Opening education and ourselves

One of the things I’ve gotten very involved with in my time at a community college is helping to encourage and support the adoption, adaptation, or creation of open educational resources. I’ve written about this here at Nocturnal Librarian a couple of times, including sharing with readers what students say they would buy if they didn’t have to spend money on textbooks.

But I gained another valuable perspective at the recent OpenEd19 conference. Some of the best sessions I attended were by students, and at one of those I realized there is another benefit to OERs that I hadn’t fully understood until I heard students talk about it: if you can’t buy course materials, you feel like you are faking it in class. This is not just a problem of learning (because many persistent students get around not having a book in all sorts of creative ways, by sharing, taking photos of pages they need to read, or finding alternatives to the textbook), but of attainment — there have been many studies linking student success and a sense of belonging. You can’t feel like you belong in college if you are mired in imposter syndrome because you are just trying to get by without an expensive textbook you can’t afford.

At OpenEd I also heard some presentations on including students in solving the problem, either by including them in the co-creation of materials in the classes they’re enrolled in (known as open pedagogy) or hiring them to help faculty build OER courses. Both of these endeavors are additional ways to counter imposter syndrome with participation. If you feel like you don’t fit in the status quo, what’s more powerful than being part of changing it? Plus, students gain useful experience and a sense that they are capable autodidacts who can learn what they need when the work they do and the world around them changes and they need to adapt.

Because it changes, doesn’t it? Another powerful session I attended was presented by a panel of librarians talking about the need for community, because for many of us working on opening up our campuses to these practices, our job descriptions or responsibilities don’t actually include this work. The panel also noted that we librarians also sometimes face imposter syndrome when we’re at the table with faculty, instructional designers, and learning technology staff. I went into the session thinking I just wanted to hear about the need for community but I didn’t actually need that “other stuff” and came out realizing, yes, I do. So, I’m going to work on owning that “other stuff” and getting comfortable with the messiness of choosing to do something that I’ve mostly learned on my own and added to my role not only because it’s a priority on my campus, and a priority for making higher ed more accessible for students, but because I am perfectly capable of pursuing professional interests without having been granted expertise by anyone else.

Like our students, I can create my own agency and efficacy. And if I do that with them, all the better, because we’ll learn from each other as we go and strengthen each other’s sense of belonging. I hear a lot of people talk about how hard it is to actually have community at a community college because people (faculty as well as students) are not there very much — they come to class and then head off campus to other responsibilities at work and home. But open educational practices, it seems to me, can counter that by drawing people together around a shared purpose in a way that packaged curriculum can’t match. Opening education can and does change our work, our learning, and our world. And if that work doesn’t belong to all of us, what does?

**update — here’s what happens when a student feels people in higher ed (librarians in this case, I am happy to report) are actually listening: https://openstax.org/blog/true-champions-oer-movement

Open beyond the campus

I just got back from the Northeast OER summit (conference #3 in 2 months — my brain is stuffed with ideas). It you’re unfamiliar with it, the William and Flora Hewitt Foundation describes Open Education as “the simple and powerful idea that the world’s knowledge is a public good and that technology in general and the Web in particular provide an extraordinary opportunity for everyone to share, use, and reuse knowledge.” Anyone who knows my past as an unschooling parent knows this makes my heart sing. OERs are open educational resources, which means all the stuff we create and share to make open education happen — in the higher ed world, OER often refers to textbooks and other course materials. It also refers to Open Pedagogy — the idea that students can be co-creators of knowledge.

I introduced myself at the first Community College System of New Hampshire OER Taskforce meeting as a librarian and OER nut. I embrace this work because it speaks to my values. I make no apologies for seeing a social justice role in librarianship and education . . . let me digress on this for a second.

I know that this makes me susceptible to what Fobazi Ettarh calls “vocational awe” but I don’t think libraries, and even more so, formal education, are beyond critique, as those of you who’ve been with Nocturnal Librarian know — I think that like democracy, the idea of libraries as egalitarian places where all are radically welcomed is something we strive for, but I am well aware that as a profession we often do not uphold this, we have definitely got problems with regards to asking librarians to do more work without more compensation, etc. I embrace the values associated with radical welcome and access for all, and the potential of libraries to embody them, while acknowledging we have work to do. I’m at a community college because I value access to education and I believe public education should serve all publics (it doesn’t, especially when it’s under-resourced but that’s another post).

Digressions over. All this is to say, I love OER because it is in line with other things I love — learner directed learning, collaboration, community, equity, justice. So it was an awesome conference, and I was excited to be with other librarians, faculty, instructional designers, learning technology directors, etc. And I got some ideas I think I can transform into action pretty easily, which is always motivating.

One of the things I’ll work on right away is getting other OER interested folks on my campus together informally in a “community of practice” —  we don’t take enough time to do the kind of sharing that happens at a conference. Yesterday I was in a workshop on Creative Commons licenses and copyright and after hearing Meredith Jacob‘s presentation we broke into tables by interest and talked. It was really fruitful, and although we ended up ranging beyond open licensing, copyright and fair use, we learned from each other and built community. I want to recreate this if I can on my campus.

Another really cool thing I heard was a presentation by Grif Peterson of P2PU, which connects people who want to learn something together in learning circles which meet in public places — often, libraries. They describe themselves as “a grassroots network of individuals who seek to create an equitable, empowering, and liberating alternative to mainstream higher education.” Again, those of you who know me can imagine how this delights me! Grif presented on learning circles with Kelly Woodside, a consultant and trainer at the Massachusetts Library System. Kelly’s awesome job involves collaborations between different kinds of libraries and non-library allies like P2PU. I loved hearing what they had to say, and I’m hoping to find intersections among our work — Kelly and I already talked about One Book projects that bring college and public libraries together, like the one I am co-chairing in Manchester with the director of the city library. I see potential intersections between P2PU, higher ed, and public libraries, too — if a small library in NH wants to host a learning circle but is understaffed, facilitating is the kind of real world experience faculty might like to incorporate into courses and students might like to try, so I’m hoping to connect people around this idea.

What interesting connections have you made at a conference that got you motivated? What possibilities do you see for Open Education in your community?

Is textbook adoption immoral?

On Friday a higher ed newsletter headline caught my eye: “Outrage over university’s $999 online textbook.” It wasn’t a typo — the book for a 200 level accounting course at University of Louisiana at Lafayette costs that much.

A couple of weeks ago I attended my community college system’s annual summer symposium. The most compelling presentation I heard was from Robin DeRosa of Plymouth State University. She talked about a subject I’d spent a good bit of time thinking about this summer: OERs, or Open Educational Resources. If you haven’t heard of them, here is UNESCO’s definition: “Open Educational Resources (OERs) are any type of educational materials that are in the public domain or introduced with an open license. The nature of these open materials means that anyone can legally and freely copy, use, adapt and re-share them. OERs range from textbooks to curricula, syllabi, lecture notes, assignments, tests, projects, audio, video and animation.”

Like community colleges around the country, mine is concerned with making education as affordable as possible, and one of our system-wide efforts is to make OERs a priority. I put together a LibGuide for my campus so that faculty can see some choices and learn about how to adopt/adapt/create their own, and I have found some faculty are already doing this. So I was already an OER believer.

Novelist Paul Harding speaks of writing so readers will think “That’s true, and I’ve always known it but I’ve never seen someone put it into words like this before.” That was how I felt, listening to DeRosa. I already knew much of what she said — students often don’t have a plan for textbook costs like they do for tuition, 2/3 of students report either dropping a class because of expensive textbooks or not buying a textbook because of cost, students who can’t afford textbooks do worse in their classes, and textbook costs have risen more than healthcare.

But then she delivered the words I knew but hadn’t heard said that way before: we’re preventing access to knowledge by continuing to require traditional textbooks, and for those of us in “public” education (in NH, the university system where DeRosa works only receives 10% of its funds from state appropriations) this is a moral issue. She wondered aloud, how can educators require our students can’t afford, in good conscience? How can we support a system that is inhibiting the transmission of knowledge?

And then she went on to describe how she worked on an OER early American literature book collaboratively with her students. This work is known as open pedagogy, and really appeals to me as exactly what education should be about: students not as consumers, but agents of their own education, synthesizing what they learn in work that demonstrates not only mastery, but application of their new understanding to a real world problem or question. Our son was fortunate to have a professor, Patricia Siplon, who was ahead of the curve on this at St. Michael’s College and a few years ago, he was in her class on the politics of HIV/AIDS, where the final project was to write a chapter for a textbook she planned to use with future classes. That’s open pedagogy: learning, synthesizing and producing knowledge, collaboratively.

DeRosa’s class’s anthology is now a Rebus project and she predicts that by the time it is finished later this year, it will replace traditional print anthologies sold in college bookstores around the world. Rebus is a place where people come together to work on OERs. I am hopeful that this is the future of textbooks. Librarians’ role in OERs and open pedagogy is simple. We just need to do what we already do best: teach the research skills that help faculty and students seek, evaluate, and use information effectively and then collect, index, and make accessible the knowledge creation happening on our campuses.