I can hardly believe it was already more than two years ago that a small group of us Canadian west coasters had just finished up the OER17 conference in London and were heading to Edinburgh to meet up with a few colleague-friends. We used a brief break in our travels to wander around parts of the city. Along the River Thames I came across a poet-for-hire and commissioned a poem on the topic of being open. I shared this poem in an earlier blog post “I can feel it kicking.”
Well, it’s still kicking. I came across a poet-for-hire today at a farmers market close to home, and commissioned another poem on the same topic: open.
Sometimes we try to describe “open” in academic language but somewhere along the way it seems to elude our grasp. The concept, rich, deep and complex, keeps slipping away as we try to chase it down. Sometimes it beckons, and other times it advises care.
In the science fiction movie Contact, scientist Dr. Ellie Arroway (Jodie Foster) tries to describe a mind-boggling celestial event. She finally gives up and says, instead, “They should have sent a poet.”
There must be something about a thoughtfully considered concept of “open” that invites a creative flow of energy and breaks through the clutter, as this new poem is as captivating as the previous one. One part, to me, speaks especially to our efforts as a community to better understand the seemingly inexhaustible meaning of open:
so as curious observers / we learn depth / when we braid our parts / open to the streams
“I see instructional designers, educational technologists or learning ecology consultants (which was a new title for me) as the Marine Corps of the educational world. They have seen many battles and have (mostly) survived. They have even learned how to occasionally win battles. That’s the kind of wisdom of which academic leaders and faculty and instructors should make much better use.”
As if people aren’t already busy enough. Dr. Michelle Harrison from Thompson Rivers University and I recently initiated a collaboration with BCcampus to develop an open textbook/reader on rethinking instructional design. To be written by multiple authors, representing multiple voices, the textbook is intended for use in senior and graduate level instructional design courses. We proceeded to cook up some initial thoughts, which went something like this.
Open textbooks are increasingly entering the mainstream of higher education as an important and valued element of open educational practices. While open textbooks are now available in a growing number of disciplines, the academic area of instructional design itself has relatively few open resources. (Which means we want to teach about open educational practices, for example, with…proprietary textbooks…right?)
Online learning and use of educational technologies continue to grow in higher education, and also we see crossover of instructional designers more broadly between other sectors as well. In both our design work and teaching, we see a need for resources to spark a rethinking of instructional design beyond some of its traditional approaches among practitioners, faculty and students. We certainly know we’re not the only ones thinking about this, and we simply feel ready to add our own nudge to this slowly moving caravan of desires for change.
Some examples of issues to approach are the persistent underlying influence of behaviorism in instructional design practice, often in subtle and unrecognized ways; emerging open and critical pedagogies that are challenging some of the very foundations of instructional design; and the fact that instructional designers are increasingly wanting to know how to design inclusively and for different ways of knowing. And all this in the face of serious questions about the corruption of social media, the learning technology industry, and privacy and safety online, to name but a few. To summarize, given these and many more design settings, there is a need to learn about designing for… (fill in the blanks). In a way, we recognize that each of these areas relates to variations of questions forced by applying open and critical instructional design to the field.
This situation calls for teaching and learning resources not only for basic coverage of technical aspects of the field and its history, but also for our area of interest, which is introducing emerging directions in research and practice in the textbook/reader. This may consist of a collection of both recent openly licensed research articles, and invited chapters and other commentaries…or a whole lot more…
When our colleague and friend Dr. Tannis Morgan recently took on an Open Education Researcher role with BCcampus, we were delighted to expand the team to include her; and Michael Paskevicius (with a shiny new PhD!) was welcomed on board shortly thereafter. The formidable foursome continued the conversation and soon arrived at the question, what kind of textbook/reader or resource do we want? We bashed out a quick early idea, and it went something like this.
Crowdsourcing the Untextbook Open has provided us with new ways of constructing higher education, but at the same time has been mapped onto many of our existing artifacts and systems such as textbooks, design processes such as ADDIE, and course publishing models. The textbook has been a prominent focus in the discourses and practices of open.
“A textbook is not merely a compendium of knowledge. Rather, it is an assemblage of knowledge organised for educational purposes. Textbooks, therefore, are not simply depositories of knowledge. Through their chapters, headings. tables, illustrations, worked examples, homework exercises, and so on, they mediate the structure of knowledge on the one hand, and the performance of teaching and learning on the other.”
While open licensing enables certain open pedagogical practices, what other aspects of the textbook need to be rethought in the context of open pedagogies and practices in light of the contradiction by Hamilton noted above?
In exploring options for the textbook, we are planning to build upon the emerging idea of the “untextbook” and facilitate a set of group processes to explore it further at several upcoming open education conferences. We held our first session at the Educational Technologies Users Group Fall 2018 workshop.
Upcoming sessions will challenge participants to be creative about the idea of the “untextbook” as conceptualized with its use in open pedagogy (Cronin, 2017) from the start. How can we build open pedagogy into the design of the untextbook resource itself so that students can engage, participate and contribute more effectively? How can the untextbook challenge traditional elements, roles and hierarchies embedded in pedagogically structured learning content? How then would we consider the purpose, structure and types of content? How would it be used in the mediation of knowledge, teaching and learning? Would it stimulate a rethinking of learning resources and learning design? Could an untextbook prioritize other forms of expression than just text, such as visual thinking, comics, other media – or alternative forms and combinations that we haven’t really thought about yet? Finally, we need to consider how an untextbook could be developed and sustained over time. Could an untextbook be built and owned by community? How could the community be formed and what would define membership? How do we maintain currency and usability without the untextbook coalescing into yet another “finished” artifact?
Ideas generated in the earlier sessions will provide input for an all-day collaborative sprint that aims to begin creating prototypical untextbook elements within a critical instructional design lens at the Cascadia Open Education Summit in April 2019. Our processes are still under development but will involve an iterative, design-based research approach, as well as Liberating Structures group activities.
Along with the conferences, we plan to do a lot of crowdsourcing using different methods to collect ideas and, ultimately, contributions. More to come.
Cronin, C. (2017). Openness and Praxis: Exploring the Use of Open Educational Practices in Higher Education. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 18(5). doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.19173/irrodl.v18i5.3096
Thompson Rivers University’s Open Learning Division, known informally as Open Learning (OL), is celebrating its 40th anniversary. OL has been around in different forms since 1978, when it was established as the Open Learning Institute (OLI) in the province of British Columbia, Canada. OLI was inspired in large part by the model established roughly a decade earlier at the UK Open University, including the use of distance education print packages, educational broadcast television and course development teams and technologists to make education more widely available to those who were unable, for a variety of reasons, to attend a university campus.
OLI was established by BC’s Social Credit government — known for its unique flavor of western Canadian right wing populism of that era — in part to address geographical isolation and other circumstances that prevented attendance at regular post-secondary institutions across the province. The advanced education minister at the time, Dr. Patrick McGeer, promoted the idea that broadcast media and other technologies could have an important role to play in higher education. Along with being an accomplished physician, neuroscientist and UBC university professor, as well as a controversial politician, he had an experimental mindset and advocated for an open sky policy promoting better access to satellite television signals, and built his own personal satellite dish out of plywood and wire mesh to encourage British Columbians to do the same in an act described in the provincial legislative assembly debate record as “a little civil disobedience.”
April 11, 1980. B.C.’s Minister of Universities, Science and Communication Pat McGeer holds part of the pressure-reducing regulator that is part of a compressed natural gas conversion kit – Vancouver Sun
While his push for an open sky satellite signal policy was perhaps related mostly to federal-provincial relations and an anti-regulatory mindset, his interests seemed to align well with the need for better access to higher education across BC. The complex and turbulent educational, social and political context of these early years is well told in a journal article by long-time open and distance education researcher Dr. Louise Moran.
My earliest work in open and distance learning was at the original OLI building, soon after it opened in a converted warehouse in Richmond, BC, where we designed and developed a variety of distance education course packages in course teams, burrowed among cubicles on the second floor of this industrial site, with airplanes roaring overhead in their approach to Vancouver International Airport. It was one of those areas where you could get your coffee and morning donut from a coffee truck that blew a loud horn as it rolled into the parking lot.
At the time we worked on Wang mainframe system terminals, plunking away on heavy monitors with flickering green screens.
Page from an Open Learning page layout guide
Our course teams consisted of instructional designers, content experts, editors, proofreaders, graphic artists, typographers, media specialists and technicians in the print shop. While our courses were largely print based – we paid a lot of attention to page layout and design – we also used video and audio cassettes, experimented with radio, and had access to late night television broadcasts.
Of course this was long before the introduction of the Internet; courses went out through the postal service in pizza boxes, containing any or all of a bundle of bound booklets, manuals, textbooks, video or audio cassettes, and other such resources required to complete a course. Personal computers were even sent to students who were studying computer programming.
Since those early days, Open Learning has been through many changes, ups and downs, including a stint as the BC Open Learning Agency, which operated the BC Open University. These developments culminated in its merger with the University College of the Cariboo as part of the formation of today’s Thompson Rivers University. And that is where I returned around eight years ago to spend the latter part of my career in higher education and distance/open education.
Today Open Learning has 13,000 students online, and implements an impressive variety of open educational practices such as the use of OER including open textbooks, open access courses and programs, experimenting with open tools and pedagogies, asking for minimal prerequisites and residency requirements and supporting a highly regarded prior learning assessment and recognition policy.
This story could go on a lot longer, but I’ll just leapfrog to the present and conclude by congratulating Open Learning and its amazing faculty and staff for their huge contributions to learners and open educators in BC, across Canada, and around the world. I’m glad to have been part of it, both early on and most recently. May the next forty years for Open Learning be even better.
What to do when your technology fails in the classroom? This was a student teacher’s question submitted for our weekly online forum. The ensuing discussion was robust, with many examples shared. When the projector broke down in an elementary class, a pupil in the class had suggested the perplexed teacher sing the fun-dance action song that was intended to be played, and the pupils could act along. In another case a teacher decided make animal noises to compensate for failed sound clips; another played charades. When a Smart Board broke down, the pupils proclaimed “The Smart Board isn’t very smart today.” Smart pupils! There were many wonderful and creative examples. In some cases I think the workarounds were as good as, or better than, the technology-supported versions.
Below is a list of some lessons gleaned and summarized from this class’s collective practicum experiences and workarounds shared in the online forum. Inspired by a session offered by BCcampus’s Amanda Coolidge, there was interest in the class to share helpful products developed in the class with a CC license. I’ve named this one Another Click on the Wall, and I hope others will not only find it useful in their teaching-with-ed-tech practice, but also 5R it for others as well. (It should be copy-and-pasteable from the text below.) This project brings to mind discourses around “pedagogies of failure” but that’s for another time.
And here are some accompanying lyrics, which may be sung to this fairly recognizable tune:
We don’t need no applications We don’t need remote controls No dark projectors in the classroom Teacher leave them vids alone Hey! Teacher! Leave them vids alone. All in all it’s just another click on the wall
Tip 1: When something breaks down and you can’t fix it, explain the intent of the activity to the students and let them suggest alternatives.
Tip 2: Don’t be afraid to step out and try something different when you’re stuck. It may be risky but students will appreciate your efforts, especially if you can maintain a sense of humour about it.
Tip 3: Check everything – technology, connections, accounts, passwords, permissions – ahead of time to make sure everything is working.
Tip 4: Learn from accidents – e.g. sometimes students will listen more closely if the volume of a video is lower even if it wasn’t originally intended that way.
Tip 5: Think on your feet – example: put a microphone (if available) up to a mobile device speaker if the audio output to the A/V system isn’t working. AKA pulling a rabbit out of your hat.
Tip 6: If your planned AV doesn’t work, mime or mimic the actions or sounds you wanted to play. Or… have your students do it. It might even be fun. AKA practice your farm animal sounds ahead of time.
Tip 7: Have a hard copy handy – e.g. in case the audio book stops playing, you can keep reading from the text. Same goes for slides, discussion/activity notes, etc.
Tip 8: Flip the app – e.g. turn an app designed for competition among students into a cooperative class activity by having them all work from the one device (gather them around, or if possible plug it into your projection system and let them provide the answers for the teacher to input).
Tip 9: Remember to sync the Smart Board; or else you’ll sink it.
Tip 10: Have your own emergency tool kit – a few cables, spare adaptors, charger, audio connectors, etc. suited for your own digital environment. Also paper and pens.
Tip 11: Charge the devices. Keep them charged. Check early to make sure they are charged.
Apart from its use as a metaphor, the “rivers” reference in the program title also acknowledged the flowing-together of the North and South Thompson Rivers in Tk’əmlúps, the local indigenous Secwepemctsín name for Kamloops, meaning “where the rivers meet” (as shown in this blog’s masthead photo).
Another convergence took place today at the same location, with a strategic framework planning session for open textbooks and related initiatives held on our campus. Ably led by Dr. Rajiv Jhanghiani from BCcampus and Kwantlen Polytechnic University, the session’s purpose was to combine multiple open educational resource efforts into one combined framework.
The BCcampus Zed Cred program, from which TRU, along with two other institutions (Justice Institute of BC; KPU), has received grants to develop a zero-cost textbook one-year academic certificate.
Internal funding received by Open Learning from TRU to develop open textbooks.
The impending rollout of the first year of OERu studies at TRU.
Initiatives in the library to promote and curate OER.
The ongoing mandate of the Open Learning Division to provide open education to our students.
This was a big day for us, as we felt excitement and awareness build about our collective strengths combined to promote and expand the reach and benefits of openness in education. As the plan develops, it’ll be shared here and elsewhere for suggestions, and for others to use and adapt as they wish.
Well, I did it. Pulled the pin, as they say. After more than seven years at Thompson Rivers University’s Open Learning Division I’ve put in my letter. I’ll be done sometime in January 2018, though I’ll be off campus by November. I hate to call it retirement because that seems to imply golfing (which I don’t do), watching TV and/or doing nothing at all (both of which I also don’t do). Seeing what “retirement” means to people like Tony Bates makes me nervous…I could never live up to that superhuman level of energy. So I use that term with some qualifications. I am turning 62 this year and feel like it’s time to try some new things, but no longer full-time. In my career I’ve worked in the once-reputable book publishing industry (Prentice Hall), for the original BC Open Learning Institute, UBC, the Justice Institute of BC, the Certified Management Accountants of BC (now CPA), and, finally, circled back to Open Learning, which had since been merged with TRU after several iterations in between. I’m not sure how I got here, given that in my early teens I wanted to build race cars and motorcycles. Life can be weird.
Some good things have already come my way, including teaching for Royal Roads University, which I’m really excited to start in a few weeks. I get to work online with a group of graduate students learning about the use of technology in higher education. I will continue some of the open education research I’m currently involved in, and of course I want to spend more time on music and recording, something I feel I’ve neglected for far too long.
I’ve been interim Associate Vice-President at TRU for close to two years now. I started on at TRU as Director of Instructional Design which then expanded to all of Curriculum Development. Over this time some key moments have been getting my blasted PhD finished, increasing my network of amazing colleagues around the world, participating in the OERu project, co-editing an open access journal, and working side-by-side with the one-and-only Brian Lamb, who continues to be a wonderful colleague, friend and inspiration. I’ve gained many new colleagues and friends at TRU and I’ve really appreciated working with the instructional design team in Open Learning including department Chairs Melissa Jakubec and Michelle Harrison. I’m hoping to maintain an affiliation with TRU to enable more project work and research.
My former job has just been posted. It’s a great job and we worked to expand the scope and combine it with program delivery, which means all online teaching in Open Learning. The position is titled “Director of Curriculum Development and Delivery,” and it’s a good one. Please check it out or pass the tip on to a qualified individual you know. I want to leave this thing in good hands and someone out there, maybe YOU, is just right for it!
Okay, now for a slight change of pace. This is a little open music sharing for my friends and colleagues in the open education multiverse. For some reason, open education seems to go well with guitars, basses, voices, saxophones, drums, keyboards, synths, theremins and other noisemakers that can’t even be imagined let alone played by ordinary humans. Wherever any of us might meet up, it’s not always easy to find a place to Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out.
So, in the spirit of disruptive innovation, I’ve been testing a few ideas and gadgets, and it all came together when I discovered how amazing small Bluetooth speakers have recently become. Normally a load of guitar and bass amps, a drum kit, a PA system and other clunky gear needs to be collected, assembled into a special rehearsal space, and then dismantled after the fact, especially hard on us spindly-legged open eds and techs with our carpal tunnels and atrophied arms. So, introducing the Mighty Portable Practice Studio.
The video is a short demo of how the pieces fit together and what it sounds like. Yes it’s a little sloppy and out of tune…all intentional, meant to resemble real live jam sessions (…cough…). I pre-recorded several tracks in place of having live musicians help out, but either way it will work fine. Any suggestions for improvement or enhancement are most welcome. And…pardon the hat…I was doing this between handing out Halloween candies at the door…
I just finished writing the first draft of an online module that is part of a larger multi-university faculty and staff development program in online and distance learning for a developing region in the world. I have been lightly involved with this project for several years, largely because I believe in its longer-term value; i.e., to build capacity in providing locally developed learning opportunities accessible to educationally underserved and remote learners.
It made sense to try to build the module content as much as possible from open educational resources (OER), leaving me more time to focus on other pieces that help to foster engaging learning experiences. The focus of this module was administrative processes and systems integration for the implementation of online learning systems at a large scale in higher education institutions. Apart from finding content at appropriate levels of complexity and avoiding overly corporate examples, the foundational material of this module seemed pretty generic to me.
I started off with that time-honored, highly academic and rigorous approach known as “just poke around and see what comes up.” What did this look like? I suppose I should be embarrassed at how simple it was. I made up a list of key terms and started to search. Apart from a directory of open access journals, I didn’t go to any other directories, repositories or collections of links to open content. I just used Google, Google Scholar, and Google Images. BTW this isn’t intended as an ad for Google; I was just following the easiest possible path that appeared in front of me in the moment.
I was looking for chunks of relevant content that I could whittle into shape for my module. For each section I searched specific topics using key terms (information systems; business processes, systems integration, workflow analysis, process documentation, and perhaps 15-20 others). I usually combined these terms with either “open course” or “open textbook” along with, occasionally, “higher education” or “online learning.” This was not a highly scientific approach and I’m sure any research librarian could have done ten times better. But it still worked for me.
Interestingly, combining my search terms with “OER” led less to openly licensed content in my search term areas, than to material about OER implementation processes. But that’s not what I was after. It was just a reminder of how far we are from a semantic web. (Serendipitously however, that search did produce one useful resource related to OER that I could use as an example of workflow mapping. This was by Lisa J. Scott from Heriot-Watt University, who is a hero not only for putting her content online under a CC license, but also for having a resume with many interesting ed-tech type projects including JISC’s now-parked UKOER initiative – and for the fact that she is a 4th Dan karate blackbelt as well. A triple hero, then.)
The open content search-by-poking-around was both simple and productive, leading me to several open textbooks in which I could search for chapters, sections and graphics that were very close to what I was looking for. The two main resources that kept popping up were Saylor Open Textbooks and BCcampus Open Textbooks. I also found helpful material in a Saylor course and in the University of Georgia’s Global Text Project. A cluster of interlinked Wikipedia articles led me to useful schematics from the Wikimedia Commons. Google’s advanced image search with usage rights selected as “free to use share or modify” provided plenty of openly licensed images. Also, going to the page that hosted an image often provided yet other leads, a little like the ancient days of finding a specific book in the library stacks, and then browsing the adjacent areas to find other relevant titles that somehow got missed in the card catalog search. (Yes I used to do that…I suddenly feel so old…).
A major weakness of this method, however, was Google’s algorithms. Searching from Canada unsurprisingly invoked a built-in algorithmic bias toward western resources. It took some intentional effort (i.e. introduce the names of specific countries into the search string) to start to see the many resources that would help at least to some small extent balance out the western bias. Shockingly I didn’t have to put “Canada,” “USA” or “Europe” in the search strings to get those former results…
The Reusability Paradox was not as big a problem as we sometimes make it out to be; any interpretation that explains it as an iron law needs to be challenged. A vast amount of the material I came across was reasonably generic, probably a natural feature of that specific field of study and practice. Contextualization, first in its more trivial sense, consisted of such things as changing “organization” to “university” and “business process” to “administrative process” for educators averse to business jargon. Secondly, in its more meaningful sense, contextualization took place though the use of case studies, which I located mainly in a number of open access journals. By including regional and country names in my searches, I found some very relevant and locally grounded research with a potential to enhance the open textbook and open course content. With the content students could learn about widely disseminated theories and models of practice, and then engage in thinking about and discussing what did and didn’t work in local or regional projects as discussed in case studies. They would then use this knowledge to analyze their own specific situations. Interactions between generic content, local research and the learners’ specific situation seemed to me to provide plenty of potential material for engagement. I’d be most interested in hearing how others handle this issue.
As a dedicated slacker, I was happy to see that my overall approach was much easier than writing my own content, and I estimate I remixed and revised the content in less than half the time it would have taken to write it from scratch. Further, the very process of scanning and selecting content that I could then freely repurpose gave me access to much more expertise than I have on my own, and I could scoop it in good conscience without taxing my paraphrasing skills to the limit. Combining pieces from various sources gave me a very quick overview of different approaches and biases, which helped me to reshape the material in a more informed manner than would have occurred by working on my own. I now look forward to the peer review this newly mixed material will receive.
The other challenges I did encounter were mostly at the nuisance level. As I copied and pasted chunks of text and graphics from Word and PDF documents into my own project, some embedded formatting from the original was difficult to get rid of until I pasted the content into a text editor and converted it to plain text. That solved most problems except for the occasional document infested with those atavistic “carriage returns” that had to be removed manually. (If anyone has a tested and proven solution, please let me know. There are plenty of suggestions online, but alas so far no go for me.) There was little need to mess around with image conversions; a simple screen shot levelled everything into a universally usable PNG file. Almost too easy.
Open textbook projects and open courseware (and there’s not always that much difference between them, from what I’m seeing) seem to be covering off an increasingly wide swath of basic content that I would describe as academic tofu – useful material that can be taken up whole or chopped up as needed, seasoned and stirred into a tasty meal with other ingredients. We need to keep those developments going. Open access journals are, to my thinking, a key piece in finding contextual material based on current research, especially case studies, that can be matched up with the content. And finally, individual scholars, academics and practitioners who develop their own pieces in their work and put them online under an open content license provide an endless variety of condiments that can be added to the meal.
Without a doubt things could be done in many different and better ways, but at least this worked for me and, as far as my own practice is concerned, there’s no turning back.
About 10 years ago I put out the word among a few musician friends that I was looking for a decent quality but relatively inexpensive 12-string electric guitar. It’s something I seldom use but from time to time there’s just that particular sound that you want, and then of course you have to have it. The truth about 12-string electric guitars that most of them are horrible to play and many don’t stay in tune very long no matter how hard you try. It’s not easy to find the right one. Within a few weeks, by word of mouth, I was introduced to a local guitar tech who had just what I wanted in his rack of guitars, and at a price I could live with. After the deal was done, he asked me if I’d be willing contact him first if I ever planned to sell it. With a wink he was asking me for for first dibs, mainly because his instruments were more than commodities; they were individual things he cared about. The understanding was informal, non-binding; he just liked know to that the large numbers of guitars he bought and sold over the years were safe, pampered and well fed wherever they might have been adopted, and that they would go to another good home when it was time to pass them along. I ran into him not too long ago and let him know I still owned and appreciated the guitar. He immediately knew which instrument I was talking about and acknowledged my update with an approving grin. I’ve heard similar stories to this from conscientious people who sell or re-home pets such as dogs – they don’t just forget the animals after the transaction is complete.
It’s not that a story needs a point, and in fact I like this one just the way it is. But also this story came to mind over the past few weeks when my colleague Naomi Cloutier and I were conducting a small research project in preparation for an OpenEd 2015 presentation in Vancouver.
As part of our data collection we conducted video-recorded interviews with a number of faculty and staff in our Curriculum Development department at TRU Open Learning, all of whom are involved in some way with developing, editing, producing and/or implementing BCcampus open textbooks in online courses in our development shop. The interviewees included three instructional designers, two editors, a video producer and a production technician.
We wanted to learn about their experiences working with a number of open textbooks that have been either incorporated into our online courses alone or in combination with the OERu, or edited and produced in our shop. They all expressed their appreciation for the flexibility of working with openly licensed content and told us that they found it meaningful to be part of a project to better serve students and faculty. But one of their main concerns was how these textbooks would sustain over the longer term. After all the work done to develop and use them, what would keep them alive, updated and flourishing?
Now back to the guitar story: in the same way that this loosely formed group of musicians keeps an eye out for the instruments they circulate, I wonder if we would want to see a similar ethic of care for open textbooks. There are many methods and models for releasing open textbooks into the open ecosystem, and with that I think there needs to be at least one person, or better yet a small community of persons or organizations who actually care about one or more specific open textbooks that they’ve been involved with. They keep a benevolent eye on where the textbooks are going, where they’re being used, and when they’re in need of a little TLC, as well as encourage others to take them over and run with them in the same way. Over time creating and maintaining open textbooks and more broadly OER are hopefully becoming part of a natural process of meeting one’s own needs while also doing the things necessary to make it available to others.There is a certain amount of intentionality needed to put an OER, or open textbook, out into the big wide world and have it flourish. To adapt a Nigerian proverb, it takes a village to raise an open textbook.
That village, in the case of open textbooks, may well be communities of developers, faculty, institutions, organizations and others who care about the open textbooks they develop or adapt. Beyond any technical, staffing funding and other solutions and models, they will be very important to the future of open textbooks.
My unusually lengthy summer vacation of four weeks straight was a pretty rare thing. I don’t remember taking this much of a stretch of time off in many, many years. I got to do some cool, fun and relaxing stuff, as well as some things that were backbreaking but in the end satisfying. In the spirit of learning and reflection, here are a few vacation anecdotes along with some things (among many) learned along the way. Here we go.
In the cool, fun and relaxing category, Jean and I visited and stayed with our daughter and son-in-law in Eugene, Oregon. They met in their mid-teens when we took our kids (back then) camping down the Oregon coast. He was a high school student working at a go-kart track in Florence, and somehow he and my daughter struck up a conversation when we went for rides. They just hit it off, and he seemed (miraculously, in our view at the time) to be able to cheer her out of her teenage funk. They kept in touch for several years through ICQ and MSN (remember?), lost touch, and then about 10 years later re-discovered each other on Facebook and married two years after. They are both fabulous, and we now have a place to stay when we cross the border to spend time on the untamed and funky northwest coast of the USA. We spent some time lake fishing – and while the fish decided to hide, we saw birds all day long, e.g. bald eagles, large flocks of pelicans, kingfishers, turkey vultures, great blue herons, osprey, cormorants, buffleheads, and many more. We also found a small swimming hole under a bridge that reminded me of my childhood in northern British Columbia. The water was icy cold but exhilarating. We jumped in like little kids, skipped stones and jumped off rocks into the deeper holes. I took a mental snapshot of that moment to retrieve on the coldest, snowiest, slushiest, sloppiest day of winter when I again get to slip and slide my way up and down the Coquihalla Highway (aka Highway through Hell) to Kamloops, commuting weekly between my work there and home in Vancouver.
Lesson 1: We have absolutely no idea as to what one little chance encounter will do to profoundly change the lives of individuals, families, friends and others, forever.
Lesson 2: Nature is a major reset button for the soul. Don’t forget to get out there, as often as possible. (Except in winter, on the Coquihalla. Forget that.)
On the somewhat backbreaking side, this was also a good time to do some badly needed yard work. This included cutting down a chestnut tree in our yard that I had planted about 15 years ago. This work also involved taking the leaves and branches away for chipping, and then digging out the stump. Reason: We liked the tree, but in keeping with the Law of Unintended Consequences, so did the squirrels. After they took up residence in our roof, we had to have them humanely trapped and relocated. Little critters, seriously.
We also cut up and pulled out a massive hedge that had gone insane and overgrown with wild blackberries. As I was pulling up hedge roots, I kept thinking about rhizomatic learning (really). The roots wandered throughout the yard, some deep, some shallow, and some reconnecting in new ways in weird unexpected intersections. There were new shoots popping up all over the place, seemingly randomly, including one right across the yard and through our deck. There were also enough blackberries to make some blackberry-lime jam.
Lesson 3: To really get rid of a problem you have to get to the roots of it (ooh that’s so bad, sorry).
Lesson 4: Digging out stumps is really hard work. If you don’t have to, don’t.
Lesson 5: If you don’t get rhizomatic learning, dig up a hedge. It will help.
Lesson 6: Make jam from berries you picked. Every time you spread it on toast or stir it into your yogurt, you think about the time you picked the berries to make it. A very cool connection.
We went to Victoria, BC to participate in a Dragon Boat festival. Well…Jean participated, I watched. This ferocious team of paddlers, who call themselves Gift of Life, is amazing, made up of organ transplant recipients (including heart, kidney, double lung!), a kidney donor (Jean), a mother who donated her son’s organs after a tragic fatal accident, and other supporters.
In competition with about 50-60 other teams including cancer survivors, visually impaired persons, paddlers with MS, and able-bodied groups, they came in with a Bronze in their category. And then…celebrating afterwards in a nearby brew pub, we were told by our server that our drinks were paid for. She pointed to a customer at the counter. When we thanked him and asked why, he told us with a breaking voice that he was waiting for a double lung transplant and had received badly needed hope and inspiration from the team, whose purpose was spelled out on their jerseys. We were stunned, and to this day it still resonates.
Lesson 7: In a world where we see so much horrible news, suffering and despair, there is also so much to be impressed, inspired and even overwhelmed by.
Lesson 8: We can choose to be on the good side. This includes our rag-tag networks of ed-techies, open educators and other such gifted educators and thought leaders who still have the desire to transform things and make them better for others.
Lesson 9: If it works for you, remember to sign an organ donor card. It can give life to others and by the time the card gets used, you really don’t need those parts anymore.
More on the fun side, I reorganized my recording studio and now am fully digital. At the same time I still have my old Tascam 16-track reel to reel tape recorder. I tried but just can’t let it go; there’s something about that tape rolling that makes me feel warm inside, sort of like a sip of bourbon trickling down your throat. I’m now looking for a MIDI interface that can lock it to my digital audio workstation so I can have the best of both worlds.
Lesson 10: There’s no need to assume we need to throw away things that are old, or to avoid things that are new. We just need to find ways to get them in sync.
OK enough for now…this is getting too long. Maybe more next time.
This is the first of a series of short reflections I want to share, based on my live tweets of a streamed session by Dr. Shawn Wilson on indigenous research methodologies. I don’t find this easy, because I have to confess how little I know, how much I need to learn, how much I fear […]
These are my Twitter notes from a remote live stream of an indigenous research methodologies session by Dr. Shawn Wilson, held this day at Royal Roads University, which I shared with the knowledge and approval of the facilitators. There’s a lot to unpack here, which I’ll work on at the right time, but for now […]
I can hardly believe it was already more than two years ago that a small group of us Canadian west coasters had just finished up the OER17 conference in London and were heading to Edinburgh to meet up with a few colleague-friends. We used a brief break in our travels to wander around parts of […]
“I see instructional designers, educational technologists or learning ecology consultants (which was a new title for me) as the Marine Corps of the educational world. They have seen many battles and have (mostly) survived. They have even learned how to occasionally win battles. That’s the kind of wisdom of which academic leaders and faculty and instructors […]
Thompson Rivers University’s Open Learning Division, known informally as Open Learning (OL), is celebrating its 40th anniversary. OL has been around in different forms since 1978, when it was established as the Open Learning Institute (OLI) in the province of British Columbia, Canada. OLI was inspired in large part by the model established roughly a […]
What to do when your technology fails in the classroom? This was a student teacher’s question submitted for our weekly online forum. The ensuing discussion was robust, with many examples shared. When the projector broke down in an elementary class, a pupil in the class had suggested the perplexed teacher sing the fun-dance action song […]
What are some things that make for a good workplace? Reminiscing about some of the jobs I’ve had over the years, ranging from delivering pizzas to operating a drill press to developing and teaching university courses, I started making a list. It was a pretty good list. Then I took step back and re-read the […]
A little over ten years ago the BCcampus Educational Technologies Group (ETUG) held their spring workshop at Thompson Rivers University. Titled Running the Rivers: Challenging Currents in Teaching, Learning & Technology, the program included such topics as The Wiki in Post-Secondary Education, In the Moodle, and, presented by no less a luminary than Scott Leslie, […]
Well, I did it. Pulled the pin, as they say. After more than seven years at Thompson Rivers University’s Open Learning Division I’ve put in my letter. I’ll be done sometime in January 2018, though I’ll be off campus by November. I hate to call it retirement because that seems to imply golfing (which I […]
In a recent Bloomberg column “Let Robots Teach American Kids,” Tyler Cowan makes the case that their intrinsic lack of emotion can make robots more effective than humans in certain situations, by avoiding our psychological flaws. While I wouldn’t disagree that robotic communication may work in certain situations, the author makes me nervous when he […]