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Supporting and Understanding Open Scholarship

Curriculum Planning and Development Spotlight on OER

Supporting and Understanding Open Scholarship

This article is part of our August 2020 spotlight on open educational resources. Click here to read the introduction and view the other articles in the series.

Discussions of “open” in education predate and extend far beyond open educational resources (OER). For decades educators have carefully crafted assignments and spaces to help students freely and responsibly connect with public conversations. Alongside OER, discussions of open scholarship emphasize remixing the open knowledge principle at the heart of OER to be at the core of knowledge sharing assignments within courses. In this article we discuss spaces of open scholarship to help education administrators celebrate and draw attention to the work already being done and to help facilitate additional work in the future.

Defining open scholarship

Open education strives for accessible and affordable access to education. Open scholarship expands on this idea striving for easy and affordable access to knowledge for everyone. Breaking down the barriers to accessibility and affordability calls on educators—faculty, teachers, librarians, and administrators—to create public assignments that support students’ accessing and developing knowledge and their actively participating in knowledge creation with the world around them.

Open scholarship celebrates public knowledge creation. Following appropriate rules surrounding remixing, citation practices, and attribution, open scholarship harnesses students’ and educators’ creativity while helping students become credible contributors to public discussions. Importantly, open education is not simply about educators requiring students to create blogs and add posts only for the blog to cease activity as the semester ends. While that is one step forward, educators working in open scholarship find ways for their students to add to existing blogs and books, annotate existing source material, and engage in public conversation.

Working in open scholarship

Designing open scholarship opportunities for students needn’t mean reinventing the wheel. There are many opportunities that professors can take advantage of that will create meaningful learning opportunities for students and contribute to a larger project on the local, national, or international level. The first step is to identify learning objectives and the type of activity that would most benefit student learning. Conducting, recording, and transcribing oral history interviews might be useful for history majors; photographing slides for creative commons databases in the sciences could benefit biology majors. Partnerships between teaching and library faculty are beneficial at this stage for identifying quality experiential learning experiences, as many are available through museums, libraries, and archives. There are also private organizations and foundations that sponsor community-driven data collection.

Here are some questions to consider when selecting a project that requires the inclusion of student work:

  • What is the organizing agency (university, private foundation, government organization, museum, etc.)?
  • Do the agency’s goals and mission align with the assignment learning objectives?
    • Is the agency open to working with a new group of students each semester?
  • Is the overall project likely to be sustained and kept accessible by the organizing agency for a long time, or could it disappear in the near future?
  • Who retains copyright of the submitted work?
    • Is the work licensed in an open manner (e.g., through Creative Commons)?
    • Are students’ names included with their contributions?

Local citizenship in a global context

Contemporary citizenship discussions frame citizenship as global, especially given the ways travel and the internet have connected the whole world. This global citizenship is often difficult for students to grasp, and asking students to understand their place within a global population of billions of humans is a huge ask. Open scholarship is a way to globally connect students with local projects, with their local communities—especially using web-based tools, materials, and spaces. Students working in local archives encounter the histories of their local communities and the global history experienced by those communities’ citizens. Students working on, for instance, local river cleanup projects can find helpful resources to improve their approaches, learning from and sharing them with people around the world. Here too the possibilities for connecting learners to their communities are endless. Recognizing how global communities make and share knowledge within web-based tools, connecting with how local communities make change possible are goals of open scholarship. These goals overlap with the goals of academic disciplines.  

The value of an institutional repository

An institutional repository (IR) gives local control over the digital collections created by the university community. The aforementioned learning experiences involved a partnership with an outside organization. Hosting an IR on campus provides a location to house not only dissertations, honors and graduate theses, yearbooks, student newspapers, and other traditional documentation of student work but also multimedia collections of art shows, performances, local conferences, and collections of locally created teaching resources. Students could partner with outside organizations to get experience in interviewing and transcription, or they could assist the university archivist in transcribing local history documents or interviewing university community members about local or national events to provide a snapshot in time for the campus archives. An open-access institutional repository allows researchers from outside the university to access the digitized materials.

Next steps

The examples included here illuminate the value of open scholarship and require faculty to craft assignments and make connections. Knowing the spaces and opportunities educators already engage as well as how educators collaborate to connect their students with global and local communities helps administrators recognize and celebrate the open scholarship their students create.

While open scholarship offers important and meaningful knowledge creation spaces to students, it is not necessarily easy to craft public knowledge creation assignments, nor do open scholarship assignments offer the answer to structural inequalities within society and within education. As necessary first steps, administrators should support and publicly celebrate these assignments as well as the public knowledge creation of students on their campuses. Recognizing and commending the scholarship of students is crucial to supporting open scholarship initiatives.

Additionally, providing monetary support for these activities is crucial. Monetary support can help faculty engage with open scholarship in the form of grants and stipends. Support can provide institutional support for access to journals, archives, institutional repositories, and public websites. The time and support afforded to faculty create time and space for these public connections that help the created work live on accessibly. When faculty connect class assignments to digital repositories, graduated students can showcase their work to potential employers and graduate schools.

Currently, open scholarship assignments don’t easily appear to fit within the scope of all classroom curricula, but moving toward greater institutional support and meaningful opportunities for students to engage in the creation of public knowledge needs campus champions. We urge academic leaders to champion the amazing work of their faculty, teachers, students, and librarians and increase opportunities for new open advocates to join the discussion.

A. Nicole Pfannenstiel, PhD, is an assistant professor of digital media in English at Millersville University.

Stephanie Pennucci, EdD, is an assistant professor and the education librarian at Millersville University.

Krista Higham, MSLS, is an assistant professor in the Library Department and access services librarian at Millersville University.


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