Current Minnesota legislation related to open education

Executive summary: There are four bills in front of the Minnesota legislature currently. Three involve poorly-funded mandates; one offers incentives for positive change.

The Bills:

SF130 was introduced 1/14/2019 and is titled “Affordable Textbooks”. This bill defines an affordable textbook as any textbook that costs $40 or less. These could be traditional print textbooks, OER, “or other educational resources intended to be used in place of a traditional textbook.” This means, subscription-based products from mainstream textbook publishers in addition to open-licensed OER. Although reducing textbooks costs is an apparent goal of the bill, it could be used to move from print textbooks to less-expensive digital alternatives while avoiding a shift to OER.

The Bill calls for 15% of courses at state colleges and universities to use “affordable textbooks” by August 31 2021. It does not specify a cap for spending per course, so it is conceivable that a course with multiple textbooks or with a textbook and supplementary texts could still result in student spending in excess of $40.

The issue with this bill is that $40 seems to be an arbitrary number. Does it relate to current student spending? Does it relate to the cost of “other educational resources” the textbook companies are preparing to roll out? And finally, how is the state going to legally require 15% of courses to use “affordable textbooks”?

 

SF699 was introduced 1/31/2019 and is titled “Z-Degrees”. The bill defines Z-Degree as a zero-textbook-cost associates degree and requires each “college” to “offer the opportunity to earn a Z-Degree”. “College” may mean universities as individual units, or it may mean every college within a university. Z-Degree course offerings must include “at least two distinct [zero-textbook-cost] courses in each transfer curriculum goal area and at least enough credits in each transfer curriculum goal area to complete the transfer curriculum package.”

SF699 specifically includes a requirement that “Each instructor must review and approve open educational resources for use in a course.” It defines OER as OER advocates would expect: “high-quality teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and repurposing by others, and may include other resources that are legally available and free of cost to students.” This is a good working definition of OER; the sticking point in this bill seems to be the “Each instructor must review and approve” part. This seems to be a violation of the faculty’s contract and against the spirit of academic freedom. And the appropriation associated with this whole Z-Degree mandate is $2 million spread across two years, for the entire system! That’s probably not enough to pay for the work involved in making a Z-Degree happen in every college in the state, even if everybody was excited to do it and ready to go. And how are administrators going to force faculty to review and “approve” (but not adopt) OER?

 

SF2214 was introduced 3/7/2019 (its companion HF2426 was introduced 3/13/2019) and is titled “Inclusive Access Pilot Program”. It is a short bill which calls for a pilot program to “address textbook affordability in postsecondary institutions and determine the cost savings for both students and the participating institutions.” Inclusive access is defined as “digital distribution of course material instead of traditional textbooks”. The bill calls for BSU and South Central College to be pilot sites that would “receive incentive funding…for purposes of developing and utilizing inclusive access for all courses offered at the institution, where available.” This sounds very cool at first glance. BSU would get incentives…to do what?

It turns out that “inclusive access” is a sneaky code-word for requiring all students to purchase license keys for a publisher’s digital “walled garden” of educational material (some of which may in fact be open, but it’s all behind the pay-wall). This cost would be assessed as a mandatory course fee. So it would probably be lower than current textbook costs – at least to start. The other sneaky clause in the bill is “for all courses offered at the institution”. Once Pearson achieves a monopoly of all the courses on campus, then it will no longer have to compete on price.

 

Finally, HF2730 was introduced 3/27/2019, amending MN Statue 2018 section 136F.58 to include incentives for “Open textbook development”. This bill calls for Minnesota State Colleges and Universities to “develop a program to expand the use of open textbooks in college and university courses.” It calls on the system office to “provide opportunities for faculty to identify, review, adapt, author, and adopt open textbooks” and to “develop incentives” to meet those goals.

The system office will (“in coordination with faculty bargaining units”) develop a “program that identifies high-enrollment academic programs and provides faculty within the selected disciplines incentives to jointly adapt or author an open textbook.” The bill is careful to specify, though, that these activities “must be implemented pursuant to faculty collective bargaining agreements that govern academic freedom and textbook choice.” So, it’s a carrot instead of a stick and it will provide faculty with incentives to choose a path that both supports student cost-reduction and respects academic freedom.

How much of a carrot? The bill would allocate $500,000 over two years, which isn’t a bad start. As high-volume programs started quantifying their savings, presumably that number would increase. An incentive ratio of 10% has apparently been discussed (based on success in other states), where a department might receive an incentive payment of 10% of the money they saved students using their new OER. This seems like a good idea, although the system might want to “prime the pump” a bit to move a couple of high-volume programs and get the process started.

 

Takeaway from the bills:

Academic freedom seems to be challenged when legislation attempts to impose mandates (especially unfunded or poorly-funded ones) in place of incentives. If passed, laws of this type would probably be challenged by faculty unions, with good cause. However, incentives and an appeal for volunteers might get the OER ball rolling on campus.

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 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/ CC BY-SA 4.0

Outline of my new #EnvHist course

 

2925PosterWide

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.