Sustaining Hype? Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) and Open Access Course Materials

At the University of Oslo, we are now half-way through our very first MOOC: What Works: Promising Practices in International Development , a six week course created by the Centre on Development and the Environment (SUM) in partnership with faculty at the Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law at Stanford. So it was perhaps a bit premature of me to attend a panel session on Open Educational Resources for MOOCs, but the theme was interesting.

It makes sense to use OERs in MOOC courses, you want the course material to be as “open” and accessible as the course itself, but, as librarian Gene R. Springs could tell us, things are not that straightforward. He registered for 114 MOOCS available from the Coursera platform to find out how much of the course material was really “open” and in accordance with David Wiley’s  5 r’s: an OER is considered open if you are able to:

  1. Retain
  2. Reuse
  3. Remix
  4. Revise
  5. Redistribute

the content. As it turned out, only 22 of the 114 courses had material that could be considered “free only”, while the remaining courses contained material that to some extent had to be paid for.

At the University of Mississippi, reference librarian Brian Young had followed and surveyed a group of teachers in their work to find OERs for a course instead of using traditionally sourced material. His findings were consistent with Springs’ in that there was a lack of awareness among the faculty about the accessibility of material – e.g. they put ebooks on the syllabus with single or three-user licenses, making it difficult for the whole class to access a text simultaneously.

The faculty also found it daunting to stray from their ingrained practices to find online materials instead of using tried-and-true texbooks.

So what does this low adoption of OERs and OA content mean for librarians? According to Young, one of the lessons learned from the survey was the need to  better market existing library-licensed and purchased resources. Springs concluded that “MOOCs and OERs require more education”, and that our efforts to educate our teaching faculty in how to find and use OERs has to be intensified – by being “Open Access advocates on our campuses and with our own research”. Hm.

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