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Transclusion, Making OER Easier to Use, and Candela

via MIke Caulfield
via MIke Caulfield
I recently received the excellent news that I will receive another year of support as a Shuttleworth Fellow. These fellowships are extremely generous and I’m incredibly grateful for the foundation’s vote of confidence in the work I’m doing supporting widespread OER adoption through Lumen Learning. As many of you know, Shuttleworth Fellows also have the opportunity to pitch the Foundation for project funding. The foundation has also chosen to support our project proposal this year, and I’m extremely excited to start sharing the idea we’re working on with the community.

Over the past year Lumen has made great strides in promoting OER adoption, delivering OER and related services to thousands of students at dozens of institutions. However, we’ve struggled to find a highly scalable manner of doing so – for a very specific reason. We started out hosting our Open Course Frameworks in the Canvas learning management system because it’s both the best LMS out there (in my opinion) and is openly licensed. But over and over again we heard from faculty that they don’t want to send students out of their school’s official learning management system and into a second system from which OER are delivered, because this multiplicity of LMSs confuses students (and faculty). Instead, students and faculty want OER to be delivered within their institution’s learning management system. In order to meet this demand we spent much of the past year helping rebuild the same OER-based courses over and over again within several partner schools’ learning management systems. Obviously this process cannot scale to support thousands of schools and millions of students – which is the scale at which OER needs to operate in order to make a significant impact on the affordability and quality of education.

Beginning in January 2014 we launched a prototype of a new approach designed specifically to provide OER and related services to multiple schools in multiple learning management systems. In this new model, we host OER centrally and transclude it directly into multiple LMSs via the Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) standard. With this transclusion technique, we’re able to host, manage, and improve courses in a single platform and make the content “magically” appear directly inside multiple schools’ learning management systems. The prototype is currently in use by multiple schools in multiple LMSs and has been extremely successful, providing us with a path to drastically improve our ability to scale the impact of OER by making them significantly easier to use.

So, for our Shuttleworth funded project we are going to create an openly licensed, high quality, highly scalable version of this functionality. What we’re calling the “Candela” platform will make OER easily usable in all LMSs (as well as environments supporting other learning world views, like PLE tools) that support LTI.

We’re building the Candela platform on top of WordPress, and expect that this will facilitate a huge number of synergies both anticipated and unanticipated. We’re already looking at integrating a few key tools and plugins that will drastically improve the end user experience – tools like Open Embeddable Assessments for in situ formative assessment and Hypothesis for highlighting and annotating. Types and Views look like promising ways to support CC licensing and inline attribution, as well as fine-grained alignment of OER with learning outcomes. And Candela will give us an excellent context for experimenting with the idea that learners should be able to own their learning content and learning data (full-course content export that preserves your notes and highlights, anyone?). And given all the energy and momentum in the open ed community around WordPress I can’t imagine what kinds of unforeseen random goodness will come in the future.

Finally, I’m super excited to announce that Lumen is working with FunnyMonkey on Candela development. I’ve been hoping for a chance to work with Bill for years now, and at last we have one.

Overall, I’m extremely excited about this work and the degree to which it will enable us to make OER easy for faculty to adopt and adapt and easy for students to learn from and own forever. I’d love to hear your feedback on our approach… Thoughts? What are we missing? How should we be working together?

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Disappearing Ink, Textbook Affordability, and Ownership

Long before an upstart Harry headed to Hogwarts, Sparrowhawk went to the School of Roke in Ursula K. Leguin’s A Wizard of Earthsea. As part of his schooling, Sparrowhawk:

was sent with seven other boys across Roke Island to the farthest north-most cape, where stands the Isolate Tower. There by himself lived the Master Namer, who was called by a name that had no meaning in any language, Kurremkarmerruk. No farm or dwelling lay within miles of the tower. Grim it stood above the northern cliffs, grey were the clouds over the seas of winter, endless the lists and ranks and rounds of names that the Namer’s eight pupils must learn. Amongst them in the tower’s high room Kurremkarmerruk sat on the high seat, writing down lists of names that must be learned before the ink faded at midnight leaving the parchment blank again.

I find it deeply unsettling that publishers, startups, and college and university bookstores have turned to “disappearing ink” as the core of their textbook affordability strategies. Whether we’re talking about textbook buy back programs, textbook rental programs, relying on textbooks from the library’s collection, subscribing to ebook services, or even borrowing textbooks from friends, each and everyone of these approaches to improving textbook affordability does so by stripping students of their core educational resources at the end of term (or sooner).

I’ve written about the disappearing ink problem before in the narrow context of adaptive educational systems, but as I’ve pondered Sparrowhawk’s plight I’ve come to understand that this problem of students losing access to their core educational resources (1) is not new to the world of digital educational materials, (2) is propagated by publishers in almost all of their digital content and not just in their adaptive platforms, and (3) is something that our institutions are actually promoting through their various textbook affordability programs.

(I leave it as an exercise to the reader to ponder the many messages our institutions send when they tell students they only need to keep the textbooks from their “important classes.”)

Over the last several weeks this has led me to think about a benefit of open educational resources I had probably under-appreciated before. When the core instructional materials for courses are open educational resources (OER), we can provide more than free and open access to course materials – we can provide free copies of course materials to students. In a world where links break, services get retired, and organizations change business models, we should be doing more than providing students with free and unfettered access to OER – we should also be offering them easy-to-download and easy-to-use copies of OER. Copies they can own, and keep forever.

As it rattled around inside my tiny brain, the simple thought that “students should own their learning content” jarred another thought loose. If students can own their learning content, why can’t they own the history of their interactions with that content? In other words, why can’t they own a copy of the raw analytics data generated as they used that learning content? There are no technical or legal reasons students cannot own a copy of these data, only stupid, kludgey, protectionist, “business model” reasons. Among the myriad reasons this would be A Good Idea, if students had access to their own learning data the potential for an explosion of “personal learning analytics” tools would be incredible.

I’m increasingly persuaded that to truly empower learners and learning, we need to shift away from the culture of leasing content and hoarding data to a culture where learners are easily able to own copies of their learning content and learning data. It’s not enough for them to have free and unfettered access, we must enable students to own their own personal copies of them. Ownership matters, desperately.

Look to hear a lot more from me on the topic of “learners owning their learning content and learning data” as the year progresses.

PS. Maybe these are thoughts you’ve already had before. Terrific! Would you leave a link in the comments so I can read your thinking about issues of student ownership of learning content and learning data? I’m far less interested in being “first” to have the idea than I am interested in implementing these ideas in ways that benefit students.

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Automatically Geocoding Higher Ed Institutions Using the Google Maps API and Google Spreadsheets

I recently needed to quickly create a map of higher education institutions Lumen is working with, and consequently needed LAT and LONG info for dozens of schools. Rather than do that all by hand, I created this little recipe for automatically retrieving coordinates given a school’s name using the Google Maps API and Google Spreadsheets. Here’s a demonstration of the recipe using a list of all the higher education institutions where I’ve taught:

I fully realize I’m no Tony Hirst, but thought this was interesting enough to share.