OER Digest – March 3rd, 2016

By Ethan Senack, Student PIRGs | Volume 9 | March 3rd, 2016
With help from Bo Donoghue, Nicole Allen, and Reg Leichty

Your tip sheet for U.S. OER updates, opportunities, and reminders

FULL STEAM AHEAD: Last week, the U.S. Department of Education organized the #GoOpen Exchange, a gathering of state and district leaders, technology companies, and non-profit organizations about helping educators transition to using openly-licensed educational resources. The Department announced that 13 states and 40 districts have made commitments to #GoOpen through expanding the use of OER, a leap forward since the campaign launched this fall. The event included numerous workshops, live technology demos from companies including Amazon and Microsoft, two speakers from the White House who articulated a strong message of support for OER, and a remote conversation with Acting Ed Secretary John King. The Department plans to continue seeking #GoOpen commitments from other states and districts throughout the coming year.  Check out the twitterstream on #GoOpen for more details on the event.

: Last week the White House also announced a project entitled Open eBooks, which provides a new smartphone app for low income children to access a library of free ebooks. Despite what the project name implies, the ebooks are not open, but instead are donated on a limited basis by publishers (we are told the project’s name originated with the app’s use of open source technology). While the project is admirable for promoting reading among low income children, its equivocal use of “open” and proximity to the #GoOpen announcement has caused much confusion. Advocates are encouraging members of the OER community to keep the two projects separate, and redouble our efforts to effectively communicate why “open” is more than “free.”

FULL HOUSE IN THE HOUSE: More than 50 people turned out for a Congressional Briefing on open education this week, sponsored by SPARC, CCSSO, COSN, and SETDA. At least 25 House and Senate offices were represented. Congressman Jared Polis kicked off the briefing, emphasizing the potential for OER and technology to vastly improve access to learning materials. CC-US posted a few photos here>

CHAMPS ON THE HILL: This week, a coalition of national organizations wrote a letter to Senators Hatch (R-UT) and Baldwin (D-WI), as well as Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO), thanking them for including OER among the allowable uses of the new Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grant (SSAEG) program, which was created by the Every Student Succeeds Act. Thanks to their hard work, States and school districts will be able to use SSAEG funding to support a transition to digital learning, including investing in high quality openly licensed materials an tools.  The letter also urged them to ask the Senate and House Appropriations Committees to fully fund the SSAEG program in the upcoming budget.

LIBERATING, ISN’T IT: Earlier this month, learning platform Skyepack announced the launch of the Textbook Liberation Fund, a $500,000 grant program aimed to support faculty that undertake efforts to reduce the cost of the course materials in their courses – including OER. Members of the open community have reached out and started a dialogue with them about ways to better incorporate open licensing and be involved in the open movement.

BUILDING THE CASE: A new article by BYU Professor John Hilton looks at the effects of OER on student performance. In his own words: “Across sixteen different higher education studies involving over 50,000 students and faculty, the consistent findings were that (1) students who use OER tend to do as well or better than their peers, and (2) in general, a large majority of both faculty and students perceive that OER has the same or higher quality than traditional textbooks.”

ELUSIVE NO LONGER?: Bipartisan legislation was introduced in both chambers of Congress to make reports published by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) available online to the public. These reports are written for members of Congress to brief them on a wide range of topics. While technically in the US public domain because they are created by federal employees, these reports are notoriously difficult to get ahold of without either contacting a member of Congress or using a paid subscription service such as Lexis Nexis. The new legislation seeks to ensure that these reports are published freely online, so they can be used by schools, libraries, think tanks, businesses and the public.

RARE COOPERATION: In another surprising moment of cooperation on Capitol Hill, it’s looking pretty likely that the Senate HELP committee will consider – and vote on – the nomination of Acting Secretary of Education John King. That meeting is expected to happen on March 9th.

IT’S TIME: Next week is Open Education Week (March 7-11). My quick math shows over 100 events registered so far on the official site: www.openeducationweek.org/. Share your work and the reasons you support open education next week using #openeducationwk!

It’s Thursday, March 3rd
. Ethan Senack here. It’s been a busy month in Open Education! Don’t forget to send tips, updates, opportunities, and feedback to @HigherEdPIRG or esenack@pirg.org. Also, want your colleagues or friends to get the Digest? Send them this link: http://bit.ly/get-the-oer-digest


A brief snapshot of those making change on the ground level, and those most impacted

WE’RE HEATING UP:  I took a quick skim on recent campus news stories about open textbooks, and discovered something exciting. Even outside of schools where national groups are organizing, student governments (and students running for student government) have been going to bat hard for open textbooks and open education. I found student government bills and potential policies at nine schools, just in the last week or so.

  • From Ithaca College, whose student government just passed legislation supporting OER, a great quote from a PIRG alum! “For [faculty], it gives them the opportunity to teach the course as they see fit and then to adjust the textbook,” she said. “That’s what a textbook should be. A textbook should be a tool to help teach. It shouldn’t be the actual method of teaching.” Read more>
  • From William and Mary: “This was a resolution in support of Open Educational Resource textbooks as an option for both professors and students to decrease the financial burden that is placed increasingly on students in textbook costs,” O’Dea said. “This is something that the College and absolutely the Student Assembly should get behind and I think the student body will support this bill.” Read more>
  • From Santa Barbara City College: “I would be ecstatic if the school adopted such an amazing [open textbook] program,” said Dakota Cortez, a biology major at City College. “I work two jobs and take 14 units, so whenever textbook season rolls around my wallet dreads it.” Read More>

Want your story featured? Email it to esenack@pirg.org.

Interesting Reads on Education and Open

The Real Value of What Students Do in College | Robert Shireman
http://bit.ly/1TVDAMJ (an interesting take on the value of student engagement)

Survey Confirms Widespread Technology Use in Early Ed | Teaching Strategies

Never Judge a Book by its Cover | Brookings Institute
http://brook.gs/1pphgzM (an analysis on textbook efficacy)

Are Open Textbooks the Cheaper Solution College Students Need? | NBC News

The Reason for the Rise: College Textbook Prices | GOOD Magazine

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