Monthly Archives: August 2015

Open Textbooks

Books

The promise of open textbooks has been around for a while now. The promise includes textbooks that are written specifically for the needs of K-12. These books would also be available at either no cost or a very low cost (if printed). These books would leverage the contributions of great teachers around the country (or world). By everyone doing a little, great work would be available. These resources are frequently referred to as OER (Open Educational Resources).

There has been some work done. College seems to be ahead of K-12 so far. (Though given what my daughters paid for textbooks over the past five years, open textbooks are definitely not the norm). In 2013, the Affordable College Textbook Act was introduced in Congress (the last action was referred to committee in November of 2013). Even though that bill hasn’t been passed into law, there are at least some options available for colleges to use. Below are some examples of college focused open textbooks resources:

Examples:

There really is basically one big player in the K-12 arena:

California and Utah did both start initiatives around 2012-2013 to bring open textbooks to their students. The Utah Open Textbook Project seems to have fizzled out around 2013 ( the latest post on the web site). Utah also has an Utah Education Network with some references to open textbooks, but these seem to all be dated 2013 as well. California was working on an open textbook initiative in the 2013 year as well. However, there doesn’t seem to be any real movement since 2013. The California Open Source Textbook Project doesn’t really have any dates on the web site, but seems to have last been updated in 2013. There are no downloads available on their site. (California does seem to have continued to work on open textbooks at the college level. MERLOTx has links to open textbooks and was last updated in 2014. California has established the California Learning Resource Network, but this seems to have a different function. A quick search provided links to resources that required a subscription.

I’ve been following open textbooks for several years now. I really did believe that we were on the right track around 2013. I was waiting and hoping that we’d see some real movement. I was hoping that we’d see some people in power take the reins and truly provide some leadership to change things up.

David Johnson over at The Michigan Open Book Project has seen much more success. He has worked through the 22i TRIG program to garner the funding to create open source textbooks. So far, they have written and published four textbooks:

  • Fourth Grade
  • Fifth Grade
  • Sixth Grade
  • Economics

These have been paid for using State grant money. There is a plan and some funding in place to continue developing additional books. This is a great start.

So, what is the future? How can we restart these initiatives? I still believe that this could be very powerful. Open source textbooks could provide even better resources at a much cheaper price. Note that open source textbooks don’t have to be all digital. Utah was able to print their open source textbooks at under $5 each.

We need some leaders to make this a priority. This would work best at a state or county level. We need some economy of scale. If a county would get together and charge each district one dollar per student, then that money could be leveraged to provide open source textbooks at a reduced cost. Recently retired teachers could be employed using that money to produce the textbooks. Or, districts could utilize teachers who are released for one hour a day to work on textbooks. This is not an unsolvable problem. The economics can work out to save districts money immediately and long term.

We just need some leadership. A couple of states started. Let’s get back on track.

Moodle Moot

We recently held a Moodle Moot for work. We’ve structured the Moot as a two day affair. The first day is structured as an overview. We do a ton of instruction. There is a lot in Moodle to talk about. We cover Resources vs Activities. We share examples of a few specific types. We’ve chosen the most popular/used modules. The second is a “hands-on” day.

The first day is overwhelming. We’ve tried to make sure that each of the participants is creating as well as listening on day one. However, it is a lot to absorb. Sometimes things just aren’t running as fast as we’d like. For example, sometimes the network connection slows down. This means that the participants are a screen or two behind. This can lead to confusion. So we cover material to give everyone a really good overview of what Moodle can do.

The second day is completely for implementation. There are four experts in the room who are available to help with any and all questions. All of the participants create resources and/or activities that align to what they are doing in the classroom (or will be in the Fall). The four experts circulate and help guide the participants through choosing and creating.

The Moodle Moot is a powerful experience. We recognize that we are trying to take weeks or months of learning and condense it down to a couple of days. We are fully aware that these two days won’t actually replace the learning that takes place over months; rather, our goal is to provide an intensive experience to hook the participants on what they can do. The good news is that we will be following up with all of the participants throughout the school year.

Everyone who was at day one showed up for day two. That alone is a positive. The feedback was similarly positive. The real proof though comes once the school year starts.

We tried to make the Moodle Moot fun and useful. We had ICE CREAM, because everything is better with ICE CREAM, and some good food. However, the focus of the Moodle Moot was good old fashioned learning.

I’m proud of everyone who showed up and worked hard. I’m proud of the Moodle experts who provided great guidance in implementation. Now, let’s get on with the school year.

Teleprompter

In China, we had a need for teleprompter software. We would read a story out loud. It was helpful to display the story on the big screen so that the Chinese teachers could also see the story as it was being read. This would also work well for teachers reading stories to kids. However, not everyone has teleprompter software on their computer. Oh, and some people were using iPads.

Well, I’ve discovered a neat option. Easy Prompter is a web based text teleprompter. It includes the ability to adjust the scroll speed of the text. It also includes the ability to resize the text easily. It has built in controls along the bottom of the window that allow you to control all of the settings. These controls can also be detached to provide a separate window to control the program. You can also use the space bar to start and stop the scrolling.

But it gets better, much better. You can easily download the program. Since it is all web standards, it works on just about anything. I saved the downloaded file to a Box folder, but you could use Drop Box or any other online space. Now, I can open the teleprompter software on my Mac, my PC or my iPad. Terrific.

Be aware that this only does text, no images. However, sometimes you just want to provide text.

I use teleprompter software when I make certain presentations. I also used it to display the story that I was reading in China. If you are looking for an easy to use, free, portable, cross platform teleprompter software solution, check out Easy Prompter.

Directions from their web site:

EasyPrompter portable offline version!

What does this mean?
It means that you can now run EasyPrompter without worrying whether you have an active internet connection!
Simply right click the link below to download the file to your computer. Then open it any time to edit your script. All the code and images are encoded into this one file so just throw it on a flash drive and you’ll always have prompter software with you wherever your are. How cool is that?

To save the file below do the following depending on your browser:

  • Firefox / Chrome: Right click on the link. Click “Save Link As”
  • Opera: Right click on the link. Click “Save Linked Content As”
  • Internet Explorer: Right click on the link. Click “Save Target As”
  • Safari: Right click on the link. Click “Download Linked File As”

Back from China

Well, I’m officially back. I actually arrived on the plane last Monday. However, it took a while to catch up on many projects around the house and work. I also had to get myself back on the Eastern time zone. I still need to do some additional follow up on my China experience. I’ll also be putting all of the posts about my experience in China onto a separate web page. I did want to share a little bit of an overview though.

I’m truly glad to be an American. One that lives in America. The Chinese teachers were terrific people. I truly enjoyed working with them. There were so many commonalities between them and the many American teachers with whom I’ve worked. The Chinese teachers are dedicated people who truly care about their students (just like the American teachers that I’ve worked with).

However, I now truly appreciate fresh, clean air. I love seeing the blue sky. Breathing in deeply is a pleasure. Fresh, clean water that one can drink straight from the faucet is now a joy in life.

I also truly, truly appreciate rest rooms with soap. And hand towels (or hand dryers). And toilet paper.

I’ll be updating the rest of the trip soon. I’m hard at work catching up on work items and enjoying the many pleasures of Michigan.