The No-textbook Challenge: Using web resources to replace the College Text

Is it possible to use Open Educational Resources  and other open education materials to replace student textbooks for an online college course? Find free content on the web, eliminating the need for  students to buy textbooks?  Yes! –  at least for the course United States Government which I put to the test. I put myself up to the  No Textbook Challenge – to replace textbooks for a given General Education college three credit course as described in my last post. In this post, I’ll outline the context of the course, and the engaging, comprehensive and free instructional resources which I’ve incorporated into the online course delivered via Moodle (the  learning management platform our college uses).

 The context
I use the Dick, Carey and Carey instructional model (consisting of 9 phases) for design and re-design of our online courses. There are nine phases in the model – though with the re-design we focus on phase 7 and 8, developing the instructional strategy and selecting the instructional materials.

Background: Course Objectives:
To put the course in perspective, the course is a survey course designed to introduce students to the institutions and processes of the American political system.

  • Explain the basic concepts on which the American governmental system was based
  • Describe the workings of the American governmental system
  • Outline the process by which a bill becomes a law
  • Explain the various civil rights guaranteed by the Constitution
  • Describe the basic functions, organization, and powers of the Congress, the presidency, and the judiciary

Instructional Materials:
Instructional materials are part of the Instructional Strategy and are essentially the content that supports the course objectives. Other materials may include materials (resources) such as, workbooks, textbooks, case studies, web resources, lecture notes, simulations etc. For this US Government course, we use pre-recorded video lectures that covers some of the course topics, delivered over 8 modules, and text books, (before the re-design).

The texts we replaced:
1) American Government, Brief Edition, 9th Ed. by James Q. Wilson – $76.73 (paper back), $69.06 (Kindle edition)
2) The Federalist Papers by Charles Kessler – $7.99

English: Title page of the first printing of t...

With: open content and web resources: – Free
The resources below are part of the instructional strategy –  the instructor uses these as content to support learning objectives. Note that student application and synthesis comes through online forum discussions, group work, mini assignments, quizzes and essay assignments where the student applies the content. These sources are not the sole method of learning, it is instructor involvement and guidance that promotes meaningful and authentic learning.

Federalist Papers: : This  awesome site, features 100 milestone documents of American history presented by the National Archives. Best of all the site lets the user view and zoom in on the images of original documents, including all of the federalist papers, i.e. Federalist no. 10, as it appeared in the New York Daily Advertiser, November 22, 1787.

American Government: Topics:

I  The Constitution of United States
The United States Constitution – Constitution Day Resources, Library of Congress
The Declaration of Independence – The History Channel – video
Constitution development & Principles: Video lesson: OER, US Government
Federalism: Video Lesson: OER:
Library of US Historical Documents:

II Political Beliefs and Behaviors
Political Parties:
Interest Groups and their influence: other, list of select groups
Public Policy:
The Media and its Influence: Pew Research Center
Voting Behavior of the Public: other

III Institutions of the Government: Congress, Presidency, Bureaucracy and Courts
Electoral College – how it works: The Kahn Academy
Three Branches of Government: Harry Truman Library Resources
The Nature of Bureaucracy: OER video lesson
Legislative Simulation –
Presidential Election History:
The White House
US Senate: Live Stream of US Capitol

IV Civil Rights and Liberties
The Bill of Rights:
Civil Rights: Landmark Cases:
How a bill becomes Law: OER

Glossary of Political Economic Terms:

This course used for this no textbook challenge was [very] conducive to open content. Not all courses will lend themselves to open and free content, though I firmly believe that with detailed and careful research, there is much content available on the web for free. I do want to reiterate, that the resources we listed do not stand on their own – the selection and choice of tools require careful pedagogical planning and development of learning activities and assessments. And, the final component of successful learning is instructor guidance and instruction. Check back in a few days for another post on other textbook options.

Keep Learning 🙂

MIT Shakes up Higher Ed (again) with MITx

MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) created some waves at the end of 2011  in  Higher Education circles with the announcement of a new initiative – MITx, an expansion of MIT’s  Open Course Ware program.  MITx plans to offer credentials to any learner who demonstrates, through an assessment process that they have mastered the given content of a course offered FREE through MIT’s OpenCourseWare.  Disruptive? Yes – the timing couldn’t be better – just as Higher Ed approaches a crisis with rising costs for a degree and the pressure to show value, MIT suggests an attractive  alternative.

Image  First things first –  What is MIT OpenCourseWare?

MIT launched in 2002  OpenCourseWare,  a web based program  that offered the school’s educational content for all undergraduate and graduate level courses offered by the school – online and available to anyone.  Learners have access to all educational materials – streaming video lectures, syllabi, exams, notes etc.  What is missing is the interaction with classmates, feedback from professor, college credits, or certification of any kind.  However this doesn’t seem to bother the 1,000,000 visitors who go to the OpenCourseWare site each month.

What about MITx?

Fast forward to 2011,  MIT’s  Provost Rafeal Reif launches MITx, a research project in online teaching and learning.  There are two significant aspects of the program:

1) MIT will offer an open-source learning management platform (similar to Moodle) to any institution, ” [MIT will] operate … an open-source, scalable software infrastructure in order to make it continuously improving and readily available to other educational institutions.”

2) The program will “allow for the individual assessment of any student’s work and allow students who demonstrate their mastery of subjects to earn a certificate of completion awarded by MITx.”

Both of these initiatives are significant undertakings, and could potentially offer tremendous value to students seeking higher education on a budget. Imagine getting a world-class education for free?

MITx Credentials will not bear the MIT name

It makes sense that MIT will administer this program as an extension of their school, thus bearing a different name.  According to the MITx common question page,  “online learners who demonstrate mastery of subjects could earn a certificate of completion, but any such credential would not be issued under the name MIT. Rather, MIT plans to create a not-for-profit body within the Institute that will offer certification for online learners of MIT coursework. That body will carry a distinct name to avoid confusion.”  This makes good sense, and it appears to be well thought out.


  • Online education will continue to grow, with accredited courses and programs being offered by even the elite universities.
  • The open source Learning management platform  (LMS) offered by MITx will influence availability, quality and price structure of learning management platforms. Competition will increase, benefiting educational institutions in general.
  • Higher Education institutions will need to examine their own models of online education offering.  Demonstrating value to the ‘customer’ will be a requirement for a successful education program in the near future.
  • Higher Education institutions that fail to provide a quality online product and show value, will be in jeopardy.
  • Students will become educated consumers and ‘shop’ for the best program to fit their needs at a price that doesn’t saddle them with huge debt.

I can’t wait to see the developments in Online Education for 2012! Hold on to your mice! 🙂

Source: MIT News, What is MITx?,,  Retrieved January 4, 2011

Open, Easy and Amazing – OPEN CLASS: Is it ‘Just Right’?

Those of you familiar with Moodle, Blackboard, Desire2Learn etc. – a learning management platform (LMS) of some sort, will most likely agree that for whatever reason, it is not ‘quite right’ – too cumbersome – too expensive – too complicated – take your pick.  Voila, we now have (or soon will have) OPEN CLASS, Pearson’s new LMS, whose mantra is OPEN, EASY and AMAZING. During a recent Webinar hosted by Campus Technology, the design and marketing team of OPEN CLASS revealed the key features and uniqueness of this LMS platform that appears pretty darn … amazing. In fact, my first reaction was that OPEN CLASS is too good-to-be true – read on to see why.

The platform appears to have been thoughtfully and carefully developed resulting in a system that is user-friendly and interactive. Interactivity is accomplished by blending the best of social media tools with learning applications making the entire learning experience not just relevant but meaningful. Below is a screen shot of OPEN CLASS from the instructor’s perspective, displaying the courses she is teaching on the left, and the ‘people’ or students and colleagues on the right.

Open Class Screen Shot
Open Class Screen Shot: Instructor's view

It’s not merely Facebook or Google + with a bit of learning thrown in, though OPEN CLASS incorporates elements from each that will work beautifully for creating a robust and rich educational online environment. The platform inherently encourages students to collaborate, study, email, chat and share with professor or classmates with a single sign-on. Not to mention students can access their course content, syllabus, assignments and grade book all within OPEN CLASS’ attractive, user-friendly interface.

The mantra of OPEN CLASS is this: OPEN, EASY and AMAZING. Which is a genius marketing strategy, considering existing LMS platforms are anything but, and the simplicity of the message is ohh so attractive. I’ve summarize the three concepts below.

OPEN:  The system is currently in the Beta (test) phase, but anyone with access to Google Apps for Education can begin using it right now.  In mid 2012, Open Class will be OPEN to anyone, yes anyone.  The platform is Open because it seamlessly incorporates e-books  (which is why Pearson is behind this), though any publisher’s text books can be included.

EASY: Now here is what to get excited about …OPEN CLASS seems  intuitive, (a.k.a. easy), meaning instructors/designers can begin using the platform with minimal learning curve.  Instructors have access to user-friendly tools for grading, creating exams, and communicating either with individual students or the entire class. Accessing content and learning objects is apparently seamless, the system is designed to be able to access open source resources, online content, and allows instructors to communicate across institutions. On a personal note, if the grade book tool in OPEN CLASS actually is as easy and effective to use as it looks, I will do a jig on the spot – having pulled my hair out trying to decipher the complexities of the Moodle grade book for almost two years now. Below is an image of the Grade Book from the Instructor’s perspective.

Screen Shot Grade Book Instructor View: Open Class
Open Class Screen Shot Gradebook: Instructor's view

AMAZING: Best of all it is FREE. Yes you heard right – FREE.  This is why it seems too good-to-be true.  And there are no licensing costs, no software to download or maintain, or hosting costs. Yes amazing. You might wonder if there is a catch –  there is none according to Pearson. However you can see the brilliance behind Pearson’s strategy –  Pearson is a text-book publishing company, there is an increasing interest in e-books, interactive content, learning is going mobile and online, etc., etc.  Pearson is just putting themselves ahead of the game. Failure to adapt will make text-book companies obsolete in the near future, think of the recent demise of the book store in the United States, Borders.

I encourage you to go to the website if you want to learn more.  Many schools are in the test phase including Rice University, Arizona State, Columbia to name just a few. Of course you can also sign-up for OPEN CLASS with a Google Apps account, or in just a few short months OPEN CLASS will be open to all, easy as that! And yes, don’t forget Amazing. To find out more:

Keep Learning 🙂