This post is the second in a three-part series devoted to OER outreach. Find the first post here. I’ll use this post to reflect on my next steps for OER outreach. I’ll also suggest that OER outreach has to look different for liberal arts colleges, particularly those that aren’t using textbooks—traditional or open—in a majority of their classrooms. A quick reminder: while I am (and this post is) inextricably linked with my current place of work, I do not (and this post does not) represent Davidson College.
Two revelations are guiding my next steps: 1) an acknowledgement that our current OER landscape (which focuses heavily on textbooks and media) is not enough for the pedagogy at my institution and 2) OER outreach should be intentionally diverse, holistic, and varied to reach different audiences and stakeholders.
While our OER stipend program is a great start, it’s just that—a start. We cannot reasonably expect it to make a significant impact on one department, let alone the entire campus. All of our stipend recipients are also in STEM departments, leaving entire disciplinary gaps in our OER outreach. Implementing more stipends might be useful, but what about the faculty member that is afraid to make the switch? What about the faculty member that sees the CFP and doesn’t even know what open education is? For these reasons, we are hoping to intentionally offer a variety of programs, conversations, and incentives across campus.
This May, Robin DeRosa, an open advocate and faculty member at Plymouth State University, will be the keynote for our annual Teaching Showcase. I know that Robin will situate her talk in what makes Davidson unique (Davidson’s “ethos,” if you will)—a commitment to access to education and learning, a desire to innovate, and pedagogy that is student centered and student led. I hope that Robin’s talk will help wary faculty see that their work and values already intersect with open education and that we can help them take it a step further.
My goal is to also vary the audience of our OER outreach through other incentives. I, along with six other librarians from Furman University, Duke University, and Johnson C. Smith University, recently submitted a request for Duke Endowment Library funding. The funding would enable us to hire an OER expert who would help us create an “Intro to OER” workshop for faculty. Then, we’d create a stipend program for faculty interested in attending the workshop and reviewing a learning object for a potential course that they teach. This incentive, while smaller, would allow faculty that are more wary of OER to investigate potential open resources without making them commit to transitioning completely. We hope that this will eventually encourage more OER adoption, as a similar program from the University of Minnesota has. OER expert Ethan Senack, writing about the Minnesota program, stated that “[w]hile the original intent of the project was to build open textbook credibility through reviews, it soon became clear that when faculty engaged with open content to provide a review, they were likely to adopt the open textbook in their class” (p. 13). Our application is still pending but I’m hopeful that, if it’s accepted, it will enable us to reach new departments and faculty members.
I’m also embedded in two Digital Learning Research and Design (DLRD) projects that have an open education element. DLRD is led by friend and colleague, Kristen Eshleman, and is fairly unique to Davidson. DLRD’s goal is essentially to reimagine the liberal arts and push back on what a traditional liberal arts education is supposed to look like. It does this by asking students (yes, students!), faculty, and staff to think past the constraints of higher education (the credit hour, time constraints, a fear of failing, distribution requirements, grades, space constraints, and a need to cover content) to reimagine what inclusive pedagogy, student agency, and experiential learning, particularly outside of the confines of classroom, might look like. I am so thankful to be even a small part of this project.
Essentially, my role in both of projects is to be the “OER expert.” For example, one of the DLRD projects is to design an Asian American Studies curriculum. Asian American Studies doesn’t currently exist at Davidson and because of this gap several students have had to create their own independent studies. These students would like to come together and, with the help of experts, craft a class or curriculum (including a much-needed introductory open text or online learning tool) from scratch. Supporting a project like this has really tested my knowledge about OER repositories and tools. But I believe that being truly embedded in these two projects will make open education more visible to humanities departments and other areas we aren’t currently reaching. It has been heartening to see students advocate for openness for whatever they create from the beginning of this project. I can’t wait to see their hard work and thoughtfulness come to fruition.
Students designing the open/student-led Asian American Studies Course, photo by Kristen Eshleman
Constraints/barriers & potential experiments identified during our first design challenge
My point is that we have to be adaptable and think about OER outreach holistically—across departments and levels of familiarity. How can we maximize the number of champions on campus? How can we decrease the silos for sharing both successes and failures? How can we appeal to faculty across the spectrum of adoption that I discussed previously?
Finally, as I move forward I’m not going to settle for our current OER landscape. Anyone that skims a few OER guides can quickly discern that open textbooks dominate our repositories. I would argue that media (tutorials, lectures, videos via MERLOT or OER Commons) are close behind, though I’ve not done a formal analysis. This is okay for most R1 universities trying to make general education science lectures with 250 students open. But it doesn’t work for an institution like mine, where textbooks are not always the norm. We receive the course material list from the bookstore every semester and while textbooks are used in some of the introductory science and business courses, it isn’t the lifeblood of our classrooms. (I have argued elsewhere that creating open textbooks isn’t a radical endeavor anyway.)
My goal here is not be elitist or claim that my institution is better than textbooks. But what if we pushed back on the norm? What if we made a repository for liberal arts colleges or, better yet, for more active and inclusive forms of learning? As an example, one of our OER stipend recipients has his students create concept maps. He has them start by creating a concept map for one piece of the primary literature. Then, as they read more literature, they create higher-level concept maps that combine different pieces of literature together. This encourages students to see and question connections while better understanding how science evolves. As more literature is added, each node on the concept map becomes less granular. At the end of the semester, students create a compilation of their concept maps and submit their own “textbook” for grading.
Next Fall, we’re going to create an OER out of the best concept maps that students create. Students will intentionally curate this OER as a group. I will work with students to determine which Creative Commons license is most appropriate for the class as a whole and students will be able to decide which restrictions they’d like on their work. Then the faculty member I’m working with will provide citations to the literature they mapped (most of the literature is closed so we cannot provide the full text) and information about this exercise as a pedagogical tool. This is one of the coolest OER projects I’ve ever heard of—it pushes back on textbooks and what undergraduate learning should look like while nodding to the need for Open Access. But I have no idea where this thing should go! It isn’t a traditional textbook (OpenStax, UMN Open Textbook Library, Open SUNY Textbooks) but it doesn’t quite fit into OER Commons, MERLOT, or OpenCourseWare.
This isn’t an issue for just one OER! The same case could be made for the Asian American Studies learning object we’re trying to create. There are a lot of other awesome projects being built with Pressbooks/ Hypothes.is and Drupal that might be “textbooks,” but not in the traditional sense. Aren’t these projects—projects that actively involve students—much more interesting than textbook sprints?! What if we made an open pedagogy repository? What if we decided to change the open textbook scene to include work that asks students to interface with the literature? What would it look like? What technology would we need? How much more rich would the learning materials be? I don’t have answers. Only provocations. But I know that this needs to change. How can we get started?