Linking Open Education to Open Science

After seven months being responsible for student & educational affairs within a university (compared to having spent 14 years working in a university library, at another university), I know a lot, and I still know nothing.

I know what it is to run a service unit (realizing always that a service unit within a university has different roles, it has knowledge and experience on relevant topics, so it provides advice, may facilitate a policy framework, as well as that it is running and offering the products and services it is responsible for). Irrelevant of what sort of unit you are, you need to know the needs and behavior of your users, you need to make sure that everybody working in the service unit knows what their responsibility is, and the best environment to accomplish that is an open and transparent working environment. This is a universal “truth” and is not so much different per university or per service unit.

MIT Celebrates 20 years OpenCourseWare – interesting to read the milestones

New for me are all the rules & regulations related to education we need to adhere to, even more so in this COVID-19 period, or our faculties, teachers and students need to adhere to, as result of what we agree upon in our university, with the vsnu (association of universities in the Netherlands) or with government. Things tumble over one another – whether it is about (students’) application, enrollment, or tuition. Or topics / questions such as how we can welcome our students back again on campus in September 2021, what to do about our (digital / online) exams, whether we want to start new disciplines to teach in, or have to install a student stop for some. Our staff at SOZ (student and educational affairs) and in the faculties within our university is very knowledgeable about these topics, and I am learning every day.

And of course I was and am curious about how the VU, this university, is dealing with open science, and as part of that open education (surely in my new position especially this topic is of interest to me, not as Library director anymore, but in a similar position at a different unit supporting education). At the VU there is a research data services program, a working group on recognition and rewarding, and much attention for community service learning (I consistently try to link this to citizen science). And I notice that we are standing in the doorway of open education (see e.g. this website about copyright in education hosted by the Library). So that is a topic I think we should all know and learn more about.

According to the Digital Education Action Plan update (30 September 2020), the European Commission is going to start promoting, amongst others, the development of a high-quality digital educational ecosystem. And our own Ministry of Education, Culture and Science recently published their approach in Agenda 2021-2025. This identifies three ambitions for the Netherlands: equal opportunity for everyone, aim at quality (with and for essential regions) and creativity, science and innovation (preparation for the future).

We know that an essential part of open science is the ambition to open up our research and research process. Why? Because this will help our economy (stimulate innovation), will add to transparency and research integrity, gives value to our society (surely a prerequisite if the research is financed by public money) and prevents double research and stimulates reproducibility if and where possible. In the discussions on open science we talk about open access (of scientific publications), and FAIR research data / software. If we manage our research data well, we have a basis to make them findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable. It does not mean that we put all our own efforts and results “just” out there in the open, but that we have the choice to do so, and can control what can or must be shared. As open as possible, as closed as necessary. We want to define the principles that are at stake when we let third parties use our scientific content, so that we do not need to “buy them back”, but only pay for additional services on top of these if we would opt for that.

In my opinion the same approach can be used for education. We need to manage our educational resources, we need to make sure that they are findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable. If we accommodate this within our university, we have the choice to open our resources, and perhaps even our education. We should offer the university educational resources services, in analogy with research data services, so that we add transparency, work on the development of a high-quality digital educational ecosystem, and create equal opportunities for everyone. And we should think about (the same or related) principles that are at stake when we hand over our educational material to third parties.

I know there are steps already taken in that direction, as said I notice that we are standing in the doorway. There are publications on how to make your training materials FAIR (e.g. this one published in PLoS Computational Biology), within the Acceleration Plan (for Educational Resources with ICT) there is a recent vision document “towards digital (open) educational resources”. And in the Open Education Week 2021 a theme edition was published by SURF about the reuse of open educational resources. In the preface of this edition I read the same idea: “We see more and more synergy developing between the open science, open access and open education movements. After all, the aim of all three is to maximise access to knowledge by minimising the barriers. Although there are differences between the three movements, there is also sufficient overlap to be able to initiate joint activities and to learn from each other. This will eventually lead to greater access to educational resources, to improve and enrich education and to make it more flexible and more inclusive.”

But I also hear the same undertow I heard several years ago when we at TU Delft, with the former rector magnificus Karel Luyben, had open dialogues with our university staff about open access and open science. Concerns about what it means to open up your own educational resources / scientific publications, to (re)use those of others, and whether this will help us to be in a stronger position in relation to commercial vendors. Together with the university library at the VU we should start and embrace similar discussions, and move forward.

Link open education to open science, to open up the university as knowledge hub.

Wilma van Wezenbeek

9 April 2021

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