Say What? Jonathan Poritz Records All CC Certificate Content As Openly Licensed Audio!

Jennryn Wetzler
Image: Jonathan Poritz, Director of Teaching and Learning and an Associate Professor in the Department of Mathematics and Physics, both at Colorado State University-Pueblo.

Creative Commons provides educators and the expertise they need to harness Open Educational Resources (OER). We strive to make education more accessible to more people around the world. One way we do this is through our CC Certificate training, which is licensed CC BY 4.0 and available for use. 

Today, we’re delighted to announce our training materials are now available as audio files licensed CC BY 4.0. Thanks to the fantastic work of Jonathan Poritz, we can now offer materials in another format for learners. Jonathan Poritz has been contributing to open education efforts for nearly a decade* and facilitates CC Certificate courses regularly.

To celebrate the recent additions to our open licensed CC Certificate resources, we asked Jonathan a few questions. Our interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

CC: Thank you for your hours of work making the CC Certificate OER available in a new format, and improving the accessibility of our resources. What a gift. Can you tell us about your process for this? 

Poritz: So the process was pretty simple: I just went into my clothes closet and read the whole thing to my laptop.  The clothes closet seems to be the place with the best acoustics in my house.

Editor’s note: Jonathan elaborated in a conversation with CC Certificate participants, noting: “I would go in there, close the door, and record for a while. … when I was too hot…I’d take a break out in the world!”

I’m actually not being facetious here. I work a lot in Open Educational Resources (OER) at my university and in my home state (Colorado, USA).  When I talk to people about making and using OER, one thing I like to emphasize is that only OER gives teachers and learners real agency: because of the open licensing—Creative Commons licensing, which enables OER—a teacher can retain, reuse, redistribute, revise, and remix OER.  In other words, only OER allows for real pedagogical academic freedom, real autonomy, and agency for teachers and learners. 

I think of myself as a “Z-professor,” in that I only use OER in my teaching. The “Z-this” and “Z-that” terminology is used in the OER world to describe things like zero textbook cost degree programs, also called “Z-Degrees” or “Zed Creds.” These programs use entirely OER or other zero-cost resources, so I’m used to having that kind of agency.  When it occurred to me that an audio version of the CC Certificate materials should be made and that it would enable more learners to access this fantastic resource, I just went into my closet and recorded it!

A Zed Cred/Z-Degree is a “set of courses in a specific program area that allows a student to earn a credential, such as an associate degree or certificate program, with zero textbook costs by way of using open educational resources and/or free library materials.” Source: BCcampus Open Education program.

I knew I didn’t need to ask permission to do this because the CC Certificate materials are licensed CC BY 4.0, so I have all the permissions I need. Regarding the technical process, I happened to already have a pretty good external microphone, and the Audacity audio editing software, which is FLOSS (free/libre/open-source software).

CC: Do you have other ideas for how CC might increase the accessibility of our training resources? Or, ideas for people who are curious about accessing the CC Certificate course content? 

Poritz: Another version of the audiobook! When I got to the end of the full reading, I had more experience doing this than when I started, so I will do a better job the next time.  Fortunately, the CC team around the CC Certificate course regularly revises and improves the course materials, so I will have a chance to do a new audio version in a few months.

In a larger sense, it might be a good idea to get a real accessibility expert to look over the materials—I certainly do not have such expertise!  I knew about reading books out loud because I used to read math books for Reading for the Blind when I was a university student myself (100,000 years ago), but a real accessibility expert might have things to say.

Image: Jonathan Poritz recording audio in his closet at home! This image is licensed CC BY 4.0.

It seems to me that another thing CC can do is along the lines of that periodic revisit and improvement of the CC Certificate course materials.  It means that the materials are always tracking the best and most current knowledge about law, practices, policies, resources, etc.  I know that there are also discussions about how to improve the course in other ways (e.g. to use more methods of open pedagogy, to make it more relevant to a very international audience, etc.). This is a highly non-trivial task!  There are so many different legal systems around the world, and so many local traditions of educational and cultural production and consumption, it is hard for CC to make something that is localized to every one of those situations.  But (as you know!) there are some steps in this direction already.  For example, facilitators accept assignments from participants in their local languages, when the facilitators can read the languages, or when the participant attaches an automatic translation which they have checked for reasonable accuracy.  And, I understand, there are some additional translations of the course materials into other languages coming out soon!

To your second question: CC has given the world an amazing gift by releasing these materials with a CC BY license. It should go a long way to making this knowledge more widely accessible, across geographic and economic barriers.  The cost of formally taking the CC Certificate course does remain an obstacle, although the scholarship program has made tremendous inroads into that.

I do believe that taking the course provides benefits that just reading the CC BY licensed materials does not. Aside from the direct interaction with the other participants (and the section facilitator), there is always a sense of joining an absolutely amazing global community around openness that comes from working together on the course.  I’m humbled by the privilege of meeting and learning about these truly amazing groups of people and what they are doing, every single time I facilitate a course.

CC: After so many hours sweating in your clothes closet, what’s next? What do you hope to see in Open Education efforts given the “great pivot” to online teaching we’ve seen? 

Poritz: I have great hope, but also great fear about what’s happening right now in this great pivot.  As should be clear from the things I’ve said above, I think Open Education has a lot of solutions to offer to many issues in education.  In fact, as a “Z-professor,” I think “open” is the only way to go with education!

This crisis could help educators work (rush!) toward more open practices, or move in the opposite direction.  We in open communities must work to clarify and promote the solutions that open education offers—and a great many of us already are. We also need to highlight how problematic the closed approaches are to learners.  

If I had to list the issues which bedevil open education right now, my list might include: 

  • General lack of knowledge of open practices with which things like the CC Certificate course can help enormously. 
  • Lack of ancillary materials (automatic homework systems, test banks, etc.) for many OER, which many people are working to overcome.
  • Difficulty in finding existing OER for particular purposes, which again, people are improving. For example, there are various OER search tools, and CC Search is getting better all the time. 
  • Complex platforms to create and remix OER: also an area of rapid work and improvement.
  • Spotty record on accessibility for OER, although commercial resources are actually not all that much better!

I think the community can step up to improve accessibility, similar to how a random person with a quiet clothes closet can record any work with an open license and make it accessible to more people.

I’m headed back to the closet to record!  Maybe I’ll tackle a math OER textbook I wrote next—it should be an interesting challenge to try to describe all the equations, graphs, and diagrams!

CC: Thank you so much, Jonathan!

You can access the audio files on the CC Certificate website, or on Jonathan’s website!

*In addition to his work with the CC Certificate, Jonathan is the Director of Teaching and Learning and an Associate Professor in the Department of Mathematics and Physics, both at Colorado State University-Pueblo. He is also a member of the Colorado Department of Higher Education’s Open Educational Resources Council. Learn more about Jonathan here

The CC Certificate is an in-depth course about CC licenses, open practices, and the ethos of the Commons. The course is composed of readings, quizzes, discussions, and practical exercises to develop learners’ open skills. We provide personalized engagement with expert facilitators and copyright lawyers in the field.