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

Continue reading →

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.

Continue reading →

Galaxy v2

Today we’re excited to release a big update to the Galaxy visualization, an interactive UMAP plot of graph embeddings of books and articles assigned in the Open Syllabus corpus! (This is using the new v2.5 release of the underlying dataset, which also comes out today.) The Galaxy is an attempt to give a 10,000-meter view of the “co-assignment” patterns in the OS data – basically, which books and articles are assigned together in the same courses. By training node embeddings on the citation graph formed from (syllabus, book/article) edges, we can get really high-quality representations of books and articles that capture the ways in which professional instructors use them in the classroom – the types of courses they’re assigned in, the other books they’re paired with, etc.

The new version is a pretty big upgrade from before, both in terms of the size of the slice of the underlying citation graph that we’re operating on, and the capabilities of the front-end plot viewer. The plot now contains the 1,138,841 most frequently-assigned books and articles in the dataset (up from 160k before) and shows 500,000 points on the screen at once (up from 30k before).

http://galaxy.opensyllabus.org/

Under the hood, this is a pretty straightforward transformation of the raw citation graph that comes out of the OS data pipeline. The citation extractor identifies references to books and articles in the syllabus, which can take a few different forms – lists of required books, week-by-week reading assignments, bibliographies, etc. Eg, from “Statistical

Continue reading →

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

Continue reading →

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,

Continue reading →