Three Things Thursday

This week is layout week and today is layout day. These are good days when I get to immerse myself in the fussy work of book making (usually powered by an appealing soundtrack). 

Because I’ve been thinking a bit about publishing lately and doing more publishing than proper research, but I think that’s a fine place to be at end of long academic year and in the lead up to a month and a half in the field.

1. Guardian Archaeology Blog.

I was intrigued to see that the Guardian is has initiated a new archaeology and anthropology blog called, cleverly enough The Past and the Curious. The introductory post indicates that the authors are not just going to celebrate the big discoveries in these diverse fields, but actually get into the disciplinary wrangling that produce archaeological and anthropological knowledge. The authors rightly point out that this is an interesting time to be in archaeology and anthropology as disciplinary attitudes are changing as well as institutional and academic priorities. Making more of the academic life of these disciplines visible is a good thing, I think, even if it shows the public that knowledge making is far less tidy than many people have assumed.     

2. Manifold

I was excited to see the announcement Manifold, an open publishing platform developed by the University of Minnesota Press and a group of partners. Manifold is open and designed to produce open, interactive, and “living” digital publications. That’s pretty exciting and the works that Manifold is previewing from the University of Minnesota Press are attractive and interesting. A few of the works, like The Lab Book, will show off the ability of Manifold to present projects as they develop.

So far, their website offers a very appealing approach and package for digital publishing and the integration of different media and a high level of transparency in the production of digital works. Let’s see how this develops and whether the technical aspects of installing and running the platform will discourage its wide spread adoption. I’m also interested to reading more about plans to maintain and sustain the platform.

3. OER at UND.

This week the University of North Dakota announced that $100,000 has been set aside to facilitate the adoption (but not really the production) of Open Educational Resources in the classroom. In a meeting this week, our provost said that his goal is the save students $4 million on textbooks over the next year. At first, I was very impressed with this number, but then I did some simple math. If we assume that each student will spend about $4000 on textbooks (which is a bit on the low side) and we enroll around 11,000 undergraduates (or so), then we’re looking at total textbooks spending in the neighborhood of $45 million dollars. $4 million is saving is less than 10% and amounts to about $50 a semester per student or, in a more useful way, one class per year. While this is obviously better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, it’s still pretty modest gains.   

What’s more troubling to me, is that our administration connects this $4 million in savings largely to faculty adopting existing open educational resources in their classes rather than the production and distribution of open resources. This seems shortsighted to me and I wonder if some of that $4 million in saving should be put into the production of OER. What about a $10 fee for every open class that is designated for the production of OER resources. If we assume that each student has one OER class per year, that would amount to over $100,000 to support the production of OERs for specific classes.

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