Friday, March 12, 2021 News

Project Aims to Make OER Easier to Find with Common Search Framework

Open Education

As interest in using Open Educational Resources (OER) grows, eight librarians and information professionals from the United States and Canada have collaborated on standards to make it easier for people to locate open learning materials.

The vision of the project is to accelerate the use of OER by developing a system in which educators can easily build upon each other’s work and customize materials for their students.

The OER Discovery Working Group is a cooperative effort of information and data experts facilitated by SPARC and led by Camille Thomas, scholarly communications librarian at Florida State University in Tallahassee.

“There is a lot of criticism that OER are hard to find. Often open textbooks, and lectures, etc. have been created with ad hoc descriptions on campuses because they are a newer type of course material,” Thomas said. Faculty members may place their materials in an open institutional repository, but they often lack the proper tags to make it easy to search and find the best match. 

The bottom line: OER has an issue similar to an SEO (search engine optimization) problem, said Thomas. This prompted a discussion of a metadata system to tag elements online and better organize the available resources.

Since librarians and digital repository managers have expertise in curating materials, the working group looked at the problem through the lens of information professionals to propose a solution for a consistent discovery model. They gathered information about developing best practices and outlined potential next steps for how metadata standards could contribute to platform-neutral discovery of OER.

Thomas presented “Collaborative Creation of the OER Metadata Rosetta Stone” with Bill Jones and Heather White at the Open Education Conference in November 2020. (Find more details  or watch the video.)

The group suggested three categories of elements to tag OER items with

  1. Required – must be contained within the new metadata record (including title, author, subject, license URL);
  2. Recommended – must be supplied when available from original object (such as audience, contributor, editor);
  3. Optional  – recognized as useful but record is still considered complete without it (page count, publisher, place, etc.).

The document that the working group presented translates core functionality across commonly used metadata vocabularies — MARC21, Dublin Core, and — to meet the specific needs for OER discovery.

From Mt. Hood Community College in Oregon, Heather White, library technical services and OER coordinator, and Holly Wheeler, library cataloguing and metadata specialist, shared their experience improving OER discoverability with the working group as it crafted its recommendations. They were co-authors of a paper Leveraging Cataloging and Collection Development Expertise to Improve OER Discovery  about creating collection development policies and MARC records for OER at their campus.

“As librarians, we are old hat at making information findable. But when it comes to OER, there is no standard publishing model,” said White, who worked with Wheeler to adapt MARC records (what a library catalogue runs on) so users at MHCC could more easily search (by license or type) for the kind of OER they wanted. Including the OER items in the library catalogue made them easier to discover and was a helpful indicator of the legitimacy of the OER material for faculty. Too often, OER is siloed and standardizing how it is catalogued will make local items accessible to librarians worldwide through a global cataloguing network known as OCLC, added Wheeler.

Also, serving on the working group, Bill Jones, digital resources and systems librarian at the State University of New York (SUNY) Geneseo, provided insight from his experience as a programmer with the OASIS search tool for OER. Hosted at Geneseo, OASIS harvests materials from 117 sources and has more than 388,000 records in its database. Jones said the OER Discovery Working Group project will identify fields for all institutions to use to help standardize the metadata schema.

“We want to keep it simplified so people will understand it and want to use it,” Jones said. “We hope it makes a positive difference in the user searching experience, in overall OER discoverability across platforms, and that it makes for easier consumption of metadata when adding new OER to existing collections.”

Next, Thomas said the group is sharing the living document with stakeholders for feedback and applying for grant funding to support implementation of the model.

Others who served on the OER Discovery Working Group included: Lillian Hogendoorn, digital access & OER lead, eCampusOntario, Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Bobby Bothmann, Minnesota State University-Mankato, Mankato, Minnesota; Holly Wheeler, cataloging & metadata specialist, Mt Hood Community College, Gresham, Oregon; Heather White, library technical services & OER coordinator, Mt Hood Community College, Gresham, Oregon, Gretchen Gueguen, digital projects manager, PALCI; Michelle Brennan, information services manager, ISKME/OER Commons and Samantha Daniels, collection development intern, eCampusOntario, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

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