Author Archives: Cailean Cooney

Knowledge costs: the business of creating lifelong learners…

“All that time we lavish on convincing students that scholarship matters is wasted if we can’t be bothered to make it accessible to graduates for something less than, say, $45.00 per article.” – Barbara Fister

Barbara Fister’s statement (Fister, an MVP in academic library land) hits the nail on the head for me. Why do students citizens relinquish the right to access information once they leave the academy? Why trouble with teaching at all if knowledge access is reserved for a privileged few years in college only?

Ashley Dawson sums up the teetering system of scholarly production and dissemination as follows:

“The upshot is an increasingly Darwinian world of frenetic competition and commodification in which scholars illogically hand over their hard-won knowledge virtually for free to presses that then limit the circulation of that knowledge through various forms of copyright in order to maintain the precarious revenue stream that keeps them in business.”

Open access is an ethical issue, a money/labor issue, and a political issue.

While the open access movement (led voraciously by librarians) soldiers on for free/unrestricted access to scholarship, academic capitalism and the traditional academic tableau (scholar hermit gifts esoteric work in print monograph or gold standard journal article) continues to snake through the system of tenure and promotion. The result is that a majority of academics are held hostage at a time of great shifts in knowledge production, increased collaboration, digital transformation, and new modes of information dissemination. The traditional formula for measuring scholarly accomplishments no longer fits and it is difficult to measure scholarly work when notions of authorship and knowledge production are changing- this is mainly because the system is incredibly inflexible and has relied far too much on unpaid, immaterial labor. It’s not like scholars have ever been paid to do peer review.

Open Access comes at a cost
Creating, editing, presenting, and preserving the work is not free and we’re at a difficult moment where a lot of this labor risks going virtually unnoticed and unremunerated. In the case of several new open access initiatives at CUNY, Academic Works, the University’s institutional repository, and the development of open educational resources (OERs) as alternative course materials at various CUNY campuses, much of the support and administration is planned to be absorbed by CUNY’s 28 or so academic libraries but it remains to be seen how exactly libraries will find the resources to do this.

As a participant in an OER pilot at my CUNY campus, I am also concerned about the amount of awareness and marketing that still needs to be done around open access issues. It’s also a delicate matter depending on who you talk to. Librarians tend to be among the most invested in the movement, and so it’s important to grasp the different concerns around this major shift in scholarly communication. Throw in intellectual property, copyright, and licensing, and you’ve got one complicated discussion.

Cailean’s proposed projects

Proposal #1     Ethnographic Study on the Adoption of Open Educational Resources at City Tech

This study seeks to assess the impact of Open Educational Resources (OERs) in the classroom. The study would produce much needed qualitative data so that instructional practitioners and college administrations can make informed decisions about how/if OERs represent a viable alternative to the insidious problem of expensive textbooks. The 2012 NSSE (National Survey of Student Engagement) reported that many students did not purchase textbook due to financial concerns; also expressing that they believed this had negative impact on their academic success. OERs are still relatively new and as such, there is little evidence of their effectiveness. This study will survey students and faculty who are participating in the library led City Tech OER pilot which includes three faculty members who will each develop an OER based on existing resources they curate, in turn replacing the required textbook in their respective courses. This study will seek to enrich the conversation about providing open learning materials beyond textbooks.


Prof. Green teaches a course in architectural design. She is concerned that the course’s required textbook is not adequate for her students. Portions are somewhat more advanced than the student skill level, while other sections have no alignment with the course curriculum. She’s heard about alternatives to traditional textbooks: Open Educational Resources (OERs). She’s intrigued, but wants to know more about how they work and how they’ve been implemented before she considers if this is the right alternative for her.

Prof. Sage oversees the circulation department in the college library. She is frustrated by the tons of work her department has each semester to prepare for a new batch of reserve textbooks that need to be available to those (85%) students who can’t afford or choose not to buy the text. It’s like reinventing the wheel every semester. Prying the information from the college bookstore as to when and which new textbooks can be purchased is difficult enough. The library spends an incredible amount of time processing these textbooks into the library’s collection. All for what? The books will either be destroyed or deemed outdated almost as quick as the library makes them available. The new Open Educational Resources (OER) pilot running out of the library has promise as a helpful alternative to this problem. But it’s still so new. How can we learn more about the processing of developing these OERs, and more importantly getting information about the real test: how they perform in the classroom setting.

College student Sam Grey regrets shelling out so much dough for her architectural design textbook. First, it’s boring. Second, it’s heavy, and a pain to lug as she commutes through 3 boroughs a day. What a waste since the professor only assigns half the book anyway? She’s learned from a friend in the program that another course is being taught without a required textbook. Instead, her friend accesses course readings and other materials through the OpenLab site. This might be cool but Sam has never used the OpenLab site before. She wonders if it’s easier or harder than Blackboard. How would she find or print out her assignments? Is the professor just being lazy?

Use case:

Prof. Green is admittedly interested in the prospect of using or curating an OER as an alternative to the traditional textbook she requires. But she wonders how the OER will affect her classroom pedagogy. Are these resources supporting student learning? What are the outcomes compared to student performance in those classes that use traditional textbooks? What are some of the “do’s and don’ts” takeaways from students and faculty who have used an OER? Prof. Green will examine the ethnographic study conducted during the City Tech OER pilot to learn more.

Prof. Sage plans to use the findings from the ethnographic study to recalculate how the library may best make use of its expertise and resources in order to improve the OER program, or turn in another direction. She is also interested that students have revealed their need for more printing as a result of taking an OER course, where content is primarily housed on the OpenLab instead of in a print format. She will use this data to advocate for more printing facilities in the library.

Ideal version:

The ideal version will include a formal study including IRB approval and partnerships with the 3 faculty OER fellows. A timeline of the research project will be developed and follow in step with the OER pilot. Surveys questions and interviews will be designed and conducted. The final product will be available as a written paper, including a project website.


Course proposal and research project timeline, along with an IRB submission will be conducted in spring and early summer 2015. Plans will be shared with faculty participants before IRB submission, but once the proposal and project timeline is planned. This phase will include research and development of surveys and interview questions.

Data collection, gathering, and storing will take place through the course of the fall 2015 term.

Evaluation and written assessment and presentation in a web format will be take place during the latter half of the fall 2015 and continue in Spring 2016. The finished product will be in place during the Spring 2016 term.

Current/required skills:

The researcher has knowledge of the OER program and knowledge of how the study can help and impact how OER gets implemented at City Tech and CUNY. The researcher has also participated in the IRB approval process before. Continued research in survey design and ethnographic research methods is essential as this is a new undertaking for the researcher.

Stripped down version:

The most important tangible version of this product would include a working design of interview and survey questions.

Proposal #2 OER Intensive Workshop Day

Faculty are interested in OERs as an alternative to traditional textbooks. Textbooks present major problems both in terms of their content and cost. Faculty’s disciplinary expertise can be harnessed to curate collections of learning materials including open and library materials to replace or lesser the reliance on expensive textbooks. Yet there are a number of skills and considerations around using and curating OERs. Faculty have to consider which resources to include, where to find them, how to navigate licencing and fair use, classroom assessment, use of content management systems, and more. This OER intensive workshop would provide interested faculty with hands on experience and resources to start the process of adopting, remixing, and curating OERs for the classroom.


Prof. Black is very much interested in implementing OER into her course. She understands that there are several conventions in the institution including utilizing the university’s WordPress based learning management system to house and make materials accessible to students. She is not entirely sure how to link library resources directly into such a site. Furthermore, she is slightly weary of all the copyright hoopla. She’s perused a few blogs, and attended a few talks, but she wants to get some hands on experience before she jumps in.

Prof. Mauve leads a lot of college initiatives based out of the it’s center for teaching and learning. She is really excited about the potential of OERs. She thinks that opening up students to more diverse, and interactive course materials beyond static textbooks will be fantastic for classroom pedagogy. She wants an opportunity to share some of her expertise and work for those faculty who may be working on OERs in the future.

Use case:

The OER intensive workshop provided a venue to work on practical skills that can be used to develop and adopt OERs in the classroom. Librarians shared tips on creating durable links for library materials, searching for open access content, and considering different types of Creative Commons licenses for our curated OERs. The opportunity to work with librarians, OpenLab staff, and teaching and learning experts proved very valuable.

Ideal version:

This would include program planning between the OpenLab staff, the library, and the center for faculty teaching and learning. Ideally, the day long workshop would be held during a summer teaching institute at the college.


Phase one would include putting together a workshop program housed on the OpenLab. A call for participants would be sent out to college faculty. 4 different modules would be planned that included instruction and working time. The call would ideally go out in March. Planning would start in January and continue through the Spring term but programs would be finalized in April. The workshop would be held in June.

Current/required skills:

This would require approaching leadership to create this program and knowledge/expertise of skills and pedagogical practice around OER. The workshop coordinator has these foundations but would need to build a committee of other experts to make the workshop program work.

Stripped down version:

The stripped down version would include a central online resource that provides literature and instructions on open resources and library resources. It would also pull information from the OpenLab, and resources for best pedagogical practices as well as examples of excellent open educational resources.

Initial project ideas – Cailean

1) I would like to study the adoption of OERs in courses at City Tech from the students’ and instructors’ point of view. This would include designing the research/qualitative study including survey questions and methodology and submitting for IRB approval. I would also be looking into different digital publishing platforms for options to display the research findings.
2) There are a number of course sites on City Tech’s OpenLab site, a CMS based on WordPress (similar to the CUNY Academic Commons and Blogs at Baruch), and I’d like to think of ways to promote embedded librarianess through those course sites. I think it would be an interesting approach based on the potential for this platform to afford learners a more seamless academic experience, from students in traditional to hybrid, or online learning environments. Perhaps this could be achieved through creating or modifying an existing plugin/widget that could replicate something like the “ask a librarian” format. A less technical approach would be to supply the code and instructions for professors to add a tab in their WordPress theme with library information tailored to the discipline of study but then there are concerns like link rot and currency.
3) The librarian’s collection development responsibilities can include a lot of rote work- sifting through vendor lists and academic reviews; selections are not made off of approval plans. I know there already exist methods to automate these processes but they require knowledge I’m not yet knowledgeable with: specific engagement with programming languages, perhaps text mining processes as well. Another aim would be to scrutinize existing methods and adopt them. This could be advantageous not only as a workflow for collection development, but also has potential in the realm of marketing new acquisitions to instructors and students in discipline specific areas.

Bio // Cailean Cooney

I’m a librarian at City Tech (New York City College of Technology) and in my second year of studies in the MALS digital humanities track. I’m interested in scholarly communications, open access (particularly OERs=open educational resources), critical pedagogy, and social justice in higher education. I’m leading City Tech library’s pilot program which redirects library textbook funds to faculty members who will develop OERs to replace a required textbook in a course. I’m planning to conduct ethnographic research in the classrooms piloting the OERs during the Fall semester.