Tuesday, February 24, 2015 News

OpenCon Scholarships Translate into Student Action for Oregon State University Libraries

Open Access   ·   Open Education

Oregon State University (OSU) has a deep history of commitment to Open Access.  In 2013, the campus adopted a policy requiring faculty to place copies of their scholarly articles in its institutional repository and, recently, interest has been growing around Open Data and Open Educational Resources.

Now, it is investing in getting students involved.

When Shan Sutton, Associate University Librarian for Research and Scholarly Communication at OSU, learned about OpenCon 2014, the student and early researcher conference on Open Access, Open Educational Resources, and Open Data, supporting students to attend seemed like a fitting extension of the university’s work.

Sutton says he feels that if “open” is to become the default in how scholarship is distributed, campuses need to be more intentional about involving graduate students.  “They are the next generation of scientists, faculty members, and researchers,” he says. “We want them to be thinking of open ways early in their careers, so it becomes natural to them.”

This past fall, OSU covered the costs for two graduate students to participate in the global gathering, hosted by SPARC in Washington, DC. Oregon State was one of twenty-three institutions to sponsor scholarships for delegates to the meeting.

“We saw it as a good opportunity for the library to expose students to these open concepts and give them a chance to work with their peers,” says Sutton.

In November 2014, OpenCon convened students and early career researchers who are helping lead the movement for change through Open Access, Open Education, and Open Data. The goal of the conference was to empower participants to strengthen existing projects, catalyze new initiatives, and foster global collaboration to advance scholarly communication.  115 students and early career researchers from nearly 40 countries were selected to attend from a deeply qualified pool of more than 1,700 applicants from 125 countries.  About 80% of attendees received full travel scholarships – many sponsored by schools like OSU. OpenCon also serves as a larger network for students and early career researchers interested in Open Access, Open Education, and Open Data, and ten OpenCon satellite conferences were hosted around the world following the main meeting in Washington.

Austin Fox, 25, a PhD student in material science and engineering, was one of two students selected to participate in the November conference. Having hit pay walls to view research and confronting costly textbooks, Fox had a personal interest in Open Access.  Also, he had been working on an engineering project that involved an open database and wanted to convince more researchers to contribute to it. Fox was eager to attend OpenCon and to return to OSU to share what he learned with others.

Fox said OpenCon was unlike any other conference he has ever attended. “I didn’t know how much of a buzz would be going on,” recalls Fox. “You are going 14 hours a day, then talking afterwards, getting six hours of sleep and repeating – because everyone was so excited coming up with ideas to solve the issues.”

Fox left OpenCon with a to-do list of projects and inspiration to spread the word at Oregon State.

He spent the next three months assembling a Google Slides presentation to convey all he learned at the conference with colleagues on campus. He contacted OpenCon speakers for their materials and distilled the highlights from OpenCon into a 45-minute talk.  Never having given a speech of more than 15 minutes, Fox says he practiced nearly 10 times before presenting to his first audience of about 20 in a graduate student seminar.

His talk, “Open: Access, Data, and Education,” covered the misconceptions and solutions around open sharing of scholarly research. Fox said the talk was received well and generated interest, which he hopes will continue. Fox intends to present to as many groups as he can to raise awareness and spark interest.

Fox would like to get a student club or organization launched to advocate for Open Access. As a first step, the 13 applicants for the OSU scholarship to OpenCon have been invited to an exploratory meeting to discuss the possibility with Sutton and Fox.  Fox notes he is also is working with another student to put together an information sheet to send to the Higher Education Coordinating Commission Subcommittee on Textbook Affordability.

Prior to OpenCon, Fox says he was unsure about his career direction and now thinks he wants to run a lab and help influence how people share their data.

“I have a better idea of what I want to be doing. I want to be in the position to help other people do science better, “ he says. “It changed my outlook.”

While the scholarships clearly impacted the recipients in a positive way, Sutton says Oregon State Libraries also benefited from connecting with graduate students and their instinctual enthusiasm for Open Access. Adds Sutton: “Most of our work in Open Access focuses on faculty members, and it was quite rewarding to see a positive reaction to the scholarships from all of our graduate student applicants.”

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