MOOCs and Libraries: a look at the landscape

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you know that MOOCs have been causing a bit of a stir in the academic sector. In the last year, MOOCs have exploded, from a handful of early innovators, to dozens of elite institutions becoming partners with organizations like Coursera, edX, and in the UK, the Open University lead FutureLearn venture. The reasons for this are many, well-documented, and also highly debated. Instead of reviewing what you can read elsewhere, I’d like to focus on the relationship between MOOCs and libraries. Here’s what I was curious about: What is the connection between MOOCs and libraries? What’s happening now and where are the opportunities?

To answer my question, I reached out to members of the OCLC Research Library Partnership. This group comprises 20 of 32 Coursera institutions; 3 of 6 edX institutions; and 4 of 12 FutureLearn institutions. I was fortunate to have either an email exchange or (even better) a phone call with nearly everyone I contacted. This information from those in the trenches has been invaluable. In these exchanges, I asked my basic questions: what are you doing now? what do you think the next steps are? As expected, a number of themes have emerged, along with a wide variety of attitudes (from white knuckle fear to excitement, and everything in between :-)). Below is a summary of what I’ve learned so far.

FutureLearn has not quite fully launched yet, but the libraries at those institutions are planning to work with one another (good news). Within edX, the librarians have also formed an informal network (more good news). Within the larger Coursera network of institutions, there is no similar alliance of librarians.

Here are some some of the themes that have emerged:

  • On the content side, most institutions are engaging with some sort of copyright or licensing negotiations, or are ensuring that materials used in courses are cleared for use in that context (this does not necessarily add up to making materials open access). At some institutions, this is a time consuming (and obviously not scalable) activity. With many institutions, this is really the only point of contact with MOOCs.
  • In that vein, I spoke to a few people who are cautiously optimistic about MOOC implementation being a great opportunity to have an impactful conversation about open access publications or learning objects with faculty.
  • Most of those I spoke with acknowledged that MOOCs could be a great opportunity for their campus to rethink teaching on campus — MOOCs provide a sandbox for experimentation, a place to test what works, what doesn’t, and an environment where findings can be driven back into the next iteration. This can be done, in part, through the collection and analysis of data. This fits with the current emphasis in libraries (and elsewhere) on data collection, and assessment.
  • Along with this, there’s an opportunity for libraries to think anew about library instruction and the role that library research plays in a MOOC or “flipped” environment.
  • There are also opportunities for partnerships. Some libraries may use the MOOC experiment as an opportunity to work with other units on campus, and to draw attention to what the library brings to the campus “team.”. This is also an opportunity to work with faculty and instructors in new ways (or for a new reason). At a time when academic libraries are casting about for recasting the research services they offer, it may also be a good time to reframe teaching support.
  • I did these interviews as background for an event we’ve been planning together with the University of Pennsylvania Libraries (and which I’m pleased to announce!) “MOOCs and Libraries: Massive Opportunity or Overwhelming Challenge?” March 18-19. We’re still shaping the program and confirming speakers, but if you check out the event page, you will see the various themes we’ll be covering.

    Do you have other ideas? Want to be part of the conversation? Leave a comment here, send me an email, or Tweet under the hash #mooclib. I look forward to hearing from you!