A personal reflection through open #intro2opened

This is my final project for Introduction to Open Education taught by David Wiley at Brigham Young University in the Fall of 2016.

My understanding of OER has been shaped by my experiences – my ‘aha’ moments. The following is a reflection of how I understand education, openness, OER, and open pedagogy based on my stories.

CHAPTER ONE: “The things I know; you can’t learn in a classroom”

After scrolling through my Facebook feed to find yet another article entitled “don’t go to college, seriously, don’t do it,” from another one of my college dropout friends whose opinion I once respected so deeply, I found myself getting worked up and knew I came to the mind of these people sharing the articles.

I met up with some of those friends who had shared their anti college sentiments profusely soon after reading those articles, and shared what I had been up to. Why did I feel embarrassed to say that I had just graduated from college with my double major in three years? It was a lot of hard work, and I learned so much about myself as a person. I had just applied to graduate school, and was on my way to a European adventure that was a very generous gift from my parents to see some extended family I had not seen in some time. Internally, I felt like I had grown so much and like I was exactly where I needed to be, so why did I feel embarrassed to share my accomplishments. The reason was that I was critiqued as a sell-out. I was apparently in it for the money, although I’m sure that sharing the average starting salary of a teacher in Utah ($30,100) would have dispelled that rumor.

It was then and there, after a night of feeling shame for all my hard work, growth, and learning, that I felt like I really needed to defend the importance of higher education.         

What’s the point of spending all this money and time on higher education, anyway?

I’m here to say that I found myself in college by working hard and accomplishing difficult goals. I have travelled, lived in war torn cities, and contemplated the fulfillment I would receive from devoting my full energies to music making. There is nothing that has helped me discover and grow more than a human being as my college education, particularly my time in graduate school. College has provided me with the skills, relationships, and knowledge to contribute meaningfully to society by helping others and providing me with the skills and work ethic I need to serve others. College has allowed me to follow a career trajectory that is both overwhelmingly challenging, and personally fulfilling. It is true, it is not necessarily all learned within the walls of a classroom or a frantic all-night paper writing session. Rather, it is the lessons that we learn from those experiences that afford us the capabilities to reside professionally in a bureaucratic society and be respected agents of change.

Of course, college doesn’t inherently make us better, happier people. You can be a hard working productive member of society without a college degree, and you can have a college degree but be harmful to yourself and your community. Partying through 4 years of your early adulthood and doing the bare minimum to get a C- doesn’t do you or society any favors. However, if we take the skills learned in college seriously, and put forth the effort to apply them in a meaningful context, our careers have the capacity to be stable, fulfilling, and bring good to the world that we live in. It’s true, my years of financial dependency upon my parents and sitting in a classroom don’t make an inherently better person, but it’s what I take from those years and do in the future that matters.

CHAPTER TWO: “If I didn’t have to pay for your college, I could have bought a really nice boat” 

After my commencement ceremony, I was at dinner with my parents and I felt excited and proud of what I had just accomplished. My dad, between bites of his seafood platter, exclaimed that had he not had to heavily subsidize my college education, he could have “bought a really nice boat, or even multiple nice boats.” I know he wasn’t bitter, but the point was that a lot went into receiving my bachelor’s degree, and a lot is going into my continued education. He made the choice to spend that money not on a boat but on me for the reason that he thought it was the wisest investment of his money, but it was a big sacrifice, and I know it wasn’t just the boat that my parents sacrificed.

Sadly, not every prospective high school graduate comes from a middle class family that can even consider buying a boat, and the cost of education is rising. The United States Bureau of Labor statistics reported in 2009 that higher education costs have risen over 538% since 1985. Many students need to take out loans they will never be able to pay back, work through college to the extent that it disrupts their learning, and may be intimidated to drop out because of the daunting task of paying for college

Although there are many ways to cut costs in education, a feasible way to cut costs for students is through the adoption of OER.

While I’m normally someone who is proud to have surpassed the national average, I can’t say that I was particularly thrilled to spend $700 on one semester of used textbooks. When I showed up at the bookstore to pickup my online order, the bookstore employee told me that my order had garnered some attention due to the astounding volume of books. I had added the classes that totaled to the greatest amount of books of any other student. I laughed, and said something stupid like, ‘well that’s the life of a history major!’ I’m not going to pretend to know the burden of a student who is barely going to make a rent payment and finds out they have textbook cost that exceeds the tuition payments they had very carefully budgeted for, but I do recognize it to be a problem.

The most ethical problem textbooks carry, whether they cost students $600 or $1200 a year is the unanticipated cost. Why are colleges not communicating with students actual textbook costs, and why do colleges not regulate or consider textbook costs? I loved this recent study by Jeff Denning (BYU) that showed how reducing community college tuition by $1000 can increase enrollment by 5.1 percentage points. If only there was a way to reduce costs by one thousand dollars!!!!! All joking aside, this is how students become forsaken by the education system. I can complain about student debt, or wanting to buy nicer things, but few things are more integral to societal progression and wellness than providing access to education to the members of our communities.

CHAPTER THREE: “I spilled diet coke all over my brand new Ugg boots”

As a birthday gift, my mom bought me a brand new pair of Ugg boots. Not for a fashion statement, but to be comfortable. My last pair had lasted five years and we thought, the price is justified by the quality. I, though, like the klutz that I am, spilled a big fat can of diet coke on my shoes. I can spend the money to try to get the best quality product, but in the end it is the way in which I use a product that makes it work well and last.

There is actually a significant amount of evidence that suggests that OER are just as effective as traditional texts. (Bowen, Chingos, Lack & Nygren, 2012; Lovett, Meyer & Thille, 2008; Robinson, Fischer, Wiley & Hilton, 2014; Wiley, Hilton, Ellington & Hall, 2012).

These are comparable learning materials to traditional textbooks and can be used in the same fashion to teach the same concepts. It’s not really the resource that makes the difference. If the resources can be of equal quality, the responsibility is then on the teacher to teach effectively with quality resources. It’s not always the ticket price on a resource, but what the teacher does with the resource that

CHAPTER FOUR: “The more scholarships you can get for grad school, the better…”

Speaking of cost, school is really expensive, and scholarships can be an uplifting light in the dark tunnel that is paying for school. I remember my mom saying that the more scholarships I can get for grad school, the better. The thought is stressful to think of the pressure of a decision that is partially out of my hands, but the work is often worth the reward. Free textbooks can be like a small scholarship for every student. If I didn’t have to pay for textbooks in my undergraduate degree, I could have paid over a semester of tuition for my graduate degree. The cool thing is that when students are given this cost saving alternative, they reinvest that in their education, just like I would. They also often invest it into the living expenses that are associated with the high ticket price of college.

I recently heard of open textbooks referred to as a potential thousand-dollar scholarship for every student. I thought this was the perfect analogy for OER. Of course it’s not always going to be a thousand dollars, it may be six hundred a year, or even less, but it could be equated to a small stipend for each student. It’s easy to say free things save us money, and it’s even harder to try to write a blog post for class about how free things save money (it’s pretty obvious), but putting this money into the context of something we understand and using language that shares the impact of money saved is much more powerful.

Wouldn’t providing scholarships for every student and college be incredibly impactful? I can’t think of a university president, dean, leader, that if asked the question ‘would you like to offer a scholarship to every student that attends your school’ would answer with a no. Thinking of the savings at one institution, mine of almost 30,000 students, is astounding.

What’s most important is what students do with the savings. In helping analyze cost saving data, we discovered that students used money saved due to OER to buy groceries, pay for rent, pay for their transportation to internships, make payments on their loans, save for future education, take more classes, replace shoes with holes in them, buy diapers for their children, etc. There are students who funnel the money straight back to their education, and students who expressed not having to choose between rent and textbooks. The value of what in the grand scheme is a small amount of money, a small scholarship, often enables students to pursue an education and maintain reasonable quality of life. It’s not that free things save students money, it’s the impact that the money saved can have that’s the real topic of discussion.

CHAPTER FIVE: “How open are they really?”

Recently when trying to scrape some open access journals for data and useful content, I hit a wall. I couldn’t use these ‘open’ access journals to do anything. I couldn’t effectively crawl, scrape, or even retain some of this data even though as Peter Suber states,

“by “open access” to this literature, we mean it’s free availability on the public internet, permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself. The only constraint on reproduction and distribution, and the only role for copyright in this domain, should be to give authors control over the integrity of their work and the right to be properly acknowledged and cited.”

I looked at a fellow student, and he asked, “how open are all these journals really”, so we began to rate them by this definition. We realized that these journals were not very open and that some of the merit was lost in the under delivered promise of open.

I began to think about why this is important. Why do we even care about them being open? What are the merits of open in some of these settings that aren’t just educational resources?

Last week in introduction to open education, we discussed open source software, open access, and open data. While I’m almost crippled by the amount of things I could say on all these topics, I want to first recommend reading The Cathedral and the Bazaar by Eric Raymond. Although reading the essay itself will provide a much deeper, eloquent, and knowledgable source for understanding the merits of open, I would like to attempt to highlight some the merits of open in different settings that Eric Raymond and others discuss:

Open Source Software

  • The sooner you get something out in the open, the sooner you will get feedback necessary for improvement.
  • The commons that you are a part of will provide support and members of that commons have meaningful contributions to make if they are afforded the opportunity.
  • Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow. This is Linus’ law as asserted by Raymond. Essentially, the more eyes that look at a problem, the quicker someone can find a solution.
  • A community will form around interesting problems, and there is value in community beyond the ability of the members to produce a product.

Open Access Journals

  • Facilitate equitable access to research, often collected with public funds
  • Allow authors to maintain the copyright of the work that they have created rather than handing over the copyright to a publisher
  • Provide the ability to create a larger body of literature surrounding important topics
  • Expand the scale and reach of journal articles
  • Allow for the greatest amount of people to not only read, but use and expand upon this knowledge

Open Data

  • Allowing data to do their job: reaching wide audiences and having their collection impact something
  • Transparency in research
  • Transparency in government dealings that are

    You like this construction. Grammatically it’s fine but it’s a little hard to parse. Consider using a verb besides ‘have’ for one of the clauses.

    publicly funded

While these lists aren’t all encompassing, mutually exclusive or authoritative, it’s easy to see the potential benefits of more things being open, especially as it pertains to public knowledge.

CHAPTER SIX: “#ds106 #4life”

 I first became aware of open content when I was sixteen, and it drew me in. I was introduced to open, open licensing, and the commons through the ds106radio community. The idea of open, a commons, sharing, and the community that forms around openness captivated me. I saw pieces of content I created being shared, getting feedback on them, and I watched them improve in ways I never would have had I not shared. I formed relationships through sharing online. As I pursued a college education, I moved on, and I didn’t spend too much time thinking about open as it pertains to education. I can’t tell you the moment that I came back to open, or decided to take a path that brought me where I am today, but I can tell you one thing: open was compelling and open is the reason I am where I am today. It’s comforting to know that open has been around long enough to draw a sixteen year old into the world of OER who would continue

Open content has been around almost as long as I’ve been alive, and there is a comforting maturity that comes along with the age of the movement.

One of the biggest questions, however,  regarding OER is sustainability. I understand that there are a slew of issues that contribute to questions of sustainability, including questions about the economic sustainability, but I think that the lifespan of open says something about sustainability. If open content and the principles of open can withstand the lifespan of one graduate researcher, and draw me back in after years of open on the back burner, there is something of impact to be said for the sustainability of OER.

Watching the history of open content and pondering sustainability also got me thinking about quality. If we refer back to Linus’s Law that given enough eyes, all bugs are shallow, having open content out in the open for so many years has allowed for constant improvement, that open content has grown rapidly and in quality much quicker than something that hadn’t been out there, in the open, for constant feedback and improvement.

CHAPTER SEVEN: “You need to learn how to use Excel properly if you want to do anything for me”

I relate copyright to my experience with excel. Excel has this amazing technical capacity. You can save time doing data analysis, organizing, creating complex formulas, the possibilities are endless. The problem is, I didn’t (and honestly still don’t) know how to use it effectively. I and my lack of willingness to learn are the hindrances to me taking advantage of the boundless capacity that excel provides me. One time, I was very ineffectively using excel to do some work for my dad and he said, “you need to learn how to use Excel properly if you want to do anything for me.”

The capacity for the internet to share ideas is Excel, and copyright is my unwillingness to learn. There is something that can be done about it, but just like me learning how to effectively use this magnificent program, many people are not willing to do anything about it. The capacity that this technology provides is stifled by human greed and lack of understanding.

 Jefferson states: “He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me”

When I share, I get feedback; I make myself vulnerable, and I am benefitted by sharing. That is what open licensing allows me to do. It not only helps me protect certain rights to my own creations, but puts a sticker on my work saying: I want to share this. It’s a marker that I like to share more than it is claim of ownership or a demand for credit. I want my work to grow.

I don’t want my work to be locked away; I want others to build upon my work. I want someone to add guitar riffs to the audio file I put on SoundCloud, I want someone to add visuals to the learning module I wrote, I want someone to comment on my blog post telling me why I’m wrong (in a kind way of course).

Ideas, movements, and causes – they aren’t like paintings, chocolate bars, or laptops. They can’t be stolen or depleted. I’m not advocating that everything be communal or that we can all take from one another at our own whim because it benefits us. I think the principle that Boyle and Jefferson both share regarding the non-proprietary nature of ideas, is spot-on. I think the nature of ideas it is much easier to agree upon than talking about a true commons. The idea of a commons can be scary and off-putting to those who feel they have so much monetary benefit to gain from sharing their creations. If we’re talking about things that aren’t concrete, it is a more approachable and less scary way to introduce people to the commons.

I have been the beneficiary of lesson plans, images, videos, slides, research, and I haven’t stolen them as my own or precluded someone from receiving benefit from their creations. Instead, I have tried to build upon those shared resources. I think the moment that we find a resource in the commons and can use it to improve upon our own work, is the moment that it can all click for us. All of this can be done without taking from the work that others do, but rather building upon that creation and working towards a common cause.

CHAPTER EIGHT: “‘A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants to do.” – Bob Dylan

Although I have had many meaningful learning experiences, I can put a pin in my most impactful learning experience. It was a project called the eminent person study. We had to pick one person who we felt was eminent and research them intently, with support and writing critique from our teacher. I chose Bob Dylan. The pedagogical aspect of being able to pull from different sources and piece together the most valuable media (books, music, poetry, etc.) was a breath of fresh air. We didn’t use OER per se, but I was able to see of mixed content, and being able to release my own learning online on openly licensed blogs and music sharing sites contributed to my learning. I was getting feedback and responses that pushed my thinking and drove me to improve upon my learning. I remember the moment I gave what I’m assuming was a terrible speech and thinking that I truly embodied the Bob Dylan quote that ‘a man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants to do.’

Open is even better than getting something for free because you have permissions to alter that material to best fit your needs. Whether you are a faculty member who wants to tailor the text of the course so it is more applicable or a student that likes to mix resources together and share their remixes with fellow students, open means you get free resources and more!

In order for something to qualify as OER, you must have permission to alter the material to be able to use it most effectively. The key tenets, or 5 R’s, that qualify a material as OER are the ability to:

  • Retain
  • Reuse
  • Revise
  • Remix
  • Redistribute

This is what gets me excited about OER. It’s the adaptability, customizability, and ability to improve quality of resource use and instruction. Pawlyshyn, Braddlee, Casper, and Miller (2013) conducted a cross-institutional case study and asserted that ‘creative use of OER offers tangible benefits in student success and retention, resulting in measurable performance increases.’ Why wouldn’t faculty be using resources that not only lift financial burden from students but also could result in improved learning outcomes? I think that we can talk about cost until we are blue in the face and as much as faculty should care, and do care about burdensome costs for students, many don’t take this into consideration. Faculty that would never sacrifice quality for a few bucks saved, but I think it’s more than that. If we discussed with faculty the ability that OER have to improve teaching and learning, I think it would be a completely different discussion that would garner the attention of those that select the resources at their institution, those that could be the champions of OER.

CHAPTER NINE: “We’re more popular than Oprah”

I joined Twitter in 2011, and shortly after, we were pestering our wonderful teacher to let us use Twitter for a class discussion. There was some type of day of silence being held at our school. So, in lieu of our regular class discussion, we hopped on twitter. We had to be succinct and we had to briefly explain our reasoning in 140 characters or less. Random people started participating in our social studies discussion, and all of a sudden we were one of the most popular hashtags in our area. In fact, we knocked the Oprah hashtag off the charts. There was a lot of proclamation of our popularity as compared to Oprah that day, but there was a lot of learning that came from getting out of the classroom and into a community of knowledgeable individuals.

David Wiley, on his blog, defines open pedagogy as:

“What makes this assignment an instance of open pedagogy instead of just another something we require students to do? As described, the assignment is impossible without the permissions granted by open licenses. This is the ultimate test of whether or not a particular approach or technique can rightly be called “open pedagogy” – is it possible without the free access and 4R permissions characteristic of open educational resources? If the answer is yes, then you may have an effective educational practice but you don’t have an instance of open pedagogy. Open pedagogy is that set of teaching and learning practices only possible in the context of the free access and 4R permissions characteristic of open educational resources.”

This means that open pedagogy takes advantage of the 5 R permissions to retain, reuse, remix, revise, and redistribute course materials. But what can this actually do for students? Well, in its simplest forms, it can help build quality content.

If we are adopting open textbooks in a way that we just print them out and use them in our classroom, we are ignoring the potential impact of OER in the classroom. If we draw in different sources of openly licensed content, fill it with our own information that will glue content together, and present it to our students in a way that meaningfully follows course design. That is where we start to get somewhere with open.

When we truly embrace open pedagogy, we begin to find ways to use OER and our community in a partnership that can inspire meaningful learning experiences.

Maybe a student writes a blog post about a book they read and the author of the book comments back. This is a meaningful learning experience that can help the student think critically about their reading and reflection. This would not happen in an LMS. Maybe a student links to a video they created and it gets retweeted 10,000 times. As a result of this, many people engage in a discussion regarding the video and the student and community gain further understanding of the topic. There are many ways in which open pedagogy and embracing the benefits of community and sharing can enhance teaching and learning.

I’m interested to see where open finds itself in the future, but I know that I have benefitted from open. Many of my big learning moments have happened in the open, and because of open. 

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