Library and Information Science Opencourseware?

07 Feb 2012

**Update July 8, 2013
The New Librarianship Master Class MOOC is running from July 8 - August 4, 2013 at The materials from the course will be available after August 4. The description for the course reads:

Libraries have existed for millennia, but today the library field is searching for solid footing in an increasingly fragmented (and increasingly digital) information environment. What is librarianship when it is unmoored from cataloging, books, buildings, and committees? In The Atlas of New Librarianship, R. David Lankes offers a guide to this new landscape for practitioners. He describes a new librarianship based not on books and artifacts but on knowledge and learning; and he suggests a new mission for librarians: to improve society through facilitating knowledge creation in their communities.


I've become quite curious about opencourseware (OCW) recently. It's a brilliant idea and is gaining traction, but how much can it really change? While in the Bay Area for training at Innovative Interfaces, I attended a lecture given by Howard Rheingold at the UC-Berkeley iSchool titled "Social Media and Peer Learning: From Pedagogy to Peeragogy" (A/V from the lecture is available - at least check out the video to see his top notch jacket). Rheingold was a great speaker and his talk provided useful context that helped me better understand the past/present/future of OCW. I'll focus on OCW in library and information science (LIS) by providing a brief overview of its current status and discussing some of the challenges and opportunities facing LIS OCW.

The Facts

What: Library and information science opencourseware. Open access to materials from graduate-level LIS courses, such as lectures, syllabi, handouts, and assignments.

  • Providing materials: LIS faculty
  • Consuming materials: Potentially anyone but most likely librarians interested in continuing education and professional development

Where: According to the Opencourseware Consortium there are currently a handful of schools offering LIS OCW. A search for "library" returns 26 hits (~1/3 are relevant), including 5 courses from the University of Michigan's School of Information. I could not find useful LIS-specific resources at other OCW sites, such as P2PU, Wikiversity, Khan Academy, School of Everything, Einzstein, or YouTube EDU.

When: Now. Although not many institutions are currently participating the number will only increase, especially given the current popularity of OCW and the relative ease in creating OCW courses.

Why: Simply put, the OCW movement seeks to open access to education. The OCW Consortium's vision statement is a bit more eloquent; they see

a world in which the desire to learn is fully met by the opportunity to do so anywhere in the world - where everyone, everywhere is able to access affordable, educationally and culturally appropriate opportunities to gain whatever knowledge or training they desire.
Sounds similiar to the ideas behind the ALA Bill of Rights, no?

How: Create a course website and upload materials. The OCW courses I've found so far are are hosted by the providing institution, which raises questions about cost and sustainability. For example, the recently announced MITx initiative will attempt to recover some/all/more of the $3.5m per year MIT spends on OCW. It will be interesting to see how other institutions attempt to recover the costs of proving OCW materials - will they follow MIT's model, join together in hosting to share costs, or something different?

What It's Not

OCW is (currently) not a replacement for degree-granting programs. There is no assessment - no way to gauge if you learned or understood the lecture or reading (or if you even did them), and it is unlikely that any academic department will offer some form of assessment to students who don't pay their way (I'm sure there are some faculty who would but I'll bet there are more administrators who won't let them). More importantly, OCW has not yet found a scalable way to foster the engagement and interaction essential for learning more abstract topics. Face-to-face classroom education has persisted for so long because it creates a specific time and place for a group of individuals interested in a given topic to bounce ideas off of one another, connect ideas, and develop an understanding of complex topics. This is especially true for the social sciences and humanities, and I believe this type of learning can't be done in isolation. In order for OCW to reach its potential it will have to incorporate a meaningful level of interaction among peers, which is an issue more social than technical.

What It Is

In his lecture, Rheingold noted that OCW is useful for procedural knowledge - programming, engineering, and the like. And many librarians are using it for this - I'll bet you won't have to look very long to find a librarian participating in Code Year, Codeacademy, or maybe of one of Stanford or MIT's OCW programming courses. I think cataloging falls in this category, and I personally would like to see a cataloging OCW course. Another advantage of OCW is it's extensible. We're given the raw materials for courses and have the flexibility to mix and match lectures or reading lists for our own educational needs. Similarly, people interested in teaching and pedagogy can easily check out their colleagues' syllabi. Open access to the building blocks of education is a powerful tool to give to the masses because it provides the means and allows the user to define the ends.

OCW appears to be taking off and it will be interesting to see how it develops. Currently, LIS OCW is useful for continuing education for librarians, a way to bring others into the field, and to raise awareness of LIS education and librarianship in general. I am most interested in seeing what types of engagement and interaction will be used to create a sense of community among fellow OCW participants. After all, the real value of technology is not so much in the information it carries as it is in the conversations it supports and the communities it builds.

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