Evolutions in Scholarship

My MOOC Experience

Monday, May 6, 2013 2:07 pm

Earlier this semester, I completed my first MOOC, An Introduction to the U.S. Food System, offered through Coursera by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. While I didn’t learn as much new information as I assume others did (not a criticism of the course, more that I’ve been learning about food issues for a number of years now), learning about our food system was only a partial goal in signing up. Given all the hoopla around MOOCs, I wanted to personally experience what some seem to see as the shiny new future of higher ed.

MOOCs are Massive Open Online Courses, and they have captured the fancy of many in higher ed, and beyond. MOOCs offer students the opportunity to learn from noted scholars, without incurring tuition costs, from the comfort of wherever they happen to be. While MOOCs may not be the future of higher ed reform – and there’s been some recent criticism – they can’t be overlooked entirely.

I embarked on my MOOC hoping to be wowed into tempering my cynicism that they are the saving grace of higher ed’s current problems. That didn’t happen (criticisms below), but there was one surprising insight that only occurred once I became a student myself: if MOOCs are going to stick around in some variation, it is imperative that researchers make sure their articles and books can be used for course content; aka, scholarship must be openly accessible. I came to this realization myself while working through my MOOC assignments, but was reassured to learn that Kevin Smith at Duke University also sees the need for a MOOC-Open Access correlation.

My MOOC involved weekly video lectures, required and optional readings, discussion forums, and quizzes. The readings are where I felt the closest affinity to a traditional course, as both my MOOC and a Geography course on food systems I took as an undergraduate relied on articles in lieu of a textbook. However, the nature of those readings were quite different. In my MOOC, of 55 readings (the vast majority optional), only 8 were scholarly articles, 7 OA. One optional reading was an article that explicitly required institutional access (alas, WFU didn’t subscribe), and two were non-research articles from scholarly journals. The rest were newspaper articles, reports, websites, and other pertinent but not scholarly readings.

What strikes me about the non-scholarly nature of the majority of the readings is that: a) this is a topic that can be covered by non-scholarly articles and reports, but that b) only ONE of the required readings was an OA scholarly article. I cannot speak to whether or not the reliance on non-scholarly readings would be similarly reflected on the syllabus of a correlated course taught at JHU, but my guess is that if this had been a traditional course, more than one of my assigned readings would have been from a scholarly source.

Setting aside my additional criticisms (simplistic assignments, no real feedback opportunities, unwieldy forums) that cast MOOCs* in a poorer light than traditional courses, college classes incorporate scholarship through assigned and supplemental course readings and student research. But when the availability of scholarly readings are limited, as they are in MOOCs, I fail to see how it can be argued that they are an acceptable substitute for credit-based classes.

Does this make my MOOC inherently bad? Of course not! I quite enjoyed my learning experience, despite a strong base of knowledge coming in. But having experienced both a MOOC and a traditional course on essentially the same topic, I cannot buy into the claim that MOOCs are the future of higher ed, without substantial shifts to open scholarly publishing and distribution systems.

___

* Admittedly, I’m making a broad generalization here, as I’ve only taken one MOOC, so my experience is quite limited. I’ve heard that other have more rigorous assignment. My second MOOC starts today – perhaps I’ll have more “homework” to do this time around!

Looking back, looking forward

Friday, February 15, 2013 4:05 pm

Until yesterday, 2013 has not been a year of positive movement in the scholarly communication realm. In early January, many were shocked and saddened to learn of the death of Aaron Swartz, a leading advocate for open access. Although his methodology has been questioned by some, the principles that inspired his actions are sound. In late January, updates I heard from various lawyer-librarians on the Kirtsaeng v. Wiley case before the Supreme Court and the implications for ALL, not just libraries, if Wiley gets even a partial “win” (Miss Pollyanna here refuses to believe an outright “win” is possible) were disheartening.

February didn’t get any better, as the publishers in the Georgia State copyright case filed their appeal at the end of January, and February greeted us with the chilling news that the US Dept. of Justice requested additional time to determine if they were going to file an amicus brief not in support of GSU, but either for the publishers or for neither party. (See Nancy Sims’s take for an excellent analogy to eating fast food burgers.) Then we learned that an academic librarian is being sued by a publisher, and another academic librarian has been threatened with litigation. After a particularly uplifting 2012 – Research Works Act squashed; researchers rebelled; victories one, two & three rolled in – this has been a difficult year to stomach.

But yesterday, on the 11th anniversary of the Budapest Open Access Initiative, which launched the Open Access movement (and also Valentine’s Day no less), hope glimmered again with the introduction of the Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR) in both the US House and Senate. This is an updated version of the Federal Research Public Access Act, which was introduced in the past but never brought for a vote. FASTR would require all Federal agencies that fund $100 million+ in extramural awards annually to make publications stemming from funded research available to the public within 6 months of publication. But FASTR is better in two critical ways: 1) it would also require that the publications be in formats open to reuse for “computational analysis by state-of-the-art technologies” (that’s text-mining, baby!), and 2) it was introduced simultaneously in both the House and Senate, with bipartisan support, in a non-election year. SPARC and InfoDocket have additional information.

May the glimmer become glitter this year!

Open Access Explained

Friday, October 26, 2012 4:48 pm

It’s international Open Access Week 2012, when librarians and researchers around the globe are talking about OA and related issues. Here at Wake Forest, I led a workshop for faculty and staff on fair use and copyright in teaching and scholarship Thursday afternoon (slides). On Tuesday, I gave a guest lecture on OA to faculty at Furman University (slides).

The guys behind PhD Comics have created a fun video explaining OA. While it focuses only on OA journal publishing, and is science-specific, it’s a wonderful, quick primer on the principles of OA. Enjoy!

 

Rising awareness

Friday, July 27, 2012 9:24 pm

With the 2012 Summer Olympics underway, many eyes and ears are turned toward London, anxiously awaiting news of much hoped-for victories. But for many involved in scholarly publishing, our attention has been drawn across the Atlantic for some weeks now, as open access news has been coming from both the UK and the EU throughout the summer. To some, the news is welcome and championed as being a step in the right direction for ensuring public access to publicly-funded research. To others, it’s cause for concern. Here’s a quick overview of what is happening, and some thoughts on how these changes might impact us in the US.

In June, the “Finch Report“–a report of the Working Group on Expanding Access to Published Research Findings, so-called for the chair of the group, Dame Janet Finch–was released, calling for the British government to support broad public accessibility to funded research articles via open access publishing. While the call for accessibility is laudable, the recommendation that it be achieved exclusively through open access publication and not archiving was sharply criticized. In mid-July, the Research Councils UK (RCUK) announced that under its new open access policy, all RCUK funded research articles submitted for publication beginning April 1, 2013 must be published in journals compliant with the new policy and be freely available to the public within 6 months (STM) or 12 months (social sciences and humanities), effectively meaning that in under two years, all RCUK research articles will be fully open access. The following day, the European Commission followed suit, announcing that under the Horizon 2020 research program, all funded research articles will be open access. While it is too early to predict how the implementation of these policies will impact research budgets and publishing (although some are trying), broad European political support for public access to research output is clear.

Closer to home, this week the U.S. News and World Report published an article on scholarly journals and open access. Although I share a colleague’s criticism of several misunderstandings in the article, the fact that such an article was published in mainstream media is telling. As Barbara Fister points out in her own Olympic-inspired post (hat tip for the theme prompt!), the rising awareness of inefficiency in the scholarly publishing industry and increasing demands for greater access to research outputs has been steadily rolling since January. The Federal Research Public Access Act (FRPAA) is once again before Congress with strong bipartisan support, and the “We the People” petition to the White House calling for taxpayer access to publicly-funded research garnered over 28,000 signatures in less than half the 30 days allotted to reach 25,000.

Although the White House has not yet responded to the petition, and the FRPAA legislation may yet stall as we move ever-closer to November elections, I am encouraged by the multiple signs of increasing awareness of open access I have seen this year. I hope it continues. Oh, and Go Deacs competing in the Summer Games!

Sharing Your Research

Tuesday, March 9, 2010 8:19 am

Discoverability of research is vital to scholarship and the expansion of knowledge. Expectations for access to scholarly publications are changing. Are your publications optimized for maximum reach and impact?

As published research output increasingly becomes digitally delivered, expectations for easy access are the new norm. While faculty and students affiliated with large universities and colleges are typically able to access the full text of needed research outputs through electronic journals and ebooks with minimal clicks, researchers at smaller institutions or independent research firms are more likely to encounter barriers. Although there are options to gain access, many researchers have neither the time nor money to pursue access for an article or book that only might be beneficial to their scholarship.

As a scholarship producer, you have the power to lower or remove access barriers to your published research. Many publishers automatically allow authors to post the peer-reviewed-but-not-copyedited version of their papers on individual and institutional websites. Some publishers allow authors to archive those versions in subject or institutional repositories, such as arXiv or PubMed Central. Other publishers allow you to keep your copyrights and retain control over the final published version of your article by publishing under an open access model. For consultations on maximizing research accessibility, you can contact the Scholarly Communication Librarian.

Resources exist to help you determine what rights you have as an author when publishing in a particular journal, as well as to help you ask for rights you don’t already have or to find more rights-friendly publication venues.

  • SHERPA/RoMEO: database of author permissions normally granted in publication agreements; searchable by journal or publisher name; provides information on funder archiving requirements and author archiving allowances
  • DOAJ: Directory of Open Access Journals: search for free, full-text journals to find scholarship or explore publication venues
  • SPARC Author Rights: information on how to negotiate for author rights when publishing using the SPARC Author Addendum
  • Open Access Guide: resource guide on all things open access, including initiatives happening at Wake Forest University

Easy access to the full text of published research is not only desired, but by many is already expected. Researchers have unequivocally stated that if they cannot get access on the first couple of clicks, they move on. You do not want your research to be bypassed due to access barriers. Might you alter your publication strategies to ensure broader access?


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