Libraries, Institutions, and Open Educational Resources: possible connections?

Open Educational Resources

The growing success of the Open Access movement is transforming how institutions view, manage, publish, and access their research outputs – irrespective of any local commitment to Open Access. In a similar manner the Open Educational movement may transform how institutions create, manage, and share learning materials. Open Educational Resources (OERs) are a catalyst for institutional change.
The growth of freely available learning materials from institutions around the world is, like Open Access, both an opportunity and a challenge for an institution. They offer the institution an opportunity to showcase their courses to potential students, enhance the reputation and visibility of the university among its peers and the general public, be seen to providing value for any public funding they receive by making knowledge more accessible, and promote a more flexible pattern of learning for enrolled students. They also, however, present challenges as the process of providing OERs is not straightforward and it accelerates the shift from understanding a university as a place where one goes to receive knowledge to understanding a university as a context for a community of learning in which students construct knowledge and a context for a student experience in which good facilities, pedagogy, and accreditation combine. If a student can access resources from many universities to support their learning, the quality of what a single institution adds to that content is crucial.

Open Educational Resources and libraries

Despite occasional protestations that self-archiving should be the norm, it is clear that academic libraries play a vital role in the Open Access movement and often provide skills, training, and advocacy, as well as managing the required infrastructure. Libraries are beginning to play a role in the emerging world of Open Data and Open Science, but their involvement in the OER movement has thus far been limited, as has their involvement more generally in the management of learning materials. Libraries may hold syllabi and past exam papers and may offer materials supporting information literacy and research skills, but they often play a lesser role in the management of lecture notes, presentations, or formative assessment materials. Such materials, are often held only by the lecturer, tutor, or department providing the course. Furthermore learning materials, where they are available, may be poorly integrated into the user’s view of library resources (See Tony Hirst, ouseful.info, the blog ‘Open Educational Resources and the Library Website’ August 10th 2009 http://tinyurl.com/yfkzq8g). There are plenty of legitimate historical reasons for this but as the range of digitally available materials increases, and in particular as the range of OERs increase libraries have an opportunity to capitalise on their already important role in the student’s studies, the academic’s professional development, and institution’s public portfolio.
There are signs that librarians are beginning to engage with the Open Educational movement, most notably the recent ACRL Forum on the issue at the ALA Midwinter this year. In summarizing the panel’s views Belliston (C. Jeffrey Belliston Open Educational Resources: Creating the instruction commons C&RL News, May 2009 Vol. 70, No. 5 http://tinyurl.com/yhoezak ) states:

Librarians can help by contributing their own OERs to the commons; screening for, indexing, and archiving quality OERs; using OERs in their own teaching; and participating in discussions leading toward responsible intellectual property policies and useful standards.

This summary highlights some of the key ways in which librarians can begin to be involved, but, I think, fails to consider how librarians can engage in the wider issues around the creation of OERs and their use. It interacts with Open Education in a way that parallels (to a degree) how librarians interact with Open Access. It does not yet consider the active role librarians can play in the initial description, management, and distribution of OERs. For example, In CETIS’s engagement with many of the institutional projects in Open Educational Resources programme I have noted that many are engaging with their university libraries, not only to seek advice about resource description and the application of metadata standards but also to consider the long term role institutional repositories might play in managing these assets and the possible role of the library in the OER production workflow.

What institutional role could libraries play in the Open Educational movement?

Although many academics in the OER movement have thus far had success making their learning materials available informally through tools like SlideShare, the process is more complex for an institution – especially if it is considering how it might maximise the return on its investment in openness (whether that return be in terms of publicity, goodwill, efficiency, or an improved student experience). It is also not without cost: for example, both MIT and Oxford have developed production workflows around a centralised unit which is responsible for branding and checking rights.

The general failure of a Learning Object economy points to the need to develop less complex, more scalable and sustainable approaches to sharing OERs (Stephen Downes (2002) The Learning Object Economy http://www.slideshare.net/Downes/the-learning-object-economy). Such processes need to be informed by knowledge of resource description and metadata standards as they apply to the specific tools intended to disseminate the resources – whether that be a proprietary application (iTunesU), a generic search engine, a repository, or some combination of the above.

As the ACRL panel also outlines OERs become additional resources that subject librarians can reference in supporting students; they are also, however, a new form of resource which students need appropriate information literacy skills to assess (skills such as assessing the quality of the material, its origin, currency, and fit with the student’s learning style) and they introduce (or will introduce) a new set of discovery tools for students and staff to be familiar with (such as Jorum, or aggregator services like OERCommons http://www.oercommons.org/ ).

In summary I think that libraries can offer advice and engage with Open Education in the following areas:

  • Metadata and resource description
  • Information management and resource dissemination
  • Information literacy (finding and evaluating OERs)
  • Subject guides
  • Managing and clearing Intellectual Property Rights

However, such advice, involvement and any subsequent guidelines for best practice emerge from a thorough understanding of current practice, which at this stage is not clear. To this end there are numbers of research questions around this topic that could be usefully explored. These include:

  • What opportunities and issues emerge for librarians and libraries from the OER movement?
  • What role do libraries currently have in OER initiatives or the wider the management of materials relating to teaching and learning produced by institutions?
  • Are library skills perceived as relevant to the management of teaching and learning materials (within libraries, within institutions, or by the OER movement)?
  • What can the library offer the institution in this area?

3 thoughts on “Libraries, Institutions, and Open Educational Resources: possible connections?

  1. Pingback: John’s JISC CETIS blog » OER Literacies?

  2. Thanks for posting this John. I find it very encouraging that many of the current OER Projects are engaging with their institutional libraries. I think one of the fundamental differences between the roles of libraries in relation to OER and Open Access is that, as you rightly point out, libraries have traditionally had little involvement in the management and curation of teaching and learning materials. If OER acts as a catalyst to encourage institutions to think about the process of managing these resources then that’s all well and good. I certainly think libraries could make a very positive contribution to the OER movement if one can call it that.

  3. Pingback: OER, Libraries and Literarcies «

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