Category Archives: Issues

Benefits of Creating an OER for Turkish-language Learning

March 5-9 is Open Education Week Throughout the week, guest contributors will present their perspectives on the value of open education to research, teaching and learning at The University of Texas at Austin. Today’s installment is provided byJeannette Okur, Lecturer, Middle Eastern Studies. 

Jeannette Okur
Jeannette Okur

For a year and a half now, I have been designing and piloting an OER textbook and online curricular materials designed to bring adult learners of modern Turkish from the Intermediate-Mid/High to the Advanced Mid proficiency level.  The textbook, titled Her Şey Bir Merhaba İle Başlar (Everything Begins With A Hello), will – hopefully – be available on the UT Center for Open Education Resources and Language Learning (COERLL) website in Fall 2019; and the complementary series of primarily auto-correct listening, viewing, reading and grammar exercises and quizzes will be made available on a public Canvas course site.  This new set of OER materials is aligned with the ACTFL standards for Intermediate- and Advanced-level communicative skills and intercultural proficiency descriptors, and also reflects my department’s (and my personal) commitment to blended instruction and the flipped classroom model.  I’ve now designed five thematic units that promote the following pedagogical goals:

  • Introduce the learner to culturally and socially significant phenomena in Turkey today.
  • Introduce the learner to various print, audio and audio-visual text types aimed at native Turkish audiences and guide them to use (and reflect on) the reading, listening and viewing comprehension strategies needed to understand these Advanced-level texts.
  • Engage the learner in active recognition and repeated practice of new vocabulary and grammar items.
  • Guide the learner through practice of oral and written discursive strategies specific to the Advanced proficiency level.
  • Balance the four communicative skills.
  • Balance seriousness and fun!

I’m excited about OER’s potential to transform students’ and teachers’ experiences with Less Commonly Taught Languages (LCTL) like Turkish.  A readily accessible and modifiable OER for this level of Turkish language instruction, in particular, makes a whole lot of sense, because the for-profit textbook model is a non-starter!  In other words, because no one can make a profit off of Turkish language teaching materials outside of Turkey; few of the teaching materials that U.S.-based Turkish language instructors design ever get published or shared. In fact, creating an OER for Turkish-language learning has made sharing my ideas, teaching materials and methodology possible!

I believe wholeheartedly that being able to share and modify OER teaching/learning materials via online platforms leads to collaboration among educators and eventually to better educational products and practices.   I hope that other Turkish language educators, upon engaging with my OER materials, will learn a few small but important lessons from me, namely:

  • Adults learning Turkish need help practicing and learning vocabulary, not just grammar.
  • Identifying and discussing cultural differences/commonalities on the basis of actual socio-cultural phenomena captured in texts aimed at target culture audiences is key to increasing learners’ cultural proficiency, especially when those learners are not learning in the target culture.
  • The blended instruction/flipped classroom model really works because engagement with reading, listening and grammar materials at home gives learners more time to practice SPEAKING in class (or with a tutor).

I also look forward to learning from the colleagues and learners who engage with my materials in varied settings beyond the University of Texas at Austin.

OER for a Common Goal – Meeting the Needs of Spanish Heritage Learners

March 5-9 is Open Education Week Throughout the week, guest contributors will present their perspectives on the value of open education to research, teaching and learning at The University of Texas at Austin. Today’s installment is provided by Jocelly Meiners, Lecturer, Department of Spanish and Portuguese.

Jocelly Meiners
Jocelly Meiners

In recent years, the development of Spanish language courses designed specifically for heritage language learners has gained much attention throughout K-12 and post-secondary education in the US. Heritage language learners are students who were exposed to Spanish at home while growing up. These students usually have a broad knowledge about their cultural heritage, and varying degrees of language dominance. Over the years, it has been found that these learners have different pedagogical needs than second language learners, and that they benefit greatly from language instruction that is catered to their specific needs. Throughout the country, as more institutions realize these needs, Spanish instructors at all levels are forming programs and creating materials to serve this student population. It seems that we all have some common goals: to help heritage Spanish speakers develop their bilingual skills, to empower them to apply those skills in academic and professional settings, and to feel proud of their cultural and linguistic heritage. So if we all have similar goals in mind and are all working on creating programs and materials to serve these students, why not share all the work we are doing?

I have been teaching courses for heritage Spanish learners here at UT for over 4 years, and about a year and a half ago I started working as the community moderator for the Heritage Spanish Community ( This web-based community, which is hosted by COERLL (The Center for Open Educational Resources and Language Learning), serves as a space for Spanish instructors to collaborate, share and communicate with others about the teaching and learning of Spanish as a heritage language. We encourage instructors at all levels to ask questions on our online forum, to help other instructors, and to share the materials they are working on. Open Educational Resources are an excellent way to share these types of materials, since they can easily be adapted to the specific needs of each instructor’s particular student population.

As community moderator, I add useful content to our website, create interesting questions for discussion, and encourage others to explore our website and share their work. I have also been able to share my own materials as OER, and it has been very rewarding to hear form people in other parts of the country who have found my resources useful and are adapting them for their own heritage Spanish programs. I believe that if we all collaborate and share our resources openly, we will be much more successful in attaining both our personal and common goals.


Open Education Week Promotion of Open Access

March 5-9 is Open Education Week Throughout the week, guest contributors will present their perspectives on the value of open education to research, teaching and learning at The University of Texas at Austin. Today’s installment is provided by Orlando R. Kelm, Associate Professor, Department of Spanish and Portuguese

Orlando R. Kelm
Orlando R. Kelm

Open Access seems to be at the core of materials development for those of us who teach what is called LCTLs (less-commonly taught languages).  In academic settings, publishing companies are less likely to take a chance on publishing materials where the market is small. There have been multiple occasions when I have been told by publishing companies something similar to, “If you could do this project for us in Spanish we would be interested, but unfortunately the market in Portuguese is not big enough to take on such a project.”  Although it has been discouraging to hear such replies, it was also understandable.

However, it today’s world of innovative technologies, online, electronic, digital, social media, video and podcasts, Open Access pedagogical materials in foreign language, especially for the less-commonly taught languages, have provided a boon of opportunities.  Here at the University of Texas at Austin, for example, the College of Liberal Arts (LAITS), the Center for Open Educational Resources and Language Learning (COERLL) and the Center for Global Business have all been supportive of our development of online and open access materials for those who want to learn Portuguese.  COERLL helps maintain our BrazilPod site, where all our Portuguese materials are available for everyone, anytime, Open Access, and with Creative Commons license.  Here’s the URL:

This site contains a number of videos, podcasts, exercises, transcripts, translations, and a number of other materials.  We have seen how users, both teachers and private learners, have integrated, modified and added these materials to the study of Portuguese.  Some access the materials online, others embed content into exercises and quizzes, others create ancillary activities for organized courses. Open Access has revolutionized the way that learners of LCTLs share materials and expose learners to content.

It also seems a bit ironic when we think of the initial rejection from publishing companies.  If they were to approach us today to publish in traditional formats, chances are that we would react by saying, “Thanks, but our ability to share with Open Access works for us better than the traditional publication methods.”

María Luisa Puga Papers. Benson Latin American Collection.

Scholar Takes an Intimate Look at Mexican Author María Luisa Puga

On February 15, LLILAS Benson celebrated the opening of the literary archive of Mexican author María Luisa Puga (1944–2004). This unusual archive is replete with the author’s voice and vision, consisting in large part of some 327 diaries that span the years 1972 through 2004. In honor of the occasion, Irma López of Western Michigan University delivered a lecture titled “Escritura y autofiguración el los diarios de María Luisa Puga.”

María Luisa Puga, undated. Benson Latin American Collection.
María Luisa Puga, undated. Benson Latin American Collection.

A novelist and short-story writer, Puga was the winner of numerous prestigious literary awards and highly esteemed by her peers, yet she largely eschewed the limelight. Her complex attitude about her identity as a writer is on display in the diaries, which Mexican Studies Librarian José Montelongo refers to as “a truly remarkable document of struggles both personal and artistic.” Puga’s diaries were donated to the Benson Latin American Collection by her sister, Patricia Puga, who attended the opening lecture and reception along with her husband, son, and other family members.

The author's sister, Patricia Puga, at the Benson Collection. Photo: Travis Willmann.
The author’s sister, Patricia Puga, at the Benson Collection. Photo: Travis Willmann.

Written in a beautiful hand, with occasional doodle-like illustrations, the notebooks contain the entire trajectory of Puga’s celebrated literary works and thus are of enormous research value. The pages also carry within them a poignant emotional charge: the author was someone for whom putting pen to paper was a vital activity in her art and thought, and her diaries are an almost visceral expression of her self.

Visiting scholar Irma López discusses the Puga diaries. Photo: Travis Willmann.
Visiting scholar Irma López discusses the Puga diaries. Photo: Travis Willmann.

If the collection of diaries itself is remarkable, the lecture by literary scholar Irma López was similarly compelling. She spoke with both erudition and affection about Puga, her writing, and the intimate access afforded by the diaries to a writer for whom self-examination was essential. López concluded her talk speaking directly to the members of the author’s family, reading to them from a tender diary passage by the late author. (López, a leading authority on Puga, is author of Historia, escritura e identidad: La novelística de María Luisa Puga.)

From María Luisa Puga Papers. Benson Latin American Collection.
From María Luisa Puga Papers. Benson Latin American Collection.


During their visit, the Puga family was able to see five display cases containing select materials from the archive in the Benson’s main reading room. This exhibition, on display through April 2, 2018, and titled María Luisa Puga: A Life in Diaries, was curated by graduate research assistant Emma Whittington. Read José Montelongo’s Spanish-language article on Puga, “Una vida en 327 cuadernos.”

Alicia Gaspar de Alba Donates Archive to the Benson Collection

Alicia Gaspar de Alba
Alicia Gaspar de Alba


The Benson Latin American Collection is pleased to announce the acquisition of the Alicia Gaspar de Alba Papers. Contents include drafts of creative works such as Calligraphy of the Witch (2007), La Llorona on the Longfellow Bridge (2003), and Sor Juana’s Second Dream (1999) as well as notable academic publications like [Un]framing the “Bad Woman” (UT Press, 2014), Our Lady of Controversy (UT Press, 2011), and Making a Killing (UT Press, 2010). Moreover, researchers will have access to Gaspar de Alba’s conference ephemera and early teaching files. In total, the scholar generously donated 40 bankers’ boxes that span her academic and literary career through 2017.

A native of El Paso/Juárez, Gaspar de Alba is no stranger to academia. As professor in the departments of Chicana/o Studies, English, and Gender Studies and Chair of LGBTQ Studies at UCLA, she has been a monumental figure on the California campus since 1994. During that time, she has published five academic books, three novels, and three collections of poetry and short story, establishing herself as one of the leading scholars and writers on Chicana feminism and lesbian literature.

As seamless as Gaspar de Alba’s relationship with academia might seem, tension marked its beginning. After graduating with a bachelor’s and then a master’s from the University of Texas–El Paso, Gaspar de Alba had a brief stop at the University of Iowa in the 1980s that ended with her leaving the PhD program in American Studies. She also taught English composition and ESL courses part-time at UMass Boston. Her career took off in 1986, however, with a purchase and a decision: the purchase was a used IBM Selectric typewriter for $600; the decision, to write every morning for four years.

1994 Correspondence between Alicia Gaspar de Alba and Avon Books
1994 Correspondence between Alicia Gaspar de Alba and Avon Books

Gaspar de Alba returned to her doctoral studies in 1990 at the University of New Mexico, receiving her PhD in 1994. She has lived in California ever since, now with her wife, artist Alma López. Yet the author keeps strong ties to the borderlands of her early years. In fact, Desert Blood (2005), winner of the Lambda Literary Award for Best Lesbian Mystery Novel, demonstrates how her home and her career as both researcher and writer all inform one another. The novel, which came about after years of research, is a fictional account of the femicides in Ciudad Juárez told through the eyes of a lesbian graduate student.

Those unfamiliar with Gaspar de Alba’s writing will find a focus on putting forth a Chicana lesbian identity through popular culture while questioning traditional Mexican and Chicana/o discourse. Her prolific and varied writing career has led her peers to refer to her as “the quintessential bilingual/bicultural writer” and “one of the most eloquent exponents of a lesbian esthetic and promoters of the empowerment of women.” The fact that this “do-it-all” writer has donated the collection speaks to her charitable desire to make her materials accessible to students and scholars around the world. It will certainly be the purpose of many visits to the Rare Books Reading Room and pairs nicely with the Benson’s current holdings, namely the papers of other Chicana writers from Texas, such as Gloria E. Anzaldúa, Carmen Tafolla, and Estela Portillo Trambley.

Excerpt from Gaspar de Alba’s manuscript Sor Juana’s Second Dream
Excerpt from Gaspar de Alba’s manuscript Sor Juana’s Second Dream

The Gaspar de Alba acquisition is a noteworthy addition to the U.S. Latina/o Collection at the Benson, which began in 1974 as the Mexican American Library Program. The collection has since evolved as one of the most inclusive and most comprehensive in the world, with a special attention given to distinctive voices that document the cultural, political, and economic impact of Latina/o and Hispanic populations in Texas and the United States. Its mission is to support the educational needs of students as well as to facilitate the scholarly activity of the faculty of the Center for Mexican American Studies and the Department of Mexican American and Latina/o Studies.

Please stay tuned for future information and events to celebrate this exceptional collection.


Daniel Arbino is Librarian for U.S. Latina/o Studies at the Benson Latin American Collection.

Support for the Economy Furniture Co. strike in Austin from Chicanos in Leavenworth, 1970.

Special Collections Bring Students to Digital Scholarship

An ambitious fall semester project in the Department of Mexican American and Latina/o Studies provided the opportunity for cross-campus collaborations that brought together the Harry Ransom Center and the Benson Latin American Collection.

The Department of American Studies Ph.D. candidate Amanda Gray’s course “Latina/o Representation in Media and Popular Culture” took students out of the classroom and into special collections to get a hands-on feel for archival research. The course took advantage of the “Mexico Modern: Art, Commerce, and Cultural Exchange, 1920-1945 exhibition” at the Ransom Center in late September before returning there on October 5th for an instructional session working with collection materials led by Andi Gustavson, Head of Instructional Services. Gustavson’s selected materials featured photographs of Mexican migrant workers from the 1960s, an anthology of early Mexican American literature, and items from the papers of acclaimed Dominican American author Julia Alvarez. However, it was Ernest Lehman’s collection on the film West Side Story that caught the eye of many students who were interested in how Puerto Ricans are represented, especially when many non-Puerto Rican actors played their roles, often in brown face.

Publicity materials for West Side Story. Box 102, folder 1. Ernest Lehman Collection, Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin.
Publicity materials for West Side Story. Box 102, folder 1. Ernest Lehman Collection, Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin.

On October 10th, the class came to the Benson for another show and tell wherein I focused on archival materials relating to Latina reproductive health, the 1968-1972 Economy Furniture Company strike here in Austin, and the establishment of what has come to be known as the National Chicana Conference. Between the two archival visits, students saw a wide array of Latino representation, whether self-representation or dominant cultural representation, from the 1950s to the present day.

Program of the first Conferencia de Mujeres por la Raza. Box 1, folder 1. Lucy R. Moreno Collection, Benson Latin American Collection, General Libraries, the University of Texas at Austin
Program of the first Conferencia de Mujeres por la Raza. Box 1, folder 1. Lucy R. Moreno Collection, Benson Latin American Collection, General Libraries, the University of Texas at Austin

Under the guidance of Latin American Studies Digital Scholarship Coordinator Albert A. Palacios, the students incorporated the show and tell materials, along with their own research, into group digital projects using storytelling tools like StoryMapsJS and TimelineJS. The projects touched on a variety of issues, including class, disability, ethnicity, gender, race, sexuality, and other subjectivities. Scholarly Communications Librarian Colleen Lyon chipped in with a copyright crash course that taught students the best practices for posting academic findings online.

A card expressing support for the Economy Furniture Co. strike in Austin from Chicanos in Leavenworth, 1970. Box 3, folder 11. Economy Furniture Company Strike Collection, 1968-1972, Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection, University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin.
A card expressing support for the Economy Furniture Co. strike in Austin from Chicanos in Leavenworth, 1970. Box 3, folder 11. Economy Furniture Company Strike Collection, 1968-1972, Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection, University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin.

The students showcased their digital projects at one of the PCL Learning Labs on December 15th to the delight of an audience that consisted of UTL and HRC staff as well as faculty from the Department of Mexican American and Latina/o Studies. As for the students, they exclaimed how much they preferred working with these tools in a group setting as opposed to writing a traditional final paper. To that end, Professor Gray’s innovative pedagogical approach represents the possibility for integrating the library into courses going forward and in the process, strengthening relationships across campus.

If you would like to view the final projects, click here.

Austin Central Library

Why Austin’s new Central Library is a vision for the future

This commentary originally appeared in the Austin American-Statesman, Wednesday, December 06, 2017.

The Austin Public Library recently opened its spectacular facility with much fanfare to respond to a diversity of needs in the Austin community. Transformed from a traditional library filled with books and other sources of information including media, the new open design sets itself apart as a new standard to address user needs in the 21st century. The timing of the opening of the new Austin Pubic Library is a perfect opportunity to highlight the resurgence of the central role of libraries in their respective communities, whether public, academic or school libraries, as they rethink their relevance amidst fast-paced changes.

Opening of the Austin Central Library

In an information society like ours, libraries are critical to fill equity gaps in society by democratizing access to information, education, skills training and job placement. Simply put, the Austin Public Library epitomizes how libraries elsewhere can be improved to better serve their populations.

The strength of libraries is, after all, their relationship to their communities, whether public or academic. They are centers of learning, social gathering and creativity usually in central spaces, a premium in most communities and on university campuses. The Austin Public Library has not disappointed. In some respects, it is the library of the future and will meet a multitude of needs including shared learning spaces, the technology petting zoo, the innovation lounge, the children’s creative commons and the reading porches.

In a nutshell, libraries must rebrand themselves as technology-rich learning centers. The rapid rate of technological changes, coupled with new user expectations, have accelerated libraries’ transition from mediated services to unmediated services. From online catalogs, to self-checkout machines, to room reservations and laptop checkouts, users can now independently use and reserve library resources that extend well beyond books. And, the old rules don’t work in the new environment. For instance, food and drink, cafes and gift shops have become normal features in libraries.

Makerspace at the Austin Central Library.

Notwithstanding the difference in the primary communities they serve, different types of libraries have implemented changes that are consistent with new needs and expectations. At its opening, Austin Mayor Steve Adler described the Austin Public Library as the “cathedral of Austin.”

A national conference called “Re-think it: Libraries for a New Age” will soon bring together academic, public and K-12 librarians, administrators, technologists, architects, designers, furniture manufacturers and educators to the University of Texas. Together, they will collectively rethink the increasingly important role libraries play in the communities they serve.

Austin Central Library.

In some ways, rethinking libraries will mean collapsing old paradigms and sacrificing some of the nostalgia that we may have for paper and silence. If libraries are to realize a future potential, they’ll need to play a significantly more active role in creativity and productivity processes. The library is no longer a place to worship books; rather, a library, to modify the famous metaphor of Socrates, is the delivery room for the birth of ideas.

Austin isn’t the first city in recent years to invest in new library construction. Structures in Seattle and Minneapolis are notable recent examples of significant public reinvestment in libraries as an integral part of the community. The 21st century offers a renaissance period for libraries and library professionals to imagine the possibilities for the future. The Austin Public Library exemplifies a pioneering model in Texas for other municipalities to position their libraries as instruments of social empowerment. The time is now.




Open Access Month – OA Creates Momentum for Discovery

October is Open Access Month. Throughout the month, guest contributors will present their perspectives on the value of open access to research, scholarship and innovation at The University of Texas at Austin.

This installment provided by Rayna Harris (ORCID ID:0000-0002-7943-5650), PhD Candidate, Cell and Molecular Biology.

Open access publishing is critical for ‘daisy chain’ reading of scientific papers

Rayna Harris.
Rayna Harris.

Whenever I read a scientific paper, there is almost always a citation that grabs my attention and begs to be read. I love it when I can click on a citation and then read the full text. This ‘daisy chain’ process of citation searching (where the second paper leads me to a third paper, which leads me to a forth, and so on) gives me a great appreciation for all the previous research that contributes to current knowledge.

Figure 1. An example of citation searching or ‘daisy chain’ reading of scientific papers. In this example, McKiernan et al. 2016, cite Brenner 1995, who refers to Watson & Crick 1995. All these papers are open access and can be read by all.
Figure 1. An example of citation searching or ‘daisy chain’ reading of scientific papers. In this example, McKiernan et al. 2016, cite Brenner 1995, who refers to Watson & Crick 1995. All these papers are open access and can be read by all.

When my citation search leads me to a paper that is not open access, I get frustrated because its halts the excellent momentum I had going for gaining new new knowledge. There is a saying in my lab that “if the research isn’t published it doesn’t exist” because it has not been disseminated to broader audiences. I would like to modify this quote to say “if the research is not published and open access then it doesn’t exist” because pay-walled papers are not freely discoverable.

Open access publishing is necessary for dissemination of ideas because it gives readers the ability to read any paper anytime anywhere. My hope is that one day I will publish a scientific paper that 1) is open access, 2) cites only open access papers, 3) which in turn cite only open science papers, and so on. This way, future readers can daisy-chain their way through the history of research that lead to current understanding.


OA Week 2017

Open Access in 2017

As we prepared for Open Access (OA) Week 2017, it’s been exciting to think back about how far we’ve come in the last several years. For those who aren’t familiar, OA Week is a celebration of efforts to make research publications and data more accessible and usable. Just ten short years ago we lacked much of the infrastructure and support for open access that exist today.

Open@TexasBy 2007 we had implemented one of the core pieces of our OA infrastructure by joining Texas Digital Library (TDL). TDL is a consortium of higher education institutions in the state of Texas. TDL was formed to help build institutions’ capacity for providing access to their unique digital collections. That membership continues to grow and TDL now hosts our institutional repository, Texas ScholarWorks, our data repository, Texas Data Repository, our electronic thesis and dissertation submission system, Vireo, and is involved in our digital object identifier (DOI) minting service that makes citing articles and data easier and more reliable. These services form the backbone of our open access publishing offerings.

Our institutional repository, Texas ScholarWorks (TSW), went live in 2008. TSW is an online archive that allows us to share some of the exciting research being created at the university. We showcase electronic theses and dissertations, journal articles, conference papers, technical reports and white papers, undergraduate honors theses, class and event lectures, and many other types of UT Austin authored content.

TSW has over 53,000 items that have been downloaded over 19 million times in the past nine years.

In spring of 2017 we launched the Texas Data Repository (TDR) as a resource for those who are required to share their research data. TDR was intended to serve as the data repository of choice for those researchers who lack a discipline-specific repository or who would prefer to use an institutionally supported repository. TDR serves as a complementary repository to Texas ScholarWorks. Researchers who use both repositories will be able to share both their data and associated publications and can provide links between the two research outputs.

For several years the library has been supporting alternative forms of publishing like open access publishers and community supported publishing and sharing. Examples of this support include arXiv, Luminos, PeerJ, Open Library of the Humanities, Knowledge Unlatched, and Reveal Digital. These memberships are important because it’s a way for us to financially support publishing options that are more financially sustainable than the traditional toll access journals. Many of these memberships also provide a direct financial benefit to our university community, like the 15% discount on article processing charges from our BioMed Central membership.

In an effort to lead by example, the UT Libraries passed an open access policy for library staff in 2016. This is an opt-out policy that applies to journal articles and conference papers authored by UT Libraries employees. With this policy the library joins dozens of other institutions across the U.S. that have department level open access policies.

This past year we started a very popular drop-in workshop series called Data & Donuts. Data & Donuts happens at the same time every week, with a different data-related topic highlighted each week. All the sessions have a shared goal of improving the reproducibility of science.

Data & Donuts has attracted over 340 people in the past nine months which makes it one of our most successful outreach activities.

We have another reason to be optimistic this year. The Texas state legislature passed a bill this summer that should expand the awareness of and use of open educational resources (OER). SB810 directs colleges to make information about course materials available to students via the course catalog. If there is an online search feature for the catalog, the college has to make it possible for people to sort their search by courses that incorporate OER. The catalog functionality is set to go into effect this spring, so we’ll be keeping an eye on how things develop over this academic year.

We will continue the momentum we have generated from the launch of TDR, our Data & Donuts series, and our support of open publishers. We are putting together topics for Data & Donuts this spring, planning events associated with open access and author rights, and continuing to improve our online self-help resources. We are committed to offer assistance to any faculty, staff, or student at the university who has a question about open access.

We encourage department chairs and tenure and promotion committees to talk with their colleagues and/or engage with us in discussions about what open access means for their discipline.

UT Libraries will continue to explore new publishing models and initiatives to share UT’s rich scholarship and discoveries, to find ways to increase access to open educational resources, and to support future faculty and scholars in accessing, using and curating the growing body of data that is central to the research enterprise.


Open Access Month – OA to Spur Innovation

October is Open Access Month. Throughout the month, guest contributors will present their perspectives on the value of open access to research, scholarship and innovation at The University of Texas at Austin.

This installment provided by Dr. Maryjka B. Blaszczyk,Postdoctoral Research Associate, Department of Anthropology.

A need for open access to research materials to spur new discoveries in biological anthropology

Dr. Maryjka B. Blaszczyk.
Dr. Maryjka B. Blaszczyk.

A major aim of research in biological anthropology is to understand how humans have ended up looking and behaving the way that they do. To understand the evolution of our body form, anthropologists look at fossils. Behavior, however, does not fossilize, and so we turn to studying our closest living relatives, the nonhuman primates, preferably in their natural habitats where they have to deal with selective pressures such as avoiding predators and finding enough food to eat. Primate behavior field data are hard-won, involving substantial investments of time and resources. Apart from jumping through logistical hoops such as obtaining permits and building relationships with local stakeholders in far-flung locales, establishing a new field site for behavioral fieldwork involves months if not years of patiently following wild primates around to habituate them to researchers’ presence. Once habituated, data collection begins, with blood, sweat, and tears invariably spilt as one accumulates precious hours of detailed behavioral observations on this group of primates at this place and particular time.

These investments are one reason given by field primatologists as justification for closely guarding their data. Another is the unique insights they have into the lives of their study animals, having spent hours upon hours of observation time with them. Some primatologists argue that researchers not familiar with their study site and animals may misuse the data if they were to make it widely available, subjecting it to improper analyses or not accounting for information about the study site/animals that is known only to researchers who have worked there. Researchers also generally have many ideas for secondary analyses of their data that they plan to get to in the future.

Each of these arguments is by no means specific to primate behavioral ecology, with very similar arguments having been made, for example, by medical researchers working with clinical trial data. Of course, clinical trial data has a substantially higher status (given its applications for human health and welfare) than primate behavior data, and arguments about the costs and benefits of trial data sharing have been ongoing in high profile forums for several years. Data sharing advocates point to benefits such as new discoveries, better metanalyses, and correction or confirmation of findings in the scientific record, which they argue far outweigh potential risks such as incorrect analyses or data misuse. We all know researchers who have been sitting on data for years (even decades) with plans for secondary analyses, many of which they will never find the time to conduct and publish. In the case of primate field data collected on a specific population at a specific place and point in time – and frequently on endangered primates living in rapidly changing habitats – these data cannot be reproduced, so it is a double shame that they may never make it into the scientific record.

Primate behavioral ecologists are included in Anthropology departments because comparative studies on primate behavior illuminate the ways in which humans differ from and are similar to our closest kin, allowing us to better understand the evolutionary ecology of our lineage.  However, many comparative studies are hampered by poor descriptions of how data in primate field studies were collected and processed, and many large-scale comparative studies cannot be undertaken unless raw data itself is made available. Behavioral ecologists should take a page out of their molecular primatology colleagues’ playbooks, where publication of genetic data alongside scientific articles is the rule. This type of data sharing has enabled large-scale comparative phylogenetic studies that have given us a rich understanding of primate evolution. It is time for primate behavioral ecologists to catch up and to make sharing of data as well as associated behavioral and ecological data collection protocols the norm. Who knows what insights await us.