Grad Students: Travel to Brussels to Learn About Openness!

Graduate students at Virginia Tech are encouraged to apply for a travel scholarship to OpenCon 2015, the student and early career researcher conference on Open Access, Open Education, and Open Data to be held on November 14-16, 2015 in Brussels, Belgium.

OpenCon 2015

One scholarship will be awarded to a Virginia Tech graduate student, which will cover travel expenses, lodging, and some meals. Applicants must use the following URL to apply by Monday, September 21:

To find out more about the conference, see the Participant FAQ and the conference program. This international conference offers an unparalleled opportunity to learn about the growing culture of openness in academia and how to become a participant in it. The travel scholarship is sponsored by the Graduate School and the University Libraries. For questions, please contact Philip Young, (please note that the general application process for the conference closed earlier this summer, and related details in the participant FAQ will not apply).

Last year two graduate students received scholarships to the conference (which was in Washington, D.C.), and you can read about their experiences.

This year’s winner will be selected by the Graduate School and the University Libraries based on answers to the application questions, and announced on September 24. Please share this opportunity with all VT graduate students, and best of luck to the applicants!

Posted in Open Access, Open Data, Open Educational Resources, University Libraries at Virginia Tech, Virginia Tech | Tagged , | Comments Off on Grad Students: Travel to Brussels to Learn About Openness!

Book Review: MOOCs


Jonathan Haber, MOOCS. The MIT Press Essential Knowledge Series. Cambridge, Mass. : The MIT Press, 2014.

I read Jonathan Haber’s book MOOCs a few months ago, and am glad to finally offer some thoughts. Despite a remarkable cooling of interest in MOOCs, there are still plenty of reasons to consider what role they might play in higher education. Haber, perhaps best known for his year-long MOOC experiment to obtain the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree, here offers a readable and balanced account of the MOOC environment.

Haber begins by outlining the history of MOOCs (massive open online courses), pointing out that “open” was an earlier driver than “massive” with MIT’s OpenCourseWare initiative for class materials (begun in 2002), though many of those courses lack video lectures. The first real MOOC came along in 2008, “Connectivism and Connective Knowledge,” taught by Stephen Downes and George Siemens. In the connectivist model, class size became an asset, not a liability (p. 39):

For the bigger the connectivist “class,” the greater the potential for the quantity and variety of nodal connections that define success for networked learning.

However, as MOOCs evolved, most were not designed around a specific pedagogical method, and Haber notes how different the learning experience is between connectivist and non-connectivist MOOCs. A tool for student connection common to both models is the discussion board, though they can be overwhelming to students, resulting in low participation rates. Scheduled vs. on-demand MOOCs have different types of discussion, with the latter focusing more on test and assignment support rather than on general course topics. Haber provides an interesting analysis of other ways that scheduled and on-demand MOOCs differ (p. 78-79).

In his chapter Issues and Controversies (p. 89-131), Haber first focuses on the low completion rates of MOOCs (a problem shared by a MOOC I wrote about last year). He argues that MOOC sign-ups are due mostly to curiosity rather than commitment. Still, though completion rates may be low, the raw completion numbers are still very large, and Haber quotes a professor who remarks that the number of students completing his MOOC is equal to all of the students he has taught in his career up to that point. Problems such as course demand level, cheating, plagiarism, and student identity are being addressed in a variety of ways, such as Coursera’s signature track identity verification.

On the positive side, there’s evidence that the shorter lectures used in most MOOCs are more effective, and that the ability to change speed, pause, and repeat lectures has a pedagogical impact. The interaction of older and younger learners common in MOOCs is rare in traditional education. The modularity of MOOCs is increasingly being utilized, and MOOCs have been successful in blended learning, rather than as a substitute for the classroom. Indeed, edX material is used at MIT to flip courses, and there’s extensive discussion about how MOOCs can fit into the flipped classroom model (p. 156-161). On the whole, MOOCs have raised the bar for online education in terms of production value, creativity, and risk-taking.

In these days of corporate open-washing, anything claiming to be open bears further examination. Haber notes that “open” tends to be interpreted by the public as “free,” despite the need in some MOOCs to purchase materials in order for the student to benefit the most from the course. Haber offers solid discussions of intellectual property (beginning on p. 118) and openness (beginning p. 122). A central problem has been that academic libraries license content for their campuses which cannot legally be shared with large numbers of unaffiliated students. Additionally, educational use is not automatically fair use (a common misunderstanding). Options for using external material include a full fair use analysis, obtaining permission (often at a cost), linking to content, and/or using openly licensed resources. And of course, most MOOCs are not openly licensed themselves. However, edX seems to be upholding open values and thriving, according to a recent article.

Haber also covers the difficulties involved in getting credit for MOOC courses from institutions of higher learning through programs like high school Advanced Placement (AP), the College Board’s College Level Examination Program (CLEP), and the American Council of Education’s (ACE) CREDIT program, which accredits courses for college-level equivalency. Publicity and incentives for the one-off alternative credit are not sufficient, which may explain why there were no sign-ups for either an ACE transcript for a MOOC or a Udacity-Colorado State course in computer programming (p. 106). Yet the future of MOOCs for younger learners, Haber says, may be alongside these existing programs.

This book introduced me to Straighterline and the SPOC (small private online course- for example, CopyrightX, which I hope to take), but the MOOC environment is apparently so fast-moving that some interesting initiatives are now defunct, such as MOOCs Forum, MOOC Campus and Haber perhaps overstates the altruistic purposes of MOOCs (p. 187), and his statements about the cost challenge of MOOCs to residential education may be premature.

MOOCs is part of the MIT Press Essential Knowledge series, which notably includes Peter Suber’s Open Access and John Palfrey’s Intellectual Property Strategy (which I reviewed previously). In addition to an index and notes, it includes a glossary, additional resources, and a list of MOOC providers. It’s an enjoyable and informative read, though not one inspiring certainty, perhaps best communicated by one last heavily-qualified quote (p. 194):

But if MOOCs continue to embrace-or even expand on- the culture of experimentation and innovation that has already set them apart from nearly all other adventures in technology-based learning, if they continue to offer high-quality free teaching to the world while also serving as the laboratory where educational innovation thrives, then whatever MOOCs are today or whatever they evolve into, they are likely to leave an important mark on whatever ends up being called higher education in the future.

Posted in Book Reviews, Open Educational Resources | Tagged | Comments Off on Book Review: MOOCs

A New Issue of Virginia Libraries on “Exploring Openness”

Virginia Libraries cover
Virginia Libraries (cover design by Brian Craig)

Virginia Libraries, the journal of the Virginia Library Association, has recently undergone some significant changes. Formerly a non-peer reviewed quarterly, it’s now an annual peer-reviewed volume, with a first issue on the theme “Exploring Openness” (full disclosure: I was a peer reviewer for two articles submitted for this issue, and fellow blogger Anita Walz authored an article on OER). A broad range of open-related topics is addressed, but for the sake of brevity I’d like to highlight two standout articles (please do check out the full table of contents).

The hype over MOOCs may be past, but I think dismissing them completely is premature. In Just How Open? Evaluating the “Openness” of Course Materials in Massive Open Online Courses (PDF), Gene R. Springs (The Ohio State University) examines the status of texts assigned in 95 courses offered by Coursera or edX. Of 49 courses listing a textbook, 20 of these were freely available; of 44 courses listing or linking to non-textbook readings, 31 linked to or embedded only freely available resources. It’s great to have this quantitative data on MOOC openness. There’s much more data in the article, which is a welcome contribution to the MOOC literature.

The second standout article in this issue is Contextualizing Copyright: Fostering Students’ Understanding of Their Rights and Responsibilities as Content Creators (PDF) by Molly Keener (Wake Forest University). It’s important that students know about the bundle of rights known as copyright both as consumers and creators in the knowledge ecosystem. Keener’s information literacy instruction employs scenarios relevant to students (included as an appendix) and incorporates copyright-related aspects of popular culture. Clearly such instruction is needed:

Most students are unaware that they own copyrights, or that simply because a photograph is free to access online does not mean that it is free to be reused.

Every university should have this kind of instruction to help students understand the environment in which information is created and used. Keener’s article is highly recommended.

While there’s almost everything to like about the new direction Virginia Libraries is taking, one oversight by the editorial board should be pointed out. At the bottom of the table of contents (PDF) the journal states the following:

The Virginia Library Association firmly espouses open access principles and believes that authors should retain full copyrights of their work. The agreement between Virginia Libraries and the author is license to publish. The author retains copyright and thus is free to post the article on an institutional or personal web page subsequent to publication in Virginia Libraries. All material in the journal may be photocopied for the noncommercial purpose of educational advancement.

It’s great that authors can retain copyright, but a journal cannot “firmly espouse open access principles” without openly licensing the content. Peter Suber succinctly defined OA as “digital, online, free of charge, and free of most copyright and licensing restrictions.” This means content should not just be available but also openly licensed (many get the first part but not the second). Leading OA journals have published thousands of articles under a Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license, which gives re-use permissions in advance. It’s also the license for this blog. Librarians should be more aware than most about copyright restrictions for sharing research, and Anita’s article in this issue gives a full list of Creative Commons licenses. Hopefully the editorial board will make Virginia Libraries fully OA by licensing future issues CC BY.

The co-editors of this special issue, Candice Benjes Small and Rebecca K. Miller, deserve praise for its quality and for helping the journal begin a new direction. Virginia Libraries is now seeking a volunteer to be the new editor (see the position description). Interested applicants should send a cover letter and résumé to Suzy Szasz Palmer at by July 24, 2015.

Posted in Copyright, Open Access Journals, Open Licensing | Tagged , | Comments Off on A New Issue of Virginia Libraries on “Exploring Openness”

A Response to Jeffrey Beall’s Critique of Open Access

I recently became a member of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and today was dismayed to see Jeffrey Beall’s article What the Open-Access Movement Doesn’t Want You to Know in the latest issue of its journal, Academe. (I joined because as a member of Virginia Tech’s Faculty Senate, AAUP has been helpful in advising us on increasing the role of Faculty Senate in university governance.)

For those who may not know, Jeffrey Beall is a librarian at the University of Colorado-Denver, and through his blog Scholarly Open Access exposes academic “predatory publishers” (pay-to-publish scams that perform little to no peer review) and other sketchy doings in academic publishing. While this is a tremendous service to the scholarly community, he has unfairly blamed these problems on open access as a whole. It became apparent just how off the rails Beall had gone when he published The Open-Access Movement is Not Really about Open Access in the journal TripleC (in the non-peer reviewed section; also see Michael Eisen’s response, Beall’s Litter). If you enjoy right-wing nuttiness (yes, George Soros is involved) you really should read it.

Beall’s critiques of open access are not always as factual as they could be, so as an open access advocate I am concerned when his polemics are presented to an academic audience that may not know all the facts. So below is my response to selections from his article:

The open-access movement has been around for more than a dozen years

Actually it has been around longer than that- Stevan Harnad made his “subversive proposal” in 1994 on a Virginia Tech email list.

The open-access movement is a coalition that aims to bring down the traditional scholarly publishing industry and replace it with voluntarism and server space subsidized by academic libraries and other nonprofits. It is concerned more with the destruction of existing institutions than with the construction of new and better ones.

This is quite an evidence-free paragraph. Where is the coalition, and where is the goal stated of bringing down the traditional scholarly publishing industry? Who has said all we need is voluntarism and server space? No one I know of.

The movement uses argumentum ad populum, stating only the advantages of providing free access to research and failing to point out the drawbacks (predatory publishers, fees charged to authors, and low-quality articles).

There is frequent discussion of these problems. Credit Beall for bringing attention to predatory publishers, but it’s less of a problem than he makes it out to be (and one seemingly devoid of data- Beall would strengthen his claims if he could document the number of authors victimized and/or the amount of money lost). A majority of open access journals do not charge authors, and those that do usually have waivers. There are also plenty of high-quality open access journals like PLOS Biology, generally considered tops in its field. And we know that “low-quality articles” could never appear in a subscription journal.

It’s hard to argue against “free”—and free access is the chief selling point of open-access publishing…

Actually open access is not just about “free.” OA means free as in cost (to the reader) but also free as in freedom (open licensing). As a librarian, Beall should know the barriers that copyright presents in the use of scholarship by libraries and researchers. OA advocates know that scholarly publishing does cost something, and are actively working on alternatives to the broken subscription model.

In the so-called gold open-access model, authors are charged a fee, called the “article processing charge,” upon acceptance of a manuscript.

This is simply wrong. Gold open access describes OA journals that publish peer-reviewed articles. A majority of them do not have an article processing charge (APC). APCs are just one model of providing open access. It’s true that predatory publishing is based on this model as a money-making scam. This is why authors need to know something about the journals where they submit articles.

Some publishers and journals do not charge fees to researchers and still make their content freely accessible and free to read. These publishers practice platinum open access, which is free to the authors and free to the readers.

“Platinum” open access must be Beall’s invention, because no one else uses this term. Open access journals (“gold” open access) includes journals with fees and those without fees.

A third variety of open-access publishing, often labeled as green open access, is based in academic libraries…

Lots of libraries do have repositories, but it’s not accurate to say that all (or even most) archiving is based there. There are plenty of disciplinary repositories, and for-profit ones like

…the green open-access movement is seeking to convert these repositories into scholarly publishing operations. The long-term goal of green open access is to accustom authors to uploading postprints to repositories in the hope that one day authors will skip scholarly publishers altogether.

Maybe some think this, but I wouldn’t call it widespread. Most scholarly publishing in libraries (that is, journal or monograph publishing) is a separate operation from article archiving. And no one thinks peer review can be skipped, which seems to be an implication here.

Despite sometimes onerous mandates, however, many authors are reluctant to submit their postprints to repositories.

This is unfortunately true, but Beall doesn’t mention that many of the “onerous mandates” were passed unanimously by the same faculty members who must observe them, because they became convinced of the benefits of open access to research.

Moreover, the green open-access model mostly eliminates all the value added that scholarly publishers provide, such as copyediting and long-term digital preservation.

Most OA advocates agree that scholarly publishers provide value- after all, some of them publish OA journals. But the choice of examples is odd. I’m one of many authors who has had the experience of copy editing actually introducing errors into my carefully composed article. And in some cases repositories are a better bet for long-term digital preservation than journals, which can stop publishing without a preservation plan. In short, the value added that is claimed by many publishers is coming under question, and rightfully so in my view.

The low quality of the work often published under the gold and green open-access models provides startling evidence of the value of high-quality scholarly publishing.

This makes little sense. An archived (“green”) article can be of the highest quality and may have been published in one of the prestigious journals Beall venerates. And again, there are many well regarded open access journals.

When authors become the customers in scholarly communication, those with the least funds are effectively prevented from participating; there is a bias against the underfunded.

Many OA advocates have identified the same problem with APCs, especially for authors from the developing world. But many of these journals have waivers, most OA journals don’t have charges, and new models are being developed that subsidize journals without charge to either author or reader. It’s not accurate to portray fee-based publishing as the only open access model.

Subscription journals have never discriminated on the basis of an author’s ability to pay an article-processing charge.

No, they just discriminate against libraries.

Gold open access devalues the role of the consumer in scholarly research… Open access is making readers secondary players in the scholarly communication process.

This is just laughable. Yes, we should feel sorry for all those readers who can freely access all the peer-reviewed research that their tax dollars likely paid for.

In the next section of his article, “Questioning Peer Review and Impact Factors” Beall mostly critiques the doings of predatory publishers, which no one really disputes. But in criticizing predatory publishers (again unfairly extending his critique to all open access publishing) he gives subscription publishing a free pass. If you don’t think bad information has appeared in prestigious peer-reviewed subscription journals, try searching “autism and immunization” or “arsenic life.” Beall’s reverence for the journal impact factor isn’t supported by any facts (see my post Removing the Journal Impact Factor from Faculty Evaluation). So predatory publishers using fake journal impact factors shouldn’t be a concern- it’s a bogus metric to start with. Moreover, Beall fails to acknowledge that open peer review, in whatever form, would largely solve the problem of predatory publishing. If a journal claims to do peer review, then let’s see it!

If you’re an author from a Western country, the novelty and significance of your research findings are secondary to your ability to pay an article-processing charge and get your article in print.

Again- waivers are available and the majority of OA journals don’t have fees. It’s interesting that Beall uses words like “novelty” and “significance” here, as if unaware of real problems in peer review caused by these assessments (which are not attributable to predatory publishing).

Open-access advocates like to invoke the supposed lack of access to research in underdeveloped countries. But these same advocates fail to mention that numerous programs exist that provide free access to research, such as Research4Life and the World Health Organization’s Health Internetwork Access to Research Initiative. Open access actually silences researchers in developing and middle-income countries, who often cannot afford the author fees required to publish in gold open-access journals.

Once again, OA is not all about fees. It’s also odd that so many people from the developing world are huge open access advocates. Beall fails to mention that the large publishing companies have a lot of control over which countries get access and which do not. If they decide that India, for example, can afford to pay, then they don’t provide access. Wider open access would make these programs unnecessary. The main thing silencing researchers in developing countries is basic access to research, which inhibits their own research efforts.

…the top open-access journals will be the ones that are able to command the highest article-processing charges from authors. The more prestigious the journal, the more you’ll have to pay.

There may be some truth to this, and it’s a concern I share. However, APCs may be subject to price competition (an odd omission from someone who is so market-oriented). Beall has identified the biggest problem to my mind, which is journal prestige. Prestige means that mostly we are paying for lots of articles to be rejected, which are then published elsewhere. Academia needs to determine whether continuing to do this is very smart, and whether other sources of research quality or impact might be available.

The era of merit in scholarly publishing is ending; the era of money has begun.

Another laugher. Beall must be unaware of his own library’s collections budget, or the 30-40% annual profit made by Elsevier, Wiley, Informa, etc. If he is concerned about merit (and especially predatory publishing), he ought to be advocating for some form of open peer review.

Most open-access journals compel authors to sign away intellectual property rights upon publication, requiring that their content be released under the terms of a very loose Creative Commons license.

As opposed to subscription journals, most of which which compel authors to transfer their copyright? Many open access journals allow authors to retain copyright.

Under this license, others can republish your work—even for profit—without asking for permission. They can create translations and adaptations, and they can reprint your work wherever they want, including in places that might offend you.

Wouldn’t it be awful to have your work translated or reprinted? I mean, no one actually wants to disseminate their work, do they? This is mostly scare-mongering about things that might happen .001% of the time. And because of the ever-so-slight chance someone might make money from your work, or it might be posted to a site you don’t agree with, we shouldn’t share research? This blog is licensed CC BY, and I don’t care if either of those things happen. What’s not logical is for these largely unfounded fears to lead us back to paywalls and all-rights-reserved copyright.

Scholarly open-access publishing has made many tens of thousands of scholarly articles freely available, but more information is not necessarily better information.

I don’t think anyone has ever claimed this. Even if there were only subscription journals, there would be new journals and more articles published.

Predatory journals threaten to bring down the whole cumulative system of scholarly communication…

I think there may be some exaggeration here.

In the long term, the open-access movement will be seen as an ephemeral social cause that tried and failed to topple an industry.

Open access is not looking very ephemeral at the moment. The “industry” seems to be trying to find ways to accommodate it so they don’t go out of business. Open access advocates are not necessarily against the “industry,” just the broken subscription/paywall model they use. Indeed, traditional publishers like Elsevier and Wiley are profiting handsomely from hybrid open access, and starting OA journals or converting existing ones to open access.

Be wary of predatory publishers…

Finally, something we can agree on!

Posted in Open Access, Open Access Journals | Tagged | 20 Comments

Book Review: Issues in Open Research Data

Issues in Open Research Data

Moore, Samuel A. (ed.), Issues in Open Research Data (London: Ubiquity Press, 2014).

Bringing together contributed chapters on a wide variety of topics, Issues in Open Research Data is a highly informative volume of great current interest. It’s also an open access book, available to read or download online and released under a CC BY license. Three of the nine chapters have been previously published, but benefit from inclusion here. In the interest of full disclosure, I’m listed as a book supporter (through in the initial pages.

In his Editor’s Introduction, Samuel A. Moore introduces the Panton Principles for data sharing, inspired by the idea that “sharing data is simply better for science.” Moore believes each principle builds on the previous one:

  1. When publishing data, make an explicit and robust statement of your wishes.
  2. Use a recognized waiver or license that is appropriate for data.
  3. If you want your data to be effectively used and added to by others, it should be open as defined by the Open Knowledge/Data Definition— in particular, non-commercial and other restrictive clauses should not be used.
  4. Explicit dedication of data underlying published science into the public domain via PDDL or CC0 is strongly recommended and ensures compliance with both the Science Commons Protocol for Implementing Open Access Data and the Open Knowledge/Data Definition.

In “Open Content Mining” Peter Murray-Rust, Jennifer C. Molloy and Diane Cabell make a number of important points regarding text and data mining (TDM). Both publisher restrictions and law (recently liberalized in the UK) can block TDM. And publisher contracts with libraries, often made under non-disclosure agreements, can override copyright and database rights. This chapter also includes a useful table of the TDM restrictions of major journal publishers. (Those interested in exploring further may want to check out ContentMine.)

“Data sharing in a humanitarian organization: the experience of Médecins Sans Frontières” by Unni Karunakara covers the development of MSF’s data sharing policy, adopted in 2012 (its research repository was established in 2008). MSF’s overriding imperative was to ensure that patients were not harmed due to political or ethnic strife.

Sarah Callaghan makes a number of interesting points in her chapter “Open Data in the Earth and Climate Sciences.” Because much of earth science data is observational, it is not reproducible. “Climategate,” the exposure of researcher emails in 2009, has helped drive the field toward openness. However, there remain several barriers. The highly competitive research environment causes researchers to hoard data, though funder policies on open data are changing this. Where data has commercial value, non-disclosure agreements can come into play. Callaghan notes the paradox that putting restrictions on collaborative spaces makes sharing more likely (the Open Science Framework is a good example). She also shares a case in which an article based on open data was published three years before the researchers who produced the data published. It is becoming likely that funders will increasingly monitor data use and require acknowledgement of data sources if used in a publication. Data papers (short articles describing a dataset and the details of collection, processing, and software) may encourage open data. Researchers are more likely to deposit data if given credit through a data journal. However, data journals need to certify data hosts and provide guidance on how to peer review a dataset.

In “Open Minded Psychology” Wouter van den Bos, Mirjam A. Jenny, and Dirk U. Wulff share a discouraging statistic: 73% of corresponding authors failed to share data from published papers on request. A significant barrier is that providing data means substantial work. Usability can be enhanced by avoiding proprietary software and following standards for structuring data sets (an example of the latter is OpenfMRI). The authors discuss privacy issues as well, which in the case of fMRI includes a 3D image of the participant’s face. The value of open data is that data sets can be combined, used to address new questions, analyzed with novel statistical methods, or used as an independent replication data set. The authors conclude:

Open science is simply more efficient science; it will speed up discovery and our understanding of the world.

Ross Mounce’s chapter “Open Data and Palaeontology” is interesting for its examination of specific data portals such as the Paleobiology Database, focusing in particular on the licensing of each. He advocates open licenses such as the CC0 license, and argues against author choice in licensing, pointing out that it creates complexity and results in data sharing compatibility problems. And even though articles with data are cited more often, Mounce points out that traditionally indexing occurs only for the main paper, not supplementary files where data usually resides.

Probably the most thought-provoking yet least data-focused chapter is “The Need to Humanize Open Science” by Eric Kansa of Open Context, an open data publishing venue for archaeology and related fields. Starting with open data but mostly about the interaction of neoliberal policies and openness, the chapter deserves a more extensive analysis than I can give here, but those interested in the context against which openness struggles may want to read his blog post on the subject, in addition to this chapter.

Other chapters cover the role of open data in health care, drug discovery, and economics. Common themes include:

  • encouraging the adoption of open data practices and the need for incentives
  • the importance of licensing data as openly as possible
  • the challenges of anonymization of personal data
  • an emphasis on the usability of open data

As someone without a strong background in data (open or not), I learned a great deal from this book, and highly recommend it as an introduction to a range of open data issues.

Posted in Book Reviews, Open Data | Tagged | Comments Off on Book Review: Issues in Open Research Data

University Libraries Host Open Education Week 2015

Open Education Week is an annual event to raise awareness of free and open educational resources, and 2015 marked the second celebration of Open Education Week at Virginia Tech’s University Libraries. How are open educational resources (OER) defined?

OER are teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use and re-purposing by others. Open educational resources include full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, streaming videos, tests, software, and any other tools, materials, or techniques used to support access to knowledge.

Open Education Week at VT

Virginia Tech students, staff, faculty, and visitors from other institutions gathered for six events the week of February 23-27 to explore, discuss, and learn about open education. Our events focused on raising awareness of Open Educational Resources as:

  • one way to address student debt and educational affordability issues.
  • a way to address copyright limitations in education.
  • a set of tools to enhance faculty creativity, flexibility, and innovation in teaching.

The Student Government Association Academic Affairs Committee hosted two events, one to informally explore student textbook buying experiences and a second event to discuss their own experiences and reflect on their findings.

Students articulated a variety of observations about their own and others’ experiences:

[Students] are not buying books anymore. Books are important for our education. If you’re not buying books, you’re not learning very well.

I took a class where I had to buy eight books. [I] found the cheapest books [I] could find and the total was still $250. . . I don’t think professors know that $250 is a lot of money for [students].

I don’t want to have to work twenty hours a week to afford my textbook.

I had to spend $90 to rent an eBook in order to get a required software code to submit homework. I did not even get to keep the book.

People are going to spend the money on the textbook the professor selected.

I feel helpless. For four classes you have access codes. This leaves students without an option. You need to buy an access code. I don’t know how to get around this. It’s $300, buying access to weekly homework assignments.

Open Education Week Student Panel
Open Education Week Student Panel

Student panelists reflected on their and others’ understanding and responses to textbook buying problems:

I just want faculty to be aware that there is a problem. I have professors who put everything online. Then, I have professors who require purchase of a textbook and homework software.

I’m not privy to faculty pressures; is the content in new editions of textbooks substantially different? [Students] need to ask faculty in a way that is respectful to consider that in their decision-making.

Students mentioned a variety of faculty practices that have been helpful:

  • Recommending, but not requiring a book
  • Putting textbooks and readings on Reserve in the library (“I wish I would have known that these were available as a Freshman.”)
  • Linking content via Scholar (our LMS)
  • One professor mapped changes between different editions so that students could save money

(Slide from David Ernst CC BY; data from Florida Student Textbook Survey)

Students had various reflections on open textbooks/open educational resources:

I would encourage professors to give open educational resources a try, especially if they are teaching the same class year in and out. If they just tried it for a semester especially with these basic classes…the fundamentals don’t change.

Open textbooks mitigate cost. They also change the way we look at textbooks. How have consumers driven product development? Students need to understand their agency as consumers.

I want to tell professors that they would get more recognition if they reduce cost and increase access to [their authored] resources.

As Open Education Librarian, I led the workshop “Get Creative (and stay legal)” introducing educators and authors to OER and open licensing using Creative Commons (presentation slides; see the presentation video below).

Panelists from Virginia Tech and Virginia Military Institute shared their experiences and reflections on open educational resources as students, educators, researchers, authors, and adopters of open educational resources. Mohammed Seyam, doctoral student in Computer Science, discussed the value of openly licensed material as a student, research, and graduate assistant. Heath Hart, Advanced Instructor of Mathematics, reflected on his adoption of an open educational resource and a (subscribed) online textbook in “A Rousing Success and an Unmitigated Disaster.” Greg Hartman, Associate Professor of Mathematics at Virginia Military Institute, discussed his experiences authoring the openly-licensed (CC BY-NC) textbook, APEX Calculus. Peter Doolittle, Executive Director of the Center for Instructional Development and Educational Research, discussed the open education movement from a teaching and learning perspective, moving beyond just content into process.

(Mohammed Seyam 7:45-17:12, Heath Hart 18:06-32:47, Greg Hartman 33:04-50:34, and Peter Doolittle 51:25-1:03:11)

University of Minnesota Open Textbook Library founders David Ernst and Kristi Jensen presented workshops for instructional designers and librarians, highlighting the increased student cost of higher education as state funding decreases, the 800+% rise in the cost of textbooks (4 times the rate of inflation) since 1978, and how open textbooks and openly licensed resources can help alleviate the burden of textbook costs for students and provide faculty with customizable content. Faculty members from a wide variety of disciplines participated in an Open Textbook Adoption Workshop led by Dave Ernst. Faculty were introduced to open textbooks and their potential impact on access, academic success, and affordability, which is especially relevant in the context of rising student debt. Faculty were also invited to review an open textbook from the Open Textbook Library.For more from David Ernst on open knowledge and open textbooks, see his 2013 University of Minnesota TEDx talk and his 2012 Kyoto TEDx talk.

For more information on open educational resources and open licensing, see our OER Guide or contact Anita Walz at The University Libraries are exploring additional ways to support faculty interested in open educational resources. We’d love to hear from you!

Posted in Open Educational Resources, Open Textbooks, University Libraries at Virginia Tech | Tagged , , | Comments Off on University Libraries Host Open Education Week 2015

Open Data Day/CodeAcross Event Recap

Blacksburg’s first celebration of Open Data Day and CodeAcross was organized by Code for NRV, our local Code for America brigade, and the University Libraries, which hosted the event in Newman Library’s Multipurpose Room. Originally scheduled for Saturday, February 21 (the official Open Data Day observed in hundreds of cities around the world), due to rapidly accumulating snow we had to postpone until Sunday. As it turned out, a water leak closed the library around mid-day Saturday, so things worked out for the best. (Our apologies to registrants for the sudden change in plans.)

Open Data Day logo

The first event of the morning was a mapping roundtable led by Peter Sforza, director of the Center for Geospatial Information Technology at Virginia Tech. In addition to looking at a lot of cool maps, we identified three potential areas for collaboration:

  • 3D Blacksburg – an effort to develop a common, shared 3D spatial reference model for Blacksburg and the New River Valley.
  • Contributing more authoritative data to OpenStreetMap for Blacksburg and Virginia by working with GeoGig.
  • Opening data that CGIT compiles for projects and research, for example crash data from the Virginia Department of Transportation.
Mapping Roundtable
Peter Sforza Leads the Mapping Roundtable

For the journalism roundtable, we were joined by Scott Chandler, Design/Production Adviser for the Educational Media Company at Virginia Tech, and Cameron Austin, former editor of the Collegiate Times. One problem the CT has is finding/keeping programmers to help with data, such as their academic salaries database. Code for NRV will try to help with recruitment. A database of textbook costs was identified as a possibility to work on that would be of particular interest to students.

Blacksburg town council member Michael Sutphin joined us for the public policy roundtable, which included interesting discussions of town planning notifications and ways to encourage citizen engagement (such as the underutilized site Speak Up Blacksburg). Some of the project ideas included:

  • Visualizations of the town’s historical budget data that could benefit the public and town officials.
  • Opening the raw data used to create tables and maps in the town’s comprehensive plans.
  • Analysis of emails to and from local government officials to create visualizations of the most commented on topics in the town, e.g. word clouds and tag lists.

Our hackathon emerged from the morning’s mapping roundtable, so perhaps it’s not surprising that the projects were geographic in nature:

  • One volunteer used the Virginia Restaurant Health Inspection API created by Code for Hampton Roads to create a map of Blacksburg restaurants and their health scores.
  • An architecture student started a project that will use open 3D geospatial data from Virginia Tech to design pathways that are sculpted for the landscape.
  • Researchers from the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute adapted a model used in Ebola research to optimize placement of EMS staging areas during flood emergencies in Hampton Roads, Virginia. The model uses open data sets like the location and elevation of every roadway in Virginia to determine which streets would still be navigable during a flood.
Waldo Jaquith
Waldo Jaquith

To kick off our events Friday evening, we were very happy to have Waldo Jaquith speaking on “Open Government Data in Virginia” prefaced by a brief introduction to Open Data Day/CodeAcross by Ben Schoenfeld, co-leader of the Code for NRV brigade. Waldo Jaquith is the director of the U.S. Open Data Institute, an organization building the capacity of open data and supporting government in that mission. See the video of his talk below.

Thanks to everyone who turned out Friday and/or Sunday!

Thanks to the University Libraries’ Event Capture Service for the video below.

Posted in Open Data, University Libraries at Virginia Tech | Tagged , , , , , , | Comments Off on Open Data Day/CodeAcross Event Recap

Learn About Open Data at Open Data Day/CodeAcross!

Join us for Blacksburg’s first observance of Open Data Day/CodeAcross, organized by Virginia Tech’s University Libraries and Code for NRV, our local Code for America brigade, this Friday and Saturday, February 20-21, 2015. We will be one of more than 100 Open Data Day and CodeAcross events taking place around the world on February 21. We welcome area residents and local government officials as well as faculty, staff, and students at Virginia Tech to find out how open data can improve our community (coding not required!). Registration is requested to help us with logistics, and for VT faculty, NLI credit is available (look for the sign-in sheet as well).

Waldo Jaquith
Waldo Jaquith

Friday, February 20, 2015
5:30pm to 7:00pm
Newman Library Multipurpose Room (first floor)

To kick off our events, we are very pleased to have Waldo Jaquith speaking on “Open Government Data in Virginia” which will be followed by a brief introduction to Open Data Day/CodeAcross. Waldo Jaquith is the director of the U.S. Open Data Institute, an organization building the capacity of open data and supporting government in that mission. In 2011, in acknowledgement of his open data work, Jaquith was named a “Champion of Change” by the White House and, in 2012, an “OpenGov Champion” by the Sunlight Foundation. He went on to work in open data with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Jaquith, a 2005 Virginia Tech graduate, lives near Charlottesville, Virginia with his wife and son.

Open Data Day logo

Saturday February 21, 2015
9:30am to 5:00pm (lunch provided)
Newman Library Multipurpose Room (first floor)
Registration requested!

Open Data Day/CodeAcross will offer three tracks for coders and non-coders alike. First, there will be a sequence of one-hour discussion roundtables led by experts on the relationship of open data with mapping (10am), journalism (11am), public policy (1pm), health (2pm), and research (3pm). Second, there will be a mapping project emerging from the mapping roundtable and lasting the rest of the day. Third, for the coders there will be a hackathon using open government data in Virginia. Around 4pm, we will gather together, talk about our projects and what we learned, and plan for the continuation of projects. Attendees may move between these three strands as they like- or just come for one roundtable. Lunch is provided! While all events are free and open to the public, please register online to help us plan for the roundtables, lunch, and wireless access for those without a Virginia Tech affiliation. If you have questions, please contact me, Philip Young at or 540-231–8845. Hope to see you there! #OpenDataDay #CodeAcross

CodeAcross logo

Posted in Open Data, University Libraries at Virginia Tech | Tagged , , , , , | Comments Off on Learn About Open Data at Open Data Day/CodeAcross!

Open Education Week 2015 at Virginia Tech

The University Libraries is planning its first observance of Open Education Week (February 23-27) at Virginia Tech! Open Education Week is intended to raise awareness of open educational resources (OER), which include a wide range of teaching, learning, and research resources such as textbooks, videos, software, and course materials that are free to be used and re-purposed. All are welcome to attend and find out how adopting, adapting, and authoring openly licensed resources can advance learning and reduce costs for students. We’re especially pleased to have Kristi Jensen, Program Development Lead for the eLearning Support Initiative (University of Minnesota Libraries) and David Ernst, Chief Information Officer (University of Minnesota College of Education and Human Development) from the University of Minnesota Open Textbook Library who will host the workshops on Thursday and Friday.

  • Interested in learning more about the conceptual and practical aspects of open licensing? Join us on Tuesday, Feb 24 11am-12:30pm in Newman Library’s 1st Floor Multipurpose Room for the interactive presentation “Get Creative (and Stay Legal).”
  • Wondering what students have to say about affordability of learning resources and how this affects them? Come to the Student Government Association-hosted panel discussion on Wednesday, Feb 25th 12:30-1:45pm (Newman Library’s 1st Floor Multipurpose Room).
  • Want to meet faculty who have authored or are implementing openly licensed resources/open textbooks in their courses? Join us for an Open House at 3:30pm Wednesday, Feb 25th and stay for the panel discussion from 4-5:30pm (Newman Library’s 1st Floor Multipurpose Room). Panelists include Peter Doolittle, Mohammed Seyam, Heath Hart, and Greg Hartman (VMI).
  • Do you advise or assist faculty regarding learning materials or instructional design? Do you work or are studying instructional design? Join us for an interesting conversation about open educational resources (OER) and instructional design on Thursday, February 26th 11am-12:15pm (with Kristi Jensen and David Ernst, Newman Library’s 1st floor Multipurpose Room).
  • Do you work in an area academic library and want to be better equipped to talk with faculty about exploring open educational resources? Register for the Open Educational Resources for Librarians workshop on Thursday, February 26th 1-2:30pm (with Kristi Jensen and David Ernst, Newman Library Boardroom, 6th floor).
  • Are you a faculty member responsible for reviewing or selecting textbooks or other learning materials? Are you looking for other options or concerned about the costs for students? Join us for the Open Textbook Adoption workshop Friday, February 27th 9-11am. A limited number of $200 stipends are available for teaching faculty who apply, attend the workshop, and write a review of an open textbook (with Kristi Jensen and David Ernst, Newman Library’s 1st Floor Multipurpose Room).

Open Education Week at VT

Why are we hosting Open Education Week?

The cost of textbooks and learning resources is a burden for students:

Faculty are saving their students money by adopting OER:

And OER gives faculty opportunities for innovative teaching and learning:

  • Faculty may create a new resource or customize an openly licensed resource to make it best fit their learning objectives.
  • Openly licensed content may be copied, updated, reformatted, customized, and redistributed free of charge. This gives a tremendous opportunity to faculty (and students) who wish to integrate content into new and different learning resources (for example, changing the formatting of a book to enhance student interaction with the text, or pulling content into different platforms, or customizing problem sets, assessments, and links to other resources).

See our Open Education Week guide for more information on events as well as OER in general. Please contact Anita Walz at or 540-231-2204 with any questions. Hope to see you at one or more Open Education Week events! #openedweek #openeducationwk

Posted in Open Educational Resources, Open Licensing, Open Textbooks, University Libraries at Virginia Tech | Tagged | Comments Off on Open Education Week 2015 at Virginia Tech

Removing the Journal Impact Factor from Faculty Evaluation

One barrier to open access publishing that receives a thorough debunking on an almost-daily basis, yet refuses to go away, is the journal impact factor (JIF). Unfortunately the JIF continues to be used in the evaluation of research (and researchers) by university committees (in hiring, or the tenure and promotion process) as well as by grant reviewers. This is a barrier to open access, in most cases, because the most prestigious journals (those with the highest JIF) often do not have any open access publication options. There are exceptions like PLOS Biology, but in general the focus on prestige by evaluators is slowing down badly needed changes in scholarly communication. It’s also a barrier because many open access journals are newer and tend to have a lower JIF if they have one at all (three years of data must be available, so an innovative journal like PeerJ won’t have a JIF until June 2015).

But even if the JIF weren’t posing a barrier to open scholarly communication, it would still be a poor metric to use in research evaluation. Here are a few of the reasons:

  • The JIF measures journals, not articles. It was never intended for use in evaluating researchers or their articles.
  • Because the JIF counts citations to a journal in the previous year and divides by the number of articles published in the two years prior to that, there is absolutely no relationship between a journal’s current JIF and a newly published article. For example, a journal’s 2014 JIF measures citations in 2013 to articles published in 2012 and 2011.
  • The distribution of citations to journal articles is highly skewed: one article may be cited hundreds of times, and others cited little or not at all. By using the mean as a descriptor in such a skewed distribution, the JIF is a poster child for statistical illiteracy.
  • The JIF is not reproducible. It is a proprietary measure owned by Thomson Reuters (Journal Citation Reports or JCR), and the details of its calculation are a black box. In particular, it is not known whether non-peer reviewed content in journals are counted as articles, and/or whether citations from that content are counted.
  • Citations can occur for a variety of reasons, and may or may not be an indication of quality.
  • The JIF only counts citations to an article in its first two years, so journals select articles that will cause an immediate buzz (though there is also a 5-year JIF). Meanwhile, solid research that might accumulate citations more slowly is rejected.
  • Citation rates vary greatly between disciplines. The JIF serves as a disincentive to do interdisciplinary research.
  • Reliance on citations misses the broader impact of research on society.
  • The JIF can be gamed by journal editors who suggest or require that authors cite other articles in that journal. In addition, review and methods articles are privileged since they are more frequently cited. The quest for citations is also why journals don’t publish negative results, even though those are important for science.
  • The JIF covers only about a third of existing journals, and is heavily STEM-centric.
  • The prestige of publishing in a high-JIF journal encourages bad science. Retraction rates have been correlated with the JIF. Researchers are incentivized to produce sexy but unreliable research, and to tweak the results (e.g., p-hacking).
  • Journal prestige is a cause of rising journal prices. If a journal is prestigious in its discipline, then it can charge what libraries can afford to pay, rather than for the work required to produce the journal (though also more expensive because high-JIF journals spend so much time and effort rejecting papers which are then published elsewhere). Journal prices have outpaced the consumer price index for decades.

So how is the JIF used in libraries, where it was intended for use in journal evaluation? Here at Virginia Tech, it’s not used at all in journal selection, and is only one of many considerations in journal cancellation. It’s ironic that the JIF has so little use in libraries while becoming so influential in research evaluation. Why should libraries care about this? To some extent, because “our” little metric somehow escaped and is now inflicting damage across academia. More importantly, we often encounter faculty who don’t fully understand what the JIF is (only that it should be pursued), and, as mentioned at the beginning, the focus on JIF is a real barrier as we advocate to faculty for the open dissemination of research.

Why is the JIF so appealing? Convenience no doubt plays a major role- just grab the number from JCR (or the journal, many institutions can’t afford JCR). After all, it’s a quantitative “factor” that measures “impact” (to three decimal places, so you know it’s scientific!). And if the JIF wasn’t problematic enough, it’s now being incorporated into world university rankings.

How can we address this problem? One attempt to address the misuse of the JIF is the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA), which gives this general recommendation:

  • Do not use journal-based metrics, such as Journal Impact Factors, as a surrogate measure of the quality of individual research articles, to assess an individual scientist’s contributions, or in hiring, promotion, or funding decisions.

DORA continues by giving specific recommendations for funding agencies, institutions, publishers, organizations that supply metrics, and researchers.


For institutions, DORA has two recommendations:

  • Be explicit about the criteria used to reach hiring, tenure, and promotion decisions, clearly highlighting, especially for early-stage investigators, that the scientific content of a paper is much more important than publication metrics or the identity of the journal in which it was published.
  • For the purposes of research assessment, consider the value and impact of all research outputs (including datasets and software) in addition to research publications, and consider a broad range of impact measures including qualitative indicators of research impact, such as influence on policy and practice.

Virginia Tech should consider signing DORA and making that known, as University College London just has. But more importantly, it should also become official university policy, making it clear to all faculty that the JIF should not be used in hiring, tenure, or promotion.

For those interested in exploring further, here are just a few of the most recent commentaries I’ve come across (and to discuss further, consider my upcoming NLI session):

Nine Reasons Why Impact Factors Fail And Using Them May Harm Science (Jeroen Bosman)
Why We Should Avoid Using the Impact Factor to Assess Research and Researchers (Jan Erik Frantsvåg)
If Only Access Were Our Only Infrastructure Problem (Bjorn Brembs, slides 4-23)
Misrepresenting Science Is Almost As Bad As Fraud (Randy Shekman)
Deep Impact: Unintended Consequences of Journal Rank (Bjorn Brembs, Katherine Button, Marcus Munafo)
The Impact Factor Game (PLOS Medicine editors)
Everybody Already Knows Journal Rank is Bunk (Bjorn Brembs)
Sick of Impact Factors and Coda (Stephen Curry)
Excess Success for Psychology Articles in the Journal Science (Gregory Francis, Jay Tanzman, William J. Matthews)
Assess Based on Research Merit, Not Journal Label (David Kent)
Do Not Resuscitate: The Journal Impact Factor Declared Dead (Brendan Crabb)
High Impact Journals May Not Help Careers: Study (Times Higher Education)
Choosing Real-World Impact Over Impact Factor (Sam Wineburg)
Journal Impact Factors: How Much Should We Care? (Henry L. Roediger, III)
How to Leave Your Impact Factor (Gary Gorman)
The Big IF: Is Journal Impact Factor Really So Important? (Open Science)
End Robo-Research Assessment (Barbara Fister)

(I’m sure there are many, many more I missed!)

Posted in Research Evaluation | Tagged , , | Comments Off on Removing the Journal Impact Factor from Faculty Evaluation