Coursera students see their professors in the online course videos, but they do not see the teams of people working behind the scenes to make the videos possible.
The advent of massive open online courses in the higher education community—specifically Coursera, which Duke partnered with last summer—has demanded expertise from a variety of sectors across the Duke Libraries system, which is responsible for more than just books and databases. In fact, the relationship between professors and the online Coursera platform has largely been bridged by the Center for Instructional Technology, a division of Duke Libraries dedicated to helping teachers integrate various technologies into their lessons.
Apart from CIT’s role in supporting the structure of online courses, Duke Libraries and its constituents have helped professors gather materials for courses and ensure that they are transferable to Coursera’s massive audiences.
“For a long time, the library, working closely with [the Office of Information Technology], has been the fulcrum for assisting faculty in introducing new technologies into their classes,” said Provost Peter Lange, noting that he immediately turned to Lynne O’Brien, director of academic technology and instructional services, to help with the move to MOOCs. “She’s been my right-hand person throughout all of this. That puts the library at the center.”
CIT helps professors make their course materials align with the Coursera platform, O’Brien noted.
“The staff in [CIT] have been the primary consultants to faculty on the development of Coursera courses,” O’Brien wrote in an email Wednesday. “We work closely with colleagues in [OIT] and Duke Media Services on production of Coursera video materials.”
Apart from CIT, O’Brien noted that Duke Libraries’ involvement also extends to other departments, including Data and GIS Services, Digital Scholarship and Production Services and the Office of Copyright and Scholarly Communication.
The recent and rapid expansion of MOOCs has raised an abundance of new questions for copyright lawyers.
The Office of Copyright and Scholarly Communication, directed by Kevin Smith, helps professors interpret copyright laws and determine how to access and distribute the materials they need for their courses. Smith noted that in one case, Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, Chauncey Stillman professor of practical ethics in the department of philosophy and the Kenan Institute for Ethics, wanted to show students a clip from “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” for his Coursera class Think Again: How to Reason and Argue. It would not have been a problem to show the entire episode in a traditional face-to-face classroom setting, Smith said, but legally making the show available to a global audience of thousands of people over the Internet was trickier, and the television producer could not be reached to grant permission.
“The video was available with authorization of the rights holder on YouTube, so [Sinnott-Armstrong] put a link in his lecture slides and asked students to go out and watch the whole thing,” said Smith, who is both a librarian and an attorney specializing in copyright law.
Since Coursera students are able to stop and start online lectures, they could watch the video clips before returning to the lecture to watch Sinnott-Armstrong talk about excerpts from the clip they watched. Sinnott-Armstrong was able to include short 15-20 second clips in his lecture, Smith said. This practice constituted fair use, he argued, whereas including the full clip would not have.
Other cases have involved including images in presentations and posting articles written by the professors themselves on platforms that allowed their legal distribution.
“We’re all feeling our way around, trying to make the best responsible decisions we can,” Smith said. “We want to provide the best possible educational experience to students enrolled, and we also want to comply with the law.”
Apart from helping professors prepare for their Coursera classes, the library system has also played a role in assisting professors who wish to implement the new “flipped classroom” model to their on-campus classes. CIT staff led workshops about flipping the classroom that around 70 faculty attended and provided consulting for the new educational approach, O’Brien said.
The library’s role in these new ventures stems from its history as a major player in instituting new and developing technology at Duke, Lange said.
“Our library has been a vibrant partner to our faculty not only in their more traditional work, but also as we’re introducing more and more digital materials,” Lange said. “This is just a natural role for them to play.”
The structure of Duke’s library is not very common among its peer institutions, O’Brien said, noting that Duke seems to be ahead of the game in terms of integrating technological assistance and access to course materials through one streamlined system. Duke joined Coursera last July, when only 15 schools other were participating. Now, Coursera hosts 62 universities.
“Duke is envied by many peer libraries for its close relationship between teaching support and instructional technology along with research services in the library,” O’Brien said. “It’s been a very busy year for everyone.”