Tag Archives: oer

personified lock (unlocked) fighting personified corona virus

Open Vs. COVID Round 2: Collaborating for the Knockout

Opening up information is one of the keys to a concerted and effective response to the COVID-19 Pandemic. We need to make sure that insights from the world-wide treatment efforts are discovered quickly and shared widely to ensure effective preventions and treatments spread. A case in point on the power of coordinating and sharing medical information comes from the Castleman’s Collaborative, illustrating how open processes and open resources can be an asset to humanity in this global health crisis.

“Doing in a year what often takes a decade.1 I recently caught Terry Gross’ interview with David Fajgenbaum on Fresh Air about ‘crowdsourcing’ a cure for Castleman’s disease, which he suffers from. It’s a great listen. Castleman’s is a deadly disease for which little is known because of its rarity and the dispersal of cases. Luckily for the world, Fejgenbaum was in medical school when he had his first attack and, because he was close to finishing his medical degree, he began researching.  He discovered that little coordinated information and study was available. The Castleman’s Collaborative, https://cdcn.org/, has come up with an eight step research process that is crowdsourced, prioritized, funded, executed, and published (almost all freely available). Much of the research targets off-label use of FDA-approved drugs, since development of specifically targeted new drugs is prohibitively expensive and time consuming, but many, many drugs already exist and might be effective. While, individually, rare diseases impact few people, cumulatively, many many rare conditions impact large numbers of people, and so applying this collaborative method can be tremendously impactful. 

They are applying the same collaborative method to COVID19 treatment: The Castleman Collaborative is now applying the methodology to COVID19, https://cdcn.org/corona/. Their first step is compiling a database of off-label use of drugs to treat COVID19 symptoms, aptly named CORONA for COvid19 Registry of Off-label & New Agents. Having that database openly available to those around the world who are researching treatments helps prevent duplication, combine efforts in the medical community, and lets researchers and practitioners build on each other’s knowledge, which has always been the promise and practice of science.  

‘Open’ is a critical tool for solving hard, global problems. Open resources (education, data, software) and collaborative processes are unique in their ability to pivot to address new crises and public concerns, because they remove barriers to building on previous work and disseminating knowledge quickly and widely. In the case of the pandemic, this gives open collaboration a fighting chance against the virus, which also spreads widely and builds on its own infectious success. My day job is helping students learn and achieve by building effective products, which also benefits from and is accelerated by open content, open research, and collaborative team processes. My interest in open software started in graduate school and the more I learn, the more I believe in its potential to help the world. In this global health crisis, open solutions are continuing to establish themselves as an integral part of the thriving open software ecosystem that I am proud to be a part of. 

1 From the Castleman Collaborative website, July 6, 2020

Linking to Objectives in the OERPUB editor (a prototype between MIT OEIT folks and OERPUB)

Decorative, colorful concept map
Learning Objectives, Concept Maps
Image: By Sborcherding at en.wikibooks
[Public domain],
from Wikimedia Commons

The exploration: When creating textbooks and interactive learning activities, wouldn’t it be cool if authors (and eventually others) could easily link material to learning objectives? This is the second exploration that OERPUB, Lumen Learning, and MIT’s Office of Educational Innovation and Technology (OEIT) took on together in Salt Lake City. Linking materials (textbook, activities, videos, quizzes) to learning objectives makes them easier to find, and could also allow navigation by objective rather than by a single linear path through the material.

The Scenario: An author is writing a textbook or course in the OERPUB editor. Perhaps it is a physics course, and the course has a set of objectives that it teaches (or hopes to). The author is writing a section on lattices and the ways that x-rays scatter through crystalline structures. Since the physics department at MIT has defined this as a learning objective, it would be great if the author could easily specify that a reading teaches this objective.

The Components: MIT’s OEIT has a service for storing and looking up learning objectives, called MC3. MC3 has an API for returning learning objectives. Before we got together, Cole Shaw took the OERPUB editor and embedded it in a page that connects with the MC3 server. The screenshots below show his prototype. He added a new “widget” to the editor for adding an activity and wired it up to include an objectives drop down. The choices in the drop down are coming from the MIT’s objectives server. He copied an existing widget and modified it.

shows the editor with a drop down added to choose which server to get objectives from and which set of objectives to use.
Cole added a top toolbar for choosing where objectives
should be looked up.

Here is the drop down in an activity added to the document. The choices
are looked up live. Once one is chosen, it is added to the activity.

And then when we all got together, Cole and Tom Wooward worked together to take Cole’s work and make it a widget that works in the github-bookeditor. That is shown below. Tom also showed Cole some of the ways to configure educational widgets within the editor. (That also tells us where we need to improve documentation for developers.)

This is the same widget, but in the github-bookeditor. The
server to query is hard-coded. This will live on a branch
to show how such a thing can be done.

Really making this kind of thing widely useful for general users of the editor, requires more thought, time, and effort. MIT is hosting their own course objectives, and their software provides the store and lookup service. But these aren’t general purpose. The user interface would need to provide ways of configuring which objectives are relevant, etc.

If we did come up with a way to do something like this, I would love to see a way to make choosing an objective a standard option on all content sections and educational widgets. In other words, an author could attach an objective to essentially anything within the HTML and the editor would provide an easy UI for doing that and a simple encoding as metadata to store in the document. I think that would probably be Schema.org’s educationalAlignment.   

Technical notes and links:

Sprinting to embed assessments and learning objectives with MIT, Lumen Learning, and OpenAssessment

Shows a quiz in a textbook page too small to see

Idea: Wouldn’t it be cool to have a really easy way to embed interactive assessments in textbooks, epubs, and courses?

People: The folks I have just been meeting with thought so and we got together to explore a few prototypes. I have been in Salt Lake City working in the Marriott Library at University of Utah, hosted by David Wiley of Lumen Learning, and joined by Brandon Muramatsu and Cole Shaw of MIT’s Office of Education Innovation and Technology (OEIT), Justin Ball and colleague James from Atomic Jolt consulting, and Tom Woodward of OERPUB via Daft Labs.

Scenario: The following scenario sets up our first exploration. Lumen Learning is adapting a biology textbook from Open Stax College. They are creating courseware for college faculty that takes each section and adds interactive, formative assessments, and discussions and analytics and other cool stuff. They are creating completely open banks of questions to go along with the books and these will live at openassessments.org. Open Assessments is building a quiz player that works like a youtube video player. You find a quiz you like and use a simple embed code to include that anywhere you want.

Exploration: So what we wanted to explore was including the ability to find and add a quiz from Open Assessments in the OERPUB editor. So, imagine you are creating a textbook section, or a learning activity for college biology and you have just written the section on parts of the cell, and you want to help students retain what they have learned. So you click on the ‘quiz’ button in the editor, and search for quizzes about cells, preview the quiz, and pop it in. This is what we put together yesterday. Keep in mind this is code written quickly to see how to do this kind of thing while we had all the experts together. It isn’t polished and beautiful. But the impressive thing is that we got this done in a couple of hours. The following screen shots show what we did.

After clicking on the quiz widget in the editor, search
for “cells”.

The search uses openassessments.org’s API,
and returns one result. Click on “select” to preview it.
Preview the assessment to make sure it is what you want. The
preview is live, so you can check the answers and all the
questions in the quiz.

The quiz is embedded in the content and will play in the editor
and also in the textbook as long as there is an internet
connection. The quiz is being played by openassessments.org.
The actual quiz is stored as a qti file at openassessments.

Technical notes and links:

Upcoming posts

Once upon a time textbooks were hard to create …

My Shuttleworth Foundation Fellow colleague, Arthur Atwell, sent an intriguing challenge out to our gang of fellows. The challenge was to come up with a pitch for our projects that follows the Pixar style of pitch, as described in Daniel Pink’s book, To Sell is Human (see full reference at the bottom of the blog entry). The beauty of the style is that it really emphasizes story, which of course is at the heart of movies, and really is at the heart of all human endeavor. But it isn’t always easy to articulate the importance and vision of a technical software project. At least not for those of us who regularly geek out and focus deeply on technical things.

The pixar style has the following components:

Once upon a time, …
Every day, …
One day …
Because of that, …
Because of that, …

Until finally…

So here goes. Here is my story of the vision behind the work I have done as a Shuttleworth Fellow. 

OERPUB Movie-Pitch

Once upon a time, textbooks were hard to create, expensive to buy, and out of date within a short time.

Every day, college students paid $150 for an algebra book containing information that is hundreds of years old. High school students learned from ten year old Biology textbooks, authors struggled to make everything look good and cursed while they tried to edit math.  Nobody could use the content in the textbooks to create interactive flashcards or quizzes.

One day we created a textbook editor that is easy to use and saves books to github (a place for freely storing books and software). We made sure the hard stuff, like editing mathematics, formatting the books, and delivering them to students was actually easy. And we made sure that things like definitions and homework problems were easy to reuse.

Because of that, authors can collaborate to build textbooks, deliver them to students online, on mobile devices or in print. They can make updates immediately, and share textbooks with others for translation and adaptation. Software developers can create interactive flashcards and study tools that use the content from the textbooks.

Because of that, textbooks are a pleasure to create, cheap or free to buy, always up to date, and part of a much more interactive and engaging experience.

Until finally we’ve transformed textbooks into true engines of learning.

Reference: Pink, Daniel H (2013-02-07). To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Persuading, Convincing, and Influencing Others (pp. 172-173). Canongate Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.

Sprinting with Connexions

First progress implementing a bit of a publishing API for OER, based on SWORD and AtomPub.

Last week at the Plone East Symposium in State College PA, plone developers across the US gathered together to learn and share about using Plone in educational settings. At the end of the week, Friday and Saturday, about half the attendees stayed to “sprint” (original plan, full report).  At sprints, people develop working code together on various projects in order to share expertise, learn from each other, and expand networks of technical mentors. Knowing that Connexions already had a partial implementation of SWORD for creating modules from Word documents, and that SWORD is likely to be the backbone for the OER Publishing API (your comments, approval, concerns welcome), I brought a sprint topic to the symposium — “OER Publishing API: Extend Connexions SWORD implementation”. Connexions provided an expert, Phil Schatz, to lead the sprint and we created a milestone to track the work. Carl Scheffler joined Phil and me working on SWORD and we got advice and help from Michael Mulich (Penn State), Ross Reedstrom and Ed Woodward at Connexions.

What the Connexions/Rhaptos SWORD service does now:

The current Connexions SWORD service is tailored to a very specific client, the Open Journal System (OJS). It takes a zip of a Word file and a METS file with some metadata and a bibliographic entry that is used to insert a reference to the the original publication of the article in a journal. The service then creates a new, unpublished module with the content of the Word file, and puts it in a work area chosen by the client.

What we got done at the sprint:

  1. Reorganized the existing SWORD code to make the coding cleaner.
  2. Extended the service so that it would take a Word file, or the Connexions native format.
  3. Changed the service to get the title and abstract from standard locations.
  4. Got the SWORD client toolkit, EasyDeposit, to work with the new code (and partially work with the existing code.)