Open Textbooks… So why didn’t you tell me about this before?

Today I have had a bit of a revelation.  In finding out about Open Textbooks I feel as though I have just been given a huge, shiny, new present.  I have just found out about a whole world of open and fee open textbooks in a huge range of subjects including, most pertinently to me, business and management.Image

Years ago I remember having a bit of a fumble around in Google Books before all the hoo-ha put the lid on that, but since then I have only really seen ebooks accessible through the virtual libraries I am a member of.  I couldn’t share these with colleagues or learners, however, as the sites were ‘paid-up members only’.

It’s amazing what a bit of googling and tweeting can do.  In just a short time this afternoon I have come across a wealth of open textbooks, just waiting for me to adopts, recommend, share and adapt as I fancy. So why didn’t you tell me about this before?

I will try to attach a link to what I have found as I am keen to pass this knowledge on to anyone interested and time-poor. Click here

My mind is reeling from the potential of these open educational resources (oer).  Who is using these?  Are they any good?  What is the likely impact of these on educational leaders, practitioners and learners?

Petrides et al (Petrides et al., 2011) note that teachers less confident in using online technology used open textbooks in similar ways to traditional textbooks.  They suggest, however, that this could be built on through:

  • use of social networking tools
  • modelling new behaviours and tools with learners
  • collaboration to discuss oer curriculum materials
  • new teaching practices
  • leveraging learners’ ‘technology behaviours’ to drive open textbook adoption.

I can say straight away that these are not yet happening in any of the environments I have worked in recently.  I am keen to ensure that I trigger some of these though.

Conole (in Weller, 2011) suggests ‘resource based learning’ as one of a number of pedagogies suitable for our times.  Clearly then, selecting, curating, remixing and sharing resources including open textbooks is one way forward.  This is genuinely quite exciting and opens a whole set of thought processes.

One of these thoughts is connected to cost.  As an example, I teach management, and the recommended course textbooks cost £25 per module.  In the past we provided these free of charge to learners, but only some learners made use of them, and we didn’t always think they were very good in any case.  If the average learner takes 2.5 modules, and there are 10 learners in a group, the cost to us is £625.  That’s £625 for books we don’t really rate and that learners don’t really use.  Open textbooks provides a means of offering a textbook we approve of without the associated financial risk or charges.

Time.  Time is always the issue in publicly funded education.  Who on earth has the time to trawl through the available open textbooks, curate, remix and repurpose them?  And then keep up to date with any updates and new offerings?  Any volunteers?

Petrides, L., Jimes, C., Middleton‐Detzner, C., Walling, J. and Weiss, S. (2011) ‘Open textbook adoption and use: implications for teachers and learners’,  Open Learning: The Journal of Open, Distance and e-Learning, vol. 26, no. 1, pp. 39-49.

Weller, M. (2011) The Digital Scholar:  How technology is transforming scholarly practice, London, Bloomsbury Academic.



If you look closely, there are surfers bobbing around out beyond the break.  They know what they are doing, they know the area and they are calm.  I took this picture standing on the wall above.  I would love to join the surfers, but I am just a body boarder, and there are rock in the shallows so it is no good for body boarding. Image 

This sort of sums up how I feel about networked practice and elearning.  I have a few low level skills and lots of enthusiasm, but I don’t feel ready to join in with the big boys and girls yet.

Locking the (virtual) classroom door

Next week I will start training a new group of employed management trainees – apprentices in fact.  We will meet for a workshop once a week until Christmas. I have been getting everything ready for them, including setting up their virtual classroom in Edmodo.

I think I mentioned in a previous blog that I got involved with using Edmodo for purely practical reasons:  some colleagues had been trialling it, and it is free – can’t get more of a bargain than that.  Edmodo is pretty simple to use from the back end and fairly appealing to learners as it resembles Facebook.  I will primarily be using it as a resource for learners to access links, electronic copies of training materials and extra materials and news I think they might enjoy such as news on management topics.

In anticipation of the new group, I have set them up a virtual classroom.  Edmodo generates a shortened URL and a group code learners use to join the group.  Once they have all joined, I can ‘lock’ the classroom so that it is a private space just for us.  I should point out that I don’t lock my students in classrooms in the real world!


I have started to set up a virtual library in their Edmodo classroom – useful websites (click throughs), generic course info for reference etc.  One of the joys of Edmodo is that, once you have added materials they are in your teacher’s library until you delete them; ditto folders created to organise those materials.  As this is the third group I have used this with, it means I have lots of pre-uploaded materials and ready-made folders I can share in just a few clicks – a great time saver!

MOOCing around

So I have just had my first go at a MOOC through Coursera.  It’s an introduction to financial accounting – not my usual field, but I have been reading about accounting and financial reporting recently so thought I would give it a try.Bookkeeping

The course is divided up into 10 weeks.  I can already pretty much guarantee that I will miss the deadline for this week’s homework because a) I work and don’t have much free time to devote to this; and b) there are lots of videos to get through and although the videos seem quite short, I have to either stop them or slow them down so that I can make notes (I like to make notes).  I am not sure what happens if you miss the deadline – presumably you don’t pass the course.

Each week seems to have a number of videos to get through.  I think I already mentioned in a previous blog how much I hate watching videos.  But actually the two videos I watched this evening were OK and the professor/presenter was personable and a bit fun.  More fun than I expected a professor of accounting to be!  There are about 7 more videos to watch this week – never going to happen!

There appear to be a huge number of forums associated with this course, and people seem to have been busy posting things.  But posting what?  What on earth can they have to say at this point?  I couldn’t bring myself to even start looking at the long list of discussions, so I can’t tell you.  But I wonder what the value of the discussion boards would be…

All in all, I enjoyed watching the videos and I learned a bit about accounting.  Or at least, what I saw today built on the recent reading I had been doing.  I was very glad I had read a book on business finance before I started, as I didn’t feel completely at sea with the terminology.

In fact, the later parts of the second video I watched started working through some maths based on accounting principles and I was completely chuffed that I managed to solve the problems!

Anyway, hearing about financial reporting has worn me out, so that’s it for today.

Managing elearning

Today I thought I would summarise what my experience has been on the teaching and management side of elearning.

Many, many years ago one of my colleagues left and my CEO asked me to take over the management of two Learndirect centres which were seriously under-performing.  I braced myself to hate Learndirect and just make the best of it.  But to my surprise I absolutely loved everything about Learndirect.  The back end was fabulous – as a manager I could access weekly reports about starts, completers, what learners and teachers had been up to in terms of stats and progress.  This soon become a favourite Monday morning ritual:  logging in to look at all the previous week’s activity. The learners who were using it liked the courses and online materials.  By working closely with the teachers, we managed to bring two under-performing contracts back on track in no time at all by:

  1. using the data available through the back end to plan for learner completions and prioritise interventions for those who were behind schedule; and
  2. introducing a more blended learning approach.

I could talk all day about the data side (I can never have enough management information), but I think the blended learning approach warrants a bit more explanation.

The majority of learners were studying English or Maths or both.  Some were brushing up on their English as a first language and trying to gain a nationally recognised certificate, while others were learning English as a second language (ESOL).  A minority were studying more vocational courses, but the clear priority – in terms of learner volumes, Learndirect contracts and funding – were the English and Maths.  Learndirect allows for people to turn up at a centre and enrol for a course and then, if they want, never set foot in the centre ever again, and this had previously been encouraged.  Often the centre was empty, and volunteers and teachers had little to do.

When I took over and saw how many learners were not progressing towards their English and Maths courses, the first thing I got the teachers to do was to ring all those people and invite them in.  We discussed their learning goals and their experience of Learndirect with them.  They all liked it, but slowed down when they got stuck and had no-one to ask.  So the teachers put on some themed half-day sessions (e.g. Tuesday mornings for Maths, Wednesday afternoons for ESOL etc) and got people to commit to attend once a week or once a fortnight.  They would come in and work on their courses online, knowing that there was an expert on hand to help them with bits they got stuck on.  This was a great success, and there was a bit of camaraderie since the learners in the group were all in it together, and could even help each other.  It also allowed the teachers to plan brief targeted sessions (e.g. on punctuation) once they knew what people were struggling with.

This experience left me with a very strong conviction that elearning is all very well, but it needs some real-world intervention from human beings, particularly where you have learners with low levels of functional skills and confidence.


My other experience of back end elearning is in the management training I deliver to apprentices and other work-based learners.  I have been experimenting with Edmodo online VLE for around 7 months.  The reasons I chose Edmodo were purely practical:  the company I work for does not have its own VLE (most colleges I have worked for have used Moodle) and Edmodo was both online and free – my favourite price!   Some colleagues were using it, so I thought it was worth a shot.

In Edmodo I set up closed virtual classrooms for each group, and after each session I upload the materials and powerpoints I have used, along with links to websites I think they might like.  Edmodo looks and functions a bit like Facebook, and I can send a message to a group, create folders of materials for them and it is generally pretty easy to use from their end.  I can award badges if people have done something particularly meritorious such as given a presentation, although I doubt this is appreciated by adult learners!   My learners tend to use it simply to access materials.  No matter how much I try to encourage them to post messages with questions and answers to support each other, or respond to my posts, they don’t get involved.  It’s frustrating as I can see quite a bit of potential for it.  So it’s a bit lonely in there for me because

in VLE no-one can hear you scream!

I will keep experimenting with it – any pointers from more experienced Edmodo users would be appreciated…

Being an elearner #ocTEL

As a lifelong learner I have had some experience of being an elearning end-user and I thought it might be useful to reflect a little on my experiences to date.

My main experience has been as an Open University postgraduate student.  I have just finished the final module of my Masters in Education (Leadership & Management).  Of the three modules required to complete the MA, the last two were delivered entirely online.  A range of delivery techniques was employed including:

  • Online module guide
  • Printed reader
  • PDF reader (no good on a Kindle really)
  • Access to the university library
  • Access to an incredible breadth of online journals
  • Online asynchronous tutor group activities (in small groups of 4 or 5 people)
  • Synchronous online tutor group meetings
  • Submitting assignments through an online portal
  • Receiving feedback on written assignments through the same portal

Overall, I think there couldn’t be a better online learning experience but – and you knew there was a but coming – there were some downsides.  These are partly down to my own idiosyncrasies and learning style preferences, e.g. I don’t enjoy watching videos, and I prefer to read offline printed material rather than online on screen (and thus within reach of wifi i.e. at home). I also found it a very lonely experience as others in my tutor group contributed little to the mandatory collaborative parts of the programme, and few people attended the virtual, synchronous tutor groups.  Having said that, I loved every minute of the whole programme.

Elsewhere I have had access to a tutor group Moodle VLE which I enjoyed contributing to.  If I had taken notes in what I thought was a helpful format during a class, or had a resource at home to share, I uploaded them to Moodle.  Classmates were very grateful!

All in all, my experience as an elearner has been enjoyable, and I have found it easy to use modes of elearning and build them into my preferred learning styles.  I have enjoyed participating and contributing to elearning activities, forums and resources, but have found that others do not reciprocate.  This leaves me feeling a wee bit resentful that I have shared and others have not.

I have come to use many different techniques, devices, software and apps to help me as an elearner including:

  • Laptop (set up as a desktop with a separate keyboard and mouse)
  • Samsung galaxy tablet
  • Kindle
  • ipad
  • Microsoft office software
  • Microsoft OneNote (on laptop, iPad and SkyDrive)
  • Goodreader on ipad
  • Google Scholar
  • Diigo
  • Sony digital recorder to record voice notes
  • Dragon Dictation (to transcribe voice notes)
  • Virtual libraries
  • EBSCO Host and other journal search engines
  • Refworks online bibliography tool
  • Phones – Blackberry or iphone
  • SurveyMonkey

… among many others.  Perhaps at a later date I will blog a little about how I use some of these – particularly the less usual ones such as One Note and Dragon.  Remind me!

In my next blog I will share a little bit about my experience on the other side of the virtual fence:  my experience of elearning as a teacher and a manager.

The beginning of the journey


I have set up this blog today as a place to share my thinking and experience as I go from elearning novice to elearning professional.  There are probably lots of us in the world of post-compulsory and work-based education and training who need to get to grips with elearning, online and distance education.  I will share what I am doing, reading, researching, playing with and thinking about.

The header picture shows me in front of some giant waterlily pads.  I aim to hop across these towards elearning – hopefully I don’t fall in the water too many times, but you will help me out, won’t you?

I decided on the title The Elearning Apprentice as it reflects two important things.  Firstly, at least part of my several of my previous jobs has been managing the delivery of government-funded Apprenticeships.  Secondly, I see this as my apprenticeship into elearning as I hope to learn on-the-job from experts in the field.