A Weird but True Fact about Textbook Publishers and OER

As I was perusing David Kernohan’s notes on Larry Lessig’s keynote at the OpenEd conference, one statement leapt out at me:

Could the department of labour require that new education content commissioned ($100m) be CC-BY? There was a clause (124) that suggested that the government should check that no commercial content should exist in these spaces. Was argued down. But we were “Not important” enough to be defeated.

It is absolutely true that textbook publishers do not currently see OER as a major threat. But here’s a weird thing that is also true:

These days, many textbook publishers like OER.

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Better Ed Tech Conversations

This is another follow-up to the comments thread on my recent LMS rant. As usual, Kate Bowles has insightful and empathetic comments:

…From my experience inside two RFPs, I think faculty can often seem like pretty raucous bus passengers (especially at vendor demo time) but in reality the bus is driven by whoever’s managing the RFP, to a managed timetable, and it’s pretty tightly regulated. These constraints are really poorly understood and lead to exactly the predictable and conservative outcomes you observe. Nothing about the process favours rethinking what we do.

Take your focus on the gradebook, which I think is spot on: the key is how simply I can pull grades in, and from where. The LMS we use is the one with the truly awful, awful gradebook. Awful user experience, awful design issues, huge faculty development curve even to use it to a level of basic competence.

The result across the institution is hostility to making online submission of assignments the default setting, as overworked faculty look at this gradebook and think: nope.

So beyond the choosing practice, we have the implementation process. And nothing about this changes the mind of actual user colleagues. So then the institutional business owner group notices underuse of particular features—oh hey, like online submission of assignments—and they say to themselves: well, we need a policy to make them do it. Awfulness is now compounding.

But then a thing happens. Over the next few years, faculty surreptitiously develop a workable relationship with their new LMS, including its mandated must-use features. They learn how to do stuff, how to tweak and stretch and actually enjoy a bit. And that’s why when checklist time comes around again, they plead to have their favourite corner left alone. They only just figured it out, truly.

If institutions really want to do good things online, they need to fund their investigative and staff development processes properly and continuously, so that when faculty finally meet vendors, all can have a serious conversation together about purpose, before looking at fit.

This comment stimulated a fair bit of conversation, some of which continued on the comments thread of Jonathan Rees’ reply to my post.

The bottom line is that there is a vicious cycle. Faculty, who are already stretched to the limit (and beyond) with their workloads, are brought into a technology selection process that tends to be very tactical and time-constrained. Their response, understandably, tends to be to ask for things that will require less time from them (like an easier grade book, for example). When administrators see that they are not getting deep and broad adoption, they tend to mandate technology use. Which makes the problem worse rather than better because now faculty are forced to use features that take up more of their time without providing value, leaving them with less time to investigate alternatives that might actually add value. Round and round it goes. Nobody stops and asks, “Hey, do we really need this thing? What is it that we do need, and what is the most sensible way of meeting our needs?”

The only way out of this is cultural change. Faculty and administrators alike have work together toward establishing some first principles around which problems the technology is supposed to help them solve and what a good solution would look like. This entails investing time and university money in faculty professional development, so that they can learn what their options are and what they can ask for. It entails rewarding faculty for their participation in the scholarship of teaching. And it entails faculty seeing educational technology selection and policy as something that is directly connected to their core concerns as both educational professionals and workers.

Sucky technology won’t fix itself, and vendors won’t offer better solutions if customers can’t define “better” for them. Nor will open source projects fare better. Educational technology only improves to the extent that educators develop a working consensus regarding what they want. The technology is a second-order effect of the community. And by “community,” I mean the group that collectively has input on technology adoption decisions. I mean the campus community.

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Walled Gardens, #GamerGate, and Open Education

There were a number of interesting responses to my recent LMS rant. I’m going to address a couple of them in short posts, starting with this comment:

…The training wheels aren’t just for the faculty, they’re for the students, as well. The idea that the internet is a place for free and open discourse is nice, of course, but anyone who pays attention knows that to be a polite fiction. The public internet is a relatively safe place for straight, white, American males, but freedom of discourse is a privilege that only a small minority of our students (and faculty, for that matter) truly enjoy. If people didn’t understand that before, #notallmen/#yesallmen and GamerGate should certainly have driven that home.

As faculty and administrators we have an obligation–legal, and more importantly moral–to help our students understand the mechanisms, and unfortunately, often the consequences, of public discourse, including online communications. This is particularly true for the teenagers who make up the bulk of the undergrad population. Part of transformative teaching is giving people a safe space to become vulnerable and open to change. For those of us who think still of the “‘net” in terms of it’s early manifestations that were substantially open and inclusive research networks and BBS of largely like-minded people (someone else mentioned The Well, although The Well, of course, has always been a walled garden), open access seems tempting. But today’s internet is rarely that safe space for growth and learning. Just because students can put everything on the internet (YikYak, anyone?) doesn’t mean that they should.

In many, if not most, situations, A default stance of of walled garden with easy-to-implement open access options for chosen and curated content makes a great deal of sense….

There are lots of legitimate reasons why students might not want to post on the public internet. A few years back, when I was helping my wife with a summer program that exposed ESL high schoolers to college and encouraged them to feel like it could be something for them, we had a couple of students who did not want to blog. We didn’t put them on the spot by asking why, but we suspected that their families were undocumented and that they were afraid of getting in trouble.

This certainly doesn’t mean that everybody has to use an LMS or lock everything behind a login, but it does mean that faculty teaching open courses need to think about how to accommodate students who won’t or can’t work on the open web. I don’t think this sort of accommodation in any way compromises the ethic of open education. To the contrary, ensuring access for everyone is part of what open education is all about.

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APLU Panel: Effects of digital education trends on teaching faculty

Last week I spoke on a panel at the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) annual conference. Below are the slides and abridged notes on the talk.

It is useful to look across many of the technology-drive trends affecting higher education and ask what that tells about faculty of the future. Distance education (DE) of course is not new, and the first DE course came out in the mid 1800s in a course from London on shorthand. These distance, or often correspondence, course have expanded over time, but with the rise of the Internet online education (today’s version of DE) has been accelerating over the past 20 years to become quite common in our higher education system.

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Dammit, the LMS

Count De Monet: I have come on the most urgent of business. It is said that the people are revolting!

King Louis: You said it; they stink on ice.

- History of the World, Part I

Jonathan Rees discovered a post I wrote about the LMS in 2006 and, in doing so, discovered that I was writing about LMSs in 2006. I used to write about the future of the LMS quite a bit. I hardly ever do anymore, mostly because I find the topic to be equal parts boring and depressing. My views on the LMS haven’t really changed in the last decade. And sadly, LMSs themselves haven’t changed all that much either. At least not in the ways that I care about most. At first I thought the problem was that the technology wasn’t there to do what I wanted to do gracefully and cost-effectively. That excuse doesn’t exist anymore. Then, once the technology arrived as Web 2.0 blossomed[1], I thought the problem was that there was little competition in the LMS market and therefore little reason for LMS providers to change their platforms. That’s not true anymore either. And yet the pace of change is still glacial. I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that the LMS is the way it is because a critical mass of faculty want it to be that way.

Jonathan seems to think that the LMS will go away soon because faculty can find everything they need on the naked internet. I don’t see that happening any time soon. But the reasons why seem to get lost in the perennial conversations about how the LMS is going to die any day now. As near as I can remember, the LMS has been about to die any day now since at least 2004, which was roughly when I started paying attention to such things.

And so it comes to pass that, with great reluctance, I take up my pen once more to write about the most dismal of topics: the future of the LMS.

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  1. Remember that term? []
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