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FAQ

Frequently asked questions about Connexions

These questions are grouped by subject under the following headings:

For questions about IP (Intellectual Property), license, and copyright, please visit the Connexions IP (Legal) FAQ.

General Information

What is Connexions?
Connexions is a non-profit start-up launched at Rice University in 1999 that aims to reinvent how we write, edit, publish, and use textbooks and other learning materials. It is a global repository of educational content that can be described in four words that borrow from an Apple advertising slogan and a great book by Larry Lessig:
Create – in Connnexions, everyone is free to create educational materials and contribute them to the repository
Rip – in Connexions, everyone is free to copy the material and customize it
Mix – in Connexions, everyone is free to mix the material together into new books and courses
Burn – in Connexions, everyone is free to create finished products like e-learning web courses, CDroms, and even printed books
All of this is accomplished using open-access software tools and free-use material through the Creative Commons Attribution license. Connexions is not a tool for creating lesson plans and it is not a container for course syllabuses.
Who pays for Connexions?
The use of Connexions is free to anyone who has Internet access. The cost to develop Connexions is being paid by generous individuals, institutions, and foundations. See our Sponsors and Partners page for more information.
What distinguishes Connexions from other web-based education projects?
From its inception, Connexions was designed to allow the collaborative development and free availability of material. Instructors and authors can modify this material for any purpose. Connexions offers Free/Open Source software tools to help students, instructors, and authors manage these information assets. Connexions provides an open, standards-based approach for sharing and advancing knowledge to benefit the global educational community.
How do I get involved in this project?
Contact us by e-mail, snail mail, or telephone. For the necessary details, please see our Contact Info web page.

Licenses

What site license governs use of Connexions?
Here is the full Connexions site license. This license governs all use of the Connexions site for publishing and reading materials.
What license governs the use of the educational and scholarly content in Connnexions?
The materials in Connexions all feature a Creative Commons attribution license – created by an organization called Creative Commons – that makes sharing, using, and even changing the content free and legal, as long as you attribute the original author. And importantly, authors retain their copyright in Connexions, and so they retain control of their materials.

Connexions and Open Access Education

What is "open education" and what are open educational resources (OERs)?
The open-education movement takes the inspiration of the open-source software movement (Linux) and the power of the Internet and applies it to teaching and learning materials like course notes and textbooks. OERs are teaching and learning materials that are free to use and also re-use in new ways around the world.
How is Connexions different from other open education projects?
First, in scale: Connexions has content from all over the world in a growing variety of languages, not just materials from one specific school or university. It also collects materials to support education in K-12, community college, university, continuing education, and industrial training settings.
Second, by the way we support communities: Connexions is globally accessible to anyone to not only read and use our materials, but also take them, make them your own, and contribute them back to the repository. In reality, most other open education projects are of the "look but do not touch" variety.
Third, in the way we are organized: Connexions is grassroots organized from the bottom up rather than from the top down like many other open education projects. Everyone is free to join and take on a leadership role.
Who is using Connexions?
Right now, per month, Connexions is averaging over 2 million unique visitors from 194 countries to our site at cnx.org (October 2010). The vast majority of them are students who visit to learn, most from Google and other search engines.
Authors contributing content include professors from several major universities in North America, Europe, and Asia. Other contributors include former "shut outs" like Kitty Jones, a private music teacher from Champaign, IL, USA, who is writing on music theory. Already her material is in high demand; she had over 200,000 "uses" (page views) of her materials in the month of January 2007 alone. This gives you a sense of the size of the audience out there for OERs.
Volunteer translation projects have produced Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, and Vietnamese versions of existing content. Authors have produced original content in Italian, Portuguese, and several other languages. Already, these have become some of the most popular material in Connexions.
Teachers Without Borders is using Connexions as their content engine for training and certifying teachers in 84 countries around the world. They are in Iraq today training 20,000 teachers supported by USAID. The University of California at Merced, the latest addition to the UC system, is developing a range of courses in their engineering and science curricula in Connexions. The National Council of Professors of Educational Administration (NCPEA) is developing their knowledge base and a peer review quality control process in Connexions. They aim to include not just faculty members in the review process, but also practicing school administrators and superintendents.
Why is open education important?
First, open education strives to bring people back into the educational equation, in particular those people who have been "shut out" of the publishing world, like talented K-12 teachers, scientists and engineers out in industry, and people who do not read and write English.
Second, open education appears to be the most viable way to bring down the extremely high cost of teaching materials – for example, from a $120 textbook to a $20 textbook with no compromise in the quality of the presentation or print quality. The average community college student in the US spends more money on textbooks than tuition. Something is out of balance there.
Third, open education strives to reduce the time lag between producing a textbook and getting it into the hands of students. By the time most books are printed, they are out of date. This is particularly problematic in fast-moving areas of science, technology, and medicine.
Connexions sounds like Wikipedia. What is the difference?
Wikipedia is a great example of an open educational resource. It is freely available and everyone is welcome to contribute.
On a simplistic level, the difference lies in that Wikipedia is an encyclopedia, and people generally don’t teach from encyclopedias. So, in a sense, Connexions is like the textbook equivalent of Wikipedia.
On a deeper level, there are important differences in how Wikipedia and Connexions handle the credit that goes to authors: in Wikipedia authors are more or less anonymous while in Connexions they are clearly identified. This sort of academic "credit" is important to many authors and is often a prerequisite for them to participate. Moreover, having a named author authenticates the work, which helps out later with quality control.
What are the legal ramifications of this? Is this a violation of copyright law?
The materials in Connexions all feature a license – created by an organization called Creative Commons – that makes sharing, using, and even changing the content free and legal, as long as you attribute the original author. And importantly, authors retain their copyright in Connexions, and so they retain control of their materials.
So while Connexions is a totally different way to approach the publication process, it is all carefully designed to be totally legal. This is in stark contrast to what is going on in the music industry today with remixing, file-sharing, and so on.
Do not professors make money by writing textbooks? Why would they want to give their work away for free?
First, the vast majority of faculty do not make significant amounts of money from writing textbooks. If you take into account that most fairly successful textbooks sell a couple thousand copies a year, then amortized over the three or more years it usually takes to write a book, the royalties work out to something like 25 cents an hour.
Connexions is working out in the "long tail" of the publishing industry. We are trying to make a difference for textbooks that typically sell a few hundreds or thousands of copies. We are not trying to supplant Harry Potter from the best seller list.
Actually, when you get down to it, faculty write textbooks not to make money but to make an impact. And systems like Connexions make their work accessible to more people, thus increasing their potential impact. So it is a win-win situation for both writers and readers.
Electronic books have been slow to catch on. Is there any benefit for students or professors that prefer a printed textbook?
Print is going to be important for a long time. One thing Connexions has been working really hard towards is the ability for anyone anywhere to mix together their own book in Connexions and then have it printed-on-demand to arrive the next day by courier. We can do this now, and the savings can be incredible, for example, reducing the cost of a 300-page hardback engineering textbook from $122 to $22.
And then there is the publication time-lag issue from traditional printed books. Connexions’ Web courses and printed books are always up-to-date with the latest material from the global repository.
What about quality control?
Connexions invites everyone to contribute their materials. Because of this inclusive policy, the global repository will have content at different stages of development. In order to help users find the materials they need, we are developing a system that enables anyone (individuals, institutions, professional societies, and so on) to set up their own review process that sifts through the entire repository and directs users to the content judged to be "high quality". It is basically analogous to the "peer review" systems used in academic journals, but more scalable.
We are currently experimenting with a range of different approaches, including systems similar to the recommendations on Amazon.com and Ebay and social software systems like Flickr and del.icio.us.
What are the most significant trends you see in the academic publishing world?
Disintermediation (cutting out the middle man) is starting to move from Web sites like Ebay and sweep through all aspects of "content" development and distribution, from books and the press to music and movies. For example, we are going to see the re-emergence of many of those university presses that were shut down in the 1980s.
Another trend is the increasing use of XML, meta data, and other semantic Web (Web 2.0) features to enable new and flexible ways of developing and connecting ideas. Connexions has been XML-based from day one, and we could never have done what we have without it.
How did you get interested in open education?
In 1999, the founder of Connexions was frustrated with teaching an electrical engineering course and thought about writing a new textbook. Instead he decided to "do something modern" and think about how the then emerging open source software world could impact education. Connexions was born out of that "itch that needed to be scratched."

Working with Connexions

How does Connexions work?
Authors input text, images, and sounds into Connexions to create modules, which are independed "chunks of knowledge". Instructors arrange the modules into collections. Students or anyone view the modules and collections to gain knowledge.
How do I create a module or course?
A detailed explanation of using Connexions to create a collection appears in the Connexions Tutorial and Reference collection. A brief explanation of using Connexions appears on the New Author Guide Web page.
How many modules are already in the system?
Thousands.
How do I create a module in CNXML?
The Connexions author interface has input forms that walk you through the steps necessary to create a module. These steps include inserting files and images, naming the module, inserting keywords for searches, listing collaborating authors and granting them roles, adding links, verifying print and on-line versions, and publishing the module. You can learn more about these steps by viewing the Connexions Tutorial and Reference collection.
When I use an existing module in my collection, can I edit it?
You can give an existing module an alternate title or delete/edit the author's links. But you cannot edit the content of a module unless you are the author or the author granted you the maintainer role. Connexions gives you two options in this situation. You can request that the author change the contents of an existing module with the Suggest Edits function, or you can make a copy of an existing module, edit it as needed, and publish it as your own with the Derived Copy function. Derived copies contain an acknowledgement that they are based on an existing module.
Can I put multimedia objects like audio files, movies, Flash objects, or Java applets into my Connexions modules?
Yes. You can put any type of multimedia object that can be embedded in a Web page into a Connexions module. The only requirement is that the object must have a valid MIME (Multipurpose Internet Mail Extension) type.

Markup Languages

Why use XML?
There are several reasons for using XML. Documents written with XML are not limited to a single software vendor or hardware platform. XML facilitates the sharing and reuse of modules. XML enables smarter searching, which means you can tell the system what type of information you are looking for, such as modules written by a specific author, and not just search for a text string. XML lets you present information from one sourse in several different media, such as on-line display or paper copy.
How do I know if the CNXML/MathML I have written conforms to the various specifications?
When you save a file in the author interface, Connexions automatically runs a validation check on the module. Any CNXML/MathML errors are listed with a line number and a description of the error.

Teaching with Connexions

What are the benefits of using Connexions as a system for teaching?
Connexions offers high-quality, custom-tailored electronic course material. It is adaptable to a wide range of learning styles. It encourages students to explore the links among concepts, courses, and disciplines. Connexions fosters worldwide, cross-institution communities of authors, instructors, and students. The ideas and philosophies embodied by Connexions has the potential to change the very nature of teaching and learning, producing a dynamic, interconnected educational environment that is pedagogically sound, both time and cost efficient, and engaging.
What are the incentives to use Connexions for scholarly publication?
Worldwide exposure is a great incentive. A course in Connexions is available to scholars and students all over the world, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Any one with a PC and access to the Internet can read your course. And because Connexions is electronic, printing and publication times are greatly reduced or totally eliminated. You can update your course material and have it available for distribution in minutes instead of months.
Does Connexions review the content?
Connexions does not review the content. The content is the responsibility of the instructors and authors.
How does content get reviewed?
Connexions offers several post-publication review methods, powered by content viewers. The most powerful of these are lenses, which enable both organizations and individuals to give their stamps of approval to content in the repository, allowing for user-driven quality control of modules and collections. Through these lenses, users can provide their own tags and comments for items in the repository. Lenses can also be used as "bookmarks" within the repository to keep track of related or otherwise interesting content. Each user can also rate individual modules for quality on a five-star rating system.
Are not modules too small to adequately address some concepts?
Modules are as long or as short as deemed necessary by the authors. If a concept is too complicated to be addressed adequately in a small module, then multiple modules can be grouped together in a collection to address the concept.
What is involved in being an author?
The only prerequisite for being a Connexions author is to register with Connexions and establish a Connexions account.
What do I have to do to use Connexions for my collection?
Just start using it. The Creative Commons license allows you to use any material in Connexions without contacting the author and asking permission, although many people contact authors after using their content to express appreciation and thanks.
How do I create a lesson plan for my class?
Lesson plans are outside the scope of Connexions. Connexions allows you to customize and publish the information you want your students to use in your class, in any order and with any content you desire.
How many students and teachers can access the system at one time?
A lot. Connexions is based on a web browser, so just like a web browser the number of people who can access it at one time is limited by the servers and available bandwidth.
Can I create modules off-line and upload them later?
Yes. Connexions allows you to import files into a module in the author interface.
Can I test my students with Connexions?
On-line quizzes and exams are not in the scope of Connexions. However, Connexions provides a method of feedback or self-assessment for students by inserting QML-based questions within the content.

Internet Browsers

Can I use IE (Internet Explorer) with Connexions?
Yes. For a complete list of Internet browsers and their compatibility with Connexions see the Browser Support page.

Content Repository

Who maintains the Content Repository?
The Connexions project team maintains the Content Repository as a whole. Individual courses and modules are maintained by their instructors and authors.
How do I search the Content Repository?
Use the Search button and the text box in the upper right corner of the Connexions Home page to enter a text string and search for it in the modules within the Content Repository. In addition, there is a Content tab under the Connexions icon at the top of the Connexions Home page. This link lets you browse modules by title, author, or keyword. It also allows you to list the courses by title, institution, or instructor.
Are there limits to the amount or type of information that can be posted in Content Repository?
The amount of information in the Content Repository is limited by the storage capacity of the hardware devices. Currently there is a surplus of storage capacity dedicated to the Content Repository. In the future the Content Repository will be distributed on a network of storage sites at different institutions. The only limit to the type of information in Connexions is related to the format of the file that contains the information. Since Connexions is free/open software, any information in the Content Repository must of a format that is accessible by a free/open software package.
Who determines the time and circumstances under which material should be removed from Content Repository, and what guidelines or rules do they use to make those determinations?
The Connexions project team and Rice University. A detailed statement about this appears in the Connexions Service and Repository User Agreement, which must be agreed to by anyone using the Connexions tools or Content Repository.

Technical Tips

I have a Connexions account, but I cannot log into Connexions.
The client/server mechanism of Connexions uses cookies to recognize users. If cookies are not enabled on your browser, Connexions will not recognize you and will not allow you to login. Please verify that cookies are enabled on the browser you are using and try to login again.
Can I include links to another module or to an external point in the Abstract text box?
The Abstract may contain only text and links are not text. This allows Connexions to easily search the text of the Abstract.
Can I enter anything other than text in the Name field?
Only text can be entered in the Name field. This allows Connexions to easily search the text of the Name field.
Can I enter a definition in a solution?
Nothing should be defined within a solution. For questions about CNXML tags, see the specs for the tag in question.
Why do I get an error about not using the correct import format when I try to import a file into my module?
The file you attempted to import contains embedded spaces in the filename. Connexions does not support embedded spaces in filenames. Rename the file without the spaces and import it again.