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#opened15 Keynote 2 - Supporting Open Textbook Adoption in British Columbia

5 min read

Only two keynotes at Opened15 this year (keynotes are so over) - the second is David Porter (now at BCIT) and Mary Burgess (BC Campus Executive Director), two stalwarts of the BC Open Ed scene. You can follow them on twitter as @dendroglyph and @maryeburgess

(Superbly, Mary started by celebrating the hard work and passion of the one and only Clint Lalonde in making OpenEd15 happen. We love ya, Clint!)

Open Education in BC has been a 13 year journey, with numerous twists, turns and miss-steps along the way. It's a story of amazing people and an amazing community - all of whom could tell you how this *really* went down. Enlightened government in BC have invested in building the capacity for sharing in education, demonstrating what is unique and experimental about BC.

One of the forerunners was the Open Learning Agency, charged with making education accessible to BC citizens.

David introduced (after some tense moments of technical crisis) three short stories concerning some key voices in BC Open Ed, presented as video:

Clint Lalonde: His first involvement in (pre-opened) opened was as broadcast manager on CKMO, offering 12 week courses on radio production and over-the-air courses to the local area and then the world. Around 2004-5 Clinte was still at Camosun as a media developer, supporting the construction of a shared open course supported by BC. This (OPDF) programme exposed many in the province to open education.

Gina Bennett:  She donated materials to wikieducator in 2006, and was inspired by the chance to act on a passion.

Irwin DeVries: at TRU, was also in reciept of OPDF funds, and cited collaboration as a key benefit.

Set up in 06, BC Campus focuses on on collaboration in course development - vesting the intellectual property in the developers but requiring an open licencse.

Brian Lamb: During the learning object phase, Brian went to the IMS - a group focused on standards fror learning objects - and heard Stephen Downes urge for a focus on enabling activity, not overthinking standards.

Irwin Devries added that the sharing and the community, not the technology, was key.

Scott Leslie (#bigfan) contributed a lot to the way that Open Ed was considered globally and genuinely moved the field forward. We heard parts of Scott's legendary "educator as DJ" presentation.

Paul Stacey (seriously, this was like a who's who of canadian edtech) noted that BC funding fostered collaboration as a spur to openness, and established open practice in education.

Every institution in BC has participated in Open Education. But despite this opportunity, Paul sometimes faced issues in supporting some more conservative issues.

BC supported "OER Good Public Policy For Canada", as a way to bring wider Canada into the Open Education world. We heard Cable Green's contribution to this campaign.

Mary Burgess continued the story into the world of Open Textbooks. Textbooks are something that everyone understands, not an abstract like a learning object.. In 2012 John Yap announced that the start of the Open Textbook Programmes (we saw Giulia Forsythe's sketch note). The focus on highly enrolling programmes was seen as a constraint in some circles, but there was a clear demand from institutions for what remained a collaborative (in governance) project.

The project built on resources from around the world rather than starting from scratch. Connie Broughton and Una Daley were two prominent external advisors, as were the team from OpenStax.

A strong academic review process supported the quality of developed resources, via the use of faculty fellows from institutions around the province. Faculty, after all, want to hear from faculty. And a BC Open Librarians group was established.

The "pressbooks" platform was used to allow remixing and development, including a book-sprint that developed a textbook in 5 days. Localisation and adaptability were central planks. And the project team worked with CAPER-BC to support the development of resources that were truly accessible. 

Addressing the eternal question - "what's next?" - David Porter examined the need to scale up and grow adoption rates. "Open as default" was cited as a key project goal, which would require infrastructure, collaboration and leadership. Various previous contributors suggested goals around open pedagogy, credentialling, leadership buy-in and policy.

Mary concluded by showing the Tidewater College OER policy as a great example of institutional policy. She highlighted the role of libraries - and OER librarian in every institution. Todd Mundle and Gwen Bird spoke about the key infiltration role that library expertise lead to, and the student demand for open resources in both print and digital format.

And open pedagogy requires excellent faculty and instructional designers to develop and embed open practice. Rajiv Jhangiani noted the excitment and passion of open education.

David and Mary offered thanks to the many people who have been involved in open education in BC, and had contributed to the presentation (which was really much more of a community keynote than just David and Mary).

Questions concerned sustainability - and one response will be the project becoming less centralised and more embedded. It was hoped that institutions would take ownership of books that were important to them.

And on faculty progressing to tenure via open educational contributions, one example of the use of exemplary teaching and research informed open resources. International awards were one factor in her progression to tenure.


OpenEd15 first keynote: Michael Feldstein and Phil Hill, eLiterate

5 min read

Phil and Michael, two of the finest edtech analysts about, jointly publish the near-legendary "e-literate" blog, which makes more sense of the LMS than pretty much anything. Apparently "one of them is the funny one, one of them is the good-looking one" - is that the same one, I don't know?.

The set up is Michael first, then some discussion, then Phil and some more discussion. Irritation rather than inspiration is promised, and the picture of Staetdler and Waldorf is highly apt.


Michael kicked off by problematising the use of the term "scale" as a way of measuring effectiveness. But it is the scale of the problem that determines what it is you are trying to do - open education attempts to tackle many problems at a number of levels. This conference is split between being a professional association and a movement - there are movement values being expressed, but is there a genuine will to activism.

Understanding the goal and the commonly held theory of change is essential for any movement. Drawing from environmental activism, examples were given at the state and local levels in order to address a national and global issue. Convincing political actors at a local and regional level can be as simple (but still as difficult) as them recieving 50 well-written non-form letters.

Drawing attention away from "conventional" models of change, and supporting genuinely new ideas that change practices, is a very difficult process - where a well-funded incumbent is advocating for incremental change this can feel like a difficult fight. But accurate and timely rebuttal of false messages around cost and quality - especially pointing out hidden subsidies where they skew the cost picture - can be hugely powerful. Messaging can be managed carefully to attract those that are interested but not activist.

Like General Electric building windfarms, sometimes we can see morally complex companies benefiting from activist pressure. Sometimes we need to find a way that makes them money to promote longer term, more human, goals. And sometimes the idealised (federated) solution may be less efficient than the existing monopolies.

Bringing in Phil Hill (a "passivist"?), it was noted that clarity makes for a hugely attractive argument. However letting non-desirable actors "win" an argument - and making common cause with surprising people - is very difficult for those newer to the movement. (I'm reminded of David Wiley's welcoming of the Pearson "efficacy" work, the right direction but the "wrong" actor). 

Open Education is an edtech innovation with a close natural fit with the concerns of schools and academics. Many of the earlier arguments have been won (in the US at least). But only a low (4-5%) of academics are using OER regularly in preparing classes. OE is a movement that *just makes sense*, but the impact is still low.

The example of using citrus to treat scurvy was cited as an example of a series of controlled experiments that pointed to a clear solution. But it took a long time before it was adopted by larger concerns - the diffusion time was much longer than expected. Similarly in OE, the awareness of OER is still low, with more than 2/3rds of teachers having no awareness at all. Examining the the motiviations of teachers in choosing material, it is noted that "cost" is a very low concern compared to quality and coverage of educational materials.

The LMS is notable as an innovation that has been successfully taken up, though few are as proud of their LMS as they are as their minivan.

Although students are beginning to spend less on textbooks, there is evidence that students are simply not buying the required textbook (with possible impact on their learning). First-generation students are generally spending more on textbooks than students from families with a history of higher learning.

There is an opportunity here to define OE goals to meet what students and faculty actually care about. Early adopters (generally those currently active in the "movement") have very different concerns and motivations from the mainstream - we need to support both.

Feldstein observed that the LMS parallel was a good one. Mainstream adoption is not a comfortable place for an activist - there are compromises and a sense of "selling out". But all the hard work has been done to prove the concept - the next step requires different arguments and different techniques.

In questions it was raised that the lack of interest in cost presents a very westernised perspective, in the developing world cost is a much bigger issue.  A number of ideals and goals are wrapped up in the idea of "open" and cost is a part of a much more complex picture - and it is possible to have regional and local goals that feed in to the wider activist movement.

In diffusion of innovation theory, the existence of an innovation is not enough to drive a social change. There is no magic disruption fairy. But most theories of activist innovation are predicated on volunteers - in contrast Pearson (say) have an army. Distributing the "cost" of innovation is very difficult - hence the ubiquity of volunteers and activists. But is this sustainable?



A triangle of smooth innovation

2 min read

(a Brian Lamb-centric solve-for-x based on my triangle of institutional innovation)

Sustaining = Michael McDonald, setting the boundaries and processes of smoothitude, encouraging other musicians to adopt "smooth" practices. Keeper of the fire.

Disruptive = Gene Balboa, bringing in radical "hollywood" ideas based on big money. Originally hails from Philadelphia and offfered "fame, fortune, ffffff...agina" to Hall & Oates.

User = Kenny Loggins, famed for building on and adapting the smooth template to develop "sweet rocking" music. Knows karate.


"What a fool believes" - Loggins' sweet rocking pipes inspire McDonald, drowning in a sea of sadness, to work with him to produce the song that cements his place in the Doobies.

"Sweet Freedom" - McDonald, in order to save Loggins and smooth music, proves his relevence and records a Balboa inspired Hollywood Soundtrack Hit.

"I'm alright" - McDonald's failure to respect Loggins' grief-stricken sweet rocking, and a chance encounter with Balboa and Steve Perry, persuade Loggins to assert his independence via the medium of hard-rocking beats and primal screams.

"This is it" - Developed by Loggins and McDonald in response to trash-talking from Hall & Oates during a back-alley song writing contest, this tune represents optimum innovation. As to how it ends... you don't wanna know.



1 min read

The Guardian are reporting that this afternoon's budget will replace maintenence grants for the poorest university students with loans, paid back on the terms of the existing fee loans.

With the current working assumption that around 55% of all borrowers will be unable to pay back the entireity of their fee loans (£27,000 for a three year course), how many do you think will be unable to pay off their fee loans PLUS this new maintenence loan? (let's not even mention the "regular" maintenence loans here)

Go on, have a guess.

So it is very unlikely that this policy will even raise enough to pay for its own implementation, far less £1.6bn, and instead it will probably end up adding to the overall cost of HE funding.

Because "austerity".



It's all about that (data)base #ge2015

2 min read

In an election this close, database software development may play a key role – and the Conservative party may be at a disadvantage. For close marginal seats, getting out the vote – literally knocking on the doors of people whom you know are likely to vote for your party but have yet to vote and asking them to head for the polling station – can mean the difference between winning and losing. And with national polls so inconclusive, doubly so in 2015.

In modern campaigns, a party database is used to spit out a “knock-up sheet” to tell activists which doors they should knock on. Incredibly, for the second year in a row, the Conservative party have been storing the information that allows them to do this reliably – often gathered over several years of getting to know a constituency – in a largely untried and incomplete database system.

In 2010, this was a system called “Merlin”. Commissioned by Francis Maude in 2005 to replace the late and little lamented “BlueChip”, great promises were made of Merlin as it went live in 2008, but a stream software errors blighted the efforts of activists in the run up to the general election. Significant complaints from local associations, many of whom reverted to old-fashioned pen-and-paper during the 2010 campaign, led to the development of a new system. 

When Grant Shapps launched “VoteSource” late in 2014, it was meant to address all of these concerns. Though some felt that it was too close to the election to introduce new software, the party began to phase it in to local party infrastructure. Some associations continue to run “Merlin” and “VoteSource” in parallel as data is gradually migrated over.

Sadly for the Conservatives, “VoteSource” has been plagued with issues. Only today, Tory blogger TechnoGuido has reported on an issue in generating knock-up slips, following earlier reports of problems in the Spectator

Well so what? - you may ask. Simply put, if the Conservative activists cannot reliably access data they have collected about their constituants, they are less able to ensure that everyone who is likely to vote Conservative does. And with so many seats liable to come down to a handful of votes - a slightly dodgy database could change the course of British parlimentary history.


Theme tune

1 min read


A few thoughts on the #HEPowerlist

2 min read

After the traditional delights of spotting friends and fellow-travellers on the 2015 wonkhe powerlist, the limitations of the list became clear.

It's almost entirely list of people concerned with university funding in the UK - either in terms of lobbying for or against various positions, or just in managing how it is distributed. "Power" was a good choice of words - I was perhaps expecting a list of influencers but other than positions for and against fees there is a decided paucity of vision.

Maybe this reflects the kind of leaders that HE has - managers and accountants rather than ideologues. But the overlapping agenda of austerity and efficiency seem to predicate against people with big ideas.

For me, the biggest idea in HE is openness - particularly around open access to research, but as a more general trend encompassing teaching, innovation, information and research outputs of all forms. But to read the list, you wouldn't think so.

There's a palpable lack of ideas. I'm as committed to wonkish detail as anyone (probably more so) but I'm concerned that deep analysis needs to be informed by a vision that can be expressed in more general terms. 

If the top 50 or so most "powerful" people in Higher Education are concerned primarily with money and the way it is distributed - we are in trouble.


#tdc1097 #dailycreate boring commercial #ds106

1 min read

So after the *MONSTER* I unleashed yesterday I figured I'd better get on to the next daily create I saw. And it was a video.

We had to make a version of this Virgin Airways deliberately boring video to make it even more boring. And what is more boring than a 5 hour flight, that's right... MOOCs.

So I grabbed the section I needed (which was a wonderfully trippy generic dream sequence about graduating and learning to fly, about 86 minutes in), and added a slowed down, echoed and flanged recording of my voice reading out the FutureLearn "About page". Lovely.

(Incidentally, you can already watch Coursera videos on JetBlue)



#opened14 - third day keynote from John Willbanks

6 min read

John Willbanks currently works at Sage Bionetworks. He was asked to speak about open science and open data.

He started by cautioning against "open silos", different campaigns using common tools and approaches but not speaking to each other. Science effects education, and both are affected by wider culture, and the culture of prediction.

Yogi Berra - "predictions are hard. especially about the future". (It is now easy to find older books to source quotations via web seachers, though nothing from the last 25 years)

It *was* really hard to make predictions about the future. But predictions are increasingly accurate - especially predictions about ourselves. Every single website is trying to sell you the same thing - it's not like they know you, they literally know you. Mining things like email data to make predictions has exploded over the past 10 years.

This is about probability. And this is basic mathematics.

Increasingly fields are, or can be, data driven. Biology used to be a narrative science, now with the advent of cheap shared data, it is a predictive science. He gave the example of services like "23andMe", consumer genetics. Or Science Exchange - ebay for university science services.

It now costs $200 per sample to do RNA microarray. Tools for science and analysis are cheaper.

Not just hard science. In Archaeology there are huge amounts of archive data. Even etymology we can find the origin of quotes.

Everything is text. So every field has a data wave coming. Everything is increasingly measurable and indexable.

So probabilistic analysis is going to be the academic coin of the realm. And advertising is making the methods and tools more accessible.

Probability changes every time we add new information to the model. This changes educational culture, and changes the needs for training and skills. He said that current pedagogy is failing - there is no continuing education for sciences. So it is hard for academics to deal with the data flow.

In the sharing economy, a larger market makes for a better economy. Though these are rental economies, not good for labour or conditions. And service owners don't want you to be a buyer and a seller - in science, we want to be able to be both.

These markets are better (for buyers) than the terrible status quo. But this isn't good enough. Open multi-sided platforms allow individual actors to have multiple roles.

In the open movement, we don't focus on adding users. We need lightweight ways to move people in ways like shifting from being a wikipedia viewer to a wikipedia contributor. And getting value from both sides - increasingly as more people are involved.

It is not about the assets (or the license choices), it is about the users. And these may be people who don't agree with us philosophically. He gave the example of open source - methodologically and economically it succeeded. The philosophy is great, but it wasn't that that drives growth.

Willbanks asked of any "open" activity - "does it create more value than a closed version?". Openness is a methodology that gets assets and data in front of people.

So selling value rather than philosophy is selling a practice change. Work at Merck on cancer is open, via a non profit operation. It allows anyone to use genetic data.

Analytic tools to analyse this data need to be used alongside experience - so can we create an open multi-sided market to bring these together - not just solo labs (as the natural unit of science) but communities. Government funding now works to foster collaboration, and open approaches can simply play into this (eg TCGA Pan-Cancer Consortium).

In this example, open methods allowed the consortia to analyse data collaboratively, buy instigating a culture or sharing clear information. So science practice has improved via open approaches. Using approaches like version control for annotations and metadata. Allowing researchers to see every stage, allowing us to be confident in probabilistic analysis.

And for researchers not used to these ways of working, this practice sucks. It is new, and slow. But the value realised in terms of academic activity (papers etc) is immense. And this led it to gain users from across TCGA.

This was a community that was required to work together, but what about those that are not. In colon cancer we saw 4 (or more!) simultaneous papers postulating different genetic subtypes for the disease. Open approaches allowed groups to test their methods across all of the 13 data sets. So a consensus subtype, with high probabilistic confidence, emerged.

The approach is now exploding across research groups. And it makes challenges possible to widen communities - more eyes on the problem. For example computing the probability of cancer relapse. The winner (with the competition as peer review) gets a guaranteed high-impact journal publication, but code sharing is required to be eligible.

The winner actually got a cover, an opinion piece, a methods paper and a results paper. And an entire suite of tools was generated (even from outside medicine) for others attaching the problem - the winning entry was from the lab that invented the mp3 codec.

If you have an open player in the market, it changes and improves the market.Less immoral. Less asshole-y.

So we need to think about our practice - how do we govern open platforms? How do we design and cost them? Willbanks felt that the biggest challenge the open movement faced was platform design, to drive engagement. The iPhone was not designed around the idea of a closed ecosystem - it was designed around value to the user.

With an open platform, you are not just a buyer or a seller. You are a citizen. You are a member. And good design means you are the priority.

Licenses like BY and 0 give users more value. And a winning design can embed this into places where open had not been previously considered. He gave the example of informed consent (which reminded me of early UK work on the consent commons), claiming that better designed forms would make it easier to find research participants, allowing for larger scale (and thus more probabilistically confident findings).

This led to collections of noun, verb and sentence icons and animations, and storyboard templates, put into the public domain. Allowing the simple creation of stories that can properly inform consent. Using mobile technology and sensors to gather and analyse research data (for example gyroscopic sensors to measure hand tremors in Parkinsons patients).

As a fully open tool, these informed consent approaches can be used in a variety of contexts. Allowing other people to do things that the product creators cannot do, or had not considered. Again, an open method creates more value. Economic value, educational value.

In probability, adding more data refines the model. But what we "know" becomes less stable as more data is added, so pedagogy needs to change to reflect this emerging ontological instability. So the right to reuse becomes the right to be current, and to get better, and to create value.

And value is not just economic in open systems - it is social value and knowledge value.