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Colleges to Drop Traditional Textbooks for Open Educational Resources

The national reform network for community colleges, Achieving the Dream (ATD), has announced that they will be taking the initiative to develop degree programs that will use open educational resources (OER). The OER Degree Initiative makes it so that programs will use openly licensed learning materials as opposed to purchasing expensive textbooks, saving their students thousands of dollars.

Currently, the cost of textbooks averages to about $1,300 for a full-time community college student. For the millions of students, the cost of textbooks alone prevents students from completing their education. The OER Degree Initiative will be implemented to save students money and improve the rate of college completion. According to a press release, “…there are enough open educational materials to replace textbooks in required courses in four two-year programs: business administration, general education, natural or general science, and social science. But only a few colleges are using those resources.”

“Through the OER Degree Initiative, these community colleges are simultaneously addressing two important challenges faced by educators and students: Not only will they provide their faculty the flexibility and academic freedom to align their open educational resources to curriculum objectives, but also, by lowering textbook costs, they will make it far more likely that their students will achieve the goal of attaining a degree,” said Barbara Chow, education program director at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

For this initiative, ATD will be in charge of assisting colleges in making the OER degree an important factor in their student’s efforts for success. Upon the initial implementation, the OER courses will be available on an online platform.

The OER Degree Initiative is backed by grants from foundations totaling $9.8 million. Participating colleges and systems were selected through a competitive grant process “based on their ability and capacity to implement OER degree programs, offer the full complement of degree courses quickly, or quickly scale the number of selections offered,” according to a news release.

For more information, please visit the article here or the Achieving the Dream site

Stephen Fry Launches Pindex, a “Pinterest for Education”

Pindex is also known as “a Pinterest for education”, making use of the powerful educational tool that the Internet can be.

Pindex is able to create educational videos for students and teachers. Stephen Fry was responsible for providing creative direction and is also the voice to one of the first videos.

Other videos focus on science and technology including drones and robots. John Leaver, one of the co-founders, explained that the idea of Pindex came from the same boring material that his daughter would bring home from school. He wanted to make topics more engaging and allow teachers to share their best material.

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While Fry has been involved with other significant projects such as Pushnote and Summly, he is planning to invest a lot of time to Pindex. He wants to make sure he creates high quality material. As Pindex grows, it will be using material from external makers such as Youtube bloggers. That way, their audience can expand as well as get insight from any other sources.

For more info, visit the article here.

Virtual Classroom

Teachers are now receiving more support to prepare them for an actual classroom. The University of Central Florida gives educators-in-training the option of practicing their teaching skills in a virtual classroom.

The program is called TeachLive, the first of its kind. The course challenges educators to navigate social, pedagogical and professional hurdles all at once. Educators are challenged to manage the classroom when the avatars misbehave, act in strange patterns, or ask difficult questions. Each avatar comes with their own personality. One avatar will interrupt class with their opinions on the lesson or teach, another avatar is the class chatterbox. Educators will also work with an avatar that is particularly anxious and may curl up on the floor of the classroom. With each session, the program allows users to change classroom events and avatar characteristics. Educators can practice responding to a targeted behavior or even to student disabilities.

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The program can also be set to specific teacher needs. TeachLive uses Skype conference call and a Microsoft Kinect motion sensor power. TeachLive is being used at more than 80 campuses across the U.S to train some of the next generation of educators. The team at TeachLive is exploring in which technology can be used to help people.

Click here to read more.

Quizlet

One of the most old-fashioned ways of studying is the use of flashcards. On one side there is usually a word or description and on the back is the answer. This is a great way for students to test their memorization depending on the subject. However, making flashcards and storing them can be tedious. Some cards could get lost and having a huge stack of cards doesn’t make traveling and studying on the go easy.

Quizlet is an app that takes all of your flashcard problems and stores it into an app on your phone. This app is available in the Google Play and Apple App Store. The point of this app is to help alleviate the stress of storing and making flashcards. You can simply type into your phone what goes on each side and when you’re done, you have yourself your very own digital stack of flashcards. This makes studying on the go easier and faster to create.

You also have the ability of adding images and audio to each card as well. This might make memorizing certain pieces of art or pictures that are associated with the description. Because of the capability of adding audio, you can record yourself speaking key details to remember and it’s a great way for you to memorize the words you spoke.

Another feature on the app is that you can make your flashcards public for anyone to view and use. In turn, there are thousands of other flashcard decks that might help you study for your next test as well.

Besides studying for current classes, you can also study and learn a new language. They have a customized deck that provide learners a way to memorize words in a multitude of languages. There is also audio for each word and the speaker is native to their language. This making learning a new language not only easier but it also helps with your pronunciation and recognition of real native speakers.

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How to Go Textbook Free

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Don’t want to deal with spending enormous amounts of money on textbooks? You should probably head to the University of Maryland University College (UMUC). As of fall 2015, they no longer expect any undergraduate to spend money on textbooks. By the next fall, the same will be true for graduate students. All together, the savings for the 84,000 student would be more than $10 million per year. But that’s not the only upside – the students’ learning will improve as well.  Figuring out how to develop a curriculum was hard though, as there was no prior model for the university to follow. They had to create a process on their own.

They first started with revising the programs to be more “outcome-based”. Other approaches were used as well, but were all met with challenges. Needless to say, the process to switch to a non-textbook campus was harder than expected.

The next part of the process was the “discovery” phase. During this phase, librarians helped identify materials that could be possibly used for the each learning objective. After gathering materials, an expert on the subject would work with the material and make appropriate decisions for the course.

Of course, there would be times when the available resources did not completely cover the learning objects of the given course. When this happened, UMUC turned to different resources. One was that the university used a proprietary database that the library subscribes to. In other cases, repurposed material was used.  At other times, there was no choice but to license content, like a novel, for certain classes.

Once the content was collected, it was put through an approval process that addressed copyright and accessibility issues. In the simplest case, the librarians would establish whether the material could be downloaded and used in the course. The last phase of this process was to “package” the content so that it would be a smooth learning experience for the students. While textbooks do a great job of providing just the right amount of information for each lesson or unit, that isn’t the case for resources coming form multiple places. In the end, the fix was placing all the information in a database for a week-to-week lesson plan.

The greatest reward of the switch was that the student’s learning improved. As the courses were taught with the new resources, feedback came in, and the content would be changed. And when new material came in for a course, they could be changed quickly and could be incorporated into the next lesson of a class.

The rewards of switching to this “no-textbook-on-campus” way of teaching was that the students were able to link with the content more and be in a more dynamic learning environment. Even if this way of education requires more work, it opens up new opportunities and helps students achieve more in their studies.

For more information, please visit the article here