OERs again

I’ve posted a number of times on Open Educational Resources, and mentioning these might help explain why I subject the entire issue to serious criticism, a small sigh, and a raised eyebrow.

And now? I’m even more skeptical, because now my own institution is pushing them. I think it was Alan Levine who first turned me on to the idea that state legislatures in the U.S. want OERs because it saves them money — they can decrease their education budget if everyone’s using “free” textbooks.

CC BY-SA 4.0 Opensource.com

It’s easy to see who makes the money with a textbook – the publishers, then the authors. With OERs it’s harder to see. In this case, it’s the state saving money, or pulling it from education. In other cases, it’s more commercial. I remember how happy I was, many years ago, when MIT released hours of lecture on YouTube. Then I discovered a company that had built a “shell” for this content, adding some discussion boards and a document that looked like a syllabus. As an instructor, you bought access to their platform for the semester, and used it like an LMS, with all the content comprised of MIT’s “free” videos. The company got money, but not MIT, not the professor. It seemed wrong then. It seems wrong now.

So now my question is, cui bono? Who benefits from OERs?

Lest you think I’m just a grumpy old prof, I don’t have to whine about my own institution’s intellectual property policy. It was developed in the first year we offered online classes (1998) by my prescient and exceptional colleague, Louisa Moon. She saw immediately the potential for online classes to be taken over by institutions, and taught without the faculty member being needed at all. One could develop a class, and the college could decide to take it and have “staff” teach it instead.

So our policy not only preserves ownership by faculty of the things we create, but even our sabbatical policy says we keep ownership so long as we don’t make excessive use of campus resources when creating stuff. I think that’s fair.

However, I work at a public community college. We do not have the same issues as universities, with their endowments and grants. But we do have a recent push to adopt OERs, and I’ve argued against it as a requirement. Not that I like textbooks (just search “textbooks” here on my blog to see how much I despise them and the whole publishing model), but if there aren’t even good open textbooks for History, there must be other areas where nothing good is available. So for me, the four priorities for using OERs are:

  1. The academic freedom of the professor in choosing what to assign
  2. The quality of the materials
  3. Whether commercial entities benefit from their use
  4.  Everything else discussed in this unit: the 5 Rs, open licenses, etc.

I guess that’s a little different than what this unit intended.

Roll call in Canvas

For the first week in every online class, I have an introductory discussion forum. I’ve done many things here (asked for students to talk about themselves, respond to a news story, or discuss videos on being a college student) but the point is for me to know they are actively in the class, that I don’t need to drop them as “no show”s.

The law says that signing in to an online class is not “attendance” – they need to do something. So this is what they do.


Since it’s not something I grade, I have had it set up as a forum, and I left unchecked the Graded box. Then this morning, I realized that to contact the students who haven’t posted (it’s due yesterday, the first day of the 8-week term), I’d need to print my roster and mark it manually, or write down the names of the students who hadn’t posted.

Instead, I went back in to the forum, checked “Graded”, made it 0 points, had it graded as Complete/Incomplete, and set the deadline for last night. Then I could go to the dropdown in the Gradebook and message the students who hadn’t done it, all at once.


Of course, I also then need to use Speedgrader to mark each one Complete, since Canvas doesn’t really understand what Complete/Incomplete means, or it would mark it automatically. But still, it’s better than manually tracking students!

The problem of Mr Byatt’s house

H.G. Wells had two stints in the wonderful town of Midhurst, in West Sussex.

Wells loved Midhurst:

Midhurst has always been a happy place for me. I suppose it rained there at times but all my memories of Midhurst are in sunshine.

His mother had been from Midhurst, but Wells’ first stay was in 1880, when she apprenticed him to Samuel Cowap, who owned a chemists’ shop in Church Street. While he enjoyed the work, he only stayed one month before joining Midhurst Grammar School as a pupil-teacher (he was 14). In February of 1881, he became pupil #33. But the school was not yet rebuilt, having closed in 1859 due to fire. So Wells stayed with Horace Byatt, the headmaster who was redeveloping the school. Byatt lived “with his wife and three small children in a comfortable old house near the South Pond”.

I have been trying to find out which house. I thought perhaps if I could get the census of 1881, I could find out. When I went online, geneaology sites like Ancestry.com would give me a peek:


But they wanted me to pay. The National Archives sent me to a paywall site, also Ancestry.com. I found an 1891 free page , and the house number was blank. I signed up for a free account at FindMyPast.com and found:


Totally fun —  there’s H.G.! and a female servant. But no indication of where the house was on South Street.

There aren’t that many choices. Here’s South Street in the Ordnance Survey 6 inch map (1888-1913) from 1895-6, from the National Library of Scotland:


And here’s the same from the Ordnance Survey 25-inch (1892-1905) from 1895:


There’s even an additional, wall map worthy, map from 1893.

And here it is on today’s Google Maps:


The Two Rose Cottages has a Wells Room, but I digress. Drop down in Street view and you see house numbers like this:


Being desperate, I sought a librarian. Within hours, our college’s wonderful librarian, Lauren, found this page, and thus told me he lived at 89 South Street. I was ecstatic! Then I was suspicious. I couldn’t really cite this source, obviously someone’s genealogical research mapped on Google.

So I asked, please, was there anyway to get an image of the census page? Lauren somehow obtained this page from someone at one of our public libraries, who could access such things:


Oh, dear. That’s not 89 South Street, it’s the 89th record (“No. of Schedule”), possibly the 89th house visited by the census taker. I can’t place the house. The numbers now are 6, 7, 8, so obviously 89 could never have been correct.

So the lesson here is really one of primary sources. A typed version of a primary source isn’t really a primary source – you need the real thing to discover that…you still don’t have what you were looking for. Another mystery to solve…


eaglehotelcensusMore clues have arrived thanks to the intrepid Lauren, our librarian. I now have the census page before this, indicating that stop number 86 was the “Eagle Hotel”, which I’m quite sure is the Spread Eagle Hotel, serving tavern-goers at the top of the street since the 15th century. So did the census-taker cross the street?