Open Voices Interview with Kris Meen on trends in Open Education

 Open Voices Interview with Kris Meen

In this interview, we hear from Kris Meen, Academic Skills Librarian at the University of Galway, about his views on Open Education and his current work on Open Educational Resources (OER) locally and within European initiatives.

Hardy: To start off our conversation how would you define Open Education?
Kris: Open Education opens up barriers that might exist to education otherwise. Famously, Open Educational Resources (OER) in particular in the North American context have reduced barriers of affordability to education by cutting down on the cost of textbooks. Open Education also brings down barriers in terms of what you can do with educational resources because a lot of the times they are mediated by open licenses. The Open licenses allow you to do what is sometimes defined as the Five Rs: Reuse, Revise, Remix, Redistribute, Retain, Reuse. You give your education and your pedagogy some sort of superpowers in terms of the ways that you can share resources with others.

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Hardy: Where does your personal interest in Open Education come from?

Kris: I think I can locate my interest back to a project that I worked on way back in 2002. In 2002, I was a young man, and I was hired on to a web-based archival project by an organisation back in Canada called the Heritage Community Foundation. They created archives based websites about the history of the province of Alberta. The one that I was working on was called Wings Over Alberta. They had this collection of archives that a guy from Edmonton brought together from World War II veterans. They were recollections and pictures specifically about an Air Force training program that existed during World War II on the Canadian prairies where people from not only the Royal Canadian Air Force, but also Royal Air Force, the New Zealand Air Force and the Royal Australian Air Force came to train.

What was exciting about it? Well, it was using the digital environment to provide access to an archival collection which otherwise I doubt would have made it into a collection through the normal sort of ways. Because we were putting it on the Internet, and this was not happening very much at the time, it was accessible to many other people around the world.  As a young writer at the time, in my imagination I could see a school kid in New Zealand finding this and writing a paper about the content. So, to me, looking back, there is a lot there that is about Open Education! That led me to do some other things that were about social practices on the Internet more generally. But that project in Canada was something that could be called “openly” pedagogical, in many ways.

Hardy: I guess at the time it wasn't called Open Education or Open Access?
Kris: No, I don’t think so. I’m not sure the ‘Open Education’ terminology was circulating as yet, although I know there were prototypical open licenses for educational resources being tried out – but they weren’t being used for this project; the project would have been the same year as the Budapest Declaration in 2002, so Open Access was a thing, but I don’t think this project was being discussed in those terms. But I think the parallels are fairly clear, we were breathing the same air I think – the idea was to have something that otherwise would not be accessible to the outside world.

More recently, in my current role as a librarian I took a module from the Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching here in Galway, which was about teaching with technology. They did a great job of introducing the idea of Open Educational Resources (OER), and in the end my capstone project for the module was a critique and a proposal on how to better ‘open up’ an open resource that the Library had built some time ago called LARK Online (Learning and Research Know-how Online)! 

Hardy: Why are libraries important when it comes to Open Education?
Kris: To a great degree it is the idea of access. Libraries have always been in the business of reducing barriers to access to information. Open Education is a new way of doing that. But what is new are the deeper abilities that you get with Open licensing. The question of the library's role in Open Education is still, particularly in Europe, under negotiation. We are figuring out what we need to be doing here. But there are plenty of possibilities!

Hardy: One reason I wanted to talk to you was that you were recently part of the SPARC Open Education Leadership Program. How did that come about and how was it like?
Kris: It came about because we are running our Open Education Pilot Project here at the University of Galway and I'm part of that project. Some of the funds were earmarked for staff development to improve Open Education related skills. There are a couple of programs out there that you can take to develop those skills, and one of those was the SPARC Open Education Leadership Program. It looked pretty good and I spoke to the people who run the program such as Nicole Allen and Haley Babb. They never had anyone from outside North America before. It is very much North America located but they were very curious about whether somebody coming from Europe could work, so we decided to go ahead. 

As I said, the context is specific to North America, but I knew there is a lot going on in Open Education in North America where there would be lots to learn from. And it was great! I met people doing a number of different roles from various different contexts. It was all very well structured. The Program gives you a really good in depth knowledge of the of the Open Education space which was the first half of the course. And then you did a “capstone project” which let me think through something practical. You got a mentor, mine was David Tulley from NCSU Libraries, and he was really helpful as I proceeded with a capstone project. You also had plenty of opportunities to think through your leadership style, and how you could productively apply that to your work in OER (or in whatever context).

Hardy: You mentioned that nearly all the Program participants were from North America. How does Open Education in North America differ from Europe?
Kris: The big driver in North America is affordability. There are differing expectations in terms of what students and libraries are expected to do with regards to their textbooks. In North America you are very much expected to buy your textbooks, and the library is not expected to provide them for you. And so what that means is whether you are in Canada or the United States, you go through this ritual at the beginning of the year where you spend hundreds of dollars on textbooks. [The average full-time undergraduate student at a US public university pays US$ 1,226 for books in one academic year. Source] That contributes to the student loan crisis in North America where people walk out of university with these massive debt piles that they will be paying off for years and even decades. Textbooks contribute to that debt load. That issue has led to some very rich, very amazing Open textbook programs at various universities within various provinces and states in both North America and Canada. 

That expectation isn't as present in Europe, or at least in my experience in Ireland and in the UK. Here, students do not tend to buy their textbooks as much, and part of that is because the library is much more expected to provide access to them. So the issues are a little bit different, but there are also similarities. In Ireland and the UK, your library will have a certain number of textbooks, and then there is a sort of Darwinian process of whoever can get to the textbooks first to read or photocopy them! So that's where the equity comes into our context as well, to make sure that everybody has access to those textbooks when they need them.

The European approach, rather than on textbooks, focussed first more on MOOCs [massive open online courses]. Open Education here emanated more from the MOOC phenomenon, that is my sense of things anyway, and generally has involved more different and more diverse kinds of outputs than in North America. 

Hardy: Would you say there is a European flavour to Open Education, or are there some common themes across Europe?
Kris: It is tricky for me to say! Europe is no bigger than North America, but it is much more diverse. I think the issues tend to be different depending on where you are in Europe, what country are you located in. And I think there are some specific issues relating to Ireland that might not be common to France or The Netherlands for example. But I would say Open textbooks are becoming more prevalent in Europe, or there is more discourse around it. There is a subgroup of the SPARC European Network of Open Education Librarians (ENOEL) who are currently looking specifically at Open Textbooks, for example. 

Hardy: Closer to home, what can we achieve by adopting Open Education here at the University of  Galway?
Kris: That's a good question. One thing that has really been interesting to me is, as we've been going through the OER Pilot Project, running into people who are already operating in that Open Education space. Lecturers on campus who are enthusiastic, whether it is adopting an Open textbook rather than a commercial textbook, or whether they are themselves creating Open Educational Resources. Some are interested in getting their students to create OER to support the Open pedagogy side.
What is nice about it is that these efforts are spread out pretty well across the university, across the Colleges and Schools. There is a real potential to organise this sort of practice and come up with something that is a little bit more coherent and has momentum.  And we would like to support people who are interested in Open Education but initially need skilful people around who can train them up. Providing platforms is also important, for example Pressbooks to which we are subscribing at the moment on a pilot basis. Providing tools that people can use to create Open Educational Resources and better access them is something else that we can do. There are lots of possibilities!

Hardy: What is standing in the way of these possibilities and that momentum that you mentioned?
Kris: The biggest issue is probably a commitment to ongoing funding of Open Education work. In the end you do need some ongoing to make it happen. It is great that we got our Pilot Project but we do need some resources on a more sustained basis need to be committed to it. I think there is a little bit of nervousness around Open Educational Resources relating to the fact that it doesn't always look  like traditional scholarly publishing, particularly when it comes to the issue of peer review and whether or not an OER has been peer reviewed. There is a tendency turn OER into what looks like traditional publications which is not always helpful . 

Abbey Elder encapsulates that really well. She has this diagram on her OER Starter Kit that she put together. There is a picture of a plant and then right next to it there is another picture of the same plant, but it has been “clarified”. That's a small change that makes it better. That idea of a lot of different people making small changes to make something better is one way that an OER can be created. That's a really interesting way of going about it which is really different from the traditional scholarly communications process.

Image from Abbey Elder: OER Starter Kit

But how would peer review fit into something like that? Does it make sense to try to jam it in there? I think there is a certain amount of misunderstanding about what OER are, why they are different and why they have so much potential in terms of transforming scholarship, of doing things in a different way. An article by Essmiller and Asino (2021) is really useful in terms of seeing how the most innovative aspects of OER can tend to wind up being dampened as they take on aspects of more traditional academic publishing.

Hardy: Can I ask you regarding funding and the commitment of resources? Are they just needed in the library for staff time and platforms or do they need to be spread wider across campuses?
Kris: Absolutely! It is much better if it is spread wider than the library, if it takes place as partnerships, whether that is on campus or across campuses. We are really lucky to have had a very strong relationship with the Students’ Union here at Galway as part of the pilot project, this has been absolutely essential. In terms of partnerships across campuses, there is an example from the UK, the White Rose University Consortium. These are the University of Leeds, the University of Sheffield, and the University of York. They've been creating things together such as the White Rose Libraries Open Educational Resources Toolkit and that's really nice. I think there needs to be individual institutional buy in, and once that happens amongst a couple of institutions it would be nice if they got together and did something similar here.

Hardy: Finally, how do you see Open Education linking up with other Open practices? Or is Open Research different in nature to Open Education?
Kris: There is overlap! I think actually that the distinction between the two can sometimes be a little bit overdone. SPARC Europe did a series of Open Education Champions interviews and one of the Champions was Antonio Martinez-Arboleda. He was asked the same question. And he replied: “the difference between research outputs and learning and teaching outputs is not that clear-cut.” Is it only for researchers or is it also meant for students who will learn from a research article? As a student I read plenty of journal articles! By the end of my degree that's mostly what I was reading. So, research publications are also pedagogical and about education. 

However, there are distinctions and differences. What are the potential connections? And I think there are some. It would be possibly a mistake just say that Open Education is what happens when Open Scholarship gets into the hands of an undergraduate student. I think that there is something really productive about Open Scholarship and information literacy talking to each other. That's an interesting sort of pipeline that I think ought to be explored more.
I think Open Education is something distinct from that, it is a different way of doing scholarly communications, it is education driven, but still could be utilised by the broader Open Scholarship community. There is another subgroup within SPARC ENOEL that is looking at this question of the relationship between Open Education and Open Science

Hardy: Thanks for talking to me Kris!

Further Reading / Resources

•    Essmiller, K and Asino, T. 2021. Will Academic Library Publishing Break OER? A Diffusion of Innovations Study. Journal of Interactive Media in Education, 2021(1): 24, pp. 1–11. DOI: https://doi. Org/10.5334/jime.673
•    Hilton III, John. Open Educational Resources, Student efficacy, and user perceptions: a synthesis of research published between 2015 and 2018. Educational Technology Research and Development 68, 853-876,
•    An ENOEL Benefits Toolkit:

About Kris:

Kris Meen

Kris Meen gained his MLIS degree from the University of Western Ontario (now Western University) in London, Ontario, Canada in 2010. His early career took him to Industry Canada in Ottawa and to Koç University in Istanbul. Kris started at NUI Galway (now Ollscoil na Gaillimhe, University of Galway), in 2015, and has worked there since in a front line role, in Teaching, Learning, and Engagement. Kris became interested in OER after completing a module on teaching with technology. Kris has been engaging in Open Educational Resources as a practitioner of information literacy locally, has worked in some depth with OER as a team member of the NUI Galway OER Pilot Project, and is an active member of the SPARC European Network of Open Education Librarians.