My library, in partnership with our Center for Teaching and Learning, recently launched a faculty stipend program for faculty interested in either replacing their traditional course materials with OER or sharing their students’ work as OER for other educators’ use. We awarded four stipends this January and I’ve been working with those faculty to prepare for their transition to OER work, which will take place throughout the Fall 2016 semester. I’ll be using this space to reflect on how thought-provoking and rewarding the process has been. This post is the first in a three-part series devoted to OER outreach. 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.
Before I dive into reflecting on what I would do differently, it’s important to acknowledge that there is space at my current institution to push the boundaries of information literacy work. I’ve written before that I believe that open education outreach is a valuable part of the work that I do as an information literacy librarian. Still, I recognize that this might not be a given at all places. Other non-scholarly communication librarians might encounter budget or time constraints or a lack of support from administration when starting an open education program. While I don’t have an easy solution to propose, I would advocate that we are apt to do OER work and that OER outreach actually combines values and interests many librarians hold dear and have expertise in—pedagogy, instructional design, and the relationship between affordability/access and equality, particularly for minority and first generation students.
So what would I do differently if I was given the chance to re-create our stipend program? What advice would I give to someone just starting to do outreach? As I answered questions about the stipend program, OER, and open pedagogy, I realized that the biggest misconception that faculty have is that free is the same as open. Other librarians seem to be thinking about how to address this misunderstanding (even if it means losing “open”) so those doing OER outreach should be prepared to articulate why this difference really matters. DeRosa holds the power of the OER movement isn’t actually about the learning object—it’s about the license. Supporting OER isn’t just about advocating for resources; instead, it’s about advocating for the continuous improvement of those resources by empowering anyone to improve and build upon them. Telling faculty that we care just as much about improving an open resource for the world (open) as we do about saving each of our students money (free) can be difficult.
As I was answering potential applicants’ questions, I also had to come to terms with my own expectations and assumptions. Within my OER outreach, I constantly walk a fine line between wanting to see savings and affordability for students (and some amount of progress!) and a need to try to get everyone to full-blown, true open education practices like using open course materials and improving them and re-sharing them and involving students throughout the entire process. If I’ve learned nothing else, I’ve learned that while this might be commendable it is not realistic.
We need to recognize that there is the potential for a spectrum of OER adoption on our campuses. As with OA, each faculty members comes to open education with different fears, ideas, misconceptions, and teaching styles. Some instructors might only feel comfortable encouraging their students to use one of the library’s multi-user eBooks or course packs. Some instructors might only feel comfortable switching to an open textbook. Some instructors might feel comfortable having their students create a textbook and share it with the world. We should be prepared to help the instructors in all of these scenarios.
If I could go back, I would have set the application process up to acknowledge and clarify the tension between open and free from the beginning. The University of Minnesota does an excellent job of illustrating the spectrum of adoption for potential applications for their Partnership for Affordable Content program. They have also chosen a very intentional and clear title that explains the mission of the program (note that “open” is missing from the title but not necessarily the examples).
Don’t get me wrong: we have to recognize that we lose something by straddling both free and open. But if we can continue to help faculty move along the spectrum—perhaps from the multi-user eBook to an open textbook, and eventually to their students editing and re-sharing improvements to that open textbook—isn’t it worth our time and effort to pursue these projects too? In a recent blog post about the power of openness as a practice, David Wiley argues that “when work is done privately–when it is carefully hidden from the public–no synergy is possible. When the individual nodes remain disconnected, no network can emerge” (para 18). This has to be the goal that we aspire to but it doesn’t have to define the steps that we take. Yes, the multi-user eBook example inhibits us and our faculty from creating synergies and networks. It also arguably just shifts the costs of a broken system from students to the library. Yet, I would argue that we have to start somewhere if we want to get more faculty on board with open education and, ultimately, make these networks more rich and diverse.
I’ve also realized that we shouldn’t hide the intricacies of open education. Try to go beyond explaining open education as only a cost issue, if you have the space and privilege to do so. Complicate access instead of simplifying it. Josie Fraser, a social and educational technologist in the UK, recently posed three questions to the OER community. I think that these are particularly relevant for librarians new to OER work. They were:
- How do you reply when an educator says “I’ve never heard of open licenses or OER”?
- How do you reply when an educator says “I don’t see the point in sharing resources openly/using OER”?
- How do you reply when an educator says “My resources are not good enough to share”?
As a librarian, I know that I sometimes I make assumptions about others’ understanding of the importance of openness. Here’s another reason why it’s important to go beyond the cost conversation—every community (and person) has a different familiarity and comfort level with openness. You have to be prepared to address open education from every angle that you can think of—empirical research, retention, course completion, student costs, improved pedagogy, social justice, informal learners’ needs, the improvement of learning objects, the broken publishing system, and even the synergies between OA/OER/ and Open Data. In my opinion, it sometimes isn’t enough just to say “this will save students money so we should do it.” Different faculty will be interested in open education for different reasons. Being able to appeal to their interest in assessment or social justice is just as important as being able to explain the high cost of textbooks.
Finally, don’t underestimate faculty members’ existing knowledge of OER. I met with five faculty members a few weeks ago for an “Experimenting as Teachers” lunch that I facilitated, which was sponsored through our CTL. The theme of the lunch was essentially “Why Open?” My abstract and rough talking points:
As more instructors embrace digital pedagogy, students are often asked to share their work with the wider public through websites, apps, and other open projects. Asking students to “open up” their research and discovery process beyond the walls of their classroom can make their learning more authentic and meaningful. In what other ways does working in public affect students? Should students doing open work have the ability to choose how their IP will be shared through anonymization, licensing, or other means? What copyright considerations are there? If students are hesitant to do open work, how might we assuage their concerns? How can we make that a moment for learning and reflection? How does the assessment of open work differ from the assessment of traditional research assignments? This EAT lunch will grapple with these questions and more.
- How do you introduce students to “open”?
- Are students ever hesitant? Why might they be (don’t want to be misquoted, will be embarrassed by their undergraduate work in the future, etc.)? How do you assuage those fears?
- Should students be able to determine the level of openness their work is shared under, either through a CC license or embargo or some other means?
- Is assessment of open work different? Why or why not?
I found that many of the faculty that I talked to (n=5; find more research on faculty efficacy and perception here), some of which are OER stipend recipients, had incredibly nuanced and complex reasons for wanting to encourage students to make their work open as well as thoughtful reasons for not wanting to. Their list of pros for openness included students learning how to write to and for their peers, an improvement of students’ digital literacy and skills, and a natural environment for collaborative learning opportunities. Their cons included the fear of having to compromise students’ work to abide by strict copyright rules, having to take class time to explain Creative Commons and copyright, and a concern that students might not want to be associated with the work that they were doing at the undergraduate level in the future. However, one faculty member thought through this and suggested that working in the open within the relative safety net of the classroom and peer/instructor review can help students grow so that they can have an online, public presence (if they so choose) after their time at Davidson. This made me realize that if our outreach is going to be successful and relevant, it has to both affirm the pros and recognize (and possibly reframe) the cons. Ignoring or failing to meaningfully address the cons cheats us out of an important dialogue.
In summary, throw your pre-conceptions out the window! Push yourself to learn about and be articulate about all of the benefits of open education. Be flexible and compromise, as long as your end goal is to increase collaboration, openness, and understanding.