Sunday, April 21, 2019

Day 1: Getting Serious about OER

As always when starting a new project, I've started ... a new blog. This is my new Diary, Day 1. I'm not really sure what kind of technology I will be using as the project takes shape (very excited to learn about HAX at upcoming Domains conference, for example), but no matter how the project takes shape, I can use this blog as a day-to-day diary of what I'm doing.

This turn to OER feels like a big shift for me, even if it might not seem like a big shift to people who see my work from the outside. Basically, after 20 years (!) of working on course development, I am ready to turn my attention to the world of OER and content development. Naturally I have done lots of content development for my courses over those years; in fact, I should probably write up a kind of history of the content development events over those two decades. There might be some good lessons to learn there! The key thing, though, is that all the content development I did was very much in terms of my own courses and what I saw as my students' needs. Very local, very contingent. Meanwhile, I have been watching the emergence of OER as a movement with great interest, but I haven't really participated in that myself, except insofar as being an OER booster, especially a booster of the public domain as OER.

Now, though, I'm ready to really get serious about OER. There are a few key factors leading into that decision:

1. I'm really happy with my courses! The past years of working hard on my courses has really paid off. Last summer I did the "great summer of feedback," and that really felt like the last piece of the puzzle I needed to get into place so that I could feel confident that I had done a good job of promoting good feedback culture in my courses. Sure, there is some tinkering to do here and there as always, but I don't really have any big course needs I want to address this summer.

2. I can't count on having a teaching job forever. Last summer, in fact, I was told by my supervisor that I should start looking for another job. That was pretty terrifying, especially as I am still in the midst of trying to manage my dad's (terminal) illness and all the responsibilities go with that. As it turned out, I was not laid off, although other people at my school were. My courses for the Fall are all full, so I assuming I will get renewed for next year. Will my annual contract keep getting renewed beyond next year? I hope so, but the incident last summer made me realize: the final years of my career might not be spent working with students, at least not in a formal class setting.

3. I have some content projects I really want to work on! First and foremost is the Brer Rabbit project I started over the winter break. That happened totally by accident in the sense that I picked up Julius Lester's Brer Rabbit book to read to get my mind off things and... I had one of those overwhelming brainwaves: for lots of reasons, Brer Rabbit could and should be my next big project (in the past, I've mostly worked on Aesop's fables). So, I gathered materials and resources over winter break, and I am so excited to get back into that project this summer.


4. I want to make a positive contribution to the wider educational community. That's something I've always tried to do with my teaching, but my teaching practices are pretty eccentric. I'm not sure that I can ever really make much of a difference that way, although I've shared in the open everything I do, and I've done so since I first learned how to publish a webpage back in 1998. When I look at the new OER ecosystem, though, it seems like that can be a way I can plug into something where my contributions will be able to make a real impact. I know I've made a difference for my students in my work as a teacher, but now I hope that as an OER creator, I can make a difference to a wider community.

The Tale Spinner...

I called this blog Tale Spinner because, in the long run, that is the vision I have for what I would like to create: a database of public domain and CC-licensed stories that people could "spin" in their own ways. For example, that might mean recombining the stories into purpose-built books, like a reader for a specific class or books just for pleasure reading — a collection of stories about Brer Rabbit, or stories with riddles, or stories from Sri Lanka, stories less than 500 words long, stories with illustrations, stories with public domain audio, etc. ... whatever filter you would want to apply to the database to generate your own book, kind of like the way the students in my Myth-Folklore class assemble their own class textbook using the 100 units of the UnTextbook (a summer project of a few years ago). Even more importantly, the Tale Spinner could be used to inspire people to re-create the stories in new ways, which is the kind of writing my students have been doing all these years as they create Storybooks filled with their own stories: Storybooks.MythFolklore.net. That's how the stories stay alive: not just by being read, but by being re-told. Re-spun.

There are lots of digital book projects that I can draw on in this work, especially the full-text book libraries like Hathi Trust, which is currently my main go-to for digital books. As of today my Freebookapalooza blog contains almost 1300 books, most of them in the public domain. At that blog, I've focused on gathering basic book information, including the tables of contents, but that's just the bare beginning of what is needed to get the actual stories out of the books and ready for "spinning"  in new ways.

Anyway, I'll say more in the next post about the kind of work I would like to do as I harvest stories and prepare them for repurposing. But now... it's a very sunny Sunday, so I am going to go for a walk and daydream about digital adventures to come! This is the beginning of a many-years-long project, so who knows where I will end up... but I did a lot of daydreaming in my 20 years of course design, and now I am ready for all kinds of OER daydreaming too. :-)




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