Wednesday, July 7, 2010

OER Final Project - Aggregation

Taking some direction from concepts I learned in this class, I have decided to slightly remix this assignment. Finding OERs for my topic was not always easy and there were some fantastic resources which I could not use due to the fact that they were not open. In some cases (one in particular) I choose to fudge this a bit to demonstrate how difficult it is to know what you can use and what you cannot.

The topic I choose to build my aggregation around was the Bechamel Sauce. Based on the resources I found and the direction my search took me in, I built the aggregation around the concept map below:

Cooking is an interesting topic when searching for OERs. It is strange that there are not more available since cooking is all about sharing, remixing, and mashups. In cooking we are often encouraged to take a basic recipe and make it our own which sounds just like the concept of remixing. We are also often shown that a great test for a chef is a black box challenge similar to what we see on the popular TV show Iron Chef. These challenges often display how using the same ingredients can result in very different products, similar to a mashup.

Although recipes themselves can be copyrighted it is difficult to enforce this. Lists can not be copyrighted so lists of ingredients are up for grabs. What can be copyrighted is how you describe the process. While you cannot copy a recipe word for word from a cookbook it is common for food bloggers to take a dish they ate at a restaurant and attempt to recreate it. Credit for inspiration is usually given to the restaurant or chef who created the original dish as in this example from the food blog The Amateur Gourmet.

Here is the link to my aggregation. I used the site for the first time and I really liked it for the most part. I found it easy to use and easy to organize. What I didn't like was that I could not figure out if I could put more than one resource on one page and it is not great for displaying some websites like Flickr or Twitter Search. The Twitter Search site is understandable as it is a real-time list and you would want to go to the site each time to renew the search. It would have been nice if the Flickr page had loaded so the viewer could see the picture in the binder.

Site Terms of Use

  1. Free Culinary School - This site did not have a specific copyright or a terms of use policy listed. Based on the About page I believe that if it was licensed it would be under something like the Creative Commons (CC) Attribution-Noncommercial license. I linked to this podcast but I would not attempt to use it for a class or reuse any of the materials without first consulting with the owner of the site.
  2. Wikipedia - All Wikipedia resources used are licensed under the CC Attribution - Share Alike 3.0 license.
  3. Food Lorist - The Food Lorist blog is licensed under the CC Attribution - NonCommercial - NoDerivs 3.0 license. I am allowed to share this work, but I must attribute it to the author and I must not use it for commercial purposes. I would not be able to use this resource in a class for which I, or any institution, was charging money without first obtaining permission from the author.
  4. Flickr photo Bechamel (1) - CC Attribution 2.0 Generic. I can share and remix this photo, but I must provide attribution.
  5. Flickr photo Bechamel (2) - CC Attribution - NonCommercial - NoDerivs 2.0 Generic
  6. Flickr photo Chicken Crepes - CC Attribution - NonCommercial - NoDerivs 2.0 Generic
  7. Flickr photo Hot Brown - CC Attribution - NonCommercial 2.0 Generic, so I can share and remix this photo but with attributing the photographer and not for commercial purposes.
  8. Furey and the Feast - Cynathia Furey's blog is licensed with a CC Attribution - NonCommercial - NoDerivs 3.0 United States license. As far as I can tell from the CC website the US license just means that the CC License also works within US copyright laws.
  9. Flickr photo Croque Madame - CC Attribution - NonCommercial NoDerivs 2.0 Generic
  10. Ms Glaze's Pomme d' Amour - CC Attribution - NonCommercial - ShareAlike 3.0 Updated. I am free to share and remix if I attribute to MsGlaze and do not use the work for commercial purposes.
  11. Our Life in the Kitchen - CC Attribution - NonCommercial - NoDerivs 3.0 US
  12. What the Fruitcake?! - CC Attribution - NonCommercial - NoDerivs 3.0 Unported
  13. Flickr photo Croquetas - All photos in this series are CC Attribution - NonCommercial - NoDerivs 2.0 Generic
  14. Hill's Kitchen - CC Attribution 3.0 Unported
  15. PBS - This web resource is NOT an OER but I included it because it was my original inspiration for this topic and because it gives the appearance of being open. The video has buttons allowing the user to embed the video on a website and to share the resource through social media or email. This always bugs me because the tools provided indicate the video is free to use which it is not. As well the Terms of Use page is confusing. PBS has clear instructions on what you can do with a podcast, but not with a video.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Learning Objects on Shmoop

For my Learning Object report I choose the website Shmoop. My reasons for doing so are purely selfish. I have been meaning to take a closer look at the website for a while and have not had time to do so. I was primarily interested in the Literature resources they offered. I don't work with any programs which offer a lit course but I do enjoy poetry and prose. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to take a closer look.

What is Shmoop?

Shmoop is a website which promises to make you a "better lover of literature, history, life..." (Shmoop homepage). The student resources are broken down into 9 categories: literature, poetry, Shakespeare, bestsellers, US history, civics, biographies, and AP exams. With the exception of AP exams, each of these categories offer free study resources for students at the high school and undergraduate level. All study guides are written by people hired by Shmoop University Inc. and most of the writers are teachers and graduate students.

The idea behind Shmoop is to make topics in subjects like literature, civics and history palatable to the 21st century learner. The study guide I viewed on The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock breaks the poem down stanza by stanza and explains it in a breezy, easy to understand style. This study guide includes web resources and study questions. Each study guide also includes a section called Why Should I Care which points out the cultural relevance of each work studied.

Open or not?

Our project parameters did not stipulate whether the Learning Object project had to be open or not. In an earlier post I defined open as an object which is easily available, freely usable, and customizable.

Shmoop is easily available. Most resources can be viewed without an account on their website. They also have study guides available through iPhone, Kindle, B&N Nook, and the Sony Reader. These mobile resources are not free however. At the time of writing, units from Shmoop cost $1.99 each on iTunes.

Resources from Shmoop are not freely usable both in terms of cost and copyright. Although the Shmoop Teacher Resource How to Use Shmoop page suggests teachers can freely copy assignments and activities into their own webpages (using copy and paste or HTML code provided by Shmoop) the Terms of Use page paints a different story. Under section VI User Conduct and Licenses to Use Shmoop Services it states:

"User may download copyrighted material for personal use only, unless User obtains express permission in writing from an authorized Shmoop University, Inc. representative, and the copyright owner, to download copyrighted material for other uses. Thus, except as otherwise expressly permitted under copyright law, User may not copy, redistribute, retransmit, publish or commercially exploit downloaded material without express permission in writing of Shmoop and the copyright owner." (Section VI of Terms of Use Shmoop)

In the US teachers would be allowed to copy and paste information from the website under Fair Use. In Canada and other countries this is not the case. I expect that it would be easy to obtain permission from Shmoop to use content in this manner since they seem to encourage it.

Shmoop also does not allow alteration of their content. It is use-as-is content. This means that they do not meet my criteria of open in terms of customization.

Shmoop maybe easy and cheap to use but it is not open.

Where is Shmoop now?

Shmoop is still in Beta mode so it is still being tested. To gain user feedback Shmoop offers a suggestions link which takes the user to a page where they can rant, rave and request. Users can also vote on ideas they like. The page categorizes ideas based on popularity, and allows users to see which ideas Shmoop is working on and which ones are completed.

An interview with the President and CEO of Shmoop, Ellen Siminoff, explains that the site makes money through advertising and sales of exams, teacher resources, ebooks and apps (transcribed interview). Because Shmoop charges for their apps as long as people are using the apps they should keep making money.

Prognosis for Future

I see no reason why Shmoop might fail in the near future. They collaborate with their Beta users through an interactive suggestions page, Facebook, Twitter and a blog. They have a system to make money for the company. Siminoff has stated that Shmoop is close to actually making money and she doesn't see an immediate need to spend in the near future (transcribed interview).

I am not sure how useful this site is outside of the US though. Many of the video clips I tried to view are not available outside of the US which is a problem for international users. The language and cultural references used are also specific to a western audience. I expect there could also be arguments made which narrow this audience even further demographically. There is also the fact that their entire history and civics sections are about the US alone. I expect their target market is the US student though.

Although they are not an open initiative Shmoop seems to share some of the same ideals. They are passionate about their subject matter and attempt to make it accessible (at least intellectually) to many in the US and Canada. If they focus on the subjects they already cover and continue to develop and offer mobile services I see no reason for them to fail.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Library Critique

This week we were asked to look at a library website and determine whether the library under review is a repository or a referactory. If we define repository and referactory in the same way as in in the Educause report we read then my institution's library is a repository.

The Northern Lakes College Library offers a traditional library search engine, learning guides / tutorials for students, a database of electronic resource, and a collection of web resources organized by topics. Although the site does not have any terms of service laid out like we saw in Schalk's example, I believe these issues are meant to be understood. The college has a standard plagiarism policy and copyright in Canada is covered widely on the library's Moodle site accessible to college staff and students.

I think you could have a library that was both a repository and referactory. I am sure I have seen examples of this as well although they escape me at the moment. I wonder if a library as referactory is taking away from the classes offered at an institution. From the articles we read I understood what differentiates a referactory from repository is that the former offers guidelines on how to use a resource. If this is true then doesn't that restrict how it is used within the context of a course? Are we back to the reusibility paradox or am I missing something?

Friday, May 14, 2010

Reuse of Educational Objects

This week we looked at the Reusability Paradox. Basically this paradox explains that educational resources become more valuable pedagogically the more context they have, but the greater the context the less it is possible to reuse those resources. The greater the context surrounding an object the less likely it is to use that object in another context.

I looked one evening at three institutions who offer open content for courses to see how the content was being reused. I searched using a backwards link search in Google's advanced search function. The institutions I looked at were Capliano College (Canada), UC Berkley (USA), and The Open University (UK). I looked at a variety of different courses offered.

The most common form of reuse I found was a simple listing on a resource based webpage. For example, I searched some art courses at Caplilano and found this page listing many online art courses for free. I found one course which had a specific recommendation on a blog for a webclass offered at UC Berkley. I had an interesting find which I am not sure would count as reuse. When doing a link back for a course offered through The Open University I found a link to an article written in the OU's newsletter with an add linking back to the course I was searching. I thought this was a nice form of advertising. The topic of the article related to the course offered. Is this reuses though?

All in all my results were fairly disappointing. I really thought I would find more examples, especially recommendations on blogs.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Learning Objects and OERs

Learning objects are something I don't know very much about. The first time I heard the term learning object (LO) I remember picturing a 3 dimensional object in virtual space and I couldn't figure out how you would use it for learning.

I think the name is part of the problem with LOs. What constitutes a LO? Is it a lesson, a set of exercises, or an entire unit of learning? The name learning object doesn't really tell you much about what it is and there doesn't seem to be a clear definition of what LOs are in learning communities. As I mentioned in a previous post this also is the case with OERs.

Another feature OERs and LOs share is the fact that both are spread-out all over the place. There are a few repositories of LOs and OERs but there are many out there which are difficult to find.

Answering the question regarding critical success factors to open initiatives is difficult. The issues I mentioned above while possibly contributing to the lack of success in LOs are also important in maintaining flexibility in open initiatives. While a clear definition would help in identifying what an OER is it would also limit what is considered to be an OER, so I believe it is important to maintain a broad definition. Collecting all OERs to one location would also be extremely limiting. If everything is kept in one location the potential exists for stagnation of ideas. These are both issues of control and freedom.

One advantage OERs have is the potential for customization and I think this is where the secret to success lies. The ability to take a resource and change it to suit your needs while keeping the original intact is a vital step in encouraging the growth of ideas while maintaining a map of where ideas came from.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Too Many Levels?

Our reflection question this week regards copyright licenses - are there too many levels. In Creative Commons (CC) alone there are 6 license types available on their license page. There is also confusion about what the terms mean within those license types. Non-commercial is a good example of this. Many of our readings/viewings this week mentioned the confusion surrounding non-commercial.

On the CC FAQ page non-commercial is describes as the restriction of works which are "primarily intended for or directed toward commercial advantage or private monetary compensation". CC goes on to explain that judging whether something is commercial or non-commercial will depend on both the situation and intention of the user. This makes the definition wide open for interpretation which could lead to some tricky situations. The FAQ page suggests that if you are unsure if your use is commercial or non-commercial you should contact the license holder to see how they would interpret the use.

In the reading by David Wiley a future is imagined where the non-commercial part of the CC license brings about lawsuits because of interpretation. Eventually the non-commercial part is taken out and the issue is solved. Is this solution too optimistic? Would the actual reality be more complicated?

Confusion abounds in the copyright issue. What constitutes fair dealing or fair use? In the USA educational use of works is covered under fair use. In Canada (where I live) this is not the case. Fair dealing in Canada does not pertain to education. If I wanted to show a video in my class for educational purposes I would have to write to the copyright holder for permission. I found a rather handy quick guide on some of the differences at the Concordia University Library website. In Canada educational institutions must belong to collectives like Access Copyright in order to make copies of works for classes. As we read in class this week Access is raising its rates significantly which will raise issues for the next academic year.

At the very least all of the different options available make it difficult to navigate what you can use and what you can't. It might be simpler to have just copyright and public domain, but with copyright laws differing so much from country to country it would still be pretty complicated.

Different licensing options like those offered by CC offer an alternative to restrictive and obsolete copyright laws. It might not be the perfect alternative but I think we can look at it as a healthy step along the way to copyright reform. I am hoping for the evolution of the marketplace to new types of copyright which allow for the protection of both the producer and the consumer.

Interestingly, on my way home from work today I heard a podcast interview on the TVO show Search Engine regarding some thoughts on the future of Fair Dealings in Canada. You can listen here if you are interested.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

What Does it Mean to be an OER?

All three of the terms open, educational and resource seem to be difficult to define to anyone's satisfaction. I believe this is because to a certain extent all three of these terms have a different meaning to everyone

What does it mean to be open?

To say something is open might mean that it is freely available or it might mean for a small fee you can use that something and have knowledge about how it was created. Each of the articles we read as well as the video we watched delved into the concept of what it means to be open a great deal and all agreed clarification is needed. In the Tuomi article three levels of social openness were described which leads me to believe that some things can be more open than others. In my mind to be open something must be easily available, freely usable, and customizable.

What does it mean to say something is educational?
This question always leads to the formal verses informal education debate. It is not really fair to say that only things created at an educational institution or with the purpose of education are educational. Informal learning occurs all the time and because it is personally relevant may have more of an impact on the learner. My definition of education is any situation from which a person learns. This is probably way to broad for the purposes of defining an OER, but I do think it is something which is personal and should not be confined to formal learning.

What is a resource?

I don't really want to limit resources to tools or digital assets. I think resources can include people, places (eg. a library) and things. I was wondering if an experience could also be a resource, but I think a resource might need to be more solid. A picture of an experience could be a resource because it is something tangible you could refer to again. My definition of a resource would be an object or asset which can be used for a particular purpose. The resource would not have to be created with learning in mind in order for it to be educational though.

My definition of an OER

According to what I have written above an OER must be an easily available, freely usable and customizable object or asset which can be used formally or informally to learn. I view the open part of the definition to be most crucial however. If something is open on all three of the levels discussed in the Tuomi article it wouldn't matter if it was intended to be educational or a resource. It could still be viewed as an OER by the user as long as they had open access to it.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Cape Town and Budapest Declarations

For week one of the Open Educational Resources course we were asked to read both the Cape Town and Budapest Declarations and sign them if we agreed. I signed both of them.

I agree strongly with the statements made in both. The Budapest Declaration makes the point that freely sharing ideas for the "sake of inquiry and knowledge" is an old tradition. I believe this is what has allowed our collective knowledge evolve over time.

Limiting access to ideas only limits how these ideas change over time. I suppose that is why access to ideas was limited - to limit the changes to that idea. An idea is the property of the idea holder however that idea came from the idea holder's exposure to other ideas. How could it not? So, to say that an idea should remain static is ridiculous.

The point of documents like these is to raise awareness about the free sharing of ideas. I really liked that both documents gave suggestions for action. Even if changes at the institutional level are a long time coming documents like these at least have people thinking about change.

We are using Angel as our course management software in this class. Using any CMS is in direct opposition to what the Cape Town and Budapest declaration support. We are closing off our ideas and discussions when we should be opening them up.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Challenges to Mobile Learning

In many ways mobile learning would be a good fit for the learning institution I work for. We are a small college whose mandate is to bring education to isolated communities in Northern Alberta. As you can imagine our service region is quite spread out and we have instructors working as far away as Ontario. However there are some significant challenges this institution would have to overcome before initiating an M Learning program. Three of these challenges are a lack of infrastructure available in some of our servicing regions, financial barriers of our student demographic, and a lack of buy-in from faculty.

Challenge 1
According to the Northern Lakes College website, the service region covered is "in excess of 163,000 square kilometers"( As you can see from the map provided the campuses are quite spread out and in many cases in fairly remote areas. Cell coverage is quite spotty in many of our communities and internet is often limited to dial up or satellite. Dial up internet is extremely slow and satellite is contingent on weather and quite costly. M Learning would often depend upon one or the other of these.

A clear cut way to overcome the lack of service availability is to provide access points for students to downloading content to work with offline. A student could download their content for the week while attending an online session for example. Lectures could be created as a podcast if students were unable to attend virtually because of lack of service.

Challenge 2
Aside from the barrier of distance, our students often choose our institution because of the financial burden involved in going away to school. Many of our students have families to take care of. It is difficult for them to move away from their communities. Going to school away from home requires money they do not have. Creating an M Learning program may increase this financial strain. If students are expected to pay for a device to use as well as service to the device school will become more costly than it already is.

The cost barrier faced by our students could be solved by the college providing devices for use in specific classes. One of the programs I work with has recently instituted a laptop program which allows continuous access to one laptop per student for the duration of the program. So far it has been fairly successful; however it is quite a strain on our already overworked IT department.

Challenge 3
Another challenge comes from faculty not buying into the idea of M Learning. Part of the problem is that many of our students receive funding from different agencies. Many of those agencies have very specific attendance policies which have not caught up with a model that follow learning on the go. Because of this many faculty members see no point in creating such resources because they will not be properly utilized. We do have quite a few courses on Moodle with the idea that students can access they course content/resources from home and we do conduct many classes through an online meeting software from Saba called Centra. Saba has recently released a free iPhone app for Centra which is one step towards M Learning, however my institution does not have the correct version for the use of this app.

The challenge that will be the most difficult to overcome is the one of lack of buy in. It is difficult to convince someone who sees little to no value in a tool of its usefulness. It just seems to be the case that most of our faculty do not have a lot of experience with different technologies. Maybe an increase in PD spent on technology in the classroom would help but then we would still have to convince the administration. Unfortunately all of this takes money which is in relatively short supply. I think our best course of action is to continue as we have done before, pushing little by little and eventually M Learning will stop being a radical idea.

Although there are many challenges to implementing an M learning program I don't think it is impossible. My particular institution just needs some time to catch up to the technology. We have made a good start with our small laptop project and transferring course content to Moodle. I am excited to see where we go from here.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Autonomy vs Control

In designing and developing learning materials for mobile devices there are a number of different points to consider. What kind of access is available to students? What service providers or data plans are available to the student? Are the students familiar with mobile devices and are they comfortable working with them? Who has control over the choice of mobile device and data plan? Should this be the domain of the institution or the student? All of these questions address the larger issue of institutional control verses learner autonomy.

Institutional Choice

If a particular institution is going to be providing devices to the learner they have control over what types of devices are used as well as what data plan is chosen. The institution could choose to go with one particular device or a select few. In a model like this the designer can be sure that all learners will have access to the same device capabilities. The designer can create learning materials that work on that particular device and have a relatively good idea of how the materials will look to the learner. The designer can also know what the limits of the data plan are and be sure to design materials which will not exceed those limits.

Another benefit to this model is increased support for the learner. The learner will not have to spend their time and money choosing their own device or plan as it is already done for them. They will also not have to worry about any problems that arise with the device as the institution will most likely have tech support available for situations like this as well as reserve replacement devices.

Learner Choice

If learners are free to choose their own device and plan institutions lose control. Designers will not know what type of device they are designing for or if their design will even work on the device that a student chooses. Another consideration is that of familiarity with mobile technology. This model assumes that each learner has a mobile device that they are familiar with. What if that is not the case? The learner would then be forced to not only choose a device and appropriate plan but also to familiarize themselves with the platform.

One of the advantages seen in m-learning is the ability to personalize the learning experience. In the article Mobile Learning in Higher Education: Multiple Connections in Customized Learning Spaces, author Ruth Renard discusses the ability of m-learning to allow students to customize their own learning experience (2008). The idea is that each student will be able to use their own device and software to increase learner independence as well as reinforce learning through each learners own preferred learning style (2008). How can learners truly personalize their learning if they are not given the opportunity to have a choice in what type of mobile device they use?

Autonomy vs Control

The problem of devices comes down to autonomy vs control. Institutions require a certain amount of control in order to ensure quality learning materials for the learners. However the learners might do better with greater autonomy. If we are designing learning materials for m-learning it might be better to use a more learner autonomy pedagogy such as constructivism or connectivism. The designer could provide some basic starting points but leave the learners to determine what type of content to access and how to present and share ideas. It would be similar to the course we are currently taking where we as learners, are free to use whatever tools we want to access and create course content with a bit of support from our instructor and the institution.


Renard, R. (2008). Mobile Learning in Higher Education: Multiple connections in customized learning spaces. Campus Technology. Retrieved from