The Adoption of an Open Textbook in a Large UBC Physics Course

The Adoption of an Open Textbook in a Large Physics Course: An Analysis of Cost, Outcomes, Use, and Perceptions

Christina Hendricks, Stefan A. Reinsberg, Georg W Rieger, IRRODL, June 2017

There have been numerous classroom studies that examine the results of replacing a commercial resource with an open resource. Like previous studies, the results of this study show similar results; that students who use an open textbook vs a commercial textbook save significant amounts of money, have similar learning outcomes, and perceive the quality of the open resource to be as good if not better than a commercial product.

What makes this case unique is that it focuses on an adapted resource. While faculty adopting open resources is becoming more common, faculty adapting those resources to fit their pedagogical needs are not nearly as common. This despite the fact that the open license gives faculty the right to modify and adapt the resources, theoretically to make them pedagogically stronger for their specific teaching & learning context.

This study examines just that type of open textbook adaptation, and how being able to adapt content was a prime motivator for the faculty to move to an open textbook. They wanted to be able to adapt resources to fit their pedagogical view, and saw open textbooks as a way to achieve this. This is a fundamentally different driver for adopting an open textbook than saving students money. This adoption was driven by the faculty who want the autonomy and flexibility to adapt learning resources. While saving students money is the obvious win when you move to an open resource, the autonomy that faculty get when moving away from a locked resource to an open resource is something that does not get near enough attention in the literature, which is why this paper is significant.

Originally published in the EdTech Factotum newsletter June 23, 2017

Photo by BCcampus CC-BY-SA


Investigating Perceptions, Use, & Impact of Open Textbooks: A survey of Post-Secondary Students in British Columbia

Investigating the Perceptions, Use, and Impact of Open Textbooks: A survey of Post-Secondary Students in British Columbia

Rajiv Sunil Jhangiani, Surita Jhangiani, IRRODL, June 2017

This is a survey of 320 BC post-secondary students conducted over 3 terms (Spring, Summer & Fall of 2015) examining their textbook use and purchasing behaviour.

Modeled after the oft-quoted Florida Virtual Campus student survey on textbook use, this paper adds a critical Canadian-specific piece that has been missing around how students in our region use textbooks.

Some key findings from the research;

  • Over half the students reported not purchasing a textbook at least once. The students who were more likely to skip buying a textbook were likely to have a student loan and/or be working more hours per week than those who did buy a textbook.
  • 26% shared a textbook with a classmate.
  • 27% said they have taken fewer courses because of the cost of textbooks, with 17% dropping a course because of the cost of the textbook.
  • 4 out of 5 students report that they have been affected by high textbook costs in some way.

There is also data on what formats students are using (predominantly PDF), their print preferences (they prefer to print what they need than buy a finished print book), and their perception of open textbooks compared to commercial textbooks (96% perceive the quality of their open textbooks to be as good or better than commercial textbooks). Overall, the results of this study are similar to what is being seen in comparable US-based studies.

Originally published June 23, 2017 in the EdTech Factotum newsletter.

Photo: Open Textbook Summit 2015 by BCcampus CC-BY-SA


A Flexible, Interoperable Digital Learning Platform: Are We There Yet?

A Flexible, Interoperable Digital Learning Platform: Are We There Yet?

e-Literate, Michael Feldstein, May 28, 2017

Imagine a learning platform not as a single application like the LMS, but instead analogous to an operating system that learning applications can be installed and run on, like Android or iOS. The metaphor is a useful concept when envisioning what a Next Generation Digital Learning Environments (NGDLE) is.

As Feldstein notes, this conceptual idea of learning technologies is not new, but has been given new life since the 2015 publication of the NGDLE white paper from EDUCAUSE. However, he points out that two things have changed in recent years that may make this concept more viable today than earlier visions.

Two things have changed since then. First, we now have many more discipline- and pedagogy-specific digital tools that can be incorporated into the learning environments.

The second thing that has changed—and this is the more radical of the two—is our shared notion of digital environments in general.

Today, many of us have dozens of different applications that we carry around with us all the time in our mobile phones. We are not disturbed or disoriented by the fact that Yelp looks and works completely differently from Google Maps, which looks and works  differently from Pokémon GO. We do not worry about getting lost in our software. Software design and user sensibilities have co-evolved to a point where we don’t have to worry as much about squeezing everything the user needs onto one page (never mind onto one screen, because some users didn’t know to scroll down).

For me, this is where projects like Sandstorm and Domain of Ones Own (which put cPanel & Installatron in the hands of each student/faculty) dovetail nicely with the concept of NGDLE. Each of those projects makes it possible to pick and choose applications that best suit a particular need. And while both Sandstorm and the cPanel/Installatron stack are built with a mainstream audience in mind (that is, they don’t contain many specific education built applications), they do a good job of illustrating pieces of the NGDLE concept. The connecting bits of technology that make all the applications truly interoperable in a way that is relevant to EdTech systems (think LTI, xAPI/Caliper and other API-ish things) are the pieces that are missing from Sandstorm/cPanel/Installatron that would make these more like an education specific NGDLE.

How close are we to realizing a vision of standards compliant interoperable learning technologies that operate like a platform instead of an application? Feldstein thinks we are closer than we have been for many years, but notes that, like most innovations, it is not the technology that is holding us back.

The biggest barriers to creating a learning platform were not technical 12 years ago and they certainly aren’t technical today. I believe incentives in the industry have changed enough that we could have a win-win scenario for all implementing parties. But pushing through the last barrier will require at least two of the major LMS vendors to agree on a common vision of the future and make a major commitment to address some of these use cases via the standards.

Original published in the EdTechFactotum newsletter June 5, 2017

Image: So what will a NGDLE look like? by @bryanMMathers is licenced under CC-BY-ND


Instagrim: Why Social Media Makes Students Miserable

Instagrim: Why Social Media Makes Students Miserable

Donna Freitas, Chronicle of Higher Education, May 7, 2017

For many years, educators have urged students to pay attention to their digital footprint as it will follow them through their life. Yeah, true. Sadly, true.

Our actions online, no matter how far in the past, can come back and be used against us; a reasoning that lies at the heart of why you are seeing many in our space take active steps to wipe their footprint on a regular basis.

As a parent with kids just getting into social media, I have become hyper-aware of the complexity involved with cultivating the “right” digital image with both their peer group and with the neverending story that is being written about them on the internet. It’s chilling to think that you are just one bad post away from permanent damage.

After surveying 800 students & interviewing 200 at 13 different institutions about their social media identities, Donna Frietas has discovered that most young people are approaching social media with fear and anxiety.

Fear and anxiety — about being barred from college, getting kicked off a team or a sorority, being passed over for an internship or a job — are driving this vigilance on social media. The wrong post has the potential to go viral. So we have entered a new stage in the digital 21st century: the professionalization of social media. And that professionalization has led to a new phenomenon, especially among young people: the transformation of the self as brand. While that shift has been good in some ways, they, and we, have lost something in the evolution.

When people start referring to themselves as a “brand” – a marketing term steeped in the world of commercialization which reduces people to things – I can’t help but think that maybe we have approached social media with the wrong lens. With a corporate lens instead of a human lens.

But can we be surprised that the language of corporations is so deeply embedded in our collective conscious when the platforms we use to express our identity are almost completely corporate controlled?

Photo Credit: K D


State of Higher Ed LMS Market for US and Canada: Spring 2017 Edition

State of Higher Ed LMS Market for US and Canada: Spring 2017 Edition

Phil Hill, e-Literate, May 15, 2017

While this has always been a relevant report for those in EdTech in higher education, it has become even moreso for Canadians in the past few years with the inclusion of Canadian data from LISTedTECH. Not unexpected, Canvas continues to grow at a rapid pace.

While there is no regional breakdown (likely is available for those who subscribe), I suspect the growth of Canvas in Canada is not nearly as rapid as it has been in the US. For example, in British Columbia where I work, Canvas growth has been virtually non-existent except for a single self-hosted version at Simon Fraser University.

The barrier to Canvas growth in BC is likely the data sovereignty requirements of our provincial FIPPA legislation which prohibits the storage of personally identifiable information outside of Canada without prescribed consent. With Canvas being a cloud based SaaS, this privacy requirement has likely been enough of a barrier to remove it from consideration from many regional institutions.

However, with the opening of Canadian data centres by Microsoft and Amazon, we could see a change on the horizon. BC institutions may be willing to take a closer look at Canvas as a potential contender with the regional data restriction issue addressed.

First published in the EdTech Factotum newsletter.


Antigonish 2.0: A Way for Higher Ed to Help Save the Web

Antigonish 2.0: A Way for Higher Ed to Help Save the Web

Bonnie Stewart, EDUCAUSE Review, May 8, 2017
If there is a positive to take out of the shit show that was the US election, it is that it has proven to be a rallying cry to many educators to ramp up efforts on increasing our collective digital & media literacy. Projects like Mike Caulfield’sDigital Polarization Initiative,  higher education courses on understanding fake news (including the beautifully titled Calling Bullshit course, with shades of Howard Rheingold’s Crap Detection work from another web era), and the numerous individual initiatives by educators helping students become critical thinkers about information. In an age when (mis)information is used as a political weapon, these types of efforts are important.

Antignoish 2.0 is one of those projects that I have been following. In addition to the focus on digital & media literacy, Bonnie Stewart’s project is firmly rooted in an interesting adult education model with ties to the 19th centry co-op movement known as The Antigonish Movement. Antigonish 2.0 borrows many of the elements of the original movement in an attempt to develop a contemporary distributed network rooted in local institutions and communities.

Antigonish 2.0, therefore, is a community capacity-building project about media literacy and civic engagement. In this era of profound political polarization, disinformation, and fake news, the project aims to frame and foster narratives of democracy and contribution. Antigonish 2.0 revisions the cooperative adult education tradition of the Antigonish Movement for a digitized world.

Despite the model being over 100 years old, it feels incredibly relevant today as it is designed to leverage both the potential of the network and local communities in a unified vision. The question is: what role will higher education play in supporting initiatives like Antigonish 2.0?

Antigonish 2.0 offers a call to colleges and universities around the globe to consider how their resources—staff, faculty, students, space, digital infrastructures, brands—can be deployed at all three layers of the initiative.

But in order to do that, higher ed has to be willing not to look the way it has always looked. It has to be willing to lend a portion of its infrastructure and its time and its endowments to this integrated model of network plus institution plus community, even though this model does not factor in prestige rankings or research dollars. It has to be willing to look to people both in and beyond classroom walls as part of its purview.

Photo: Moses Coady Mosaic by The Coady Institute CC-BY-NC. Moses was the founder of the original Antignoish movement in the 1920’s.

This piece was first published in the EdTech Factotum newsletter.


Clean up Word to HTML with Dewordify

I attended a session from the BCIT online course development team at the recent ETUG conference where they demonstrated a tool they created to make the conversion of Word to HTML documents a cleaner process.

If you have ever tried converting Microsoft Word to HTML, you know that it can be a nasty business to try to get clean HTML from a Word document. The conversion process in Word where you save to HTML or save to filtered HTML still creates HTML documents with tons of cruft and extraneous code that needs to be further cleaned.

There are tools that do this to varying degrees of success. I have often used Dreamweaver to do this and their clean Word tool works well. But Dreamweaver is a bit overkill, proprietary and expensive for simply getting clean HTML from Word.

There are online conversion tools like  HTML Cleaner and the cut and paste strip Word code functionality available in most LMS’s interfaces that work well enough for small pieces of content. But if you are doing a lot of converting and want to automate or batch process many Word documents, these tools aren’t really up for the job. For those types of bigger bulk conversion jobs, you can automate a workflow using a tool like Pandoc, an open source tool that is the swiss army knife of document conversion tools.

Now there is another option created by developers at BCIT to help with converting Word to HTML called Dewordify, a Node.js application. I downloaded and tested it out on my computer and it worked very well at cleaning up a simple Word document I tossed at it. To give you a comparison, here is the Word document I gave it (a piece I wrote on last fall’s EDUCAUSE conference). It’s a fairly simply Word document using level 1 headers (in yellow) and images with captions (in red).

Now, if I save this as a filtered document in Word, I get a file with a ton of crufty CSS & HTML attributes in it


You have likely seen this kind of code before. This can cause problems when putting into other tools, like an LMS. The CSS code at the beginning of the document itself goes on for close to 200 lines. That is 200 lines of unnecessary stuff that needs to be further cleaned out.

Ideally, what we want to have is clean code with none of those 200 lines of CSS at the top of the HTML document. Here is the same HTML document code after the original Word doc was run through Dewordify.

That is fairly clean code from a Word document. Gone are the lines and lines of CSS and Word attributes in the HTML tags.

Now, there are a few things about the Dewordify that is pretty specific to the BCIT course development workflow. For example, the CSS and JS files link back to files at BCIT that are specific for them. And there are some CSS and HTML attributes that are added to the code, like the div class=”container” that again are specific to the BCIT workflow. But the brief conversation I had with Kyle Hunter after their session leads me to believe that this can be changed and customized. I haven’t dug into the Dewordify code yet to know how easy or difficult this is.

I also noticed that the captions for the images didn’t come over and, like most document conversion processes, GIGO applies, meaning the better formatted your Word document is going in, the better the tool works. This is the biggest culprit I have discovered when working with converting ANY document – learn to use the tool you are using correctly. If you are using Word, use heading tags to make headings as opposed to using the change font size and colour to make your own visual header. Use the list tool to make lists, as opposed to type the number 1 and then hitting the space bar 5 times or <shudder> using the tab button. Basic rules, yes. But for people who spend a lot of time converting and cleaning documents, simple steps like this go a long way to making content more convertible to other file types.

Or, avoid using Word in the first place and build your content thinking web first. That means, build in HTML or Markdown and avoid having to do converting like this at all. But if you do find yourself converting documents from Word to HTML, Dewordify might be a useful tool for you.

Photo: Meat Grinders Peter Miller CC-BY-NC-ND



Open Source adoption in Education Sector: Interview with Patrick Masson from OSI

Open Source adoption in Education Sector: Interview with Patrick Masson from OSI

Lengthy interview with Patrick Mason from the Open Source Initiative that talks about the use of Open Source Software in Higher Education. Caveat that much of this discussion is from a US context, although there is a specific question about other regions of the world.

Mason’s answer to question 8 on what are the biggest hindrance in preventing the adoption rate of OSS from being higher is bang-on, and his observation about the role of increasing acceptance of OER as a pathway to greater acceptance of OSS is interesting. Mason notes that, among institutional  IT departments, Open Source Software (OSS) is a pretty known entity. But move out of the backroom and away from IT staff and the level of awareness of OSS plummets. Both statements ring true for me. However, Mason notes that the open educational resource movement has to potential to change that.

Interestingly to me, I find the introduction and rapid growth of open educational resources—teaching and learning initiatives beyond software—to be the most impactful in raising awareness of the benefits of open development, licensing and distribution models as well as, eventually, open source software. Many faculty and non-IT staff (e.g. librarians, researchers, etc.) are engaging in open textbooks, open courses, open data, open analytics, and many other open initiatives. Through these efforts faculty and staff are realizing the benefits of openness, which can then more easily be transferred when assessing open source software.

This point is interesting to me, too, because many of the early open education resource pioneers were inspired by the open source software model. Open source software inspired open educational resources which is now leading educators back to open source software. Talk about a virtuous cycle.

First published in the EdTech Factotum newsletter.


In the Classroom and Beyond, Colleges Find Ample Uses for 3D Printing

In the Classroom and Beyond, Colleges Find Ample Uses for 3D Printing
This week my 10 year old son 3D printed a fidigt spinner at the new Digital Scholarship Commons lab at the University of Victoria, and last weekend at the Creative Commons Global Summit, CC’s CEO Ryan Merkley unveiled a 3D project recreating the column of Palmyra, Syria that included a 7 foot 3d printed replica of one of the Palmyra Tetrapylons recently destroyed by ISIS.

3D printing is moving into the mainstream, and higher ed institutions who were early in the game and bootstrapped small on-campus makerspaces are now in a good position to begin to reap the benefits of that early experimentation. Not only is there a manufacturing demand for hard skills in 3D design & printing, but institutions that make 3D printing accessible to others are beginning to see pedagogical applications with students. Nick Hutchings of Mount St.Mary’s University describes some of the 3D printing activities he is seeing at his institution

…“lifecasting” project in which they are designing and fabricating artistic models of human body parts. Chemistry students have used the machines to print models of molecules. And one student from a biology class is using the printers to build special molds that will eventually hold collagen to support growing cells.

As prices continue to fall and quality improves, it isn’t hard to imagine that we’re close to a time when 3D printers will be as common at our institutions as regular printers.

First published in the EdTech Factotum newsletter.

Photo: 3d printed hand Tom Woodward CC-BY-SA


Developing a Learning Environment in WordPress

Developing a Learning Environment in WordPress
A case study on replacing the medical program 1MedLearn in Blackboard with one built and delivered in WordPress using the H5P multimedia plugin. The developers found a measurable increase in student engagement when compared to the previous Blackboard site.

Already the data shows that student engagement has increased from 23,872 minutes spent in Blackboard by all students over a 12-month period (2013/14), to 921,752 minutes in 1MedLearn by the same year groups over 7 months (Sept 2015 – March 2016). This represents a 68 fold increase in usage. Yet the average time spent on the site has decreased from 22 minutes per session to 11 minutes indicating that students are able to find what they need far quicker.

The gains in student engagement are impressive, although it could be argued that some of those gains may be attributable to the program being redesigned and not just a change in platforms.

No secret that I am a fan of WordPress, so I am happy to see these types of projects succeed where WP is used to replace a LMS (especially an expensive, proprietary one). WordPress powers so much of the open web that a well designed WordPress site should feel much more intuitive and natural to a learner who is used to the way the web works.

The only thing about this case study that would make me happier is if it were actually an open course that took full advantage of the open affordances of WordPress. This is the biggest reason I promote the use of  WordPress (or any content management platform that allows publishing to the open web). WordPress opens a gate to the open web in a way that a closed LMS cannot and enables open and public participatory pedagogy. And I am a fan of any platform that enables institutional boundaries with the world to become more permeable.

First published in the EdTech Factotum newsletter.

Photo: Luca Bravo, Unsplash