Can OERs play a role in German studies?
Open Educational Resources are serving more academic disciplines every day. The development of OERs in the humanities disciplines is a little slower than in other fields, however. There are a couple of likely reasons for this:
- the disciplines within the humanities are probably less homogenous in terms of content than other disciplines. Take German studies for example – is there such a thing as “German Studies 101”? And even if there were, would there be a standard syllabus?
- in many of the humanities disciplines, courses rely on primary sources, and these won’t be open. Think of a contemporary literature course: the novels you assign for reading won’t be open source or governed by a Creative Commons license.
- when it comes to careers, tenure, and progress through the ranks, academics can be surprisingly conservative and cautious. The perception is that using and adapting OERs takes a lot of time, and we only have so many hours in a day that we can’t be devoting to our research agendas. We all want to be successful, right? And success in our fields is more often measured by accomplishments in research, not teaching.
- as humanities scholars, we’ve been trained to think that only the most polished resources we create should be see the light of day. Our classroom work is often rushed and developed under stressful conditions, so we’re reluctant to share it with others because we’re concerned it might not be good enough, and as a result we might be putting forth erroneous information or opening ourselves to criticism from colleagues.
What we don’t realize, however, is that many of us are already doing things that support the idea of open education even if we aren’t creating OERs per se. Take for example our courses in cultural studies or history: many colleagues don’t use textbooks from commercial publishers (very few exist in fields as small as ours); instead, they collect readings and film clips and other materials, and build their lesson plans and course syllabi around what we often call secondary sources.
In the parlance of the today’s online marketers and content creators, we are curating knowledge and resources for our students. That’s actually a good way to describe what we do: we’re selecting resources that meet specific needs (e.g. materials that put across certain ideas or meet the needs/interests of the students we see in our classrooms) and making them available as part of the learning process.
eCampusOntario has developed a professional learning program, Ontario Extend, that aims at helping instructors adjust to their new roles in our new media age. They focus on the skills needed to be what they call the 21st-Century Educator:
The “Curator” skill should speak to us in the humanities because it is very much what we’ve been doing all along. And this is where OERs in German studies can make a real difference, namely by sharing and disseminating the materials and resources that we’ve either created or collected in our own teaching, and providing them to others to adopt, adapt, and share again.
At Public German Studies, we hope that by collecting and sharing educational resources, others will be encouraged to do the same. We want this to become a collaborative site that enables all of us to benefit from each other’s work. As a multifaceted discipline, we are populated by scholars with a wide range of interests, perspectives, and insights, and it would be a shame not to share these as widely as possible. By doing so, we – both educators and learners – all benefit, and a more open German studies community will be the result.