FALL 2014

eScholarship: Dr. Clare O'Connor's Lab Manuals

In a win-win-win move Associate Professor Clare O'Connor of the Biology Department has partnered with the Boston College Libraries to archive and share her customized lab manuals for the sophomore Investigations in Molecular Cell Biology class. In doing so, she preserves several years' work developing the unique, research-based lab curriculum, while at the same time presenting opportunities for instructors at other colleges and universities to benefit from it. And developing the lab manuals as an open educational resource provides targeted, low-cost materials for her students, who have access to the free online version but are required to purchase the low-cost print version.

The manual was developed for BIOL 2040 Investigations in Molecular Cell Biology, a required course for Biology majors. Dr. O'Connor describes this as an "innovative laboratory course that we have developed in biology. In the traditional lab course model that is still widely used in universities, students enroll in a 1-credit co-requisite lab course that loosely accompanies a standard lecture class. By contrast, students in our introductory laboratory course enroll in a 3-credit laboratory course that incorporates a semester-long authentic research investigation. The course derives its research questions from the tremendous amount of genome sequence information that is freely available in online databases. In the course, students work in teams to analyze the conservation of proteins that participate in an essential biochemical pathway."

Dr. O'Connor has long been a strong supporter of open access and of not allowing the restrictions imposed by the traditional publishing industry to get in the way of sharing materials that promote innovations in teaching. As she explains, "I knew that the course was of broad interest to the undergraduate biology education community, which is seeking ways to integrate research throughout the undergraduate biology curriculum. Therefore, the course was carefully designed so that the model would be sustainable at other institutions and could be easily adapted to new research questions. I wanted to share my materials to help other educators, because I appreciate how much work goes into the development of a successful curriculum. By providing tested methods and materials, I wanted to lower the barriers to incorporating a research theme into lab courses. I also wanted to encourage other educators to develop novel research questions, thereby providing experimental data that would expand the general scientific knowledge base."

In order to allow this sharing Dr. O'Connor has been publishing her lab manuals with the publisher Hayden McNeill, whose policies allow authors to retain their copyrights. "The BC librarians had done a good job educating me and I was aware of Open Access publications and copyright concerns before entering into this relationship with the publisher. Although it is time-consuming, I have been very careful to use only materials that I developed or are in the public domain," she said. Retaining her copyright allowed her to provide the materials to her students, to place annual updates on her Boston College website, and to point interested faculty to it. Archiving all her manual editions in eScholarship, Boston College Libraries digital repository, was a final step which ensured that the materials she put so much effort into will be preserved long-term, with a record of the changes she's made from year to year. They will also be more findable for others seeking open educational resources. "The eScholarship repository allowed me to archive all four editions of the manual. I was actually spurred into depositing the materials by a visitor to my online site who wanted a permanent link to the material," said Dr. O'Connor. She has seen keen interest from other institutions even before depositing the manuals into eScholarship and expects more now: "I know of faculty from at least five other institutions who are using part or all of our material in their courses. They have learned of our work either through meeting presentations or from web searches. With the additional metadata provided by the library staff, I expect these numbers to increase." Dr. O'Connor also links back to eScholarship from her course website.

The Creative Commons license Dr. O'Connor chose for the manual, the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License allows others to copy and redistribute the material, and build upon it, as long as attribution is given, they provide notice if changes are made, and as long as it is for non-commercial purposes. The sharer must use the same license.

See the article in this newsletter about the new look and features coming to eScholarship.

For further information:

Enid Karr
Senior Reference Librarian/Bibliographer
O'Neill Library