Editor’s Note: Today’s post is by David Parker. David is the founder of Parker the Publisher Consulting and Lived Places Publishing. David’s focus is on supporting publishers and distributors of learning content aiming to improve higher education library distribution and engagement.
Faculty have always turned to the library for support in curriculum development. The textbook affordability crisis, growth in hybrid and online courses and, of course, the pandemic have massively accelerated the interactions between faculty and librarians. Library vendors tout their role in supporting “research and learning,” but are, in fact, largely focused on supporting research. To be sure, vendors have introduced products, such as EBSCO’s Faculty Select, that support curriculum development. But, at the level of discovery and platform-wide content curation, little focus is placed on open educational resources (OERs) and explicating the Creative Commons license variants attached to OERs. The indexing and structured search respond to the researcher’s needs rather than a course orientation that would privilege learning objectives or high-level syllabus or reading list topics. And no platform has solved the need to present to librarians and faculty a single search result yielding recommended digital textbooks for purchase, OERs, and library-licensed content.
During my time with Alexander Street Press and then with ProQuest, I was in the enviable position of influencing the curation of content and user experience from the perspective of the specific products I worked on — streaming video, virtual reality/360 video, and eBooks. As a product manager, I focused on specific databases and product strategy and not on the platform. Had I been able to drive platform strategy, I would have advocated for a much greater focus on supporting librarians and faculty in curriculum development on three critical dimensions:
- Open access strategy
- Content strategy
- Learning focus
Our industry must create an equal handshake between paid and open content if our platform is to solve the problem that brings a user to the platform. If I am seeking the best aligned and most comprehensive set of resources to design a course, I must have equal access to open and paid content. To achieve this handshake, I propose three key principles:
- Platforms need full-text, complete video files, audiobooks, etc. of the relevant content, paid and open, to improve the metadata searched for discovery and the user experience once an item is selected as appropriate.
- The search results pages and content entity pages must clearly display the open access/OER symbol, and the Creative Commons license applied to the content for future uses. In addition, an explanation of the license will often be required to reduce faculty uncertainty about reuse. For example, CC BY-NC 2.0 allows for remixing and re-use but not for commercial gain. A patron may struggle to understand this rights limitation without clear guidance from the platform.
- Content providers, publishers, distributors, etc. are the lifeblood of the platform. Platforms invest heavily in services and functionality, but without content there is no user experience. To this end, and especially for providers of open content, we need to deliver robust data and insight into usage, engagement, and impact. Publishers need to see open and paid content usage by account, to include time viewed/pages turned, etc. Publishers need to see how the content is engaged with and when (time of day, device used) and publishers need to see how the content has impacted the recipient, e.g., student performance metrics.
Platforms focused on learning must develop a content strategy that embraces licensing, imprint acquisition, and publishing. Curriculum, especially at the level of introductory and principles-level courses, is based on decades of agreement on the canon of required learning. This strategy would require developing new purchasing models that would entice more learning content onto the platform from publishers reluctant to license into current one-user, three-user, unlimited user institutional access models. This strategy would require acquiring publishers of learning content so the business model of access could shift from student-pays to institutional access. And this strategy would require targeted publishing of original content where needed content could not be published or licensed.
Librarians and faculty begin a search for learning content with a syllabus, reading list, or a curriculum driven by learning objectives that are often established by accrediting bodies. Faculty members often seek out the help of an instructional designer or a subject librarian or, in emerging new roles, open educational resource librarians and teaching librarians. These many professionals would be aided by a platform strategy that developed a user experience, search pathway, recommendation engine, etc. that begins with syllabus entries, learning objectives, or learning outcomes that are known and widely understood. Such a search pathway and recommendation result set would need to be able to be embedded in course reading list solutions such as Talis and Leganto.
A Final Concern:
In a recent blog post, I discussed the importance of establishing strategic organizational fit with new product development efforts. If library vendors were to pivot or prioritize platform strategy in the direction I have described in this blog post, it would need to be accompanied by a go-to-market strategy that prioritized communication beyond the library with faculty, instructional designers, distance learning centers and administrators engaged in forward thinking about the direction of curriculum. This sort of engagement and outreach is daily practice in ed tech companies dedicated to learning, such as Pearson Education, Cengage, Tophat, etc., but it is not a common practice for library vendors such as ProQuest, JSTOR and EBSCO. This is a far from insurmountable concern, but one that would need to be addressed if library vendor platform strategy were to support learning and research in truly equal measure.