open textbook

US Department of Labor Invests in Open Educational Resources

Cable Green, October 2nd, 2012

In September, the Obama administration announced $500 million in grants to community colleges around the country for the development of professional training programs under the new Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training initiative (TAA-CCCT), run by the US Department of Labor in coordination with the Department of Education. This is the second round of grants in a four-year initiative totaling $2 billion.

For the first time in a federal initiative of this size, grantees are required to license the training materials they produce under the Creative Commons Attribution licence. In her speech announcing the grants, Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis stressed that the open-licensing requirement will make it easier for education providers to build on each other’s work.

It’s striking that this announcement comes within days of California’s first-of-its-kind open textbook legislation. As more government agencies begin to require publicly funded learning resources to be openly licensed, the more impact those resources will have. As Ms. Solis put it in her speech, “‘We’re stronger when we work together’ [is] not just a statement of American values. It’s also a winning strategy for growth.”

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Open Course Library Launches 1st 42 Courses

Cable Green, November 2nd, 2011

On Monday, the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC) released the first 42 of the state’s high-enrollment 81 Open Course Library courses. The remaining 39 courses will be finished by 2013. Funded by the Washington State Legislature and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Open Course Library joins the global open educational resources (OER) movement, and adheres to SBCTC’s open policy, which requires that all materials created through system grants be openly licensed for the public to freely use, adapt and distribute.

All courses are available under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 unported license (CC-BY).

The first 42 courses are available in multiple technical formats including:

Michael Kenyon’s students at Green River Community College used to pay nearly $200 for a new pre-calculus textbook. Now they pay only $20 for a book – or use it online for free. Kenyon’s pre-calculus textbook (CC BY SA) was written by community college faculty David Lippman and Melonie Rasmussen, who teach at Pierce College Fort Steilacoom. “We looked at a lot of textbooks,” Kenyon said. “There are some people who think this is the best book out there.”

“The courses were created with the needs of Washington’s college students in mind,” said Tom Caswell, SBCTC Open Education Policy Associate. “And with the idea we would share the courses with the world.”

Each course was developed and peer reviewed by a team of instructors, instructional designers and librarians. Use of the course materials is optional, but many faculty and departments are already moving to adopt them.

According to an informal study by the Student Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs), the Open Course Library could save students as much as $41.6 million on textbooks annually if adopted at all of Washington’s community and technical colleges. The study also estimates that the 42 faculty course developers will save students $1.26 million by using the materials during the 2011-2012 school year, which alone exceeds the $1.18 million cost of creating the 42 courses. “These savings will not only help Washington’s students afford college, but clearly provide a tremendous return on the original investment,” said Nicole Allen, Textbook Advocate for the Student PIRGs.

Justin Hamilton, press secretary for the U.S. Department of Education, said the Washington state effort was groundbreaking for the nation. “Lowering college costs increases a student’s ability to take more courses, finish their degree on time, and enter the workforce prepared for success in a global economy. That’s not just good for them, it’s good for the country.”

“It really is the beginning of the end of closed, expensive, proprietary commercial textbooks that are completely disconnected from today’s reality,” said Rep. Reuven Carlyle (D-Seattle) of Washington State’s 36th District, a champion of the Open Course Library and OER. “This is a significant state investment in this era of massive budget cuts. We had little choice but to seize the opportunity of this crisis to challenge the status quo of the old-style cost models in both K-12 and higher education.”

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“Python for Informatics” Open Textbook Remixed in 11 Days

Timothy Vollmer, February 5th, 2010

Image: dr-chuckCC BY

Chuck Severance, clinical professor at the University of Michigan’s School of Information, recently published a new textbook in 11 days because he was able to remix an existing textbook. The book, Python for Informatics: Exploring Information, is currently being used in his winter semester Networked Computing course. The textbook is based on the openly licensed book Think Python: How to Think like a Computer Scientist by Allen B. Downey. Students are able to take advantage of the University Library’s Espresso Book Machine to print on-demand copies for approximately $10. Python for Informatics is available under a CC BY-SA license.

Severance explains, “the book is a cool example of a situation where I’ve finally got to the ‘remixing’ bit of the Open promise.” The first 10 chapters are done and eight more are planned for completion by April 2010. Read more of Chuck’s thoughts about remixing an open book.

Creating this open textbook was a part of a larger effort by Chuck to support his course with openly licensed  content, and current versions of lecture slides and videos are published via the PythonLearn website.  In a past iteration of the course, Chuck went through the dScribe process developed by Open.Michigan to create an OER version of SI 502, available under a CC BY license.

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Back to School: It’s Raining Textbooks

Jane Park, September 3rd, 2009

As students around the world return to school, ccLearn blogs about the evolving education landscape, ongoing projects to improve educational resources, education technology, and the future of education. Browse the “Back to School” tag for more posts in this series.

All that matters in the news these days is health care, that is, health care and textbooks. The terms “education” and “textbook” go hand in hand, and nobody, at least at the state levels, is keen on separating the two. With California’s Free Digital Textbook Initiative recently announcing the approval of some 20 digital textbooks, a futuristic vision of Kindle kids scrolling with razor-like focus floats like bubbles before our eyes.

However, last month, the New York Times reported, “In a Digital Future, Textbooks Are History,” that textbooks may be “supplanted altogether by lessons assembled from the wealth of free courseware, educational games, videos and projects on the Web.” The article pointed to Beyond Textbooks, an initiative that “encourages teachers to create — and share — lessons that incorporate their own PowerPoint presentations, along with videos and research materials they find by sifting through reliable Internet sites.” Beyond Textbooks disassociates itself from “canned curriculum”, or “vanilla curriculum,” reproaching the linear nature of textbooks– “No longer is instruction limited by the resources in one building, or even one district. Beyond Textbooks gives you the whole world!”

My own post on OnOpen.net follows a similar train of thought, and is aptly named, “Beyond the Textbook: I. The Illusion of Quality in K-12 Education“. In it, I challenge the public perception that educational quality will suffer without textbooks, and talk about whether textbooks really need saving.

Other news sources are also skeptical. The Scientific American prefaces its article, “Open-Source Textbooks a Mixed Bag in California,” with the caveat, “Downloadable and free, maybe–but the schoolhouse Wiki revolution will have to wait.” Granted, SA seems to be conflating “open-source” and “digital” here (open-source is generally associated with openly licensed textbooks, otherwise known as open textbooks, while digital is, well, digital like everything else we come across in today’s world) and it is unclear if they are skeptical of simply digitizing the “Bulky, hefty and downright expensive, conventional school textbooks” that have been persisting for years, or if they are averse to the digital revolution in education generally.

Still, the ReadWriteWeb is more optimistic, pointing out initiatives like Flat World Knowledge which focus on gaining revenue through the sale of supplementary materials surrounding their textbooks, which are themselves openly available via CC BY-NC-SA, and are therefore not only freely accessible, but adaptable, derivable, and even republishable, though for noncommercial purposes and under the same license. Co-founder Eric Frank distinguishes between traditional textbooks and open textbooks, emphasizing that open textbooks creates more options: “Traditional textbooks have clearly failed students and instructors. Similarly, digital textbook trials that force a single format, device, or price point will also fail. No single e-reading format or device will ever satisfy all students. Our commercial open-source textbook approach puts control and the power of choice in the hands of students and instructors.”

However, you can’t help but wonder if all this hooplah around textbooks is “[falling] flat.” Is the power of choice really in the hands of teachers and students? If traditional textbooks “have clearly failed” them, but that traditional textbook adoption process is not about to budge, are we simply arguing about which direction to steer the Titanic after we have already hit the iceberg?

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$8 Million Investment in Flatworld Knowledge

Jane Park, March 27th, 2009

Flatworld Knowledge, an open textbook initiative that has been in development since 2007, received $8 million in investments earlier this week. That’s right. $8 million. In investments, not grants.

The open textbook world got a lot of press last fall, and I’m guessing that not long after it started piquing the interest of the rich (and maybe famous). I don’t know; have you heard of Valhalla Partners, Greenhill SAVP, and High Peaks Venture Partners? They, along with several angel investors, are the ones who believe Flatworld Knowledge (aka open textbooks) will be the next big thing. From the press release:

“This is an exciting investment,” said Hooks Johnston, General Partner at Valhalla Partners. “Like MP3′s blew up the delivery model for recorded music, the blogosphere and online news sources blew up the newspaper business, Flat World Knowledge is poised to blow up the college textbook market. We’re backing the perfect team to make it happen.”

What makes an open textbook? Open licensing. Flatworld Knowledge currently has 22 business and economics textbooks in development, with 10 titles set for faculty review (almost) right about now. All of their textbooks will be open under one of the Creative Commons licenses, allowing you to not only freely access the books online, but to adapt, modify, and derive them, depending on the license.

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Flexbooks in beta

Jane Park, March 16th, 2009

Today marks the beginning of the second half of the month, and with it, the Ides of March are safely behind us. What else is behind us: the beta launches of several Flexbooks, aka the CK-12 Foundation‘s version of open source textbooks.

The most notable Flexbook is the one we mentioned last fall—notable because of its integral tie to state standards via a partnership with the Commonwealth of Virginia. The textbook now has a title, 21st Century Physics FlexBook: A Compilation of Contemporary and Emerging Technologies. According to Government Computer News, the effort was statewide, “a collaborative effort by the state departments of Technology and Education and volunteer educators, engineers and scientists using Web-based tools to quickly up-date educational resources” to “provide students with timely information about nanoscience, dark matter, quarks and leptons.” This only makes sense as Physics (and science in general) is a rapidly changing field that the traditional textbook review process cannot keep up with. Open textbooks, on the other hand, are instantly editable and constantly changing; you could even say that they are perpetually in beta.

Don’t hesitate to check it out, along with the myriad other Flexbooks up for review. All Flexbooks are licensed CC BY-SA.

What’s ahead of CK-12: the progression of existing Flexbooks and the partnerships they have with other states, where some are working on companion teacher editions.

Also, spring!

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The Student-engineered Open Textbook: Chemical Process Dynamics and Controls

Jane Park, December 4th, 2008

It is commonly known that students learn by doing—by practicing, rather than simply soaking in, the information that is taught them in the classroom. But it is also commonly known that anyone can obtain information; the internet is chock-full of the stuff; all one has to do is type in a few key words and hit search. The reality is that formal education, aka the classroom, can no longer be, and no longer is, just one side of this perceived divorce in education: the acquisition of knowledge versus the practice of it. 

Open education acknowledges that information is abundant, and that it takes someone to organize, interpret, and make it meaningful. This is one value that formal and higher education still offers the net generation, those bred on Google and Wikipedia. The culling of data becomes the responsibility of professionals, their peers, and their students—the results of which are high quality educational resources available to the rest of the world. 

The Chemical Engineering Department at the University of Michigan has taken this idea of synthesis and run with it. They have integrated the practice of knowledge into class curriculum, by requiring students to contribute to an open textbook in wiki format—Chemical Process Dynamics and Controls. Since 2006, senior chemical engineering students have been developing this resource, building off of the preceding year’s work. The result is a comprehensive and dynamic textbook, available for free on the web, that is both high quality and openly licensed under CC BY. Though you must be a member of the class to directly edit the wiki text, nothing prevents the rest of the world from copying and deriving it for their own uses—even republishing it and distributing it at a low cost in concrete form is possible.

Originally conceptualized by Peter Woolf (Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering and Biomedical Engineering) with help from Leeann Fu, the system of textbook creation is anything but haphazard. Each week, a team of students is selected to become “experts” on a particular topic. The students research and present on the topic, adding the relevant text and diagrams to the wiki. The wiki’s content is further vetted by “the faculty and Graduate Student Instructors (GSIs)” who “act as managing editors, selecting broad threads for the text and suggesting references.” They also check for copyright issues, and the students are encouraged to re-use public domain materials.

In contrast to other courses, the students take an active role in their education by selecting which material in their assigned section is most useful and decide on the presentation approach. Furthermore, students create example problems that they present in poster sessions during class to help the other students master the material.

In addition, full class lectures in video format and powerpoint presentations are available on the wiki, also under CC BYCC BY is the most appropriate license for educational materials, since all one has to do is attribute the original authors. The freedoms to copy, adapt, remix, and redistribute are crucial to advancing progress in education.

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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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Back to School: Open Textbooks Gaining in Popularity

Jane Park, September 16th, 2008

There’s been a whole lot of press on open textbooks lately, in addition to my own posts on the Flexbook and the Student PIRGs’ recent report encouraging open source textbooks as the right model for digital textbooks (versus the limited e-books that commercial publishers currently offer). The difference in open source and commercial e-books is wide and deep. Open textbooks are freely editable, downloadable and repurposable by others, keeping with the notion that the search for truth in any academic field is continually being revised, especially in the science and technology fields. The perpetual beta status of knowledge is not just an oxymoron; the old fashioned textbook is simply outdated in this age of lightning fast communications. Furthermore, students and many professors are just not having it anymore.

The New York Times article, “Don’t Buy That Textbook, Download It Free,” features an interview with Cal Tech professor, R. Preston McAfee, who offers his “Introduction to Economic Analysis” online for free. Another article by the LA Times reports best-selling co-author Steven D. Levitt of Freakonomics calling McAfee brilliant. If brilliant minds putting out open textbooks and students buying in (for free and for low-cost print versions on places like Lulu.com and Flatworld Knowledge) are not an indication of a revolution in textbook making, I don’t know what is.

The numbers don’t lie either. Quotes the NY Times on McAfee:

If I had finished my own book, I would have finished a couple years ago,” [McAfee] said. “It would have taken five years. It would have spent five years in print and sold 2,000 copies.” Instead, he said, he posted it on the Web site and there have been 2.8 million page views of his textbook, “Signals and Systems,” including a translation into Spanish.

Wired also quotes a long-timer in the traditional textbook industry, Eric Frank, who is getting with the changing times: “The nice thing about open content is it gives faculty full control, creative control over the content of the book, full control over timing, and it give students a lot more control over how they want to consume it and how much they want to pay”…“On the surface they’re (traditional publishers) doing OK, but underneath the surface there are lots of problems.”

A long-existing and solid promoter of the open textbook is Connexions, an online platform “for collaboratively developing, freely sharing, and rapidly publishing scholarly content on the Web.” Connexions, created by Rice University’s Richard Baraniuk, initiated a new way of thinking about textbooks: 

“Most textbooks are a mass of information in linear format: one topic follows after another. However, our brains are not linear – we learn by making connections between new concepts and things we already know. Connexions mimics this by breaking down content into smaller chunks, called modules, that can be linked together and arranged in different ways. This lets students see the relationships both within and between topics and helps demonstrate that knowledge is naturally interconnected, not isolated into separate classes or books.”

According to the NY Times, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, a staunch supporter of the open educational resources (OER) movement, has granted $6 million to Connexions alone. Connexions licenses all of its content CC BY, the license that allows the greatest sharing capabilities and creativity for education, while still retaining authorship and thereby greater quality in collaborative output.

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Solution is Open Textbooks

Jane Park, August 26th, 2008

In January, the Student PIRGs launched the Make Textbooks Affordable campaign “to encourage faculty to adopt open educational resources in their classrooms” in the form of open textbooks and other classroom materials. Read ccLearn’s post on it from January.

Recently, the Student PIRGs released their findings after examining digital textbooks and surveying 500 students in the following report: “Course Correction: How Digital Textbooks are Off Track and How to Set Them Straight“. Nicole Allen, the campaign’s director, writes:

“I think this report helps draw a brighter line between the good and bad of digital textbooks. I think open textbooks too often get lumped into the overarching category of digital books, which does not do them justice as a solution.  We hope it will help refocus all of the momentum for digital textbooks toward the right kind of digital textbooks – open.”

The report highlights the defects of e-books offered currently by commercial publishers. (See the LA Times and The Wired Campus articles.) In addition to being expensive, they are accessible by students for only a limited time and cost a great deal for those who would like to print them. Open textbooks, on the other hand, are free and downloadable, giving students access to their own copy forever in addition to the abilities to reuse, remix or repurpose them under the terms of an open license.

The report itself is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA. You can download a copy.

One example of a commercial entity releasing an open textbook: Quirk eMarketing released “The Essential Guide to Online Marketing” last month under CC BY-NC-ND.

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