Moving Day

I’m starting to move my History videos from my personal YouTube channel to my new History4Today channel. The first set to go is the American Environmental History series. I’ll be taking it off my personal channel, so look for it in the new location!

Screen Shot 2020-03-16 at 2.48.42 PM

Captioning Videos

When I mentioned earlier in the week that I had made a bunch of videos for my online East Asia course last semester, a colleague challenged me on twitter regarding whether the videos were captioned. I responded that the ones I was talking about were not part of my OER, but just short messages to my students announcing what was next, explaining how to use tools like Hypothesis, etc. He responded that even so, federal and state law and our university system’s policies require captioning of any course video. 

I was not sure this is true, so I asked him to provide a reference to the statutes he thinks apply. He provided a link to a MinnState guideline document that seems to agree with his claim that the system I work within supports a broad interpretation of the law that seeks to require captioning of all videos, regardless of their purpose. Among the questions addressed in the document’s FAQ is an explanation that transcripts of videos are not sufficient, because the user experience is not identical. While I accept that this statement is true, I’m skeptical of its importance in all cases. For example, If I make a video version of a PowerPoint lecture based on a chapter of my OER textbook, the same basic content is presented in three different formats. My initial idea is to make the content accessible to students with different learning styles. I think, some students learn better by reading: they’ll use the textbook. Others may have time while commuting: a podcast might be useful to them. Others may miss one of my lectures of may really learn better watching a video: so I’ll make a video version of my lecture and post it online.  

The idea is to make my course content more accessible. Requiring me to caption these lecture videos complicates the process of making them and adds time. Let’s be honest: increased complexity and time are disincentives. Not only for someone like me who wants to make videos, but even worse for instructors who are on the fence about the shift to online resources or looking for a reason to reject the idea. Moreover, the type of aggressive virtue-signaling language that sometimes accompanies arguments or mandates of accessibility can be very off-putting. Maybe it’s me, but I’d prefer to be helped to make my content more accessible rather than told if it’s not 100% right out of the gate I shouldn’t bother. And if I was paranoid (who me?) I might suspect that although the proponents of universal accessibility have their hearts in the right spot, putting steep barriers in the way of instructors seeking to make a change seems to play into the hands of textbook publishing corporations.  

Don’t get me wrong. I’m going to try to make my videos with captions, even though that’s going to be more complicated and time-consuming. I’m going to try to find the least time-consuming and expensive way to do that and share what I find. If you know of any better, faster, cheaper ways, please let me know! Although I’m fairly comfortable with technology and have a lot of opinions I’m not shy about sharing, I’ve only been doing this OER and open ed stuff for about a year. Point out what I’m missing and I’ll work it in and make a video about it! 

Screen Shot 2019-12-29 at 9.53.19 AM

As I’ve begun looking at the tools available, there seem to be a several ways for me to type caption text into a video as I’m watching it. This isn’t optimal. If I’ve written copy and then made a video of it, the last thing I want to do is then retype it. I suppose I could cut and paste it a little bit at a time, but this is also a pain, especially if I’m captioning a lecture. So the best option seems to be finding a reasonably accurate, easily-correctable auto-captioning app. Again, there are a bunch of these available, but I’m not going to buy one in order to make my videos. Sorry. I paid for Camtasia, but there’s a limit to the amount of my own money I can afford to spend. I was disappointed to learn that Vimeo, the video-hosting service I’ve been using for years to avoid YouTube, allows you to add captions to videos but doesn’t have an automated process like YouTube’s. It supports automation tools like CaptionSync, but again, I’m not going to buy a subscription to an app that doesn’t even list its pricing online! So maybe it’s time to surrender to the dark side and stop paying $199 a year for an inferior tool.  

Screen Shot 2019-12-29 at 9.52.39 AM

Roughly six hours after writing the previous paragraph, I’ve removed over 150 videos from Vimeo, canceled my $199 per year “Pro” subscription, and loaded eleven lecture videos from my American Environmental History course onto YouTube. The auto-captioning seems to work remarkably well! Not perfectly, and I’ll need to spend a little time with each video, editing the captions. I’ve shifted the licensing on the videos from standard YouTube license to CC-BY, the Creative Commons Attribution open license that allows anyone to reuse or remix the videos. I don’t think it’s really possible to download the YouTube versions of the videos, so maybe I should load the originals up into Opendora (my system’s open archive) so that others who want to use the content can grab an mp4 file and mess with it.  

My next step will be to see if it makes sense to load videos like the lectures I just added to YouTube into an app like MediaSpace in my university’s learning management sandbox. I’m not actually teaching the course those videos go with again this semester, and I’m rethinking a lot of design elements of the video lecture format, so I’ll need to ponder on that a bit in the next couple of weeks as I prepare for next semester. I’ll report on the process as I go, so thanks for reading and I’ll see you again next time.  

Easy update for Lithium!

One of the best things about OER texts is they’re easy to update. This week I’m teaching a unit in my American Environmental History course on mining, using an chapter from my text called “Treasures Underground“. It begins in Potosí where the Spanish Empire got much of its silver, talks about the gold and silver rushes in the western US, and then moves on to oil before returning to the effect of minerals on foreign policy in an increasingly globalized economy. The examples I used in the text (which I published last year) were oil in Iran and copper in Chile — and the two US-supported coups that toppled democratically-elected governments in those nations.

Today I added an additional example, as it seems democratic elections in Bolivia have been subverted this week in another coup. So ironically, the chapter now begins and ends in Bolivia. Evo Morales, the country’s immensely-popular indigenous president, has been forced to step down and has sought asylum in Mexico slightly over a week after pushing back on the rapid, foreign-controlled development of Bolivia’s lithium reserves.

Screen Shot 2019-11-12 at 10.23.57 AM
This is the slide of Morales and the Salar de Uyuni (Bolivian source of lithium) I’m adding to my lecture this week. I’ve also added these images to a new conclusion for my OER chapter.

Lithium is a key element (along with cobalt) in the rechargeable batteries that run cell phones, computers, and electric cars. The price of lithium has about tripled since 2015, and Bolivia has about 43% of world reserves (Argentina, Chile, and Bolivia between them control about 75%). Although advanced car companies like Tesla are rapidly reducing the quantity of lithium in each battery cell, other car companies that buy off-the-shelf battery solutions are likely to use much more. And everybody is trying to get into the electric car business right now.

One of my goals in this course (which is actually called “People of the Environment” and is a required “sustainability” course at Bemidji State) is to connect environmental history with the world my students face today. What better way to bring the story of mineral resources to the present than with breaking world news? It’s great that the OER tools I’m using enable me to react rapidly and incorporate this into my chapter. This is a strength of OER we should talk more about in our advocacy.


Adding to OER ebooks

One of the useful aspects of Pressbooks is that authors can edit a title and add content whenever they need to. This allows errors to be corrected and materials to remain up to date as new information becomes available. How often have you discovered a problem in a textbook you’re using, and hoped it would be caught and corrected in the next edition in a few years?

Keeping up with research isn’t an issue only in the sciences, though. New information becomes available in all fields as researchers continue discovering new facts or refining their interpretations. For example, I recently discovered another historical source for my volume of primary readings relating to the Ranney brothers and their migrations across the continent in the nineteenth century.

The source wasn’t exactly new: it was a volume called the Compendium of history and biography of Hillsdale County, Michigan, written by Elon G. Reynolds in 1903. Reynolds’ work was typical of the genre, including about 80 pages of general history of the county and then over 450 pages of short biographical sketches of Hillsdale’s leading men and institutions. On pages 302 and 303 there is a sketch of Henry Ranney’s younger brother, Lemuel Sears Ranney.

Screen Shot 2019-08-11 at 2.13.16 PM.png

The passage adds some details to Lemuel’s life I was not aware of, provides validation of some of the events Lemuel and his brothers describe in their letters, and gives us an interesting look at the elements of Lemuel’s story that seemed interesting to the editors of this 1903 volume, and presumably its readers. It also shows the degree of respect Michigan residents seem to have had for Ranney, who was still alive when the book was published.

This was all interesting enough to me that I wrote an extra short “chapter” about it and added it to the end of my ebook. Readers who are reading it online will find it automatically appended after the previous final chapter that covered Henry Ranney’s obituary. Folks who have downloaded the ebook or pdf versions to their own devices can return to the Pressbook’s homepage and download another. I’ll probably not be adding a lot more to this volume, but if I come across any new material it’s nice to be able to!

“Podcast” Chapters

I’ve made video lectures of chapters from my American Environmental History text — now I’m also making audio “podcasts” of the chapters so people can listen tot he chapters on the go. Here are the first three:


Chapter 1: Prehistory

Chapter 2: Recontact

Also available on soundcloud.