Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Are librarians paying enough attention to the open education movement?

In the world of education, the open education movement is gaining a lot of attention and momentum.   The May 4th, 2012 issue of “The Chronicle of Higher Education, has a supplement on The Digital Campus which has an article titled: “Open Education’s Wide World of Possibilities.   Some of the numbers in this article are pretty impressive. 
“MIT which started making its course materials available online in 2002… from 2100 undergraduate and graduate classes, they estimate 125 million people have looked at its course content since 2003.”  Let me repeat that - 125 MILLION
“Apple’s free iTunes U Program has logged 700 million downloads of course material…”
That article is followed by one titled “Supersize the College Classroom: How one Instructor Teaches 2,670 Students” which reports on a class taught at Virginia Tech.  Again, very impressive.

Then, Thomas Friedman of the New York Times issued an opinion piece that got a lot of attention because he said: “Let the revolution begin” clearly implying that this train has begun to roll and no one is going to stop it.

Of course, in reading all this I wonder how libraries and librarianship are supporting this growing change?  Scanning the Web, I quickly found another blogger, Rebecca Hedreen, over on “Frequently Questioned Answersvoicing the same concern.   She points out that there are a number of efforts (Questia, Udini, JSTOR) underway to supply knowledge into these environments.   She closed her post by noting: 
Universities and libraries are no longer the gatekeepers of knowledge, but could be instead the guides and mapmakers. We need to start seriously considering what that means.”  
Certainly I’m in agreement with that statement.  I continued exploring.

I quickly found Connextions a repository of materials for Open Education being backed by Indiana University and RiceUniversity among others.  The site states: 
Its more than 17,000 learning objects or modules in its repository and over 1000 collections (textbooks, journal articles, etc.) are used by over 2 million people per month.” 
I also found a YouTube video, “Top Priorities for Academic Libraries in Advancing OpenEducation” which covered topics like the need to correct imbalances including financial, intellectual property rights and quality mechanisms.  They reported that when users were surveyed, they wanted things like a digital preservation repository, print on demand, online book publishing and format conversion (including for mobile devices) and other topics. 

Then I read an excellent chapter written by Clifford Lynch, located on the CNI website: “Digital Libraries, Learning Communities, and Open Education”.  This chapter highlights some of the very real problems that must be overcome for libraries to fully support open education.  Cliff points out the following (italics are mine):
  1. “While a vast amount of historically interesting (digital) source material is going to be available, most monographic scholarship and most textbooks from the last three quarters of the last century will not be publicly available.  Huge swaths of the primary documentary evidence of the twentieth century—audio and visual, as well as textual materials—are locked up by copyright and often inaccessible even to students and researchers at our leading universities through their research libraries, as well as to the broader public seeking information on the Web.”
  2. The isolated and self-directed learner will find “There is a great burden in evaluating available information resources, determining what is likely to be obsolete, how well various materials have been vetted and the like.” Also noted: “Consider the difference between deciding that a specific document expresses a credible opinion on something and being able to conclude that the collection of documents that you have examined constitutes a reasonably comprehensive sample of the diversity of opinions on the topic.”
  3. Also noted are the challenges of social interaction as part of the learning experience and the importance of that component.  “In a learning experience, it is likely that the learner will seek social interactions only to the extent that he or she finds them helpful…”  Furthermore he asks: “How big should a learning community or cohort be?  How long should it be kept together?  How important is cohort coherence?  Should people be able to join an existing community on a rolling basis or wait for the next one to be launched?” Many more questions are posed as well.
  4. Next, noted is that “our digital libraries and knowledge spaces will not fully meet the societal need for enhanced and broadened access to educational opportunities.” “But we must be mindful of the overwhelming scale of the unmet need, particularly from a global perspective.”  Finally Cliff notes: “If we are going to see this potential fulfilled, we must be able to articulate clearly the differences between access to information resources and access to education.”
I believe these questions, comments and findings are extremely important, for us as librarians, to answer.  In doing so, we will address this opportunity to confirm and insert the value of librarianship into a rapidly growing facet of education.    

Now, this is not to say that libraries aren't already doing some important things that support MOOC’s, distance ed. and open education.  We are.  They include: a) providing access to licensed resources, b) preservation of the digital content and data, c) metadata creation, supply and increasingly, through movements like linked library data, new ways to move library resource data into the Open Education environment, d) discovery portals that allow search of the library collections to be easily inserted into courseware and other Web based software, e) chat reference services and f) LibGuides, just to name a few.

However, clearly these won’t be enough by themselves.  To the list of questions posed in all the above, we might add:
  1. What is being done to establish standards to ensure consistency and quality of library services/collections being provided into these environments?  
  2. Are all of these efforts being done in a coordinated and collaborative manner so as to ensure wider adoption and support?  
  3. Is an examination being done of the unique values provided through librarianship and are we making sure those values can somehow be replicated in the open education environment?  Things like personalized recommendations on next steps, narrowing down what the user actually wants and needs, providing both the point-of-view sought and contrary points-of-view, places to debate/discuss and socialize around not only course content, but collection content?  These too are very important in an education and they should also be available via online environments.
  4.  Of course, all of this needs to be provided in the mobile environment that is growing even faster than the numbers of students taking open education courses.
Today, I started looking at my ALA Conference program and the sessions I want to attend in Anaheim.  It appears that few of the sessions there are focused on addressing the questions above.  I find myself landing in the same spot that Rebecca Hedren did in her blog: “We need to start seriously considering what this (open education) means.”    

If we don’t, others will, and I’m betting they won’t be librarians.  Which is why I am wondering; Are librarians paying enough attention to the open education movement?