By Katie Metzler, Associate VP of Product Innovation, SAGE Publishing
The beginning of term is nearing. You’re teaching a new module on Computational Social Science (CSS). The field is developing rapidly and so are best practices around teaching the theory, methods and techniques to students.
Where do you start when you’re putting together your teaching materials? Do you visit the websites and blogs of academics who are experienced in teaching CSS to look for resources? Do you search online for syllabi, reading lists and tutorials? Maybe you scour YouTube for videos to include in your slides?
Together with a group of UK academics, the SAGE Ocean team have been digging into where academics go to find teaching materials and what the barriers are for academics who want to share, reuse and give and get credit for the materials they produce for teaching. This post includes thoughts from the group on what’s needed to promote a stronger culture of sharing teaching materials in CSS. And we’ve curated a list of our favorite resources for you too!
Who shares now?
The idea of sharing teaching materials isn’t new, and there’s no shortage of platforms and initiatives out there that attempt to make the sharing and reuse of teaching materials easy. The idea of open educational resources (OER)—teaching and learning resources that are in the public domain or are available via a Creative Commons or other open license, permitting their free use and repurposing by others— goes back as far as the 1990s, when repositories such as MERLOT and MIT Open Courseware were established, followed by newer initiatives like the Stanford University’s Open Learning Initiative and the Khan Academy.
Many of these initiatives come out of the US and are aimed at lowering the cost of education for students by reducing the reliance on expensive textbooks. But there is also a case to be made for sharing teaching resources among faculty as a way of reducing the duplication of work and improving the quality of materials through repeated class-testing.
And yet in higher education, usage of OER has been low overall. 6% of courses make some use of OER, according to the 2015 Campus Computing Project survey. In 2016, another Campus Computing survey put the percentage of faculty making use of OER at 15%. Another survey conducted by Cengage Learning indicated 4% of higher education respondents use OER as primary materials in their courses and another 5% use them as supplemental materials. According to the Cengage survey, OER materials are mainly used in mathematics and computing. In the social sciences, usage was far lower.
While use of OER as defined by these surveys might be low overall, the trend of sharing and reusing teaching materials such as slides and videos is on the up. Tools like LinkedIn’s Slideshare are used by academics to share their lecture slides and conference presentations, and academics create and reuse videos from YouTube in flipped classroom teaching.
I asked our group of UK academics teaching CSS where they start when putting together materials for a new course or module.
Where do you start?
“It depends on the course,” says Dr Iulia Cioroianu of the Institute for Policy Research at the University of Bath. “If it’s a term-long introductory class, I usually start with textbooks. I decide on the structure of the course and exactly what I’ll be covering in each lecture and seminar then combine examples from the textbooks with examples from my work and examples from other online courses which I often find by googling the name of the topic + GitHub. For more advanced or specialized courses I tend to rely more on examples from my own work or journal article replication materials. Most good journals nowadays ask for full replication materials, so we can go through the code in the assigned papers in the labs or students can work on it for their assignments.”
Dr Christian Arnold, Lecturer in Politics from Cardiff University, often starts with searching for syllabi from courses taught by others in the field. “Often somebody has already put in quite a lot of thought into creating excellent teaching material. On some occasions, people might even have a GitHub page where they host code or even slides. This usually turns out to be a really good starting point to get inspired for my own course.
Dr James Allen-Robertson, Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Essex, draws a lot from pre-existing code from research projects. “It’s often necessary to rewrite it quite a bit to make it accessible and fit within the course context rather than the research project context. I also try and check what I produce for completeness by reviewing material from other providers like SAGE Campus, DataCamp, Dataquest and Edx to make sure I haven’t missed something key, and look for materials and tutorials on GitHub and Medium. Broadly the activity is about informing my own design rather than reusing materials per say as I feel more comfortable when I’m teaching if I have an intimate knowledge of the code and structure.”
Using GitHub to share and collaborate on teaching materials
One of the clear themes that emerged from the group was that GitHub provided an excellent starting point when searching for materials. Though GitHub was not specifically designed for academic use, it was designed for sharing and collaborating on software, code and complex text materials and provides a place to offer your own materials for others to “hack”. As a starting point for encouraging more sharing of teaching materials, SAGE Ocean has pulled together a GitHub collection on teaching materials for Computational Social Science and, if you’re teaching CSS, we encourage you to add your materials to it. Guidelines on how to add your GitHub repo to the collection can be found here.
Why not share?
Now fast-forward to the end of term. You’ve taught your CSS module and have road-tested your teaching materials. Will you share them? Either by adding them to our GitHub collection, or sharing in another way?
I asked our group of academics what had stopped them from sharing their materials in the past.
Dr. Arnold explains: “If you put teaching material online, it really has to be publishable quality. I don’t always polish up all my teaching material to that stage simply because I try to be time efficient. There is simply no incentive for academics to polish up teaching material to perfection at the moment”
Dr. Cioroianu agrees. “Teaching materials count so little (or not at all) towards promotion, so we won’t put that much effort into polishing them and making them ready for the broader community which includes our peers and senior colleagues.”
The lack of incentives for academics to share goes beyond the sharing of teaching materials. As numerous researchers, universities, and publishers have argued over many years, the current academic incentive system doesn’t adequately credit academics for non-journal article outputs such as peer review, code and software, data, or early stage research.
“It’s also harder to get DOIs and track citations for teaching materials, as opposed to other kinds of publications”, says Dr. Cioroianu. “This reduces author incentives to share materials, but also makes it less likely for those putting together new classes to go and look for existing resources and use them. Even though I give full credit to the author when I do reuse materials I find online, I still feel like reusing them isn’t entirely right, probably because I know that the author doesn’t really get the deserved recognition and has no idea that their materials have been used by someone else.”
Using Zenodo and GitHub together
One way to tackle the issue of incentives and to promote more sharing of teaching materials is to attach DOIs to allow tracking and citation, and therefore to provide the mechanism for giving credit. DOIs are persistent identifiers that function as perpetual links to resources and are future proofed against URL or protocol changes. DOIs help discoverability tools like search engines and indexing services track usage through different citations. By adding DOIs to teaching materials you share on GitHub, your materials can be cited when reused by others.
To gain DOIs for your materials you’d need to submit them to a data archiving tool such as Zenodo who register DOIs for all submissions through DataCite. Thanks to the Zenodo and GitHub integration, it’s super easy to connect your GitHub repository and assign a DOI with Zenodo. Zenodo allows you to sign up using your GitHub account to avoid creating another account and to facilitate the immediate interlinking of services. GitHub has an easy to follow guide to using Zenodo and GitHub together to make your material citable here.
Now that you’re ready to start sharing...
Help us build a collection of open teaching resources for CSS! Tell us where you go to find resources for teaching computational social science. Do you share your own teaching materials? If so, where? If not, what’s stopping you? Contact us at Daniela.Duca@sagepub.co.uk or tweet us @SAGEOceanTweets.
And here are some of our favourite resources for teaching CSS
(Free!) Bit by Bit by Matt Salganik
(Free!) Getting started with big data
Many thanks to the group of UK academics who contributed to this post: Dr Reka Solymosi, Dr Iulia Cioroianu, Dr James Allen-Robertson, Dr Christian Arnold and Dr Lorien Jasny. Thank you also to Lili Cheng from Microsoft who has been helping us think through how GitHub can support academia and academic publishing. And finally, thank you to Scott Harris, Content Development Manager at SAGE whose research on OER usage I drew on for this post.
Katie Metzler is Associate VP of Product Innovation and strategic lead for the SAGE Research Methods product portfolio, which includes Cases, Datasets and Video. She leads the SAGE Ocean initiative which aims to equip every social scientist with the skills and tools they need to do the social science research of the future. As part of this initiative, she led the development of SAGE Campus, a suite of online courses teaching research methods and data science skills to social scientists. She is also responsible for the product management function supporting SAGE’s digital products for the library market, including SAGE Video, Data Planet, SAGE Stats, SAGE Knowledge, CQ Researcher and Business Cases.
Katie began her publishing career at McGraw-Hill Education and joined SAGE Publishing in 2006 as an Editorial Assistant. She spent eight years in commissioning roles within SAGE’s textbook publishing team before moving into product innovation. Follow Katie on Twitter @KMetzlerSAGE or contact the SAGE Ocean team.