Category Archives: oer

Introducing QCommons: Chemistry

After a long summer of programming and design, the first output of the QCommons research project is ready for the world.  I will blog more about QCommons in general, but today I’d like to tell you about QCommons: Chemistry, made in partnership with the Chemistry Education Digital Library.

In a nutshell, QCommons is a platform for assessment resources that promotes sharing and collaborative improvement.  It is open source and designed to support many different topic domains.  To track developments with QCommons please fill out the subscription form currently on the front page of the site.

QCommons: Chemistry is the first site built on the platform.  In developing sharing sites, there is a bootstrapping issue: people are unlikely to contribute to a site that doesn’t already offer something.  This makes starting out tough, but once it gets rolling the network effects help it grow faster and faster.  (Wikipedia being a prime example.)  Fortunately, the ChemEd DL and the Journal of Chemical Education have donated hundreds and hundreds of quality assessment items to get the ball rolling.  Anyone can come and browse through the items for ones useful in their formative or summative assessments.  All the items are from the JCE QBank and are used in General Chemistry courses at major universities. These were previously available only to vetted teachers, but now the questions (without the answers) are available to everyone.  (At this point, to see the answers you will still need to prove you are a teacher.  I welcome feedback on how to improve this.)

This is just the beginning.  There are many topic areas, new features and usability improvements to come.  In the spirit of Google’s long “beta” cycle, I’m releasing the site as it is to let people start using it and give feedback. It is ready to use and relatively bug free.  As I add new features I intend to keep it that way.  Just bear in mind that it’s a work in progress and any suggestions you have could strongly influence how it develops.

So again, all comments, criticisms and suggestions are welcome.  You can post them here on this blog or in the forums on the site.

OER Copyright Survey

Educators enjoy certain greater freedoms under copyright law’s Fair Use Doctrine, and such the culture of exchange in education is pretty lax.  In a workshop recently in which I discussed Qcommons (more on that later this week), the teachers said that if they were reticent to upload their materials because they’d lost track of what was original and what they’d copied from copyrighted sources.  They knew they had the right as teachers to use them in their courses, but did not know whether they could publish them online, and thus were effectively silenced by the intimidating complexity of copyright law.

Creative Commons has set out to make copyright and licensing terms easier to understand and use by everyone.  CCLearn is trying to do the same for education, which I argue is an even greater task.  Today they put up a survey to get a sense of how people understand the copyright rules and how they work with them.  Please take 5-10 minutes to fill it out and help advance access to and sharing of educational resources.  It closes August 31 so go ahead and do it now.  :)

From the survey page,

“Because most content remains “all-rights-reserved” under the traditional rules of copyright, it is often the case that the creators and producers of OER must confront questions as to when and if it is permissible to use content created by others when it is not offered under an open license. For example, an OER creator may want to incorporate a clip from a film into a lesson about film techniques, or an animated video illustrating a biological process into a lesson about that process. However, if the film clip or animation is protected by “all-rights-reserved” copyright, then the OER creator may be unsure how to proceed, or may wish to rely on some exception to copyright law that may apply under such circumstances.

It is our goal to develop a deeper awareness of the degree to which OER practitioners and users grapple with copyright law issues, and whether those issues pose barriers to the creation, dissemination, and reuse of OER. We hope that this initial survey will form the basis of a larger international study led by ccLearn.”