Monday, December 31, 2012

OER: Saylor Foundation's New Bookshelf

Saylor Foundation
The Saylor Foundation is making spirits bright and starting the New Year right by ensuring that openly licensed, free textbooks remain freely available to students. You may have seen their press release. Their "Bookshelf" page is already up and the books that are due to go behind Flat World Knowledge paywall are now freely available. They are saving us the trouble of downloading them and hosting them ourselves.

"Each of the books listed below is freely available for download, online reading, and sharing, under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 3.0 license. Please share this link (and the blog post) with your networks to help spread the word!

Like many of you, we have come to rely on the free-to-read versions of the excellent texts at Flat World Knowledge. We’ve woven these books tightly into many of our free online courses, all of which rely on freely-accessible (and preferably openly-licensed) materials. When Flat World Knowledge announced recently that its previously openly-licensed books would not be available for free after January 1st, 2013, we decided to preserve the whole catalog, which we now happily share with you.

We are grateful to Flat World Knowledge for developing such an excellent catalog, and while the versions on the Flat World Knowledge website will no longer be free, the publisher continues to provide its texts at prices significantly lower than standard textbooks and with much added-value in the form of supplementary materials and interactive elements."

The Saylor Foundation certainly warrants all of our support for the coming year. I want to encourage everyone who reads this blog to seriously consider supporting this foundation. As educators, we obviously cannot rely on for-profits to keep the best interests of the students in mind.
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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Open Textbooks: Community and Sustainability

Redwood Majesty
Redwood Majesty (Photo: MizzD)
In our discussions with faculty and administrators about free, openly licensed textbooks, I still get questions about "sustainability." Those questions really boil down to "who is going to pay for all of that work?" Often the implication is that we some how need to mimic the commercial textbook publishing model in order to get "a quality product." This is in spite of the fact that commercial textbooks only really have the illusion of being quality products (see "The Myth of Commercial Textbook Reliability"). And there are companies out there that will be happy to sell you something not-quite-entirely-unlike-open textbooks to help preserve administrators' and teachers' comfort levels with the past models. It is nice to think that there is this all-knowing mental giant of a subject matter expert who went to all of the right schools who will once and for all explain it all into a single book (okay, maybe with some relatively inexpensive supplements, study guides, and test banks). We have to break out of thinking that a textbook is a course. Teaching and learning does not come out of books but from interaction with one another; with engagement. This interaction is best facilitated in community. Here in the community college, it begins in the local school districts with our dedicated faculty reaching out to the local high schools and learning about the challenges the students face. The engagement comes when experienced faculty begin to assess their students and shape their teaching and teaching materials to the needs of their students. And yes, finding quality textbooks as a community can be part of that. But what if part of the equation, part of the problem is that the students can't afford those textbooks? Or the school districts can no longer afford to pay for those textbooks? Or if the textbooks don't really address the needs of the students? Do we make the students buy more supplements to the textbooks?

Over and over again, I am finding that the answer to these questions is community. The math department at College of the Redwoods is just one of many examples I could point to. The teachers have written their own openly licensed textbooks based on their experience with the local students. They created the textbooks first because they found the current commercial textbooks inadequate for addressing the issues of the local students but then also to save the students money, to lower the cost of education.The math department used money from their budget, faculty meetings, sabbaticals, etc. to work on their textbooks. The books are hosted on the math department server along with the online assessment system that they created to accompany their books.

College of the Redwoods also participated in the Kaleidoscope Project. The Kaleidoscope Project focused on community: the eight partner colleges, and the collaboration of the instructors from these colleges to adopt open course designs for general education courses. Common assessments were encouraged, and materials were iteratively improved based on student results. The project also focused on the adoption and development of existing open textbooks rather than creating new materials. The key to the success of Kaleidoscope was the community, not the money.

True sustainability in open textbooks will not look like the previous models of commercial textbook publishing. We already know that we cannot afford that. It will look more like an on-going seminar with high quality, community based OERs and open textbooks as the result. The Creative Commons licensing model will be important. I believe we will need to put an "NC" - a non-commercial license on open textbooks to prevent commercial businesses from locking openly licensed content behind pay walls.

So how do we make OERs and open textbooks sustainable? Change our thinking on textbooks and their relation to courses. Change our thinking on tenure and publishing. For a start, we can do (and formalize) what many communities are already doing:

  • Give faculty release time for writing and editing textbooks
  • Tie writing OERs and textbooks to tenure
  • Participate in the peer-review of OERs and open textbooks (e.g. MEROT Open Textbook Initiative and the College Open Textbooks Community, etc.)
  • Leverage the community that already exists (academic senates, student govt., school boards, etc.) to address these problems
  • Get serious about removing financial barriers to education for students

There are many models of sustainability out there besides the Kaleidoscope Project (such as Open Access Textbooks).

Math Textbooks at College of the Redwoods:

This is from the math department web page at College of the Redwoods. The bookstore once told me that they thought that about 70 percent of the students bought a copy of the book even though a free version was available.
  • Math 376:
    • Each Math 376 student will be provided a free textbook and solutions manual on CD.
      The textbook and solutions manual are also available online at
    • Many students find that they also want a printed version of the textbook and/or solutions manual.
      • You will be able to purchase a new printed version of the textbook from for $20 plus shipping, and the solutions manual for $20 plus shipping.
    • For more information on Math 376 textbooks and other resources, see the department course page at
  • Math 380 options:
    • Each Math 380 student will be provided a free textbook and solutions manual on CD.
      The textbook and solutions manual are also available online at
    • Many students find that they also want a printed version of the textbook and/or solutions manual.
      • You will be able to purchase a new printed version of the textbook from for $20 plus shipping, and the solutions manual for $18 plus shipping.
    • For more information on Math 380 textbooks and other resources, see the department course page at
  • Math 120: 
    • Each Math 120 student will be provided a free textbook and solutions manual on CD.
      The textbook and solutions manual will also be available online at
    • Many students find that they also want a printed version of the textbook and/or solutions manual. You will be able to purchase printed versions from the CR bookstore.
    • For more information on Math 120 textbooks and other resources, see the course page at
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Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Creative Commons Turns 10!

Cable Green
Cable Green (Photo: DTKindler Photo)
 This note just in from the ubiquitous Cable Green:

As I'm sure you know, this year is Creative Commons' 10th Birthday! Starting this Friday, we'll be launching into a 10-day frenzy of celebrations leading up to 16 December - the day the first CC license suite was launched in 2002.

The celebrations will be wide ranging, including more than 20 celebrations worldwide, a dedicated website (, interviews and featured resources, a social media campaign and our usual annual fundraising campaign.

As part of the CC community, there are many things you can do to help:
• Add a widget or banner to your website: you can find the official CC10 logo here: (scroll to the bottom of the page): 
• Go to a party, or encourage your friends to attend. There are CC10 events planned on every continent (except Antarctica), starting tonight and continuing almost every day through December 16. There are even some online events and webinars. See them all listed at 
• Friend us on Facebook (, follow us on Twitter (, and let your friends know. The hashtag for the celebrations will be #CC10
• Give CC a birthday present! Write something, draw something, compose something - whatever you do well - and add it to our CC10 Flickr group:, or send it to us via Twitter, Facebook or at
• And, of course, please encourage your friends and family to donate (or even donate yourself) at 

Most gratefully,

Cable Green,
PhD Director of Global Learning
Creative Commons

Creative Commons is turning 10! 
Please give a birthday gift:
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Thursday, November 29, 2012

Inclusive Learning Design Handbook

OPEN! Noon-6pm today!
I am reviewing the "Floe" website today. I am particularly interested in their "Inclusive Learning Handbook." What is Floe? According to their website:
"Learners learn best when the experience is personalized to individual needs. OER is an ideal learning environment to meet the diverse needs of learners, including learners with disabilities. The Floe (Flexible Learning for Open Education) Project supports the OER community in providing a sustainable, integrated approach to accessible learning, addressing the needs of learners who currently face barriers."
I like this approach because it includes a lot of principles of Universal Design but also addresses other access issues - including cost. Their handbook creates a very innovative context for the creation of OER. It includes not just the content itself but tagging that content with metadata, a profile for learners that the students create for themselves, and the use of open formats. Here are the suggestions for the "Technique" section of the handbook:
  • Label resources to indicate what learning needs the resource addresses 
  • Allow the creation of variations and enhancements 
  • Support learning profiles 
  • Support flexible styling 
  • Support keyboard control of functions and navigation 
  • Provide audio or text descriptions of non-text information presented in videos, graphics or images 
  • Provide text captions of information presented in audio format 
  • Separate text that can be read in the interface from underlying code 
  • Use open formats wherever possible
  "Open formats are typically published freely and don't require software developers or users to pay licensing royalties to use them in a variety of applications. As a result, open formats make it easier for content to be used and exchanged freely within different operating systems, applications, and software tools."
 This is one of the few platforms that pays attention to the learner - there are tools to help learners assess how they prefer to learn.

Ironically, I find the default font in the handbook almost impossible to read - but fortunately their platform includes an easy preferences button that will allow me to adjust the font, color, and contrast of the text AND it is openly licensed and not behind a pay-wall so I can use what ever font I want to read it. 

Floe allows you to customize how you view pages.

This is a very important project: it includes content, instructions, and tools for making sustainable, accessible content that will render all of the questions about $ustainability in OERs irrelevant.
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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

OER: DE 101 Self-paced version

This is the stand-alone version of DE 101,  the curriculum we developed for our student orientation. It is released to the public with a Creative Commons license. Distance Education 101 is a two-week orientation on how to take an online class and how to be a successful online student. In this seminar, students learn specifically about College of the Redwoods' "MyCR" (Sakai) and how to use other tools to manage their time, work with others, and their information online. In this orientation students have an opportunity to create and participate in an online community where they can find help and make their connection to the online college.

We believe that our research shows that the two-week, free online orientation was largely responsible for the increase in online student success and retention. Our research is in the presentation below. I have written about DE 101 here before as well.

These course materials were designed for a student population new to technology, broad-band internet, and online communication. That is why there is such a 90s feel to the material. These materials need to be expanded to include more on online collaboration and personal learning networks. This is one of the reasons why we are releasing this on a wiki using the Creative Common's license - we want to collaborate with others who would also like to share their materials.
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Monday, November 19, 2012

Kaleidoscope Grant Research Findings

College of the Redwoods is a participant in the Kaleidoscope grant. This grant helped faculty partner with other colleges to develop free, openly licensed textbooks to help students save a significant amount of money. The Community College Consortium for Open Education Resources is sponsoring a webinar with a few of the participants to discuss the results of the grant. Their invitation is below:

Pie Chart
(Photo credit: Dmitry Baranovskiy)
Please join us Tuesday, December 4, 10:00 am PST for a webinar on OER Research findings on student outcomes and faculty and student feedback. The Kaleidoscope project, a collaboration between six community colleges and two 4-year colleges, developed OER for eight General Education courses and will report on student learning outcomes and faculty satisfaction. Florida Virtual Campus has been administering surveys to both faculty and students using open textbooks and open educational resources at their college and university campuses through their Open Access Textbook project and will share their findings from the last three years. Another Next Generation Learning Grant funded project Bridge-2-Success has worked with non-traditional students transitioning back to college or entering for the first time to improve college success. Working with Open University UK adapted open educational resources (OER) and online data gathering, they will share student outcome data from Anne Arundel and their 20 pilot colleges.

Dr. Robin Donaldson, Director of Open Access Textbooks and Project Manager of Orange Grove, Florida Virtual Campus Robin will give us an overview of the student and faculty survey feedback from 2010 and 2011 and will compare how data has changed over time.

Dr. Nassim Ebrahimi, Ann Arundel Community College Nassim will report on student learning outcomes finding from the Bridge-2-Success project at Ann Arundel and the 20 pilot community colleges that participated.

Kim Thanos, Lumen Learning. Kim will share differences in how students performed in classrooms using OER compared to those who continued to use publisher materials. She will also report on satisfaction among faculty participants.

No pre-registration necessary. 
On the day of the webinar, please click here to login and then press the Connect button.
You may use a headset or dial-in to speak live:
Phone: (888) 886-3951
Passcode: 367247

*0 – Contact the operator for audio assistance
*6 – Mute/unmute your individual line


CCC Confer Client Services – Monday – Friday between 8:00 am – 4:00 pm
Telephone:  760-744-1150  ext 1537, 1554 or 1542
Email: clientservices@cccconfer.orgImage licensed for reuse by loft42 cc-by-nc-sa

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Saturday, November 17, 2012

What Part of MOOC Don't You Understand?

Stephen Downes
Stephen Downes (Photo credit: WordShore)
Educators who have not taken a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) and do not understand their history, are currently writing about these courses which is causing them to be inaccurately represented in the press. The main problem is there is all the publicity around Coursera and Edx that ignores other kinds of MOOCs.

I also think part of the problem comes from the age-old issue of looking at new technologies through the lens of the old - the "horseless carriage" problem (a car is not "horseless" because it never needed one). I think an example of this is found in the essay "A New Era of Unfounded Hyperbole" by Siva Vaidhayanathan, which gives us an example of a typical misunderstanding MOOCs:
"MOOCs, on the other hand, are more like fancy textbooks. They are all about the mass market and not the rich connectivity that established online courses offer their limited collection of students."
This is a gross generalization of MOOCs. I would go so far as to call the statement above "unfounded hyperbole." The first MOOC I participated in "Connectivism and Connective Knowledge 2008" was one of the most interactive and engaging experiences in my education. There were a couple thousand participants who all self-organized into study groups and communities. This happened not on accident, but through the example and facilitation of the MOOCs teachers, George Siemens and Stephen Downes. They would not like the work "teacher" I think because it represents the traditional, hierarchical structure of traditional classes. I have never taken a class that was "all about the mass market." The reason why we wanted a class with a lot of people is because we learn in those networks - we get to take advantage of the the collective knowledge and talents of thousands of people. If your MOOC doesn't do that, you might not be in a "class."

When Vaidhayanathan is writing about MOOCs, I assume he is not writing about the MOOCs that came from David Wiley, George Siemens, Stephen Downes, Cormier, or Jim Groom. I am sure he is writing about Coursera and Edx. I would not make any generalizations about those because I have never taken a class in Coursera or Edx. What I will say is that their pedagogy and methods are different from what are sometimes called "cMOOCs" or "Connectivist MOOCs."

Another of Vaidhayanathan's generalizations says that
"The classroom has rich value in itself. It’s a safe, almost sacred space where students can try on ideas for size in real time, gently criticize others, challenge authority, and drive conversations in new directions."
They can also be stultifying places where new ideas are not encouraged, where there is no real criticism, challenges to authority are not rewarded, and discussion discouraged (often because the lecturer won't/can't allow for the time). There are good face-to-face classes and bad. There are good online classes and bad. The same goes with MOOCs: my experience in CCK08 rivals my best classes at Berkeley or Sonoma State (both of which had some amazing classes).

Vaidhayanathan is not alone. I keep reading about the possibility of MOOCs going international when Canada has been in for four or five years ahead of the Ivy Leaguers. There are also a number of stories about how we might be able to take MOOCs for credit when this has been the case at University of Manitoba and Athabasca for years.

I do appreciate the last part of his article where he lists some possible upsides to MOOCs and asks that we "...focus on what we can learn and accomplish from the MOOC experiment and leave behind the unfounded hyperbole."

I would like to see less hyperbole and generalizations on both sides and more research.
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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

WritingCommons.Org and Community-Based OER Models

Kicking the OERs old school.
I read a great posting at Writing Commons this morning entitled "Flat World Knowledge, Textbook Affordability, and a Call for More Collaborative Efforts" that really echoes my thinking on this. Since Flat World Knowledge is no longer open (as defined by Hewlett and many other definitions of OER), it makes the community efforts around open textbooks all the more important. I have long been a proponent of community developed, vetted, and maintained OERs and open textbooks. Please note that I did not say "I am against business." I am for efforts that are truly open to make open textbooks and other OERs freely available to students. This is not some radical notion - it is a return to the original intent of textbooks which is to support student learning rather than to support "sustainable business models." If someone figures out how to do both, more power to them. In the meantime, we need to support Writing Commons, an online composition textbook.
"We at Writing Commons have been working to provide quality open-access articles about writing and research and will continue to do so. While our materials are not yet comprehensive, we are adding new peer-reviewed material every month. We encourage instructors to email us about any gaps in our coverage (suggestions may be sent to, and we can work suggestions into future calls for papers. And while we have not yet made our open textbook customizable, as had Flat World Knowledge, our site does enable instructors looking to incorporate WC articles into their lesson plans to select and assign material as needed. (See for a table of contents.) Currently, WC editors are developing an instructional video that will guide users through the site; we hope that this video will help teachers efficiently select the material most relevant to their courses."
These kinds of efforts need our support. I used to teach English and I have a lot of teaching materials and workbooks that I have written that I am planning on contributing time and materials to this community. Please pass this on to others you many know who can contribute materials or time for reviewing materials. OERs from an open community of instructors, administrators, instructional designers is going to be the truly sustainable model.  
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Friday, November 09, 2012

A World Map of Open Educational Resources Initiatives

Open Educational Resources
Open Educational Resources (Wikipedia)
A world map of Open Educational Resources initiatives: Can the global OER community design and build it together?

 First, an International discussion 12 – 30 November 2012 *

Next, local discussions – organized locally An international online conversation –

The objective is to explore whether the OER community worldwide could work together to design and build an OER world map – starting with institutional initiatives and basic information.

 A definition – Open Educational Resources are teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and re-purposing by others. They may be full courses or course materials, modules, textbooks, streaming videos, tests, software, and any other tools, materials, or techniques used to support access to knowledge (William and Flora Hewlett Foundation).

 Now a decade of development – a global movement with more and more OER initiatives, in more and more countries. The vision of increasing access to the world’s knowledge through making resources open and accessible is beginning to be realized.

 But we still have a problem – we do not have a comprehensive overview of OER projects in the world – how do I know what is going on in my own country? And how do I find contacts in other countries, or contacts working in my own language? An OER world map – A map would give us the big picture of the global OER movement. It would help us communicate the story of OER. Furthermore, it could be enhanced with information such as OER initiatives by language, and with links to other maps. And it would help us connect.

 Community collaboration – Working together the OER community could design and build the map, and then regularly update it. With time, energy and collaboration, the map could become a door to the OER world, helping us communicate with stakeholders and connect with each other.

 Outline of the international discussion
 Week 1: What could an OER world map look like? - 12-16 November
  • Why map the OER landscape 
  • Essential information and visual presentation 
Week 2: Could a world map be built collaboratively? - 19-23 November
  • Organizational approach for collaboration 
  • Ensuring the quality of the information 
 Week 3: Reflection and next steps - 26-30 November
  • Design of an “OER World Map”
  • Organization Resources available/needed 
  • Next steps 
Join the International Conversation 
Send an email to and type subscribe in the subject line.

Share this announcement with your colleagues and networks.

Plan a parallel or follow up discussion in your own language and network and give your feedback for the final report of all the discussions.

 For more information or questions, contact Susan D’Antoni at
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Sunday, November 04, 2012

Premium Free Range OER

English: Free Range Poultry and Shed, near Sei...
Free Range Poultry and Shed, near Seisdon, Staffordshire (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I don't want Flat World Knowledge to corner the market in charging students for free textbooks. I am announcing here that CainCo EduProducts will also be offering premium free textbooks at a relatively fair and competitive cost. How can we put a price on free textbooks? We are taking a page from the poultry industry. And the definition of "free" is different here. My books will be "free" as in "free range" hence the premium price. Each textbook will be:
  • Free range
  • All natural
  • Clearly labeled GMO free
  • Fat free
  • Low sodium
  • Electronic versions made from only the best AMERICAN MADE electrons
Each lovingly crafted paper version of our textbooks will be made from sustainably harvested, hormone free trees and turned into pulp through non-traumatic, humane Ayurvedic massage process. 

How will our textbooks help students save money? To afford these textbooks, students will have to become experts at saving money. The lessons they learn from that they will carry with them the rest of their lives (a lot like their student loans). 
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Saturday, November 03, 2012

Flat World Knowledge Falls Flat

For use to open - free- education resources.
For use to open - free- education resources. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I am very disappointed in Flat World Knowledge's decision to end free access to students as reported in the Chronicle of Higher Education. I was always very suspect of this company from the beginning. I am getting sick of businesses saying that they are a part of the open source movement, OER, or for Open Text Books and then coming up with some lame excuse to go back to business as usual - lets make money on the backs of students in the name of "sustainability"! In the article they admit that they are not really committed to the open license.

We should call companies like FWK businesses then and not advocates or proponents of open education resources. The idea behind OER is that faculty would freely develop their textbooks for students to freely use. I am not against business but lets call it business and not OER. I am really not interested in the content reviewers from commercial publishers because they are not in the business of creating, vetting, and customizing for my students or my college in my community with its unique issues - they are interested in packaging their material for a mass market and getting some Phd's name on the box to make it acceptable to colleges who are not quite ready to take the plunge into OER. I almost wrote a book for FWK but I realized that my content would be at the mercy of the market. I knew that at any time they could change their business model and the students would be the ones to suffer. The business of businesses is business. The business of education should be education. There are great textbooks out there with Creative Commons licenses that students do not have to pay for. We have a moral obligation to make education accessible to as many students as possible. OERs and open textbooks are a way to do that. Freedom as in free to charge the students is not the kind of freedom that I am interested in.

And what does this mean for the Creative Commons license? If a text is really CC, shouldn't a student have access to that text under the same license as FWK?

Look at any of the articles below for an alternative model of commercial businesses managing academic content.
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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Open Academics at the University of Minnesota

The Richardsonian Romanesque Pillsbury Hall (1...
The Richardsonian Romanesque Pillsbury Hall (1889) is one of the oldest buildings on the University of Minnesota Minneapolis campus. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I was really excited this morning to see Stacy Olson's tweet () about the University of Minnesota's Open Textbook Catalog. This is more than a collection of links: their Open Academics site is easy to navigate and encourages faculty to post their reviews of textbooks. This is a great model for institutional support of open textbooks. In the words of the site: "If you are a faculty member from any institution, you can support this project and help your peers evaluate the textbooks in this catalog by writing a review of an open textbook in your field. Only experts like you can determine quality." This has been a perception issue with open education resources in the past - uneven quality. I want to encourage everyone to visit this site and contribute a review. These efforts should be supported because faculty should be vetting textbooks, not corporate education publishers. In a posting I made here earlier (OER: The Myth of Commercial Textbook Reliabilty), I wrote that "Instructors and academic departments should partner to author, revise, adapt, and vet course materials. We should be partnering with other institutions to support these efforts - a textbook should include a network of subject matter experts, expert practitioners in the field, and advanced students." Efforts like these encourage the formation of communities of scholarship around open textbooks. Commercial publishers do not work this way - it all has to be proprietary and in-house to justify the high costs of their "product." Communities of teaching and learning can do better. The University of Minnesota has taken a big step in that direction.
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Saturday, October 27, 2012

MOOCs and Connectivist Instructional Design

george seimens
George Siemens (Photo credit: heloukee)
I am very interested in the instructional design of MOOCs. While I was working at Tacoma Community College, I co-taught a course called "Health Information Management 101." The purpose of the course was to introduce health information management students to all of the technology that they would encounter in the course of getting a certificate or degree in health information management, as well as collaborative technologies that would help them successfully work online (this is where modern HIM is going). The idea was that we would use all of the tools to teach the class that were also part of the curriculum. We taught the course using a "multimodal delivery" method: it was a hybrid online but students could choose at anytime to take the course online or show up for the lab. The whole point of the curriculum was to help students get the idea that they did not have to learn how to use any software program, but that they could gain transportable skills that would enable them to use any technology to meet the needs of any situation. When students are taking HIM classes, they can't be taught the technology of the work place because that technology in HIM changes too quickly. One year, hospitals and insurance companies are using one program, the next they are upgraded to a new system or have moved on to something else. They are as bad as schools and their learning management systems. What we had to teach was the core skills that allowed anyone to adapt to any technology they might find themselves in. We got the students up to speed on texting, messaging, sharing and collaborating using wikis, blogs, Google docs, and even toyed with Second Life. The idea was that if we could create a community online of HIM students, then they could help one another manage the pace of technological change in their field. We wound up succeeding far beyond our expectations. Within a couple of semesters, the network we facilitated, had first semester students, second semester, and students who were working in the profession all talking to one another in twitter. We even had students who were in other fields also talking to our HIM students. Our "classroom" was streamed live from a lab where we assisted students with the different projects. We wanted a space where local students could drop in physically if they wanted to or participate remotely. What we noticed was that students started helping one another as much as we were helping students. One of the reasons for this was that each assignment was basically a detailed guide on how to use a particular tool, and each assignment asked the students to share their work with one another. They wouldn't just sign up for Twitter; they would add the entire class to their account. They wouldn't just sign up for a social bookmarking site; they would share their bookmarks with the class. Creating the community was built into the lessons. This class was not  MOOC but it gave us the experience of letting the community, even the community outside of the classroom, drive the learning.

Around the same time, we ran into George Siemen's essay, "Connectivism: a learning theory for the digital age"as well as the work by Stephen Downes on the same topic. We were then so far beyond the ADDIE model of instructional design. There was no model of typical instructional design that could account for what was happening here. Stephen Downes wrote in the Huffington Post "At its heart, connectivism is the thesis that knowledge is distributed across a network of connections, and therefore that learning consists of the ability to construct and traverse those networks. Knowledge, therefore, is not acquired, as though it were a thing. It is not transmitted, as though it were some type of communication." We were really excited by many of the ideas around connectivism because it is the only learning theory that does not have the justification of the old model of education at its heart (i.e. hierarchical, top down, sage on the stage, medieval lecture halls, exclusivity, etc.). Connectivism accounted for how our students were working, interacting, and collaborating. We could piece together bits of social constructivism and other theories to account for some of it, but none of the other models we looked at were as complete. This isn't to say that we agreed with everything about connectivism. Instructional designers are a very practical bunch. We tend to evaluate a theory based on its usefulness, not its pedigree. And a theory is just that - a theory. Theories do not spring forth whole like Athena from Zeus's forehead - they are postulated, tested, experimented with, and revised. Connectivism isn't wrong just because it does not validate every theory that went before it. The questions that instructional designers ask are like Wittgenstien's answer to the afterlife: "The real question of life after death isn't whether or not it exists, but even if it does, what problem this really solves?" A theory, for instructional design, should be a tool that answers questions that are actually being asked. It should lead to real solutions to instructional problems.

I participated in George Siemen's and Stephen Downe's MOOC, "Connectivism and Connective Knowledge 2008" (CCK08).  And unlike other education classes I had taken at the graduate level, this one was taught using the method it was teaching. Each week, there were blogging assignments, discussions in Twitter, Facebook, the discussion forum in Moodle, and even in Second Life. There were weekly guest lecturers as well as presentations by the course facilitators. The real heart of the course was the groups of students who would meet virtually, using the collaborative tools of their own choosing, who would discuss the presentations and readings. These groups were self-organized, leaderless, and informal. Yet, there always seemed to be someone in the group who would carry the discussion back into the course to have questions answered by the facilitators. And the facilitators would sometimes participate in the discussions. This experience was highly interactive. There was interaction with the facilitators, the content and between the students. Interestingly enough, the research shows that interaction is one of the primary measures of success and retention in online classes: the higher the degree and opportunity for interaction, the more successful a course will be. This course completely changed how I think of course design. Giving students the opportunity to apply what they are learning to their learning experience, workplace, and previous knowledge is a powerful experience. This should be at the center of our learning design and course outcomes.

Another experience that I think ties the two course models together was my experience in Jim Groom's DS 106 - a digital storytelling MOOC from Mary Washington University. In this course, there are detailed instructions on how to do each assignment, and more importantly, how to create your own assignments. There is also a degree of networking and collaboration that I don't think has ever been attempted before. Students don't just participate in the network - they literally become the network. Each student is asked to create their own domain on the web. Each one becomes acutely aware of their status as a node in the web. This is the way it should be. Students of digital storytelling should know their media as well as any painter who creates their own materials. Again, the network created in DS106 goes far beyond the idea of a classroom. The twitter hashtag #DS106 basically has a life of its own with past and present students, artists, media professionals, and followers from around the world all participating, collaborating and sharing art, video, and projects.

So given these experiences, what should connectivist instructional design look like? Based on the principles of connectivism, learning should:
  • Provide for a diversity of opinions
  • Allow students to create connections between specialized nodes and learning sources
  • Foster their capacity to learn (teach metacognitive learning skills)
  • Increase their ability see connections between fields, concepts, and ideas
  • Teach students to build networks that will allow students to keep current in their field
  • Allow students to choose what to learn and how
Aditionally, in a presentation that George Siemens gave on instructional design for the MOOC "Connectivism and Connective Knowlege 2008" he said that learning should be designed for adaptability, for "patterning, wayfinding, and sensemaking" and focus on "content, context, and connections." He says that it is difficult to take all of this and try to build some mechanistic formula for creating learning experiences. I agree with that - but this is also a teaching philosophy. The best way to help students get this is to model it in our teaching. This is exactly what MOOCs can do that traditional classes can't. In this blog, I will be collecting assignments and activities that model these principles, that have the connectivist principles built into them.

If you have some that you would like to share, as a student or as a teacher, feel free to add to the comments below. 

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