The Sixth “R” of Open Educational Resources

The 5 R’s

I’ve seen the five R’s used many times in reference to the OER space (Open Educational Resources). They include the ability to allow others to: Retain, Reuse, Revise, Remix and/or Redistribute content with the appropriate use of licenses. These are all some incredibly powerful building blocks, but I feel like one particularly important building block is missing–that of the ability to allow easy accretion of knowledge over time.

Version Control

Some in the educational community may not be aware of some of the more technical communities that use the idea of version control for their daily work. The concept of version control is relatively simple and there are a multitude of platforms and software to effectuate it including Git, GitHub, GitLab, BitBucket, SVN, etc. In the old days of file and document maintenance one might save different versions of the same general file with increasingly different and complex names to their computer hard drive: Syllabus.doc, Syllabus_revised.doc, Syllabus_revisedagain.doc, Syllabus_Final.doc, Syllabus_Final_Final.doc, etc. and by using either the names or date and timestamps on the file one might try to puzzle out which one was the correct version of the file that they were working on.

For the better part of a decade now there is what is known as version control software to allow people to more easily maintain a single version of their particular document but with a timestamped list of changes kept internally to allow users to create new updates or roll back to older versions of work they’ve done. While the programs themselves are internally complicated, the user interfaces are typically relatively easy to use and in less than a day one can master most of their functionality. Most importantly, these version control systems allow many people to work on the same file or resource at a time! This means that 10 or more people can be working on a textbook, for example, at the same. They create a fork  or clone of the particular project to their personal work space where they work on it and periodically save their changes. Then they can push their changes back to the original or master where they can be merged back in to make a better overall project. If there are conflicts between changes, these can be relatively easily settled without much loss of time. (For those looking for additional details, I’ve previously written Git and Version Control for Novelists, Screenwriters, Academics, and the General Public, which contains a variety of detail and resources.) Version control should be a basic tool of every educators’ digital literacy toolbox.

For the OER community, version control can add an additional level of power and capability to their particular resources. While some resources may be highly customized or single use resources, many of them, including documents like textbooks can benefit from the work of many hands in an accretive manner. If these resources are maintained in version controllable repositories then individuals can use the original 5 R’s to create their particular content.

But what if a teacher were to add several new and useful chapters to an open textbook? While it may be directly useful to their specific class, perhaps it’s also incredibly useful to the broader range of teachers and students who might use the original source in the future? If the teacher who forks the original source has a means of pushing their similarly licensed content back to the original in an easy manner, then not only will their specific class benefit from the change(s), but all future classes that might use the original source will have the benefit as well!

If you’re not sold on the value of version control, I’ll mention briefly that Microsoft spent $7.5 Billion over the summer to acquire GitHub, which is one of the most popular version control and collaboration tools on the market. Given Microsofts’ push into the open space over the past several years, this certainly bodes well for both open as well as version control for years to come.

Examples

A Math Text

As a simple example, lets say that one professor writes the bulk of a mathematics text, but twenty colleagues all contribute handfuls of particular examples or exercises over time. Instead of individually hosting those exercises on their own sites or within their individual LMSes where they’re unlikely to be easy to find for other adopters of the text, why not submit the changes back to the original to allow more options and flexibility to future teachers? Massive banks of problems will allow more flexibility for both teachers and students. Even if the additional problems aren’t maintained in the original text source, they’ll be easily accessible as adjunct materials for future adopters.

Wikipedia

One of the most powerful examples of the value of accretion in this manner is Wikipedia. While it’s somewhat different in form than some of the version control systems mentioned above, Wikipedia (and most wikis for that matter) have built in history views that allow users to see and track the trail of updates and changes over time. The Wikipedia in use today is vastly larger and more valuable today than it was on its first birthday because it allows ongoing edits to be not only improved over time, but those improvements are logged and view-able in a version controlled manner.

Google Documents

This is another example of an extensible OER platform that allows simple accretion. With the correct settings on a document, one can host an original and allow it to be available to others who can save it to their own Google Drive or other spaces. Leaving the ability for guests to suggest changes or to edit a document allows it to potentially become better over time without decreasing the value of the original 5 Rs.

Webmentions for Update Notifications

As many open educational resources are hosted online for easy retention, reuse, revision, remixing, and/or redistribution, keeping them updated with potential changes can potentially be a difficult proposition. It may not always be the case that resources are maintained on a single platform like GitHub or that users of these resources will necessarily know how to use these platforms or their functionality. As a potential “fix” I can easily see a means of leveraging the W3C recommended specification for Webmention as a means of keeping a tally of changes to resources online.

Let’s say Robin keeps a copy of her OER textbook on her WordPress website where students and other educators can easily download and utilize it. More often than not, those using it are quite likely to host changed versions of it online as well. If their CMS supports the Webmention spec like WordPress does via a simple plugin, then by providing a simple URL link as a means of crediting the original source, which they’re very likely to do as required by the Creative Commons license anyway, their site will send a notification of the copy’s existence to the original. The original can then display the webmentions as traditional comments and thus provide links to the chain of branches of copies which both the original creator as well as future users can follow to find individual changes. If nothing else, the use of Webmention will provide some direct feedback to the original author(s) to indicate their materials are being used. Commonly used education facing platforms like WordPress, Drupal, WithKnown, Grav, and many others either support the Webmention spec natively or do so with very simple plugins.

Editorial Oversight

One of the issues some may see with pushing updates back to an original surrounds potential resource bloat or lack of editorial oversight. This is a common question or issue on open source version control repositories already, so there is a long and broad history of for how these things are maintained or managed in cases where there is community disagreement, an original source’s maintainer dies, disappears, loses interest, or simply no longer maintains the original. In the end, as a community of educators we owe it to ourselves and future colleagues to make an attempt at better maintaining, archiving, and allowing our work to accrete value over time.

The 6th R: Request Update

In summation, I’d like to request that we all start talking about the 6 R’s which include the current 5 along with the addition of a Request update (or maybe pull Request, Recompile, or Report to keep it in the R family?) ability as well. OER is an incredibly powerful concept already, but could be even more so with the ability to push new updates or at least notifications of them back to the original. Having the ability to do this will make it far easier to spread and grow the value of the OER concept as well as to disrupt the education spaces OER was evolved to improve.

Featured photo by Amador Loureiro on Unsplash

🔖 Creative Commons, OER, and Open Practices | Féile Blackboard, CELT, NUI Galway | Google Docs

Bookmarked Creative Commons, OER, and Open Practices (Féile Blackboard, CELT, NUI Galway | Google Docs)

This guide accompanies a professional development workshop on Open Education offered by the Centre for Excellence in Learning & Teaching (CELT), NUI Galway. The guide has five sections:

  1. Open Educational Resources (OER)
  2. Open licensing and Creative Commons
  3. Why use open practices?
  4. How to open up my practice?
  5. Summary

👓 Why a professor buys his books from the bookstore | Chuck Pearson

Read Why a professor buys his books from the bookstore by Chuck Pearson (Another fine mess)
Friday, I made a visit to my campus bookstore, and I bought my books. The guy who runs Tusculum’s bookstore, Cliff Hoy, is a great guy, and the work that Tusculum’s bookstore does is fi…

👓 My Open Textbook: Pedagogy and Practice | Robin DeRosa

Read My Open Textbook: Pedagogy and Practice by Robin DeRosaRobin DeRosa (actualham)
I’ve spent some time talking about open pedagogy at several universities this Spring, and in each of those presentations and workshops, I have usually mentioned The Open Anthology of Earlier American Literature, an OER anthology that my students and I produced last year for an American literature survey course I taught.  When I talk about the anthology, it’s usually to make a point about open pedagogy.  I began the project with the simple desire to save my students about $85 US, which is how much they were (ostensibly) paying for the Heath Anthology of American Literature Volume A.  Most of the actual texts in the Heath were public domain texts, freely available and not under any copyright restrictions.  As the Heath produced new editions (of literature from roughly 1400-1800!), forcing students to buy new textbooks or be irritatingly out of sync with page numbers, and as students turned to rental markets that necessitated them giving their books back at the end of the semester, I began to look in earnest for an alternative.

Highlights, Quotes, Annotations, & Marginalia

Most of the actual texts in the Heath were public domain texts, freely available and not under any copyright restrictions.  As the Heath produced new editions (of literature from roughly 1400-1800!), forcing students to buy new textbooks or be irritatingly out of sync with page numbers, and as students turned to rental markets that necessitated them giving their books back at the end of the semester, I began to look in earnest for an alternative.  

Repackaging public domain texts and charging a steep markup too much above and beyond the cost of the paper is just highway robbery. Unless a publisher is adding some actual annotative or analytical value, they shouldn’t be charging outrageous prices for textbooks of this nature.
August 13, 2018 at 12:14PM

If OER is free, what hidden costs exist in its production? Making these textbooks is taking me a chunk of time in the off-season.  Thanks to my salaried position, I feel ok about putting in the overtime, but it’s a privilege my colleagues who teach under year-to-year part-time non-contracts can’t afford. Who should be funding OER creation? Institutions? Students? For-profit start-ups? How will you invest time in this project without obscuring the true costs of academic labor? Right now, we pass the corruptly high cost of academic publishing onto the backs of academia’s most vulnerable members: students. But as OER gains steam, we need to come up with funding models that don’t land us back in the same quagmire of exploitation that we were trying to get out of.  

This is a nearly perfect question and something to watch in the coming years.
August 13, 2018 at 12:35PM

working in public, and asking students to work in public, is fraught with dangers and challenges.  

August 13, 2018 at 12:36PM

What David told me was his energy, enthusiasm in the class was at a much higher level with the OER approach. Sure we choose the polished “professional” textbook because of its assumed high standards, quality etc, but then its a more passive relationship a teacher has with it. I make the comparison to growing and/or making your own food versus having it prepared or taking it out of a package. Having produced our own food means we know everything about it from top to bottom, and the pride in doing that has to make the whole experience much more energized.  

As I read both this post and this comment from Alan, I can’t help but think again about scholars in the 14th century who taught students. It was more typical of the time that students were “forced” to chose their own textbooks–typically there were fewer, and at the advent of the printing press they were significantly higher in price. As a result students had to spend more time and attention, as Robin indicates here, to come up with useful things.

Even in this period students often annotated their books, which often got passed on to other students and even professors which helped future generations. So really, we’re not reinventing the wheel here, we’re just doing it anew with new technology that makes doing it all the easier.

As a reference, I’ll suggest folks interested in this area read Owen Gingerich’s The Book Nobody Read which I recall as being one of the texts I’ve read that references early teaching and textbook practices during that time period.
August 13, 2018 at 12:44PM

👓 From OER to Open Pedagogy: Next Frontier in Learning | Center for the Advancement of Teaching

Read From OER to Open Pedagogy: Next Frontier in Learning by Steven Bell, Associate University Librarian, Temple University (Center for the Advancement of Teaching)
Imagine a jet plane cruising down a road. It’s possible, though a clear case of underutilization of the technology. Now take that imagery and apply it to Open Educational Resources (OER). While they are available for adoption by faculty as learning content, the full potential of OER goes underutilized. How so? At the Open Ed ’16 Conference, held November 2016, I learned how faculty are taking on that challenge and finding new ways to create and use OER.

Highlights, Quotes, Annotations, & Marginalia

Our work, said Campbell, is not to graduate more students, but to enable students to graduate themselves.  

August 13, 2018 at 12:01PM

Disposable assignments are the ones students hate to do, faculty hate to grade and are quickly forgotten. Think ten-page term papers.  

There’s no reason that the 10 page term paper couldn’t be repurposed for the greater good. Why not post it up on your own website and allow it to be part of the bigger part of academic research?
August 13, 2018 at 12:03PM

Following David Wiley

Followed David Wiley (davidwiley.org)
David Wiley headshot

Dr. David Wiley is Chief Academic Officer of Lumen Learning, an organization dedicated to increasing student success, reinvigorating pedagogy, and improving the affordability of education through the adoption of open educational resources by schools, community and state colleges, and universities. He is also currently the Education Fellow at Creative Commons, an Ashoka Fellow, and adjunct faculty in Brigham Young University's graduate program in Instructional Psychology and Technology, where he leads the Open Education Group (and was previously a tenured Associate Professor).

As an academic, Dr. Wiley has received numerous recognitions for his work, including an National Science Foundation CAREER grant and appointments as a Nonresident Fellow in the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School, a Peery Social Entrepreneurship Research Fellow in the BYU Marriott School of Business, and a Shuttleworth Fellow. As a social entrepreneur, Dr. Wiley has founded or co-founded numerous entities including Lumen LearningDegreed, and Mountain Heights Academy. In 2009, Fast Company named Dr. Wiley one of the 100 Most Creative People in Business.

David was born and grew up in West Virginia. He is an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons). He served a two-year mission for the church in Fukuoka, Japan, and now serves as bishop of a student congregation at Brigham Young University. David lives in Utah with his wife and five children and enjoys hiking, running, playing basketball, listening to and making music, and reading.

Primary blog at https://opencontent.org/blog/

I suppose it should cease to amaze me that educators are so far ahead of the curve on owning so much of their identities and content online. Many seem to be OG IndieWeb. I like the way his primary page sets up his identity and he’s owning at least all of his bigger article output. And then there’s a lovely blogroll on his blog page, with so many names I recognize and several more I’m going to have to add to my own.

As I look at his bio and see Degreed, it reminds me while shadowing Greg McVerry’s EDU 522 course, that I’ve been wanting to own more of my learning online. I’ll have to take a look again at how Degreed is set up from a UI perspective and see what I can glean from it, particularly as it takes data from multiple other platforms and pulls it into it’s own platform in a very PESOS sort of workflow. I wonder if Degreed might take personal websites as a source of content and then be able to add certifications? This might also fit in with using Webmention as infrastructure for doing badges and credentialing.

As the new school year draws near and enthusiasts continue to push the benefits of #OER, let’s also take  a moment to remember and celebrate the ability of students to choose their own educational resources and books.

Teachers need to do a better job of providing options, flexibility, and guidance in the panoply of choices available to students of all income levels and abilities. Increased choice at the student level will drastically improve both the literal and proverbial marketplace of ideas.

Here’s some additional detail I wrote on this day a few years back:

On Choosing Your Own Textbooks

Reply to Bryan Alexander

Replied to a tweet by Bryan AlexanderBryan Alexander (Twitter)

When I was at a major talent agency selling to studios/producers, their mantra was “keep executives busy reading our material/meeting our clients; they won’t have time to think about hiring/using our competition.” I suspect the same applies here.

🔖 Open: The Philosophy and Practices that are Revolutionizing Education and Science from Rajiv Jhangiani, Robert Biswas-Diener (eds.)

Bookmarked Open: The Philosophy and Practices that are Revolutionizing Education and Science by Rajiv Jhangiani, Robert Biswas-Diener (eds.) (Ubiquity Press)

Affordable education. Transparent science. Accessible scholarship.

These ideals are slowly becoming a reality thanks to the open education, open science, and open access movements. Running separate—if parallel—courses, they all share a philosophy of equity, progress, and justice. This book shares the stories, motives, insights, and practical tips from global leaders in the open movement.

It’s not just the book about which there’s so much to find interesting, but the website that’s serving it is well designed, crafted, and very forward thinking in what it is doing.

🔖 How To Code in Python: Using Manifold to Deliver an Open Educational Resource | Building Manifold

Bookmarked How To Code in Python: Using Manifold to Deliver an Open Educational Resource (blog.manifoldapp.org)

Recently, my eBook on Python programming, How To Code in Python 3, was made available as a Manifold publication. I would like to offer my perspective to the Manifold community to give some background on the work and how I believe the Manifold platform provides additional layers of value to the text through providing a place for learning and idea exchange in both university communities and broader publics.

An interesting article about OER relating to a book that looks interesting to read.

👓 OER 18: Reclaim Video & Cloudron | Lauren Brumfield

Read OER 18: Reclaim Video & Cloudron by Lauren Brumfield (labrumfield.com)
Now that I’m on the tail end of this trip, I feel like I can finally wrap my head around the last 10 days and gather my thoughts for a blog post. Last week, the Reclaim team met in Bristol for the OER 18 Conference. The entire experience was definitely a mix of ups and downs, but that’s not a result of OER’s doing; I got sick and had to back out of the second day of the conference & my presentation slot. (Ugh, talk about timing.) It was a huge bummer to prepare so hard for something to then not have a chance to share it, but I’m incredibly grateful to be apart of such a solid team that was able to step in for me. Apparently, they rocked the house!

🔖 actualham tweet about interactive glossary/encyclopedia for challenging technical/academic jargon that can be layered into textbooks

Bookmarked a tweet by Robin DeRosa on TwitterRobin DeRosa on Twitter (Twitter)

Following Doug Belshaw

Followed Doug Belshaw (Open Educational Thinkering)

I’m Doug Belshaw, Open Educational Thinkerer. I help people become more productive in their use of technology.

Recently, I’ve joined Moodle to lead an innovation project currently entitled Project MoodleNet. From January 2018 this takes up four days, or 30 hours, of my working week.

I’m also a consultant through Dynamic Skillset, where I help people and organisations become more productive in their use of technology, and I co-founded a co-operative known as We Are Open which exists to spread the culture, processes, and benefits of working openly.

In previous guises I’ve worked for Mozilla and Jisc, and before that was a teacher and senior leader in schools.

I write here mainly about education, technology and productivity. Other places I write include discours.es (commentary), literaci.es (new literacies-related), and ambiguiti.es (more philosophical).

I’m following him via his own website, since he’s “off Twitter” and primarily publishing in his own space:

For others I’m following in Open Education: http://boffosocko.com/about/following/#Open+Education