An Interview with Prof. Severance: MOOC & OER Proponent on "Sharing the Value that we Produce at U-M"

Professor Charles Severance (“Dr. Chuck”) is a clinical associate professor at the University of Michigan School of Information (UMSI). Dr. Chuck has already made legendary contributions to the OER and MOOC movements. He’s held “office hours” with small groups of MOOC students from all over the world, was the first U-M faculty member to apply CC licenses to materials offered within Coursera, authored two openly-licensed textbooks (Python for Informatics, and High Performance Computing), was a leading developer of and evangelist for the IMS Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) standard, and has reached thousands of learners through Dr. Chuck Online, P2PU, Open.Michigan, and the iBooks store.

So what’s next for Dr. Chuck?

Programming for Everybody, a new U-M MOOC scheduled to start on Coursera on April 10, 2014. This free course will focus on teaching the basics of Python programming (with no complex math) to beginners from all backgrounds. Participants can expect to learn both how to program and where these skills can be applied. But that’s just the beginning of the story.

Programming for Everybody is also a completely remixable MOOC that’s taking the “open” in massive online open courses to the next level. All of the materials within the course, from the syllabus and textbook, to the videos and the auto grading software, are being shared with Creative Commons licenses, thereby encouraging everyone in the world to reuse and remix the materials for their own teaching and learning purposes. The remixability of the materials will be further enabled by pre-packaged “remixer kits” that can be loaded into learning management systems such as Blackboard and Moodle. This unique delivery of the course’s materials aims it at two primary audiences: students interested in learning Python and programming fundamentals, and teachers interested in using the materials in their own classrooms.

I caught up with Dr. Chuck to discuss Programming for Everybody, MOOCs, and OER in more detail.

What excites you the most about teaching “Programming for Everybody” as a MOOC?

I have long felt that the world needed a “Programming Literacy” course to help give people an “on ramp” to a better understanding of and increasingly technical world. I have been greatly enjoying teaching SI502 – Networked Computing at the U-M School of Information to incoming MSI students with no technical background. SI502 has been a great proving ground for my materials and approaches. I felt that the “on ramp to technology” class I wanted to teach fell somewhere between a junior year in high school and first year freshman level course. Teaching Programming for Everybody (PR4E) as a MOOC lets me interact with students in high school, college, and adults who want to come back to school and learn technology. I could never create an on-campus class in a physical location that would allow me to engage the highly diverse group of students I hope to see in PR4E.

Image courtesy of Dr. Chuck Severance under a CC BY license.

How do you see MOOC platforms and Open Educational Resources (OER) working together to form learning communities?

MOOC platforms are a wonderful way to promote an idea. By combining the strength of the Michigan brand with so many other wonderful schools – Coursera attracts a lot of students attention and gets students to the point where they will take a bit of a “leap” and sign up for a class. One of my concerns with OER materials is that potential faculty adopters around the world often think of them as somehow “not as good.”  I want to use the MOOC to show just how great my open materials are and give teachers who experience the MOOC a reason to make use of the open materials in their own classes.

Have your experiences teaching MOOCs and publishing OER impacted your approaches to teaching and sharing with on-campus students?

I have been publishing my course materials as OERs from the beginning. I long ago realized that it was far more important to insure a broad reach of the materials rather than to waste time trying to find avenues of commercial gain from my lecture materials. Also people will help you improve your materials if you show that you are not trying to be selfish about your work. If I have another faculty member cover one of my classes, they take my slides, improve them and then give them back to me under CC-BY. So having guest lectures improves my course materials.

Image courtesy of Dr. Chuck Severance under a CC BY-NC license

Why is it important for U-M faculty members to participate in MOOCs and to publish OER?

Leading public universities like U-M need to set the tone for higher education worldwide. We operate in the public trust for the citizens of the State of Michigan and indirectly for the world. We have a responsibility to give back value to the citizens of Michigan and any other stakeholders that invest in U-M. I think that OERs are a great example of sharing the value that we produce at the U-M.

As someone with so much experience with both MOOCs and OER, what advice do you have for faculty members who are interested in exploring these concepts?

Working with Open.Michigan in 2009 to publish OER from my MSI courses absolutely laid the ground work for the success of IHTS and the success of PR4E. Without that clearance and the associated education of me as a faculty member on how to do OER slides – it would have been far more difficult to do PR4E. So I like to make sure to put a Creative Commons License on my PowerPoints as soon as I start building them. When I record a video or audio of one of my lectures, my second slide is always an Open.Michigan / Creative Commons license image. In the lecture audio I specifically read the license within the first 10 seconds of the audio.  Remember that if you say nothing about the copyright it defaults to “All Rights Reserved,” so you must be explicit. One way or another, be mindful of the copyright decisions you are making. And remember that Open.Michigan is a guide and helper to faculty all along their path to open materials.

Programming for Everybody starts on April 10, Register Today!

Programming for Everybody starts on April 10, 2014. Click on “Learn for Free” and register to join Dr. Chuck and a cohort of beginning programmers on Coursera. Download OER materials from Programming for Everybody on Open.Michigan and start remixing!

Celebrating Open Education Week 2014!

A celebration of the global open education movement, Open Education Week showcases the impact of openly-licensed content on teaching and learning worldwide. The third annual Open Education Week, organized by the OCW Consortium, takes place March 10-15 with local and online events around the world.

Open Education Week globe

Educational Materials Anyone Can Reuse, Adapt

At Open.Michigan, we work with faculty, students, and staff to openly license their work, so that the public can remix, use, and adapt the content to suit their own needs. In 2009, our dScribe Matthew Simpson, wrote a blog post, “Why Open Matters.” In his essay he cited four major areas of importance, including health equity, learning from other students, working in the global health setting, and improving health. It was true then, and it is true now.

OER can take a lot of forms, including  lectures, reading lists, syllabi, instructional modules, and simulations. Our Open.Michigan OER repository includes thousands of these resources you can browse, download, use, and share.

Did you know Wikipedia is the world’s largest and most used OER? When you make your work available as OER, you enable others to use your work on YOUR terms.

Free Textbooks for All Learners

Openly-licensed materials help learners. With the soaring cost of textbooks, openly-licensed textbooks become important to help keep education attainable. There are several University of Michigan courses that use open textbooks that are free and are available in the Open.Michigan repository, like a wikibook about parallel spectral numerical methods; statistics workbooks and lecture notes; an open textbook about python for informatics; a book about household politics in early Early Modern England; and many moreHere is another great collection of open textbooks.

Creating OER through Collaborations

Frequently, Open.Michigan partners with an individual or a department to create some amazing resources, including books:

Another way OER appears in the academic realm is as Open Course Ware (OCW). This happens when an entire course is released via Creative Commons licenses. A good example of OCW in our Open.Michigan collection is SI 410 – Ethics and Information Technology. Paul Conway, associate professor, School of Information, was the first University of Michigan faculty member to share all his courses as OCW. Find out why.

Making a Global Impact

The global impact of openly-licensed information cannot be overlooked nor underestimated. Established in 2008, the African Health OER Network  is a collaboration between the University of Michigan, the University of Michigan School of Dentistry, and African health sciences institutes. The Health OER Network develops and distributes health education information throughout Africa. One example of a successful collaboration utilized low-cost technology to reach areas with no or limited internet using a device called Raspberry Pi.

Translations play a big role in the African Health OER Network. Read an interview with Eve Nabulya: Luganda Translations For My Community. A large-scale project using crowdsourcing and volunteers launched in 2013 to bring multilingual video captions to the Open.Michigan YouTube Channel. Thanks to volunteers, more than 139 non-English captions have been translated into 18 languages.

Hope you have a great Open Education Week! Keep up the good work!