September 28, 2007

Some wonderful news: During our closing session at David Wiley's Conference at Utah State today a senior official from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation announced that ADA-compliance will be a feature of Yale University's eagerly-anticipated Open Education Pilot Project release of three full undergraduate courses in its forthcoming Video Lecture Series. Yale's move is another high-water mark for both that great University and the rapidly maturing Open Education Resources (OER) movement. These new top-notch academic resources from Yale will be the first major release of OER by a highly-respected U.S. University that can be used immediately by public and publicly-supported educational institutions in the United States, such as community colleges, without risk or fear of incurring costly violations under the ADA. By releasing the materials in a more legally useful format, Yale is about to make the biggest contribution yet to the growing global movement to improve the quality of teaching and learning and increase access to cutting edge educational opportunities.

September 26, 2007

These days, it often seems that the only time I can find time to update my blog is when I'm on the road. That's the case this time, anyway. Such is life with a rambunctious, engaging almost three-year old in the house. To be honest, the truth is most days when I do have extra time I'd much rather play with her...

No chance of that today. :(

So I'm catching up now, instead, from my cozy and very brown room in the University Inn on the campus of Utah State, in beautiful, bucolic Logan, Utah, where I'm taking part in the annual meeting of both the OpenCourseWare Consortium, led by a remarkable young leader I just met, John Dehlin, and the Center for Open and Sustainable Learning (COSL), which is led by the equally indispensable David Wiley. The week-long meetings are what Susan D'Antoni, who leads the Virtual Institute at UNESCO, calls the "annual meeting of our global Open Education Resources family." Unfortunately, Susan couldn't make it this year (I missed you!), but we did get to hear her presentation nonetheless, thanks to David's remarkable channeling skills.

It's quite nice, inspiring even, to re-connect with the many attendees I know from previous years, some of whom have come from very great distances. It's also great to see so many new faces. Our little tribe is growing. Unfortunately, though, I missed the bus for dinner tonite - skyping myself blue - so it's as good a time as any to write the blog update I've been putting off. Here's some of what's been on my plate recently, starting with the bad news I really didn't want to report.

Assembly Bill 577, authored by Assemblyman Ira Ruskin, did not make it out of the California state Senate Appropriations Committee this year, even though it was by far the best new idea the state legislature considered in 2007. By the way, I should also note that this important news has not yet been reported anywhere else as far as I can tell. Such is the sorry state of journalism in our state. But that's a topic for another day.

Ira did a fine and very admirable job of stewarding his innovative bill out of the state Assembly where it sailed thru passage with a unanimous vote. He also skillfully maneuvered it out of the state Senate Education Committee, where others said we might get stuck. Instead, Ira picked up a few more co-authors from that important committee. But somehow, for reasons I still don't fully understand, the bill got hung up at the next step, Appropriations, and in the frenzy of the legislature's closing days, it died, at least for this year.

It's a pity. There is no new program I know of that the state of California will spend money on next year that will yield a larger multiplier effect, dollar for dollar, than would the support called for in Ruskin's A.B. 577, which would have enhanced teaching and learning outcomes in the state's public system of higher education by cultivating and using free, high-quality open educational resources, including as free textbook substitutes. When I talked to an equally disappointed Assemblyman Ruskin recently, Ira pledged to keep up the good fight, introduce the bill again next year, and keep pushing until it lands squarely on Governor Schwarzenegger's desk, where he's sure to sign it once he understands how our state government can get more bang for its educational buck.

All in all, though, the failure to pass A.B. 577 this year was pretty disappointing given the time and effort I put in, and encouraged others to put in, only to come up empty. But Ira reminds me that we did make some progress this year which should improve our prospects for next year. Likewise, we'll have another advantage next year, in the form of a formal budget change proposal from the community college system's office, which will make the bill an official request of the entire California state community college system rather than just a request from one legislator backed by a dozen or so college districts. So, while politics is politics and anything can happen, it does look like we'll have a better shot next year. Of course, I had so much hoped our state government would move more quickly to take advantage of this no-brainer opportunity to help students and save money, as the state of Utah has already begun to do. Silly me.

Meanwhile, on the larger related subject of Open Education Resources (OER), or what I used to call Public Domain Learning Materials, I'm here in outrageously scenic Utah doing what I can do to deliver what is some pretty unsettling news for many of the attendees, to wit, that most of the OER produced and released to date by higher education institutions in the United States cannot be legally used in classrooms by public or publicly-supported higher education institutions in the United States because the materials were, in most cases, not released in formats that comply with the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Federal Rehabilitation Act. Carrying that message into a gathering of the world's leading producers of OER is a bit like being the skunk at a picnic. Nonetheless, it's a message that simply had to be delivered, and one of the key conclusions of my own research into the slow adoption of OER by public institutions. The sustainability related consequences of the widespread failure of the OER movement to comply with, or often even consider, the requirements of U.S. laws pertaining to disabled students is something many participants in the OER movement are just now beginning to contemplate.

Unfortunately, I think this problem may be related, at least in part, to the sociology of the open education resources movement itself, which has some of its intellectual tap roots in Larry Lessig's popular and well-aimed battle to reform intellectual property laws. That crusade in turned spawned Creative Commons, which the open education resources movement depends on. Fixated on the fascinating and important intellectual property issues raised by Larry, many of us, myself included, initially overlooked another somewhat more mundane legal barrier to the adoption of open education resources that has turned out to be even more significant, in a practical sense, than our original concerns around intellectual property. Fortunately, though, the need to create OER that complies with the federally guaranteed rights of the disabled, and the inability of public institutions to legally use materials that don't comply with those laws, was front and center at this year's conference. So the OER/OCW battleship may be beginning to make the turn toward accessibility that is required. I hope so. The best take on this I heard came from Ahrash Bissell, who is leading ccLearn, Creative Commons's new initiative in the education space. Ahrash gave a wonderful talk at the conference that also noted the problems I mentioned above, along with some others, and then put them in their proper perspective. "All this means is that it's time for OER 2.0," he said. I like the way he thinks. You make a mistake, you fix it, and you move on.

In other news, my newest creative venture is finally funded and is currently in development. Some of you know what I'm talking about as it's kind of an open secret in some circles now, while others will learn more about it when we roll it out in just a few more months, with any luck. I'm more excited about this new media-related venture than anything I've ever created or helped create. It's fun to have another chance to try to make a positive contribution to our culture in a new way. And also fun to get to know new collaborators, both in Chicago, and on the development team in Pune, India. So it's good to finally have all that moving forward and, for those of you who don't have any idea what I'm talking about, please continue to watch this space.

1) How will the OpenCourseWare movement sustain itself over the long-term without dramatically increased participation by public sector higher education institutions in the United States?

2) If the OpenCourseWare movement has two possible paths to sustainability to consider, and one involves a deep relationship with the formal public higher education system in the United States -- and one does not -- which of those two approaches is more likely to succeed?

3) How will the OpenCourseWare movement form a deep relationship with the public sector higher education system in the United States if it does not concern itself with the laws under which those schools must operate, most notably, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Federal Rehabilitation Act?