Contrary to Popular Belief: A Mid-Year Review of Books

I’ve read some really interesting books this year. As new ideas are supposed to do, several of these have significantly impacted my thinking. The books that are affecting me the most professionally are those that are giving me language and frameworks for making progress on ideas that have been stagnating in the back of my mind for a while. Some of the “slow hunches” I’ve been pursuing run contrary to popular belief, including questions like:

  • Isn’t there a research design better than a randomized controlled trial (RCT) for going beyond correlation and allowing us to talk with confidence and rigor about causation?
  • Isn’t there a better metaphor for the work we’re doing in OER than “the commons”?
  • Isn’t there a better way to think about OER than as static content like a PDF?

Just a word or two about each of these for now.

Getting to causation. Several titles on causal inference have completely rocked my world and are significantly impacting my thinking about and approach to research. If this literature is new to you (as it was to me), I would recommend (in this order) The Book of Why, Causal Inference in Statistics: A Primer, and
Counterfactuals and Causal Inference: Methods and Principles for Social Research (Analytical Methods for Social Research). And, of course, there is plenty of open source software for those interested in doing this kind of work, including the causaleffect package for R and the DAGitty package for R (also available in-browser).

A better metaphor. The commons is a powerful metaphor for the work that we do with OER, but it also comes with historical baggage that frequently leads people to make the wrong generalizations and draw the wrong conclusions. Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation is a delightful book about the power of remix. I also found it to be a compelling argument that we consider the coral reef as a new metaphor for our work with OER.

My deep-seated discomfort with PDF. Tim O’Reilly’s book What’s the Future and Why It’s Up to Us includes this little vignette that caught my attention:

One of my favorite popular definitions of Moore’s Law came in a conversation I had with Reid Hoffman, the founder and chairman of LinkedIn, and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) over dinner in San Francisco seven or eight years ago. “We need to start seeing Moore’s Law apply to healthcare,” I said. “What’s Moore’s Law?” the senator asked. “You have to understand, Senator,” Reid interjected, “that in Washington, you assume that every year things cost more and do less. In Silicon Valley, everyone expects our products to cost less every year but do more.”

O’Reilly goes on to name this insight – that technology products should constantly cost less but do more – Hoffman’s Law, and it brings my discomfort with PDFs and other static open content into sharp relief. It’s not just that PDF isn’t a readily remixable format, though that is certainly true. The deeper problem is that while a PDF of an open textbook costs less than the traditionally copyrighted digital learning materials it replaces, it also does less. What would “do more” mean in the context of learning materials? Things like (1) providing lots of opportunities to do combined with immediate, epistemic feedback and (2) supporting students as they create and publicly share openly licensed learning artifacts that have value in the real world.

More words to come as my thinking on these questions develops further. Or, no more words to come if these lines of inquiry don’t pan out.

Showing #OpenGratitude for: Open Textbook Network

This is another post in my series of posts showing gratitude and appreciation for members of the open education community.

Today I’m going to focus on the Open Textbook Network. From their website:

The Open Textbook Network (OTN) helps higher education institutions and systems advance the use of open textbooks and practices on their campuses. We maintain the Open Textbook Library, the premiere resource for peer-reviewed academic textbooks. All of our textbooks are free, openly licensed, and complete; their adoption creates a measurable, positive impact on student success. With our members, we move the open education conversation forward on local and national levels.

OTN is a membership organization. They estimate that OER adoptions on their 600 member campuses have saved students over $8.5 million dollars. Much of this savings is attributable to the workshops their incredible team of presenters offer. 45% of faculty who attend one of these workshops adopt OER for their course. OTN invests significant effort in facilitating peer reviews of the textbooks in their collection. These reviews are openly published on their website and licensed CC BY, which enables them to be used in a range of applications. Their Adaptable OER Publishing Agreement is a model agreement for institutions that want to contract with their faculty to create OER. Their Authoring Open Textbooks Guide includes a checklist for getting started, publishing program case studies, textbook organization and elements, writing resources and an overview of useful tools. Their Modifying an Open Textbook: What You Need to Know is a five-step guide for faculty (and those who support faculty) who want to modify an open textbook. They run a Summer Institute and Summit each year.

For all these reasons and more, I’m grateful for the Open Textbook Network and all the wonderful things they do for the open education community. Share some love forOpen Textbook Network in the comments below.

Showing #OpenGratitude for: BCcampus OpenEd

This is another post in my series of posts showing gratitude and appreciation for members of the open education community.

Today I’m going to focus onBCcampus OpenEd. It’s difficult to fully wrap one’s mind around all the things they do. Their cornerstone project is amazing BC Open Textbooks Collection. They do unique and valuable work in the Trades and OER. They publish an Open Education Accessibility Toolkit as well as other student and faculty advocacy toolkits. They publish numerous Guides, including guides to OER adaption, using Pressbooks, self-publishing, print-on-demand, and OER authoring. They run mailing lists, award mini-grants, and coordinate a Faculty Fellows Program. They regularly recognize the great work happening in their community with the Excellence in Open Education Award. They provide support for Zed Cred initiatives. They organize the annual Festival of Learning.

For all these reasons and more, I’m grateful for BCcampus OpenEd and all the wonderful things they do for the open education community. Share some love for BCCampus in the comments below.