Friday, August 19, 2016

Up the Down LMS

 A piece about George Siemens  appeared recently on the pages of Edsurge with Marguerite McNeal's name in the byline.  Siemens is said to have said that the LMS is "controlled, top-down, by the institution that bought it; it’s closed to anyone without a login. The LMS reflects a content-driven concept of education that encourages learners to master what the university thinks they should know." He is purported to have said this in an article that leads with the question "What does it mean to be human in a digital age?"

 If the LMS works the way that Siemens describes it's because a human being or group of human beings set it up that way. LMSs don't need to be "controlled, top-down." They don't necessarily require logins; requiring a login is a decision made by humans about how they want their LMS to function. It is very possible for a LMS to reflect a non-content-driven concept of education that encourages learners to totally ignore what the university thinks they should know, if it is set up that and used that way.

LMSs are very capable of engendering self-regulation and communication by students. An LMS can be a center of creativity, complex problem-solving and coordinating with others - if they're set-up that way and faculty are coached in how to use the LMS that way. If faculty are on their own to figure out how to make an LMS work to be a center of creativity, complex problem-solving and coordinating with others, well, then it might take them awhile to figure that out, but that's not the fault of the LMS. Teaching is an incredibly complex human activity - an LMS only enhances that activity when a teacher learns how to use this very complex tool for the very complex activity of teaching. When used properly an LMS is a very human tool. Here's one example Writing - The Elephant in the Classroom 

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

OER and Teacher Preparation Programs: Part 2

The first part of this follow-up to last week's post is directed at all of Minnesota's College of Education Deans, Education Dept. Chairs, and professors of education. I'll have some thoughts for those of you not in Minnesota, too, later. It's time for you all, the Minnesota College of Education Deans, Education Dept. Chairs, and professors of education to get involved in OER development, curation, revision, and masterfully teaching teachers how to use OER. The MPCC is finishing up the forty digital oer courses in grades 3-12 in Language Arts, Math, Social Studies and Science that are aligned to Minnesota Standards. Content and curriculum experts are needed to guide the revision of these courses in the years to come.

Here's the thing about OER  - they're never done. That's the beauty of it. The process of continuing to make the courses culturally relevant and up to date is ongoing. The requirement for ongoing revision of these courses is the opportunity for professors of education to put their names on curriculum that will likely be copied and revised by others in all fifty states and many other countries. What a deal? How else can professors of education get included as co-authors of subsequent revisions of curriculum that has a never ending life expectancy? What better way is there for them to allow their students to get involved with the curriculum they will be using in their teaching?

That process of continuing to make the courses culturally relevant and up to date is also what makes OER so attractive to K12 school districts. Sure, the districts will be realizing some immediate savings by not sending money to the coffers of the legacy text book publishers, but the real and ongoing benefit will be the fact that because K12 teachers will now own the content and can be as involved as they choose in its revision, teacher professional development is now authentically embedded in the teacher's everyday work in the classroom. Contributing to the revision of curriculum is reflection on and sharing of the best practice of each classroom.

 Another neat thing about Minnesota's College of Education Deans, Education Dept. Chairs, and professors of education getting involved in OER development, curation, revision, and masterfully teaching teachers how to use OER is that it solves the problem of how to get technology infused in higher ed teacher preparation programs. The seasoned, or not, professors can now be brought in as curriculum experts and not necessarily be asked to be technology experts or to fake liking technology. The expertise they've spent their careers developing is now uniquely relevant in cutting edge teaching and learning. That's a good thing for everybody.

Now, to those of you not in Minnesota, The MPCC courses are aligned to Minnesota standards, but revising them to fit your state's standards is just the task to ask of the College of Education Deans, Education Dept. Chairs, and professors of education in your state. The MPCC courses are Creative Commons licensed so they can be revised any way another state wants to do it. The Minnesota content is a great place to start. The education professor guided revision committees in other states will also undoubtedly add content and lessons that are pertinent to their states. And, we Minnesotans hope you'll share those lessons we've left out that will work in our state, too. Thank you, in advance.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

OER and Teacher Preparation Programs

In my presentation last week at the Mn eLearning Summit, I included a slide requesting more participation by teacher preparation programs in OER development, curation, and masterfully teaching teachers how to use OER. Leaving all of that for institutes of higher ed to figure out on their own, or relying on the 'private sector' seems unwise. My hope is that the U.S. Dept of Education and each #GoOpen state and #GoOpen district explore how to include teacher prep programs in the #GoOpen initiative.

Teacher preparation programs are naturally and rightfully included in the converging synchronicity of LMSs and OER because the objective study of curriculum has always been a cornerstone of teacher preparation programs. Now, teacher preparation programs can be included dynamically in OER development, curation, and application in the classroom. Every OER course in every state can have at least one, and hopefully, more professors from a local university guiding OER development, curation, and revision. The teacher candidates who are students of the guiding professors will benefit by being included in the process as they begin their careers and take ownership of the content.

Using an LMS for instruction and assessment of learning is complementary to the convergence of OER and new methods of teacher preparation.  As I said in a post in January, "the LMS is the key to making OER more useful in both K-12 and higher ed. One of the reasons, I think, that LMSs have such a poor standing with all levels of education is that they haven't previously had OER. OER is the key ingredient to make LMSs really useful in either K-12 or higher ed. Without OER, LMSs can be an appendage or obstacle to teaching and learning. And, without an LMS, OER is often something that is harder to use than what we've always used previously - the textbook."

Including university faculty in OER will only enhance ongoing collaboration and help ensure that the quality of the content remains up to date.  It's not hard to imagine the significant benefits accruing to districts and students when they, too, are included in the collaboration. Everybody wins, well, except maybe some of the legacy publishers. But, worrying about the well-being of legacy publishers is not part of my current job description.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

For-Profit Involvement in OER - Part 4

I’m genuinely glad that Lumen is doing what they’re doing, and I applaud the announcement this past Monday of the Major National Initiative to Help 38 Community Colleges in 13 States Develop New Degree Programs Using Open Educational Resources. But, I also still have significant reservations about the particular model that’s being used to provide access to the OER. And, I don’t think discussing the model of delivery and the specific nature of how and to where the money flows is merely ‘academic,’ as Dr. Wiley described it in his comment on my previous post, For-Profit Involvement in OER - Part 3. It may be that the Lumen model is exactly what’s needed at this stage in the development of OER, but I’m concerned that without a clearer understanding of the details (like documentation other than what’s on Git hub and a support network other than Lumen staff), we might be missing greater opportunity. Bluntly, I don’t want the purposes of a for-profit company spoiling the possibilities.

The really great thing about Lumen’s approach is that it is providing significant immediate savings to students and thereby enhancing the sustainability of the institutions where they’re studying. (Go ahead and quote me.) The for-profit textbook publishers have created a worldwide orchard with a whole lot of low hanging fruit.

Here’s the distinctions I want to make:

1.  Putting the OER in a separate platform and connecting to the LMS via LTI is only really useful if you want more money going to those that run the separate platform instead of keeping the money for running the LMS. I’m pretty sure that Lumen is already working with Instructure and other LMS purveyors to blur that line even more, which will come with the argument that that is the way of most opportunity which is Dr. Wiley's proclaimed rationale for Lumen being a for-profit entity.

2. The supporting functions that are necessary for the continued flourishing of OER can be provided by a for-profit entity, but the best value to community colleges, students and faculty will be when they are provided on a fee for service basis. The structure of the entity providing the supporting functions might be for-profit corporate, for-profit individuals,  non-profit corporate, consortia of governmental orgs, or combinations of the above. The particular mix of combinations matters, too.  The ultimate factoring to per student does not necessarily correlate to quantities. Sometimes it will be cheaper per student for a class of twenty-five students at a four year institution and sometimes it will be cheaper per student for all of the Algebra 1 students in the statewide CC system. As institutions including administration, IT support, faculty, libraries, student services, and students all come to understand all of the moving parts of OER, the institutions will better be able to determine which payment method for OER support is best for their particular circumstances.

As Dr. Wiley has pointed out, there is a need for all types of support. Different recipes produce different cookies. For now, cheers to Lumen and the Major National Initiative to Help 38 Community Colleges in 13 States Develop New Degree Programs Using Open Educational Resources.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

For-Profit Involvement in OER - Part 3

I’m very grateful that Dr. David Wiley posted a comment on my previous post and shared some observations. I have much admiration for the work that he’s done. I think our  differences are not nearly as numerous as the things we share in common.  Any criticisms I make are made in an attempt to achieve what’s best for students, faculty and educational institutions.

Dr. Wiley observed that my tone in the last post was critical and that bewildered him. I think his observation is accurate but I’m not sure why me being critical of Lumen’s method of delivering OER is so bewildering. Is it bewildering that someone else could have a different way of addressing the problems that Dr. Wiley described having experienced in Lumen’s first foray with OER adoption ? Is there a different way of using OER that doesn't involve passing money from community college students or those that pay for the books of community college students to Lumen investors.

Dr. Wiley incorrectly said “You say that "instead of addressing those problems" we started working with institutions and charging them for our services.” What I actually said was “So, instead of addressing those problems Lumen did the next best thing that also just happens to offer a ROI for investors of Lumen.” It’s the ownership structure of Lumen that I’m questioning. (Note the titles of this series of posts.) And more importantly, how did the ownership structure of Lumen influence the choice of OER delivery methods that Lumen developed? Lumen encountered problems using just one LMS to connect faculty and students with OER; could those problems have been solved differently if Lumen were a non-profit instead of a for-profit?

In my opinion, the Lumen way of implementing OER does not create the best value for the students or the owners of most community colleges, the taxpaying public. Nor do I think the Lumen method of implementing OER creates the best value for the faculty of community colleges. Implementing OER using LMSs like Lumen purportedly did initially is the better way, IMO.

That Lumen ran into some difficulties implementing LMSs is not surprising; it’s very complex work; it is very labor intensive and is not the kind of work that outside investors get excited about. For-profit investors would rather have an interest in something that can be sold again and again and involves as little labor as possible. Lumen’s solution for implementing OER looks more like a way to maximize return on investment for Lumen than a way to maximize savings for community college students.

I think For-profit companies that operate in the public education ‘sector’ have a special requirement to be as transparent as possible. Lumen’s announcement about their deal with SUNY and Dr. Wiley’s explanations since are not as transparent as they could be, IMO. My questions about why Lumen uses LTI from their platform to connect to LMSs was not about not understanding LTI;  it was about seeking transparency from Lumen and Dr. Wiley.  My thoughts on how best to implement OER differ from Dr. Wiley’s, I think, not because the bulk of my time in the last 20 years, at least, was spent in K12, but because I’m coming at it from the perspective of an independent contractor providing service to institutions, most of them governmental or other non-profits, rather than as the founder of a for-profit company. Implementing OER doesn’t fit well with for-profit software start-up modeling.

Experience in implementing systems in community colleges suggests that they are more like K12 public school districts than they are like major R1 universities, and they are significantly different than private liberal arts institutions of higher ed. Experience with software companies that link to LMSs via LTI in addition to the work for a major textbook publisher advising their IT team as to best practices using an open source LMS to deliver open source textbooks inform the notion that using an LMS is the most practical way to implement OER.  But, again, that may not be the same experience as the folks at Lumen, a for-profit software company.

Lumen’s ‘solution’ to the problem of how to most effectively provide OER in community colleges is problematic because it appears to introduce yet another LMS-like system that while being open source is not widely understood by either faculty or IT support staff. There is more to learn about how Lumen’s platform actually works, but Dr. Wiley failed to address my previous question of where to find documentation for their system, and he failed to specifically identify the faculty and community college support staff network of expertise with the Lumen platform.

Another problem with the Lumen method is the fee structure. Lumen’s fee structure appears to be per student use of OER, but that’s not clear from their website; it might be per student enrolled at the institution.  Fee structures of software companies selling to educational institutions are often ‘negotiable.’ There’s nothing wrong with that. The pay I receive from institutions for curating OER, faculty professional development and support, analytics and effectiveness research, and strategic and change management consulting for academic leadership is all negotiable, too.  I don’t work on a per student basis, though, and I advise institutions to avoid service provision on a per student basis whenever possible. Further discussions of professional service fee structures, approaches to checks of OER licensing and attribution, and the best type of org structure for supporting OER are in our future, I think. Stayed tuned.

Friday, June 10, 2016

For-Profit Involvement in OER - Part 2

David Wiley has posted on his blog what looks like an answer to the question I asked him last week that is referred to here in For-Profit Involvement with OER

“If OER adoption were to become widespread among the majority of faculty, it became clear that someone would need to do something more than create OER, post it on a website, and give conference talks about it.” That's an observation that Wiley makes in his post and which is so very obvious to anyone who has been involved with education and technology for more that a week or two.

The biggest reason that OER hasn’t had much of a chance of getting used in all kinds of schools is because devices to use OER have not been common enough in most classrooms to make it practical for teachers to begin the adoption of a new way of doing things. That is, until recently. OER are now practical because  devices to use OER are becoming cheaper every day and wifi is becoming stronger in every classroom every day. Adoption didn’t happen quicker because technology in education at the classroom level had not yet evolved to the point where it was practical.

Wiley wisely tried first to use OER with learning management systems.. Well, LMSs have had the same problem that OER faced - not enough commonly used technology at the classroom level. I’ll also add that there hasn’t been enough leadership or professional development for teachers to adopt either LMSs or OER. That, too, is changing, finally.

Wiley described a couple of problems that they ran into when trying to use OER within a LMS.

They also discovered that faculty don’t always follow all of the rules of attribution. Really !

So, instead of addressing those problems Lumen did the next best thing that also just happens to offer a ROI for investors of Lumen.

“Lumen has spent a lot of time, effort, and money creating an OER management and integration platform that solves many of the most common OER adoption problems, which is also free and open source. “ - that’s the Lumen Wordpress / Pressbooks LMS like thingy that they use to house the OER. Their thingy may be open source but how many people on the planet outside of Lumen know how to operate it? And, where is the documentation on how to operate this open source tool? How many faculty or teachers are there who typically and practically use this tool?

Because the OER that Lumen is offering to schools is in the platform that they built Lumen gets to charge the users of the OER as much as $25.00 per OER which also includes all of the other things that Lumen does.

‘Institutions partner with Lumen because Lumen provide faculty training and support, checks of OER licensing and attribution, hosting and technical support for our platform, and analytics and effectiveness research – as well as other services like strategic and change management consulting for academic leadership.”

It sounds like Lumen has become a LMS hosting company using a LMS that is open source but that not very many people other than Lumen actually know how use.

And, Lumen has created package deals for degree programs, too. I think that means that they will spin up a Nursing Assistant program, for instance, or some other special program that is popular and useful at colleges.  The OER content will be all wrapped in with all of the other things that Lumen does to make the degree program happen. So, they’re like the OPMs (online program management) that have been in the news lately. OPM is hot in higher ed and apparently worth over a $billion. Lumen and its investors deserve a piece of that money, I guess.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

For-Profit Involvement with OER

David Wiley has said in a tweet that he will be posting a response later this week to the question I asked in a couple of different ways recently about Lumen's announcement about its deal with SUNY. The question I asked was why Lumen was using LTI to connect the OER they were providing to the LMSs of SUNY. See my previous post or tweets at @sabier for more on that question.

I'm expecting that I'll learn something that I don't know in David's response. There must be something in the way Lumen is configuring their LTI to connect OER with LMSs that I don't quite understand.

But, I think there's another more basic question to be discussed. David talked about it in a recent post of his - the issue of For-Profit involvement with OER.  David said, "it’s impossible to select a single decision rule about the involvement of commercial interests in open education that will be “acceptable” (by whatever metric you care to use) in all cases where it will need to be applied." You can read David's explanation of why he thinks that on his blog.

I think it is possible to make some statements about for-profit involvement with OER. Notice, that I said OER and not 'open education' which is the term David used in his post. There's a difference. I think we can make statements about OER that will be universally true. I think we can say clearly and unequivocally that money can't be changing hands for OER. OER is free. Period. If money is changing hands related to OER then we need to be clear about why the money is changing hands. What value is being exchanged for money. Both individuals (like me) and for-profit companies can earn money for work related to OER, but we need to be explicit about what the value is that we're providing.

If the exchange of money is in any way a barrier or gate or qualifier for access to the OER, the OER is no longer OER; it's something else, but it's not OER. When we publish OER are we making it as easy as possible to do all of the 5 Rs or are we hedging a little? I touched on this subject six months ago, and I hope to say more about it this next week. Your thoughts are welcome.