The implications for libraries of recent global trends in open online education

Awesome interior views
This is really a plea for advice or debate. I’d like to read your ideas, thoughts, suggestions, questions and comments. (There hasn’t been much over the last few days, so I’m adding a bit more content now just in case you feel you need more from me up front.) I’ve also posted this here 
As one of the references below notes, there is increased pressure on us all to develop a cohesive strategy to address this major global trend that you really could not have missed unless you’ve been sitting under a rock near a log all year. We’ve recently been asked about the main issues, considerations and questions for libraries of the major trend towards the provision of open online education.  I think it is an important issue for all of us to understand more deeply, but it is of particular importance to academic libraries. I’m afraid that I don’t have a lot of answers, just some questions and a few thoughts.
I’ve recently read a number of posts that are starting to do some more analysis over what was earlier in the year a bit of an excited blog fest of news items.
Here are just a few articles that I think have been noteworthy of late:
Clay Shirky addressing Educause 2012 – The Real Revolution is Opennness In his address Clay seemed to be encouraging us to understand that openness is the real key to changing online education. He gives some excellent examples of the benefits, sometimes unexpected, from online sharing. I too think there is a lot in online altruism and collaboration. It isn’t and should not just be about marketing.

Everybody wants to MOOC the World This post is by Michael Feldstein and he talks about the response by Learning Management System (LMS) providers to the new MOOC platforms. He raises the real issue of long term sustainability (for content providers) and he also questions whether there really has been a great deal of innovation and experimentation in the pedagogy from the “xMOOCs” (Coursera/Udacity/edX). He says that innovation in pedagogy has come from the connectivist MOOCs (or cMOOCs – see Phil Hill is a colleague of Michael on the e-Literate blog and on 9 November he posted this article that looks at the overlap between the LMS and MOOC markets  His post illustrates the influence they are already having on each other.

Radical Openness – The End of Education As We Know It This article is a bit of a review of the major new open online educational offerings, but it really focusses more on the numbers and the Massive side of MOOCs rather than the availability of Open Educational Resources (OER). I think that really is the key: they are Massive, but not really so open. Here is an article from 9 November that explains how Coursera bans reuse of its content (even by non-profits), illustrating why they are not so open Here is a useful guide to finding open content online from Edudemic There is also Stephen Downes’ Open Online Course Directory Even more on OER can be read in: Extending the Territory: From Open Educational Resources to Open Educational Practices and this very detailed OECD report on OER that outlines the cost, technical, Copyright, licensing and policy challenges that must be faced (thanks Amani!). – The Flipped Library This post deals with MOOCs in light of the flipped classroom concept and quotes Betsy Wilson, Dean of Libraries at the University of Washington as saying that libraries are already “flipped”. See also Answers to the Biggest Questions About Flipped Classrooms in Edudemic (which explains some of the above)

Nicholas Carr in the MIT Technology Review – The Crisis in Higher Education This is yet another review of the MOOC environment as we know it. Nicholas touches on the sophisticated technical challenges for the future and also recognises the challenges in passing on the “soft skills” that no machine can simulate. I also liked this recent article by D’Arcy Norman who questions the hype that says MOOCs are the most important innovation in educational technology over the last two hundred years (I agree that things like the PC, the internet, other software and tools might be further up the list.)

Why are we freaking out about all of this? (by Genevieve Bell – I’ve previously posted here about this short article, but her three rules also apply to this issue because Open Online Education changes our relationship to time, space and each other. ) –

My helpful colleagues at UTS Library have alerted me to these useful resources over the course of the last week or so:
  • A useful ARL Issue Brief: Massive Open Online Courses: Legal and Policy Issues for Research Libraries by Brandon Butler  This brief encourages us to start thinking strategically about how we will support the MOOC phenomenon and highlights the following as key issues for us to come to terms with: fair use; protecting and extending open access policies; ensuring accessibility; and the continued relevance of librarians and library collections to teaching.
  • What Campus Leaders Need to Know about MOOCs This highlights the following as key issues related to library responsibilities and interests: intellectual property, Copyright, licensing of content, technical challenges, resource discovery and the delivery of teaching assistance and support.
Here are a few of the thoughts swimming around in my head at present (in no particular order & updated in light of some comments offered by a colleague – Stephen Gates):
  • Should we just provide directories for various relevant open online courses (like we now provide books, journals and databases)? Or is more judgement needed? Do we need new skills to do this or should we collaborate with academics to do it? Some Directories Like that of Stephen Downes (above) already exist and essentially, the nature of the MOOC beast is to be “discoverable”, so keeping directories like this is a bit like that pre-Google approach of Yahoo. I don’t think it will work.
  • Access to reading and reference materials is all well and good if you are enrolled in a university with access to the required or relevant texts and learning materials, but if not, are Open Access materials the answer and if so do we need to be doing more to encourage and promote them? This probably is the key step for most libraries. Many of us are already active in this space, but we probably could and should do more.
  • If courses offered on things like various MOOCs, Coursera, Udacity, etc. are basically just new open platforms for education is the real threat to our individual learning management systems like Blackboard? Will online learning platforms simply become much more open and broader in scope? To some extent this is covered already in some of the links above and we are now seeing reports of providers like Blackboard and Instructure taking the initiative.
  • Is there a link to the evolving provision of complex new e-Textbooks being promoted by publishers like Pearson (in various forms – hybrid, digital, enhanced and proprietary). Do we need to understand more about this too? I think we do need to understand more and it is another issue requiring collaboration between libraries, publishers and academics.
  • How are publishers getting involved in supporting this global trend? I’m sure they’ve seen it and will be considering ways to generate revenue. As Stephen points out, this is something librarians already deal with on a daily basis, so we are well positioned to engage with them.
  • Similarly, some LMS providers are also looking to get involved. Dealing with LMS providers is a bit of a line ball really, as at UTS, this isn’t our responsibility. It could, however, become more complex and require our input if there is a cross-over and we end up dealing with consortiums of content providers, platform providers and publishers.
  • What do our academics want us to do? And what do students expect from us – e.g. 24/7 support. Will we be required to enhance the support provided (anytime, anywhere) for online or more remote learners, along with academic staff? Can that be done in isolation or is the answer here not in competing with other providers, but collaborating with them? I think libraries understand the benefits of collaboration and collaborative referencing models have already been proven in public libraries.
  • Are libraries and librarians already “flipped”? (See articles above.) If we read what Betsy Wilson says on this above, we probably are already running like more of a flipped model. We have re-engineered our collections, services and learning spaces to reflect this over the last decade or even earlier.
  • How can we do more with the data we have to assist us in responding to some of these questions with proper analytics? We are working on that now and looking at collecting open data from all new systems used within the Library. We are also looking at Privacy protections.
  • Is increasing gamification in libraries at least part of the answer or do real libraries now offer a unique competitive advantage to enrolled students (in the physical spaces they offer)? The advantage is probably in developing innovative learning and study spaces that meet student and researcher needs. These spaces will probably include more space devoted to non-text media and even gaming, but primarily we still need to meet the demand for spaces that facilitate collaborative group work and meet student demands for silent and individual study.
  • If libraries are already “flipped” should we be concentrating on the library as a “space or place” for more inquiry based learning that is supported in person by real people? This probably is the key advantage we can offer over any form of remote learning. We are reviewing the services we offer with a view towards a new service model for academic libraries that capitalises on this advantage in our future library.
  • We are already positioned for more interactivity in libraries, but should we be providing even more spaces for this and less to simply store collections? Our current Library is still dominated by books, but with the excavation of our underground Library Retrieval System now complete, we will soon have the majority of our collection stored in it and quickly accessible from it. That will prob=vide us with more space in the current and future Library to meet all of the needs already touched on above as well as a few more.
  • Students still come to academic libraries in their droves, but we need to know more about why they do. Is it simply for access to clean, moderated or mediated spaces with wifi, or are they seeking our help services, access to books and journals, a better environment for reading and writing, independent and quiet study spaces that are more conducive to learning than their homes (or informal learning hubs, cafes, etc.)? Are our (managed) collaborative group work spaces really important? Stephen believes that both part-time students and overseas students have a lot in common in what they need and want from the Library in terms of access to dedicated quiet spaces to study, particularly closer to exam times.
  • How do we support future learning and research needs (vice simply managing our collections)? This probably means a further extension of our hours of opening, beyond what is offered today and collaborative arrangements with others to provide 24/7 online support. There could be workload implications in this.
  • What are the technical issues for libraries (i.e. the real ICT issues) in all of this? Others are better equipped than me to deal with this, but certainly those providing and supporting MOOCs will have to consider the impact of a large increase in load on the ICT systems involved. 
  • What does open education actually mean for libraries – should it lead to more competition or are libraries well positioned and do we have a proven history to model the benefits of increased collaboration? Interestingly, my colleague Stephen says that campus based academic libraries are not in competition with online course providers. The free online providers do not give away access to the rich library collections that we provide to our enrolled students. Their’s is a very different model to fee-based higher education. Public libraries will not be able to satisfy their needs.
  • Are there major costs involved – from the new services that we will need to purchase from publishers and other learning providers and possibly for increased or new licenses that facilitate this trend/initiative? As Stephen thoughtfully points out again, the increasing use of e-texts has driven down costs to some extent, allowing libraries to build broader collections than previously possible.  We are now purchasing new titles or back-titles that were not previously covered or affordable. Other newer “special” collections are being established by campus-based libraries too. These are relevant to the needs of our institution and are unlikely ever to be part of the MOOC model.
Again, I know that I don’t seem to have many answers, but I think these issues require a great deal more thought and more minds with varied backgrounds applied to them if we are to build a clearer picture, so please, just let me know what you think.

One comment

  1. Mal Booth

    Yeah, so I’m commenting on my own post … If I just keep adding in new stuff it might be missed or get a bit confusing. In the last 24 hours I read Clay Shirky’s most recent essay “Napster, Udacity, and the Academy” like his opinions. He is a leading thinker about many of the issues facing us with increasing access to information, knowledge, and other content on the web. We even tried to arrange him as a keynoter for this conference (but we could not afford his fee).In this essay he compares what is happening with MOOCs and online education to the Napster era and the disruption that caused to the recording industry and the subsequent rise of things like iTunes,, Pandora, etc. It is a decent comparison. Maybe MOOCs as we know them are just the catalyst for further and lasting real change in higher education? Last year I heard an attorney for leading recording artists and some elements of the music industry talk about what it was that caused the music industry to go to the courts and get Napster shut down. They were not so much concerned at the loss of profits from the illegal pirating, they were upset that Napster could do much faster and more efficiently what they could not do: distribute music through unbundling and rapidly sharing it (peer-to-peer) online. Perhaps we are now experiencing a similar disruption to the traditional delivery of higher education (it costs too much, is elitist and somewhat inefficient in its current form).Then Clay refers to an excellent post by Professor Ian Bogost (who holds a Chair in Media Studies and a Professorship of Interactive Computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology) that says MOOCs are Marketing (but can they be more). I liked this too. Ian refers to the associations with elite schools that can be gained through MOOCs, and he objects to the hype surrounding MOOCs and the urge to buy into them (for those associations) as an obsession with the new and me-tooism. They are more interesting than revolutionary.Clay then goes on to say that MOOCs are not a replacement for traditional higher education, but they do represent an unbundling of education (like Napster did for music) and an expansion of access to at least the course material they offer.So ultimately, I think it still boils down to the issue of broadening access to educational resources, the support for and access to which must be easy and cheap (or free) for all. That is probably where libraries come in if we wish to stay relevant in this changing environment. It might also be the ace we hold and currently provide to our enrolled students. MOOCs can’t just be about providing open access to lectures and course materials.

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