A Brief Overview of U.S. Public Policy on OER from California’s Community Colleges to the Obama Administration
The Publius Project at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society offers a new essay on OER and public policy in the United States: A Brief Overview of U.S. Public Policy on OER from California’s Community Colleges to the Obama Administration . Written by Carolina Rossini and Erhardt Graeff, it does a great job of pointing out the major recent movements toward OER in state and federal governments, and thoughtfully evaluates the issues that each initiative brings to the table.
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“This post draws significantly from an interview on August 10, 2009 with Hal Plotkin, a Senior Advisor at the U.S. Dept. of Education, who has closely followed and been involved with OER policies in California. The interview was part of research on the educational materials sector being conducted under the Industrial Cooperation Project at the Berkman Center at Harvard University. The research is part of a broader project being led by Prof. Yochai Benkler and coordinated by Carolina Rossini. In the research, we are seeking to understand the approaches to innovation in some industrial sectors, such as alternative energy, educational materials, and biotechnology. The intention is to map the degree to which open and commons-based practices are being used compared to proprietary approaches and what forces drive the adoption and development of these models.”
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?No Comments »
Back in March, we were so excited about the new Physics Flexbook aligned to Virginia’s state standards that we had to catch up with the foundation that helped to make it possible. The obvious choice was Neeru Khosla, co-founder of the CK-12 Foundation, “a non-profit organization with a mission to reduce the cost of textbook materials for the K-12 market both in the U.S. and worldwide.” The Flexbook is their web-based platform for open textbooks (openly licensed via CC BY-SA) which maximizes and enhances collaboration across district, county, and state lines. In fact, their use is not even limited by country, since CC licenses are global and non-exclusive. Anyone can collaborate, improve, and iterate without having to ask. “The good thing about that is we don’t have to tell people what they can do or cannot do. The power of the system is that it is useable under any condition. All you have to do is use it.”
The open educational resources movement has been picking up steam lately, even attracting the attention of legislators. What’s hot in the new Persian year (aka the start of spring) is the recently introduced “OER Bill“. What’s that, you say?
Well in its own words, it’s a bill “To require Federal agencies to collaborate in the development of freely-available open source educational materials in college-level physics, chemistry, and math, and for other purposes.”
Like David Wiley, we also don’t quite trust our eyes. (Italics don’t really do it justice either.)
Read further, and you’ll see that the bill requires all federal agencies expending more than $10,000,000 a year on scientific education and outreach to “use at least 2 percent of such funds for the collaboration on the development and implementation of open source materials as an educational outreach effort in accordance with subsection.”
The bill also complains a great deal about the cost of closed (versus open) textbooks. This is an undeniable fact that might finally get recognized by Congress. Read the full bill now.No Comments »
Last week, a bill enabling the California Community Colleges to integrate open educational resources (OER) into its core curriculum was signed into law by Governor Schwarzenegger. AB 2261 authorizes the Board of Governors of the California Community Colleges “to establish a pilot program to provide faculty and staff from community college districts around the state with the information, methods, and instructional materials to establish open education resources centers.” The program would provide a structure by which community college faculty and staff could vet and repurpose OER in order to create high quality course materials and textbooks for college students. The resulting materials would themselves be openly licensed or available in the public domain so that they could be further adapted and repurposed for future and individual contexts. High quality OER would also set a new and much needed economic standard for publishers, who currently charge exorbitant prices for college textbooks. According to the LA times, textbook prices accounted for almost 60% of a community college student’s educational costs last year.
“This is the first legislation that puts the state of California squarely behind those of us who are working to create free, high-quality, vetted public domain — or “open” — educational resources for community college students, who stand to save literally hundreds of millions of dollars over the coming decade as a result.
The scholar David Wiley has observed that introducing Open Educational Resources into the public education system is the most significant development since the establishment of Land Grant colleges and universities in the mid 1800′s.
What’s also wonderful is the knowledge that, even in these difficult days when our system seems so very broken, an ordinary citizen like me can still offer up a useful idea and see it enacted into law.”
See the news article on this here, and the latest version of the bill here. The Foothill-De Anza Community College District in Silicon Valley is a leading institution in the open education movement; they established the Community College Consortium for Open Educational Resources (CCCOER) last year, which exists “to identify, create and/or repurpose existing OER as Open Textbooks and make them available for use by community college students and faculty.”1 Comment »
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.No Comments »