Open Scholarship

Open education has always been an interest of mine since I joined the OER Schema project early in my career at Penn State. Lately, I’ve been reading a ton of recent research about open movements in education and how other institutions are encouraging openness at their campuses. On my own campus, the open movement has been gaining traction with grants and and task force, and the discussion around the University of California system’s “break up” with Elsevier has generated a lot of renewed interest in open publishing.

Personally I have always been an advocate for open source. I started my career in education as a teacher with zero dollars to invest in anything for a classroom, so open source and freely available resources were all I could really use if I didn’t want to teach from the (outdates) books I had in my classroom. I was constantly searching for fresh ways to teach texts like To Kill A Mockingbird and Romeo and Juliet. Exchanging good resources with other teachers was fun and it kept me interested in the job in a different way.

Anyway, nowadays, the concept of “open” in education has expanded well beyond just freely sharing resources. It’s basically a culture. One aspect of the “new wave” of openness that really caught my attention is the idea of being an open scholar and participating in scholarly work in open ways. There is a lot of great writing about this that goes in depth on open scholarship, but the short version that applies to me is making an effort to do scholarly work in open ways and share about it openly on publically accessible channels. So, this blog is a great first step. I’m already fairly active on Twitter, and my presentation slides are typically shared out during conferences on Twitter.

But I saw a new opportunity when I set up this blog on GitHub, which coincided quite well with two other things going on in my life. In fall, I started my Ph.D. at Penn State, and last summer, the HAX project really picked up speed when I shared some of my thoughts on open education with my colleagues. Basically, if we could figure out a way to leverage the simplicity of setting up a blog on GitHub sites with an interface that meant people who weren’t comfortable didn’t have to mess around with code, we could in essence provide truly open content publishing to anyone with internet access. What we mean by “truly open” is that this content stands up to the 5Rs:

A few years ago, something like this would be really difficult and require a ton of coding know-how. Not exactly what you’d call user-friendly. Nowadays though, thanks to some digital innovations like GitHub pages and Web Components, participating in open formats is much easier. In fact, I used GitHub and its Pages feature to set up this very blog! It wasn’t the simplest process in the world but it was definitely easier than trying to figure out how to set up a server and manage all that stuff from step 0. And the beauty of this little site here is that any time I want to change something, I can do it really easily because all the files that make up the site are markdown and HTML… basically the building blocks of the internet. Transforming a markdown file into a different format can be done in a mouseclick!

So, how does that all tie into the HAX project? Well, we’re trying to build a UI that automates all the setup, the backend file creation, and setting up the GitHub pages site for people who want to publish content online. And we’re going to bake in the OER Schema metadata to make it easier for folks to tag their content in a way that makes structured and intentioned data (think instructional content like lessons, assignments, etc) easier for machines to find and serve up when someone halfway across the globe goes looking for open content to reuse/remix. Pretty neat if you ask me!

Back to the idea of open scholarship. The HAX project is very much in active development, and until then, I want to participate in the open community with my PhD work. That said, I’ve decided that at the end of every semester I’m going to share the work I’ve done for class. Why the end of the semester? Honestly speaking, my intstitution has a license with one of those “plagiarism tracking” software providers, and while none of them have explicitly said they use the software on our submissions, I’d like to avoid the potential for problems. I’ll also try to provide some reflections on the feedback I get, in order to shed some light on the PhD life for anyone else who’s going through it or thinking about giving it a shot!

Right now, you can find my work on my github page (linked in the “About” page), and I’m working on adding a new tab to this site for classwork to make it easier to find in the future!