Open Content: The Gift That Keeps On Giving

June 23rd, 2012

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.



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OER, Open Course Library, Openness

Herding Cats

May 16th, 2012

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. :)


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Long Live the Copycats!

April 5th, 2012

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


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From Cable to Me to You

April 2nd, 2012

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.

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Publishing Open Textbooks to Lulu and Create Space

March 30th, 2012

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.


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