Category Archives: Miscellaneous

Sprints at Connexions – Day 1

We had an excellent first day of sprinting after the Connexions conference. Today’s report includes pictures of people working together, but tomorrow we will include more links and screenshots, hopefully. About 30 people total participated on the following projects:

  • Clemens from Aloha gave a mini lesson on the Aloha editor and then VOER and BCCampus built Hello-world plugins. Marvin from OERPUB wrote documentation about how to create new plugins!
  • BC Campus, Aloha, and OERPUB worked on a WordPress plugin for the OERPUB editor. We have embeds of the editor in the

Oerpub Remix tools and in the Connexions Authoring Tools Client. But this is the first embed in a completely independent framework.

  • Marvin cleaned up the media plugin prototype.
  • Huy from VOER worked on creating links between different sections of a textbook, including search and integration with the editor.
  • OERPUB’s UI team brainstormed about integrating an author’s workspace, organizing textbook content, and the editor and its semantic toolbox. They also did user interface testing with sprint participants around a few last details of the editor design.
  • Ha from VOER got install instructions written for Fedora for the Authors Tools Client. 
  • Other topics, less editor related – a group worked on Wikipedia pages for OpenStax College and learned about making good reference materials that Wikipedia articles can point to (with good dates and author info). CNX worked on better logging, a catalog for OpenStax textbooks, VOER did Elastic Search research and porting old simple author accounts to OpenID.

Notes from the Saylor Digital Education Conference April 2013

It’s the money, stupid.

At the Saylor Digital Education Conference, this past week (April 2013), Michael Saylor talked at length about his own educational journey. He came out of MIT with no debt and was able to start a company. A student coming out of college today with over $100,000 in debt or a medical school with $400,000 of debt cannot innovate or take a risk. He stressed that the goal of the Saylor Foundation is free education for everyone. And finally, I understood that he actually meant what he said. He doesn’t mean he will put free content on a website and super-focused students can go through it all themselves. He means a high quality, guided college education for FREE. How that will happen isn’t clear, nor is how that will be sustainable, but that is what many at the conference are figuring out through trial and error yielding the next set of ideas. The argument for free is pretty clear. Right now, a 4 year college degree costs $200,000 or more. A colleague mentioned that colleges themselves claim the true cost is nearer to $280,000. That is just not ever going to scale to universal education, and it truly is limiting the future of even our brightest and most fortunate students.

How about free?

Saylor thinks that universal, free education will happen online, interactively, and will be personalized using software that people at the conference (and others) are developing. It might be paid for through advertising, or through recruitment fees, or through business models as yet unheard of.

I am also convinced that we can learn a lot more with a little help from our digital friends. We will have the ability to interact with digital models, to interleave practice with memory refreshers, to create online portfolios of our vision. We can have all our past knowledge and entire degrees worth of new knowledge at our fingertips.

But don’t spend it all on technology.

I do have worries about all this focus on digital everything transforming education. So far, most of the really dramatic results in education that I know of come from giving smart teachers the ability to interact directly with learners. Technology has never matched the dramatic gains that smart teachers make. More on that in the next post.

OER from the learner’s perspective.

My talk at the conference was chiefly about the power of semantic document formats, open-source content transformation tools, and well thought out user interfaces for authors. But, I also made an attempt to show the vision from the perspective of a learner, benefiting from the sorts of learning that is possible once their textbooks and courses are available in interoperable formats.

Usabilty team blog posts

The usability team that has been designing and testing the OER editor interactions will be blogging regularly to share everything about our design and  testing process. Their first introduction post is up on the site.

Since we are an open source and open content project, the designs and processes are all open also. Not only do we hope to create an incredibly easy to use editor without sacrificing power and utility, but would be thrilled if the best of our ideas are copied and used elsewhere also.

And we hope that open source development teams around the world can learn from our successes and failures with making useful software.

We have a back log, so expect a quick series of blog entries as we get caught up sharing initial designs and tests from Open Ed, and then our redesigns and test cycles from December and January.

Happy reading (the intro blog post)

OERPUB Upcoming Plans – Embeddable OER editor, whole book authoring, sprints and workshops

I am thrilled to announce that the Shuttleworth Foundation will be supporting my fellowship and the OERPUB project for another year and we have an incredibly exciting year planned.

We will be releasing an editor tailored to authoring open textbooks and most importantly, helping projects all over the world incorporate the editor into their own workflow and development process.

This video shows what we have done so far and our plans for March 2013 through February 2014. You will see me talking for a bit and then it switches to hand drawn illustrations, video clips of the editor, and commentary from partners and supporters.



I have been working for the past two years to make it easier to create, remix, and publish open textbooks. There is a growing movement to create open textbooks that are free to learn from, free to adapt, and free to improve. But creators of these new open textbooks face technical challenges that limit the ability to reuse, adapt, and improve them.

What we have now

Everything In: Import from common sources: Since content created in one word processor doesn’t mix well with content created in another authoring tool, we first built an importer/converter that takes documents in common formats and transforms them into a remixable format. The importer takes Word, Open Office, Google Docs, LaTeX, blogs and presentations. Edit/Adapt with an easy-to-use web-based editor: We are creating a structured content editor so that once content is transformed into a remixable format, authors can continue to edit and add educational features. Everything Out: Distribute to students in print, on the web, and on mobile devices. Once learning modules are ready to share, we use the OERPUB API developed earlier to publish the content and produce printed books, e-Reader versions, web versions, mobile versions, and handouts.

What we are planning

Whole book authoring. We will be concentrating on figuring out the easiest ways for authors to create entire textbooks while using the new editor to create the components. We’ll be collaborating to embed the editor in partner sites: working with Connexions on their new editing repository, with Booktype and others on their platforms, and exploring solutions like using Github, Google Drive or Dropbox as backends. We will be leveraging the EPUB3 standard and community in creating digital works.  

Distribution: To increase the benefits to individual authors, we will explore ways to make it as easy as possible for them to deliver their content through e-publishing channels.

Strengthening Community with Sprints and Workshops
The most important task ahead is strengthening and sustaining the content creation and development community. We will do this by convening a series of week long workshops and sprints that train new content creators and software developers, and help launch independent efforts around accessibility, internationalization, multimedia, and interactive content.

Principles of Remixable OER

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.

  1. 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. 
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.