Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

What Problems Are We Solving with Open? And why AMICAL?

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This is always a necessary question. We know open is usually not free to produce/create, and we know it’s not an absolute, universal good.

We’re starting the last day of the AMICAL conference today, and I wanted to do a quick reflection before the event is over. But first, a quick overview.

AMICAL is a consortium of American style liberal arts institutions outside the US. I am currently on the coordinating committee and have previously benefited from AMICAL funding to attend nearby events in Beirut, to bring Digital Pedagogy Lab Institute to Cairo in 2016 and to partly fund my department’s 15th Anniversary event last year. I believe in the uniqueness of AMICAL in how they are all English language, US inspired institutions but in non-US contexts. We have a lot in common despite differences in size, resources, focus – but we share that liberal arts outside US thing.

So in terms of Open Access and OER… what problems do they solve, and why AMICAL?

Let me start with Open Access. During our panel on this yesterday, the biggest objection came from faculty who felt their departments didn’t value publications unless they were published in established (often subscription-based) journals, and there were the usual concerns over quality.

If we accept that this will be difficult to overcome (though many fields have good quality OA journals, I can’t guarantee they are the top ones each department values) there is almost always the green route *check Sherpa Romeo for each journal’s policy) – archive a version of the article in a repository.

And AMICAL’s role would be in providing a consortial repository for institutions who don’t already have one. For those that already have one, perhaps a way to feed/link automatically from the institutional repository to AMICAL’s.

The advantage to everyone of having their work available in green OA is

  1. It doesn’t cost individual faculty anything but a moment of their time. It’s still, I know, a moment many will not take…but perhaps some library support can help?
  2. Faculty work will be more widely visible and so hopefully more widely cited. This is an advantage to anyone who publishes, but more so for people from our parts of the world, the non-Anglo scholars on the periphery

Let me move next to OER/OEP

I have often said that the drive for open education can be guided by a pedagogical imperative (i.e. it helps you teach better) or a social justice perspective. So either of these justifications works for me.

I think possible ways AMICAL members can benefit by working together are

  1. Extending existing textbooks and OER from US and such, by contributing examples from our diverse countries. Each institution could obviously do this alone for their local benefit, but if we all did it, and shared back to the world, wouldn’t this create richer textbooks with diverse cases for everyone to have broader worldview? This then meets both a pedagogical and social justice perspective in the sense of representing marginal knowledge. I think this problem exists but is often solved in less visible ways inside classrooms.
  2. Developing open curricular resources together, whether through faculty or students working together, can help all of us create and offer better material as people from varying expertise and context work together- again, our contexts are sufficiently different from US and often similar enough that existing material does not fully meet our local needs.
  3. Translating into multiple languages- whether local work or English work. Sitting in a room with 20 AMICAL people means you may have at least 10 languages spoken in that room (I say 10 because Arabs speak same language and some Americans in our institutions only speak English).

The biggest problem of course with any of these is that it’s not the librarians or faculty who need to put in the labor for this (unless we’re developing Material on information literacies or digital literacies or such). And so unless faculty

  1. Are personally motivated to do so OR
  2. Institutionally incentivized or rewarded for doing so

I don’t see how we can achieve this.

There’s something to be said for just sharing what you have (like syllabi) but also something to be said for people who feel the need to protect this kind of thing for all kinds of reasons (including their own precarity).

I think the green OA option is a win-win situation. It just takes a tiny step from individuals and a commitment from institutions.

I think the OER one is more difficult because of amount of labor involved in making it work. Still mulling this over. I know this is just some early morning thinking and not fully organized yet…

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