MOOCs and Libraries: New Opportunities for Librarians

[This is the fourth posting in a short series on the forum on MOOCs and Libraries held by OCLC and the University of Pennsylvania Libraries, March 18th and 19th, 2013.]

This, alongside the copyright session, was the most meaty in terms of seeing where libraries are currently connecting with MOOCs — as I learned during my investigations, there are a lot of people with opinions about MOOCs and libraries, but not many folks with hands on experience. This session focused on where library research skills fit into MOOCs, where that might take us.

The panel was moderated by Marjorie Hassen (Director of Teaching, Research, and Learning Services, University of Pennsylvania Libraries) with participation by Sarah Bordac (Head, Instructional Design, Brown University), Jennifer Dorner (Head, Instruction and User Services, University of California Berkeley), and Lynne O’Brien (Director of Academic Technology and Instructional Services, Duke University). You can watch the video and / or read my summary of the event below.

This panel featured perspectives from both Coursera (Duke and Brown) and edX (UC Berkeley) institutions, as well as from librarians who have been involved with a number of courses (Duke) to those who are still preparing for launch day (Brown). For those who have been in the game or on the sidelines, “MOOCs create the perfect storm for new ways of thinking about things” quipped O’Brien. And if people go to MOOCs to learn, it’s critical for libraries to be involved. The question is, what is the right level of support, and where to invest? As a first steps, the pedagogical needs for a course need to be outlined before you can judge what the role of the libraries is, and where library support makes sense. For example, at Berkeley, courses on math and computer science don’t have library related learning objectives. A good exercise for those at academic institutions might be to scan the course catalog and ask what library support is currently offered for each course — in an online environment, expect support to be similar. Is the main focus of support given to faculty who are planning the course, or to participants who are taking the course? For those who are taking courses, librarians may serve a role that’s more like an information guide rather than an information provider.

Certainly looking anew at teaching creates opportunities for cross campus teams. At Brown University (and elsewhere), the library is involved in a number of these teams, which positions the library strategically and helps the library act in a “connector” role. At some institutions, such as UC Berkeley, online learning has not been centrally coordinated, which allows for creativity in course development but makes it difficult for the library to get involved.

Dorner shared information about two library-based edX groups, one studying “content accessibility” (copyright) and another looking at “research skills.” Both groups will issue reports and recommendations, and those reports will be shared.

Other observations:

  • You can’t fully understand and appreciate any technology unless you use it. In MOOCs, there are two layers of experience — that of an course participant, and that of an administrator on the platform.
  • Another reason to take a MOOC — you can see the degree to which students share information resources among themselves.
  • Additional resources:
    Study of how MOOC participants (in one course) went about finding relevant information resources (via Eleni Zazani). A small sample size, but I think this gives some indications of where students are headed.
    A thorough analysis of a MOOC, the report on Duke’s Bioelectricity course — this is the most through reporting out from a course I’ve seen to date.