Open Content: The Gift That Keeps On Giving

June 23rd, 2012 1 comment

It’s been 9 months since the release of the first 42 OCL courses and the positive, often serendipitous outcomes to continue to appear. Shortly after our October 31, 2011 launch, the Saylor Foundation adapted 11 Open Course Library courses for use by self-learners. In the process they made the courses easier to access. You see, our first batch of courses were released as Common Cartridge .zip files which ended up being a barrier for those who don’t have access to a LMS. Saylor put our courses directly online and made them look pretty. They even caught a couple typos for us! (Note: We have since shifted to developing our course materials in Google Docs, and we will move the first 42 courses to Google Docs before our final release in Spring 2013).

Recently the Saylor Foundation began uploading some of their open courses to iTunes U, including several from the Open Course Library. Everyone benefits all over again, simply because a group of educators was willing to share their less-than-perfect course materials freely with the world. Open Course Library materials are now being used in 8 states through Project Kaleidoscope, an NGLC grant whose research is now informing our open sharing efforts in Washington State.

Last week I received a Google alert signaling that the North Carolina Community College System has added the Open Course Library courses to their NCLOR learning object repository. I look forward to reporting more good news as other educators decide to build on the OCL and Saylor materials and share back their improvements. While it’s impossible to control or even keep track all the outcomes of sharing one’s work openly on the web, I have only seen positive results for all involved. I’m sure there are a few exceptions, but in most cases nothing is lost by giving it away. As more talented instructors are recognized for their OER efforts I hope more educators will be willing to share their lessons openly.

I’ll end with a great 2-min spotlight on Pierce College Precalculus Open Textbook co-author Melonie Rasmussen:

Thank you to Melonie and to all the instructors who have been willing to take a chance by sharing their course materials openly through the Open Course Library. Truly this is a gift that keeps on giving.


Categories: OER, Open Course Library, Openness Tags:

Herding Cats

May 16th, 2012 1 comment

At the WCET Digital Content Summit last week I was asked to describe how I work with faculty in Washington State to develop and curate materials for 81 of our system’s highest enrolling courses into the Open Course Library. I jokingly said two words: “herding cats,” and then I went on to describe the process and the great faculty, instructional designer, and librarian teams that have been involved. Of course, I only got quoted on the herding cats part. That’s the power of a sound byte. :)

Categories: Conferences Tags:

Long Live the Copycats!

April 5th, 2012 No comments

My daughter hates when her brothers copy her. Apparently, so do three major publishers. They are suing Boundless Learning, a company that allows students to access online content that is the page-by-page equivalent to their assigned textbooks. Except Boundless uses all open content, including open educational resources (OER) from top schools. Plus they’ve added videos, instant search, highlighting, notes, etc.

Oh, and it’s free.

Here are the TechCrunch, Chronicle, and Hack Education articles about the suit. Not only are the publishers going after Boundless Learning, they’re going after the funders as well. (I usually give my kids a time-out before it gets to this point.)

While it might be cheaper to buy Boundless rather than sue them at this point, publishers are understandably nervous and looking to make a statement about reverse engineered textbooks. The irony here is that publishers routinely copy each other. Compare the table of contents of the top 3 Biology textbooks and you’ll see what I mean.

OER is not on trial here, but there are implications for those who seek to leverage OER to solve real problems. I can’t help rooting for a group that is willing to take a creative risk to help students, and I hope Boundless can continue providing a legal alternative to $200+ textbooks. I want my kids to use their site someday. Long live the copycats!

Publisher Complaint

From Cable to Me to You

April 2nd, 2012 No comments

Flagrant reuse warning: I copied the following post from Cable’s blog because he said what I wanted to say :)

  1. If you use Creative Commons licenses for your OER (or any other openly licensed creative work), you might want to check out:
  2. Please contribute to the new OER Policy Registry:
  3. New video hot off the press from CC Qatar:
Now to copy someone else. This past weekend the first 42 Open Course Library courses made their way to Haiti on a DVD — a little over 1GB of course content. Here’s the presentation given by Brandon Muramatsu. It’s worth watching. So maybe you don’t get to travel as much as I want to these days, but at least your openly shared content can.

Publishing Open Textbooks to Lulu and Create Space

March 30th, 2012 3 comments

I am pleased to announce that Elizabeth Hanson and Jenae Kirby,  instructors at Shoreline Community College, have co-authored an open textbook that faculty and students can use for free. On-Ramp to Nursing Assistant Certified is designed for students who speak English as a second language who are beginning their healthcare career training. Previously, Elizabeth authored a Human Anatomy textbook for a major publisher. This time she and Jenae Kirby were funded through an SBCTC grant, and because of the SBCTC Open Policy their NAC textbook is available free to the world.

Yesterday I helped Elizabeth post her NAC open textbook on, a website for digital and print-on-demand publications. We started with the 180-page word document, added a Creative Commons CC BY license to the title page, and the NAC open textbook was published on in about 30 minutes. It’s great that Lulu lets authors select a Creative Commons open license!

A couple caveats with Lulu:
1. Students have to create a free account with Lulu to “order” even the free books (no biggie).
2. There is a 30-60 min. delay to access even free, digital textbooks. I’m not sure why the ordering process isn’t instantaneous, but the user gets an email when the file is ready for download.

Another comparable print-on-demand service is Amazon’s Create Space. I like it because print copies tend to be cheaper and students can download open textbooks more quickly. Both services give you a free ISBN and allow you to add new editions later. Like Lulu, Create Space can convert Word files to make them available via iPad and eReaders like the Amazon Kindle. We were not able to do this yesterday because the NAC textbook contained some text boxes. Once these minor issues are ironed out the NAC open textbook can be made available in a variety of eReader formats. It is currently available as a PDF.

One caveat with Create Space: Setting up a  account requires the author to give it a bank routing number or other financial information (presumably for authors to collect royalties). It would be nice to be able to skip over this part for open textbook authors. I need to experiment a bit more before deciding which service I like best for publishing open textbooks. I’ll post an update soon.

With the NAC open textbook printing in color was important. If your students need a printed color copy of your textbook, Create Space is significantly less expensive than Lulu. For a color 180 page softcover book Create Space charges $13 per book compared to Lulu’s $56 cost. If you have found other good print-on-demand solutions for publishing open textbooks please post them in the comments.

48 Million+ views in one month

February 6th, 2012 No comments

It’s been exactly one month since the band Walk Off the Earth uploaded their cover of Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know” to YouTube. More than 48 million views later, they are on fire and courting multiple record labels.

Think of it this way, if 1 in 20 viewers bought this song for $1 , this group would have made $1 Million in a month (assuming there were 20 million unique viewers). Along with the iTunes link and the direct download link, they also sell T-shirts. That’s the power of viral web sharing. The world’s greatest marketing tool is free.

Enjoy the song…

Categories: Openness Tags: , , ,

A Big Day for Open Policy

January 31st, 2012 4 comments

Today was a big day for open policy, with important hearings in the Washington State House and Senate on measures requiring open licensing of courseware developed with state funds. State Representative Reuven Carlyle sponsored the House bill (along with a number of other representatives), and testified at both hearings. The Senate companion bill was sponsored by Senators Tom, Hill, and Frockt.

It is notable that even though there was significant opposition to the bills from the universities, everyone supported using and sharing open resources. The concerns centered around *how* to go about implementing an open policy. Today’s conversations are well worth watching for anyone interested in these arguments or considering similar legislation. A quick summary:

EDIT: Cable Green posted a good FAQ on the bills.


  • Broad support for quality open textbooks in higher ed. (several universities said they are “all in” for open textbooks)
  • Everyone supports the spirit and intention of sharing open educational resources

Concerns raised at hearings:

  • Mandatory nature of policy (and how to track compliance)
  • Impact on faculty’s ability to publish in peer reviewed articles (and further impact on faculty P&T and retention)
  • Copyright vetting and copyright liability burdens on faculty

Tonight I’m thinking of the Ghandi quote David Wiley used almost a year ago: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” I’ve been through the first three stages. The final stage we are in, the winning part requires a lot of listening, especially to faculty who are interested in OER but have different ideas about implementation.

Regardless of what happens to these two bills, one thing is clear: Open Educational Resources are moving into the mainstream. It’s time to expand educational opportunities for all. No more waiting. It’s time to share.

CA’s Digital Open Source Library and WA’s Open Course Library

December 13th, 2011 No comments

California Bill Pushes for Free Online College Books (via KQED MindShift)

Here’s a quick summary of the bills (there are actually 2):

• The first CA bill would create 50 open textbooks for high-enrollment college courses that would be free online and available in print for ~$20.  Book contracts would be awarded through competitive grant process open to publishers, faculty and organizations, and must use a Creative Commons Attribution license.

• The second bill would create the “California Digital Open Source Library” to serve as a platform for accessing and customizing the 50 open textbooks, and will include incentives for faculty to adopt these and other open textbooks.  It also requires that publishers provide free library reserve copies of textbooks adopted in high-enrollment courses at California’s public colleges.

• No cost is indicated in the bill summaries, but an article on KQED’s website quotes $25 million.  This is a lot of money given the state’s budget issues, but the return would undoubtedly be huge — the state has close to 3 million college students, at least half of which are at the community colleges where books on average cost more than tuition (as of ’08).

How this compares to the Open Course Library:

• WA is covering more courses (81) with less money (about $2 million).  However, CA would create a full open textbook for each course, while the Open Course Library can include non-open materials as long as the cost is under $30.

• Both programs use the Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) open license for all new materials, which allows the public to freely use, distribute and adapt the material.  It also would allow publishers to improve and re-sell proprietary versions.

• Both aim to address high-enrollment courses, but WA’s focuses specifically on community college level.  It appears that CA will focus on all three public systems: the UCs, CSUs and CCCs.

Thanks to Nicole Allen and Brandon Muramatsu for this information!

Three Things You Should Know About the Open Course Library

November 10th, 2011 No comments

Credit: Timothy Valentine & Leo Reynolds CC-BY-NC-SA

It’s been 11 days since the launch of the Open Course Library and we had our 10,000th visitor today. The launch of these 42 courses was covered at least 67 times by reporters and bloggers, which will hopefully lead to increased faculty adoptions. The Student PIRGs has also written a cost analysis of the Open Course Library which shows that the textbook savings being realized this year alone is already more than the cost of the project itself. As of the first week the course materials we created have been adopted by faculty in New York, Oregon, Washington, and Romania.

After lots of practice talking with reporters last week, I’ve come up with a quick summary of the project and three things you should know about the Open Course Library:

What is the Open Course Library?

The Open Course Library is a collection of expertly developed educational materials designed by faculty and openly shared with the world. It includes textbooks, syllabi, course activities, readings, and assessments for 81 high-enrollment college courses. 42 courses have been completed so far, providing faculty with a high-quality, affordable option that will cost students no more than $30 for course materials.

The Open Course Library is:

1. High Quality – Course materials go through an extensive series of quality checks.

  • All course materials are pilot-tested in a college classroom and then further refined.
  • Quality checks include peer reviews, instructional designer reviews, and expert reviews by universal design, accessibility, and global education specialists.

2. Affordable – Students pay no more than $30 for Open Course Library materials, including textbooks. Most courses use 100% free materials.

  • Students spend $1000 or more on textbooks annually, in addition to tuition.
  • Some students even attempt courses without purchasing the textbooks, which affects completion rates.
  • Using Open Course Library materials allows students to spend less per course and afford more courses per term so they can graduate faster and get better paying jobs sooner.

3. Adaptable – Faculty can modify and build on some or all of the course materials.

  • Faculty adopters can use as much of the course materials as they choose.
  • There are no strings attached. We only ask that faculty cite the Open Course Library in their course and fill out our short adoption form.

Effect International: Building Schools, Reshaping Luck

October 18th, 2011 1 comment
I usually blog about open education and instructional technology, but I want to share a great campaign to help build schools and create sustainable educational programs in developing nations. The organization is called Effect International.
Effect International has built a school in Bihar, India and is looking to build additional schools plus expand to Nepal.
The Goal: To empower the community to maintain their own education systems.
Effect International uses 100% of public donations directly on projects. They support their operational costs through private donors and board members.
We can build a school for 25K for 250 children.
We can put one child through school for a year for $25.
The Reshaper Campaign. 
We’ve keyed the motto, “Reshape Luck” therefore we felt it was appropriate to call our annual donors “Reshapers” A reshaper is a person that donates $7 a month. In one year this person will put three children through school. More information is available on their website: