I was reading David’s post below, struck by this particular comment: ‘Teaching materials are usually the secret garden of academic life’. For many people outside of academia, the teaching and research work academics undertake can seem to operate within an overly closed system – within a ‘secret garden’, in David’s words. The teaching materials lecturers and tutors create are often only disseminated to students enrolled within a particular course at an individual institution. For academics, engaged in research and writing work alongside their teaching, it often seems counter-intuitive to share anything they produce with a wider audience. After all, academics are encouraged to ‘save’ certain writing for journal articles (mainly read by a small pool of other academic colleagues), rather than publishing it online for everyone to read and engage with. However the nature of this project when it comes to teaching materials is to move beyond this thinking that the things we create within an academic environment should be the domain of a few.
This got me thinking about what blogging can teach us about the practical and ethical concerns associated with Open Educational Resources (OER). Blogging is something that I undertake both professionally and personally. I share material that I research and original work that I write within my fields of Adaptation Studies and Feminism. I do so freely, without the fear that I should be ‘saving’ everything I write and research for respectable journals and other acknowledged print publications. I try to strike a balance between providing freely accessible blog posts and more traditional forms of publications recognised by universities.
I have to confess though that when I began blogging a few years ago, I had serious concerns about sharing my work online as a possibly detrimental move for my career. However, what I have actually discovered is that allowing my work to be easily and immediately accessed has garnered comments and valuable feedback from people, critical thought and collaborations that would otherwise have not occurred. Rather than hindering my production of ‘legitimised’ print publications, blogging some of my work has in fact boosted my research, given me ideas and put me in contact with people in my fields across the world. There will of course always be copyright and plagiarism concerns when it comes to sharing your work in this manner, however it is possible to negotiate what material you are willing to publicly share, and what material is better left for dissemination through more traditional means of print and peer-reviewed publication.
This is a learning and negotiation process that I feel can be applied to OER in teaching. The copyright and intellectual property boundaries we have to negotiate in creating the repository at the heart of this project are no doubt significant issues. But I think the angst about deciding how much to share, what can be shared, and how to share it, will be worth it in the end. Because I’ve learned that expanding my academic world from ‘the secret garden’ of seclusion to encompass a wider audience has generally brought only good things in the enrichment to my work and the support fostered between myself and others. I do personally believe that the development of this project alongside other OER initiatives will curb the sense of isolation many academics feel by creating a culture of support backed up by more freely available resources. After all, one of the best ways that I’ve learned how to teach is by sharing material with colleagues and seeing how they do things. The Adapt repository is an extension of this philosophy and practice.