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Conversation #62: Moustapha Diack on Open Educational Resources

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A conversation with Moustapha Diack of Southern University on open educational resources.

Professor Moustapha Diack is the Assistant Vice President for Online Services of the Southern University System as well as Chair of the Doctoral Program in Science/Mathematics Education (SMED) and interim Director of Online Learning and Professional Development for Southern University Baton Rouge. His research interests at Southern University are in the areas of Instructional Design, cognitive theory of multimedia learning and the strategic planning and deployment of online learning systems to enhance student learning outcomes. Dr. Diack has extensive experience in the areas of online learning design and delivery and has played a global leadership role in the areas of Open Education and Open Access. He was the recipient of the International MERLOT eLearning Innovation Award in 2009. He is a member of the MERLOT (Multimedia Educational Resources for Learning and Online Teaching) Faculty Development Editorial Board and Co-Founding Director of the MERLOT Africa Network (MAN), a network of African higher education institutions and digital scholars engaged in the research, development and implementation of open education. At the Southern University System, Dr. Diack oversees the development and implementation of integrated digital library services, the Southern University Online Library for Education (SUOL4ed), to facilitate quality online programs development and college affordability through the adoption of open education resources and open textbook. Dr. Diack is a member of the Louisiana Board of Regents Task Force On Electronic Learning and Past President 2003-2006 of the Louisiana Academy of Science.

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Karen Nichols: Greetings everyone. I’m pleased to present Professor Moustapha Diack: the chair of the Doctoral program in Science/Mathematics Education, the interim Director of Online Learning and Professional Development for Southern University- Baton Rouge, and the assistant vice-president for online services of the Southern University System. His research interests are in the areas of Instructional Design, cognitive theory of multimedia learning, and the strategic planning and deployment of online learning systems to enhance student outcomes. Dr.Diack has extensive experience in the areas of online learning design and delivery, and has played a global leadership role in the areas of Open Education and Open Access. He was the recipient of an International MERLOT e-Learning Innovation Award. He is a member of the MERLOT Faculty Development Editorial Board and co-founding director of the MERLOT Africa Network, a network of African higher education institutions and digital scholars engaged in the research, development, and implementation of open-education. At the Southern University System, Dr.Diack oversees the development and implementation of integrated digital library services and the Southern University Online Library for Education. SUOL4ed facilitates quality online program development and college affordability through the adoption of open education resources and open textbooks. I’ll be asking Dr.Diack to discuss his work in this area. Welcome to our podcast series Dr.Diack.

Moustapha Diack: Thank you so much Dr.Nichols, and this is really an opportunity to contribute to the Teaching, Learning, and Everything Else podcast series. I think I will applaud the effort of the Xavier Center for Advancement of Teaching and Faculty Development because this certainly an initiative that faculty- not only within our state, but also nationally or globally- would need. Thank you so much for the invitation and for having me.

KN: Thank you, Dr.Diack. Could you start off the interview by explaining how and why you became interested in open education resources?

MD: I think that’s a very broad question. I would, personally and certainly, have to go through some kind of timeline to explain a little what was my first step into open education resources and open access. It all started in early 1999, with some ideas coming to us from the California State University and an organization that’s going to be evolving in the years that’s called MERLOT. That main idea in 1999 was to find a way to organize internet resources into searchable- what is called- “reverberatory” or “repository” for teaching and learning, and in the meantime, creating some kind of disciplined community to enable a pure reviewing of content for quality because, at the time when we started, it was the development of search engine. We realized when faculty needed to find resources for teaching and learning, they’d usually use search engine, and the search engine would render normally some hits. For the hits we were receiving, we were not very, very clear about the quality of the content and how all this can be used for teaching and learning. Right after that, really, I had the opportunity, in early 2000, to be selected by the Board of Region to represent Louisiana to MERLOT- I just want to go ahead and get this off the ground with the definition of MERLOT, which is Multimedia Education Resources for Learning and Online Teaching. Around 2000, when we started to merge the MERLOT organization, I was serving as a member of the chemistry and MERLOT faculty development, because we are organized in a really organized community. I contributed then in the early launching of MERLOT and the MERLOT technology, like the website right now for the MERLOT technology, the quality assurance instrument that we developed- really- to be able to peer-review the quality of resources that were available. From there, to build a community, we started something called the MERLOT International Conference, that we called MIC, for community sharing and trying to build a community around global sharing of community resources. The third point I also wanted to make is that’s really during that period of 1999, early 2000, 2001. We witnessed, as well, in December 2002, the noble licensing ideas that we call now Creative Common, and Creative Common released its first set of copyright license for free to the public. Creative Commons developed its license- and I really do think that the Creative Common licensing was very, very critical in really moving with open education resources. After that, of course, in 2001, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology- MIT- in an unprecedented move, announced the release of nearly all its courses on the internet for free access. These are elements that were very, very critical in the development of the open education resources. Now, as the number of institutions offering free open courseware increased, the United Nations’ UNESCO organized- for instance- in 2002, the first open education resource forum. This one as well- when we look at the history of open education- was something that was very, very significant. That’s where we started spreading globally the term “open education resources” and that’s where the name and the definition was adopted: really during that UNESCO all-year forum in 2002. I believe if we look at, now globally- open education and open access are really becoming global movements with a multitude of repository and repertory that are now available globally, and certainly for all disciplines, and pretty much in all countries. I wanted to add that- because this coincides around all those early years of open education resources- I had the chance to work with a very, very good friend- Gerry Hanley from the California State University- with the executive director of MERLOT, to travel globally to raise awareness about open education resources and to spread the gospel of OER- open education resources- and open access. As you know, we co-founded the MERLOT African Network in 2007 in New Orleans during the MERLOT International Conference. We started hosting throughout Africa between 2007 and 2010 something that we called the Pan-African Forum on Open Education Resources, that we hosted in different African countries, including Ethiopia, Ghana, Senegal. During the same period- but this was really late 2008- I had also the opportunity for helping in the launching of an open education network resource in Brazil, really to support the Brazilian community to bring open education onboard. So that really gives you a brief oversee of the development of open education resources, starting since 1999, and this is something that I really put focus on: the MERLOT organization was really a pioneer in 1999 to launch all these initiatives.

KN: Well Dr.Diack, I think most people understand the need for open educational resources in underserved countries, like so many of the ones if Africa, but we have challenges here in the United States, here in Louisiana. How do you explain to our faculties around here the need for open education resources?

MD: I’m glad that you mentioned earlier the developing countries, because the need for developing countries, for instance, to gain access to open educational resources were really obvious to us at the beginning of open education resources. That’s why if you think in the developing countries in Brazil and Africa, this has been adopted across the board because of the need and the scarcity of resources. But if we take the story back home here in Louisiana- and even the United States- one of the issues, generally, that we’re dealing with right now is the issue of college affordability. How can OER help bring some kind of response or resolution to the challenges that we’re really facing when it comes to education and higher education? But there’s a different case issue of college affordability, and one of the natural consequences of widespread OER adoption will be, certainly, an increase in student educational access and success. This is extremely important: with the average US college student now spending $1,200 each year on textbooks and all the course material on top of tuition, we needed to see how those courses are hindering low-income students from attending colleges. This brings me to not only all the higher education in the United States, but of course with Historically Black Colleges and Universities. That’s not all: a 2014 study by the Student Public Interest Research Group showed that a majority of college students actually base course selection decisions on textbook prices, and even avoid courses with expensive content. Other the students- sadly- don’t purchase the required textbook because the cost is sometimes very, very high and exceeds the cost of tuition, particularly at the community college level now, that have traditionally provided a low-cost alternative to education. So there are a lot of things now going on in this area with many case studies for implementing open education resources. If you have a chance, look for the Kite case study from the Tidewater Community College, because last year, the Tidewater Community College in Virginia accomplished something that was extremely remarkable relying heavily on open education resources. The community college designed a curriculum that allows students to skip nearly $3700 in textbook costs and achieve a two-year degree in Business Administration, something that was called a “C degree”- as it was known- where students are going to go through the whole curriculum using specifically open education resources. So that tells you a little bit about the costs of the program.

KN: That’s wonderful!

MD: And in the first year, Dr.Nichols, of the C degree- and the research and data are still available- they saw a significant increase in the percentage of student completion with a “C” or better, and they cut the cost to grab it by 20-30%. They also saw a significant decrease in the withdrawal rate of those students enrolled in the C degree. This is something that is, I think, some reform that is growing really fast in this country. I need to add that our state also has some kind of open education initiative, and looking at those, Southern University System just received an innovation grant from the Board of Regions entitled “Enabling Educational Quality and College Affordability through a Systemwide Implementation of Zero-Taxable Cost Courses and Degree” that we hope is going to serve as a model for Louisiana. We’re trying right now to double up an associates degree in Criminal Justice, which is a collaboration between two member campuses of the Southern University- Baton Rouge and our community college Southern University- Shreveport. These are really some things in that area, I think, that are really important to highlight, and, generally, there is some funding available to support these curriculum revision initiatives; the UN foundation, for instance, gives nearly $8 million each year to get open education resources into mainstream use. So these are some development in this area that are really important. Now if I get back to the core question which was what advice do I have for faculty that wish to investigate and hopefully use OER, I could tell you that at this point- and I am sure you and I have started some discussion for some kind of collaborative activities between Southern University, the MERLOT organization, and Xavier University- that the main issue that we have and that we need to deal with would be mainly raising awareness and providing quality professional development. Research has shown- for sure- that, number 1: faculty don’t fully understand how financial stress impacts students academically. This is really a key issue, and raising awareness may be really helpful to tackle that one. Number 2: there’s a lack of awareness that open education is an option. Within our own institution, we really need to bring that c open education and prepare our faculty members. Number 3: faculty don’t know where to find open textbooks. I was glad that in your introduction earlier, you mentioned the Southern University Open Library for Education that we launched here within our Southern University system. In taking the opportunity to provide professional development to faculty so that they have a branded repository to our own institution, where they can take ownership and identify resources to be able to promote online learning within the system. Number 4: there are generally faculty- I mean- that are very, very skeptical about the quality of open education and open textbook. There’s a lot of research there being done; there are a lot of best practices, right now, in terms of quality control for open education and open textbooks that was started by the MERLOT organization long ago. I can- at some point- certify that there are some organizations like Open Stacks, for instance, that are really working on the quality control, and I can somehow assure you that resources that we have displayed right now through repositories are really quality resources that faculty can adapt for them. Now one of the challenges that I need to mention is that- I’m just coming back from a conference organized by the Quality Matters organization- besides really searching and finding quality open education resources, we need to focus a little bit more of our energy in designing quality online courses that use quality standards- that’s extremely important. And thinking in terms of how can we integrate, now, the quality open education resources in a structural design and preparing a faculty- our faculty- to do a good job at that level. So I’d like to say that awareness and professional development are going to be key elements that we’re going to need to pay attention to.

KN: Thank you so much. I agree that probably our next step is to work on integrating the instructional design with these high quality open educational resources. Could you talk a little bit about the Innovate HBCU group?

MD: Yes. I will be certainly glad to do that, because, as you know, the word is getting out about open education resources and online programs, and you and I understand that because with your role with listservs educational coordinator with Xavier- which is a historically black college and university- we need to dedicate a little bit more energy to involve historically black colleges and universities into this conversation. It is too important for us not to be really involved at the onset, so the raising of awareness and the building of community to be able to get HBCUs on board is really something that- as far as I’m concerned- our institutions really need to dedicate a lot of energy on that. We need to educate our higher administration, so that they understand what is at stake there and try to get them on board, because- generally- when higher administration are behind this innovation to provide college affordability, chances are you’re going to be bringing your community- your faculty- on board willing to be able to raise awareness and try to deploy on this. As you know, because you have contributed to this thing, after we launched the Southern University Online Library for Education in collaboration with the MERLOT organization, I have been working diligently with the MERLOT organization and the Online Learning Consortium to try to have a forum for HBCUs to be able to meet to exchange ideas and to find a way to deploy open education resources and nurturing a culture of quality for online learning programs. So we have, as you know, launched our first HBCU summit in New Orleans last April, and the HBCU summit was called “HBCU Summit on Affordable Learning Solutions and Quality Online Programs” in which we are, right now, targeting 104 historically black colleges and universities along with higher education African institutions that are really working with those HBCUs. Getting the conversations within these HBCUs institutions is really something that we want to work very,very aggressively in doing. The next HBCU summit will be held during the Innovate Conference that’s going to be held in Nashville, Tennessee in April,and I’m hoping that- through the podcast and the dissemination of this one- we’re going to be able to promote this within HBCUs to be able to get them on board as far as the adoption of OER is concerned. I am working with a leader of the MERLOT organization, Gerry Hanley, who’s extremely dedicated to this cause. We have started signing some memorandum of understanding with HBCUs interested in launching affordable learning solutions within their own institutions. That’s why for those listening to this podcast and are part of HBCUs, and you are interested in deploying the same technology that Southern University is deploying right now, please reach out to me so that we can try to see a possibility of signing a memorandum of understanding, seeing how supportive your campus is in launching affordable learning solution. Of HBCUs on the horizon right now, I can site Xavier University, which I am hoping, is going to be one of the next institutions to launch the same technology within their own campus. We’re talking about Dillard University, Prairie View is on board, as you know, Central State University has finalized a memorandum of understanding to launch affordable learning solutions within their own institution. I want to add that North Carolina Central University also is in the process of signing a memorandum of understanding- and by the way North Carolina Central University just received a grant of $30,000 to start their taxable course initiative. They are ready to launch a Criminal Justice program, and I have spoken with them as a consultant just to see how we can work together and build an HBCU community. I mentioned earlier that I am coming back from the Quality Matters organization conference, which is the Quality Matters Connect 2017. Quality Matters leadership is extremely interested in seeing us build an HBCU community within the Quality Matters Connect conference, that’s going to be looking at online learning quality control and standards.

KN: Well that is good news to hear because I’m one of the peer-reviewers for Quality Matters and I’ve also helped been on the national committee to update the rubric the last two times it’s been updated, so I’m very happy to hear that.

MD: And I’m very, very happy to hear that too because-

KN: Another possibility for collaboration!

MD: Exactly! As a state coordinator for Quality Matters, I really would like to have the opportunity to extend this conversation and collaboration, so that we can have some local faculty who can serve to peer-review courses within our systems for quality control.

KN: Yes. We have two other peer-reviewers on campus as well.

MD: I am going to get back to you on that.

KN: Okay! Well Dr.Diack, thank you so much for the explanation. I wanted to make sure, not only for the Xavier community to get this background and explanation out here for everyone, but also to the other people who are potentially listening for the podcast to hear the information and some of the statistics for the OER. It’s something that’s near and dear to our hearts and so I’m hoping that this information will be useful and mind-changing for some other people as well. Did you have any questions for us before we wrap up?

MD: Well thank you so much. I wanted to just thank you for giving me this opportunity to share, because open education is basically about sharing, but when it comes to Xavier, of course the natural question is what do faculty and administration think about open education resources? I think polling your institution is really something that would be very important for you to build a capacity. Are they aware of the movements, per se? So these are- I think- at the onset, and internally it is quite important to collect those kind of background information to see who’s doing what, so that at least you can have some sort of court or faculty you can build on as we move on with implementing open education resources at Xavier. I do know how much this means to you, and I just wanted to conclude letting you know that I’m looking forward to collaboration, and you know I am always available to you- whatever the kind of support you need and I can afford. Thank you so much for the invitation.

KN: Well thank you and good luck and à bientôt.

MD: À bientôt. Merci beaucoup.

Transcribed by Raye’ Tabor

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