Archive for March, 2011

Open-textbooks from FlatWorld Knowledge

March 17th, 2011

Eric Frank, President of FlatWorld Knowledge, spoke today in the BCC English Department meeting and showcased the work they are doing around open textbooks. This is something that is gaining ground at BCC, as our very own Susan Amper described in a recent post.
Flat World Knowledge: Open College Textbooksphoto © 2010 opensource.com | more info (via: Wylio)

He explained how they have attempted to take the best of the publishing world and the best of open-source ideas to create “sustainable open textbooks” — texts that are peer-reviewed, come with supplemental materials and instructor guides but at little to no cost to students. I found myself puzzled as to how this is at all possible. In a nutshell, they have set up a system where all content is available for free via the web, but students can pay for different formats if they choose. While 44% of the 115,000 students who have used the service so far have read the content free online, 56% have purchased one of the other options (ereader version, pdf printout, etc.). The purchases of these 56% balance the whole endeavor out to about $20 per student. So, for Introduction to Psychology, the purchase options include a print-it-yourself .pdf version for $24.95 (individual chapters are $1.99), a soft-cover bound version shipped to the student for $35-70 (depending on B/W or color), an eBook version for $24.95 (Sony, nook, iPad), and extra study aids for $14.95. Faculty adopters can either adopt a text themselves and leave it up to the students to select and pay for the options they want or the institution can purchase a “site” agreement that would cover any material the student wanted for $20 per student. 

There are currently 37 titles, many of them are in business and math, but they have 107 authors signed who, Frank said, represent approximately 80 textbook projects. So more titles are constantly being developed. 

What appealed to me most about the presentation was the editing aspect. You can edit any part of any book. And the editing isn’t limited to picking and choosing which chapters appear. It is line-by-line editing capability. You can also engage digital media by easily by embedding YouTube clips and other links into the “text.” After you make changes they are formatted to appear seamlessly integrated to the text. While the original author retains copyright and receives royalties based on their text, your additions, if they were to become adopted, would also allow you a slice of the royalty pie, so to speak. As I understood it, if I were to write an additional chapter for the Introduction to Psychology textbook, something about critical psychology or social justice, for example, that could eventually be adopted and I would retain the rights to that information. I would imagine this is something that will have to be constantly negotiated, but it seemed promising. Potential royalties aside, the chance to manipulate content so that it meets the specific needs of your course/students/school is invaluable, especially for busy grad students and adjuncts who may not know where to begin when they are assigned a new class. An arrangement like this would give us the chance to select a text, work with it, add to it and provide it to our students for extremely little cost. 

There are, of course, other open textbook alternatives. The Community College Consortium for Open Educational Resources provides a valuable starting point, if you’re interested in learning more. As well as the College Open Textbooks site. Additionally, Baruch College has just partnered with Flatworld, so we’ll get to see how that relationship develops in real-CUNY-time! 

What do you think? Revolutionary way to deliver customized content and save students mountains of money or too good to be true? I’m optimistic (for once).

Weekly #EdTech Roundup (3/10/11): Efficient Academics Edition

March 10th, 2011

So much to write?photo © 2009 Justin See (coming back) | more info (via: Wylio)Was there some official decree to make this week about efficiency? Many of my usual blog-reads were offering up tips on time management. Maybe it’s the spring-thaw meets almost-middle-of-the-semester-freak-out meets just-far-enough-from-january-to-still-try-your-resolution-before-giving-up? Either way, here’s what folks were saying:

First up, Google has launched a new labs feature called “Smart Labels” that filters bulk and notification emails out of your inbox and into another labeled box that sits under the “sent” and “draft” labels. You have to go to labs to activate it. I’m going to give it a try. I have a fairly elaborate labeling system in place, but it seems like merchants/politicians keep devising new ways to get past those. And, apparently, this new feature will play nice with your existing labeling system, allowing for modifactions and revisions.

ProfHacker documents both the Pomodoro technique and Pareto’s principle both of which, interesting, seem to be time management techniques that originated in Italy. These techniques deal with both effective time management and increasing productivity. The Pomodoro technique basically trains you to work in 25 minute segments with 5 minute breaks in between. Pareto’s principle is basically an economics rule — that 80% of your profit comes from 20% of your clients. Applied to academia it can serve as a reminder that, as the ProfHacker columnist points out, 80% of your tenure success may come from your publications and therefore you should spend 20% of your time writing. Not a hard and fast rule, but an interesting guide. I used an approach similar to the Pomodoro technique to get through my dissertation revisions, only it was 10 minutes on and 2 minute breaks. It worked…when I stuck with it. 🙂

While these things may help you make better use of your time, there’s also something to be said for bucking the system, right? Another ProfHacker post discusses the importance of not sticking to the syllabus when current events could serve as important teaching moments. But let’s say you really want to throw productivity and efficiency out the window. Well, there’s good news for you then, Angry Birds is coming to Facebook.

In other news: my favorite citation manager Mendeley is trying to get developers interested with a $10,001 prize and Mashable offers 5 Free Tools for Screencasting.

Blended Learning at BCC: Improving pass rates with ‘multifarious instructional design’

March 4th, 2011

As part of the Title V work going on at BCC, Professor Kenya Harris and the team of nursing instructors are making use of VoiceThread, Twitter and a number of other Web 2.0 tools to make their courses more interactive. The results are really impressive.

In a recently published article, Prof. Harris reports an improvement in pass rate of 30% since she began incorporating technology into her course design. How has she done it?

Building on the idea of blended learning Prof. Harris has stopped lecturing in her courses, opting to capitalize on face-to-face time by engaging the students in “active learning” activities that build on the content they review on their own out-of-class time. All of her lectures are available to the students via Podcasts, Videocasts and PowerPoint slides, which students are expected to review prior to class. This is particularly helpful for language learners, who can listen to a lecture numerous times. If they have questions on the material Prof. Harris has set up a “muddiest points” forum on her Blackboard course page that allows students to post their questions in the forum. Other students are often the first to respond and Prof. Harris moderates the comments and joins the conversation.

This “multifarious instructional design” as Harris calls it, let’s students master the content in their own learning style (they can use the slides, podcasts, read texts, etc.) and bring that mastery into class where she engages them in activities that build on the content, such as simulation and role-play. This is especially important for nursing students, who will be responsible for conveying medical terminology to their patients. Students report that they find these activities more engaging and exciting and the data supports her efforts. Pass rates improved 30% over the course of just three semesters, as she increasingly implemented her techniques.

In another recently published article, Gerald Bergtrom of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee documents transitioning a Cell Biology course from traditional face-to-face to a blended environment. He documents the step-by-step process and used a process similar to Harris’s — content delivery and mastery was aided by technology and occurred outside the classroom so that classroom time could be spent on more “meta” activities that actively engaged students with the content.

Both instructors are capitalizing on the “asynchronous” online discussions and interactions that can fortify content delivery and boost the level of in-class activities. For me, these ideas completely shifted/challenged how I normally thought of out-of-class time and what I expected my students to be doing with that time. They also highlight the role that technologies available on a variety of platforms and Blackboard, such as discussion boards and blogs, have in these out-of-class interactions. Finally, it is refreshing to see that they are having success with students actually doing what they are expected to do on their own and taking responsibility for their own learning because they are ready to actively engage when they come to class.

Weekly #EdTech Roundup: It’s all about the collaboration

March 1st, 2011

In this week’s roundup I focus on the idea of collaboration, since there seemed to be a number of intriguing posts on the Edublogs…

Mashable brings us a really excellent and thorough post about Facebook’s Growing Role in Social Journalism. The article considers how major news sources, such as NPR, have begun using to solicit sources for timely stories and the role the network has played in the recent events in Egypt and Libya.Stop, Collaborate and Listenphoto © 2008 Mark | more info (via: Wylio)

Wired Campus reports on an novel idea — the Embedded Librarian. A reference librarian worked directly with a college class during their meeting hours to interact via Twitter. She was able to follow the class discussion, answer questions, and respond with useful links. Though the collaboration was ultimately very time-intensive it serves as a great example of how we can make better use of librarians and bring them in at the very beginning of students’ research processes, rather than half-way through. This could be especially important since a recent study shows that “87% of students believe online libraries and databases have had the most significant impact on their overall learning.

Two interesting posts bring up one common question: how much structure is too much structure? TeachPaperless blogger John T. Spencer considers this while watching his son color in a coloring book vs. drawing his own monsters. Using this experience he reflects on the use of graphic organizers and technology in his class and the extent to which they urge deeper thinking. Similarly, though at a larger scale, Jim Shimabukuro laments the restrictiveness of LMSs (Learning Management Systems) in terms of stifling instructor and student creativity and documents his history of blending LMS with other open-web resources.

And in other news, NspireD2 announces there’s now a Free Wikispaces upgrade for higher ed and Skype launches a beta version of it’s Skype in the Classroom, designed to allow classes from around the world to find other classes that would like to engage with them via Skype.

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