Remixing an OER textbook

This is a 12-ish minute long episode of History in 5-or-so Minutes, in vlog format this time, in which I talk about beginning to rewrite the Openstax US History textbook. I’m going to use this as the basis of a US History I class this spring, but not before I revise it sunstantially. I’ll discuss those revisions chapter by chapter as I rewrite or as I create PowerPoint lectures and videos using the content.

CC License Flavors

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

The Creative Commons license itself comes in several flavors, depending on how many of the rights normally included in “all rights reserved” you want to retain, and which ones you want to be more flexible on. Each of these licenses exist in three forms or layers: a full-on legal description, a user-friendly commons deed, and a machine readable version that talks to things like search engines. Most of the time CC is seen as a wide-open license to do anything, but it doesn’t have to be. Maybe rather than going from least restrictive to most, instead I’ll go from most restrictive (most like full-on copyright) to least. There are four basic elements: BY, SA, ND, NC, and they mix and match into six levels of licensing.

The most restrictive CC designation is CC SA NC ND. This specifies that people can use your work as long as they give you credit (attribution is part of all CC licenses), but it says they CANNOT sell the version they make for a profit and they CANNOT change your content in any way (that is, make no derivatives, no adaptations). This still means they can share your work freely, as long as they don’t sell it or change it. But this isn’t considered optimal for OER, because in addition to compiling anthologies, educators often expect to be able to adapt your content to contextualize it for their students. This license can also have a final added stipulation of share alike, meaning that any work that incorporated your content ought to be licensed under the exact same CC license. This isn’t on the CC organization’s matrix, but it prevents people from switching to a less restrictive license which might let the people who remix down the line to do something like sell the work for profit or adapt it.

NC SA is a little less restrictive, in that it does allow for adaptation. But it still prohibits sale for profit and requires the adaptations carry the same license.

NC, Non-commercial without Share Alike allows for adaptations and doesn’t protect against those adaptations being part of a commercial work.

No derivatives (ND) doesn’t allow for adaptation, but it does allow people to sell the work for a profit and it doesn’t require that the work they sell has a similar license on it.

Share alike alone DOES let someone sell an adaptation for a profit, but it has to retain a share alike license on it, so that might limit the market for such a work. I’m not sure I see the point of SA all by itself, other than to limit the market by undercutting anyone thinking they can somehow corner the market and monopolize distribution of a work.

The most open CC license is actually just CC BY. This allows a user to do anything with your content as long as they give you credit for creating it. All the other more restrictive licenses also include attribution – it’s just assumed in the rest. There’s an even more open condition if the work is in the public domain. Creative Commons calls that CC0, but it’s not technically a CC license.

All these CC licenses are ways of modifying copyright, so they apply where copyright law applies. That means NOT to things like patents, privacy restrictions, or moral claims. Exceptions and limitations to copyright like fair use also aren’t affected by CC licenses. But this can create complications if some work that begins as fair use finds its way into OER texts or coursework and now all of a sudden things like photos that may have been useable under fair use maybe aren’t any longer. So it’s important to understand the chain of custody, but I’ll say more about that another time.


Image from CC BY-SA 4.0

Outline of my new #EnvHist course



As part of preparing content for this Spring’s “People In the Environment” section I’m teaching on American Environmental History, I’m “porting” my textbook over to a full-on OER (open educational resource). This should allow me to make the content available to students in a less expensive and more flexible version, in both print and ebook formats, as well as making the chapters available to other educators as stand-alone modules they can mix and match, remix, rewrite, etc. As I do that, I’ll be able to add CC content from elsewhere and link to outside text, graphics, and video, as well as including narration and possibly even links to my lectures in the electronic version of the text. I believe Pressbooks allows for linking and embedding, and Camtasia allows adding interactive elements like quizzes along the way in the text. I’m going to try to incorporate both.

So the new elements I’ll be adding to my text will include color (!), fonts, revised format, quizzes and discussion prompts (possibly links), audio narration, videos from the web (YouTube, Archive), and links to my Camtasia lectures. I’ll also be updating the content. I think I’ll continue with the 15 chapters = 15 weeks format. But I might throw in some additional chapters that people could swap in or use as extra credit opportunities if they chose. The goals of many of these chapters is not to cover the topics exhaustively, but to make students aware of the issues and introduce basic ideas. The outline will look something like this:

Module/Chapter 1: Prehistory

Goals: Push back the “beginning” of the story, introduce Beringia, climate change, staple crops

Module/Chapter 2: Recontact

Goals: Introduce the Columbian Exchange (Crosby), native population disaster, early commerce (silver, sugar).

Module/Chapter 3: Colonial America

Goals: Compare Euro and native land use traditions (Cronon), Examine role of religion justifying colonialism, impact of slavery on land use.

Module/Chapter 4: Frontier & Grid

Goals: Understand role of western expansion in Revolution and early republic, consider barriers to expansion (Proclamation Line, Free Soil debate, Trail of Tears), describe pioneer life, immigration.

Module/Chapter 5: Industrial Revolution

Goals: Examine changes caused by industrialization on use of commons, incorporation, labor, economic and environmental externalities. (Steinberg)

Module/Chapter 6: Transportation Revolution

Goal: Understand changing technology and public policy around development of canals, steamboats, railroads. Consider tension between public and private sectors in issues like land grants, monopoly. Continue to automobiles and highways (with extra material on ethanol vs. leaded gasoline), air travel and containerized freight.

Module/Chapter 7: Commodities

Goal: Examine shift to a commodity market: population changes, new industries in packing (pork & beef) and their discontents (The Jungle), ice, lumber (and fires), flour (and populism).

Module/Chapter 8: Green Revolution

Goal: Cover beginning of commercial agriculture, ag. Improvement (manure, rotation), green manure (alfalfa), guano (Incas, Liebig, Humboldt, Chinese labor, Chincha Islands War, Guano Islands Act), Nitrate (Caliche, War of the Pacific, Haber-Bosch process), Phosphorus and Potassium, Hazards and pollution (Gulf Dead Zone), the Dust Bowl, Ogallala Aquifer, Export of Green Revolution to Developing World (Borlaug, Indian debt and suicide).

Module/Chapter 9: City Life

Goal: Examine what cities are for. Consider American colonial cities built on native cities (Cuzco, Mexico City, Plymouth), Land Reclamation and filling wetlands (Mexico City, New York, San Francisco), Sanitation and water supply (New York, Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles), symbiosis with hinterlands, Horses and mechanized transport, Urban reformers, parks and suburbs, contemporary exurbs and CSA.

Module/Chapter 10: Wilderness and Country Life

Goal: Distinguish between Conservation and Preservation movements (Muir v. Pinchot), examine ideas of wilderness (Cronon) and exclusion (Jacoby).

Module/Chapter 11: Farmers and Agribusiness

Goal: Examine America’s change from a country of farmers to an urban nation, implications for farmers, rural life, consumerism, politics.

Module/Chapter 12: Treasure Underground

Goal: Examine the mining and drilling of underground resources: Cerro Rico silver, ideas of subsoil ownership, copper, iron and steel, gold rushes, petroleum (in the world, the US, and the relationships between corporations, government, foreign policy).

Module/Chapter 13: Population and Limits

Goal: Examine Malthusian ideas, challenges to them such as #stopthemyth and Rosling’s demographics, consider controversies over Population Bomb, Limits to Growth, peak oil.

Module/Chapter 14: Externalities

Goal: Review the ways economics deals with the idea of externalities, with examples. Politics, Globalization, Dependency.

Module/Chapter 15: Environmentalism

Goal: Review American people’s concern over environmental issues. Consider alternatives to contemporary lifestyle. (incorporates “Food and Choice” chapter from book with survey of environmentalists.