Math is one of the many topics that I think lends itelf to OER. College Algebra hasn’t been revolutionized in the past few years, and so the idea of purchasing expensive textbooks for this course is, in my view, pretty suspect. Scottsdale Community College has created/remixed some incredible resources that are freely available for students. I was lucky enough to publish a study with some magnificent colleagues, chronicling money saved by students at SCC, and also what happened to the educational outcomes of students utilizing these open resources. See the article recently published in the International Review of Research on Open and Distance Learning.

Perceptions of OER

My good friend T.J. Bliss was the lead author on two recent studies focusing on how students and faculty perceived open educational resources. I think that listening to these voices is very important. Both articles are open access — visit First Monday or the Journal of Interactive Media in Education to learn more. Great work TJ!

As you probably know, FWK has announced that it will no longer provide a free version of its textbooks. This is clearly disappointing to the OER community (for example you can feel T.J.’s frustration). David Wiley’s response is here. David and I have published a couple of articles about FWK’s financial models (at IRRODL and First Monday). I had also worked with David and Neil on FWK’s  model of reuse, recently published another article with Carol Laman and had two others in the works (those two I’m afraid will never be published. For now at least there isn’t quite the excitement on a $19.95 access model).

All of this is to say I have had some experience writing about and thinking about FWK. I love the company, and I love their textbooks. If I teach Psychology 101 again will I use the FWK text? Probably — they are right; their $19.95 access plan is cheaper than anything else I could offer my students. But do I wish the free option were still there? Absolutely.

In my thinking and writing about FWK the key thing I missed was the importance of ROI. Eric Frank said last year that FWK has raised 30 million in venture capital. That’s a lot of money. Even if FWK was profitable (to throw out a random number, I don’t know their bottom line this number could be much higher or smaller) by 3 million dollars per year, it would take 10 years to recoup the cost of the investment, and even after that the ROI would be relatively small. I don’t blame those who have invested in FWK seeking a better return on investment.

It will be interesting to watch going forward to see if any tries to replicate the FWK model (perhaps using grant money instead of venture capital to seed the project).

 

 

 

This past summer I had a great experience using a version of Flat World Knowledge’s Psychology textbook while teaching in China. Working with that book led me to a collaboration with Carol Laman of Houston Community College (HCC). HCC’s Pyschology Department adopted the Flat World text and had some great success using it in their department. Carol and I wrote an article about it, which was just published in the journal Open Learning.

The bottom line is that during the fall semester, 2011, 690 students used this book.  Compared to students using a traditional text in the spring of 2011, students who used the free online textbook scored higher on departmental final exams, had higher GPAs in the class and higher retention rates.

Copyright restrictions prevent me from posting the full article (I understand the irony of publishing about OER in a non-open access journal), but the “preprint” (what I sent to them before the article had been peer reviewed) is here. They have given me 50 free eprints of the final version of the article, which are  available here, while supplies last…

I’m having a great time at Open Education Conference. I’m presenting this afternoon on the topic of “Using Open Textbooks in Community Colleges” along with Jared Robinson. We will be focusing on our recent work with the Houston Community College, Virginia State University, and the Kaleidoscope Project.

Here are the slides from the presentation.

 

Book Review: Steve Jobs

I’ll be honest — I’m not really an Apple fan. When I was in Junior High my friend David and I would have huge arguments about Macs versus PCs. I do have an iPhone however and honestly think it has made my life better. I’ve never been interested in Apple as a company though, and not at all interested in Steve Jobs as a person. When I got a copy of his biography (more on that at the end) it sat in my “to read” pile for a couple of months. But once I picked it up last week, I couldn’t put it down. There are currently 1,628 reviews on Amazon so I don’t feel obligated to give an in-depth review. But I want to share a few thoughts about how it impacted me personally.

1. Intuition. I was amazed at how Jobs was able to discern what it was the customer wanted and then go for it. Three relevant quotes: “At the end of the presentation someone asked whether he thought they should do some market research to see what customers wanted. “No,” he replied, “because customers don’t know what they want until we’ve shown them.”” (p.143). ““On the day he unveiled the Macintosh, a reporter from Popular Science asked Jobs what type of market research he had done. Jobs responded by scoffing, “Did Alexander Graham Bell do any market research before he invented the telephone?”” (p. 170).  On another occasion: “Some people say, ‘Give the customers what they want.’ But that’s not my approach. Our job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do. I think Henry Ford once said, ‘If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, a faster horse!’” (p. 567). I’m not saying that market research should be thrown out the window — but I was impressed at how Jobs could cut through the paralysis that can come come from doing too much of it.

2. PowerPoint Presentations. I use them all the time. Jobs had a different view of PowerPoints – at least in meetings. Isaacson writes, “One of the first things Jobs did during the product review process was ban PowerPoints. “I hate the way people use slide presentations instead of thinking,” Jobs later recalled. “People would confront a problem by creating a presentation. I wanted them to engage, to hash things out at the table, rather than show a bunch of slides. People who know what they’re talking about don’t need PowerPoint.” (p. 337). And again, “Steve prefers to be in the moment, talking things through. He once told me, ‘If you need slides, it shows you don’t know what you’re talking about.’” (p. 387). I still see value in PowerPoint, but it makes me wonder if I am using it as a crutch. Do I know what I’m talking about? (I also appreciated the caveats posted here).

3. Do the impossible. Apple determined that Corning’s Gorilla Glass was needed for the iPhone. Jobs met with Weeks, the head of Corning to discuss it. Isaacson recounts: “Jobs described the type of glass Apple wanted for the iPhone, and Weeks told him that Corning had developed a chemical exchange process in the 1960s that led to what they dubbed “gorilla glass.” It was incredibly strong, but it had never found a market, so Corning quit making it. Jobs said he doubted it was good enough, and he started explaining to Weeks how glass was made. This amused Weeks, who of course knew more than Jobs about that topic. “Can you shut up,” Weeks interjected, “and let me teach you some science?” Jobs was taken aback and fell silent. Weeks went to the whiteboard and gave a tutorial on the chemistry, which involved an ion-exchange process that produced a compression layer on the surface of the glass. This turned Jobs around, and he said he wanted as much gorilla glass as Corning could make within six months. “We don’t have the capacity,” Weeks replied. “None of our plants make the glass now.” “Don’t be afraid,” Jobs replied. This stunned Weeks, who was good-humored and confident but not used to Jobs’s reality distortion field. He tried to explain that a false sense of confidence would not overcome engineering challenges, but that was a premise that Jobs had repeatedly shown he didn’t accept. He stared at Weeks unblinking. “Yes, you can do it,” he said. “Get your mind around it. You can do it.”” (p.471-472). They did it. Am I reaching for the impossible?

4. Do less, but do it right. Jobs told Larry Page (Google’s cofounder), “What are the five products you want to focus on? Get rid of the rest, because they’re dragging you down. They’re turning you into Microsoft. They’re causing you to turn out products that are adequate but not great” (p. 552). Am I getting distracted by too many things? What are the core areas where I can focus and make a difference

5. Bring your child to work. During the Attenagate scandal, Jobs was called away from a family vacation to figure out how to solve the problem. Isaacson writes “Jobs also decided to bring his son Reed, then a high school senior, back with him from Hawaii. “I’m going to be in meetings 24/7 for probably two days and I want you to be in every single one because you’ll learn more in those two days than you would in two years at business school,” he told him. “You’re going to be in the room with the best people in the world making really tough decisions and get to see how the sausage is made.” Jobs got a little misty-eyed when he recalled the experience. “I would go through that all again just for that opportunity to have him see me at work,”” (p. 521). Enough said.

Now there are lots of things I didn’t like about Jobs. For example, he seemed really mean. But at the end of reading is biography I was inspired. I wanted to be a better person and go out and change the world. I decided that I wanted to buy a copy of this book for several people — My recollection is that I got it on Amazon for a ridiculously low price ($3.00 or so – I can’t imagine why else I would have bought a biography about a person I wasn’t interested in). But when I went to purchase additional copies, I found that not only was the price higher than I thought, but that I never purchased the book from Amazon. That’s the only place I buy books, so now I have a puzzle on my hands … how did I get the book? I’m not sure, but I’m very glad I did!

Earlier I posted on research relating to high school students using open textbooks in their science classes. One of my favorite parts of that article was a figure that illustrated different potential outcomes, both in terms of money saved by using open textbooks and learning gained. Here’s that figure:

In the article, we described 2 iterations of purchasing books, and 1 iteration of comparative test scores. We’ve just finished our 3rd iteration of buying books (cost per book, including shipping ~ $4.00), and are getting our 2nd iteration of test data (not clear yet, but it looks like scores increased). If these two items turn out to be correct then the school district will be in the top right hand corner of the Figure … that sweet spot of saving money and increasing learning. More to come!

I believe that one of the most interesting research areas in OER is learning about the effects (both educational and financial) of classroom adoption of OER. The International Review of Research on Open and Distance Learning just published an article on this subject. I’m happy to be a coauthor on what I  think is an important article (obviously I’m biased). We are doing follow up research with the Kaleidoscope Project and Utah’s Open Textbook Project. More to come!

Here’s the abstract from that article:

“Proponents of open educational resources claim that significant cost savings are possible when open textbooks displace traditional textbooks in the classroom. Over a period of two years, we worked with 20 middle and high school science teachers (collectively teaching approximately 3,900 students) who adopted open textbooks to understand the process and determine the overall cost of such an adoption. The teachers deployed open textbooks in multiple ways. Some of these methods cost more than traditional textbooks; however, we did identify and implement a successful model of open textbook adoption that reduces costs by over 50% compared to the cost of adopting traditional textbooks. In addition, we examined the standardized test scores of students using the open textbooks and found no apparent differences in the results of students who used open textbooks compared with previous years when the same teachers’ students used traditional textbooks. However, given the limited sample of participating teachers, further investigation is needed.”

I am giving a presentation today at Open Education 2011 (the conference has been fabulous so far!) based on this article. Here are the slides:

Update October 2011: Preliminary efficacy results are now available!

I’ve been involved in an exciting research program where we are collaborating with middle and high school teachers to determine the cost effectiveness and educational effectiveness of a set of open textbooks in middle and high school classrooms. David Wiley initiated the project, and it’s been underway for a little over a year. The short version of the study is that teachers have modified CK-12 textbooks and a hard copy was printed for each student. Part of the the thought process was that by going with an OER textbook, it might be cheaper to print a book that students could keep rather than use a proprietary text that would have to be reused for seven years to recoup its costs. Some literature demonstrates that when students have their own text to mark and annotate that they learn more effectively. If both of the foregoing statements are correct, by using an OER textbook, students could learn more while districts save money on textbooks.

The below graphic illustrates the five possible outcomes of our study.

Stay tuned as the study unfolds!