As part of the ongoing celebration of International Open Access Week, Metropolitan New York Library Council (METRO) and the Greater New York Metropolitan Area Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL/NY) organized a panel discussion on November 2 titled “Leveraging Open Educational Resources in the Classroom and Beyond.”
Open Educational Resources (OER)—freely accessible, openly licensed documents and media that can be used in the classroom to supplement or replace traditional textbooks and proprietary source material—are becoming increasingly common in both physical and virtual classrooms. The panel of academics—Lisa Norberg, Megan Wacha, and Steven Ovadia—took a close look at OER use in the higher ed environment and how academic libraries can support faculty, students, and staff in developing OER initiatives.
One issue driving the move to adopt OERs is high price of textbooks, which has become a political issue at both the state and federal level. Norberg, a principal at K|N Consultants with years of experience in higher education, stated that it was impossible to work in academic libraries and not see students—some of whom have already spent thousands of dollars on textbooks—fighting over course reserves. In addition, the widespread adoption of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) requires openly accessible digital materials.
Wacha, scholarly communications librarian at the City University of New York (CUNY) and manager of CUNY’s Academic Works institutional repository, brought up the statistics to support the stories: According to U.S. News & World Report, 65 percent of college students don’t buy the textbooks they need for courses because they can’t afford them. As the conversation in higher education focuses ever more on student success and retention, textbooks are increasingly seen as having similar barriers to access as academic journals—another source undergoing a sea change.
But the idea that students would use textbooks if they were less expensive is not a given either, noted Ovadia, professor/web services librarian at CUNY’s LaGuardia Community College (LCC). While the cost may scare them away initially, he continued, changing teaching methods mean that textbooks are becoming less essential to the classroom.
CHANGE IN THE CLASSROOM
“It sounds like OER is really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to rethinking and repatterning our systems of education,” said moderator Davis Erin Anderson, METRO community engagement manager (and a 2012 LJ Mover & Shaker). “In our effort to move away from a top-down pedagogical approach and toward a more inclusive environment, what else must we change?”
Inclusion begins, suggested Ovadia, with connection to the material itself. Traditionally, “when you teach, you close the door,” he said; making teaching a more public act within an institution offers access to other points of view. This is already happening, noted Norberg; faculty who have been cloistered are engaging more in order to be more effective in the classroom. Whether they find themselves needing help with new technology or are just looking for a more collaborative approach, encouraging faculty to move outside their comfort zones can lead to a culture of sharing. Wacha also lauded the move toward open scholarship—students working with faculty to shape courses. “The textbook is no longer queen,” she declared.
WHERE IS THE MONEY?
Given higher education’s reliance on part-time and adjunct faculty, and the absence of remuneration for OERs, wondered Anderson, “How can we reasonably advocate for moving toward a more inclusive learning environment while these trends are also going on?”
Finding a sustainable way to support the development for OERs should be a priority, the panel agreed. To begin with, the economics of OERs need to recognize the labor that goes into them, said Norberg. Faculty members can “buy back” some of the time that goes into the development of these resources through grants, and the work can also advance them professionally, but there’s a tendency for people not to get credit for their time and labor—not to mention the work that needs to go into promoting the finished product. Although getting a commercial textbook published is often viewed as the academic equivalent of hitting the lottery, added Ovadia, “it’s probably not going to happen.”
In addition, “the way that labor is valued depends very much on who’s doing it,” said Wacha. Supporting OERs depends on making them available, she added, through institutional repositories, the library’s discovery layer, and other means. Materials need to be not only sharable but scalable, Ovadia noted, so that faculty members just beginning to use them can get up to speed. People are busy and overworked already, and the temptation is to default to plug-and-play academic resources.
On the other extreme, he said, the solution is not “everyone just make your own textbooks.” Wacha agreed: “Our initial reaction is ‘I’m going to create it from the ground up,’” but resources can be remixed and reused to save time and effort. “Start with what you have,” said Ovadia, adding that until there’s an established model, calling on faculty to put in additional work on OERs is a lot to ask. Libraries, noted Norberg, have an important role to play here in helping curate resources. “They know what faculty need,” she stated.
“TWO C’S ARE BETTER THAN ONE”
When it comes to copyright issues of the materials used in OER, the conversations have been shifting, said Norberg. People are protective of their intellectual property, and libraries are well positioned to help educate OER creators to make informed decisions—for example, making sure they understand Creative Commons (CC) licenses. “When you start talking about CC, it’s a free-for-all,” noted Wacha. Copyright restrictions have made creators risk-averse, she feels, but “just because [a resource] has CC licensing doesn’t mean it has to be commercially available.” Still, she added, “Two C’s are better than one.”
In order to ensure open access, OER materials also need to stay out of software-driven silos, particularly across multiple media types. Providing full, interdisciplinary access is one issue—“Faculty in neuroscience should be able to grab a dance video” for their classes, said Wacha. Accessibility—for those with disabilities or impairments—is another. And all platforms used for OERs need to be sustainable for future access and transformation as well.
The major question, noted Ovadia, is: “Can you reuse, re-edit? Just because it’s online doesn’t mean it’s open.”
OER IN ACTION
“What steps should we take if we want to move from discussing OERs to actually implementing a plan to move our communities to an open model?” asked Anderson. “What are the barriers to implementation and how can we overcome them?”
Libraries need to make the opportunities, said Ovadia, and show the rest of the institution what OER is capable of. Identify the low-hanging fruit, suggested Wacha—for instance, approach the faculty member whose ten-year-old humanities textbook rights have reverted to her (adding the caveat: “OER is not just textbooks!”). Student research can contribute as well, Ovadia pointed out; the nature of OER is that it’s modular, and can use material from many sources. “A textbook is a fixed thing,” he said. “As you move along the continuum of openness, you can mix.” Make it a point to educate faculty on the materials available for reuse, suggested Norberg.
Coming up with ways to assess the quality of OER material will be critical. Models need to be developed in order to evaluate not only their accuracy but their effectiveness, as well potential for updates and customization. Feedback from faculty members can offer crucial information, Wacha pointed out. The frequency of syllabi downloads can be a form of altmetrics as well, she said. “If you’re a humanities scholar, your article might get one or two citations—but if it’s on every syllabus in your field, how can you move that in the direction of measurement?” CUNY is working with public impact measurements for material in its IR, she added.
Proprietary resources may have established methods of assessment, access, and evaluation on their side. But the panel agreed that, with some work from faculty, students, and librarians, OER has the potential to become a valuable and established tool in academia. “This is a wonderful opportunity for librarians to assert their knowledge,” Norberg said. “We know copyright issues, instructional design. We know institutional repositories, metadata in order to get [OER] found.” She added, “Libraries may need to partner with IT departments. But they need to step up and make it easy for faculty to use OER.”