Interview with Paul Conway, Assoc. Professor of Information, School of Information

by Emily Puckett Rodgers · September 6th, 2011 · 2 Comments

Opening up course content does not undermine the essence of teaching, which for me is the dynamic environment of the classroom. By releasing a syllabus and PowerPoint presentations, I still retain the creativity that comes from the engagement with the students in the classroom.

Over the past two years, we’ve had the pleasure of working with an outstanding faculty member from the School of Information. Dr. Paul Conway is an Associate Professor of Information who specializes in digitization of cultural heritage resources and digital libraries. Dr. Conway recently won the Provost’s Teaching Innovation Prize for his undergraduate course, SI 410: Ethics and Information Technology. He is the first faculty member from the University of Michigan to publish all of his courses with Open.Michigan. His courses can be found (and adapted!) on his course page.

Dr. Conway recently sat down to chat with us about why he thinks publishing OER is important and how other faculty can do it.

Could you briefly describe your academic research and teaching responsibilities?

My research centers on quality in digitization processes and the role that quality plays in the use of digitized cultural heritage resources, particularly visual resources. I focus on the transformation of photographic images into digital formats. I am interested in how technical processes and representational processes influence the ways that end users find meaning in digital surrogates. One research focus is on the connection between building and using collections of digital photographs.  My other focus is on the implications of large-scale digitization of books and serials. My current research is exploring how to measure and validate the quality of digitization and HathiTrust digitized books.

I teach courses in the Archives and Records Management and the Preservation of Information specializations. My two courses in Open.Michigan on Digitization for Preservation and Preserving Sound and Motion focus on preservation. I teach a course on digital libraries and a course for undergraduates, Ethics and Information Technology, which is part of the new Informatics concentration. I’m very excited about teaching undergraduate students.

Why did you decide to make your courses available for sharing through Open Michigan?

I really respect the fundamental concept of Open.Michigan. Opening up the educational enterprise at a great university like the University of Michigan demonstrates to the world that we are proud of our teaching, that we know who we are and what we do. Making course content widely available also helps demystify learning in a university for those who may be confused about what we teach.

Opening up course content does not undermine the essence of teaching, which for me is the dynamic environment of the classroom. By releasing a syllabus and PowerPoint presentations, I still retain the creativity that comes from the engagement with the students in the classroom.

My other motivation stems from my experience over a decade ago on a research project that involved soliciting syllabi from faculty at six research universities so that we could assess the use of new and emerging digital resources in humanities courses. It turned out to be a very challenging research problem because of how protective many faculty are of their syllabi.  I thought if I had a chance to teach, I was not going to be as proprietary about my syllabi as many of the faculty I encountered when I was doing that research project in 1998. Open.Michigan provides an easy way to follow through on that commitment.

Why do you think it’s important to share your education resources, or for faculty to share their resources on something like Open Michigan?

Making course content available online helps students who are looking for classes decide whether the course is right for them.  And it makes my job easier in explaining the focus of a course to prospective students. There are fewer surprises on the first day of class. Releasing course content in the systematic way that Open.Michigan supports is a form of publication amenable to review and commentary. The license that goes with the content encourages reuse and adaptation, along with sharing the results of that adaptation openly.  If enough faculty release a critical mass of course content, then it becomes possible to learn from each other about how to structure a course on a given topic. I have had enough positive feedback from opening my courses that I am convinced about this potential benefit. I think the courses that I teach are, if not unique, at least uniquely crafted. I’d like to let others know.

What tips could you provide for faculty members interested in working with Open Michigan?

My first suggestion is that if you anticipate that you will be putting your course in Open.Michigan, factor the editorial process required to open your course into the design and construction of your presentations. I find I now do a better job of documenting the quotations and images I use in my presentations. I also think more about how my presentations will be read by people who are not in the classroom.

In terms of the use of images, specifically, I recommend using image content either that you own or that already carries a Creative Commons license.  The most time consuming part of opening my courses in Open.Michigan is swapping copyrighted images for similar content that is already open for re-use.

My final piece of advice is to do it; it won’t hurt you. Especially given the support that Open.Michigan provides through its dScribes, the process is painless. I found it very enjoyable to work with Open.Michigan staff and to see the final results, which are far more professionally presented than anything I would be able to do myself.

[T]he more tools that Open.Michigan can provide to make it easy for faculty to contribute content, the better. The most effective way to participate in Open.Michigan is to plan on contributing course materials when you are designing and developing the syllabus and related classroom presentations and exercises,  instead of seeing this  as something you do after the course is over.

Have you actually experienced instances where your open courses have brought you recognition for your teaching outside of the classroom?

That’s a very good question. Although it is a bit early to tell, I have anecdotal information just within the last year that my colleagues beyond Michigan are aware [of my open courses]. And [my classes] do show up in Internet searches on some of the keywords in the course titles.

What do you see Open Michigan doing in the next couple of years? Would you like to see certain contents or feedback mechanisms?

Yes, I think maybe we need to reach a tipping point at the University of Michigan, in which a large proportion of faculty, schools and departments are participating in Open.Michigan, and we are not quite there yet. I think some attention [should be paid] by Open.Michigan to scaling the editorial support processes, anticipating wider participation.

[T]he more tools that Open.Michigan can provide to make it easy for faculty to contribute content, the better. The most effective way to participate in Open.Michigan is to plan on contributing course materials when you are designing and developing the syllabus and related classroom presentations and exercises,  instead of seeing this  as something you do after the course is over.

I really think that’s important. I also think that Open.Michigan would benefit from partnerships with the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching (CRLT)  and the Sweetland Center for Writing, which could advise faculty and graduate students on preparing course materials for eventual submission to Open.Michigan. “Why don’t you think about Open.Michigan right from the beginning?” That might change things.

Special thanks to Tianyu Tang, an undergraduate Biology major at U-M, for transcribing this interview.


 

Tags: Community · Publishing || · · · · · ·

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Dany-Aviones de combate // Sep 19, 2011 at 6:35 pm

    I did the interview short. thanks

  • 2 Broke Rolle // Sep 21, 2011 at 4:49 am

    The interview with Paul Conway was entertaining as well as learning experience at the same time. I like his concept of publishing the syllabus to students before the lecture. Also Open Michigan doing a nice job by helping professors like Conway.

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