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Harvard Libraries Develop Ways to Support Online Learning

Newly-formed Library online learning working group holds open session.


March 7, 2013— More than 10,000 students have taken “The Ancient Greek Hero” at Harvard since the 1970’s—the HarvardX version has more than 20,000 enrollees in its first semester. Online learning reaches more students than ever before.

At a recent open session on libraries and online learning, Robert Lue, HarvardX faculty director, said libraries and librarians are key to developing a thoughtful and rewarding online class experience. “Faculty members have always relied on the libraries as critical partners in coalescing material to create learning experiences,” he said. “The libraries and librarians are the guides for those students who want to delve ever deeper into knowledge.”

The LibX team and the Online Learning Steering Committee is tasked with developing recommendations on how libraries can bring Lue’s observation to life in support of HarvardX. Michael Hemment told the crowd that the groups are organizing a series of discussions on topics such as digitizing resources, preservation issues and adding, “We want to build a website that will help to guide where the library interacts with a HarvardX course throughout its life cycle – all the way from starting to plan a course through its assessment.” Hemment is chair of the LibX team and director of information products and innovation at Knowledge and Library Services at HBS.

Kyle Courtney, manager of Faculty Research and Scholarly Support Services for the Law School Library, discussed copyright challenges presented by Massive Open Online Education courses (MOOC’s) like HarvardX. For example, Blade Runner is used in the online version of "The Ancient Greek Hero." One option, he said, is to avoid using third-party materials, but suggested that public domain materials – with which librarians are very familiar – or “transformative, educational fair-use” materials may be better options.

Mary Frances Angelini, librarian with the Division of Continuing Education, discussed how libraries across the participating edX schools could “help each other support the information literacy and research skill needs of participants” in ways consistent with their parent institutions. Angelini said a key realization was that online students come from different levels of understanding, and, as a result, flexibility is crucial to an online course’s success. “In reality, we’re going to have to do a bit of everything. There won’t be one answer, and that’s good: we want to bring in new ideas and new people to reach these new participants.”