screenshot of Markdown in action

Photo by Robert Wetzlmayr

When I think about Open Education Resources, I tend to think about two key aspects — access and flexibility. We want material to be freely available to faculty and students, but we also want it to be modifiable. The idea isn’t to preserve material in a fixed state, so much as it is to let people tweak material as they see fit. PDFs are great, but they’re not easy to edit.

This was on my mind when I created OER101: Introduction to Open Education Resources — A 20-minute Course. The content was all available within an open Canvas site, but anyone wishing to reuse it in their own shell, or within a textbook or handout, would need to copy-and-paste content out of Canvas and into whatever tool they were using. They would then need to fix the formatting. Then, they could finally work with the content. It’s not the worst process in the world, but it created an extra step (or two).

I realized all of this could be avoided with Markdown, an easy-to-use markup that makes text very flexible. Markdown can easily be converted to HTML, PDF, Word files, and lots of other formats, often within a Markdown editor, but also just as easily with a third-party application like Pandoc.

Anyone interested in using OER101 can simply download the Markdown files off of GitHub and change them into whatever format(s) work best for them. This lets faculty focus on modifying content and not the mechanics of getting the content into a particular file format.

Markdown is popular in various web communities (even Tumblr supports it…), but a growing number of academics love it for its flexibility.

The beauty of Markdown is that it doesn’t require a special editor. Any text editor can handle it. However, if you’re looking to get up-to-speed on writing it, look for an editor with a live preview, which will let you spotcheck your markup as you compose. This listicle is as good as place as any to start, although I’m partial to the gedit-markdown plugin for Linux and MarkdownPad 2 for Windows.

I’d love to see Markdown files become a standard part of every OER project. It’s an easy way to make sure work can be both shared and modified.