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

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It would seem that one of Greg McVerry’s quote posts, which I’m pretty sure he made to illustrate a process point about the Post Kinds plugin on his website and not necessarily to highlight the quote itself, sent me down the rabbit hole of discovery on some of the origins and history of open pedagogy today.

Saw some interesting examples on the way however, which have given me some intriguing ideas to begin trying out in the near future.

👓 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

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👓 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

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👓 Eight Qualities of Open Pedagogy | NextThought

Read Eight Qualities of Open Pedagogy (NextThought)
A week ago, I got into one of those spontaneous Twitter discussions with two of my good friends from the University of Oklahoma, Laura Gibbs and Stacy Zemke. Laura and Stacy are passionate advocates for open content, and innovative thinkers when it comes to online course design. Our Twitter conversation focused on the relationship between OER and open pedagogy. Not surprisingly, our tweets soon became a phone conversation that, in turn, became a draft list of qualities for open pedagogy.

Highlights, Quotes, Annotations, & Marginalia

They are allowed to operate independently and explore with personal freedom.  

There is still typically a “thing(s)” they need to learn, a goal they need to reach, or standards that are typically set, so the freedom only goes so far.
August 13, 2018 at 10:48AM

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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.

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👓 Note about context collapse | Greg McVerry

Liked a post by Greg McVerryGreg McVerry (INTERTEXTrEVOLUTION)
Just added an article about context collapse on the #IndieWeb wiki with @kevinmarks as we study open v privacy in #edu522. Perfect example of how open pedagogy works in the wild.
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🎧 2ToPonder Episode One | INTERTEXTrEVOLUTION

Listened to 2ToPonder Episode One by Greg McVerryGreg McVerry from jgregorymcverry.com

My first attempt at a microcast:

Don’t forget that I’m listening to content in the class as well! Perhaps this will be your first listen webmention? 😉

For badges from static sites, you could simply use raw HTML on a page like Aaron Parecki outlines.1 The “sending” site doesn’t need to be able to send webmentions although the receiving site needs to be able to receive them. You can then use a service like http://mention-tech.appspot.com/ or https://telegraph.p3k.io/send-a-webmention to have your static site send the webmention for you!

References

1.
Parecki A. Sending your First Webmention from Scratch. Aaron Parecki. https://aaronparecki.com/2018/06/30/11/your-first-webmention. Published June 30, 2018. Accessed August 6, 2018.
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I had almost forgotten that it was not so long ago that I’d outlined how I use Hypothesis to own my own highlights and annotations on my website. For the benefit of those in Dr. McVerry’s EDU522 course, I’ve included a link to it here.

For those who would like to see some examples you can find several below:
Specific stand-alone highlight posts
Specific stand-alone annotation posts
Other posts (typically reads) which I’ve highlighted and/or otherwise annotated things

I created the stand-alone posts using customized post kinds using some custom code for the Post Kinds Plugin.

I’ll begin tagging some of these pieces with the tag “backstage” for those in the EDU522 class that wish to follow along with how I’ve built or done certain things. You can subscribe to these future posts by adding /feed/ to the end of the URL for this tag archive.

To some extent my IndieWeb Collection/Research page has a lot of these “backstage” type posts for those who are interested. As part of the IndieWeb community, I’ve been documenting how and what I’ve been doing on my site for a while, hopefully these backstage posts will help other educators follow in my path without need to blaze as much of it anew for themselves.

Backstage posts are in actuality a very IndieWeb thing:

As we discover new ways to do things, we can document the crap out of them. —IndieWeb.org

 

Reply to Remi Kalir on IndieWeb technology for online pedagogy

Replied to a tweet by Remi KalirRemi Kalir (Twitter)

For a bit more context on this, perhaps start here: IndieWeb technology for online pedagogy.

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👓 How Public? Why Public? | finiteeyes.net

Read How Public? Why Public? by Matthew CheneyMatthew Cheney (Finite Eyes)
In the Interdisciplinary Studies program where I have begun working, we encourage students to go public with their work. It’s a common idea well beyond interdisciplinary studies: for students to feel more engaged with the work they do, to feel that what they are doing matters, they need to do that...

An interesting take on open pedagogy to be sure. On my own website, I often default to public without taking much thought for the difference between open vs. private–though to be sure I do have a lot of private posts hidden on my back end that only I or other invited guests can view.

This article is sure to be germane to those reading on the topic of Open and Privacy for #EDU522. Within that realm I have automatically defaulted to posting everything public, in part to act as a potential model for my fellow classmates as well as for how teachers and students in general could potentially execute on open pedagogy using an IndieWeb model built on webmentions.

While my website apparently gets about 400 views a day lately, I suspect it’s a very small and specific niche audience to the set of topics I tend to write about. Since I post everything that I post online to my own website first, I have a more concentrated posting velocity than many/most, but it also means that some specific topics (like #EDU522 for example) can get lost in the “noise” of all the other posts on my site. If one compares this to others in the class who’ve only recently set up sites which have less than 10 views a day likely, there is a marked difference in public/private for them. (The concept of “privacy through obscurity” similar to its predecessor “security through obscurity” comes to mind, but one must remember it only takes one intruder to cause a problem.) Of course this doesn’t discount the fact that one’s public posts today, which seemingly disappear from the immediate rush of information, may still be found in the long-tails of their personal data to potentially be found years hence. With recent examples of people being fired for Tweets they made years ago (often taken out of context, or with serious context collapse) this can be a troubling issue.

Some recent examples:

    1. Disney Fires ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ Director Over Offensive Tweets1
    2. New York Times Editorial board hired and fired Quinn Norton on the same day because internet trolls created a digital effigy of her using old social media posts from years prior. Even more ironic, she’s written and extensively studied context collapse.2–4

Public figures and journalists5  are actively deleting their tweets as a result, though this isn’t really a new phenomenon as people know that employers and others can search for their old content. As Ella Dawson has indicated, “We’re all public figures now”.

I don’t suspect there may be anything too particularly controversial in my #EDU522 posts recently that I might want to make private at a later date following the course (or even delete altogether), but who knows? Perhaps the public thinking on these topics changes drastically and I would wish to make them disappear a decade or two hence? It’s definitely something worth thinking about.

One of the benefits of supporting many of the IndieWeb tools and philosophies is that I can quickly make my old posts private to just me and with syndication links on them indicating where I’ve syndicated them in the past, I could very quickly go to those silos and delete them there as well. Of course this doesn’t get rid of copies out of my control or in locations like the Internet Archive.

Within the realm of open pedagogy, IndieWeb technology (and Webmention), one could certainly default their classes websites to private or semi-private. The WithKnown platform may presently be the best one for doing such a thing, though there are a few hoops one may need to jump through to set it up properly. As a brief example, there would need to be a private class hub site on which the teacher and students would need their own accounts. Then, so that students might own all of their own work, they would need their own sites to which they might post privately as well. The hub and the students’ sites could then use the Known OAuth2 server so that students could post their work privately on their own site, but still automatically syndicate it into their account on the semi-private class website. Of course, even here a student is relying on reasonable data security for the semi-private class site as well as having the expectation that their professor, fellow classmates, or the institution itself wouldn’t put their semi-private data into the public sphere at a future date.

As a proof of concept and an example of this type of workflow, I’ll highlight two posts (though in this case, both public instead of private so that you can actually see them) which I’ve made on two separate domains both running WithKnown:

image credit (also used on Matthew Cheney’s original post)“Dundas Square in Downtown Toronto, Ontario, Canada” by Pedro Szekely, Wikimedia Commons, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

References

1.
Barnes B. Disney Fires ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ Director Over Offensive Tweets. New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/20/business/media/james-gunn-fired-offensive-tweets.html. Published July 20, 2018. Accessed August 3, 2018.
2.
Windolf J. After Storm Over Tweets, The Times and a New Hire Part Ways. New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/13/business/media/quinn-norton-new-york-times.html. Published February 14, 2018. Accessed August 3, 2018.
3.
Norton Q. The New York Times Fired My Doppelgänger. The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2018/02/the-new-york-times-fired-my-doppelganger/554402/. Published February 27, 2018. Accessed August 3, 2018.
4.
Norton Q. Context Collapse, Architecture, and Plows. The Message | Medium. https://medium.com/message/context-collapse-architecture-and-plows-d23a0d2f7697. Published November 8, 2013. Accessed August 3, 2018.
5.
Dreyfuss E. Why I’m Deleting All My Old Tweets. WIRED. https://www.wired.com/story/im-deleting-all-my-old-tweets/. Published July 27, 2018. Accessed August 3, 2018.
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IndieWeb technology for online pedagogy

An ongoing case study

Very slick! Greg McVerry, a professor, can post all of the readings, assignments, etc. for his EDU522 online course on his own website, and I can indicate that I’ve read the pieces, watched the videos, or post my responses to assignments and other classwork (as well as to fellow classmates’ work and questions) on my own website while sending notifications via Webmention of all of the above to the original posts on their sites.

When I’m done with the course I’ll have my own archive of everything I did for the entire course (as well as copies on the Internet Archive, since I ping it as I go). His class website and my responses there could be used for the purposes of grading.

I can subscribe to his feed of posts for the class (or an aggregated one he’s made–sometimes known as a planet) and use the feed reader of choice to consume the content (and that of my peers’) at my own pace to work my way through the course.

This is a lot closer to what I think online pedagogy or even the use of a Domain of One’s Own in an educational setting could and should be. I hope other educators might follow suit based on our examples. As an added bonus, if you’d like to try it out, Greg’s three week course is, in fact, an open course for using IndieWeb and DoOO technologies for teaching. It’s just started, so I hope more will join us.

He’s focusing primarily on using WordPress as the platform of choice in the course, but one could just as easily use other Webmention enabled CMSes like WithKnown, Grav, Perch, Drupal, et al. to participate.

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