Some days, "open" means that someone left the cover off the rabbit hole and you go tumbling down it.
It's always hard to know who to blame when that happens. I could point a finger at Joe Wikert, for example, for his post on Why Johnny doesn't like e-textbooks, and for his many versions of the same answer — "because they're a closed, limited, and generally unsatisfying experience."
Along those same lines, Stephen Downes and Michael Feldstein didn't help when they pointed to high-earning textbook author Greg Mankiew's post defending the steep cost of textbooks.
But, in reality, I think the "big push" happened last night when I was looking for samples of student production in Laura Gibbs' Mythology and Folklore course, and when, poking around on her site, I came into contact once again with the UnTextbook she has created for her course.
Over the years Laura has continued to tweak her course in an effort to provide broader, more open, and more meaningful support for learner agency.
I've had the pleasure of watching the UnTextbook project evolve in Laura's course over the years. In her original course design, she supported student agency by allowing learners to choose between two readings each week. In this way, her students were able to personalize the course content, to some extent, based on their own interests.
If you know Laura at all, you'll understand that this could only be a beginning for her. Over the years she has continued to tweak her course in an effort to provide broader, more open, and more meaningful support for learner agency. Eventually, that led to a prodigious effort over the last summer and the release of her continuing-to-evolve UnTextbook.
Just the beginning
Here is Laura's description of the project on her course site (bold emphasis is mine).
For the readings in this class, you will be using something that I call the "UnTextbook," something which I put together over the summer. Exactly because I see the world of folklore and mythology in terms of unlimited storytelling possibilities, I really wanted to give you MORE to explore and choose from as you do the weekly readings for this class. Before this year, there was a choice of two reading options every week, for a total of 28 reading units. And that was just fine: there were lots of great stories for people to read and enjoy that way. But as more and more folklore and mythology books became available online over the past ten years (that's how long I have been teaching the class), I kept wanting to do a better job with the reading options in this class. The result is the UnTextbook, "pieces" of a book, made up of hundreds of other books. Each week of the semester, YOU will be putting the pieces together, choosing what you want to read each week from the various options, and thus creating a unique textbook of your own.
You need to visit Laura's UnTextbook site to gain a full appreciation for the open content she has compiled for the course (and keeps compiling), and also to understand how it is representative of the future of openness, open content, and open pedagogy. While the UnTextbook certainly saves money for students, its real value is the way it opens the course structure and expands student learning networks.
UnTextbook and open pedagogy
Specifically, Laura's UnTextbook shapes an open pedagogy in her course through:
1. Agency — The UnTextbook is about choice and freedom. It places the students at the center of her or his learning network and offers them an opportunity to learn while exploring virtually without limits.
2. Production — The UnTextbook also allows and encourages students to assemble their own learning experience. This, in turn, provides a terrific model for the other major component of the course — the storybook project. Students create their own myth websites and the open, creative process of those projects is enhanced by the openness and flexibility of the UnTextbook.
3. Connectivity — Finally, the UnTextbook creates a personal experience that leads to greater connectivity within the students' learning networks. The uniqueness of their experiences inspire them to share and compare with other students. In addition, the creative inspiration the UnTextbook provides for the storybook projects makes these more interesting and sharable as well.
Sometimes, it seems, the rabbit hole serves up extremely valuable lessons. And, on a good day, it might even give you a bonus, like this reminder about real course openness from Alan Levine.