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As most of you know after reading the first installment of this blog, the University of New Hampshire OER pilot centers around a support team that works to help our faculty Ambassadors realize their visions in terms of converting to OER and integrating open pedagogy into their courses. The support team is comprised of academic technologists who help with instructional design, a faculty member from the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning who is helping to design appropriate assessments to measure the success of our initiative, and librarians who are helping faculty find the most useful OER for their course goals. Today I want to spend a few minutes looking specifically at our library team, talking about what they offer to our pilot, and exploring why libraries are so important to the open education movement.
The librarians on our pilot support team include Instruction Librarian Kathrine Aydelott from Reference, Scholarly Communication Coordinator Eleta Exline, Collection Management Librarian Jennifer Carroll, and Elaine Clement from the Natural Sciences Resource Center. With such diverse positions, the team is well-equipped to assist faculty with a variety of issues, from search and retrieval of OER to understanding student textbook concerns to answering broader questions about open access, copyright, and the relationship between OER and other library materials such as e-books and databases. While each Ambassador has a specific librarian assigned to her/his team, the pilot benefits enormously from the investment that they all have in helping faculty to think about how knowledge is shared and how technology is affecting the relationship between content and pedagogy.
It is my belief that the library—in general and here at UNH—is and should be the central home for OER initiatives. First of all, as Kathrine points out, “Reference librarians see students at the reference desk at the beginning of every term hoping to borrow a copy of their textbooks from the library. If we have a lendable copy (often placed on Reserve by the faculty member), it’s typically a loan of only 2 hours or so in order for the textbook to be shared with everyone in the class. If we have an older edition in the stacks, the lending model is first-come-first-served and that copy disappears early. Either way, students are disappointed.” Librarians are in a position to see first-hand the desperation that students feel about acquiring course materials, but they are not always able to offer good solutions, which is troubling as the field of library science bends toward patron-centered services.
In addition to meeting student need, academic libraries also have other responsibilities, as Eleta notes: “I just had the privilege of hearing Gloria Steinem speak at the ALA 2015 conference. She said about librarians ‘You democratize knowledge.’ This is exactly right. Democratizing knowledge is our professional mission and our ethical and moral obligation, and we do it in various ways. Protecting free (all kinds of free) access to information is one way we enact our collective mission, and the OER movement is part of this.”
As Laura Saunders, a professor at the Simmons College Graduate School of Library and Information Science, recently argued, there are links to be made between critical pedagogy and critical information literacy. It is librarians who are on the forefront of thinking about how we curate and use content in a world in which, thanks to technology, the amount of knowledge is now doubling every eighteen months (according to the American Society of Training and Documentation). We should rely on our librarians to lead us to new definitions of “content,” which focus less on “learning it” (often a euphemism for banking models that ask students to memorize bits of information) and more on sorting it, evaluating it, curating it, and contributing to it.
So our librarians have wonderful lessons to teach us about building structures that are responsive to the needs of the people they serve, and they are trained to understand the complex ways in which information is changing in the knowledge economy. It’s important, then, that OER initiatives provide a space where librarians can work in an integrated way with faculty and instructional designers. Kathrine sees the team approach that we are taking with our pilot as part of a larger shift in how academic libraries function: “I think the future is one where academic libraries remain the focus of the institution but interact with it in even more direct, collaborative ways. I think libraries will shift to become even more intertwined with support services for broader teaching and learning, such as instructional design, assignment creation and design, research, and information literacy/research skills instruction.”
And Kathrine and Eleta both envision the library as a place where “open” involves a more comprehensive vision, encompassing but also transcending OER. Eleta explains: “When I became a librarian about 10 years ago there was a lot of unease about the future of libraries. I think as a profession we’re moving past our uncertainty about our role and beginning to understand how important our contributions to higher ed really are. We’re collaborators in teaching, information seeking experts, and one of the last lines of defense in the right to privacy. We’re also in a unique position to witness the imbalances in the prevailing economic model in scholarly communication. Universities pay for knowledge production with student tuition dollars or taxpayer funded grants. Access to that knowledge is then sold back to university libraries and individual students at exorbitant prices. Meanwhile, library budgets shrink, prices go up, students take on unreasonable debt, and access to both high-quality information and education become increasingly exclusive. OA and OER are one focus for correcting, or at least disrupting, the systems that perpetuate this imbalance.”
The UNH Ambassador Pilot is housed in Dimond Library. Our academic technologists are downstairs, and our librarians are upstairs, and when our faculty participants and consultants come to collaborate, we congregate here in this wonderful building. Our support team is focused on facilitating faculty movement to open, and helping faculty feel more comfortable as they shift to OER and experiment with open pedagogy. Jennifer Purrenhage from the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment, has this to say about her team librarian, Jennifer Carroll: “She has jumped on several seeds I mentioned early on, and has sent me materials to consider for my courses — materials that I did not know existed, and are great candidates. She and Eleta also helped me to explore some slightly complex issues related to licensing and the scope of acceptable uses of images in course activities that might be included in a publication in the future. They have been very helpful. Overall, it has been inspiring and motivating to be a part of a group who have a common interest in crafting a stronger, richer experience for our students and ourselves.” Catherine Moran from Sociology sums it up this way: “As far as the librarians go, well, they are the superheroes who are wearing their everyday clothes. Really. They are working behind the scenes to help bring resources to my attention, and this is giving me multiple avenues to follow. I have this amazing brain trust behind me. Their support is encouraging me to take some intellectual risks — you know, like trying something new at the salad bar.”
Our advice to other institutions as you initiate pilots focused on OER: remember that your librarians are an important part of your support team. They understand student need, the changing shape of knowledge, and the broader contexts of open access that can strengthen our understanding of the benefits of open educational resources. We are proud of our UNH librarians, and grateful to work with them on this vision!
Image of Hubbard Reading Room in Dimond Library, CC BY affullerton