About castles, Dordrecht and course production

It was at the Extension School quarterly meeting in February that the idea first occurred to us: over drinks a colleague spoke downheartedly of the difficulty to convince teachers to commit to working on an online course on top of all their other chores. Could we then lock them in a castle and not let them out until they delivered a course? What was said in jest all of a sudden became a serious proposal to be considered by the ES management team. Ok, we weren’t gonna take anyone away against their wishes and castles are in short supply these days, but it could still work: if a course team (usually a group of academics) could free up five consecutive days in their busy diaries and come together under the same roof with the sole purpose of producing a course, I hypothesized that production time would be substantially reduced. And even gambled the thought that with no other work/family distractions, well fed and wined, comfortable beds provided, endless WI-FI, and the space and opportunity to focus on a common task, the happiness would be such that they’d not only enjoy the experience immensely but also would want to do it again.

At the beginning of June, I got the go-ahead to make ‘boot camp’ happen. By then, I had already informally approached a course team: the Prof responsible for the two MOOCs in the Water and Ports, Historic Cities and Landscapes program had earlier in the year received approval for a new course. I knew we worked well together and more importantly, we liked each other. This allowed me to tick off two ‘must haves’ from my wish list: experience and camaraderie.

Next we had to find the time when everyone could be available. I had hoped for a summer start but in the end, we settled on w/c September 5, the beginning of the academic year at TU Delft. With a whole week blocked in our calendars, the search for a suitable venue could commence. We needed somewhere ‘lovely’, easy to reach by public transport, all-in-one in terms of accommodation, work space and meals, in a location that afforded an easy escape to clear the heads (i.e. a castle in an enchanted forest, or at least surrounded by gardens). At such short notice, however, we didn’t quite manage all of this. When I headed off on my short break in July, I had a course team, a course proposal, an action plan and a … hotel in Dordrecht. I had to trade: inspiring outside space for a top-floor swimming pool and sauna.

While the original boot camp schedule was to gather on Sunday evening to give everyone a chance to settle in and hold a first work session, to save on costs, we delayed the start until Monday and instead met online prior to arriving in Dordrecht. Eight of us in total –one learning developer (at your service), one evaluator (second pair of hands for the LD), five content experts (a combination of both established and budding academics), and a fully trained teaching assistant. The purpose of this meeting? For everyone to say hello to each other, and for me to make sure that we all stood on the same starting point, knew where the finish line was, and the route to get there. Less metaphorically: set the goals, discuss expectations and run through practicalities for the week away. I even gave them homework (which they were likely not to do): familiarise yourselves with the approved course proposal –rationale, learning objectives and outcomes, structure, target audience.

And so it was that on Monday, September 5th, 2022 at 8:55 am, hugged (‘coz WHO says the pandemic is over) and fueled with coffee, we were ready to go. Aim of the day: blueprint, and a first draft of the about page to be sent to marketing for comments. Totally doable since we had a solid course proposal, right? Wrong.

Course proposals are never solid, especially not when months go by between submission, approval and the beginning of production. Nothing is set on stone until the about page is published and registration opens. In our case, the essence of the course was there, only we started from zero to define who our personas were, hone in on what they needed and what we could give them, what they would be able to do after taking the course that they couldn’t do before. And so forth.

A man and a woman sketched out on paper and their profile as learners written on the side.
‘Personas’, by B. de los Arcos, CC BY-NC-SA.

I won’t go into details of what happened each of the four and a half days we stayed in Dordrecht. Suffice it to say that we put in long hours, sketched out the narrative (and assessment) for each of the course modules, then revised and strengthened it, reviewed and strengthened it again; we conversed, dialogued, laughed, got frustrated, tensed the line and let go; we were a woman down on Wednesday; did a live pitch of the course to three potential professional learners on two occasions; and had 24/7 supply of coffee/tea/other liquids and solids of a healthy type.

In a nutshell, were you interested in holding a similar event, here is what you need to stand you in good stead: (I might come back later to add to this list)

  • A course team, with empty diaries, ready and happy to focus on the task, trained if not experienced in online course production, familiar with the story the course will tell and the part they will write, and who get on well with each other. At least one person (TA or other) should have the ability to make sense of chaotic conversations and record them on paper in a suitably legible manner, for posterity.
  • A sound course proposal, as established by the Extension School –the more stable, solid and predefined the course narrative, the faster it will be to move forward.
  • A venue, ideally containing the best possible conditions for working, living (eat, drink, sleep, fresh air) and surviving ‘being-100%-stuck-with-your-colleagues’, i.e. opportunities to get away from them.
  • A master of ceremonies (aka learning developer) to guide the conversations, push forward and pull back when needed, read the room, keep the focus, manage time on and off task, recap at the end of the day and set goals for the following.
  • A clear idea of what you want to achieve, how far you can reach, but also a readiness to accept that the posts will shift and to allow yourselves the freedom and flexibility to change the plan.

Each course is a different adventure. A different story to tell. The course team gave us their time; we provided the right space for them to be able to focus on one task. The conversations that took place in four and a half days in Dordrecht would have happened over six months had we followed a ‘normal’ process of production. But what really, really counts here is that these four and a half days together created a good-looking, engaging, practical story that we all can tell from now. Not in six months’ time.

From here my thanks to Clint Lalonde for sharing with me his experience of book sprints in Canada; the Extension School management team for supporting a bit of madness (aka ‘innovation’); the VW course team (Carola, Hilde, Rachel, Matteo, Charlotte and Zuza) for being such amazing human beings and a pleasure to work with; Tracey, the best second-in-command; Dénise, who speaks Dutch much, much better than me; and finally, to the staff at the van der Valk Hotel in Dordrecht –if only they had speeded up dinner, we could have enjoyed the pool.

Don’t ask me what Dordrecht is like, I’m afraid I don’t know.

Coming soon to a screen near you: ‘Water Values: Leveraging the Past for Sustainable Water Systems’.


We Like Sharing

Wij zijn open by B. de los Arcos, CC BY.

Part of this post was published in TUD’s online learning hub; it has been reworked and extended for submission as the fifth assignment of the Creative Commons Certificate.

When I first got involved in open education many years ago, it was because someone at work asked How would you like to share your teaching materials? Ever since, encouraging others to share has been important to me. At the end of February 2021, I opened a Flickr account with the aim of publishing some of the images that we use in our online courses and further work towards the Extension School’s mission to educate the world –by default we share the content of our MOOCs as open courseware under CC BY-NC-SA. What I had in mind as a next step was to invite others to share theirs too, and together create a bank of photos visible to everyone and publicly searchable. Of course, it was also an excuse to talk about Creative Commons licenses and correct attribution.

We Like Sharing is managed by myself at the Extension School for Continuing Education and contains images created by TUD staff and students, and occasionally their friends and families. Anyone can contribute; the only request for their photo to be uploaded to the repository is that they choose the CC license under which it is released –they retain copyright, not TUD, and decide what permissions they give to those who would like to reuse their images.

The photo bank was launched to coincide with Open Education Week 2021; to tell of its existence and invite contributions, a competition was organized –’Submit a photo that illustrates your interpretation of open’.

Six months later WLS contains 339 photographs shared by 60+ colleagues and students. All photos are tagged to help users find what they are looking for (or what they are not looking for); all released under an open license; all with suggested text that can be copied and pasted to attribute each image correctly, and a short description that can serve as alt text. The images have received nearly 140.000 views, a pretty number if you ask me, and although I have not been able to track how many have been reused, I have anecdotal evidence that some of them now feature in places they weren’t intended for. All good, right? So what’s the challenge? Sustainability. How do I keep this going?

The strategy must address how to attract a constant flow of contributions. In my experience, sharing does not come naturally to many, not even a photo of a landscape you took while on holidays that otherwise would remain hidden in your phone. First, you need to keep asking, you need to keep reminding people that they can share; this I will do, but I also trust that anyone who deposits an image will show and tell others, and thus spread the word. The competition worked well in March to raise awareness and attract participation. Can we do it again next year? Make it an annual event linked to OEWeek? I hope so.

Second, if you have an audience, keep them engaged: create a newsletter to inform people how the repository is going, what pics have been reused, which received the most views, the most comments, what requests have come in for a photo to be part of this or that collection, this or that album.

Third, increase the visibility of the repository: the Flickr account needs to be part of the institution without belonging to the institution; add a link to it wherever teachers, staff and students go to access other resources, i.e. the online learning hub, Teaching Academy website, etc.

Fourth, you have the beginnings of a community, nurture its spirit so that sharing happens not only because you like it but because you are also helping others: does anyone need a particular image for their course? Send the request out via the WLS mail list; someone might be able to photograph it for you.

These are only a few ideas. To action them will require time, energy and a lot of patience and endurance. It won’t happen overnight, but don’t give up. Good things happen to those who share.

Collections vs Remixes

Combining CC-licensed resources is pretty straight forward, I think. You are simply putting them together, like filling up your basket at the supermarket when you do your shopping; you go through the aisles, pick what you need and when you get to the till, what you have is a collection of products: each of them different from the other, some fresh, some vacuum-packed, with their own ‘best before’ date and so on. Likewise, in a collection of CC resources, you assemble different materials, each with its own license information and attribution, which you must provide always.

If you were to share this collection and apply a CC license to it, what would you have to bear in mind? You only own the copyright to your own contribution (i.e. how you put the material in a certain order, what text you added, etc.); you can include ND works; you don’t have to license your collection under SA if you included SA works; but, if you reused a NC resource, your collection will have to comply with NC conditions too.

Robin DeRosa’s The Open Anthology of Earlier American Literature is a great example of a collection, but let me give you one of my own, since that’s what this assignment requires:

Since I’m feeling a bit homesick, I decided to put together a collection of photos of Vigo, my hometown in Galicia. The four images represent four different aspects: Vigo is a port city; it’s not exactly an arty place, but the landscape of urban sculptures you’ll see on a walk is phenomenal; the mayor claims that the city’s Christmas lights easily outdo New York’s, and our football team, Celta de Vigo, breaks my heart every Sunday (most likely).

As you can see from the attribution, each of these photographs is used under a different CC license or is available under CC0. I have not changed anything, I have simply combined them, and added a couple of words to highlight what each image represents in my eyes. The photos are not mine to license, but I can choose a license for my collection. I would normally share anything I create under CC BY, but because in this case I’m using one photo that is NC, my collection has to be NC too.

What would have happened if, instead of combining these images, I had remixed them i.e. changed them to create something entirely new? A remix involves adaptation (and remember that what counts as adaptation is not easily defined and varies according to copyright law). If I go back to my analogy of earlier, once I got home with all the ingredients in my shopping basket and cooked a lovely paella, for example, I would have created a remix; all ingredients would have surrendered their individuality as elements of a collection to create a delicious dish.

Now, in the same way if your blood type is A+ you can’t donate to a O-, CC licenses are not always compatible. Let’s see, if your intention is to publicly share your adaptations, then you should never choose a NonDerivative work as your starting point, or if you’d like your remix to be available for commercial use, then adapting NonCommercial resources is not allowed. If ever in doubt which license goes with which, I find this chart on CC FAQs website extremely helpful.

Lastly, knowing that I still only own the copyright to my contributions, and that I need to attribute and abide by the conditions of the original work, I can choose a license for my remix as adapter, with the help of the Adapter’s License Chart and one basic premise: “You can determine which license to use for your adaptation by choosing the more restrictive of the two licenses on the works you are combining”.

Creative Commons Adapter’s License Chart, CC BY 4.0

Anatomy of a Creative Commons License

This third assignment was about digging deeper into CC licenses. As before, the output needs to be something of use; I’d like to be more creative and experiment with other tools but have no time, and I’m more likely to reuse slides in my workshops so here you have another presentation! (Google slides here).

In analyzing the anatomy of CC licenses, the starting point is the idea already introduced earlier in the course: CC licenses sit alongside copyright, they do not replace it; we simply move from the ‘all rights reserved’ of copyright to the less restrictive ‘let me tell you how you can use my work’ of ‘some rights reserved’. We have the three layers of the license so that everyone can take it in, regardless of whether or not they speak legalese, are machine or human –I’m not implying that lawyers are inhuman or even non-human, but you get my drift. Next we have the four icons describing the conditions they represent, and the six licenses and permissions that result from combining them. The most interesting part for me was learning that there is a difference between licenses and public domain tools, and that waiving one’s rights over one’s works is more problematic than it seems. The Creative Commons license spectrum is a diagram I have reused many times before (and if I had more time I would create a version using the European NC icon, and also translate it into Spanish), always accompanied by the debate ‘is a resource shared under the most restrictive CC license open or not?’ And last but not least, another key point for me to bring forward in my talks: Creative Commons licenses are copyright licenses; as such they apply where and when copyright applies –they are not meant to restrict what copyright does not restrict.

Copyright Law: the basics

Three weeks into the Creative Commons certificate and I do feel I’m catching up on conversations rather than firing ahead. I knew this would happen so no panic –work should get less busy in July.

In Module 2 we learned the basics of copyright law; the assignment required us to cover the purpose of copyright, what is copyrightable and what is not, the relationship between copyright and other methods of protecting intellectual property, how a person generally receives copyright protection for her work, the public domain, and exceptions and limitations to copyright. Since I’m working in the Netherlands, I think it’ll be of better use to me to look into the Dutch context as much as possible: if I were to explain copyright to my colleagues, I’d need a couple of ‘local’ examples, and to know about what’s different here from, for example, the rest of Europe. I feel I have betrayed my style in creating slides that may be too wordy, but with copyright you do need the words!

What is Creative Commons?

This week I’ve started taking the Creative Commons Certificate. I’ve been meaning to do it for a while, but time has not been kind. With summer holidays on the horizon, I said to myself: ‘it’s either now or never’. The reason? I’d like to learn more about CC, and potentially have a go at explaining it better.

The first assignment in the course requires to be creative around the key moments prior to CC coming into this world, and what CC is today. When giving a presentation, my slides tend to be mostly images and very few words. I like the idea of bringing out the story those images tell, and I think it normally works well. Even better when I remember to write the story down. Sharing the slides by themselves makes it difficult to relive the story. So here you go, one set of slides with accompanying text.

Most of this content is based on what I’ve read in the course materials; when this is not the case, I’ve included a link to the original source.

Domiriel’s photo on the second slide serves to illustrate the tension that set it all up. Pulling from one end we have copyright, which at its core prevents sharing; from the opposite end, the internet invites unparalleled generosity.

In 1998 the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act (CTEA) amended copyright in the US to equal the life of the creator plus 70 years. This further delay in works entering the public domain prompted opponents to file a lawsuit, Elder vs Ashcroft, challenging the CTEA as unconstitutional. In very simple battle terms, either you fought on the side of those who understood new creations were meant to be completely original, or for those who understood creativity is built on what happened before.

In 2003 the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the CTEA. Back to square 1? Not quite. A year earlier Creative Commons released the first version of its licenses, to allow copyright holders to let others know how they would like them to reuse their work. Creative Commons licenses changed copyright’s ‘all right reserved’ to ‘some rights reserved’; they gave creators the tools to say to others: ‘yes, you can reuse my work and these are my conditions’.

Creative Commons 2019 Annual Report, released in 2020, stated that there were “nearly 2 billion CC-licensed works online –all of them are available to anyone in the world to use, or adapt and build upon”. I’m guessing the number has increased in the past year, particularly under Creative Commons leadership role in the Open COVID Pledge.

Nowadays, Creative Commons is more than its licenses, more than a non-profit organization that vows to sustain the commons; it’s also a movement that reaches into the four corners of the world* through the CC Global Network, a community gathered around one idea: open sharing.

*There are no chapters in Spain or Ireland, the two countries I call home, why oh why?

A week in the life of a learning developer at TU Delft


Photo by Doran CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/aykCu1

We are looking for three new colleagues at work, one of them a learning developer and since I got first hand knowledge of what the job is like, I thought it’d be a good idea to share what I did last week. It may not have been a typical week in the life of a learning developer but you’ll get a flavour of things and may be tempted to come over and join the team. I did nearly a year and a half ago, and it’s worked pretty well for me.

I normally get to the office at around 8.30 am. I live in the city centre and I walk to work. (Yes, I’m still one those rare specimens in the Netherlands who prefer to walk rather than cycle). It takes me under 20 minutes at a leisurely pace, which means I can gather my thoughts en route and organise my day while being careful not to get run over (by a bike. Or two).

Last Monday started with a meeting in the library to finalise activities for our event as part of Open Education Week, followed by a ‘bila’ with learning developers’ coordinator Sofia –this is a one-to-one chat we all have every six weeks or so, a chance to run through plans, raise concerns or discuss whatever needs to be discussed at an individual level. It is, in my opinion, just as important as functioning as a team, which is what we do on a regular basis. After lunch I spent some time reviewing Circular Economy: An Introduction. This MOOC launched on Wednesday and is already in its 9th run; normally it wouldn’t require a lot of attention but since there was new content added, we decided to take a closer look and iron things out. That would have been me, the researcher who’s updating the course and the two new teaching assistants (TAs). These guys are students who get trained by us (and paid!) to do a variety of tasks, from building online courses directly in the platform to facilitating forum discussions, helping out with assessment and feedback, and so forth. After that, I had to deal with beta testers for Taming Big Data Streams: on the one side there were the practicalities of asking them to create an account on open edX so that I could give them access to the course; on the other, the more significant explaining what we were looking for from them, in this case feedback primarily on assignments: were the instructions clear, the timings correct, etc. My last meeting of the day was with outgoing Manager of Teaching and Learning Services Willem van Valkenburg: in moving to his new role as Director of the Extension School (that’s us by the way), he’s passed on to me some of his ‘open’ responsibilities and I’m the new open education process manager (but I’ll save this for another blog post).

On Tuesdays I’m on secondment to the Faculty of Industrial Design Engineering. I joined them only two weeks ago and until August as educational adviser. They are revising their whole bachelor curriculum and intent on implementing a blended learning approach, so that’s where I come in. Together with José Hekkens, the faculty’s coordinator for online and blended education, we are devising a plan to support teachers in blending their courses. (There’s more but it’s best if I leave it for another blog post too).

On Wednesday I had a first meeting at 9 am with the course team that worked on Circular Economy for a Sustainable Built Environment. Having already evaluated the previous instructor-paced run and decided on improvements, we discussed plans for the second run of the MOOC –it should come out as a self-paced at the end of this month. They are also working on a new professional course from the Faculty of Architecture, Circular Building Products for a Sustainable Built Environment, a slightly bumpier road: we see often that teachers underestimate the amount of time and work that go into creating an online course; our estimate is that on average nine months go by between receiving approval of a proposal and launching a course, which means a realistic look at everyone’s calendars. And even then, there are always hiccups. What do we do? Assess the situation, be flexible, look for a solution and get on with it. And we are all in this together. We had plans to start Circular Building Products in May, now it’s more likely to be September. Fine. Let’s do it.

Next, it was the turn of Rethink the City: this is another re-run from Architecture but they have created a new module, they are not using all the content from the previous run, and the TA is also new so we sat together to run through her tasks, what she needed help with, and help her prioritise ahead of launch. I was supposed to meet with Udo, the team’s instructional designer, to take a look at the back end of a website in relation to a Dutch language course we are working on, but we were both busy with other stuff. We decided to leave it for another day (we are an open plan office so it is very easy to talk when you need someone rather than send an email and wait for an answer).

The morning of every second Thursday we learning developers get together for our course development process team meeting. What’s that about? Exactly what it says on the tin! Last Thursday we were joined for an update by a colleague from the New Media Centre. We have a close relationship with them as we collaborate in all matters visual (I like their motto ‘We look education straight in the eye’). There was also some sharing of experiences (or shall I say misadventures?) with open response assessments in edX, and plans to visit Wageningen learning developers, yay! After lunch, I had time to take part in our voluntary, daily 30 minutes Dutch chat, where we (try to) chat in Dutch about work: Nederlands is een moeilijke taal, and more difficult to use it in a work environment (ik ben onderwijs ontwikkelaar!). Ok, it’s true, you don’t need it, everyone speaks English but if you want to learn Dutch (and I do), you can, and the support is there for you.

On Friday a colleague from the Teaching Lab asked me whether I’d be able to talk to them about community management (and reminisce about GO-GN days). That’s now arranged for next week. I then spent most of the day in Architecture, with the same course team I met on Wednesday. They had been working on the story board of their course so we had a closer look at it together: did it all make sense? are we aligning learning objectives and assessment? are we asking learners to do too much? All the little things they need to be reminded of.

And then we (the office) went out for dinner! To celebrate St Valentine’s (not)  –you see, it’s important to have fun too and that we do as often as we can.

So I’ve probably missed something but in any case, feel free to fill in the gaps with a thousand emails and two thousand quick chats to liaise with teachers, TAs, the team’s visual designer, the video publishing team, the Teaching Lab, communications, marketing…  Did you see Willem’s response to Brandon’s tweet a while ago?

Spot on! Would you like to come and work with us? I think you do 😉

If you think you got what it takes to fill Willem’s shoes, go to Manager Teaching and Learning Services (in Dutch).

If you think you’d like to join the learning developers’ team and work closely with me, go to Learning Developer (also in Dutch).

If teacher training is where you have expertise, go to UTQ Trainer (also in Dutch).

Deadline: March 1st, 2020. Good luck! I hope to see you soon.

Meet, eat and blend

Panel of three speakers in front of an audience

Photo by Delft Teaching Academy, @TUD_TeachingLab

Last week I attended a Meet & Eat session at the Teaching Lab on the topic of blended learning. You gotta give it to the organisers: it’s the tried and tested ‘feed them and they will come’ tactic, so a tasty broodje (sadly someone grabbed the salami before I got there), a sweet treat and coffee settled our mood to chat all things blended.

The way I’ve seen these gatherings work around here is the panel (manel in this case, tsk tsk) format; three experts at the front and a series of questions displayed on a screen as prompts for discussion with the (happily munching away) audience. The first one (throw them in the deep end!) was:

1. What is blended learning? A mix of online and offline activities. A mix of in-classroom and out-of-classroom activities. Interactive no matter where. Is a MOOC blended? Yes. No. This is getting too messy, let’s move on to the next question.*

2. Should I really put my lectures online? I wasn’t too gone on this one. For starters, it assumes that blending is only about putting stuff online. TU Delft students have Collegerama: recordings of lectures are available for them to watch any time any place; lecturers may be more or less pleased, they may see the value of this or not… the truth is students like it, as in ‘I missed the lecture so it’s great I can catch up and be prepared for the exam’. Thankfully the conversation veered towards ‘what’s the most effective use of my classroom time?’. The three experts on the panel coincided in their ‘flipped’ approach to blended: move the explanation of concepts to the online space (either as videos or readings), come to class to apply those concepts, mostly working through a set of problems with the help of the lecturer. It was pointed out that the new set up needs to be explained to students at the beginning of the academic year: they need to come to class prepared. One other thing they agreed on: you will lose bums on seats from class one to class two, but those who come for class two will become regular attendees. Then, the inevitable question: ‘Well, I recorded all these fantastic videos but nobody watched them, so I found myself in class going through the material that students should have covered before coming to class, what do I do?’. Experts’ unanimous response: don’t spoon feed them. You can do a quick recap as a refresher, but don’t go over the material again. Students are too used to sitting back, you need to ask them to take at least that one responsibility of coming to class having done their preparation.

3. I love lecturing. Is blended for me? If you love teaching, going blended won’t make you stop, it’s just a different way of doing things. “I object to this question!” passionately cried one expert; we shouldn’t do this or that because we like it, but because students will learn better. Cue in a colleague’s favourite (and rightly so) line: blending is about rethinking education, rethinking the way you teach, teaching the best course possible for students. Think about what’s the added value of the teacher. There’s no secret formula, no ‘drink this potion and the power of blended will be yours’, but aligning learning objectives, (online/F2F) activities and assessment will set you on the right track.

4. How can I increase student engagement in the class? This was an overlap of the discussion in question two, plus the oldest piece of sound advice: interact with your students, don’t be the sage on the stage.

There you go, all of this because of a sandwich. And it wasn’t even salami.

* If you are looking for an actual definition of ‘blended learning’, let me point you in the direction of the EMBED Project and in particular Willem‘s slides.

What happened when we put 14 PhD researchers inside an IKEA hotel

This post was first published on GO-GN’s website on May 16th, 2018.

After Cape Town in 2013 and 2017, Ljubljana and Washington in 2014, Banff in 2015 and Kraków in 2016, in April 2018 fourteen GO-GN researchers, the OERHub team and a handful of GO-GN family members gathered in The Netherlands for the 7th GO-GN Seminar. This is the story of two days (in an IKEA hotel) in Delft.

Sorry, wrong tweet, let’s start again. Once upon a time on a hot day in Delft a bunch of lovely people from Canada, the US, Ireland, Uruguay, Sri Lanka, Israel, The Netherlands, France, UK, Brazil and Australia got together to talk about PhD research into open education…

Day 1 started with a quick look at where we are at; correction: it’s now 60 PhD researchers and 15 alumni.

After introductions, two of our alumnae took the floor (and the walls) to help their colleagues navigate common challenges…

We gave them cake, enthused by the overwhelming evidence put forward by rigorous research on the impact of sugar consumption on brain power…

And it worked! Oh dear me, those presentations! Jenni breezed through the difficult task of making sense of open education

Judith is the go-to person for research on (O)ER use in African HE

In Brazil teachers in K12 have been well looked after by Viviane (and she’s got guidelines!)…

Natascha’s research on open textbooks is a breath of fresh air (jeez, move on from cost savings and impact on scores, guys!)…

Virginia is a force of nature when it comes to fighting on the #opened frontline in Latin America…

And to cap the day, two encounters with MOOC research of the first kind: Dilrukshi’s on increasing the effectiveness of MOOCs

And Eyal’s on predicting learner-centred outcomes

Did we still have time for some VConnecting fun? You bet!

At the end of the day I worried we had given them too much cake stuff to think about…

Point taken: cut the sugar, provide them with notebooks. And so it was that Day 2 dawned with Marjon ready to lego-spice Dutch teachers’ adoption of OER

Verena was brave to bring the group outside the safe confines of our IKEA hotel; she’s all about expanding learning environments you know?…

Nothing can go wrong with a linguist in the room. Give me an R! Give me an E! Give me an U! Give me an S! Give me and E! ReeeeeeUSE! That’s what Hélène explores with language teachers

Oh Adrian, how could you bring in a platypus and not expect some controversy? Indeed we must understand open practice as a continuum

Helen is still looking for hOERself in this mad mad world of academia (and when she shares her slides I’ll add a link)…

Leo worries deeply about how open is open. No, really, how open is it? …

And one awesome Aussie Penny explained how STEM teachers experience professional learning through open education (and when she shares her slides I’ll add a link)…

Then I got them to ditch abstract and think open in action. (Note: GO-GNers struggle counting words, specially up to one)…

And that was very much it. In the evening of Day 2 we headed to Bierfabriek (no, of course it’s not a drinking hole, what do you think we are?) to celebrate awards-winning, friends-hugging and cheese balls…

And shared some tuko pamoja love with Fred Mulder, founding father of GO-GN. In fact, speaking of love, I think next year we need to introduce a more explicit element of torture…

OK folks, that’s a wrap. Do a search for the #GO_GN hashtag on Twitter to see what happened when we let these fabulous #opened researchers loose in #OEGlobal18. Thank you all! Here’s the photo for the family album…

Oh wait, I nearly forgot. We got an award 🙂

Now, that’s a proper wrap!

Adopting Open Textbooks in the UK

This post was first shared via the Open Education Working Group blog.

In March of 2017 the Open Education Research (OER) Hub received a small grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation to assess whether current US models of open textbook adoption would translate to the UK HE context. In a short space of time we put together under the UK Open Textbook Project a team of interested parties, which included David Kernohan and Viv Rolfe this side of the Atlantic, and David Ernst (Open Textbook Network) and OpenStax on American soil.

The cost of textbooks in the US is massive. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that textbook prices have increased by 88% in the past ten years. The average student enrolling in the 2015-16 academic year had to budget between $1230 and $1390 for textbooks and course materials. To put this in context, a loaf of bread is $2.50 and a pint of milk, 40 cents. That’s over 3000 pints of milk and nearly 500 loaves of bread that you’d need to go without in order to purchase your textbooks (and we all know in bad weather what’s the first thing that goes from supermarket shelves). Seriously though, academic performance is also taking a hit: Student PIRGS says that two thirds of students don’t buy a required textbook because they are too expensive, with cost having a negative impact on which and how many courses they register for. Can you imagine how you would cope in your course without the textbook? Research tells us that earning a poor grade, failing or dropping out would not come as a surprise.

The Open Textbook Library defines open textbooks as “textbooks that have been funded, published, and licensed to be freely used, adapted, and distributed. These books can be downloaded for no cost, or printed at low cost”. Because they serve to offset the cost of traditional textbooks, open textbooks have a reason to exist, and the fact that $5 million have been put aside by Congress to fund an open textbook grant program demonstrates that in the US the issue is treated with grave concern. However, is cost a valid argument to adopt open textbooks in the UK? In a recent report on the financial position of students in higher education in England, commissioned by the Department for Education we learn that:

“Compared with the cost of tuition fees, expenditure on direct course costs made up a smaller proportion of full-time students’ participation costs – they spent on average £512 (six per cent of total participation costs) on these items in the 2014/15 academic year. Fulltime students spent the most on computers (£253), followed by printing, photocopying and stationery (£105), then books (£101) and other equipment (£31).” (p. 279)

£101 does not sound like a lot of money, does it? Students in England are delivered a brutal blow by having to pay fees of £9000 a year, not by the amount of money spent on textbooks. It is true that we don’t want to add to their woes and anything we can save them comes as a bonus. What I’d like to highlight here is that if open textbooks are to be adopted in the UK, we need to look beyond cost and sing out loud what we (teachers and students) can do with an open textbook that we can’t do with a traditional textbook. My emphasis in the above definition has to be on “licensed to be freely used, adapted and distributed”.

As part of the work carried out by the UK Open Textbooks Project, the team ran a total of fourteen workshops in eight HE institutions in England, Scotland and the Republic of Ireland. The aim of these was to raise awareness of open textbooks and to invite participants to review an open textbook from the Open Textbook Library. As it happened, I facilitated workshops in Glasgow Caledonian University, where registration fees are zero pounds, and NUIGalway, where students pay a ‘contribution’ of €3000 per year. Neither of these universities would see cost as the only swinging logic to use an open textbook in the classroom, but both could reasonably buy into the idea of an open textbook as a living creature that can be adapted ad libitum. An open textbook is more than free; it is free with permissions; permission to reorder chapters, localise examples, translate into any language, add content to, delete paragraphs, link to external sources, and more. More. More. Think about it. Ask your students to think about it.

If you do and you’d like our support, get in touch: @UKOpenTextbooks.