Category Archives: Open Educational Resources

Might could be the case I’m into controlled chaos

In the American South, I have learned to say “might could” in a situation that is uncertain. And it might could be that I’ve put myself into a situation, the outcome of which is most certainly uncertain.

I’m taking a MOOC right now (E-learning and Digital Culture) and signed up for one after this (can’t even remember, but I know they’ll send me an email).

Then I signed up for another MOOC that I swore began May 18. I was so excited–that would have been after my spring term ended and just as summer began–perfect timing. I’d be finished with my spring MOOCs and starting my summer teaching (only one class this summer!). But not so. It starts March 18–smack into the middle of my spring term and not something I will be able to work into my routine in a reasonable way.

So. I’ll be unreasonable. I want to take this in a big way: a composition MOOC, “Composition 1: Achieving Expertise.” I’m just going to do it to the best of my ability. I’ll engage as I am with my current MOOC and invest early.

I’m dying to see how composition will be handled on such a large scale and how it might accommodate thousands of students and their writing. I know it’s going to be a terrific experience, because how could it be otherwise if I’m learning something? The instructor is an acquaintance, and I respect her thinking deeply. In fact, it was her article on performance and observation of writing instructors from a year or two ago that is changing the way I do that part of my job.

I know there are MOOCers who take a lot of classes at once, so I know I can do this. Partly, I know this because: 1) it’s free; 2) I don’t have to complete the thing. In fact, I may not have to do much work at all to get a lot from it. It’s not like I’m taking the course for freshman comp. I took freshman comp already (got a C and  a B in Comp 1&2, respectively). What I wonder is this: if such a course as this one might have made a huge difference in my writing life when I was starting college. I was a lousy writer, not because I was bad but because I’d had almost no training of any kind. Writing to me, upon high school graduation, was a mystery that only a few could figure out, or it was a gift that even fewer were given. Writing well was NOT something I could learn to do. In fact, these ideas were reinforced at nearly every step of my educational life.

I wasn’t taught to work on making my thinking clear then correcting for errors. I was encouraged to write it perfect the first time. Perfect. Oh. No pressure. Multiple drafts? What? Never. Multiple drafts were for the weak. We wrote and turned in what we wrote, all first drafts: good, bad or horrific. Spelling mattered right away–in the first and only drafts–and so did penmanship. I actually had a penmanship tutor for a whole school year because I was so lame at handwriting. (I did get to the point where I could write gorgeous cursive–but my “writing” was still crap.)

I was stunned when I finally learned the secrets of writing well (far into my college career): 1) writing can be learned; 2) thinking is more important than correct comma usage; 3) writing takes practice; 4) multiple drafts can be really deeply profoundly madly important; 5) proofreading can be learned and should be done last; 6) writing is collaborative; 7) writers need mentors (human mentors or mentor texts); 8) writers need to know the genres they are trying to write; 9) writers need to read a lot; and 10) writing is revision. This is not all I know about writing now, but MAN, if only I’d known about some of these sorts of things when I was younger.

Now, I try to teach writers these ideas (and more) by allowing a lot of freedom in the classroom. “Just write,” I say. I hope I haven’t swung too far the other way from: “Just write perfectly.” But I consider this chance I have to take a freshman comp class in my PJs for no cost but my time a wonder. Holy composition & rhetoric. What an opportunity. I can see what a colleague in my field is doing–get ideas, share my learning with my fellow students, and maybe even learn more about how to be a better writer. I know I do things in my blogging that might be confusing, so perhaps I need to learn something new/old to help. Why not? (Things I think I do as a writer, or habits, or tics I’m sure I have or suffer from: I write a lot of first drafts and don’t always revise–OMG–yes, I just said that; I overuse fragments by writing in phrases rather than independent clauses; I tend to write like I talk–totally; I think I abuse semi-colons; I write/type fast and make more typos than I care to admit; I will use a single word to make a statement. Nice. Right. Showoff.; I ramble around a topic and sometimes don’t always occasionally once-in-a-while frequently end up wrapping the whole thing up in a tidy bow at the end; I fool around a lot pretending to be a whole lot better than I am by using a $20 word when a $5 word might do (what a brat, right?); I’m pretty self-indulgent, too.

As a writer, I might could use some sustained thinking about writing and being a writer and achieving expertise. What is that anyway? Expertise? It might could be that I could polish off some of my expertise trophies I have shoved onto my shelves and left alone for too long.

I have nothing to lose but time. And really, that’s the only gift I have that I can’t get more of. I’d like to use my time in a positively, forward-movement, open kind of way. Life-long learning–it’s been hip to me since 1990 and a personal philosophy.

Hurricane from space.

Hurricane from space.

So what if my life is chaos? I’ve been called a hurricane and a whirlwind. Okay. I’m down with that. But surely I have some control over when I create or participate in the stormy chaos. Or do I only wish I was in charge of me? Wouldn’t it be great if I was actually making forward progress while storming through life? Might could be the case.

In April, there’s a Writing II class that begins. Taking that would just be adding to the storm, the chaos, the madness. Nope. I’m not going to sign up for it. No way. Not gonna happen. Ain’t my thing. Can’t do it. Never. Shoot. Might could be I’m already signed up.

[Image source: here.]

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Filed under Magic and Writing, MOOC Journeys, Open Educational Resources, Open Everything, Open All the Time, Writing is Beautiful

Kick Buttowski: Not what you think

For those in the world who do not watch children’s cartoons–I’m so sorry for you. There’s one I just encountered this summer called Kick Buttowski. He’s a 12-year old boy who’s a suburban daredevil. His name is Clarence Buttowski. “Kick” is much better than Clarence.

Kick Buttowski... on the Disney Channel. Tune in and see daredevil greatness.

Kick has a suburban family: mom, dad, sister, brother, best friend.

  • His older brother, Brad, sings in a boy band (at least once) and is as obnoxious as the older brother in Weird Science (which I’m sorry to admit I’ve seen): Chet (I even remembered his name).
  • His younger sister is evil but looks so sweet.
  • Parents–don’t really know much about them (the dad really likes his car “Monique”; the mom was a former boat racer).
  • Kick’s best friend, Gunther–a rotund blonde-haired kid is as funny as he is unaware and strangely clever.

Kick goes to a suburban school. He’s great at stunts and not so great at school. One of my favorite episodes is when Kick’s dog eats his homework. (That actually happened to me, only my dog, Friday the 13th, ate a student’s paper. Also had some cats attack a few student papers. Turns out Elvis and Col. Parker–who were my favorite cats ever–really enjoyed stalking alligator clips and occasionally the student papers got in the way.)

What I love about Kick is that he embraces his daredevil desires and lives each day with abandon.

A body could learn a lot from Kick; I actually have. If I forget that I’m watching a children’s cartoon and think about being mindful of what I’m doing–being present in the moment–not such a bad thing to remember. And if I can achieve that sort of out-of-body experience with my writing and my teaching–then I have done something grand indeed.

Pucca ready to eat noodles.

I had a similar experience when I watched Pucca. Again, if you missed this, you have missed something special. She is a young girl, perhaps 10 or 11 and the niece of three bachelor noodle makers–she works in their shop. Not only is she present to the noodle making (and delivery of the same), her uncles are masters at noodle making. She’s adorable, but when provoked, she is a bad ass ninja who cannot be defeated–greater than even the ninja boy she is entirely in love with, Garu.

She’s got some friends (a crazy girlfriend, Ching, a sweet sword-fighting girl who carries around a magic egg-laying chicken on her head) and Abyo (he regularly rips off his shirt when practicing Kung Fu–think Jacob from Twilight).

Pucca lives in Sooga, a village that includes every conceivable type including Santa who hangs in the village when he’s not working, a Jewish deity who was a former ninja, villains and good folk, and Policeman Bruce, Abyo’s father, who utters “over” whenever he speaks: “Pass the cereal, over.”

When I first started watching this cartoon, I was annoyed that Pucca doesn’t speak, that there are visual punctuation marks (sort of) to signal emotions, that there were all these nutty characters that I couldn’t really get a handle on. However, I soon came to love how odd the show was and to particularly appreciate Pucca as a strong and capable female character. I can’t say how much I loved taking a sword class (Haidong Gumdo) at about the same time in my life when Pucca was regularly available to me, because I cannot find the words to describe the HUGE powerful amazing remarkable incredible way it felt to yield a sword and smack Bob’s torso with it… Bob, the Body Opponent Bag. I love weapons and forms. I do not love hitting real humans.

Pucca kissing Garu--Garu alarmed... always.

But I liked Pucca for the way the characters (mostly children) totally focused on martial arts–not to say that’s all they did–but they focused on the study of martial arts and worked at it and pursued prowess. I also had a soft spot for the way Pucca was mad for Garu and tried regularly to kiss him. Sometimes he was angry to be kissed and sometimes it actually turned him blue (ill), but no matter Garu’s reaction, Pucca was triumphant. It was a running joke that Ching had a crush on Abyo and Pucca liked Garu–though Pucca’s passion for Garu was an awesome thing to behold. Often the four of them saved the village, the heavens, the world. But Pucca’s kiss was the most spectacular moment of the episode.

Pucca and Kick are much alike in their single-minded pursuit of a goal. I appreciate that very much. I like watching children characters work in this way, bringing every ounce of their beings to the action at hand, sometimes succeeding, sometimes failing, but always there–in the moment with something less than fear–in the moment with bravery, courage, total commitment.

That may be what I like about these cartoons the best–the commitment. I do commitment weird. I commit to some activities with passion and no fear and for years I bring the love. Then it’s over–people scatter and it’s not sustainable. Or I move and my relationship with a group is no longer sustainable.

What shapes me now is the digital world of a commons. I do not have to be apart from my commons should I actually physically move–I’m not physically with my commons now. If I chose to live in New Zealand, I could still work with Writing Spaces. If I decided I wanted to teach literacy in the Yukon Territory, I could still work with Writing Spaces. If I wanted to live in Greece and sail around the islands, I could do that and still work with Writing Spaces. If I no longer worked with Writing Spaces, I could still advocate for it, use it, and be proud of the work that group created–wherever I lived. Like Kick has daredeviling, like Pucca has Garu and her ninja skills, I have writing and editing and thinking and growing and being part of something that doesn’t have to keep me rooted to one spot. It might be the ideal project for a person like me who has a lot of rabbit in her. Admittedly, the rabbit is less spry and less likely to bolt than in the past, but Writing Spaces and the writing that experience has prompted me to undertake, the ideas I’ve mashed up over the last year–better than being in one place for 25 years (something that would never happen). It’s a comfort I haven’t ever known before professionally. Never.

And on top of that, my teaching has changed in deep and profound ways–not outwardly–but inside where I was regularly unsure of what I was doing. Not now. I have 35+ other teachers working with me in that OER alone. If I include other teachers who have created other OER, we’re talking now thousands of teachers supporting me. And the style of teaching I advocate with my practice is loose and dynamic and demanding–it just keeps getting better and better the more OER I know, adapt, and use.

I said yes to Writing Spaces just about a year ago, and it’s been transformative. I’ve written about that before here and in other places. I’ve shared it with friends, all my students (and I mean all), college writing teachers, college WAC instructors, high school teachers, middle school teachers, USAF officers, welding teachers, and more. I do often sound like a preacher… So what. Knowing this OER, knowing the ideal of the commons, knowing something about intellectual freedom, understanding how the world has changed because of open… it’s like being a suburban daredevil who amazes his less fearless peers, and it’s like being a little Korean girl who kicks ass and kisses the boy she likes.

That is exactly what it’s like. Who gets to say that about their jobs?

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Filed under Cartoons and Composing, Open Educational Resources, Open Everything, Open All the Time, Surprising Information, Writing and Identity

Poetry and the power of the commons

“Poetry and the power of the commons.” Seems an odd juxtaposition at first glance, doesn’t it? But in the way that my life works, Serendipity (like it’s a real force) is almost always busy in some way, so when things crash into one another, it’s not always a wreck. Really, the beauteous thing about being a life-long learner is that I get to always be open to learning in whatever form or forms it takes. Frequently the learning is rich, rich, rich, like a French mother sauce. And this post, like a mother sauce, is complex with many ingredients that come together eventually to make a heady concoction that enhances the overall dish that is my learning (I wish).

I love this poem by Mary Oliver: “Wild Geese.” A dear friend sent it to me at the beginning of this year. I’d not been around geese very much until I moved to Alabama. I live right on the very edge of town, right next to cows in a large pasture, and around me, geese come to stay for the winter and early spring. They often fly past my bedroom window in the mornings, honking. I can even hear their wings flapping occasionally. On sunny mornings their shadows can wave across me as they fly past. They raise their goslings around me–I see them all congregating in the fields and by the lakes–the adults, the little ones, traveling around together. When I drive to the grocery store, I stop sometimes by the side of the road and watch them in the fields. They have a grace about them that is astounding in the air, but on the ground, too, I find them mesmerizing–a sway that is both awkward and majestic. The gaggle is an awesome sight, especially when you can hear the noises they make while on the ground, rooting around, and walking.  The first time I hear them back from the north, my heart beats a little faster: “The geese are back!” Like I think they’d forget me and go somewhere else. Might could be that their return signals a change to me, or a beginning, symbolizing a journey. Others see the geese as pests because they have an adverse effect on lawns and golf courses. Really.

Not me. If I had to pick a favorite animal–I might pick a wedge of geese flying through the sky right next to my window on a bright morning in April. I have to say this though: foie gras is amazing. I like the cruelty-free kind, of course, but still, even after I knew how it was achieved historically: yum. I hate that I can say that in the same post as a poem about geese and my defense of them. They are a symbol and dinner.

I just finished a book recently, by David Bollier, Viral Spiral: How the Commoners Built a Digital Republic of Their Own (2008). He’s got other books I want to read, too, and his blog is fine, indeed. I especially like this post on the first enclosure movement in Britain (December 2010)–which incidentally, not coincidentally, includes mention of resurrection men (body snatchers). One such man, Jerry Cruncher, is immortalized in Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities. It was a remarkable connection for me as I have written of this book before in the post, “Well… in Who-ville they say…; it’s one of those books. I considered not teaching it next spring (2012 Dickens’s bicentenary), but it’s back on the reading list now.

I’ve been reading about enclosure and ideas of property lately, some wonder-filled articles and books about being a commoner, about the open movement, the landed Victorian gentry, and copyleft–connecting my interest in writing, Victorian literature and culture, history, and even principles of management. Hard to believe it all comes together like that–but it’s partly my job, too. I’m supposed to be a reader, thinker, writer, weaver of knowledge tapestries.

Now, to be just a bit silly: isn’t enclosure what some wish to do to the geese? Ban them from the manicured parks and lawns, property held by a few? Wouldn’t want the unwashed masses trodding on and mucking up the enclosed precious parked-up land. Take away their common land? Not a problem. We have to live somewhere–might as well be in the places where the geese have historically migrated for ____ years… how long have geese been around anyhow?  About 10 million years?

I said it was silly. And it gets more silly before it gets less silly.

I know that geese are proliferating more than they have in the past because they do adapt to human habitats pretty well, and they can kill those of us humans who dare to fly–a goose in an airplane engine is a bad, bad thing. I also know there are geese eradication teams–death squads–who eliminate unwanted geese by assassinating them in various ways. I get it. They’re animals. And we eat them. I eat them. (The early food references make sense now, right?)

But in my life, they are also metaphors. And I get wrought up over metaphors.

So. Here’s the interesting part linking the poetry and the commons: as I was finishing Bollier’s book, I ended up re-reading the chapter on “Open Education and Learning” because at the very end of that chapter I read this, and it took my breath away:

“It is a measure of the movement’s idealism that Schmidt and Surman, the South African OER commoners, compare open education to ‘a flock of migratory geese, moving back and forth between North and South. The flock combines birds from all places. Each goose takes a turn leading the flock, taking the strain, and then handing over to their peers. The flock is not confined to just the North, or the South. It flourishes as a global movement’ (293).”

How is that NOT a sign that I’m doing the right thing? How is that not a sign that poetry, the commons, OER, and geese are all supposed to mean something to me? How is that not confirmation, yet again, that I’m in the right place, where I’m supposed to be, many places really, one of those being Writing Spaces, an OER?

Critics of Dickens often cite how much he relies on coincidence to move his plots forward. Okay, there’s a LOT of coincidence in a lot of his books. But there is in life as well. I could have never predicted these connections or sought them out. It just happened as I was living and working and thinking this year. My thing for poetry, my thing for geese, my thing for open, the commoners book–and all that, the quote, the movement forward… a migration, a journey. Yep. All about the signs.

I do believe in luck, in signs, in serendipity, and Serendipity (or Fate, or the Fates, if you want to get Greek about it and talk about destiny, too). I think Dickens got it more right than not. And while there seem to be coincidences, there are really no coincidences (wink, wink, nudge, nudge). But then, I love reading and teaching Dickens, and I’m open to that sort of thing. That’s no coincidence, is it?

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Filed under Almost Self-Indulgent Crap, Open Educational Resources, Victorians Everywhere

Oh no. I really did that, didn’t I?

I have being doing some things in my blog that might bother the web savvy. I’ll get to the details soon, but number one is that I don’t really care if anybody reads this. It’s for me. It’s my place to think and write when I need to get writing handled and get it out of my head and in a place that I can’t take back. It’s too easy as a writer to do a lot of writing and never share it for a variety of reasons. My issue is that I have to get the thinking out of my head, and I never did a really super fantastic good job of that before this blog. I tend to let ideas grow, but sometimes I will let them fester when I don’t do anything with them. (Such an ugly word but one that exactly explains what ideas do when they are left to rot in a mind. Okay, in my mind.)

Because the audience is me, I also haven’t done anything to promote the site, share with others, tell anyone it exists, get it on Reddit or Digg, or follow other blogs and get into the blogosphere (a relatively new word to my vocabulary) by developing relationships with other bloggers. You’ll notice my blogroll totals one other web site–it’s not even a blog. For now, I’m okay with that. But if I want to change my blogging experience, I know how. Here’s why…

I’m a participant in the ongoing creation and life of a really great open educational resource, Writing Spaces. And the folks at Writing Spaces are just about to bring to the world a terrific style guide on writing for the web. It was started by Charlie Lowe and Michael Day as a collaborative project for the Computers & Writing conference… well, it was part of an unconference associated with that conference. A writing sprint is really what it was, like a code sprint where open source software programmers/coders get together to make a bunch of code everyone needs. (Like I even knew what that meant before this unconference, but it sounds like it could be fun.)

So this sprint happened: a lot of writing professors and teachers and designers and web gurus and writers got together to write this guide over a few weeks. I dipped into it occasionally to see how the writing was going because I didn’t have much to say on the topic. I write like a writer for print, not a writer for the web. I write long blog posts (1200-2000+ words); I have all my links open into new windows (I really like that as a web user); I don’t mess around with code (or I didn’t until I read the guide–more on this later); I don’t tweak my own site much (though I took time off from being here in April and just now changed the template and included my art in the header–inspired by the guide). In truth, I do a lot of un-savvy things for a writer on the web. (Perhaps this makes me charming rather than annoying. Wouldn’t that be great? I can dream.)

The editors, Matt Barton, Jim Kalmbach, and Charlie Lowe, have done a really great job of managing to bring together a lot of writing by a lot of people: 16 people wrote this work. In not a lot of time. They had general categories they developed, then they all pitched in and wrote what they knew, what worked for them, what they taught their students, what they consulted with clients about, what was right and good. They live in Florida, Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, California, Michigan, Illinois, Minnesota and more. Some were at the conference in Ann Arbor, MI, but some couldn’t make it. Regardless, the writing mostly happened before the actual conference; the editing (a lot of work–and getting it all pretty for the web site must have taken hours) and copy editing (not so hard because the editors did so much) came after the conference. Very cool thing. I’ve been part of the commons, but not in something like this before.

At the first C&W conference I attended last year at Purdue, I decided I wanted to become more hip to the world of the web, so I committed to being open even before I was truly open and decided I’d let myself learn about all things online in any ways I could. I even graduated from a faculty development program at my school in teaching online last year (how on earth did I work that into my schedule?). But I just didn’t work much on understanding how words and space worked on the web. As I read through the finished text to copy edit, I did three things: 1) prayed to the web gods that I didn’t make any mistakes that would make my colleagues look bad; 2) desperately hoped that I would not do something awful to the code (because I don’t have many code skills… yet); and 3) marveled at everything I was learning. I took about twice as long to copy edit as I normally would have because I kept reading and getting distracted by links to sites I would browse around in and end up reading for awhile!

When this thing gets published later this week, I’ll put the link in here (on the word “here,” actually). But until then, let me say this: WOW! I know the difference between HTML and CSS. I created a web page and fooled around with CSS, too. I re-learned about content strategy and did these things: read a blog post by Steve Krause; played with an online color tool; thought deeply about how I wanted to use the guide in my summer WAC (writing across the curriculum) class; realized the web was more than the Encyclopedia of Arda and the few places I visit regularly. And I also learned these things: that I shouldn’t have my links open into new windows; that my posts should be shorter; that animated GIFs are no longer cool (thank goodness I never dreamed of doing that); that I should really get into Twitter (obviously, I could practice concision–something I really don’t do much of or very well); that one of the contributors likes Star Trek (“Damnit Jim” in a section title); that I should embed video in my site rather than link to it; that I should be kind to my readers with appropriate design; that I can do a lot more on the web and in this blog than I imagined.

Will I change my troubling ways because of this work? Not everything, not all at once, but I’m stunned to find that this post will be very close to 1,200 words, on the shortish side for me. I still made all my links open to new windows. (Perhaps that makes me a lovely but determined writer in transition rather than an obnoxious, stubborn Luddite. Okay, I’ll never do it in any other place than this blog. Fine.)

And to think, up until a few days ago, I was happy to write somewhere that was more accountable than my own desktop or a paper journal. I never have a pen when I need one anyway.

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Filed under Open Educational Resources, Open Everything, Open All the Time

OER: Like having a teacher in my pocket…

I’ve been reading grim statistics about college education. I am disheartened by the Thomas Hobbesian news. Are you?

But I’m an optimist, so my view of the future is Star Trekkian in nature. I believe it will all be okay, and that we all really want to be gentle with one another. However, I also know that’s not necessarily the case right this minute. I’m on the realism train right now, waiting for my transfer to the science fiction train. In the meantime…

You’ve probably heard of all the hikes in college costs even if you haven’t felt them personally. I’ve seen it at my institution and at those where many of my friends work: tuition increases up to 30% (or more) and reduction in faculty pay or no raises, or the cashiering of whole departments, both academic and administrative support. Goodbye, Mail Room, it’s been nice knowing you. We’ll miss you, Physical Plant, you were great (thanks for handling my heater crisis last winter; I hope I never have any problems with my 40-year old heater again). Ciao, Italian Department, I loved you so much; in bocca al lupo.

Casually looking online for information about college education and income and what the landscape is like these days, it has been easy to get blue. Good news is coming, though–I mean later in this post–so hang in there like you’re in a Great Depression soup kitchen line: there’s shelter and warm food ahead. But first some somber moments brought to you by the government and the New York Times. (It could be the case that everything has turned around in the last month or so because I’m hopelessly out of touch with the world in some ways… wouldn’t that be great? But it’s not likely.)

The short, brutish, nasty news that I dug up without really trying:

  • Only 57 percent of 1st time students seeking a bachelor’s degree at a 4-year institution at the beginning of this millennium finished in 6 years or less. [U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2010). The Condition of Education 2010 (NCES 2010-028), Indicator 21.]  (Took me nine years for a four-year degree in the last millennium. Just saying.)

Oh man.

  • Between 1998-99 and 2008-09, the cost of undergraduate college attendance (tuition, room, board) at public institutions rose 32 percent, and prices at private institutions rose 24 percent, after adjustment for inflation. [U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2010). Digest of Education Statistics, 2009 (NCES 2010-013), Chapter 3.]

Oh man.

  • Median household income in the U.S. actually fell from $51,295 in 1998 to $50,303 in 2008. [See this brief post at NYTimes.com or the U.S. Census Bureau Report issued in September 2009 on Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage.]

Oh man.

I beg your pardon, if my naivete is showing, but it looks like there’s a problem here.

Could there be any good news? I think there is. Folks are talking about college readiness, what that means, and how we can be sure students in high school have it, if they want it (or maybe despite them not wanting it), before they get to college. And some folks are talking about helping those under-prepared for college to get college-ready as soon as possible while they attend the first year or so of college, through summer bridge programs or developmental courses. All that’s good.

Standards are being talked about and written up (but that’s not so hard to do really: “learn this much… ah, there you go, you got it–check, done that–now move on”), and outcomes have been created for nearly everything imaginable. I really like outcomes and standards and rubrics and assessment; it’s good to get on the same page with other educators, with students, across a discipline, to have something to talk about using the same kinds of words and ideas to communicate (avoids the problem Cool Hand Luke had with the Captain: a failure to communicate). (But the “end” is only a start, right? Teaching to meet and exceed all expectations is important still, yes?) The Council of Writing Program Administrators did a wonderful job of developing outcomes for first-year writing, a statement that informs a whole lot of what I think about as a WPA, as someone involved with writing across the curriculum, as a teacher of upper division and graduate courses in my discipline (writing and literature, English studies is a fine name, maybe). The WPA outcomes are great stuff because they are forward thinking addressing what faculty can do beyond first year writing because becoming a writer is never over. We just open the door in freshman comp, students walk down the writing hallway forever after that. But the WPA folks are always doing this sort of thing: thinking about how to clarify what learning can be, how we can work together, bridge gaps, meet needs. So this is all fine, too.

But is that it? Even if it is (it’s not), I wouldn’t dream of giving up on the doing of college degree work of any kind. Some of it is better than nothing, and most of it is pretty great. Even a little can go a long way in changing a person’s life. But there’s a disconnect if so many students can’t get through it all.

For those who need extra support to get through college, there is hope. At least there is learning to be had that isn’t that expensive. For the price of a computer or time spent in a computer lab (if you’re already in college and have access to a university computer), one can get a LOT of really great learning experiences online. If only students knew where to look, so that those 43% who die on the vine at college might could maybe hopefully stick around and get something for their energy and investment. How could we help them? Hmmm. Oh, wait. There’s open educational resources (OER). Here’s the gist from a relatively old document (February 2007), a report to The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation (5):


The definition of OER varies a bit according to where you look (and 2007 as the date for this makes it long in the tooth by online standards), but this is fine with me (it’s the H of the Hewlett Packard…how off can these people be?). Creative Commons (see footnote) is a licensing entity that allows folks to understand a thing’s origins and intended uses: “Share, Remix, Reuse — Legally.” They actually define themselves this way (very sharp): “Creative Commons is a nonprofit organization that develops, supports, and stewards legal and technical infrastructure that maximizes digital creativity, sharing, and innovation.” They are all about intellectual property management. Just wow.

OER can be whole courses like those at MIT and other schools (over 200 universities around the world) like those who participate in the Open Courseware Consortium which are made available to anyone who can get access (accessibility is an issue for some, but OER visioneers are working on changing who and when and how access happens). Other groups impress me with how they are working to get educational materials into the hands of everyone (in no special order):

  • College Open Textbooks (an amazing place with loads of books… open–already yours; it was started by a huge group of folks including community colleges, nonprofit groups, funding organizations, government agencies and more–please go and see this. Writing Spaces: Readings on Writing, Vol. 1 is listed among English & Composition texts. Well done us.)
  • MERLOT: Multimedia Educational Resources for Learning and Online Teaching (get past the first page–it’s hard to read)
  • Connexions (at Rice University)
  • Next Generation Learning (I like this because: 1) it smacks of Star Trek; 2) they are looking at both secondary and post-secondary OER; 3) it’s so right–well, I want it to be so right–it’s really just beginning.)
  • Kahn Academy (I am taken by this OER–one guy started this–just began teaching math.)
  • AND check this out: P2PU. Peer 2 Peer University. Courses are FREE; all materials are openly available on the web; groups of peers come together to learn. Inconceivable. Well not really, but still, it had to be said. Scenario: I heard about Python the other day while listening to a Ted.com talk–I wished I knew more about it. Apparently, it’s a computer program of some kind. P2PU offers a course called, “Learn Python the Hard Way.” The leader is a biologist who has taught programming to 7th graders and believes it’s a skill and art as important to education as learning English and math. Well. Maybe I should take the class. I could if I wanted to: free.

You can learn a lot more from The Free to Learn Guide (there are ever so many more OER sites and creators and innovators in that document than I could intelligently list here–go, read, learn–for free). I’m overwhelmed by the choices available to me as an educator, as a student, as a life-long learner, but I am determined to embrace this OER thing in all aspects of my life (especially as a person responsible for nurturing one young life). I have never believed education should be limited to those who have easy access, so this is all the way down to the very end of my continuum of the right things to do. Do I want students in Singapore to use OER I might create and prosper because of it? I wish. My dreams come true. And in Zimbabwe. In Germany. In Romania. Anywhere. Anytime. And do I want teachers to improve upon what I do or do something fascinating with what I create that I couldn’t imagine alone? Yes. 1,000 times yes.

Community matters, collaboration matters, cooperation matters, communication matters, composition matters, creating citizens matters–all the Cs matter. (Alliteration matters. Of course. I’m was an English major for heaven’s sake.) Developing OER in sustainable ways so that communities of educated citizens of the world grow and prosper together, understand one another better, work well together to problem solve… well, who could be against that? Are you against world peace? I hope not.

Money matters, too. Students can be poor and still want to learn. I get that when I look at books that cost over $100 or into the $200 range. It’s so bad crazy to think a book I’d read once and over the course of  a few months is a third of what some people in the world make in a year. The disparity of it riles me. When I was an undergrad, I bought used books a lot, sold back my used books (at a fraction of what I paid, and then only read parts of them, or none of them–sigh). I remember scraping together money to buy more books I needed to learn whatever I needed to learn. Yuck. I dreaded the book buying each semester. Okay, I loved it. I love getting new books, but it was always expensive. OER texts for students is just one tiny reason this stuff is so great. Remember how 43% crash and burn in some way, and remember how the economy sucks? I’m taking a geography class this term and am lucky to have gotten a book from a friend for free, because it costs $150 at the bookstore. And while I’m employed at a university and can attend classes for free, $150 is still a lot of meals to give up to buy a book that I’m reading half of for the term. LOVE my class and my teacher, but $150 is also a pair of shoes, or a fabulous dinner out for my father and me, or half my airfare to visit my best friend 1,000 miles to the west. (By the way, I think every teacher needs to go back to school and take one class with a great teacher. It’s wild stuff to be in someone’s class at this point in my career as a student. I’m learning as much about teaching as I am about geographic information systems–I also have a writing assignment due soon that will be a blog post at some point, of course. I can’t wait. I have criteria; it rocks.)

But OER isn’t just about money, or about not having much money as a student, it’s also about creating a community of learners that isn’t restricted to those other 19, or 249, or 5 students in a class. It’s about all the students studying geography, history, Italian, or immunology. It’s about all teachers of whatever subjects are possibly taught anywhere anytime in any way finding a connection to each other, to learn together through curriculum, texts, and ideas that can be remixed, reused, and revised, and rewoven to teach, teach, teach.

And learn, learn, learn. Students who are struggling with math–go to Kahn Academy. Students who are struggling with writing–go to Writing Spaces. Students who are struggling with understanding cash flow statements–go to MERLOT. Students who are struggling with Immanuel Kant’s view of the mind and the consciousness of self–go to the Stanford University Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Students who need to know programming and don’t: P2PU. It’s all like having a teacher in your pocket.

It’s joyful for me to contemplate how I am mixed up in all this in a small way through Writing Spaces. I already see how it, and OER in general, is changing the way I teach, how I think about collaboration, curriculum development, textbooks, learning, and digital stuff/new media/whatever you want to call it all. How I think is changing.

OER is a concept that could literally change the world; it’s like having a teacher in my pocket. Whenever I want to learn about anything, I just ask. That is so Star Trek.

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Filed under Open Educational Resources, Open Everything, Open All the Time