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Open Education at Tufts University, the United States

Mary Y. Lee

Mary Y. Lee

Interview with Mary Y.  Lee, Associate Provost, Tufts University,  the United States

Interview conducted by: Glenda Cox, Researcher Staff Developer, University of Cape Town, South Africa

Please give a brief overview of the scope of open initiatives at your institution.

Tufts University’s leadership in the open educational resources movement includes a broad spectrum of initiatives that span disciplines (health sciences, social sciences and humanities), infrastructure (digital libraries, enterprise platforms), and tools. Starting with the Perseus Digital Library (classics) that began in the 1980’s, and Tufts University Sciences Knowledgebase (TUSK, health sciences) in the 1990’s, Tufts has been at the forefront of developing comprehensive digital resources that benefit scholars, researchers, and students around the globe. Since the early 2000′s, the number of open projects has grown rapidly—now involving over a dozen major initiatives from every Tufts school with hundreds of faculty, student and staff contributors. To serve our diverse global community of users, we have indexed these resources on the Open.Tufts portal for easy reference.

What motivated your institution’s involvement with open education? Why did you get started?

Tufts’ core values support active citizenship and trans-institutional collaboration with our domestic and international partners. Our community’s involvement with open educational resources has been a natural evolution from applying these aspirations.

What motivates you to continue?

Four foundational values at Tufts–knowledge, inclusion, innovation, and impact– are directly tied to Tufts’ development and sharing of our open educational resources.

Knowledge results from the core of our work—research and teaching—that Tufts has always been committed to share. Inclusion speaks to the diversity of local and global voices that we engage in our work. The thirst for innovation motivates everything we do, while impact is a major measure of the value and effectiveness of our work. Using an open framework significantly enhances each of these values by engaging a global audience that both uses and contributes to our work.

Most of our open initiatives have evolved naturally from faculty’s scholarly work, and “openness” in turn has expanded that scholarly work in innovative directions. The University provides support, but the faculty provides the substance. The result is that Open Access is now woven into the fabric at Tufts.

How would you describe the level of commitment from faculty, students, and administration?

Tufts’ commitment to open academic resources has deep University-wide support, including formal endorsements from:

  • Senior leadership, who have also committed core financial support
  • University Committee on Teaching and Faculty Development (standing committee since 1994 with representatives from all Tufts schools, including many academic deans)
  • University Library Council (directors from all our libraries, including Digital Collections and Archives and its open access Digital Library)
  • Scholarly Communications Team (provides ongoing open access education to the Tufts community, including National Science Foundation data management)
  • Tufts OpenCourseWare (OCW) Steering Committee
  • Tufts Technology Services

In addition, we have been a Charter and sustaining member of the OpenCourseWare Consortium (OCWC), where Associate Provost Mary Lee serves on the Board of Directors. Tufts just completed a pilot Provost Open Access Fund that supports faculty manuscript submissions to journals listed in the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ). Active discussions are underway on lessons learned and how to move forward to continue to support faculty in open publishing.

In what ways has open education impacted institutional practice, reputation and/or culture?

Tufts’ open educational initiatives contribute to sustaining a culture and structure that enables and fosters creative collaboration across the university, our local communities, and the world. For example, Tufts has been developing TUSK, Tufts University Sciences Knowledgebase, for 16 years. In April 2012, having shared the code with other schools under a no-cost evaluation license for many years, we released Open TUSK to GitHub, at http://opentusk.org. A growing number of schools in the USA, Africa and India are using TUSK at individual schools, at multiple schools within an institution, or at institutions across a network. For instance, several East African institutions are using TUSK to share educational competencies and content across their entire region. Challenges related to managing an open source software require a steep learning curve such as learning how to manage open code, keeping the open version updated, developing virtualized and cloud-based environments, and supporting schools that ask for help. The opportunities afforded by creating a community of developers are large. TUSK has been internationalized so that it can be used in our partner French Congo institutions, and can be translated precisely into any other language. East African institutions can share pandemic training content across the region, while still customizing locally.

Perseus, a trailblazer in the digital humanities, provides dynamic open content and tools that enable learners, including undergraduates, to contribute to scholarship on primary resources in the classics.

Our Scholarly Communications Team provides essential education to our faculty about copyright, open access, open publishing, and related issues.

The Tufts Digital Library is our university’s Fedora-based digital repository that continues to evolve within the developing repository landscape. Originally developed to support access and use of special collections held by Digital Collections and Archives, the TDL is transforming into an open institutional repository that can accommodate publications, research data, and unique collections as it becomes a shared service to support all of the University’s libraries and collecting units.

Many organizations and institutions are developing large spatial data repositories. Discovering and accessing these data sets pose many challenges. As a result, Tufts is leading an effort along with Harvard, MIT and others to collaboratively develop an open source, federated web application to rapidly discover, preview, and retrieve geospatial data from disparate sources, called the Open Geoportal. It is comprised of several universities and organizations and makes thousands of geospatial data layers available through a single open source interface.

What are the most positive outcomes from your institution’s involvement with open initiatives?

We’ve developed a very rich environment for faculty and students to work within that involves partners around the globe. Open Access goes beyond sharing information: it stimulates and enables collaboration and innovation around new methods to organize, personalize, and contribute to the explosion of information our students, educators, and researchers face.

In your assessment, what were some of the most significant challenges your institution had to overcome regarding your involvement with open education?

  • Education of faculty, including around intellectual property rights
  • We have a “travelling team” to integrate education into departmental meetings and university events to raise awareness and point to resources.
  • Funding mechanisms
  • We identified core university resources, but external funds remain a challenge.
  • Providing sufficient infrastructure support for faculty
  • This is linked to funding. Core infrastructure is there, but as awareness and demand grow, we need to be able to scale.

How do you see the future of open education at your institution in the next 3-5 years?

  • The use and development of open education resources will grow and diversify significantly, and lead to innovative applications across our programs, both residential and online, and through activities with consortia (local, regional, national, and international).
  • Government mandates for open publishing and open data management will greatly accelerate our activities.
  • A recent survey of our faculty confirmed an earlier survey that shows that a majority of the sample favors the adoption of a university-wide open access deposit mandate for manuscripts.
  • Faculty will increasingly publish in OA journals, especially those listed in the DOAJ, and we will need to address how to support publishing fees in the short term, and how institutions will respond in the long term to evolving academic publishing issues.
  • Our Scholarly Communications Team will continue to reach out to departments and other groups, and provide faculty up-to-date information about developments in OA, including OA publication and data repositories, and retaining copyright rights through use of the Tufts-approved Amendment to Publication Agreement.

If you had to describe open education at your institution in 5 words, what would they be?

  • faculty-driven
  • innovative
  • collaborative
  • inclusive
  • impactful