University Business - November 2012 - (Page 52)
A ConversAtion With
By Tim Goral
ichard Baraniuk, a professor of electrical and computer science at Rice University in Houston, is founder of the nonprofit education project Connexions. Connexions is a pioneer in open education resources, acting as a repository for more than 17,000 learning objects and over 1,000 collections (textbooks and journal articles) that are used by over 2 million people each month. The materials are freely accessible and can be remixed and repurposed for individual needs. Baraniuk spoke to UB about the open education movement and the new OpenStax College initiative to provide free high-quality textbooks. Q: You’ve described two factors in a “perfect storm” that are paving the way to open education. Can you elaborate on them? Baraniuk: The perfect storm metaphor is a good one because either of these factors individually would be sufficient to put some pressure on the education world, but when they come simultaneously as they are now, I think it will accelerate the pace of change remarkably. The first of these is the access gap, the fact that the costs of education are spiraling out of control. Student debt is now past a trillion dollars and, in some places, the textbooks actually cost more than the tuition. It amazes me that the price of learning materials can now exceed the price of actually going to school. So when someone is dropping out of one of these colleges because they can’t afford it, it is as much a fault of the high price of materials as it is any fault of the institution. That’s because textbook costs have been rising much faster than the rate of inflation for 20 or 25 years. The second factor is that we have a huge amount of technological opportunity with the internet and the ability to develop materials in entirely new ways.
We’ve gone from textbooks to simple PDF files, to these massive online courses, where lectures and social interactions can be made available to people at essentially zero cost. So when you combine this money-saving technology with the fact that everyone says we have to cut the cost of education, I think we’re going to see a rapid move to some of these new modalities of distributing learning materials, taking courses, and earning credit for them. Q: Connexions was launched in 1999. Does it seem that you were just waiting for the times to catch up to your vision? Baraniuk: The thing that amazes me is that the ethos of Connexions hasn’t changed a bit in 13 years. Nothing has really deviated along the way. So yes, we were a bit ahead of our time, and we are waiting for the world to catch up. Now that the world is catching up it is very fun. Q: What is OpenStax College and what does it bring to the mix? Baraniuk: OpenStax grew out of our realization that although Connexions allows anyone to provide and get access to free
learning materials, it has limits. Let’s say you are a psychology professor who wants to save your students some money. You go to Connexions hoping to find a psychology textbook, but there isn’t one. While Connexions has grown rapidly, it doesn’t cover all areas, and the areas it does cover are sometimes uneven. There might be part of a psychology text, but not the PowerPoint slides or the test banks that the instructor likes to use. We started OpenStax College as a way to get high-quality, open-licensed textbooks in the hands of more people. It is configured more like a regular publisher. We will produce super high-quality textbooks, written by professionals and carefully peer-reviewed and edited. And they’ll include all the add-ons you need to make a turnkey, adoptable solution for a professor, with test banks, PowerPoint slides, image libraries, and so on. We’re starting with an initial library of 25 free, open-source textbooks that can address the needs of the 25 highest impact introductory college courses. Then the decision of adopting an open, free book becomes pretty easy because it’s high quality, the students are going to learn well, and they will save money. Q: How do Connexions and OpenStax sustain themselves? Baraniuk: Connexions was built with philanthropic support, but we also have a number of universities, companies, and NGOs (non-governmental organizations) that use Connexions or have an interest in it. They fund a consortium that helps develop some of the software Connexions needs. The other avenue is through sister projects like OpenStax College. The books are free, but if you go to Amazon you can obtain an EPUB or Kindle version of the book. You can also get highquality print copies of the books. In each
52 | november 2012
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of University Business - November 2012
University Business - November 2012
Behind the News
Security: Show and Tell?
P byo Dasvidt Gieenr g a Threat
Inside Look: Residence Halls
12 Options for IT Project Funding
University Business - November 2012