyone for review and comment.
In addition to this international discussion in English, some groups have already decided to hold similar interactions in their own languages for their own communities or networks. Their input will be shared with the international group, and incorporated into the final report of our collective deliberation and conclusions. We hope others may also wish to organize separate discussions.
I will be back in contact with further details before we begin. I am very much looking forward to being back together again.
Outline of the international discussion
Week 1: What could an OER world map look like? (12- 16 November)
- Why map the OER landscape?
- Essential information and visual presentation
Week 2: Could a world map be built collaboratively? (19-23 November)
- Organizational approach for collaboration
- Ensuring the quality of the information
Week 3: Reflection and next steps (26-30 November)
- Design of an “OER World Map”
- Resources available/needed
- Next steps
- Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and type “subscribe” in the subject line.
- Share this announcement with your colleagues and networks.
- Plan a parallel or follow up discussion in your own language and network and give your feedback for the final report of all the discussions.
In August we wrote about the European Commission’s request for information on the topic Opening Up Education. The point of the consultation is to gauge the need for EU action to promote the adoption and use of Open Educational Resources (OER) and Information Communication Technologies (ICT) in education. Several Creative Commons affiliates in Europe have submitted a joint response to the survey. The jurisdictions signing onto the response include Luxembourg, Denmark, Greece, Germany, Belgium, United Kingdom, Sweden, Czech Republic, France, Portugal, Serbia, Poland, Netherlands, Finland, Bulgaria, and Ireland.
The joint response urges the Commission to support the recommendations in the 2012 Paris OER Declaration, which was unanimously supported by UNESCO member nations at the World Open Educational Resources Congress on 20-22 June 2012. As described in the consultation document (PDF), “the EU will use the tools at its disposal (policy guidance, EU regulation whenever relevant, funding mechanisms, exchange of good practices and innovative pilots).” By leveraging these various tools in alignment with the suggestions laid out in the Paris Declaration, the Commission can be very effective in promoting the development and use of OER. Those recommendations urge UNESCO member nations to:
- Foster awareness and use of OER.
- Facilitate enabling environments for use of Information and Communications Technologies (ICT).
- Reinforce the development of strategies and policies on OER.
- Promote the understanding and use of open licensing frameworks.
- Support capacity building for the sustainable development of quality learning materials.
- Foster strategic alliances for OER.
- Encourage the development and adaptation of OER in a variety of languages and cultural contexts.
- Encourage research on OER.
- Facilitate finding, retrieving and sharing of OER.
- Encourage the open licensing of educational materials produced with public funds.
The European Commission is in a position to help coordinate, promote, and support most — if not all — of these recommendations. In addition, these recommendations align with the Europe 2020 priorities, especially in increasing effective investments in education by encouraging free open access to publicly funded educational content.
The Paris Declaration reaffirms OER as “teaching, learning and research materials in any medium, digital or otherwise, that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits no-cost access, use, adaptation and redistribution by others with no or limited restrictions.” The EC should support this definition of OER so that users of OER know the rights available to them and so that producers of OER get the credit they deserve. Since a clear legal framework is crucial to the success of OER, we strongly suggest that the EC consider promoting the use of Creative Commons licenses and public domain tools like the CC0 Public Domain Dedication. CC licenses are globally applicable and are seen as the gold standard for open content licensing. It would be beneficial for the EC to adopt CC licenses because they are already established and understood, instead of creating customized licenses that may not interoperate with existing solutions.
The full response is available here.No Comments »
It is an exciting time for the global open educational resources (OER) movement. In the past few months, several governments and institutions have shown their support for OER:
- California Passes Groundbreaking Open Textbook Legislation
- National ‘Digital School’ Program in Poland
- British Columbia Government Lends Support to Open Textbooks
- US Department of Labor Invests in Open Educational Resources
- UNESCO 2012 Paris OER Declaration
Creative Commons believes that there is a clear role for government support of OER. When governments require open licenses on publicly funded resources, they ensure those resources benefit the most people possible. Publicly funded resources should be openly licensed resources. The public should have access to what it paid for.
Advocating for government OER policies is not always easy or straightforward. Earlier this year, CC announced that we would coordinate and steward a collection of OER open policies. Since then, many members of the global OER community have been working together to compile a database of OER policies as well as toolkits, presentations, and other supporting materials. We call it the OER Policy Registry.
The policies in the OER Policy Registry are specific to OER, but may include general open access, ICT, or online learning policies that directly enable OER. There are currently over 60 policies, but we need your help to improve the registry.
First, please add new or edit existing OER open policies. We’ve put together some instructions for navigating, editing, and adding to the policy registry. If you have any questions, please email: email@example.com
Second, please help us spread the word! We need you and your networks to help the OER Policy Registry grow and flourish. Click Retweet below to share with your followers:
— creativecommons (@creativecommons) November 5, 2012
Sharing our collective knowledge of existing OER open policies, in the same way we share open educational resources, will help OER advocates and policymakers learn about, craft and adopt their own OER open policies. Thank you for your help! If you have any suggestions or feedback please let us know.No Comments »
MOOCs — or Massive Open Online Courses — have been getting a lot of attention lately. Just in the last year or so, there’s been immense interest in the potential for large scale online learning, with significant investments being made in companies (Coursera, Udacity, Udemy), similar non-profit initiatives (edX) and learning management systems (Canvas, Blackboard). The renewed interest in MOOCs was ignited after last year’s Introduction to Artificial Intelligence course offered via Stanford University, when over 160,000 people signed up to take the free online course. The idea of large-scale, free online education has been around for quite some time. Some examples include David Wiley’s 2007 Introduction to Open Education; Connectivism and Connective Knowledge, led by George Siemens and Stephen Downes in 2008; Open Content Licensing for Educators; and many others.
A central component to these earlier iterations of the MOOC was the dual meaning of “open.” Justin Reich writes in EdWeek,
The original MOOCs…were “open” in two respects. First, they were open enrollment to students outside the hosting university. That is open as in “open registration.” Second, the materials of the course were licensed using Creative Commons licenses so their materials could be remixed and reused by others. That is open as in “open license.”
These dual characteristics of “open” are also core to Open Educational Resources (OER). Hewlett’s updated OER definition begins: “OER are teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and re-purposing by others.” That is, for an educational resource to be “open” it must be both gratis (available at no-cost) and libre (everyone has the legal rights to repurpose the resource). An OER cannot be freely available or openly licensed – it must be both freely available and openly licensed (or in the public domain) to be an OER.
The new cohort of MOOCs are distinct from the original MOOCs in that they are “open,” thus far, in only one respect: they are open enrollment. The new MOOCs have not yet openly licensed their courses. As MOOCs continue to develop course content and experiment with various business models, we think it’s crucial that they consider adopting open licenses as a default on their digital education offerings. In general, the value proposition can be enhanced for the new MOOCs and their users if the MOOCs openly license their courses. A few ideas about why this is important:
One goal of MOOCs is to serve tens / hundreds of thousands more people with high-quality educational content. By adopting Creative Commons (CC) licenses, MOOCs:
- can increase the reach of their materials by making the rights to use and adapt them crystal clear from the start;
- will be able to serve even more learners because they’ll be granting legal permissions to use their course content in other educational settings; and
- do not have to respond to individual permissions requests from users and can instead focus on delivering quality educational content to the largest number of students.
- Commercially-focused MOOCs can adopt CC licenses to make their MOOCs truly “open” (free of cost and free of most copyright restrictions) and still leverage the scale of these courses (with potentially tens of thousands of students) and the MOOC platform to charge for value-added services, such as the coordination of study groups, course certification, secure assessments, employee recruiting, and print-on-demand textbooks.
- MOOCs can provide features their users want by incorporating open licensing options. Recently, the education technology company Blackboard has permitted users to upload educational content under the Creative Commons Attribution license. Since many MOOCs want to support individuals who want to share their creations as well as open collaboration between course participants, it may be worthwhile for the MOOCs to support users with this easy-to-implement feature.
- By supporting open licensing, MOOCs will be positively contributing to the Open Educational Resources movement, reaffirmed in the 2012 Paris OER Declaration. MOOCs can be leaders and innovators for OER, increase their enrollment numbers, and receive the goodwill that comes along with being an active participant in this global open education movement.
- Online education knows no language barriers, and a large percentage of MOOC participants are logging on from outside of North America (where most of the new initiatives are based). For example, in a recent MIT MOOC course with 155,000 registrations, students came from 160 countries (PDF). If MOOCs want to continue to attract and serve an international audience, they might focus on multilingual course delivery. It should be noted that MOOCs that release course content under Creative Commons licenses (at least the licenses that do not contain the “NoDerivatives” condition) automatically grant permission for users to make translations of the materials. MIT Open CourseWare courses have been translated into at least 10 languages, including Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Thai, French, German, Vietnamese, and Ukrainian. Coursera and Udacity have already partnered with the crowdsourced captioning service Amara.
- Openly licensed MOOC resources can give rise to interesting new courses and educational products and services. For instance, materials released under a license like CC BY can be repurposed and reused on sites like Wikipedia and hundreds of Open CourseWare projects. Adopting CC licensing can support the conditions necessary for innovation that is difficult to predict (or plan for). In the long run, supporting the open ecosystem is beneficial both for commercial and non-profit MOOC initiatives. In addition, many educators and learners want to be able to use the resources outside of the MOOC environment, and open licensing grants this permission in advance. CC licensing opens up a much broader range of pedagogical approaches that enable all MOOC participants, instructors and students alike the ability to generate, use, and share content with each other.
- Many MOOCs are concerned that their content will be “stolen” by competitors. However, this fear is speculative. There are features of the CC licenses that can help assuage the fears of MOOCs. For example, all the CC licenses provide for attribution to the original author, preservation of any copyright notice, and the URL to the original work. When MOOC material are licensed under a CC license permitting the creation of adaptations, the adapted resources must be clearly marked to indicate that changes have been made, and a credit — reasonable to the means and medium being used — that the MOOC material has been used in the adaptation. Also, CC licenses do not grant permission to use anyone’s trademarks or official insignia, nor do the licenses affect other laws that may be used to protect one’s reputation or other rights — those rights are all reserved and may be enforced separately by the MOOC. Finally, it should be noted that the original educational materials remain intact and preserved, exactly as released (most typically) on the MOOC website. So, there will be a record of the original publishing of the content. But beyond these features of the CC license, community and business norms make it very unlikely that competitor MOOCs will “swoop in” and republish full courses simply because the open license technically makes this a possibility. Norms of academic practice typically carry more weight than any legal restriction made possible through use of an open license.
MOOCs should address copyright and licensing early on so they are clear to users how they can utilize and reuse educational materials offered on the site. MOOCs should choose to adopt an open license that meets their goals, but at minimum it is recommended that they choose a public, standardized license that grants to its users the “4Rs” of open content: the ability to Reuse, Revise, Remix, and Redistribute the resources. The more permissions MOOCs can offer on their content, the better. Online peer learning community P2PU has provided some useful documentation about how to choose a license. And CC maintains easy-to-understand information about how to properly implement the CC license on websites and platforms. Of course, it is important for MOOCs and users of MOOCs to understand some of the copyright and intellectual property considerations that they should know about before they adopt an open license for educational content.
MOOCs have captured the public mindshare as an interesting way to deliver high quality education to huge numbers of online learners. In order to maximize the educational benefits that MOOCs promise to provide, they must be “open” in both enrollment and licensing. MOOCs should seriously consider applying CC licenses to content they build, asking contributing Universities to openly licnese their courses, and making CC licensing part of their MOOC platforms. By doing so, they’ll be best positioned to serve a diverse set of users and support the flourishing open education movement.
For more information, see this Association of Research Libraries issue brief on MOOCs (CC BY) by Brandon Butler.6 Comments »
Last Friday, Open.Michigan helped a group of students get Creative Commons savvy in an offline version of the School of Open’s “Get CC Savvy” challenge, a course originally designed for independent online learners. For those yet unaware, the School of Open is a growing community initiative that will provide educational resources and professional development courses on the meaning and impact of “openness” in the digital age and its benefit to creative endeavors, education, research, and more. Though offline School of Open workshops and activities have been held (see previous School of Open updates), they have primarily focused on creating new courses for the School; Open.Michigan’s Fun Friday session was the first time actual course material was taught in a real world group setting.
Victoria Lungu, student at the University of Michigan’s School of Information, who co-organized and led the session with her Open.Michigan colleagues, writes about how the event went below.
Last Friday I ran a workshop at the University of Michigan where a group of eight worked through the P2PU School of Open challenge “Get CC Savvy.” A year ago or even a few months ago, I would have never imagined taking part in such an exciting opportunity.
So what got me here? Well, to put it simply, a class with Kristin Fontichiaro at the School of Information and her choice to pair me with mentor Emily Puckett Rodgers at Open.Michigan. The class and mentorship were structured to give me the chance to explore my personal interest in open education and informal learning opportunities with a focus on information literacy and teaching.
After a few conversations and brainstorming sessions, Emily and I aimed to try and get the educational potential of the School of Open offline and into a group setting. It was an experiment to see how well an online and physical learning environment could work together.
We had some questions.
- Were the School of Open challenges able to support this kind of learning?
- What benefits would there be to learning something like Creative Commons in this sort of setting?
- How do we record the evidence and learning that is taking place?
We couldn’t answer these questions, or any of the other many questions we had. But we were ready to learn something from this event.
The session drew in participants of all different backgrounds from experts in CC/open licensing at Open.Michigan to students interested in librarianship, information policy, and even a student Wikipedian at the University of Michigan. The informal setting allowed for flexibility and creativity on how the session would evolve. I wanted participants to pick how they wanted to learn as long as they followed two measures of engagement:
- That they created an account with P2PU if they didn’t have one, and
- To comment and engage with the actual challenge and its tasks in the discussion areas.
I asked for participants to abide by these measures to encourage them to preserve evidence of the types of learning and questions that were inspired by the session and to encourage them to (hopefully) explore P2PU and the School of Open more at a later date.
As seen above, and as evidenced in the “Get CC Savvy” challenge discussion fields, eight of us worked together to explore the content, ask questions, post comments, and discuss personal perspectives and experiences relating to Creative Commons. We were even lucky enough to have an audio clip captured (it can be found and listened to in the discussion section of Task 3 in Get CC Savvy) and a fairly immediate response from Jane Park, CC Project Manager and P2PU founding volunteer, to one of the participants questions. The multimedia evidence and outside engagement really enhanced the experience and created a rich environment for learning.
While the hour and a half session allowed for this in-depth exploration of Creative Commons, it also taught us about how group dynamics and other factors impact the takeaways and experience.
- This experience was unique in that it actually had experts in the room, including Open Education Specialist Piet Kleymeer who helped build the challenge. While this won’t always be the case for others who choose to develop workshops like this, it definitely allowed for a more dynamic conversation and avenues of exploration than if there had not been someone to field questions. Even though we were fortunate in this aspect, it makes me question how deeply one might explore content like Creative Commons in an online module without that facilitation.
- Sometimes things built for individual work and short answer don’t always help facilitate a group effort to work through the material. Some of the exercise answers and singular tasks required more front-end effort to structure it into conversations to draw out the participatory aspect of the workshop. While P2PU and School of Open are not necessarily built to support live group workshops as a main source of learning, is there a better way to facilitate this method of learning the challenge content on P2PU?
- Capturing the learning that happens in a group can be hard (especially when working through an online module). Early on, we were so involved in the conversation that we had hardly realized no one had captured the ideas we had discussed. Sometimes a discussion board might capture central ideas or themes but it cannot capture the dialogue and discussion that leads to ideas or encourage further exploration that happens in groups. Some of the best learning occurs in collaborative spaces and it is something that should be preserved and shared when possible.
With all this in mind, would I do it again? Definitely. It is inspiring to participate in a conversation with minds that strive to understand, explore, and challenge ideas, new or mastered. The opportunity to see the group engagement play out before my eyes shows me the meaningfulness of the material and the ability of collaborative thought to spark interest beyond the framework of a challenge– where informal learning really starts to take shape.
Kudos to Victoria and Open.Michigan for piloting this School of Open class! If you’d also like to contribute to building this initiative:
- Visit http://schoolofopen.org. Register for a P2PU account and take or help improve one of the courses listed in various stages of development.
- Join the discussion and introduce yourself and your field of “open” interest: https://groups.google.com/group/school-of-open.
- Create a course. You can create directly on the P2PU platform or use http://pad.p2pu.org for collaborative editing. Just make sure to email the list or the Project Manager (that’s me) with a link to the working draft so we can help.
One Thursday a few weeks ago, just as most of us at Creative Commons were on our way home for the evening, we saw this startling tweet:
@creativecommons You need to know: ~30 maths enthusiasts begin a CC-BY course book hackathon in five hours in Helsinki, Finland.
— Joonas Mäkinen (@JoonasD6) September 28, 2012
Of course we had to learn more. I contacted Joonas Mäkinen to get more information, and he explained to me that he’d helped organize a team to write a secondary school mathematics textbook over a weekend, in an event called Oppikirjamaraton (“textbook marathon”). The book was to be licensed CC BY, so that anyone could reuse or remix it in Finland or around the world.
The text — now in version .91 in GitHub — is called Vapaa Matikka. The title translates as “Free Math,” but since matikka can also mean “burbot,” the book’s title also reads as “free fish” and its slogan — Matikka verkosta vapauteen — could be either a rallying cry to keep educational resources free and open or an instruction to free a fish from a net.
But I was interested in more than math puns. I wanted to find out how the book sprint had gone, what the team was planning to do with the textbook, and what advice he had for others organizing similar events. This interview was conducted by email between October 2 and 5.
What range of math concepts does the book cover?
It is a text book for the first advanced level mathematics course in Finnish upper secondary (high) schools. Although people who just start the course have usually just finished their mandatory primary school studies, we decided to take quite a “for dummies” approach and try to minimize all the prerequisites.
We introduce rational numbers, go through the arithmetic of them and real numbers in general. Power rules and roots follow and lead to the very basics of equation solving and the concept of a function. The most important applications of all this are proportionality and percentage calculations. Even with the freedom of writing we had we were tied to the current curriculum.
Tell me more about the curriculum requirements. Are they the same throughout Finland?
There is one national curriculum and everyone follows it. The only standardized tests you get are your finals, or matriculation examinations as they are known here, so some book series approach topics in a slightly different order than others. There is some flexibility and writing a course book based on the curriculum was easy.
Doesn’t change the fact that the curriculum sucks, though. The first reaction from a lot of participants was: “Can we write a new curriculum first?” And I understand them. We don’t have wars over content as I’ve understood you have in the USA, though. It’s more about how certain topics are grouped together in courses.
In the case of advanced level mathematics, there are 10 national, mandatory courses that consist of approximately 18 75-minute lessons. Plus a few optional courses, plus a lot more if you’re in a science- or math-focused school. An example of a highly non-mathematical, non-systematic grouping would be for example a course which is supposed to cover sequences and trigonometric functions. These two have nothing in common at this level. They could if series expansions and complex numbers were taught earlier, but nooooo…
What was the breakdown of participants? Was everyone involved an educator? Did participants have prior experience writing or editing textbooks?
There were over 20 people who partook in writing that weekend. We had regular upper secondary teachers, university students (mathematics and computer science), a teacher of automotive electronics, my own private students, and even a couple of university professors working both locally and remotely. We had our own inner circle of enthusiastic grammar nazis, too, to help us actually write grammatically and typographically better materials than you see in some books by big publishers. The diversity of people involved turned out to be a great resource for producing a variety of problems and perspectives.
A few people had experience writing and publishing a “normal,” old-fashioned commercial book, but that experience didn’t seem to divide people into groups at all when we actually started working.
How did you organize yourselves? Were people’s roles in the project determined before the weekend began?
Vesa Linja-aho, who got the idea of this booksprint/hackathon in the first place, was our de facto PR and bureaucracy guy. Lauri Hellsten promised to take the main role in creating much-needed graphics at the set. Other than them, no writer was predestined any specific work. Surely quite a few people had their own topics they really, really wanted to write about, but all in all the whole writing process was very spontaneous and dynamic.
— Joonas Mäkinen (@JoonasD6) September 30, 2012
How much preparation happened ahead of time? Did you enter the weekend with an outline of the book? Schedules?
After realizing that this could be a big thing we just sort of waited for our friends and friends’ friends to fill out a Doodle poll about which weekend we should pick. I planned a table of contents beforehand to have something as a starting point, but it was modified very heavily during Friday and Saturday. Juhapekka Tolvanen made us some LaTeX layout templates beforehand, and we also had one planning meeting but that was not really about content but more about technology: which version management systems we should use, etc. Most of the planning in general was just about getting potential sponsors, writing a press release, checking where we can actually do the writing work, did we have enough laptops, and so on.
One funny copyright anecdote: we had gathered up pretty much all available, related text books. You know, to check how others have explained this and that. Another reason was that in mathematics education (and obviously in other subjects too) there are usually many “pathological” examples and exercises that it’s good for everyone to go though, so you keep running into and using the same tasks again and again. Vesa Linja-aho had received a written decision earlier from the local copyright council that exercises do not constitute works and thus are not copyrightable. Nevertheless, a teacher who had written one of the books we had with us commented and reminded us on our Facebook page that it’s not right to copy others’ work. We got some good laughs out of that.
What did you learn from the experience? What was more difficult than you expected? What advice would you give others planning a similar sprint?
Get the tech side done before you start, and that will save everybody’s nerves and time for the actual writing! We used LaTeX to write and typeset the whole book and Github to handle versions, but hassling with both caused a lot of delays during the first two days. Most people were not familiar with Git and version conflicts and other funnies took maybe a half of our time. Just think what we could have achieved if everyone had had their laptops completely ready…
Some guys were still debating if we should add this and that during Saturday and Sunday, and that was something people should try to avoid. In sprints like this, it’s always the best to just keep writing more content – it’s always easier to comment out or edit something later on. Some arguments got pretty heated a couple of times, but that might also be the lack of sleep talking. Keep it cool and remember to have fun!
What’s next? Is there a revision or review period planned? Are there educators planning to teach from it?
The immediate physiological response after finishing the marathon on Sunday was euphoria. Everyone agreed immediately to organize another sprint. The technical delays and lack of graphics artists made sure that our book didn’t reach the level of ready that we’d just send it to printing immediately, but it’s alive now: people keep sending “bug reports” over Github and all participants have continued to make improvements: fixing typos, adding exercises, fixing inconsistencies…
Our book is now version 0.9, and we’ll wait a couple of weeks till we say it’s appropriately ready for translations and focused printing. Though, we’ve already been hearing that the book has been used as a handbook by a couple of teachers, some have been giving their students exercises from the book and so forth. And of course I and other writers have used it as a resource, too, when teaching our own students. After some polishing we’re pretty sure it’ll be used in plenty of places. Another kick in popularity will come when we continue with the rest of the courses (since schools don’t like to switch book series between courses).
The project was so fun and well-received that we’ll have our next sprint on the second course soon!1 Comment »