A couple of quick videos for my students in the Spring semester to help them set up Hypothesis and configure the Chrome extension.
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!
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.
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.
At the beginning of the semester I proposed a project to promote OER at BSU (which was not approved). In the process I was asked how much time I thought it would take and not having any data I grabbed a number from thin air. This prompted me to keep track of my time this semester, to see exactly how long I spent on each of the things I do at work. In addition to wondering how much time I spend working on OER I was curious about the more traditional triad of teaching, research/writing, and service. BSU is a teaching-oriented university, so I suspected the majority of my time would be spent working on my courses, but I wanted to find out for sure.
I used an application called Tyme 2 which I installed on my desktop and notebook computers, iPad and phone. It allowed me to create twenty tasks in three categories: courses, OER, and Professional Development (PD) which included both service tasks like advising and attending committee meetings, and also my work preparing the edits of my book for publication. I tracked each of these tasks over seventeen weeks from the last week of August to the end of the third week of December. While there may have been some slight overlap between OER activities and course activities, I think the results are pretty accurate.
So what were the results? Turns out I spent two thirds of my time working on my courses, for a total of 29 hours per week. I didn’t count one week (Thanksgiving) when I was at an OER conference and only did an hour of course-related work. If that week counted, my weekly coursework average was about 27.3 hours. Similarly, if I don’t count the conference week when I devoted about 85 hours to OER, my average time spent working on OER was about 8 hours weekly. My weekly PD total was 7.3 hours, made up mostly of work proofreading the first print of my manuscript and writing an index. My average workweek, not counting the conference week, was 44.2 hours.
The total time I devoted to courses over the semester was 485 hours (including some prep for courses I’ll offer in the spring). The largest block of time went to a new course, History of High Technology (HST 2600, 142 hours). The smallest block went to East Asia History (HST 3419, 81.5 hours), which was another new course but was online. The difference between the courses can be mostly accounted for by the 40 hours of meetings of the in-person class and the time it took me to produce PowerPoint lectures for that class. I made short videos for the online class which were much less time-consuming. Even so, the online course prep seemed to be slightly more efficient. Compared to the two in-person courses I’ve taught before (HST 1305, 103 hours and HST 2925, 102 hours), the online course still seems more efficient. Student evaluations of all these courses were similarly positive, and I felt about the same about my effectiveness in each of the new courses (a good start but there were some things I could improve); so although the sample set is low I think there may be some significance to these results. I’ll be more aware of this efficiency question in the future.
Looking forward, I plan to continue trying to streamline my courses using technology (more effective LMS tools, Hypothesis, online assessment, etc.) and to explore the effectiveness of online vs. in-person delivery. I had 30 students in my online East Asia course and 12 in my in-person High Tech, so at a very raw, numerical level the lesser time I spent on HST 3419 was more effective. Early in the semester our CPD ran a brief session about efficiency in course design at the Deans’ request. It was mostly oriented around surviving higher course caps and just scratched the surface. As we work to reverse decreasing enrollment at BSU and struggle with increasing class sizes, I think effectively and efficiently delivering online courses is going to be key.
It has been a little over a week since I returned from the open education conference in Milan. Looking back on it, I think it was a valuable experience for me and a good introduction to the OER and open ed efforts being made by educators and policy-makers in Europe and Asia (there was only modest representation from Latin America or Africa). Much of the talk was oriented on social justice and equity and a great deal focused on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and on the recent UNESCO OER Recommendation, adopted at the 40th General Conference on November 25, 2019. Both these international statements can be easily related to BSU’s Sustainability Goals and focus on educational equity, and I’m going to begin referring to them more explicitly as I design my own courses and activities. The biggest takeaway from the conference, however, may be the rapid pace of change toward a much more decentralized educational system in which traditional institutions such as universities are decentered and greater student ownership and control over curricula and credentials become the norm. The three themes that seemed most prevalent in conference sessions and discussions were online education, MOOCs, and micro-credentialing.
Online education has been widely accepted as a solution for distance learning, but is increasingly seen as a way to enhance students’ learning experience. New technology enables interaction and automates many of the routine activities of running a class, freeing up both students and instructors to focus on the learning. For example, Moodle (one of the conference sponsors) demonstrated several new tools for collaborative learning and assessment. And the increased reach of courses offered in either standard or massively online formats improves discussion and student interaction by raising the number of participants. I’ve already experienced this in my own online East Asia course which has thirty students, triple what I’ve ever had in an in-person 3000-level course at BSU. Next semester I won’t have an online course, but thereafter I plan to lean into online with dual-listed upper-level courses in the summer and every semester for History majors, Social Studies Ed. Students, and High School teachers. And I’m looking forward to trying an online survey, beginning with People of the Environment in Fall 2020 and continuing with Modern World.
Massively open online courses (MOOCs) are much more of a dirty word in the US than they are in the rest of the world, possibly due to the way some American for-profit education institutions have misused the format. In Europe and Asia, MOOCs are to courses as OER are to textbooks. For subjects where there is a significant percentage of fact-learning, assessment can be automated fairly easily. Even when qualitative judgments must be made about discussion posts and forum interactions, vendors like Moodle are developing peer evaluation modules with AI agents that prioritize the evaluations of students who have earned high evaluations on their own work (while still allowing the instructor to have the final say), encouraging student collaboration in course management as well as learning. Even if we don’t decide to go all the way to the MOOC environment, there’s a lot we can learn from these courses and the tools they use to improve the learning experience.
Credentials are central to the power exercised by universities over students. There have been online sources for the highest-quality educational content for the last couple of decades, such as MIT OpenCourseWare, Britain’s Open University, and open learning initiatives at Stanford, Harvard, and UMass. Students can watch and listen to some of the best instructors for free, read open textbooks, and educate themselves in a wide variety of topics – but they generally can’t get credit for that learning. Colleges and universities are being challenged as the gatekeepers of credit, however. Micro-credentialing apps such as Badgr are gaining credibility. Badgr is currently used by more than 12,000 credentialing agencies in 100 countries. The NEA recognizes badges and micro-credentials, and several university systems like SUNY have pledged to lead the way in “High-Quality Micro-Credentials”. I attended a workshop on a new blockchain-based app being developed to allow organizations to decentralize credentialing. I suggested that individuals ultimately will want to own their own “personal wallet” of credentials (as well as other personal digital info such as their genome, credit history, medical history, and CV). Martin Dougiamas (CEO of Moodle) picked up that thread and said Moodle was working on a decentralized network for educators and students that he hinted might include some of these features. MinnState has just been through an extensive formulation of transfer pathways, which may be a good first step in a process of thinking about how we want to respond to this challenge.
As usual, I’m going to advocate for trying to be ahead of the changes and meeting them with a plan. I think my department’s shift toward offering more online courses for concurrent enrollment teachers (teachers in Minnesota who want to teach “college at high school courses” have recently been required to have at least 18 credits in the subject they’re teaching, in addition to education credits) is a great first step. It addresses our need to increase enrollment while giving us practice improving our online courses. Using more automated tools may take some of the pressure off instructors and allow us to focus more on quality interactions with students. And making our courses widely-visible models should help insure our relevance as residential universities begin to lose their position at the center of higher ed.
I’m at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis today, participating in a group for the Open Textbook Network to define specifications for a new OER authoring and publishing tool they’re going to develop. But I’ll be back Friday, and I’ll start talking to folks in my program and on campus about these issues.
Another thing that happened at #OEGlobal19 was I met Martin Dougiamas, the developer and CEO of Moodle. I think he introduced himself as “Martin from Moodle” when I first met him in the breakout session I attended on blockchain (that’s him sitting beside me in the third photo I included in the prior post). So I didn’t really get clued into who he was until later. We proceeded to have an interesting discussion about blockchain and bitcoin, and I agree with the position he took that what we really need is not just an academic credentialing system but a full-on identity management system that will be owned and controlled by users. Something like the system Neal Stephenson described in his latest novel, Fall, or Dodge in Hell. I think if we don’t own and control our data (including things like our genomes), then someone else is going to. Monsanto is already running around the world patenting the genes of landrace varieties of crops they find in seed banks. What’s to stop a health care corporation from trying to assert proprietary rights to our genetic info in the name of efficiency or research?
In any case, I was impressed with Martin’s apparent desire to look beyond the immediate opportunities provided by Open Ed, toward developing a hundred-year plan for improving education to make the world more sustainable. Next day, I attended his talk, which had a little info about Moodle in it but was much more about the UN Sustainability Goals and the role of Universities as models of a better world. THIS is the type of thing I like working on, including the belief that the work I’m doing everyday is pointing in that direction and continuing to try to align my daily teaching more with these types of big-picture goals.
So I’ve started listening to Martin’s Open Ed Tech podcast, which is available wherever you listen to podcasts. The concept is that as he travels around the world in his capacity as Moodle CEO, Martin will record short interviews with the people he meets. I’ve listened to the first one so far, and it had several cool moments. One idea that raced by quickly but stuck in my head was that technology enables (or should enable) learners everywhere to decide what they need and want to learn to be the person they want to be, and then go to their closest local higher ed institution to have that need met. This combination of global and local jumped out at me. It fits with some things I’ve been thinking about making my own content more applicable to wider audiences. I think the next five years or so will be very full of people trying to work out the roles, competencies, and value-adds of different educational systems and learning-delivery technologies. It could be a very disruptive period or a very hopeful one, depending on how we approach it. Probably it’ll be both, for different people. Like William Gibson said, “the future is already here — it’s just not evenly distributed.”
I began writing this while sitting in the gate area waiting for my 12:15 boarding of my flight from Malpensa airport in Milan to New York. I thought that would be a good moment to begin reporting my impressions of the weeklong stay in Italy and the three-day Open Education Global Conference that ran from Tuesday to Thursday. I’m revising and publishing these first impressions on Thursday, December 5th, a week after the conference’s final day.
I met a bunch of interesting people and very much enjoyed the conversations and networking. The executives running the conference were friendly and I guess I’d say approachable. They also, however, seemed to be having other conversations and VIP interactions that didn’t really have much to do with the rest of us, especially the attendees who were there for the first time. When I mentioned this to some Europeans who had been to the event for several years but were not part of this executive group, they suggested this is a somewhat typical feature of European interactions. The other American first-time attendee who was part of this conversation agreed strenuously that there seemed to be something going on that wasn’t for those of us sitting at the “kids table”, suggesting this wasn’t just something I was imagining.
There seems to be a bit of a class system in the OE Global world. A bunch of what I’m calling the VIP executive group were members of international commissions. Several were actual UNESCO open education executives. One of the keynoters, Cheryl Hodgkinson-Williams, had helped write the Cape Town Declaration. She was very nice and gave an inspiring talk about equity and social justice; so I don’t imagine she was intending in any way to exclude anyone from conversation. The people who had been leaders in passing the recent UNESCO OER Recommendation were also at the conference. So these people were legitimate executives and movers of the OE world. However, it still felt a bit like there were two conferences going on, and many of us were just spectators rather than participants at one of them.
The people I interacted with were mostly from Britain or the US, due largely to the language barrier. The conference was conducted entirely in English, but even so I guess it was just easier for people to hang with fellow speakers. I met several Europeans living in England who were comfortable speaking English all the time. I also met some native Brits and an Australian. And a bunch of Americans, including two from Minnesota whom I’d never met before. Kind of crazy, going to Milan to meet someone from Brainerd or Minneapolis!
The content of the talks I attended was about evenly split between the type of detailed study report you’d expect at a disciplinary conference, more general conceptual talks, and talks that revolved around a specific technology (or app) that is being offered to the open community. My own talk was one of the general conceptual ones, and I think it came a little too early in the schedule to be completely successful. I followed the first keynote, which was about a similar topic with a lot of ideas I was able to call back to. I heard the same themes echoed throughout the following two and a half days, and it might have been better for me to present my talk to people who had already been through the thought process. As it was it seemed a bit like a summary before the narrative.
The one thing I’d change about the conference might be to add some panel discussions so folks doing the same sort of work in different parts of the world could bounce ideas off each other and spectators could see a topic dealt with all at once rather than over and over again in individual sessions. There was some talk about the idea that the movement is stuck in unproductive loops of discussing issues like textbook cost for too long. I think this is partly a function of new cohorts of people entering the movement; talking about reducing textbook costs when that’s a brand new idea is exciting and worthwhile. The veterans are more than ready to shift the discussion to wider issues like equity. I was very impressed with the gentleness with which Rajiv and Robin made that turn at last year’s “E”ffordability Summit – even moreso in light of this week.
I wondered while sitting in Milan how much attention the UNESCO Recommendation was going to get in the US? The sentiments and ideas in it are certainly relevant, but there seems to be a bias in America that UNESCO doesn’t really apply to us. I’ve noticed over the past few days that David Wiley has called attention to the shift from the very open, 5-Rs definition of OER that was present in the drafts of the Recommendation, to the wording of the final draft that was adopted on November 25th. Wiley called attention to the watering down of the right to retain open texts to merely the right to access. As he argued when he added the 5th R of retention to his list in 2014, retention is actually crucial to making all the other rights actually function. I’ll be following the argument over amending the Recommendation closely, and I’m very curious about the thought process and negotiation that went into the change from the 5-Rs definition of OER in the draft and the much more restrictive wording of the final.
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.
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.
In a non-OER development, Yale University Press has posted a page for my book, Peppermint Kings, which will be released June 23, 2020:
In March 2019 Florida’s Office of Distance Learning and Student Services published a follow-up to the 2010, 2012, and 2016 student surveys which have been a valuable source for many OER advocates. The new survey was conducted in spring 2018 and involved over 21,000 respondents. The survey’s findings were that:
- For the first time since the 2012 survey, overall textbook costs did not increase. Relative to 2016, only 43.8% of students reported costs of over $300 for the semester, with ten percent shifting from the “above $300” column to the “below $300”. This result doesn’t quantify the real savings, though, since it doesn’t specify whether students went from $305 to $295 or from $400 to $200 between the two surveys.
- Students increased efforts to reduce their textbook costs by finding cheaper vendors for new textbooks and by buying used copies or renting print or digital textbooks. It is worth noting that buying or renting from cheaper online sources and buying used, which all increased since 2016, could be threatened by publishers’ “inclusive access” plans that require students to acquire their materials from a single source.
- Students continued to report that they had not acquired required textbooks (64.2%), took fewer courses (42.8%), had avoided a course (40.5%), had earned a poorer grade (35.6%), or had dropped a course (22.9%) due to textbook expense.
- More students reported that required textbooks were not used in classes. In 2012, students had reported that an average of 1.6 textbooks were not used in class. In 2016, 2.6 textbooks per student were unused. In 2018, students said 3.6 of the students they had been required to buy were not used. Over a sample of 21,000 students, that means over 75,000 textbooks were purchased and not used. If the average price was $100, $7,500,000 in student funds were wasted. The survey suggests that courses switching to digital resources may account for this change – if that’s the case, instructors should stop requiring the textbook as well as the ancillaries.
- Students reported a much greater willingness to use digital textbooks. The question was worded around textbook renting (which also increased), but 41.4% indicated willingness to rent digital textbooks, which is a hopeful sign for digital OER acceptance. In addition, 57.2% of students said they used interactive practice questions and 44.8% used PowerPoint slide decks, suggesting that digital, interactive learning is making headway in both publisher and potentially OER formats.
Image source: All images from 2018 Florida Student Textbook & Course Material Survey, Donaldson, Opper, Shen, 2019. CC-BY.
This document by Dan Allosso, 2019, CC-BY-SA
One of the things that jumped out at me, during a day full of meetings yesterday related to the beginning of the fall semester, was a guest speaker who opened our meeting in the College of Arts, Education, and Humanities. John Eggers is a Bemidji Pioneer columnist and an advocate for 100% High School graduation. John argues that we should set a goal of trying to get 100% of Bemidji’s high school students to graduate, and he claims this goal could be achieved in not five years or three years, but in one if we really put our minds to it.
(Goals by Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 Alpha Stock Images)
I’m not going to argue whether John’s goal is attainable. The thing that struck me about it is, it’s obviously the right goal. How could one justify setting a goal that aspired to less than 100%? “Yeah, we want to leave 2% or 3% or 5% behind each year” doesn’t cut it. That may be a reality, but it’s not a vision. Whether or not you believe it can be achieved in a year, three, five, or maybe never at all…how could you argue that we want less?
I thought this was a useful idea for OER, especially in the context of the currently-popular idea of Z-Degrees. The Minnesota Legislature has mandated three Associate Degrees will be created with zero textbook costs – not only for the money that will be saved by the students that got through those particular tracks, but for all the students around them, who will get the benefit of being in the Z-courses created, even if their entire program isn’t free of textbook costs. And of course the focus on creating Z-courses will inspire other changes and the benefits will snowball.
Similarly, as I’ve mentioned before, students at 4-year schools like Bemidji State University would benefit from substantial decreases in their textbook costs even if we can never eliminate them entirely. When John was talking about 100% Graduation, I wrote in my notes, “an unattainable goal isn’t necessarily a bad thing.” Then I immediately started thinking of ways it can be a bad thing. Like if you’ve pegged your compensation to a goal you can’t achieve. But then I ultimately decided that on the whole, I like the idea of refusing to compromise on a vision and then celebrating getting as close to it as possible.