For the past six months the OERPUB team has been working on an editor for remixable open education resources (OER). We are embedding the editor within a workflow that supports first converting documents created in popular formats (Word, Open Office, Google Docs, Blogs, LaTeX), then editing them, and finally publishing to repositories for OER.
The converters and editor are part of a vision for creating, adapting, and sharing educational resources. Everything in: People with something to teach should be able to provide their content in a remixable format no matter how it was originally created. Thus the emphasis on building conversions from popular tools and formats. Everything out: Learning content should be easy to distribute to learners in the most effective way (phone, tablet, computer, paper, text-to-speech, teacher and student editions) all from the same source. Thus the need for a clean, remixable format that can be the single source for many different devices. Everywhere: Authors should be able to publish their content in open repositories, institutional repositories, learning management systems, as well as sales and distribution channels like Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Lulu, iBooks, and PaperRight. Thus the need for automated services powered by APIs that help authors share and distribute their content.
The technical principles supporting this vision
The OERPUB team builds tools for sharing OER that are based on four important principles of interoperable and remixable OER. These principles ensure that the importers and editor that we create are useful to many OER projects and are sustainable by the shared efforts of independent projects.
- HTML5 format. HTML5 is the new language of the web, and using it means that open content and the tools for authoring, adapting and sharing can be improved by the world of web developers. Viewing and interacting with content will be supported by essentially all electronic devices. The OERPUB editor we have created is based on an existing web-based HTML editor called Aloha, which meant that we didn’t start from scratch and we have the support of an existing developer community. I was recently at an OER Developer workshop sponsored by Google and Hewlett and it was striking that all of the projects are planning to aggressively move to HTML5 for their content, and the OERPUB editor will be useful for them, too.
- Separation of structure and style. HTML5 isn’t enough, though. HTML5 provides excellent support for remixable, structured content that is playable on many devices with differing capabilities. But that only works, if the content is either fully encapsulated and embeddable like a simulation, or if the structure of the content is clear and free of styling that would make pieces inconsistent with each other. By concentrating on an editor that supports structured educational content, and allowing repositories and display engines to provide the styling through CSS3, content from multiple sources can be combined and consistently styled and then can be optimized for different devices.
- Loosely coupled transformations. When each of the input (Word, Google Docs, Web etc) and output transformations (PDF, EPUB, Kindle, Document Handouts etc) are independent and easy to repurpose, we can leverage the funding and efforts of many different partners to create interoperable OER. Open Stax Colllege’s work on Word transforms, Indiana’s work on LaTeX imports, Siyavula, Connexions, and Booktype’s work on EPUB and PDF exports increase remixability rather than remaining part of isolated projects. New projects can choose to use whichever components are most valuable to their community. The benefits extend beyond open education resources. For instance, the Open Knowledge Foundation creates training materials in Google Docs and publishes them to WordPress. The Google Docs importer combined with the editor will make that process much more efficient.
- Authoring tools that are embeddable and customizable. Since we want content that can be remixed, we want authors to be able to create that content no matter where they ultimately want to share it. We want a community of people and projects that care about and can maintain and improve those tools. An embeddable, customizable editor will have the broadest impact, reaching authors where they work.