Category Archives: Projects

Open textbooks at NUI, Galway

CEL263

Photo by Eileen Walsh, @EileenWalsh101

Over a week ago I facilitated a workshop entitled ‘Open Textbooks: Access, Affordability and Academic Success’ at the university in Galway. This is not my original work but adapted from a presentation that David Ernst gives as director of the Open Textbook Network. The reason is that we (the OER Hub team, David and other colleagues) are working on a small research grant from the Hewlett Foundation to evaluate how easily current US models of textbook adoption translate to UK higher education. The project is UK-based but hints at a wider European remit; since my European heart is closer to Ireland than any other country, it seemed to me perfectly fit to start my open textbook tour in my adopted home. I’m grateful to Sharon Flynn for kindly letting me take over her open practices session, and to her #CEL263 class for putting up with three whole hours of me talking open textbooks. #CEL263 is one of the modules contributing to NUIG’s Postgraduate Diploma in Academic Practice, a course I would like to take myself, without any qualms about giving up my Friday evenings.

But I digress. Let me give you a brief run through the slides:

Education is a human right. As such, higher education should be equally accessible to all. While one might be inclined to think that this is an issue affecting primarily developing nations, truth is, it’s right on our doorstep, yours and mine. We hope education will be the demise of social inequality, yet too often how education is structured serves to reinforce social inequality.

The bulk of the argument rests on data around cost: government funding of HE going down, tuition fees on the increase, blood-chilling drop out rates, and large student debt on graduation day. I actually thought that this wouldn’t run true in Ireland. Alas, I didn’t have to dig too deep to find that I was wrong.

The cost of having a degree in Ireland is phenomenal. Yes, students probably drink too much, and should use a bus éireann more often, and live at home longer (ahem). What can we do, realistically? Textbooks are expensive. Research tells us that this has caused students to not purchase the required textbook, take fewer courses, not register for a specific course, earn a poor grade, drop a course and even fail a course. We are not taking only about impact on student finances, but impact on students’ academic performance.

Could textbooks be free? Not if we follow a traditional publishing business model. A publisher produces a textbook, recoups investment in sales, and pays royalties to the author; copyright protects against, for example, one student buying a text and photocopying it for everyone else. There are other models, though: a funder pays the publisher to produce a book with the condition to make it available free of cost forever. This textbook is still copyrighted, how can the end-user be aware of the funder’s intent for the textbook to be shared freely? Enter Creative Commons licences.

Open textbooks are textbooks that have been funded, published, and licensed to be freely used, adapted, and distributed“. David Ernst started The Open Textbook Library to make it easy to find open textbooks. The rest of the slides in the workshop quickly introduce research covering how students and educators perceive the quality of open textbooks (as OER), and their efficacy. There are also a few examples of how open textbooks have been adopted and adapted, and finally an invitation to browse the library and write a review.

Questions and comments on the day:

Does creating an open textbook count towards my academic profile?’ ‘Do students really care about their learning?’. Plus, what I’m gonna call the usual Irish banter, ‘Do they not have photocopying machines in the US?’

If you read only one piece as a follow up to this post, make it Stephen Downe’s ‘If we talked about the internet like we talk about OER‘.

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Learning with MOOCs for professional development

 

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Since the beginning of this year I’ve been working on the EU-funded bizMOOC Project, a consortium of HEIs and Industry partners from eleven European countries “to enable a European-wide exploitation of the potential of MOOCs for the world of business”.

So far I’ve been mostly involved in delivering the outcomes of WP3: three pilot MOOCs focusing on life-long learning and key business competences, namely learning to learn, sense of initiative (entre-/intrapreneurship), and innovation and creativity. In truth, I am not working on three MOOCs but developing one in collaboration with DIDA (Italy) and The National Unions of Students in Europe (Belgium), and overseeing the production of the other two, led by colleagues in Germany and Spain.

What kick started things for me was our project meeting in Cardiff last February, where partners participated in a workshop aimed at guiding us through the discussion of the whos, whats and hows that would shape the design of each MOOC –what type of MOOC?, who is it for?, what are the learning objectives?, how do we get there? and so forth. If you are interested in learning design, Beck Pitt has put together the slides and audio recorded during the event to create a ‘How to produce a MOOC?’ video that explains these questions better than I can here.

In terms of content, it was decided earlier on that our L2L MOOC would reuse as much material already available as possible. OpenLearn holds very good courses on the topic under a CC license that allows adaptation. In Cardiff we also sat down to quickly review these and decide which sections we could borrow, and what gaps needed to be filled in. After that, my job was to go away and assemble a first draft on OpenLearn Create (OLC), the OU’s free educational platform for anyone to publish open content. OLC is Moodle-based and fairly easy to use, although I must confess it can be frustrating too: the editing menu is limited, which means that you’d better know some html or pull your hair in desperation.

As I write, ‘Learning to learn with MOOCs for professional development’ is sitting with all project partners for final review. It is a free course that lasts four weeks with approximately three hours of study time per week. In fairness though, you could run very quickly through some of the sections and concentrate on what interests you most.

Week 1 starts with some snippets of stories from learners who have had different experiences of learning online, and serve as an introduction the importance of reflection in learning. Week 2 is all about MOOCs: what is a MOOC, what are the advantages of taking a MOOC, where do you find MOOCs, how do you assess their quality, etc. In talking about the skills that you need to be successful in a MOOC, you really are talking about the skills needed by the workforce to run effectively in the digital world, so that’s why week three and week four look into this: your online identity, your digital footprint, dealing with fake news and information overload, media to collaborate online, and more.

Overall ‘Learning to learn with MOOCs…’ is quite a reflective course. We didn’t make it too interactive on purpose; one, because we knew we wouldn’t have the capacity to moderate the forums for ever (the course will not be taken down after the initial four weeks); and two, I think you can’t force anyone to take part if you are not there yourself to make it happen or to encourage participants. Having said that, the set up at the moment is for learners to receive a free statement of participation upon completion, if they read all sections (actually, a click on each screen will do) and post a message in the crowdsourcing forum of week 2. I may change this before we go to launch, but it will be interesting to see whether people take the bait: if you want your piece of paper, you’ll have to contribute and work for it, ha!

The course is already available here. For now it is protected by a password and not open for enrolment, but bookmark the link: we’ll be ready to go on October 16th.

Featured image: Say MOOC by Audrey Watters, CC BY-SA 2.0