OpenCon 2016: Part Two

The last major focus for OpenCon was Open Education. Open education is about opening lecture notes, assignments, and creating and using open textbooks. With dwindling budgets, states scrambling to find qualified teachers in an ever dwindling pool, and teachers burning out on a daily basis, open education should have a brighter spotlight. Using open textbooks can save schools and college students a great deal of money. Open lecture notes and assignments helps often overworked teachers and new teachers save time by not having to build each class from scratch and lessening preparation time at home. 

Understanding the value of open education, the Department of Education has a #GoOpen campaign, encouraging k-12 schools to use open resources. There are 25 states with at least one open district, 5 of which have four or more districts. More and more colleges are adopting open textbooks. Libraries are creating tools to help professors identify potential open textbooks. One community college went so far as to create entirely open degree, a degree where every class uses open materials.

Open has been a key resource in help expand educational reach with limited resources; in Latin America where the culture of academic discourse is open thanks to leveraging of government funding; and in the Middle East and Africa to help decolonize academic research by broadening reach of academics in developing nations. However, in the U.S. is only now gaining steam. It seems that open is at a tipping point here, and that is largely due to the increasing need it can fill. Budgets are getting cut and science is inhibited by researchers’ inability to get access to the articles they need. Open can be a solution to some of the problems we face, but only if we change the culture at institutions to be more open to it.

Advocacy was not just a note in OpenCon, but a goal. After two days of panels and presentations, we actually met with legislators and Department staff to advocate for Open. I was part of the group that met with Senator Jeff Flake’s Legislative Correspondent. One lesson I learned that day during my preparation research. If you want to get information to your senators and representatives, call. Email gets sorted and ignored because of time constraints. Letters can sit in stacks for a long time. But calls have to be answered, and, supposedly, if a staffer gets enough calls about an issue, it will be brought up in a discussions with staffers with more power.

Advocacy need not be at such a high level. You can advocate at your institution for cultural change that is more receptive to open. Create programs to inform faculty about the benefits of open; to highlight reputable open access journals to publish in; and the discuss the value of making preprints available through repositories. Educate faculty and staff on tenure review committees about the value of faculty publishing in open access journals. Speak to the administration about updating tenure policy to consider more than a faculty’s h-score and encourage them to create an institution policy about open. If I am right that we are at a tipping point, each individual effort will eventually push the rock over the ledge, sending it careening down to more dramatically shake up the status quo.


Once again, here is the link to the handout I created with links to the various projects mentioned at OpenCon on the UA repository. There are some really great projects listed, so check it out.

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