Faculty who conduct research are accustomed to sharing their results with the world but they often aren’t used to sharing the content they create for the classroom with anyone other than their students.
Through U-M’s Open.Michigan open educational resources initiative, much of this rich material can be used to expand the knowledge base and, in some cases, to better the world.
For example: In Afghanistan, School of Dentistry instructional videos distributed through the U.S. Navy — from original tapes transferred to digital for distribution via Open.Michigan — are raising the level of dental care for the Afghani people.
“We had a contact from the Navy involved in a program to redevelop the dental infrastructure in Afghanistan, to retrain people. It was such a great thing to do; how could we not do it?” asks Dennis Lopatin, senior associate dean in the School of Dentistry.
Dentistry is one of 11 U-M schools and colleges currently working with Open.Michigan, where organizers are trying to promote to faculty the benefits of information sharing and building on the growing movement in which a wide community of contributors add to and build upon the open knowledge commons by applying public licenses to their teaching resources, allowing others to legally share and, in some cases, adapt their work.
Emily Puckett Rodgers, open education coordinator with Open.Michigan, says an increasing number of faculty are seeing that sharing teaching resources on the Web is a great opportunity to gain visibility for their work. Others find value in sharing their resources as they exit academia, leaving behind a legacy.
“What we find is that as faculty begin sharing, they develop a passion for it,” she says. “They want to put up all their course materials, improve them, get more users and expand their impact.”
Associate Professor Paul Conway, from the School of Information, has published most of his courses with Open.Michigan. Regarding his most recently published course with Open.Michigan, Conway says, “My first reaction is ‘awesome.’ I am very excited about having (my) course available (on Open.Michigan). I will be able to include it in my third-year review for SI, which makes it all the sweeter.”
Founded within the Medical School in 2007, Open.Michigan expands on the earlier open courseware movement in higher education. Rodgers says while open courseware offerings traditionally are tied to particular classes, such as a Psychology 101 or Biology 101 course, U-M staff and faculty have an opportunity to present a broader range of materials licensed as Open Educational Resources.
“We wanted to make sure we provided image banks and tutorials and visiting lectures — materials that can facilitate learning not tied to specific course instruction,” she says. Open.Michigan, which has published 74 courses to date, also helps students and staff share resources and research with the global learning community.
Open.Michigan seeks to address the concerns of skeptical faculty members, who worry that when they share their materials, they won’t receive proper attribution or that someone will misuse or misappropriate their content, Rodgers says.
Applying public copyright licenses to the learning materials produced at U-M can increase the likelihood that the work will be properly used, encouraging proper citation and attribution by users in other teaching and learning contexts. “We let faculty tell us what they would like to share — a syllabus, a reading list, a single lecture video or an entire course,” she says.
Faculty also can share tutorials, collections or other supplemental learning resources. “Many faculty view their teaching materials as a work in progress, and we invite them to share those resources to solicit feedback and then update and build on their materials,” Rodgers says.
“ Open.Michigan can’t guarantee against behavior like plagiarism and misuse, but it can serve as a legitimate point of origin for the content we publish and we can work with faculty to promote their resources, making sure they are credited for their contributions,” she says.
Faculty who come to Open.Michgan are asked to select a license stating to others how they want them to use the shared content. By selecting public license, faculty retain the copyright to their original work but give permission to others to copy and distribute their materials — on conditions specified by the faculty member, who also gets credit.
Rodgers says faculty members are paired with volunteers, often students, trained in basic copyright and intellectual property issues. “The faculty member doesn’t have to learn all the details of copyright. The volunteers can help along the process and can train them.” Help can range from licensing a website, to publishing teaching materials, to choosing properly licensed images to support their materials.
“My experience with Open.Michigan staff was all positive,” says Lesley Rex, professor emerita in the School of Education Joint Program of English and Education. “My site (Teaching Persuasive Writing) was not a course I taught, but information for teachers of writing that resulted from my research. I was completely new to putting up a website. They reviewed my over 20 linked pages of text, audio and video and gave advice as to design and how to manage copyright.”
Rodgers says that by publishing shared materials, U-M not only is upholding its mission to serve the public through sharing knowledge, but also is increasing transparency within the U-M education system and improving the ability for its community to collaborate, innovate and build on this body of shared knowledge.
Beyond sharing course materials, faculty can participate in Open.Michigan through advocacy, mentoring and collaboration. “We also partner with faculty, students and community groups to support projects and activities that advocate sharing knowledge, tools, software and research under public copyright licenses,” Rodgers says.
Open.Michigan recently teamed up with the Department of Gynecology and Obstetrics and the Learning Resource Center at the Taubman Health Sciences Library to discuss next-generation learning, research and practical resources for people in the medical field. More than 30 faculty, staff and students from across the university attended this two-part series.
“This event is part of a series of partnerships we hope to foster over the term that will enhance the university’s awareness of local, open resources, resource development, and the benefits of using public copyright licenses to encourage collaboration, innovation and high quality resource sharing,” Rodgers says.
Navy Lt. Dr. Raymond Tinucci, a dentist who has been training Afghanistan dentists so they can treat their soldiers and citizens, learned through a School of Dentistry alumnus about publicly licensed training videos prepared for distribution via Open.Michigan. “The problem is the videos are time consuming to download and sometimes because of the size of the files, I cannot get them at all,” Tinucci wrote to Lopatin in an e-mail, as sufficient Internet bandwidth is a problem in Afghanistan.
In response, the School of Dentistry arranged to have the materials sent as hard drives. Since then, Tinucci has reported that the U-M-produced videos were being presented at lecture seminars that included students form the Kabul Medical University, and at rural training seminars for dental assistants.
“These videos are excellent and will help out here immensely,” he wrote.
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