Closing Reflections

Nicole Allen

It has been 10 years since a group of visionaries published the Cape Town Open Education Declaration, an international call to action that begins with the words, “We are on the cusp of a global revolution in teaching and learning.”1 The Declaration outlines a powerful vision of a world where everyone, everywhere, has access to a wealth of educational opportunities, and where teachers and learners work to shape knowledge together. Over the last decade, this vision has spread from a small group of innovators to a worldwide movement to make education better through open content and practices. In North American higher education, it is difficult to imagine what the movement would look like without the inspired, dedicated work of academic libraries.

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Librarians as Leaders

Reflecting on this collection of case studies and my own decade-long experience as an open educational resources (OER) advocate, I’m struck by just how rapidly academic libraries have become a pillar in the open education movement. I first intersected with the library community in 2009, as a panelist at a SPARC (Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition)/ACRL (Association of College and Research Libraries) forum on OER. I was leading a national student campaign at the time, and admittedly had not given any thought to the potential role libraries could play in open education. Based on the discussion at the forum, neither had most of the librarians in the room. While most seemed aware of the high cost of textbooks—students had been lining up at the reference desk seeking relief for years—textbooks were considered outside the domain of the library, and a tangent to open access in a research context.

This begun to change quickly. Seeds planted during these early discussions grew into some of the first prominent library-led OER initiatives, including those at Temple University and the University of Massachusetts Amherst, which were quickly replicated elsewhere (Allen, Bell, & Billings 2014). Concurrently, the explosion of interest in the idea of MOOCs (massive open online courses) and launch of e-textbook platforms by major publishers drew libraries—which had been navigating the issues surrounding digital content licensing for years—into institutional conversations about course materials in a significant way for the first time.

Library interest in OER seemed to hit an inflection point in 2014, when the Open Education Conference—the North American OER community’s largest annual event—introduced a track focused on the role of libraries in advancing OER. Just a few short years later, academic libraries are now one of the primary forces driving the open education movement and lead some of the most vibrant, successful OER initiatives across North America. I often describe libraries as the “missing link” in that they have truly helped the rubber hit the road for open education on campus.

Building a Movement

As evidenced throughout this book, academic libraries interface with OER in myriad ways. As experts on finding and curating information resources, librarians help faculty and students locate high-quality OER that meet their needs. Academic technology and publishing divisions within the library provide support for publishing and adapting resources. Scholarly communication and copyright librarians help navigate open licensing and fair use. Repository specialists assist with archiving, version control, preservation, and delivery to students. Teaching and learning staff provide professional development support for faculty, including how to bring OER to life through open pedagogy.

Libraries also occupy a unique position at the crossroads of campus, and thus can serve as powerful conveners of campus-wide activities. They are the key point of intersection between academic departments and interface regularly with students, faculty, and staff alike. While the specific capacities and activities vary from institution to institution, academic libraries are increasingly the keystone to successful OER initiatives.

Multiple case studies presented in this book underscore the importance of cultivating allies among campus constituencies. Chief among them is faculty, where identifying champions and early adopters who can influence their peers is often the first critical step. OER grant programs in particular have proved an effective strategy for bringing in faculty, whether at a larger scale like the case of the University of Oklahoma or a smaller one as presented by Rollins College. Students too are essential allies as the ultimate beneficiaries of OER. Students can tell compelling personal stories that motivate faculty, as illustrated by the University of Texas San Antonio’s use of student testimonials in OER workshops. Student leaders can also be influential partners in spreading the word and convincing decision-makers, as shown by the University of Saskatchewan’s advocacy work. Other important stakeholders include the bookstore, academic technology, and disability services, each of which make vital contributions to a campus-wide movement.

Raising awareness of OER is another critical step. A number of chapters cite Allen and Seaman’s 2016 finding that about a quarter of U.S. faculty are aware of OER. This tends to be presented from a glass half empty perspective—that most faculty remain unaware of OER—but it can also be viewed as a sign of considerable progress, given that the movement was built from the ground up and continues to grow. Yet, Geoffrey A. Moore’s theory of the technology adoption life cycle reminds us that the most difficult part of scaling innovation is “crossing the chasm” between early adopters and the mainstream (Moore, 1999). The kinds of messages and incentives that brought in early adopters may not resonate with a broader audience the same way, so it is essential that OER efforts continue to adapt. Academic librarians can help make the case for OER to a mainstream audience by focusing on the important ends that OER achieves, whether that is better student outcomes, greater ownership over course content, or expanding access to knowledge.

Sustaining Progress

A common thread throughout this book is a sense of both having come a long way and also having a long way to go. Having achieved significant outcomes in terms of student savings and access to course materials, libraries are now grappling with next steps to sustain and scale these efforts long-term. Some challenges are more local, including access to funding and staff time, and some are more global, such as how to build—and govern—infrastructure to support collaboration, discovery, and sharing both within and across institutions.

Models for publishing and curating OER are a key area of focus as academic libraries look to the future. This book contains several examples of successful pilots, including the University of Washington’s open textbook publishing program. While these efforts tend to be resource-intensive at first, there are potential efficiencies to be gained through cross-institutional collaboration, communities of practice, and support services. The Rebus Foundation and the community of practice discussed by Hare et al. take promising steps in this direction. OER creation ties into broader conversations around library publishing, institutional repositories, and changes to incentive structures to support open practices. Much can be learned from advances in the scholarly publishing space, although education publishing comes with its own unique set of challenges. For OER, important considerations for libraries will include accessibility, adaptation and version control, and the availability of ancillary materials.

Another frontier is how to institutionalize OER efforts on campus, starting within the library organization itself. Thus far, libraries have taken different pathways to incorporating open education into library staff responsibilities, whether it is adding it to the scope of scholarly communications, appointing an open education coordinator, or building open education into the duties of liaison and reference staff. There is also the question of what kind of training and professional development is needed to build this capacity. SPARC’s own contribution to this space is our newly launched Open Education Leadership Program,2 which recognizes that a large part of open education librarianship is becoming an advocate and convener. Many of the core skills and capacities needed to support open education already exist within the library and elsewhere on campus, and the key is establishing the library as a locus of expertise that can connect and guide the various pieces into a greater whole.

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Evolving into the Future

Ten years ago the drafters of the Cape Town Declaration expressed a feeling of being on the cusp of radical change. Looking back, the process has been less of a revolution and more of an evolution—small experiments growing into larger ones that build on learning and best practices toward a more open future. To that end, we must remember that open is a process, not an endpoint. Openness is not an end in itself but rather a means to improve teaching and learning practices, to instill the values of inclusivity and access, and to achieve broader societal benefits that flow from advanced technology and an improved educational system. Libraries are well positioned to be the engine for this change within education and research institutions, moving toward systems that are open by default.

References

Allen, E. I., & Seaman J. (2016). Opening the textbook: Open education resources in U.S. higher education, 2015–16. Babson Survey Research Group. Retrieved from https://www.onlinelearningsurvey.com/reports/openingthetextbook2016.pdf

Allen, N., Bell, S., & Billings, M. (2014). Spreading the word, building a community: Vision for a national OER movement. Against the Grain. Available at: http://works.bepress.com/marilyn_billings/61/

Moore, G. A. (1999). Crossing the chasm: Marketing and selling high-tech products to mainstream customers. New York, NY: Harper.


  1. For the full text of the Declaration, see: http://www.capetowndeclaration.org/
  2. For more information see: https://sparcopen.org/our-work/open-education-leadership-program/

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OER: A Field Guide for Academic Librarians | Editor's Cut by Christy Allen, Nicole Allen, Jean Amaral, Alesha Baker, Chelle Batchelor, Sarah Beaubien, Geneen E. Clinkscales, William Cross, Rebel Cummings-Sauls, Kirsten N. Dean, Carolyn Ellis, David Francis, Emily Frank, Teri Gallaway, Arthur G. Green, Sarah Hare, John Hilton III, Cinthya Ippoliti, DeeAnn Ivie, Rajiv S. Jhangiani, Michael LaMagna, Anne Langley, Jonathan Lashley, Shannon Lucky, Jonathan Miller, Carla Myers, Julie Reed, Michelle Reed, Lillian Hogendoorn, Heather M. Ross, Matthew Ruen, Jeremy Smith, Cody Taylor, Jen Waller, Anita Walz, Andrew Wesolek, Andrea Wright, Brady Yano, and Stacy Zemke is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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