At University of Michigan we have a vibrant community of advocates and implementers of open content. We’ve featured many of them through our interview series on this blog. This community extends well beyond the University of Michigan campuses. We have a global community of students, educators, and scholars from around the world who travel to or partner with University of Michigan for special events and programs. While on campus, some of these visiting students and scholars participate in Open.Michigan events, create their own open educational resources (OER), or go on to use and adapt OER from elsewhere.
In today’s spotlight is Mr. D. Karfalah Johnson, who is a visiting scholar through the University of Michigan African Presidential Scholar (UMAPS) program. After being introduced to OER a few months ago, he’s already become both a consumer and producer of OER. (Image of Mr. D. Karfalah Johnson below is courtesy of the African Studies Center. Used with permission.)
Could you briefly describe your academic research and teaching responsibilities?
At University of Liberia, where I have taught for over two decades, my role is to teach advanced mathematics to undergraduate students in the College of Science and Technology. Prior to teaching at University of Liberia, I was a student there. I completed three degrees – Bachelor of Science in Mathematics, a Bachelors of Science in Civil Engineering, and a Master of Science in Regional Planning. I have taught courses in multivariable calculus, elementary differential equations, and numerical methods. To help colleagues with their teaching, I assist others in the preparation of course manuals. Recently, I have begun working with students using technology for lectures such as slides and video recordings.
The main focus of my current research is the role of mathematical models for seismic data analysis in Liberia’s future. The desirable applications of mathematical models have clearly revealed how analyzing data using wavelets is an essential tool for science and engineering in my country. This research seeks to extract information from many different kinds of data, including – but certainly not limited to – the exploration of oil in Liberia. I plan to apply this study in the areas of medicine, engineering, security and business to various institutions found in my country.
Since September 2012, I have been in Ann Arbor through the University of Michigan African Presidential Scholar (UMAPS) program. My activities here can be summarized as twofold: I am getting additional educational experience that can be transferred to teaching in my national universities and I am upgrading and improving my research skills and capacity in wavelet analysis for better service to my community and country. While here, I am collecting and adapting available materials in advanced engineering mathematics and appropriate computer software for modern teaching techniques to save time that can be later invested elsewhere in the development of students. Some of these learning materials are existing open educational resources from other institutions (e.g. Saylor.org, Connexions), which the Open.Michigan team helped me find.
In addition to fine-tuning my research skills, I am collaborating with international scholars who are involved in similar research areas and who are serving as my mentors. Though my interest has always been to provide the basic understanding of the applications of mathematics in the real world situation, my opportunity here to connect with scholars such as Professor Daniel Burns (Department of Mathematics University of Michigan) and Professor Edward Aboufadel (Department of Mathematics, Grand Valley State University) has prompted me to join other great scientists that are daily sacrificing their lives for the development of mankind everywhere. I return to Liberia later this month.
One way I can contribute back is by sharing my work.
You have your own OER project underway. Why did you decide to make some of your course materials available through Open.Michigan?
There are so many factors that are worthy of discussing here. I have always wished to share my knowledge so that others would have the opportunity to read and educate themselves at low or no cost. Presently, I am concerned about the high cost of textbooks that are not affordable for students in many parts of the world. The course content at the University of Liberia does not rely on one textbook. Since students cannot afford to purchase a book in higher mathematics, there is a need to always produce lecture notes to meet the course. Given the difficulty sometimes, I wished to ask this question: Do we really serve well in our various professions? I will make my courses available for sharing to Open Michigan to help empower learners and educators everywhere.
Why do you think it’s important for faculty to share their learning materials as open educational resources?
I think it is important to share my educational resources through Open.Michigan so that they can be freely accessed as relevant learning materials to build for the most important target group in science and engineering. The creation of sharing course content is satisfactory in meeting the challenges of universities’ mission to educate the citizens of the world. We should all rise up to meet this challenge to build a better world for all.
What tips could you provide for faculty members interested in creating or using open educational resources?
In developing countries, faculty members of most universities are finding it very difficult to identify and collect needed materials for learning since there is often a lack of facilities and/or insufficient funding. We shall be in the position to learn more about copyright from initiatives like Open.Michigan.
I strongly believe that my association with creating open educational resources will provide future opportunities such as quick recognition in the shortest possible time among other colleagues.
Interestingly, I also wish to clearly state here that some traditional course contents (e.g. required courses, topics, learning objectives) are tied closely to institutional policy that cannot easily be altered. One way to affect change in education policy is to integrate open educational resources into curricular topics as an archive of study materials to complement workshops, seminars etc. Frankly speaking, teachers will be in the position to easily deliver lectures to students using the available open educational resources.
What would you like to see Open.Michigan doing in the next couple of years?
I would like to see the Open.Michigan initiative continue to address the shortage of educational resources in various institutions of higher learning, especially in African universities. I am convinced that in the not too distant future more universities will adopt this approach. I want to extend my appreciation to Open.Michigan for providing these timely educational resources.