Open Access Involves More Than Just Putting A Syllabus Online
Educational materials are increasingly being made available online. A professor might, for example, upload a syllabus, lesson plan, or sample assignment to a website where others can access it for their own use.
But providing access to content is just a first step, according to Steven Ovadia, a professor and deputy chief librarian at LaGuardia Community College. “To realize the full potential of OER (open educational resources), users need to do more than access it: they need to engage with OER content in a meaningful, transformative way,” Ovadia wrote in the journal portal: Libraries and the Academy.
Ovadia cites numerous technical challenges in making open-access material easy to reuse, redistribute, revise, and “remix” (combine with other content). For example, a professor might email students a link, but what if the hosting site disappears or a firewall appears? What if users need to study offline, but there’s no downloadable file? What if the content requires updating, and the format (like a PDF) can’t easily be modified? What if you lack the software (like Photoshop) to open a file, or the original software becomes outmoded?
One simple recommendation, Ovadia says, is to put OER in text files, an open format accessible on nearly all operating systems. These files don’t accept formatting like bullets, underlining, italics, or font changes, but they can easily be opened, cut, and pasted. Another tool, Markdown, separates content from format and preserves formatting with symbols (like asterisks) so that things like italics reappear.
Ovadia suggests Pandoc to change text-based files into other formats — for example, a document to a PowerPoint slide to an e-book. For spreadsheets, graphics, or books heavy on design, Ovadia recommends the OpenDocument format.
To track changes, Ovadia suggests Git, an open source tool popular in the coding community. Git allows users and creators to collaborate on modifications, and stores new versions along with version history. Git requires some “idiosyncratic syntax and commands,” but training librarians to use it might facilitate its adoption in academia.
“Truly open content,” he wrote, “allows users to engage with work in different ways.”