Open UP! Embracing the Open Educational Resources Movement and the Library’s Role In It
by Lucy Bungo (Villa Maria College, member of the WNYLRC Resource Sharing Committee)
Over the last two decades, our libraries have provided valuable services despite the twin challenges of shrinking budgets and increasingly expensive resources. It’s important to remember that our users, particularly students, feel the same financial strain that libraries do. Libraries are perfectly poised to ease that burden by taking advantage of new technologies and opportunities for collaboration to create and maintain educational resources that are open to all. WNYLRC’s Open UP! Embracing the Open Educational Resources Movement and the Library’s Role In It explored ideas, implementation, and the issues surrounding opening educational resources.
The conference, held at Hilbert College in Hamburg, New York, opened with Nicole Allen’s keynote “Open Educational Resources: Reducing Costs, Expanding Access and Improving Efficacy.” Through her work at the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC), Nicole is part of the movement to make “open” resources the new default, whether it’s open education materials, open access articles, or open data sets. The status quo and current textbook market are broken; new formats and leasing models have not alleviated the financial pressure that textbooks place on students, so in many circumstances students have opted to go without textbooks or even taken different or fewer courses to avoid textbook costs. These barriers can be reduced and in some cases grades can be raised by using resources that are free and conform to the principles of the 5 Rs (retain, reuse, revise, remix, and redistribute). After a comprehensive examination of various groups that are creating and or hosting OERs, Nicole discussed what librarians can do to help the OER movement blossom. Of course, we can search for and evaluate them, as well as host them for faculty. But we can also partner with other campus entities to offer grants for courses designed to use OERs, give awards for OER use, offer professional development events focusing on OERs, and become certified in Creative Commons licensing.
Our next speaker was Kim Shimomura, who offered “A Legal Perspective on Creative Commons (CC) Licensing” and the appropriate ways to use it for open education resources. She also gave practical advice to avoid some common concerns when using CC to license your own work or remix the work of another author. CC is not the anti-copyright; it works with existing copyright laws, giving authors control over their “original works that are fixed in a tangible medium of expression.” Kim unpacked this particular phrasing to explain what can and cannot be copyrighted, both in terms of content and medium, and who may own the copyrights to materials produced in a variety of circumstances. She also reminded us that CC is a company, and that even though 1.2 billion works are covered by the copyright declarations they developed, that there are limits on those copyright declarations. However, when used appropriately, CC copyright declarations can be used to ensure a work meets the 5 Rs and can be used as an open education resource.
After these two speakers, there were three breakout sessions. I chose to attend Ginger Bidell’s “OER and Learning Resources at Western Governors University.” WGU is a unique institution. It is completely online and courses are competency based; students pay for 6-month term in which they take as many or as few course as they wish, taking one course at a time and completing it before moving on to the next. Students at WGU do not pay out of pocket for the digital resources or textbooks required to complete the course, as WGU provides these materials when a student enrolls in it. Because WGU has 86,000 students, and courses are refreshed every two years and can change quickly to an accurate yet less expensive alternative resource, WGU has significant negotiating power and can work with vendors to acquire learning materials at affordable prices. However, even WGU is not immune from the difficulties more traditional colleges and universities are facing, and they have started an OER initiative to combat this. They identified courses that could make use of OERs in a variety of subject areas, and then pursued textbooks and materials through a variety of sources such as OpenStax, YouTube, Khan Academy, and PhET Simulations.
We then broke for a delicious lunch, and followed it with an activity presented by CeCe Fuoco. CeCe walked us through an educational tool called Breakout Boxes (breakout.edu). These boxes can be purchased or constructed in DIY fashion. The teacher then designs a lesson and puzzles to reinforce the newly learned material. The students must work out puzzles, in small groups or as a single large group, to unlock the Breakout Box. Modifications can be made to turn the Breakout Box into an icebreaker activity or a reward for students.
After lunch and the Breakout Box was our Lightning Rounds Session. Incidentally, all Lightning Round presenters came from Buffalo State College. First was Leah Galka and Eugene Harvey and their presentation “O’er the Moon for OER.” They conducted an internal survey to measure the impact of textbook costs, with startling findings that echoed Nicole Allen’s from earlier in the morning. Leah and Eugene created ALMI, the Affordable Learning Materials Initiative, as a branding and outreach tool to encourage OER adoption and make it visible across campus. Out of this, they created a LibGuide to educate faculty on the differences between “open” resources, “affordable” resources, and specifically “open educational resources”. They also developed an awards program that gave recognition and professional development funds to faculty on campus who were using OERs in their courses.
The next Lightning Round presentation was Lynn Puma and Chris Sackett of Barnes & Noble’s Buff State bookstore. Barnes & Noble recognizes the needs of students and is aware of the difficulties that high textbook costs have placed on academic achievement. They are partnering with OER hosts like OpenStax to create a platform for hosting additional materials, such as PowerPoint presentations, quizzes, and test question banks. Like some other vendors, Barnes & Noble is seeking to provide a more complete course rather than just a textbook. In the future, they may also help with Print on Demand services for OERs as well.
Rounding out the Lightning Rounds was the presentation from Dr. Kyeonghi Baek, faculty member, and Joe Riggie, information systems librarian. They detailed their partnership through the Fostering Innovation in Teaching with Technology Academy, which is a project-specific faculty development opportunity at Buff State. Dr. Baek and Joe sought to flip the classroom of Dr. Baek’s statistics course and have students review pre-statistics mathematics outside the course so that class content could focus on the new statistics content. They identified five math skills for the students to review, and found videos and websites as well as created original content that would lead students through a review of the material. These learning materials were loaded into a LibGuide, and the results were positive both for the students and the administration. Test scores were raised, it and proved the viability of the content farm model as well as reduced barriers to OER adoption by making use of familiar tools.
The closing keynote, “Enabling a Wide Open Future,” was delivered by John Shank. Circulation of physical textbooks is a dying model, and technology is enabling things that were never before considered possible. Previously, libraries operated from a lens of scarcity, but now we are working with through a tsunami of overabundance in terms of resources available. Libraries are perfectly poised to navigate this because of our established cross-campus or cross-community connections, and we are already quite used to sharing. To this, we need to first clear a small path and pick a specific outcome to achieve or impact we want to have. Then, we will use our search skills to find the most suitable solutions, find partners to help us make it a reality, and then continue to lead by example. We remove the barriers so others can join in. The time to begin is now.
After listening to the speakers throughout the day, many of us were fired up to begin OER initiatives in our own libraries. The conference concluded with the afternoon speakers assembled on the presentation stage fielding a large number of questions from attendees during a facilitated discussion. Different questions were pertinent to the individual landscapes at each institution, but the beauty of OERs is that their flexibility and adaptability means that each question could still be relevant to all. I have several ideas for launching OERs at my own library, and I was not alone. I’m sure that there will be many more local presenters (from more than just Buffalo State!) at the next Open Educational Resources Conference!