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Library leads way in open access movement

Academic libraries nationwide are beginning to embrace the open access movement, an effort to provide unrestricted online access to research. At William & Mary, one way Swem Library is leading the way is by bringing open educational resources (OER) to the campus.  

This fall, Swem launched the university’s first pilot OER grants. Supported by the Provost’s Creative Adaptation Fund, the grants support the incorporation of open educational resources into courses for the 2015-16 academic year. 

“We’ve been very excited to work with faculty on increasing open educational resources in their courses at W&M,” said Scholarly Communication Librarian Kathleen DeLaurenti. “OER are an innovative tool to address rising costs, while giving faculty more control over making the resources they need to meet instructional goals.”

To advance the use of OER at W&M, Swem recently expanded its expertise in scholarly communications issues with DeLaurenti assuming the role as the new scholarly communication librarian. Formerly serving as the arts librarian, DeLaurenti brings an expansive knowledge of open access issues. 

“Kathleen’s passion and focus has been shifting in recent years to opportunities that allow her to educate others about creative commons, open access and copyright. She will play a key role in leading us forward in our desire to support faculty and students who want their work open and accessible,” said Dean of University Libraries Carrie Copper.

Some of William & Mary's first OER grant recipients include:

Sharon Zuber, Arts & Sciences

Sharon Zuber, W&M English and film studies lecturer and director of the Writing Center, is using her OER grant to explore and identify OER resources that could be used in the place of a traditional writing style handbook. Her project will support all COLL 100 and COLL 150 courses. OER resources to support these areas of the freshman curriculum will allow faculty to customize their resources to include materials focused on their learning goals for the course. Adoption of OER in these required courses could save students more than $50,000 annually.

Q. What inspired you to apply for an OER grant?

A. Of course, the high price of textbooks was one reason; however, my primary goal was to find resources that faculty and students would actually use. Too often, expensive writing handbooks would sit on the shelf until it was time to sell back books. Students were using the internet to find documentation styles, for example, and faculty found it challenging to incorporate the handbook into teaching writing. They both saw the handbook as a reference book separate from the content of the course. 

Q. What has been the most surprising part of your project so far?

A. The overwhelming amount of OER resources! My job is going to be to curate, to find quality resources that faculty will enjoy using.

Q. What do you think will be the greatest benefit to you and your students implementing OER?

A. I'm imagining the resources will be more interactive, more visually attractive, even animated. Students will be more engaged, and faculty can tailor them to their classes and teaching styles. The greatest benefit will be in the learning that takes place.

Judi Harris, W&M School of Education

Students learning to be schoolteachers in W&M’s School of Education currently use open educational resources that Judi Harris and Mark Hofer developed with researchers from seven other universities. These materials are Creative Commons (CC)-licensed, comprehensive taxonomies of types of learning activities, each with suggested educational technologies, in ten curriculum areas. Teachers work with the taxonomies as part of an instructional planning process that Harris and Hofer developed that helps teachers integrate digital tools and resources into their students’ curriculum-based learning. 

Harris, professor and Pavey Family Chair in Education Technology, and Hofer, associate dean and Spears Term Distinguished Associate Professor, first partnered in 2006 to create online taxonomies. The taxonomies have been used by teachers throughout the world, and interest continues to grow in using these open educational resources.

This fall, as part of their OER grant, Harris and Hofer are updating the taxonomies’ suggested educational technologies and learning activity types, as well as removing the “no derivatives” stipulation from the taxonomies’ CC licenses to allow school districts to adapt the taxonomies to their learning standards and materials. They will also be creating and testing video-based, interactive, online, self-paced professional learning modules that will help teachers to learn to use the instructional planning process.

Q. What inspired you to apply for an OER grant?

A. Mark and I began creating a sizable set of instructional planning aids that help K-12 teachers to integrate the use of educational technologies into their teaching in curriculum-based ways 2006. (You can see these here: These materials – at present, 10 comprehensive taxonomies of types of learning activities in nine content areas, plus strategies for English language learners – were designed from the beginning to be OERs, as part of the professional service work that is required of every School of Education faculty member, and also because we wanted the materials to be “living documents” that would change as knowledge about instructional planning and educational technologies changes. We collaborated with eight colleagues from seven other universities to create, produce, vet and research these materials, and we have been updating them every several years ever since. (The next round of updating is part of the grant work that we proposed for this semester.) Most of the materials at present are text and hypertext-based.

We applied for the OER grant for two reasons. We wanted to expand the nature and number of our instructional planning aids to encompass customizable OER interactive short courses (about how to plan for students’ technology-enhanced learning), and we wanted to expand the ways in which schools and school districts can adapt the materials (especially the taxonomies) to their particular contexts (e.g., state curriculum standards and technologies available for use in the schools).

Q. What has been the most surprising part of your project so far?

A. We are very surprised, intrigued and challenged to discover that creating video-based, interactive, customizable OERs for a broad audience – in our case, potentially students in all teacher education programs in both universities and school districts internationally – is quite different from creating materials for the classes that we teach here at William & Mary, then sharing the materials as OERs with a broader audience (which we had done with other materials before). The design challenges – in terms of content, formatting, and more – are richer (and more time-consuming) than we expected. While we are building the online short course OERs for pre-service teachers, the differences in design and production needed between these two intended audiences are becoming apparent. We’re hoping to share not only the customizable short courses with other education professors internationally, but also our discoveries about those differences that we’re discovering while creating the new OERs. We’ve tentatively planned to write and present a paper about this during the 2016-2017 academic year at an international conference of teacher educators, which will be after the short courses are posted in Swem’s institutional repository and on our web site.

Q. What do you think will be the greatest benefit to you and your students implementing OER?

A. Inviting customization of educational/professional materials and personalization of learning for education students is a clear affordance of creating and using OERs in teacher education. Our idea to create the short courses began when we watched and listened to teachers and teacher educators who were using our learning activity types taxonomies. We realized that an interactive, independent learning experience could assist with both building instructional planning skills and learning to use educational technologies in the classroom in high-quality, personalized ways that had not yet been tried. Also, after using the instructional planning OERs as part of their coursework, students will be able to access copies of them to use (in authentic ways) after graduation, when they are licensed teachers, since the taxonomies and supporting materials were designed with both pre-service and experienced teachers as the intended audiences. 

Wouter Deconinck, Arts & Sciences

Wouter Deconinck, assistant professor of physics, has been teaching the W&M physics course PHYS 252 Electronics for the past two years. This laboratory-based course utilizes stand-alone course materials such as lecture slides, in-lab notes, background reading materials and pre-lab design exercises, as well as a suggested accompanying textbook. The course materials are already hosted online, but the licensing is not clearly indicated. With his grant, Deconinck is working to standardize Creative Commons licensing across the course materials and to host these open resources on an accessible website. The site will also include instructions on how to share, copy, modify and contribute to the materials. 

Q. What inspired you to apply for an OER grant?

A. I was inspired to apply so that I could allow myself to take the time to turn my existing materials into an open resource for others to use. Although most materials were already available online, the OER grant provides me with some time to make them more accessible and 'mashable' for others. 

Q. What has been the most surprising part of your project so far?

A. It has been surprising how little there is available in terms of support platforms for github. I just think of it as the go-to site for anything open source, but that's apparently still very limited to computer code. I can't even imagine how someone working in traditional word processor software would distribute their version-controlled work in an effective way...

Q. What do you think will be the greatest benefit to you and your students implementing OER?

A.The biggest immediate advantage will be the easy transfer of this information from myself to the next instructor at W&M. In a broader sense this however will be a test-case for transferring the course materials to non-W&M faculty.