The blog of Academe Magazine. Opinions published here do not necessarily represent the policies of the AAUP.
with Katelin Kaiser
In past blogs, I’ve argued academics, particularly tenured faculty, should consider self-publishing their pedagogical materials. Today I wish to further explore the benefits of open textbook publishing. For this blog I’m joined by Katelin Kaiser, a graduate student in Ethics and Medical Humanities at the University of South Florida College of Medicine as well as one of the editors at Writing Commons.
Clearly, for academics there are meaningful obstacles to self-publishing OERs (Open Education Resources), including open textbooks or open courseware. First despite counter arguments such as Boyer’s Scholarship Reconsidered, Salary, Tenure, and Promotion Committees still prize the scholarship of discovery over the scholarship of application or teaching. Traditionally, hiring, tenure, and promotion are driven by obsolete notions of scarcity: academics relinquish copyright to distinguished university presses or journals in exchange for academic rewards, not worrying that forevermore their work will be locked behind passwords, controlled by powerful knowledge management companies such as Elsevier.
While changes to the faculty reward system have been evolving in glacial time, by self-publishing their pedagogical materials online, faculty can reach millions of users. And the winds of change are blowing hard against the shores of academe: there are already over 8,000 open access scholarly journals in the Directory of Online Open Access Journals; over 42,000 free books at Project Gutenberg. Remarkably, the MIT Open Courseware site averages over 1,000,000 visitors a month.
If “impact” is truly one of the major criteria for evaluating tenure and promotion, as Robert Diamond and others have argued, then we have powerful evidence that self-publishing a textbook and building a community around one’s self-published pedagogical materials should be valued in the faculty annual review processes. As we discuss below, we believe our project, Writing Commons, exemplifies for faculty the importance of self-publishing. Our model of building a community around our work, of creating a traditional peer-review system, may be of interest to faculty across disciplines.
We began publishing Writing Commons, http://writingcommons.org, about one year ago, beginning 1/8/2012. While we published an earlier version at http://collegewriting.org for a number of years, our review in this post is based solely on Google Analytics from the http://writingcommons.org site.
During our early years, we were deeply cocooned in The Believing Game, hoping that if we built it, they would come. Back on January 8, 2012, when we moved to http://writingcommons.org, we resembled a distant outpost, with a total visitor count of 14 unique visitors. The next day we doubled that with 32 unique visitors. Even so, it was a somewhat lonely week, with a total unique visitor count of 221 visitors. Overtime, though, our faith was rewarded by a steady stream of new visitors. Slowly our weekly average moved up to 500, then 1000, then 1500, 2000, and now, 3000. Our rather exponential growth is illustrated, for example, by comparing the week of 1/8 to 1/15 in 2012 to 2013: in 2012, we had 293 visitors; a year later, we had 12,870 visitors for that week. For the entire year, beginning 1/8/12, we had 177,939 visitors, 154,62 unique visitors. As suggested by Figure 1, which represents various random screen shots of visitors in real time at our site, our lonely outpost has now evolved into a frontier town, a dynamic place for innovative teachers to collaborate with one another, a place for students to access content that previously would have been packaged in book form at a cost $100/book.
Yet impact doesn’t really address what has become the most interesting aspects of our story. Sure, our story provides a way forward for academics who first published traditional print books that languished in the back pages of publishers’ catalogs; clearly, our story exemplifies the power of gift culture, of open education. That’s inspiring and fulfilling. But the more remarkable part of our story is our emerging, global reach. Open educational resources (OER) such as Writing Commons are meant for all people, not just college students, to provide the opportunity and tools to self-learn and enhance writing and communication skills. Writing Commons has a global reach to countries with different standards in their educational systems. Users of Writing Commons have come from Philippines, Nigeria, Singapore, India, Malaysia, Pakistan, and Indonesia where structural violence inhibits education and contributes to poverty and inequality.
Writing Commons and other open educational resources have a social responsibility to create and disseminate knowledge for all. Knowledge is power and this power should not be exclusive to the privileged. The empowerment of knowledge through OERs has become a global movement–whether we’re discussing MOOCs or Open Courseware or Open Textbooks. Prestigious Universities like Harvard and MIT have joined together to create edX, which provides free access to online courses anywhere in the world. Stanford has launched Class2Go following the same platform, online courses with global-wide access. The power behind open-education resources stems from higher education settings and foundations like Bill and Melinda Gates; however for a global and sustainable impact of OERs, governments need to support the usability of these resources. Governments in India, Indonesia or Singapore can widen the circle and outreach in education by initiating usage of OERs.
As of now Writing Commons is receiving global users on a daily basis. Using Google Analytics, we can track which countries users are from, what pages they are using, and how long they are staying on the site/page. Given almost half our users are globally located (Figure 1), this knowledge allows us to tailor and better suite our users’ needs. This is the beauty of OERs; they are not static resources. We can start to ask what pages do users in Maharashtra, India or users in Manila, Philippines frequently view? For example, our data has shown since January 8, 2012 users in Manila have visited pages “Literary Criticism” 812 times, “Autobiography” 1,043 times and “Causes and Effects” 491 times.
While our 3,000% increase in readers over a year may seem unusually fortuitous, we suspect our good success isn’t unusual: open education materials are highly sought after by a global audience of DIK (Do It Yourself) students who often lack access to formal education. As Yochai Benkler and others have argued, open education resources are nonrival goods. When we share our pedagogical materials, we don’t lose them! In brief, we have everything to gain by sharing our expertise.
“All Members.” OpenCourseWare Consortium. N.p.. Web. 31 Jan 2013. <http://www.ocwconsortium.org/en/members/members/master>.
Directory of Open Access Journals. Infrastructure Services for Open Access. <http://www.doaj.org/>.
“OA by the Numbers.” Open Access Directory. 15 Oct 2012. Web. 29 Jan 2013 <http://oad.simmons.edu/oadwiki/OA_by_the_numbers>.
“Site Statistics.” MIT OpenCourseWare. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Web. 31 Jan 2013. <http://ocw.mit.edu/about/site-statistics/>.
Spiro, Lisa. “Open Education by the Numbers .” New Learning Resources, a NITLE initiative. N.p., 02 Mar 2012. Web. 31 Jan 2013. <http://newlearningresources.wordpress.com/2012/03/02/open-education-by-the-numbers/>.