Tuesday’s Connexions conference (see here for the full programme) and the content and coding sprint days which followed were a fantastic experience: there was some great talks (both the keynote, Susan Badger, and the session on “Impact: Faculty and Student Perspectives” were particular highlights) with much discussion about what “next steps” were needed to take OER, and in particular open textbooks, to the next level. A big shout out to anybody I connected with over the duration of the conference – thank you for taking the time out to chat with me, and find out more about what we are doing on the OER Research Hub project. The content and coding days were equally productive: my time was spent both interviewing and finding out more about, and working with others, on Wikipedia articles. More on both these activities below, or in a future post.
My tweets from the conference are available here: @BeckPitt. However, I’ve also put together some supplemental thoughts/scribblings from the sessions. Whilst by no means complete or representative of entire talks or sessions, these notes compliment/overlap with my tweets. I hope they’ll be useful…
Publisher Engagement with OER: “A pat on the head for Open…”
Susan Badger, was the conference keynote: “OER: If Not Now, When?” Describing how she moved from a position of thinking that innovation in OER would originate from corporations, Susan eventually left the publishing industry (Pearson) disillusioned. For Susan the “crim[inal]” strategy of publishers (whose motive is profit) is one which “passif[ies] the OER movement” by perpetuating the idea that OER is a “supplemental resource” in learning and teaching. For Susan publisher involvement in OER/OpenTextbooks is a “trojan horse” due to commercial interest. Susan was clear that remixing content is critical, that “complete solutions” are missing and “visibility” of OER remain key issues for the movement. Content is needed which is “ready-to-go with tweaking.”
Susan’s talk highlighted many of the the 2012 Babson Report (funded by Hewlett and Pearson) findings, which look at “barriers to widespread adoption of OER material in Higher Education.” You can read an overview of the findings here. Key areas to address include raising “awareness” of OER and enabling it to be found more easily (“search-ability”) and the “perception of quality” of OER. Susan also stressed that there is “confusion over what OER is” which, as faculty have “less help” than previously, is being exploited by publishers: “Big publishers live on faculty apathy.”
For Barbara the way forward is to understand and respond to student needs (e.g. they “like print,” used textbooks are “convenient and collateral” and maintaining “choices” is central), ensure that educators are “empowered to do remixing” and look for “big piece solutions” (e.g. whole courses which are easily remixable). She also suggested that Student PIRGs should, as Pearson do with their own advocates, look to “recruit an army” to help raise awareness of OER and open textbooks. From Barbara’s perspective “adaptive learning is the future of the industry” and OER must take appropriate action to ensure that it has a “big seat at the table.”
“Transforming the OER User Experience”
Some notes on this panel session, which unveiled both a new YouTube video for OpenStax (OS) and more information on the Connexions platform rework.
Richard Baraniuk (Rice/Connexions) opened this session with some great news: OpenStax College Physics now has over 3% of the physics book market! OpenStax has saved students, to date and since June 2012 (as David Harris would later note, this launch was “outside the adoption” timeframe for educators; a fact which makes the impact of OS all the more impressive), $2.3 million. Moreover, OpenStax has 1.2 million unique users (from 200 countries) and 160 schools have formally adopted the textbooks. You can view the new video on OpenStax, which was launched at the conference, here.
Further detail on the new Connexions platform was also unveiled during this session: as Daniel Williamson (Rice/Connexions) described it the new platform “unlock[s] the promise of remix” with “semantic content” extended and a new Editor tool.
“Opening Up the MOOC: Different Perspectives”
The panel session with Andrew Ng (Coursera) and Don Johnson (Rice), described as a “seasoned Coursera instructor” by Richard Baraniuk, was illuminating.
Coursera have 300 courses and over 3.3 million students. Both Andrew and Don reflected on the ways in which “high quality content” was produced through the Coursera Wiki system, student feedback and collaboration on lecture notes. Later Andrew would note that 40% of Coursera users are from the “developing world” in comparison to Khan Academy, who have 80% of their users based in the US. Coursera are currently in discussion with NGOs regarding use of their materials in countries where learners have limited or no internet access.
Andrew stressed that it was the personal relationships formed with educators and fellow students which were of “real value” and unique to University study. As he would later describe it: there is “something almost sacred about the student/professor relation”. From this perspective, and in order to maximise student/faculty contact time, he proposed that MOOCs could be an effective enabler: giving people the space to “have those amazing conversations.” Proposing a “flipped learning” approach, Andrew noted that using a MOOC to provide the lecture content etc. outside of the classroom environment had the potential to “preserves valuable classroom time.”
Both Don and Andrew, as educators, stated that they were not interested in the potential money to be made from their course materials. For Andrew “do[ing] what’s best for the student is Coursera’s number one rule.” Andrew also made a number of remarks concerning certification; including describing technology which can verify a student’s identity through one’s unique “tapping rhythm” (e.g. keystrokes).