Open Access Week is an event with which academic librarians are not only familiar, but in which many participate by organizing campus events. There’s another week that celebrates openness that needs their attention.
While attending a conference last month, I met a librarian from a local university who introduced herself to me as the “OER Librarian.” I know about open educational resources (OER), but I was surprised to learn that an academic librarian was assigned to make it his or her specialty. Then, a week later, I received an email message from an academic librarian at another university library who asked to be added to a discussion list being compiled for librarians working on OER projects. She was an OER Librarian too. Those job titles speak volumes about a new area of responsibility and campus leadership that library administrations are eagerly accepting–OER. There are several different ways in which academic librarians can contribute to this revolution in how faculty acquire and disseminate learning content. What is most significant, and what these new OER Librarian positions signal, is the vital role the academic library is playing in creating change.
Building on Open Access
When it comes to being a catalyst for change in higher education, an industry notable for its reputation as being change resistant, academic librarians have made great strides in creating awareness and shifting perspectives about open access. It is not a stretch to say that, owing to the contributions of academic librarians, higher education is entering a new era of openness. Some of us, however, are less successful in leading this change at our institutions. Whether it’s lack of motivation, conservatism, or a dominant tenure and promotion system, faculty may be slow to accept that our scholarly communication system is badly in need of reform. If that describes your institution, then you may decide, like I did nearly four years ago, to shift the conversation to OER.
A good place to start is textbooks. What I found is that faculty tend to be more open to, and supportive of, a campaign to save students money, and it is less challenging to find colleagues who will champion an OER or alternate textbook project. Our experience with the open access movement serves to provide a model for how we might create more awareness and create converts. That’s where Open Education Week comes in. According to Nicole Allen, SPARC’s Director of Open Education, there is a natural connection between libraries and organized efforts to drive higher education to achieve greater openness. “Open education is a logical extension of what the library community supports in open access, and librarians are poised to advance the conversation in the same way.” It was Allen who first brought Open Education Week to my attention.
Celebrate the Week
Open Education Week is about more than textbooks. It celebrates all types of open and free sharing of educational resources. This includes both open courses and resources. This week of free online events is organized by the Open Courseware Consortium, a worldwide community of hundreds of higher education institutions and associated organizations committed to advancing open education and its impact on global education. As with Open Access Week, the site offers resources to promote events and create awareness. It also provides links to a series of events, which cover both open learning and OER, to bring local attention to the growing open education movement. It affords a great opportunity to help community members learn about open education. I was pleased to see that several of the events are organized and delivered by academic librarians. OE Week takes place March 10–15, so give thought now to how your library can point community members to the site and create some awareness about OER in the process.
Recently I’ve begun an effort to change the way educators think about instructional materials. To my way of thinking, the textbook is an archaic, outdated educational concept. Even if you present it in digital format with lots of electronic bells and whistles, it’s still a textbook. Just as our ability to create and share content digitally made it possible for us to author and disseminate scholarly works without the need for traditional publishers if we so choose, there is no longer any need for educators to subject their students to what one instructor colleague of mine (who participated in our Alt-Textbook project) called “boring textbooks.” We need to collaborate with our faculty to shift their thinking to digital learning materials. This can include the full spectrum of instructional content and technologies, from reusable learning objects to licensed library content to fully OER textbooks.
Marc Prensky usually has something controversial to say about educational technology. Here’s something interesting about textbooks from his regular column in the January-February 2014 issue of Educational Technology. Referring to online commercial textbooks, he wrote, “Even enhanced with multimedia, games, and simulations – [they] are merely an old way of looking at content in the Internet age. They are not innovative expenditures.” He added, “We should be looking much further. The true innovation is that we don’t need textbooks at all. But because we do not yet know exactly what works in their place, we must be totally open to experimentation.” Experimentation is very much in the spirit of OE Week.
Being Leaders, Making a Difference
According to John Shank, Acting Head of the Boscov-Lakin Information Commons & Thun Library at Penn State University-Berks and author of the OER and libraries, Interactive Open Educational Resources: A Guide to Finding, Choosing, and Using What’s Out There to Transform College Teaching, OE Week presents the perfect opportunity to start raising awareness about shifting our thinking about what learning content is and where textbooks do or do not fit into the picture. Shank told me that he has witnessed first-hand the impact of partnering with faculty to find help them find OER in educational repositories and integrate interactive open educational resources (i.e. tutorials, games, and simulations) into their courses. Shank said “They are excited to discover that their students become more engaged with course content and perform better on tests. Librarians have always been leaders on their campuses in providing access to high quality educational materials and resources. OER is a rapidly expanding set of online resources that allow librarians to adopt a leadership role in providing access to content that will have a significant impact on enhancing student learning at our institutions.”
Start Today by Participating in OE Week
It’s gratifying to know that more academic librarians are taking up the cause of textbook costs, and that some institutions are even devoting a specific librarian position to spread the word across their campuses. Owing to the leadership of academic librarians, more faculty are recognizing they can make choices that directly benefit their students by saving them money and improving learning. They can take control over the content they use as learning materials. With help from their academic librarian colleagues, they can identify OER from an expanding universe of content, along with content their own libraries already license. When college students worry less about spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on textbooks, they are better learners. And those who are even less able to afford higher education are better poised than ever before to access their learning materials at little or no cost. The academic library is often referred to as the “heart of the university”. For OER, the library needs to be the heart of the revolution. If you are still waiting to join in, OE Week is a great time to start.