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Open Scholarship for Open Education: Building the JustPublics@365 POOC

Open Scholarship for Open Education: Building the JustPublics@365 POOC.

The Library NEWS | Journal | Open Scholarship for Open Education: Building the JustPublics@365 POOC.

by: Shawnta Smith-Cruz, Polly Thistlethwaite, Jessie Daniels


This article outlines the collaboration between librarians at the Graduate Center Library of the City University of New York (CUNY) and JustPublics@365 (, an initiative designed to open scholarly communication in ways that connect to social justice activism, part of which involved producing an open, online interdisciplinary course with a geographical focus on East Harlem. This Participatory Open Online Course, or POOC, was developed locally without a licensed provider platform or licensed scholarly content. It was designed to be open to CUNY students, to citizens of East Harlem, and to a global public with an interest in social justice. Counter to the trend in most Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), the POOC creators wanted assigned readings for the course to be open. Librarians identified open access course material and assisted assigned authors in self-archiving their work in open access contexts according to publishers’ standing policies. In the end, 76 of 117, or about 65%, of the identified course readings were available in open access journals or archived in open repositories either permanently or for the duration of the course. In order for open online courses to deliver high quality education, supporting texts and other works must be open and available to every reader. The success of open online education is fully intertwined with the expansion of open access scholarship.

MOOCs and Libraries

Higher education is being disrupted by Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), or so some would have us believe. The New York Times dubbed 2012 “the year of the MOOC” (Pappano, 2012). The Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Education ran stories on MOOCs regularly throughout most of 2012, 2013, and 2014. Leading private and public universities have invested funding and focus on MOOCs suggesting that open, online teaching and attendant technologies may reinvent higher education (Heller, 2013) and even end global poverty (Friedman, 2013). These idealistic forecasts, however, are predicated on the condition that MOOCs can extend higher education, without payment or condition, to the people who might apply such learning to transform lives and society.

Canadian educational technologists Dave Cormier and George Siemens coined the term “MOOC” in 2008 (Cormier and Siemens, 2010). Since that time, different kinds of MOOCs have emerged. Connectivist MOOCs, or cMOOCs, are designed to foster community, connection and peer-to-peer learning; these are generally produced using locally designed, and often, open-source platforms. The second, and much-hyped and well-financed xMOOCs, supported by providers such as Udacity and Coursera, extend lecture videos (and sometimes reading materials) to those who register for courses (Wiener, 2013). However, xMOOCs tend to restrict their course materials to those who are officially enrolled; typically, course reading materials are not available to readers outside the course, thus rendering a significant redefinition of the word “open” (Otte, 2012). The participatory, open online course we created is more aligned with cMOOCs than with xMOOCs.

The application of licensed content of any kind is arguably incongruent with the aim and purpose of a course with “open” as part of the acronym. Licensed access, even if freely available to online course attendees, requires some form of registration. Clay Shirky asserts that the real revolutionary benefit of new cultural and education technologies is openness (Parry, 2012), yet current xMOOC models that keep course materials behind registration walls, building potential for revenue-generation, compromise this benefit. The recent partnerships between Elsevier and edX (Elsevier, 2013) and between Coursera and Chegg, consolidating textbooks by Cengage Learning, Macmillan Higher Education, Oxford University Press, SAGE, and Wiley (Doyle, 2013) point to a trend in xMOOCs of educational enclosure rather than openness (Watters, 2013). xMOOC models currently amount to a shaded variation on current higher education models providing licensed academic content to a defined and regulated student audience.


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