Behind the Numbers: UX

This post will focus on how the Assessment Team has begun officially dipping our toes into User Experience (UX) research by conducting a usability test focused on part of the main navigation of the UT Libraires website. Why, you might ask, is this assessment-focused column talking about UX?

In many ways, my assessment practice has always incorporated a good bit of user experience work, though I haven’t typically labeled it as such. Past endeavors such as dot poster surveys (used to learn how students were using new library spaces) and a branch observation project (that was interrupted by the pandemic) employed user experience methodologies, and I see user experience and assessment as complementary and overlapping approaches to asking and answering questions aimed at improving what we do.

When the Libraries redesigned our website a few years ago (which was a huge accomplishment involving many of my talented colleagues), the site redesign process incorporated user feedback by conducting A/B tests, usability tests, focus groups, and more. Now that the site has moved out of development and into sustainment, there are fewer resources devoted to conducting user tests. My colleagues have been busy producing great new tools like portals for our digital exhibits, our digitized and born-digital items, and geospatial data, but we were not sure how to best incorporate them into our site navigation. Members of the Web Steering CFT have conducted user tests as needed/possible, and the Assessment Team decided to help in the effort and take on a UX project this spring to help answer questions we had about our navigation menu choices.

A screenshot of the "Find, Borrow, Request" menu that includes links to Library Catalog, Articles, Databases, Journals, Course Materials, Collections Showcase, Digital Collections, Digital Exhibits, Maps, and Geospatial Data.

Along with a small team of other colleagues, we designed a series of questions and tasks focused on the “Find, Borrow, Request” portion of our website and recruited 10 students to participate in brief UX tests conducted through Zoom. While the pandemic has made many aspects of user research more difficult, we were easily able to recruit students through an email invitation, and were overwhelmed with the volume of interest we garnered. We just finished conducting tests earlier this week and haven’t analyzed the results yet, but I already learned through my role in conducting tests that terms like “Collections Showcase” and “Digital Exhibits” are not self-explanatory to the majority of our students. Most surprisingly, the label “Maps” (which we did not expect to be confusing) was misleading to most of the students I conducted or observed tests with. Students generally expected to find a map of library locations or library floorplans at the link, but the link actually leads to our collection of digitized maps of places all over the world. This underscores the importance of conducting frequent user testing. We never would have learned that “Maps” was confusing if we hadn’t been testing adjacent links! Clearly we need to rethink our labels.

I’m excited to analyze the full results and turn them into recommendations for improving the site. I’ve even more excited about expanding our team to include a librarian focused on UX so we can increase our ability to conduct tests like this. We just posted a position for a UX Librarian to join the Assessment and Communication Team to help us ensure that our spaces and services (both web and physical) are welcoming and functional for our users. The eventual end of the pandemic provides ample opportunity for rethinking how we have always done things, and we hope that a UX Librarian will help ensure that the changes we make help our users have great experiences at the UT Libraries.

WHIT’S PICKS: TAKE 9 – GEMS FROM THE HMRC

Resident poet and rock and roll star Harold Whit Williams is in the midst of a project to catalog the KUT Collection, obtained a few years ago and inhabiting a sizable portion of the Historical Music Recordings Collection (HMRC).

Being that he has a refined sense of both words and music, Whit seems like a good candidate for exploring and discovering some overlooked gems in the trove, and so in this occasional series, he’ll be presenting some of his noteworthy finds.

Earlier installments: Take 1Take 2Take 3Take 4Take 5Take 6, Take 7, Take 8

Acetone / Cindy

Available at Fine Arts L​ibrary Onsite Storage

Criminally-overlooked and ultimately doomed L.A. stoner garage-roots trio Acetone droned away in near obscurity during the 1990’s “alternative” heyday, but one can hear their influence on today’s wealth of indie pop and Americana music. Cindy, their first full-length, rocks hard throughout and is built upon overdriven guitars rather than the mellow Gram Parsons-esque atmospherics that would color their subsequent psych-country records. Here’s that time-travelling, road-tripping, couch-surfing soundtrack you’ve long been waiting for. 

Conrad Herwig Nonet / Sketches of Spain y mas

Available at Fine Arts Library Onsite Storage

Trombonist and bandleader Conrad Herwig takes mucho Latin Jazz liberties with this classic Miles Davis work, plus three other pieces (y mas). His New York-based nonet parties hearty in an Afro-Cuban style live at the Blue Note on Davis’ Solar, Seven Steps to Heaven, and Petits Machins, but it’s the majestic 25 minute-long epic Sketches of Spain that stands out admirably here. With highlights from trumpeter Brian Lynch, saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera, and especially the shock-and-awe back and forth between drummer Robby Ameen and conguero/percussionist Richies Flores. 

Amadou & Mariam / Wati

Available at Fine Arts Library Onsite Storage

Stretching the boundaries of traditional north African music, Amadou & Mariam unabashedly mix in healthy doses of rock, blues, pop, and funk into their full band’s hypnotic groove. Having met as students at Mali’s Institute for the Young Blind, the two became a couple, and musically involved as well. Wati leans more in a Western direction – production and instrumentation-wise – but the heart and the soul of the record comes straight from Bamako. A mesmerizing and exuberant Afro pop celebration. 

Britta Phillips & Dean Wareham / Sonic Souvenirs

Available at Fine Arts Library Onsite Storage

Another musical couple here (Britta Phillips and Dean Wareham of indie rock royalty Luna) spices things up nicely with this short and sweet six-track EP. Enlisting famed Bowie producer Tony Visconti for these revamped versions from an earlier album, the duo grooves in a downtown underground style a la Velvet Underground & Nico. Warehams’ low energy slacker vibe is baked in, but it’s Phillips’ coy and coquettish vocals icing this delightful dream pop cake. 

Shirley Scott / Memorial Album

Available at Fine Arts Library Onsite Storage

Always somewhat in the shadows of other Philadelphia B3 organ legends (Jimmy Smith, Jimmy McGriff), Shirley Scott’s exquisite soul jazz chops were nevertheless second to none. The subtitle to this collection, “Queen of the Organ” is no hyperbole, as any experienced hepcat listener can attest to. Culled from her Prestige (and other labels) recordings, these tracks showcase Scott’s solo artist virtuosity as well as her steady grooving backup session work with the likes of Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, and her husband at the time, Stanley Turrentine. Talk about Philly soul? Then you’ve got to be talking about Shirley Scott.

[Harold Whit Williams is a Content Management Specialist in Music & Multimedia Resources. He writes poetry, is guitarist for the critically acclaimed rock band Cotton Mather, and releases lo-fi guitar-heavy indie pop as DAILY WORKER.]

Reflecting on our Pandemic Year

Friends, colleagues and supporters,

Here we are, a year later.

It’s hard to conceive that we’ve just passed the anniversary marking the closure of our libraries in response to a health crisis unprecedented in our lifetimes.

Last year’s halt to classes and the closure of campus came suddenly despite indications that a global crisis was emerging. Students and staff were preparing for leisure time away with family and friends, but we were all acutely aware of looming clouds on the horizon. When word came of the university’s plans to move classes online and shutter the Forty Acres, the Libraries were already considering strategies for maintaining the services and resources that campus needed to operate in the changed environment. When we needed to act, we quickly proved to ourselves that we had an agility that doesn’t normally align with archetypes of traditional libraries. And staff were resilient despite the challenges, stepping up with new ideas and bootstrapping where necessary to keep the Libraries running despite the cloud of uncertainty that surrounded us.

There have been plenty of opportunities since those early days to recognize with great pride the work that has been undertaken by this group of people to hold ourselves accountable to our mission and to persevere despite so many obstacles. But we must not ignore the loss of the past year. We have all experienced costs both individually and collectively, some of which is irrecoverable and will require time and introspection. There has been an overwhelming human toll which has touched most of us in some way or another. There has been a cost to assuming our personal roles in following the recommendations of health authorities in order to help protect our neighbors and communities, and to get the crisis under control. We have forgone opportunities to see family and friends, and we’ve had to sacrifice experiences that we’d hoped would enrich our lives.

Now it appears that we are moving toward a recovery phase in this struggle, too. But the outlines of certainty are still blurred. We must continue to be vigilant in our work and to remain open to change in order to continue to adapt to whatever the future holds. We must continue to adhere to guidance from health officials and scientists. We all long for a return to the relative comfort of normalcy, but with all that has occurred in the past year – the health crisis, social and political upheaval, impassioned debates on cultural issues, historic weather events – the assumptions we had about ourselves and our community a year ago will likely not return in the same form.

And once we have reestablished relative order in our lives, it won’t be with the same view of the world we parted with a year ago. We know more intimately about hazards that seemed at a distance before, so there will be ongoing work to prepare contingencies for whatever may arise, and to further strengthen the work we have done in navigating the challenges of the current environment.

As activity around campus is beginning to heighten, and the beautiful season is upon us in Central Texas, I want to acknowledge my gratitude for all of the effort and perseverance of our community, and the ongoing encouragement of our supporters throughout the last year. So much of our success is attributable to shared values and empathy. I greatly appreciate the part each person played in transcending these precarious times and look forward with you to better times ahead.

LIBRARIES Joins the Change the Subject Movement

Daniel Arbino is the Librarian for US Latina and Latino Studies at the Benson Latin American Collection.

In late summer 2020, I brought up the possibility of the University of Texas Libraries (UTL) participating in Change the Subject. This movement, documented in the 2019 film by the same title, was begun by students and librarians at Dartmouth College, who lobbied the Library of Congress to change anti-immigrant language in subject headings.

I partnered with Sean O’Bryan, Assistant Director of Access, who shared my admiration for the movement and who also had the technical know-how to foster the change. Thinking about ways to work toward continued inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility (IDEA) of the Libraries’ collections, we began to explore the possibility of joining the Change the Subject movement. Today, I am proud to say that the UT Libraries has made strides in tackling outdated and often derogatory Library of Congress subject headings. Below, Sean gives a brief summary of the origins of the project and the resistance encountered by the Library of Congress when they eventually tried to update their terminology. We also describe how UTL participated in this project, considering local opportunities within our library catalog.

Background

Change the Subject started in 2014 when students and librarians at Dartmouth College initiated a collaboration with the Association (ALA) and the Library of Congress (LC) to formally change LC subject headings that contain the terms “illegal aliens” and replace them with terms that recognize the humanity of migrants and are less racially insensitive. 

The Library of Congress put forth a plan to formally change subject headings containing “illegal aliens,” but members in the U.S. House of Representatives (led by representatives from Texas) intervened in 2016 by applying conditions to a funding bill and requiring the retention of the term “Illegal aliens” in authorized Library of Congress subject headings. This effectively ended Library of Congress’s participation in the project. 

Despite the change in course for Library of Congress, libraries across the U.S. have joined in support of this project in various ways. Some have removed the authorized LC heading from their bibliographic records and replaced it with less biased local subject headings. Others have retained the authorized subject heading in their bibliographic records but have changed the rules in their discovery interfaces to replace the term displayed with a less biased one (similar to the option that UTL implemented; see below).  

Option for UTL Participation

Access Systems staff reviewed participation by other institutions (most notably the State University of New York as well as the California State University system) and investigated various options for UTL to participate. Based on this review and given the Libraries’ infrastructure, the most effective option was to modify the display of subject terms in Primo, our discovery interface. Normalization rules in Primo were then created to display local, alternative terms such as “undocumented immigrants” as opposed to the existing Library of Congress subject terms (e.g., “illegal aliens,” “illegal immigrants,” etc.) in the brief display.

The UT Libraries retained the authorized LC subject headings (e.g., “illegal aliens,” “illegal immigrants”) in our local bibliographic records. This allowed the authorized LC terms to continue to be indexed and searched in our system. However, rather than display those authorized LC terms, the brief record results that users now see in Primo display locally determined alternative terms in their place. Again, this was done without altering the underlying bibliographic records.  While it is important to note that this alternate display only impacts our local records, we are pleased to say that nearly 2,000 local records have been positively impacted with this change. Sadly, we are unable to change the display for records that are managed by ExLibris in the Alma Central Discovery Index (please see the last example in the section below).

Examples

A current advanced search in Primo with the LC subject “illegal aliens”:

A title selected from the former returned results displays the following brief record details (note the authorized LC subject heading):

Subject heading(s) in the brief record display is now configured to show alternate local terms (compare the view below with the one above):

The normalization rules that allow for the alternative display above impact local records in Primo (accounting for nearly 2,000 local records that underwent change).  As noted above, we could not alter the display of non-local records, so they continue to display the authorized LC heading:

The Final Step

Prior to implementing the alternative subject headings, Sean and I worked with the Diversity Action Committee to make sure that our choices fostered values of diversity, inclusion, equity, and accessibility, as put forth by UTL’s IDEA platform. The Diversity Action Committee is a well-respected group within UTL precisely for their dedication to social justice and change. Presenting them with the alternative terms that we planned to implement was the final step to doing this the right way. Their expertise was much appreciated. To that end, this project was a group effort, with many people offering invaluable input, and I am grateful to everyone.

Never Too Late

In the middle of February 2021, reports surfaced that the Biden administration directed the Department of Homeland Security to refrain from using dehumanizing language like “illegal aliens.” Our hope is that the Library of Congress will soon follow suit. However, even if that happens, I do not believe that this project was in vain. For the library to take a stand in defense of the humanity of all of its users is never a waste of time.

Additional Information

If you have questions or an interest in additional information about the Change the Subject project, please contact Daniel Arbino.  Those with questions or an interest in additional information about the technical aspects of implementing the option for participation described above, should please contact Sean O’Bryan.

Learn more about related work to update subject headings in intersectionality of gender, sexuality and U.S. Latinx identity in a post at the blog of the Libraries’ Diversity Action Committee.

plenty of fish in the sea: using dutch art to study historic biodiversity

Read, hot & digitized: Librarians and the digital scholarship they love — In this new series, librarians from UTL’s Arts, Humanities and Global Studies Engagement Team briefly present, explore and critique existing examples of digital scholarship.  Our hope is that these monthly reviews will inspire critical reflection of and future creative contributions to the growing fields of digital scholarship.

Fishing in the past” encourages us to explore the connections between artistic expression, scientific identification, and commercial practices. A crowdsourced metadata project, “Fishing in the past” asks volunteers to identify fish species represented in Dutch still life paintings from the early modern period to learn more about historical aquatic biodiversity and commercial uses of fish in Europe. The campaign is part of “A new history of fishes,” a project funded by the Dutch Research Council that includes researchers from Leiden University Centre for the Arts in Society and Naturalis Biodiversity Centre. The artwork included in the “Fishing in the past” campaign comes from the Rijksmuseum and the RKD – Netherlands Institute for Art History. The project was designed using Zooniverse, “the world’s largest and most popular platform for people-powered research.”[1] This crowdsourced approach to research has been termed “citizen science.”[2]

I discovered “Fishing in the past” while evaluating Zooniverse for possible use in the creation of a crowdsourced metadata campaign for photographs from the “Sajjad Zaheer Digital Archive.” I was intrigued by the project’s use of art to support scientific research. This is just one example of how digital scholarship tools and methods can facilitate interdisciplinary projects that propose creative solutions to existing research problems. “A new history of fishes” examines the relationship between ichthyology (the study of fish) and European history and culture, an area of inquiry that “has always been underexposed.”[3] Though quite different in subject matter, the “Sajjad Zaheer Photo Archive” and “Fishing in the past” share the objective of identifying beings (human and aquatic, respectively) in images, a belief in the value of opening up research projects to the general public, and a commitment to open access data and information. As such, “Fishing in the past” was a helpful model for my own project.

“Fishing in the past” asks members of the public to identify the species for every fish in an image. The research team provides tools to help, such as a list of common species that includes images and identifying features to assist classification. The species list can filtered by characteristic, such as color or pattern. After identifying the species, contributors are instructed to classify the commercial use of the fish, such as traded at a market or consumed on plate. They finally record the number of fish for a single species in the image. The process is repeated for each species pictured.

The “Fishing in the past” team has already shared some initial results and plans to publish further findings in an open access journal. Through crowdsourcing, this project has generated more data in a shorter period of time than could be achieved by the research team alone. Benefits for volunteers include engaging in their interests, interacting with artistic and scientific materials in new ways, and knowing that they are making a contribution to something bigger than themselves. For future researchers, crowdsourcing campaigns provide valuable data, including the ability to “read” materials with accessibility technologies.

All Zooniverse campaigns can be found here. Those interested in crowdsourced transcription work might also enjoy participating in FromThePage projects from University of Texas Libraries.

The Fine Arts Library holds catalogs that accompanied past Dutch and Flemish still life exhibitions.

Those interested in marine science should start with this LibGuide.

[1] https://www.zooniverse.org/about

[2] For an in-depth look at citizen science: Hecker, S., Haklay, M., Bowser, A., Makuch, Z., Vogel, J., & Bonn, A. (2018). Citizen Science: Innovation in Open Science, Society and Policy. University College London.

[3] https://www.universiteitleiden.nl/en/research/research-projects/humanities/new-history-of-fishes

Madeline Goebel is the Global Studies Digital Projects GRA at Perry-Castañeda Library and a current graduate student at the School of Information.

Scene Onscreen: ¡A Viva Voz! Celebration Will Bring Levity at the Right Moment

LLILAS Benson is thrilled to announce the return of the ¡A Viva Voz! Celebration of Latina/o Arts and Culture. The annual event, usually one of the highlights of the spring semester, was canceled in 2020 due to the recent campus closure for Covid-19.

Now that we’ve got an advanced degree in Zoom, we are pleased to announce Scene Onscreen: An Evening with JoAnn and Rupert Reyes, Founders of Teatro Vivo. This virtual event will be held on Thursday, April 1, 2021, at 7pm CDT. To register for the event and receive a link, visit Attend.com/AVV2021.

JoAnn and Rupert Reyes. Design by Jennifer Mailloux; original artwork by Monica Rodriguez

During the evening, hosted by Roxanne Schroeder-Arce of the Department of Theatre and Dance, the audience will be treated to recorded scenes from some of Rupert Reyes’s iconic achievements as a playwright, interspersed with conversation about the history of Teatro Vivo, the bilingual theater company that Rupert and JoAnn founded in 2000 and led for many years.

Scenes from Petra’s PecadoPetra’s Cuento, and Petra’s Sueño; Crossing the RíoCuento NavideñoCenicienta, and the forthcoming film Vecinos will bring some levity to everyone’s evening, and it is our hope that the shared experience of laughter while enjoying these scenes will make the virtual a little more personal.

The JoAnn and Rupert Reyes Collection

The Benson Latin American Collection is the repository of the papers of JoAnn and Rupert Reyes, which contains a rich assortment of materials from their decades working with Teatro Vivo and other theater companies. According to the archival notes, “Teatro Vivo has garnered numerous nominations for acting, writing, and design from local theater award councils, including the B. Iden Payne Awards and the Austin Critics Table Awards, and the company continues to serve as an active contributor to the arts community in Austin. JoAnn and Rupert led the company as the executive director and artistic director, respectively, until they stepped down in 2016.” Both of the Reyes have received accolades for their work, including the Community Leadership Award from the University of Texas at Austin (their alma mater) in 2008 and the Partners in the Arts and Humanities award by the Austin City Council in 2011. They continue to serve as advisors to Teatro Vivo and remain significant cultural ambassadors for Latino theater in the United States.


For more information, please contact Susanna Sharpe.

Affordable Education Champion: Dr. Kirkland (Alex) Fulk

In celebration of Open Education Week 2021, the Senate of College Councils and UT Libraries partnered to solicit nominations from students across campus to recognize instructors who increased access and equity by selecting free or low cost course materials for their classes. We’ll be recognizing a few of those nominees this week as Affordable Education Champions!

Affordable Education Champions are instructors who assign free or low cost resources — like textbooks, websites, films, and more — for their courses. Sometimes they author their own materials, and sometimes they’re able to reuse free or low cost work created by others. We share gratitude and appreciation for their commitment to fostering access to high quality education at the lowest possible cost barrier for their students. 

Today, we congratulate and thank Dr. Kirkland (Alex) Fulk, who was nominated by his students in GER 331L (Advanced Conversation and Composition) in the Department of Germanic Studies. Dr. Fulk also teaches GER 346L (German Literature Between the Enlightenment and the Present) and GER 373 (Topics in German Literature), and he utilizes freely accessible resources in all classes. 

Dr. Fulk joined the Department of Germanic Studies as a lecturer in 2013 and since 2014 is an Assistant Professor of post-war German literature. His work centers on the intersections between literature, culture, and theory and has also moved into other forms of media. He has published for instance on photography and new literary ethnographic practices; post-colonialism and neoliberalism; the transnational connections of pop musical cultures, practices, and public spheres; and post-‘68 reevaluations of Marxism, futurology, and other science fictions.

When asked what led him to select free resources as required course materials, Dr. Fulk told us “This particular course (GER 346L) focuses on 18th and 19th century German literature, culture, and history. Because of this, many of the primary texts are no longer under copyright restrictions and are available thanks to Projekt Gutenberg, a free online archive of literary works. However, even in my other courses that focus on the 20th and 21st centuries, there is a wealth of online material available. For instance, the German Historical Institute in Washington, D.C. curates an online archive full of historical documents, photos, etc., and more recently the German Studies Collaboratory provides a forum for sharing a wide range of open-source materials. Not to mention, of course, the library resources, particularly Kanopy, which has been a game changer for film viewings (and a shout out to Uri Kolodney for always helping me out with film acquisitions).”

Dr. Fulk’s students shared with us some of the ways in which his choice to assign free or low cost resources impacted them.

“In my time as one of his students, Dr. Fulk has gone above and beyond the call of a professor not only to ensure that our virtual class experience is engaging and accommodating but also that finances are never a barrier to educational resources. Over the span of three courses taken with him, I have spent a total of $4 on educational resources (in the form of movie rentals). When he wasn’t able to provide certain readings for our GER 346L course, he directed us towards free online resources and personally assisted me in acquiring one reading after I had received the syllabus late. Dr. Fulk truly strives for equity and inclusion for all students in his classroom and I have confidence, and anecdotal proof, that he spares no effort in ensuring his students’ success through cost-free access to educational materials.” — Victoria Ritter, Chemistry & German Major 

Dr. Fulk generously offers three pieces of advice to other instructors interested in transitioning their courses to free and affordable materials:

  1. “Realize that students are in effect digital natives and that the internet is often the first place they go. This provides wonderful opportunities to engage with media literacies and to reinforce them through scholarly engagement with library resources.”
  2. “Be mindful of newer online initiatives such as those mentioned above that are often part of our professional organizations and aim to make teaching resources and materials widely available (most often for free).” 
  3. “It goes without saying that tuition is becoming more expensive as is the cost of living in Austin. Being attentive to this and doing what we can to lighten the burden might not offset the financial hurdles in higher education, but it does demonstrate that education does not have to be tied to monetary resources. Teaching students how to properly use what’s already at their fingertips can go a long way to cultivating best practices for continuing their education beyond the classroom and beyond the university.”

Join us in thanking Dr. Fulk for his contribution to making UT an inclusive and equitable environment where students can succeed without high course materials costs!


If you know of an instructor who is dedicated to making their courses as affordable as possible by selecting free or low cost course materials, let us know by contacting Ashley Morrison, Tocker Open Education Librarian (ashley.morrison@austin.utexas.edu).

Affordable Education Champion: Dr. George Pollak

In celebration of Open Education Week 2021, the Senate of College Councils and UT Libraries partnered to solicit nominations from students across campus to recognize instructors who increased access and equity by selecting free or low cost course materials for their classes. We’ll be recognizing a few of those nominees this week as Affordable Education Champions!

Affordable Education Champions are instructors who assign free or low cost resources — like textbooks, websites, films, and more — for their courses. Sometimes they author their own materials, and sometimes they’re able to reuse free or low cost work created by others. We share gratitude and appreciation for their commitment to fostering access to high quality education at the lowest possible cost barrier for their students. 

Today, we congratulate and thank Dr. George Pollak, who was nominated by his students in NEU 330 (Neural Systems I) in the College of Natural Sciences. 

Dr. Pollak received his Ph.D. in physiology from the University of Maryland Medical School in 1970. He then did his postdoctoral work in the Department of Anatomy and Biology at Yale University and was promoted to Assistant Professor of Anatomy before joining the faculty of the Zoology Department at the University of Texas at Austin in 1970. He is currently Professor of Neuroscience at the University of Texas at Austin.

Dr. Pollak’s research concerns the neural processing of sound in the mammalian auditory system. He uses bats as experimental subjects due to their high reliance on hearing. Early in his career, in 1977, he was the recipient of a Research Career Development Award from the National Institutes of Health. Later in his career, from 1987-1991, Dr. Pollak served on the National Institutes of Health Hearing Research Study Section and served as the chairman of the Study Section from 1989-91. In 1996 he received a Claude Pepper Award from the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communicative Disorders, the highest award given by the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communicative Disorders in recognition of outstanding contributions to auditory neuroscience. In addition, he received an Alexander von Humoldt grant (for young investigators) and a von Humboldt Award for Senior Investigators, grants that funded his collaborative research with colleagues at the University of Munich.

Dr. Pollak has also received several teaching awards and honors, including the President’s Associates Teaching Excellence Award (1997); the Texas Blazers Faculty Excellence Award (2000); Professor of the Month, awarded by the Senate of College Councils (2012); Professor of the Year, awarded by the Senate of College Councils (2013); and the Regent’s Outstanding Teaching Award (2014). We are delighted to add Affordable Education Champion to this impressive list. 

Dr. Pollak is very enthusiastic about teaching the brain to undergraduates.  He experiences  a profound sense of satisfaction when he can share his excitement and the views he  obtained from 40 years of research on the nervous system with a diverse group of young men and women.  He feels that our understanding of how the brain works represents one of the great achievements of mankind, and that the next generation should obtain an appreciation of that achievement.

When asked what led him to author his own freely available materials for NEU 330, Dr. Pollak told us about the gap between the existing texts and his needs for the course. “The material offered in Neural Systems I and its earlier versions, has evolved continuously during the 40 years that I have taught the course, due in large part to the numerous discoveries made in neuroscience…. [For] most of this period the textbooks available were designed for medical school. They were too complex for an introductory neurobiology course and covered too many topics. It was for these reasons that I wrote and illustrated the chapters that I use in my lectures. Each chapter is a written and illustrated form of the lecture presented that day. These now comprise 350 pages in 28 chapters. The newest findings in the field are incorporated into each chapter and several recent and exciting findings were incorporated as new chapters. New clinically relevant topics were added, especially those dealing with gene therapies, clinical tests based on the neural mechanisms discussed in lecture, and neurological disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease. I wrote each chapter in Word and constantly make additions or changes to the text as new developments arise. The reader can view [as an example]…  ‘Chapter 3, Introduction to The Action Potential.’ I upload PDF versions of each chapter to Canvas…. There are no extra costs to students in my sections of Neural Systems I.”

In addition to the text he authored and updates, Dr. Pollak supplements the course readings with extensive video content to engage students beyond the written word. “I… make extensive use of movies in Neural Systems I, those that I made and movies that I purchased or downloaded, which are all provided to the students free of charge. The movies appropriate for each lecture are uploaded to Canvas and can be viewed or even downloaded free of charge.

I made the movies because I know I can’t absorb and retain everything I hear in a lecture, and the same is true of undergraduates, regardless of how good the lecture is. The movies provide the opportunity to preview the topics of each lecture and/or to review each lecture at the students’ convenience. The movies provide the students with an enormous advantage for learning the topics covered in Neural Systems I. Each movie is not only animated but also is also narrated, where I verbally explain the concepts and mechanisms of each lecture in a step-by-step sequence.

The initial motivation for making the movies was that the first half of the course, especially the first quarter, deals with basic biophysical and electrical features of nerve cells. Many, if not most, students have a less than solid background in physics and often find the electrical events that generate neural signals challenging. To help them, I decided to make movies to illustrate exactly how the electrical features of neurons are formed and how they operate.

The student response was so overwhelmingly positive, that I continued to make additional movies on the topics covered in the later portions of the course. There are now more than 60 movies that cover the subject matter of almost all the lectures of the course. I have established a YouTube channel that has all of the movies. The channel is available to the public and is also used by my colleagues at UT and at other universities…. An example is Movie #6, titled “The Action Potential-1- The Role of Voltage Gated Sodium Channels”, which is assigned with Chapter 3 cited above, Introduction to the Action Potential. This movie explains one of the most basic features of nerve cells, how they generate their electrical signals or action potentials, the universal language of all nervous systems. The first part of the movie can be readily understood, even by those who have not had Vertebrate Neurobiology or Neural Systems I. It can easily be accessed [on Dropbox].”

Dr. Pollak’s students enthusiastically praise the course materials and the ways they’ve enhanced the students’ learning experience and sense of belonging in the discipline.

“Dr. Pollak’s offerings of material he wrote specifically for this course allowed me to be confident that the material I was learning was applicable to his course, and easily accessible, without having to pay anything for it. I appreciated having an easily accessible textbook, which allowed me to develop a deeper understanding and appreciation for Neuroscience.” — Sophomore, Neuroscience Major

“Dr. Pollak’s use of no-cost instructional materials made my access to the class much less stressful and has taken a great deal of stress off of me, especially because of the impact of COVID on my financial situation. Dr. Pollak has provided a wealth of materials, from textbook chapters he wrote to incredibly helpful instructional movies, at no cost, and being able to access these materials has improved my learning process a great deal. Because this is a class for my major, having class materials that I didn’t have to pay for made me feel particularly welcomed into the Department of Neuroscience, knowing that there are no real economic barriers to get started with my major.” — Emma Babaian, Neuroscience Major

Please join us in thanking Dr. Pollak for his contribution to making UT an inclusive and equitable environment where students can succeed without high course materials costs!

If you know of an instructor who is dedicated to making their courses as affordable as possible by selecting free or low cost course materials, let us know by contacting Ashley Morrison, Tocker Open Education Librarian (ashley.morrison@austin.utexas.edu). 

Affordable Education Champion: Dr. Beth E. Bukoski

In celebration of Open Education Week 2021, the Senate of College Councils and UT Libraries partnered to solicit nominations from students across campus to recognize instructors who increased access and equity by selecting free or low cost course materials for their classes. We’ll be recognizing a few of those nominees this week as Affordable Education Champions!

Affordable Education Champions are instructors who assign free or low cost resources — like textbooks, websites, films, and more — for their courses. Sometimes they author their own materials, and sometimes they’re able to reuse free or low cost work created by others. We share gratitude and appreciation for their commitment to fostering access to high quality education at the lowest possible cost barrier for their students. 

Today, we congratulate and thank Dr. Beth E. Bukoski, who was nominated by her students in ELP 392Q (Advanced Qualitative Research Design and Analysis) in the Educational Leadership and Policy Department. 

Dr. Bukoski is an Associate Professor of Practice and Co-Program Coordinator of the Program in Higher Education Leadership in the College of Education’s Department of Educational Leadership and Policy at The University of Texas at Austin. She is a faculty affiliate with the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies. She teaches utilizing liberatory pedagogies with an explicit focus on diversity, inclusion, social justice issues. Her research focuses on issues of social justice, equity, and diversity, particularly the persistence and success of underrepresented students, the experiences of underrepresented faculty, and leadership/administration across the P-20 pipeline. Her work centers on issues related to identity intersectionality and performativity — particularly constructs of gender, sexuality, and race; she uses qualitative methodologies such as case study, narrative and discourse analysis, and phenomenology and tends to use critical theories to guide her work.

Dr. Bukoski also currently serves as Vice-Chair for the Council for the Advancement of the Higher Education Programs (ASHE).

When asked what motivated her to select free resources as required course materials, Dr. Bukoski told us: “Neither of my courses ([ELP] 392Q and 395K) have a textbook this semester. I generally try to avoid having a textbook unless I can foresee students wanting to keep the text as a part of their library, or they will read all/most of it, or I cannot find enough other supplemental materials or materials available through the library to replace the text. For 392Q – Adv. Qualitative Methods, the library has extensive SAGE research materials and access to multiple top journals on the subject. For 395K – Community Colleges, the library has access to multiple journals on the topic and has been responsive to requests for specific chapters I need scanned. In addition, the only texts I could have used for 395K were prohibitively expensive.”

She notices that students appreciate the effort and intention that comes with selecting resources free to students, too. “Usually when I have been able to avoid text fees, students comment on the affordability and thank me for not having required texts. I think the increased access increases the likelihood of students engaging with the materials…. I have noticed I no longer have students coming to class unprepared because they could not afford the text or get their hands on a copy for free.”

We heard the same thing from Dr. Bukoski’s students. They can access course materials easily and benefit from engaging in the course through collaborative software. 

“She provided us articles to read that were accessible via UT libraries. We use various programs online in class like Google docs and Mural which are free and don’t require an account either. [I] can pay my bills with more ease and less stress. School is expensive and not having to pay for books and class materials is a huge relief because it helps reduce burden on students financially.” — Graduate Student, Educational Leadership and Policy

Join us in thanking Dr. Bukoski for her contribution to making UT an inclusive and equitable environment where students can succeed without high course materials costs!

If you know of an instructor who is dedicated to making their courses as affordable as possible by selecting free or low cost course materials, let us know by contacting Ashley Morrison, Tocker Open Education Librarian (ashley.morrison@austin.utexas.edu). 

Affordable Education Champion: Dr. James Curley

In celebration of Open Education Week 2021, the Senate of College Councils and UT Libraries partnered to solicit nominations from students across campus to recognize instructors who increased access and equity by selecting free or low cost course materials for their classes. We’ll be recognizing a few of those nominees this week as Affordable Education Champions!

Affordable Education Champions are instructors who assign free or low cost resources — like textbooks, websites, films, and more — for their courses. Sometimes they author their own materials, and sometimes they’re able to reuse free or low cost work created by others. We share gratitude and appreciation for their commitment to fostering access to high quality education at the lowest possible cost barrier for their students. 

Today, we congratulate and thank Dr. James Curley, who was nominated by his students in PSY 317L (Introduction to Statistics for Behavioral Sciences) in the College of Liberal Arts. 

Dr. Curley received his B.A. in Human Sciences at The University of Oxford (UK) in 1999. He was a member and scholar of Somerville College, Oxford. In 2003, he received a PhD in Zoology from the University of Cambridge (UK). His Ph.D research was conducted at the Department of Animal Behaviour, Cambridge, on the effects of imprinted genes on brain and behavioral development, particularly maternal and sexual behavior.

He then completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Cambridge for four years researching behavioral development, particularly how early life experiences shape individual differences in behavior. He was also the Charles & Katharine Darwin Research Fellow of Darwin College, Cambridge.

Following this work he joined the Psychology Department at Columbia University, where he continued to work on the development of social and maternal behavior. From 2012-2017, he was a faculty member in the Department of Psychology at Columbia University. There, he established a research group studying social dynamics and social dominance hierarchies.

His lab at UT focuses on the neurobiological basis of social behavior in groups, as well as the long-term plastic changes in the brain and peripheral physiology that occur as a consequence of social status. They also are interested in developing novel methods for the study of social hierarchies and networks.

When asked what led him to author his own resources for required course materials, Dr. Curley told us about the many ways that his textbook and tools respond to student needs. “I have long thought that the cost of textbooks is too high. So I was clear from the beginning of designing this course that I wanted to make the textbook materials freely available. I found some excellent open source free online textbooks for statistics and programming. I then decided that I would write my own textbook [Introduction to Statistics for Behavioral Scientists using R] to be able to focus in more detail on the areas of stats and programming that I was introducing in my course. So then I spent last Summer (2020) co-writing the textbook for the course with my graduate student Tyler Milewski. For each module, I give readings from my textbook or another excellent free one online and let the students choose which they prefer to go with.

I also realized that a benefit of writing an online open source textbook was that I could update it in real time. If students want more explanations about certain topics, then it is relatively easy for me to write extra details or examples in the book and publish immediately. Obviously with the old textbook model it isn’t easy to update that quickly.

Finally, many students like to learn through interactive hands-on tools. Therefore I’ve been building a catalogue of browser based tutorial guides that students can play around with to learn statistics concepts. These sorts of materials are not part of traditional textbook offerings, so clearly making them freely available is the only way to go!”

While PSY 317L has never relied on a commercial textbook, Dr. Curley observes that compared to other courses where expensive texts were used, “students engaged a lot more with the textbook in this course. I think that is largely due to my tailoring its content to my course and the fact that it was available online in the browser. Students definitely comment on how glad that the textbook is free.”

We heard the same thing in Dr. Curley’s nomination. Students appreciated the savings, but they also deeply valued the breadth of free materials available to them — not to mention Dr. Curley’s own availability to support them throughout the class. 

“Stats was a really intimidating class for me, but having tons of free resources available, like videos, textbooks, websites, and SO MANY office hours, made me finally feel like I understood why UT wants psychology majors to learn statistics. Honestly, I think everyone should take a class like this because the skills we learned are applicable to so many different fields. [With the money I saved in this class, I] didn’t have to worry about whether I would be able to pay for the materials needed to do well in the class and instead could just focus on learning.” — Sophomore, Psychology Major

If you are an instructor thinking about adopting free or affordable course materials, Dr. Curley offers this advice: “I think it is well worth connecting with faculty at other institutions to see what they might be using. There are a lot of innovations in different fields and many faculty are very aware of the need to try and make materials affordable. I was pleasantly surprised by how many options there were for statistics and programming. Obviously writing your own textbook is not feasible for every course, but I found that doing this really led me to understand how best to deliver the material to students and was a really great use of preparation time for my class.”

Please join us in thanking Dr. Curley for his contribution to making UT an inclusive and equitable environment where students can succeed without high course materials costs!

If you know of an instructor who is dedicated to making their courses as affordable as possible by selecting free or low cost course materials, let us know by contacting Ashley Morrison, Tocker Open Education Librarian (ashley.morrison@austin.utexas.edu). 

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