Wednesday, November 6, 2013

C&RL News: The MOOC Syllabus Blues Strategies for MOOCs and Syllabus Materials

Kyle K. Courtney /  The MOOC syllabus blues: Strategies for MOOCs and syllabus materials / Coll. res. libr. news / November 2013 / 74: 514-517

In library circles over the past two years, the elephant in the room has been “How will we support Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) at our institution?” edX is the not-for-profit organization founded by Harvard and MIT to transform education worldwide by offering MOOCs for free. edX has engaged in a number of partnerships with other educational institutions to offer interesting courses.

Many of the edX classes are offered through these institutions by their faculty, e.g., Harvard faculty teach HarvardX classes, MIT faculty teach MITx classes, etc. One of the distinct challenges to distributing a free, global curriculum online is the varied and unique copyright concerns. After some meetings with the edX teams, we decided that the library can support MOOCs best in two distinct areas: research and copyright.1

Copyright has been front and center in many MOOC classes, and many libraries, mine included, have taken a lead in this area. This is where libraries, scholarly communication offices, and rights clearance departments have been most active with MOOCs. I think this arrives naturally from our patron’s knowledge of the role of libraries and resources. Where do the resources exist? Ask the library. We need articles and journals for courses. Ask the library. We need copies from books. Ask the library. We need digital images for slides. Ask the library.


In the End

We never used only one method for helping with the syllabus materials for any HarvardX/edX class. Some were fortunate enough to have public domain readings available on the Internet Archive or Google Books, some had OA versions available, and some publishers granted access with no terms but a simple citation requirement. The answers varied as much as the strategies. However, what I did find was that grappling with the syllabus problems for the HarvardX/edX courses helped drive a particular mission I feel very passionate about: getting the faculty authors to understand the modern, contract, copyright, and license-bounded world we live in today, and how it affects education. Online classes, like MOOCs, will suffer greatly, and will continue to lack the rich and vast resources necessary for true learning if we don’t change the nature of where our scholarship ends up or who has access. These strategies were developed as a means of both solving a problem and educating the faculty authors. An opportunity to educate faculty authors about these access issues arises each time a MOOC is proposed, and a syllabus or reading list is assembled. We need to be there. It is our job as librarians to “spread the gospel” about copyright, OA, and licensing to make future MOOCs a place where the high level of analysis and lecture can be paired with the most interesting and thought-provoking scholarship we have available in the world today.

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