Minding the Gaps

The Evolution of Linda Frederiksen’s and Sue Phelps’ Literature Reviews

The open textbooks that Rebus Community supports are generally targeted at introductory-level courses and at students who are early in their educational careers. But sometimes, for those doing graduate studies, a need emerges that gets lost in the gap between a first and second university degree. This need was the case when it came to Literature Reviews for Education and Nursing Graduate Students, an OER created by librarians Linda Frederiksen and Sue Phelps.

Now retired, Linda was an education liaison librarian at Washington State University (WSU) when the idea for this textbook first emerged. With over twenty years experience, she had witnessed a good deal of change in the way textbooks are conceived, published, distributed, and used. (She also knows that they are often not used, particularly when the price tops $200 and students need to decide between feeding themselves and buying their course materials.) Toward the latter part of her career, Linda started focusing on OER, all too aware of the limitations of conventionally published textbooks, due to both cost and accessibility. Working at her institution’s reference desk, she had many encounters with students looking for course textbooks. But because most libraries don’t buy every textbook for every class, every semester, students often have to head off to the bookstore and make the choice to lay down a lot of cash—or go without required or supplemental readings. Over the last three-to-five years, Linda noted that students were more and more choosing simply not to buy.

This experience drew her attention toward open access materials. Although community colleges in her area were becoming more active in the use of OER, she was aware of resistance within larger universities, including those more focused on research. Her interpretation is that those institutions continue to believe that open textbooks are less rigorously produced. The same sentiment was notable within graduate programs.

The idea for an OER on conducting literature reviews also came from Linda’s experience as an education liaison librarian. She was often asked to deliver information literacy workshops for education graduate students, particularly for a first-year research methods course. Her sense from this experience was that professors were under the assumption that graduate students already knew how to conduct a literature review. The workshops she gave seemed to indicate otherwise, and that somehow, in the transition between the first and second degree, students were missing a critical piece of education. Linda shared this insight with her colleague Sue Phelps, a nursing liaison librarian. Together, they decided to create a LibGuide about literature reviews, one that students could refer to after the one-shot workshop. LibGuides are online, subject-specific resources that bring together many different elements and references, and are generally created by librarians and hosted on a library’s website. In this case, however, the LibGuide format didn’t suit the content well. There were too many links overall, and Linda and Sue thought that the guide was too static.

At this point, the two librarians decided to try to transform what they had—a well-developed workshop and a robust set of online resources—into a full-fledged course. This would allow them to re-organize their content into specific modules, adding more structure to the material. Much work ensued, and when it was finished, they uploaded it all to Blackboard, a learning management system (LMS). Still, however, the platform wasn’t really working. The Blackboard format didn’t support the information well, as it was geared to conventional classroom content. There were other challenges, related to LMS bureaucracies and organizational models, and Blackboard wasn’t as effective as they wanted when it came to supporting multimedia. What had started as a simple motivation to provide students with a useful tool had become an exercise in frustration with presentation formats.

At roughly the same time that Linda and Sue reached the conclusion that they should be creating an OER from their material, Rebus Community put out the call for pilot projects. From the start, the open textbook platform seemed to be a good fit, and served as the next step in their evolutionary process of trying to find the right delivery mechanism for their information.

By now, the two women had created a substantial amount of content, but it was not in the form of book chapters. With a six-month sabbatical approaching, Linda decided to dedicate the time to working with Rebus and turning the content into an open textbook. The support she received was invaluable, and she notes that while the online resources and infrastructure made the process possible, it was the regular check-ins from Zoe Wake Hyde and Apurva Ashok that kept her on track.

A self-professed procrastinator, Linda needed Rebus’s technical and social support. “It takes a long time to turn a Powerpoint slide into a chapter,” she notes, but having the external prompts from a larger community made publishing her OER an easier and more enjoyable process. A previous publishing experience with a conventional company had not been as productive, nor was there regular, author-editor communication. The Rebus Community team was supportive and delivered clear, useful advice. They also helped Linda transfer the content to Pressbooks, a platform with which she was not familiar.

Before leaving WSU for her retirement, Linda was able to share the book with students in her information literacy workshops. She also encountered an education instructor who adopted it for use it in her class, and because it is available in both electronic and print-on-demand versions, the book has a strong future ahead.

The path to creating Literature Reviews involved many learning experiences for its creators. Linda’s role as a librarian both prompted the book’s creation and transformed Linda herself along the way. She became more aware of the resources available for creating and housing content, but also of the strengths and limitations of different digital platforms.  She also learned much more about dealing with copyright issues, and that in turn translated back to her work at the reference desk. For her part, Sue is approaching retirement as well, but for now continues to work with nursing instructors, who she encourages to use the book. As is so often true of the work that librarians do, this project was about seeing a gap in what was available to students and then putting together a set of existing resources in a format that made sense. It wasn’t about reinventing the wheel, just making one that rolls along better on the road in front of you.


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