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Self-publishing OERs: Absolutely the right choice

Third-party hosting services (like WordPress!), as our readings point out, have several disadvantages, including their potential instability (i.e., they can disappear at any time, taking your content with them) as well as the lack of control you have over what else happens in that space (our reading’s example was YouTube advertising; I would also add commenting, because this is the reason many schools in my area block access to YouTube).

For my final project, I chose to set up a wiki because I wanted to learn how to use a new tool. But the wiki-hosting sites do not allow a lot of customization; in my case, I want to be able to control formatting, colors, and so on. In addition, free wiki-hosting sites also have some potential for putting ads on your wiki. (For instance, one OER I visited in my quest had advertisements from the Koch brothers—right-wing owners of the second largest private company in the United States—ads that were a complete contradiction to the stated purpose of the site itself.

So instead of choosing a third-party site, I decided to self-publish my wiki using a new site for my business. I am moving my files, etc., from Yahoo Small Business hosting (which charges $35 a month to host my website) to Bluehost.com, which charges only $6 a month. When I first started my freelance business, I knew nothing about Web publishing and those were also the days of raw HTML. Yahoo offered a service to help build the site, and so I chose that option. Fast forward to now, in which not only have I learned a lot about Web publishing but also I have access to mountains of free tools to help me build a site. Bluehost is wonderful, too, because it has scripts that will set up a WordPress or wiki engine for you. So my hosted account Editorial Partners LLC is the host of my Professional Writing wiki, the final project for my course and an ongoing project for me.

For only $6 a month, an amount many people spend daily on a latte or chai tea from Starbucks, I have a space on the Web that is entirely mine: I control what’s there (and what’s not), there are no unwanted advertisements, very few schools have blocked the site from their students (none, actually), and it will never disappear unless I make it. I can change colors, change my whole theme, create subdirectories for different projects or clients, and so on. In addition, I researched different types of wikis and chose Dokuwiki as my engine because it creates text files rather than database entries, which means they are accessible on any device, easily printed, and require relatively low bandwidth and memory. And because they are text files, they play well with audio devices for people with sight disabilities and can be saved as a document that can easily be modified (e.g., scaling up the font size).

The only “down side” that I see (aside from the programming bits I need to learn—and for me, learning new tools never has a down side) is that these resources are less easily found on the Web. For instance, if I google “professional writing resources,” my little wiki does not appear in the search results. Perhaps that is something to add to the course resources, in the area of publishing: the basics of metadata, how search engines can find you, how you could submit to OER respositories, etc.

Creating content with open tools

 I always just love trying out new tools online. The ones listed in our course readings this week are familiar to me, although as I mentioned in my response to Vince J’s post (which, for some reason, didn’t save but won’t let me add a “duplicate” comment), they may be a little dated because of the readings dated 2008. Most of the tools that are listed seem to be downloadable software rather than cloud-based tools (aside from the hosted blogs, of course). As Damien mentions in his post, the Google Apps suite seems to be given shorter attention than it might deserve. Although I currently don’t work at an “institution,” I can see the value of this suite for education and business.

Created with Tagxedo; uploaded a transcription skills paper I'm completing for a client

Google Calendar is one app I really like a lot and use incessantly for project-based work as a freelancer—I set up dedicated calendars for big projects, another calendar for ongoing editing work from my smaller clients, one for family, and one for my husband’s business to keep track of our events as well as post them on our website (www.DandyDogOhio.com). Reading Damien’s post led me to think more about how some of these tools are not necessarily geared toward OERs but could be useful. For instance, Google calendar would be a very basic learning management system: each week’s activities and readings can be set up as events; because of the seamless way it works with Gmail and Docs, it seems ripe for this.

Other tools to add to the list

I was surprised that the Aviary suite of online image and sound editing tools wasn’t among the ones listed as video tools in our readings this week. These are great substitutes for Photoshop, Illustrator, Audacity, and other tools. When I worked in an organization that did not have the Adobe tools, I was still able to manipulate photos and illustrations to make nice document. Also, one tool I really like that is not open source but is free is Microsoft Movie Maker; it comes with Windows installations. However, the newest version is not the best, so I downgraded back to an earlier version that had better functionality.

I used Movie Maker to create my final project for the Connectivism course last year that combined still photos, music, film clips, and animation. The animation was created by another online free source I like called GoAnimate. In fact, my husband and I use it so much we started paying a small fee each month to ease our creation of animations (see the Dandy Dog videos for our “commercials”). For video conversion, I really like Zamzar. My husband goes between Macs at school and our PCs at home, so this online service is extremely helpful for .mov to Quicktime conversions, especially. However, sometimes it takes awhile to convert if you use the free version, xo don’t try it under a deadline. RealPlayer‘s converter that comes with its free player has a version that will do some basic things like convert movie files so you can play them on a smartphone. 

There are so many tools it is hard to quanitify them, and harder still for me to fault our readings for not including them as potentially useful for OERs. Two word-cloud creation programs I like are free, online, and easy to use: Wordle and Tagxedo. Both will do similar constructions, though I started with Tagxedo and still use it more than I do Wordle. Interesting textual analysis can happen with these tools; I could see an instructor loading a public domain book and having students use the resulting word cloud to make some statements about the text itself. I could see, also, using it in a composition classroom to help students see some of their composing “tics.”

Of course, Prezi is my all-time favorite online tool to create content. Prezi is so much more than a PowerPoint substitute, and it’s what I may end up using for our final project in this course. Prezi allows you to embed and link content, organizing it visually in a way that might be helpful to subjects that lend themselves to chunks of topics rather than linear steps. It is another tool that is basically free to use, but you can also pay a small fee to be able to download a desktop version.

Most of the tools I have been introduced to have been through the wonderful blog Free Technology 4 Teachers and the site for the Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies (which has reviews and information about open source, free, and commercial software). The tools I have used have mostly been tools that somehow are already familiar—like the Aviary tools, which make sense to me because they mimic the basic features of the Adobe tools I already know. There are other tools I think are interesting, but I never have a need to use them (not to mention, having time to learn them).

Sobering

Comparisons between China and the United States
America Meet China
Created by: Online University Rankings

Mobile spelling games

My final project for Mobile Learning; I have figured out how to show the videos for the sample game ideas. Click the slide or the text below the embedded slides for a flash version.

Sample Game 1 (Maze) Sample Game 2 (Monkey Throw)

Update 9/1/2011: A great post at PBS about gaming literacy.