McGillX MOOCs – Librarians in the Virtual Classroom

Kristen Emmett, graduate student in the McGill School of Information Studies (SIS), writes about some of the intersections between librarianship and teaching in higher education.

I wrote in a previous post about how librarians were getting more involved in the teaching on university campuses across North America (see the post here). Now I’d like to offer a glimpse into how librarians are actively playing a role in advancing and innovating teaching and learning right here at McGill.

Set to begin in January 2014, the first McGillX MOOC, CHEM181X: Food for Thought, is currently in the late stages of development with the help of an extensive team. The team consists of the course’s three professors, Ariel Fenster, David N. Harpp, and Joe Schwarz; educational consultants from our own Teaching and Learning Services (TLS); and April Colosimo, liaison librarian for the Schulich Library of Science and Engineering.

April is one of several librarians collaborating with faculty and education specialists in the early stages of McGill’s involvement with MOOCs. As the Chem181x team’s librarian, April’s current role revolves around copyright and licensing issues. She works to update datasets, assists in the sourcing and citing of images, and points to open-source alternatives. Her job, as quoted from Daniel Boyer, Associate Dean of User Services, is to “propose creative solutions to information needs”. April is enthusiastic about the possibilities for involvement during the course, and although she is unsure if it’s sustainable to be the contact librarian for a course the size of a typical MOOC, she hopes to contribute by providing links to other courses or open-education software, or by producing guides for further reading tailored to each module for students interested in pursuing further a particular aspect of a course.

Low completion rates are often a criticism against MOOCs, but April does not see completion rates as an accurate reflection of how people use MOOCs. She has enrolled in a number of MOOCs herself, and feels that the flexibility they allow and the ability to pick and choose what you engage with is what makes them great learning tools, especially for lifelong learning. When asked about how she feels MOOCs will affect the future of universities, April responded that she did not think MOOCs threatened the viability of the traditional university model. MOOCs will “support current activities, especially continuing education, rather than replace the university.” She appreciates the effect MOOCs are having on the discussion about student learning and the learning experience, and believes the attention “will have a positive effect on teaching and the mindful use of educational technology, and a stimulating impact on libraries”.

April also sees MOOCs as having a positive effect on libraries. MOOCs are bringing pedagogy into the library and librarians into contact with the research on teaching and learning, as well as the educational development work happening at McGill. It’s early yet, but “the more experience we get with these courses, the more we become embedded, and the more we can answer questions about copyright, conduct research, and work with the data these courses produce”.

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