Introducing the first MIT OpenCourseWare Collaborations and Engagement Manager

Shira Segal standing in front of a sculpture on the campus of MIT.

Photo by Stephanie Hodges / MIT OpenCourseWare

By Sarah Hansen, OpenCourseWare Senior Manager for Open Education and Strategic Initiatives

Developing a webinar with international educators on teaching with open educational resources (OER) from OpenCourseWare. Working with community college leaders to place OpenCourseWare resources into the powerful hands of their faculty. Meeting with open education advocates from across MIT to learn about their initiatives. Organizing a forum for educators interested in accelerating culturally responsive open education practices and pedagogy. Keeping OpenCourseWare users updated and connected through LinkedIn. Supporting OpenCourseWare learners in kickstarting a podcast to share their life-changing stories of OpenCourseWare-enabled learning with the world. Attending conferences and workshops to understand the ever-evolving nuances of the Open movement. Engaging the OpenCourseWare team in reflecting on our shared work within this space.   

This is just a typical week for Dr. Shira Segal, the new (and first ever) OpenCourseWare Collaborations and Engagement Manager at MIT Open Learning. And she loves it. “I find strength in collaboration,” notes Shira. I thrive when working together to remove barriers to knowledge, and I believe in doing the important work of expanding access to high-quality educational material in equitable ways.” For Shira, working towards our collective success across cultural contexts is especially motivating. “The best way to do this,” she feels, “is to listen and learn from others. What are the most pressing issues we face today, and how can we solve them together?”

(Re)Connecting with a Thriving Open Ecosystem

Our OpenCourseWare team shares Shira’s enthusiasm for unlocking knowledge for learners around the globe and across cultural contexts. In fact, we’ve been doing it since 2001! Through two decades of innovations and milestones, our dedicated team has worked closely with MIT instructors to make their teaching materials accessible to everyone, everywhere, for free. Hundreds of millions of people have accessed OpenCourseWare on our website and YouTube channel, using our free, top-tier materials for life-changing personal learning and inspired classroom teaching. With a mobile-responsive platform and updated educational materials being added to the collection all the time, OpenCourseWare’s global impact continues to grow.

As we’ve focused on enhancing the OpenCourseWare platform and its resources, the open education community outside of MIT OpenCourseWare has been flourishing. For example, Open Education Global, the successor to the OpenCourseWare Consortium that MIT OpenCourseWare helped found in 2005, is supporting instructors and educational organizations around the world in developing and leveraging open educational resources to improve learning. 

Within the United States, OER-driven educational initiatives, such as zero textbook cost programs, are saving students tens of millions of dollars each year. Publishing platforms like OpenStax and Pressbooks OER, and OER repositories like MERLOT and OER Commons, have done much to make free, open textbooks and related OER widely available and easily adaptable. Additionally, through initiatives like Wiki Education, faculty are exploring open pedagogy practices to directly engage students as active participants in their own learning, all while contributing back to the Creative Commons. Not to mention the countless educators who are adapting and reusing OER in their classrooms every day!

Now, as we embark on the next 20 years of MIT OpenCourseWare, we’re turning our attention back to those incredible educators and other stakeholders in this thriving open ecosystem. We’re particularly interested in learning from members of the community who are creating and leveraging open resources and practices to promote more equitable educational experiences for learners. We hope to integrate insights from this important work into our own offerings, with the aim of improving the open educational resources we share back with the wider community.

In pursuit of this goal, MIT OpenCourseWare created the OpenCourseWare Collaborations and Engagement Manager position specifically to facilitate generative relationships with the members of the larger open education ecosystem. Earlier this year, Shira stepped into this role. 

Shira Segal standing by a railing above the atrium of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Shira Segal visits the atrium of MIT’s Green Center for Physics. (Image by Stephanie Hodges / MIT OpenCourseWare)

A Natural Collaborator, with a Passion for Education and the Arts

In many ways, Shira is a natural fit for the role of OpenCourseWare collaborations and engagement manager. She comes to the position with nearly two decades of experience in higher education, which means she understands the needs and priorities of instructorsparticularly as they relate to building and enhancing curriculum and making learning more accessible for a wide range of students. Whether she is updating curriculum to meet the contemporary demands of the field as well as the interests and identities of her students, growing an academic program by collaborating with other faculty members across disciplines, establishing a peer mentorship program, or involving alumni in professional development training for undergraduate and graduate students, Shira’s experiences both in and beyond the classroom are rooted in a dedication to creating a positive learning environment and expanded academic community.

Shira’s interest in helping others learn stems from her own passion for knowledge and the arts. She studied cultural memory at the University of London where she curated a seminar on cultural memory in film, and she earned a PhD in film and media studies from Indiana University where she served on the board of the Underground Film Series and learned to design her own courses in communication, media, and American studies. Most recently, Shira directed the film studies minor in the Department of Art and Art History and was affiliated faculty of women’s, gender, and sexuality studies at the University at Albany, State University of New York. “These are two departments that offer a compelling curriculum to their students both in person and online,” she notes, “and which have helped me grow, too.” 

Shira has also held positions in cinema studies at the University of Colorado Boulder, her alma mater. “Returning to that campus and my home as a faculty member and visiting scholar was meaningful for me, as I could see myself in the students while also participating in innovative curriculum design and further developing my own research and pedagogy. My goal was to inspire others as I myself had been inspired. I carry with me this creative community of artists, filmmakers, and scholars.” 

Across her work is the desire to build collaborative, long-lasting relationships rooted in mutual respect and deep listening, and to find equitable solutions for a wide range of learners and educators. To do so, she implements a whole-person approach that foregrounds conversation, respect for the individual, and the creation of opportunities for meaningful exchange. The goal, she feels, is to help increase understanding, empathy, and information exchange as constructive ways to respond to the problems we face. She continues, “Ultimately, I’m interested in connecting learners and educators to one another as well as to the material.” This aligns with the vision of the MIT OpenCourseWare collaborations program to work toward a future in which all learners have access to the open educational resources they need in order to change their lives and to solve our world’s biggest challenges.

Shira Segal in close-up, wearing a face mask and a headset

Shira Segal visits the SMART Technology Innovation Center at Tennessee State University, a leader in the creation and promotion of open educational resources. (Photo by Shira Segal.)

We’ve already seen Shira’s natural penchant for relationship-building playing out at MIT, and beyond. It’s not unusual to see her zipping across Cambridge on her bicycle or scooter to meet up with a new colleague, to cheer for a fellow staff member receiving an award, or to attend community-building events and workshops on campus. She’s the first person to greet you in a meeting, and the last person to leaveshe wants to hear all the details of your initiatives and to support your hard-earned success! 

Although her days at MIT are full, that doesn’t stop Shira from pursuing her passion for the arts: “In my free time, I recently wrapped up my service as co-chair of the Experimental Film and Media Scholarly Interest Group at the Society for Cinema and Media Studies and I’m also a new member of the selection committee for the Revolutions Per Minute (RPM) experimental film festival and film series here in Cambridge, MA and at UMass Boston. I love going to film festivals and art museums, including the Nitrate Picture Show and the Museum of Modern Art.” She is also excited to begin exploring the arts scene in her new home town. Beyond just making her an interesting person, Shira’s love of film is already influencing our OpenCourseWare office aesthetics: we now have a framed marquee movie poster on the wall!

Voices from the Field: A New Blog Series  

As she dives into her work with OpenCourseWare, Shira has been busy connecting with and learning from open education advocates both within MIT and in the wider community. She’s helped organize webinars for educators, attended conferences on open education, and had many coffees and chats with people who are using open educational resources and open pedagogy practices to make a difference in the lives of others. 

She’s also eager to share her own learnings with you along the way. To spotlight the powerful things community members are doing with OER, Shira is creating a new blog series called “Voices from the Field” that we’ll feature right here on Open Matters.

What We Can Look Forward To

In the coming months, look for Shira’s posts on these topics, among others:

  • Fresh takes on the impact of Open from educators in Nigeria
  • Cultivating shared understandings of culturally responsive education with educators from historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs)
  • Learning from community colleges how to unleash the power of Open in their curriculum
  • Listening to OpenCourseWare learners’ stories from around the world

Adding Your Voice

At the end of every blog post in this new series, Shira will prompt you for your thoughts, insights, and experiences. Your voice is important and will help us shape a vision for the future in which open educational resources are leveraged to promote educational equity for learners. Shiraand all of us here at OpenCourseWarecan’t wait to learn from and alongside you!

A close-up view of Shira Segal and Sarah Hansen, both smiling

Shira Segal with Sarah Hansen, OpenCourseWare’s Senior Manager for Open Education and Strategic Initiatives, attending the Online Learning Consortium Innovate conference in Nashville, TN. (Photo by Sarah Hansen.)

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