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This week saw further development in my odyssey to write my first open textbook. I met with the very helpful people at BCcampus who are managing British Columbia’s open textbook project, Mary Burgess and Clint Lalonde. I had a simple question:
‘How do I start?’
In particular, I wanted to know in what format I should start writing. Should I use Word, or WordPress, or html (and if so, what form of html), or something else? Obviously I don’t want to have to move writing that I’ve carefully formatted in one format into another, possibly – no, almost certainly – having to reformat everything again.
Clint answered my question with another question: ‘What format do you want to publish it in?’ Apparently, there are several formats for open publishing, including html, pdf and e-pub. To make matters more complicated, some of the devices that are used for e-books, such as Amazon’s Kindle, require their own unique, proprietal formats. ‘But I want to publish an ‘open’ textbook!’ I cried. ‘It should be available in any format and work on any device.’ What a naive fool I am.
Since I want the book to be able to be annotated or re-mixed, I need to have it in a flexible format such as html, but I also want readers to be able to read it like a book if they wish, which would mean pdf or e-pub.
Fortunately Clint had a solution for me, not perfect but pretty good. If I use a derivation of WordPress called PressBooks, it will output in html, pdf or e-pub formats.
Now as an avid blogger I’m comfortable using WordPress, (which is easy-peasy to use) so that seemed a good solution, at least as a start. As well as writing, I can use the ‘Add Media’ function to drop in graphics, video or audio, as in WordPress (with the same limitations, as well).
What’s more, PressBooks is designed for book publishing, with a ‘layer’ that sets up the structure of the book, including spaces for ‘front matter’, such as a foreword and content list, separate areas to compose each chapter, and ‘back matter’. Even better, BCcampus is working to add new features to PressBooks (which of course is open source), such as a search engine (who needs an index if you can search the text directly?)
So off I went, typed PressBooks into Google search, clicked on the web site, and with a few clicks had registered my own open textbook within the PressBooks site, under the title ‘Teaching in a Digital Age.’
So now I’m ready to go. I’m still checking out features, such as whether it will work on mobile devices (looks like it will work on tablets), but so far, so good. I won’t start writing for a while, because I need to develop a proper book proposal (for myself at least), including an outline of content in the form of chapter headings and abstracts. This I will be sharing with you, as I need your input, but I can build the outline straight into PressBooks from the start.
At the same time I need to think about how to build in activities. I’m thinking at this stage of adding features mainly through url links from PressBooks to other features, or adding plug-ins to PressBooks as they become available from BCcampus and other developers. For instance, PressBooks doesn’t seem to have a feature yet that enables you to build conversations around the content, although it does have the usual comment feature.
There are of course many other possible ways to go. I will do another blog on open book publishers and the advantages/disadvantages of going through an open publishing company. But I was astounded at how easy it is to start with Pressbook. Watch this space to see if it continues that way – and thanks to Mary and Clint for great advice.
Advice or warnings welcomed
So if you have already used PressBooks or have decided to go another route, I’d love to hear from you – as would the many readers who have been encouraging me to do this.
Arguably one of the biggest influences in the development of Marx's theory was the German realist philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel.
The Hegelian dialectic (formulated from earlier work by Immanuel Kant) was the basis for Marx's theory of class struggle. Hegel based his theory of the dialectical process (sometimes referred to as 'triadic' learning in an educational context) on a progression of four key principles. The first, is that everything is finite and transient, and therefore negotiable; the second is that everything has opposing perspectives and can be contradicted; the third is that eventually one perspective (or argument) will overwhelm the opposing perspective leading to a crisis (thesis versus antithesis), and finally, the fourth is that resolution (of a kind) emerges - not necessarily through consensus - and that the resultant change does not occur in cycles, but as an ever-rising spiral, so that progress can be made (synthesis).
Wikipedia is premised on user generated content, a chaotic and unpredictable collaborative phenomenon that has many risks and challenges, but the ultimate goal is the democratisation of knowledge. What is seen on Wikipedia is not so much a class struggle to gain control over the means of production, but more a struggle between editors and contributors (knowledge owners) to produce a synthesis of content from disparate and possibly conflicting sources. This in turn forms a new knowledge product through shared and occasionally conflicting negotiation of meaning. A number of factors have to be considered, including accuracy and relevance, as well as provenance and acknowledgements of sources, before Wikipedia content finds stability. The dialectical process holds that we learn through argument, and this is evidenced on Wikipedia through discursive social processes that include editing and reiteration, inclusionism and deletionism. Content is usually accepted by consensus, sometimes after a period of editorial storming. Ultimately, the wisdom of crowds described by James Surowiecki (and based on the seminal work of Francis Galton) is seen as the social process that drives this kind of generation, negotiation and dissemination of knowledge in the digital age.
As with all social and collaborative enterprises division of labour is clearly evident in Wikipedia pages. Marx was aware of the problems of divisions of labour and argued that many were indicative of social control over the masses. There are originators of concepts, developers, those who specialise in creating and appropriating images and other media (see the Wikimedia Commons database that sits behind many Wikipedia pages), and then there are those who design templates, or those who patrol sites, checking for accuracy and provenance, and those who police the legal and procedural aspects of the site. This kind of division of labour may not appear to indicate a social stratification of the Wikipedian community. Look closer however, and a power differential is revealed. Those who appoint themselves as editors of the wiki pages and check content, ultimately have power over that content, and thus over the generators of that content.
Ultimately, Wikipedia exemplifies the movement away from those who own the means of production of knowledge - toward a community based on cooperative ownership of the means of production. It is clear that the publishers of other encyclopaedias and large knowledge repositories have been served notice. They no longer hold a monopoly on the means of production, but are being forced to cede more and more control to the people. Similarly to the gradual erosion of the power of the music and film industries, emerging democratic web movements are loosening the stranglehold of the publishing cultural hegemony while strengthening and extending democratic, free and open online resources, so that anyone can now learn just about anything, at their own pace, and in their own space and time.
Photo by Twose
Wikipedia: A Marxist perspective by Steve Wheeler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.Posted by Steve Wheeler from Learning with e's
Al mapa següent trobareu bona part dels centres que estan treballant amb els Bee-Bot... una bona fotografia per valorar en quin punt estem després dels primers mesos de dinamització de la robòtica educativa a infantil i primària per part del Consorci d'Educació de Barcelona.
Ah, si m'he oblidat cap centre, no dubteu a fer servir els comentaris per indicar-me el nom de l'escola i l'adreça web on té penjada l'experiència de robòtica educativa... ;-)
Pretty good overview of the state of the publishing market with respect to digital textbooks. The not so secret undercurrent: they'd like to move the LMS right out of the picture and "own the whole screen" if they could. "For the most part, it appears that publishers and learning-management companies have fought to a draw.... both sides have, for now, resigned themselves to sharing the student experience with their college clients, and each other."[Link] [Comment]
So it looks like Oppia, which I mentioned last week, doesn't exactly allow anyone to create a new interactive learning experience. In particular, it doesn't allow people in Cuba to do this (nor probably in a few other countries, notably Iran, Syria and Sudan). Raidell Martinez writes, "Nuevamente he sido privado de acceder a un servicio de Google a causa del injusto bloqueo de EUA a nuestra hermosa isla de Cuba." (Again I have been deprived of access to a Google service because of the unjust U.S. blockade to our beautiful island of Cuba). Surely we can do better than this, can't we? Google, how about it?[Link] [Comment]
As summarized by Benjamin Herold, "the U.S. Department of Education released new guidance Tuesday on the proper use, storage, and security of the massive amounts of data being generated by new, online educational resources." The guidelines are relatively complete, referring to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) as a baseline, identifying what information may be disclosed, and looking at exceptions (such as click-wrap licenses). Though it is U.S.-specific, the document provides a good guideline for other jurisdictions.[Link] [Comment]
Meet Oppia, Google’s New Open Source Project That Allows Anyone To Create An Interactive Learning Experience
The whole story is in the title (which is a nice contrast from those Ipworthy headlines). More, you have to like Google's approach here: "No trial periods, no freemium plans, no advertisements. Writing, editing, or learning from explorations on oppia.org is 100% free of charge! Additionally, all lessons on oppia.org are licensed CC-BY-SA, which means that you are allowed to copy, modify, and reuse lesson content. Want to host an Oppia instance yourself, or make modifications to it? The code behind oppia.org is licensed under the Apache License 2.0. You are encouraged to download, modify, and reuse Oppia's software to your heart's content!" OK, the lessons created by Oppia are really basic (I tried a bunch of them). But it's an interesting start.[Link] [Comment]
I recall Nicky Hockley's keynote for the Reform Symposium 2013. She argued that the future is found in the present, and that many of the top science fiction films feature technology that already is in existence. She showed several images of recent movies such as Ellysium, I, Robot and Avatar to emphasise her point. Technology of the future is already here - we just haven't seen it released on the general public yet. The blockbuster science fiction movie Minority Report featured gestural computing, targeted advertising through biometric data scanning and augmented reality technologies. All of these were possible at the time the movie was being produced, and have been for some time. The director and production team consulted with researchers who showed them the possibilities. It won't be long before costs of such devices come down, and they become pervasive. Gestural computing for example, has been with us for a few years in the guise of games consoles such as the 360 Kinnect system manufactured by Microsoft.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Star Trek was just emerging as a popular new TV science fiction series. Kirk and Spock could walk up to a door and it would automatically open for them, and they could talk into personal, handheld communicators, and others could hold conversations with them. These technologies are now common place in the Western Industrial World, and we don't think twice about them. Other Star Trek technologies are also becoming common, including medical scanners (tricorder), video conferencing, touch screen tablets and even 3D printers (replicators). One technology that caught my eye was the universal translator. With it, Captain Picard and his crew could talk to any alien in real time, and could be understood perfectly. Along with faster-than-light travel and teleportation, it seemed like the only impossible dream remaining. Until now.
This week I read an article that documented the recent partnership between futurist Ray Kurzweil and Google's Larry Page. It seems they have teamed up to investigate how the Search Engine giant's massive server fleet and computational power can be harnessed to emulate a virtual human brain. They are calling it Deep Learning - a form of machine intelligence - and the project is already at an advanced stage of development. As the 'machine' is programmed, and supplied with vast amounts of connections at multiple layers of processing, and is exposed to massive amounts of stimulus material, it begins to 'think' and 'perceive' for itself. It has learnt to determine shapes and identify specific objects from among billions of images. Here's an excerpt from an article by Robert Hof in Forbes which documents the outcome of the collaboration between Google and Kurzweil:
In October , Microsoft chief research officer Rick Rashid wowed attendees at a lecture in China with a demonstration of speech software that transcribed his spoken words into English text with an error rate of 7 percent, translated them into Chinese-language text, and then simulated his own voice uttering them in Mandarin. That same month, a team of three graduate students and two professors won a contest held by Merck to identify molecules that could lead to new drugs. The group used deep learning to zero in on the molecules most likely to bind to their targets.
The implications of this for education, business, commerce and a whole host of other sectors of society is ... immense. If we are all suddenly able to converse naturally, and in real time in any language, the world is going to change, and change radically. What will become of language teaching? Will we need it any more? Will translation services become redundant? Or will we still see people paying to learn foreign languages? What will happen to the social and cultural divides that currently separate us across the globe? Will they remain, or will they dissipate over time as we begin to come to terms with this new technology? Will such a universal translation tool become available to all, or will the social gulfs be amplified because of a new digital divide?
Photo by Richard Greenhill and Hugo Elias on Wikimedia Commons
Deep learning by Steve Wheeler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.Posted by Steve Wheeler from Learning with e's
The current search for new educational funnels must be reversed into the search for their institutional inverse: educational webs which heighten the opportunity for each one to transform each moment of his living into one of learning, sharing, and caring. (from Deschooling Society, 1971)
In the context of the technology of his day, he saw networked computers and telephone systems being used to encourage and promote exchanges of ideas, knowledge and expertise. Illich was not a big fan of traditional education, at least not in the form he observed. He advocated a form of participatory education that democratised knowledge and privileged learning over teaching. He saw technology as one means of transformation for education.
What would Illich have made of the social web? It is unclear, because he died in 2002, just as Web 2.0 was emerging. Yet reading his work, one gets the impression that he would have welcomed it heartily and would have been one of its strongest advocates for education.
Ivan Illich envisioned a community (or network) of learners that was self-sufficient. Here is his vision for how it might be achieved:
The operation of a peer-matching network would be simple. The user would identify himself by name and address and describe the activity for which he sought a peer. A computer would send him back the names and addresses of all those who had inserted the same description. It is amazing that such a simple utility has never been used on a broad scale for publicly valued activity.
Well now it is, and we are seeing this vision realised by millions every day. In so many ways, the social web mirrors Illich's ideas for 'information exchanges', and 'peer matching' services, especially where facilitated through mobile, internet enabled personal devices. Never before has so much knowledge been generated and shared globally on such a scale as we see today on the Web. Video, audio, text and status updates are being uploaded to the web every second of every day, by hundreds of thousands of users.
Illich saw people as naturally itinerant in their learning, roaming where they wished, encountering knowledge serendipitously and interacting with each other in an informal manner to learn reciprocally. This was a long way away from the oppressive state controlled education systems he railed so strongly against. Deschooling society, in Illich's own terms, was not about doing away with education, but of discarding the moribund rituals and restrictive practices that epitomised formalised schooling. These ideals were captured in quite pragmatic architectural and city planning terms by Alexander et al (1977) when they conceived of a society where community leaders could...
"...work in piecemeal ways to decentralize the process of learning and enrich it through contact with many places and people all over the city: workshops, teachers at home or walking through the city, professionals willing to take on the young as helpers, older children teaching younger children, museums, youth groups travelling, scholarly seminars, industrial workshops, old people, and so on. Conceive of all these situations as forming the backbone of the learning process; survey all these situations, describe them, and publish them as the city's "curriculum"; then let students, children, their families and neighborhoods weave together for themselves the situations that comprise their "school" paying as they go with standard vouchers, raised by community tax. Build new educational facilities in a way which extends and enriches this network."
Such a society would of course be a departure from the centralised services with which we are familiar in today's inner cities. However, informal learning does exist in the form of collectives, adult education classes, informal exchanges, and even the emerging fixer and maker cultures. Illich saw informal learning, especially that which was situated and authentic, as being more meaningful that education that was being imposed upon learners from above:
Most learning is not the result of instruction. It is rather the result of unhampered participation in a meaningful setting.
In his later work entitled Tools for Conviviality (1973) Illich began to expose some of the societal trends and excavated the role technology played in shaping work. He saw the people as being inherently creative, but like so many other neo-marxist philosophers (see for example the work of Harry Braverman on deskilling the workforce, 1974), he was also aware of the dangers of automation and blind obedience to technology. The role of the artisan has greater significance than that of the unthinking operator:
People need new tools to work with, rather than tools that work for them. (p. 10)
Social media, especially those that enable users to create and share content, fall into the category of tools that are worked by us. They tap into the essence of our individual creativity, providing us with blank canvases upon which we can express our ideas and share our thoughts. It is likely that Illich would have welcomed the notion of user generated content, and would have applauded the role of social media in challenging and undermining the megalithic capitalist industries of our time. He would no doubt also have warned us about the danger of enslaving ourselves to social networking tools, and would have expressed cynicism over the blatent advertising cultures that surround them. In the final analysis, however, many of Illich's visions are materialising in the digital age, and I believe he would have been gratified to see them come to fruition.
Endnote: This short essay is of course mostly speculative, but an appreciation of the finer nuances of Illich's writings indicate to us that he would certainly not have rejected the role social media can play in advancing and enriching education. To what extent social media and other technologies might be able to play a role in the transformation of the centralised, state funded education system remains to be seen.
Alexander, C., Ishikawa, S. and Silverstein, M. (1977) A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Braverman, H. (1974) Labor and Monopoly Capital. New York: Monthly Review.
Illich, I. (1971) Deschooling Society. Penguin: Harmondsworth.
Illich, I. (1973) Tools for Conviviality. New York: Harper and Row.
Photo by Ian Britton on Freefoto
Tools for conviviality? Illich and social media by Steve Wheeler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.Posted by Steve Wheeler from Learning with e's
The New Yorker published an article yesterday titled “A MOOC Mystery: Where Do Online Students Go?” which tried to explain low MOOC completion rates by comparing the situation to the General Educational Development (GED) exam. Right off the bat, the article conflates MOOCs with “online students”. MOOCs are but one form of online education, and a very recent one at that. Worse, however, is that the entire basis for the article is quite flawed – GED results do not give much insight into MOOC students patters, and it turns out there is not much of a mystery in the first place.
The hook in this article seems to be the coincidence of two numbers [emphasis added]:
When the Times declared 2012 the “Year of the MOOC,” it seemed, in the words of the paper, that “everyone wants in,” with schools, students, and investors eager to participate. But, as can happen in academia, early ambition faded when the first few assessments were returned, and, since then the open-online model appears to have earned an incomplete, at best. An average of only four per cent of registered users finished their MOOCs in a recent University of Pennsylvania study, and half of those enrolled did not view even a single lecture. EdX, a MOOC collaboration between Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has shown results that are a little more encouraging, but not much. And a celebrated partnership between San Jose State and Udacity, the company co-founded by Sebastian Thrun, a Stanford professor turned MOOC magnate , also failed, when students in the online pilot courses consistently fared worse than their counterparts in the equivalent courses on campus.
Some of the problems encountered by MOOCs echo those of an earlier model of alternative learning. Last month, the General Educational Development exam, or G.E.D., was replaced by a more challenging computer version. Like MOOCs, the G.E.D, which has been around since 1942, is partially an attempt to save time and money in education, and to extend opportunity to students outside the traditional classroom. As a marker of high-school equivalence, it holds the promise that an entire academic career can be distilled into the knowledge required to pass a five-part exam.
But according to a September, 2013, American RadioWorks report, of the forty per cent of G.E.D.-holders who go on to college, fewer than half complete more than a year, and only about four per cent earn a four-year degree. The additional rigor of the redesigned exam might not be the solution. The military tried a similar approach when, in the nineteen-seventies, it raised the G.E.D. scores required for entry. Even then, G.E.D. applicants quit or were thrown out of the service at a higher rate than enlistees with high-school degrees.
Get it? Oh, the possible conclusions we can draw now that we’ve established this remarkable insight!
There might be just a few problems with this analogy, however.
- The GED is targeted at high school students who did not or could not complete their high school education and graduate; MOOCs appeal for the most part to working professional adults who already have at least a bachelor’s degree (according to the same U Penn Study cited by the New Yorker, an “overwhelming 83 percent already have a two-year or four-year degree, the study showed” and “44 percent have advanced degrees”).
- The “half” and “4%” numbers in the GED study are based on whether or not they got a four-year college degree; other several pilot programs, MOOCs offer no credit towards a degree.
- The GED is an official government program to grant a credential; MOOCs are based on open education in that anyone can sign up, and for the most part the learners do not care about certificates or any acknowledgement of completion.
- The GED is a test – passing the test is the point, not learning; MOOCs are learning opportunities – for the majority of learners, access to educational content is the point, not testing.
- The SJSU / Udacity courses were not MOOCs – they were non-massive, controlled access online courses.
Before we go on, let me point out that I am not making an argument that MOOC completion rates are a non-issue, nor am I arguing that MOOCs are solving higher education problems. What I am pointing out is that the New Yorker is basing its whole article on a faulty analogy.
Not only is the analogy flawed, but the focus on course completion in MOOCs in this simplistic fashion is also flawed, as was pointed out as the #1 takeaway in the HarvardX / MITx study linked by the New Yorker article:
Takeaway 1: Course completion rates, often seen as a bellwether for MOOCs, can be misleading and may at times be counterproductive indicators of the impact and potential of open online courses.
The researchers found evidence of large numbers of registrants who may not have completed a course, but who still accessed substantial amounts of course content. Across the 17 MITx and HarvardX courses covered in the reports, 43,196 registrants earned certificates of completion. Additionally, another 35,937 registrants explored half or more of the units in a course without achieving certification.
The author does acknowledge later in the article this exact flaw in the basis for his own article:
But students may go into an online course knowing that a completion certificate, even offered under the imprimatur of Harvard or UPenn, doesn’t have the same worth. A recent study by a team of researchers from Coursera found that, for many MOOC students, the credential isn’t the goal at all. Students may treat the MOOC as a resource or a text rather than as a course, jumping in to learn new code or view an enticing lecture and back out whenever they want, just as they would while skimming the wider Web.
But by this point, the author has already drawn several conclusions from his pithy insight, so who cares about context at this point?
If the New Yorker wants to explore the MOOC mystery, it turns out that it’s not such a mystery at all what is happening with MOOC students, or at least there is a fair amount of recent and ongoing research into the subject. Here is a graphic that captures some of the MOOC student patterns that is in alignment with more formal studies at Stanford and MIT.
But even better, it turns out that the U Penn study was actually presented at the MOOC Research Initiative Conference. That’s right – an entire conference based on real research into MOOC student patterns. From e-Literate TV, we have a YouTube channel populated with interviews with the MRI conference grantees – there’s a ton of insight available there. Here’s one in particular where Michael interviews Martin Weller from the Open University about their research data:
Unfortunately, I’m sure the New Yorker article will get plenty of airplay. I just hope more people ask some tough questions before jumping into the resulting debates.
The post A response to New Yorker article on ‘A MOOC Mystery’ appeared first on e-Literate.
Tony Bates reviews an article from the latest issue of IRRODL (International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning) dealing with the impact of distance education on Firts Nations / Aboriginal communities in Canada. Bates notes, "This paper, written jointly by two First Nations people and two academics from the University of New Brunswick, is focused on distance education in a M’ kmaw community in Atlantic Canada (New Brunswick). It is unusual as it seeks the views of 20 aboriginal students from the Elsipogtog First Nation in New Brunswick who have taken distance education courses."[Link] [Comment]
Good question: "Where does targeted advertising end and personalized learning begin?" I suspect the answer would have a lot to do with the locus of control. The Software & information Industry Association takes a different approach, "That data should be used only for educational purposes, that its use should be fully disclosed and transparent and full consent obtained from families, that all reasonable security procedures should be followed and schools be notified in case of actual data breaches." Scott McLeod comments, responding to Katherine Varker, Associate General Counsel for McGraw-Hill Education, that "The fact that you don’ t know – or don’ t care – means that I don’ t want your company anywhere near my kids."[Link] [Comment]