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Welcome to Open Syllabus 2.5

Today we’re releasing a big update to Open Syllabus data and websites. Here’s a rundown:

The Co-Assignment Galaxy

The Galaxy has received a massive upgrade in scale and functionality. The previous version mapped 164,000 titles and could display 30,000 at a time. The new version maps 1.1 million titles and can display 500,000 at a time. The resolution of fields and subfields is vastly improved as a result.

The Galaxy also implements a much-requested ‘search by topic’ function, which searches against the full text of syllabi rather than titles and authors–though you can still do that too. Results are now heat mapped to help users zoom in on areas of interest. David McClure has written up a detailed technical post on the new Galaxy for those who want a look under the hood.

OER Metrics

OER Metrics is a new subsite for investigating trends and adoption patterns for openly-licensed books and textbooks (i.e., Open Educational Resources). It provides the first tools for mapping the demand side of the OER ecosystem and–we hope–can help inform adoption decisions by instructors and programs and investment decisions by authors, publishers, and funders.

Link Lab

Link Lab is an exploration of ‘non-traditional’ teaching materials in the collection identified by URLs in the syllabi. These links are then walked back to their source to collect titles, authors, and other metadata. Link Lab picks up newspaper and magazine stories, videos and documentaries, blog posts, and other materials that are frequently taught but rarely recognized or curated as

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Link Lab

Open Syllabus has focused mostly on tracking books in the curriculum. But of course people teach with all sorts of materials–newspaper and magazine articles, YouTube videos and PBS documentaries, blogs and reference sites, software tools and resources. What do those choices look like?

We’ve begun to explore this question in the Link Lab. ‘Link’ refers to the underlying resource: we look for URLs in the syllabus collection and trace them back to their sources. ‘Lab’ refer to the fact that we’re still working out the process for collecting and organizing this data, which is different than our approach to books. Eventually this will be folded into the main OS dataset. In the meantime, it’s a fun way to explore the role of media outlets and journalists in the curriculum.

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About that Nobel Prize…

Olga Togarczuk won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2018. She appears on 22 syllabi in the OS dataset. Peter Handke won in 2019 and appears on 221. Louise Glück, who won this past September, appears on 91. These are low numbers (even assuming, in Glück’s case, that we structurally undercount poetry, which we probably do). None of these authors are widely taught. Curious, I spent some time exploring the place of Nobel Prize-winners in the curriculum. The results are pretty striking. Here are the past forty Literature winners.

I’ve struggled somewhat to make generalizations here. There is clearly a lot variation in how often the prize winners are taught, ranging from the ubiquitous Toni Morrison to a whole raft of writers who are almost never assigned. The notions of literary reputation and value that animate the Nobel committee appear to have little connection to the judgements that faculty make in assigning texts. Nor–by all appearances–is winning a prize a guarantee of more teaching attention.

For Nobel watchers, this probably isn’t a surprise. Generations of commentators have written about the byzantine politics of literary reputation and influence that shape the prize, about its varieties of regional and gender bias and more recent politics of outreach, and about the diverse uses of the prize for social and political commentary. There are endless arguments about the uneven judgement of the committee, focused mostly on the literary giants left unrecognized and the winners who were (and remain) obscure. (For an entertaining, polemical

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Your Favorite Episode

Recently we’ve been exploring the place of ‘non-traditional’ materials in the curriculum: newspaper and magazine articles, TV and radio episodes, podcasts, blogs, and so on. Such materials are, of course, both very common on syllabi and largely invisible to traditional approaches to curricular design. They have been invisible in Open Syllabus, too, which relies on library catalogs to describe the range of titles that we can search for in the syllabus collection. Over the summer we decided to address this by extracting URLs in the collection, walking them back to their sources, and filtering for work used in instructional contexts. We now have a very interesting catalog of non-traditional classroom materials.

This is a big topic that will probably be the subject of several posts, but let’s look at some fun stuff first: TV/radio shows and podcasts that do serious long-form exploration of topics. Many of these are assigned with some frequency on syllabi — though we suspect more often as supplements to conventional assignments than as primary materials. It would be interesting to test this via a deeper dive into the documents. In any case, there is some standout programming that has a strong presence in the classroom. For example, Frontline:

Spying on the Home Front,” “On Our Watch” (which is about the genocide in Darfur), and “Ghosts of Rwanda” play central roles in the teaching of their respective topics. For comparison, the other major Rwanda titles — Prunier’s The Rwanda Crisis,

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How Much Traction do Open Access / Open Educational Resources have in the Classroom?

Open Access (OA) monographs and Open Educational Resource (OER) textbooks are works that are ‘openly licensed’ — that is, they can be used and distributed for free. In a world of $200 textbooks, OA/OER plays a fairly high-profile role in efforts to reduce the cost of education.

But free circulation makes it difficult to track classroom adoption, which in turn makes it difficulty to understand the shape of demand for OA/OER work–either overall or with respect to particular subjects. The link between supply and demand established in the commercial book market by a sale doesn’t exist in the OA/OER world. Our thought is that this delinking is one reason–and maybe a significant reason–for the relatively low rate of adoption of OA/OER in teaching, despite over a decade of efforts. It’s still too hard to characterize demand for these titles to faculty, curricular designers, publishers, and investors. It’s hard to tell what’s popular and what’s been effectively adopted in peer institutions.

So we’re eager to see what happens when we partially close this information loop by measuring demand via syllabi. Here’s a normalized US trendline for OA/OER adoption based on the OS collection (drawing on catalog information from the Open Textbook Library and the Directory of Open Access Books). It shows rapid OER textbook growth in recent years–but from a very low baseline. In 2017, roughly 1 in 300 classes used OER textbooks and around 1 in 400 assigned an OA monograph (the lighter blue is for textbooks; darker for

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