In this chapter I will describe the genesis of an open educational resources (OER) grant program; why we decided to support a grantee through three iterations of a course; and how and why we involved other experts from Instructional Design & Technology and from the Center for Teaching Effectiveness; outline our experience with the first three grantees; and finally relate this grant program to our strategic focus.
A common stereotype of liberal arts colleges is that they are elite institutions occupying a small niche in U.S. higher education, serving a small proportion of students whose families can afford to pay for small class sizes and personal attention from professors. Such a student population, and the professors who teach them, hardly seems like fertile ground for the growth of OER. This stereotype seems to be reflected in the professional literature. A combined search of the LISTA and ERIC databases for the terms “Open Education Resources or OER” and “liberal arts” retrieved one record, while and “Community colleges” retrieved 19, and “university” retrieved 359. An informal unpublished survey of the Oberlin Group of liberal arts college libraries conducted by Janis Bandelin of Furman University in late 2015 found that only 11 of the 80 member schools were supporting OER and most of those varied efforts were quite tentative (J. Bandelin, personal communication, November 15, 2015). A review of the membership of the Open Textbook Network shows that only two liberal arts colleges are individual members of the network, although others might support the network via consortial membership. Add to this liberal arts stereotype the very real phenomenon that personal attention from faculty means that many courses at liberal arts colleges are, in the best sense of the word, idiosyncratic, and do not make use of traditional, standardized, textbooks. With a small number of librarians to serve the diverse information needs of the community, why would one such liberal arts college library devote time and resources to an OER grant program?
Founded in 1885, Rollins College is the oldest institution of higher education in Florida. The total student body consists of approximately 3,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) students served by 235 full-time faculty and 93 adjunct and contingent faculty members. As of May 31, 2016, the endowment was worth $339,700,000 and the total annual tuition and room and board for a student in the College of Liberal Arts, before any financial aid, was $60,970 (Rollins College, 2016).
These figures would seem to confirm the liberal arts stereotype. But a closer look at the college shows that even in this admittedly privileged environment, the rising cost of required textbooks and course materials can be a burden for students. The college consists of three schools; the full-time undergraduate College of Liberal Arts, the Crummer School of Business, which provides a variety of MBA programs and a small DBA program, and the Hamilton Holt School, which provides both undergraduate and graduate degrees to non-residential students drawn from the Central Florida region, most of whom are part-time students who also work while pursuing their degrees. Holt School students pay by the course and are very often funding their own education. They are very sensitive to price, and textbook purchases, which are concentrated in the first week of the semester just as the students have managed to pay their tuition, can be especially hard on these students.
But it is not just Holt School students who are sensitive to textbook costs. In 2016, 87 percent of College of Liberal Arts students received financial aid (S. Booker, personal communication, June 19, 2017) and the vast majority of our students are digging deep into family resources to pay for college. Just like their colleagues in the Holt School, expensive textbook purchases at the beginning of the semester, right after the family has paid their tuition bill, can come as a very unwelcome shock.
All three schools are supported by a single library, the Olin Library, with 10 librarians and 12 staff members. The Library Director also oversees the Tutoring & Writing Center located in the Olin building, and the Information Technology (IT) Help Desk and Instructional Design & Technology staff are also housed in the Olin building. In the summer of 2017 we were joined in Olin by the Christian A. Johnson Center for Teaching Effectiveness and the Office of Accessibility Services.
The Rollins faculty and librarians have a long history of supporting open access (OA). College of Liberal Arts faculty passed an open access policy in early 2010 (Rollins College, Faculty of Arts & Sciences, 2010) and the library administers an open institutional repository that, among many other collections, makes accessible the scholarly publications subject to that policy. A more detailed account of Rollins faculty engagement with OA can be found in the author’s 2011 guest column in College & Research Libraries News (Miller, 2011). In his role as the Library Director at Rollins and working through the ACRL (the Association of College and Research Libraries), the author has also been active in OA advocacy at the federal level, as have several other librarians at Rollins. In more recent years the librarians at Rollins have decided to move beyond advocacy to devote a portion of the collections budget to financially sustaining certain OA projects. Jonathan Harwell describes this effort in a 2016 Against the Grain column (Harwell, 2016).
All this interest in and activity around OA meant that the librarians followed developments in OER, but did not take any action until the College began to consider the future of the College bookstore. Rollins students, in a move common throughout American higher education, had begun to acquire more of their textbooks in ways other than simple purchase of the books in the college bookstore. In a 2016 report Nielsen found that only 34 percent of students used their college bookstore as a source for course materials (Nielsen Insights, 2016). The college bookstore was becoming more of a memorabilia store. As the college contemplated how to satisfy students’ continuing need to acquire required texts we considered following the students and moving all (print and digital) textbook distribution online. Students would buy from outlets like Amazon and Chegg and have the books delivered to the campus post office. To handle textbook adoption and the inevitable lag time, the college asked the library to investigate maintaining a reserve textbook collection for students. As many librarians who have maintained such collections have found, this would be expensive (Beck, 2012), both to initially collect and then to maintain. Encouraging the use of OER on campus was one way to help lower this cost, both to students and to the library. Eventually, as with so many such projects in higher education, the transformation of the bookstore was downgraded to a simple move, but the library decided to continue to the develop the idea of encouraging OER on campus.
The OER Grant Program2
Rollins has a popular grant program on campus that we thought could form the basis for such a plan. For many years the College’s IT department has provided Faculty Instructional Technology Initiative (FITI) grants to faculty to encourage them to incorporate technology into their teaching and the classroom. These grants last for one year, provide a small stipend to the faculty member, and fund the acquisition of the necessary technology. Each grant costs the College approximately $2,500.
The most important part of the FITI grant, however, was based on the model provided by Hamilton College HILLGroup.3 In that model, a faculty member seeking to incorporate technology into the classroom worked with a team of both instructional technologists and librarians. At Rollins, IT took that model and incorporated it into the FITI grants, providing each grantee with a team consisting of an instructional technologist, a librarian, and the Director of the Center for Teaching Effectiveness to work with for the duration of the grant. This team model was popular with faculty, well understood, and brought with it collateral benefits such as deepening relationships between teaching faculty and a variety of academic support professionals.
Using the same team approach, we developed a set of three goals for an OER grant program:
- Significantly lower the cost of textbooks to students.
- Maintain or improve student learning outcomes.
- Contribute to the growing body of OER.
We decided that the program should be open to all faculty members at Rollins. Unlike many grants, which are focused on full-time or tenure-track faculty, this one explicitly includes adjuncts, so that the program would be open to the many adjuncts teaching in the Holt School, where we hoped we might be able to have an impact on students who were financing their own education. We also decided that the grant would last for three iterations of a course. At Rollins, courses can be taught as frequently as every semester, so that three iterations would last for about a year and a half, or as infrequently as once every two years, so that three iterations would last for six years. We created this three-iteration structure because of what we had noticed about FITI grants: faculty members with FITI grants put significant effort into incorporating technology into a course and this tends to change the whole course. This is an enormous amount of effort on the faculty member’s part and, of course, not all technologies succeed in the classroom. It is not uncommon to find that the effort is too much and the faculty member reverts to the way the course has been taught in the past. By basing the grants on three iterations of the course, discussed in more detail below, we hoped that the use of OER would ‘stick’ and we would also have more reliable assessment of the impact of the OER. The three iterations are structured as follows. As a small institution we can deviate from the standard structure if necessary.
Teach the traditional course.
Assess the impact of the traditional textbook.
Select, or create, and organize OER materials for the course.
Begin to develop an assessment mechanism for measuring the impact of the OER.
Teach the course using OER materials.
Assess the impact of the OER.
Compare that impact to the first year.
Make any revisions and teach the course using OER materials.
Assess the impact of the OER and compare to first- and second-year assessments.
Publicize the results of the grant on campus and to a wider audience.
File a report on the outcome of the grant with the Academic Dean.
Upload any OER to the Digital Orange Grove or a comparable open repository
To keep the incentive for applicants in the same ballpark as FITI grants, we decided we would award a $1,000 stipend to the successful faculty applicant per course iteration, received after all work within that iteration is complete. Thus, each applicant receives a total of $3,000 over the course of the grant. Unlike the FITI grants, we decided to only award one new grant per academic year. This would limit our financial exposure to $3,000 per year, and more importantly, limit the workload for members of their team: their liaison librarian, an instructional technologist, and the Director of the Christian A. Johnson Center for Teaching Effectiveness.
The obvious shortcoming of limiting the program to a single award per year is that it would take us centuries to convert the whole faculty to OER. But we do not expect OER to be appropriate for all faculty members or all courses at Rollins. The grant program has a multiplier effect by raising awareness of OER. This happens in several ways. First, some faculty who have been using openly available resources (although not all always meeting the strict definition of OER) in their courses come to realize that they are inadvertently part of a wider movement. Secondly, some faculty who apply but are not awarded the OER grant continue to explore the use of OER in their courses, and finally the requirement that the successful grantee present in a faculty forum on their project spreads the word about OER, as does the normal everyday faculty and departmental conversation about teaching on campus. In these ways, the small OER grant is a catalyst for wider action and discussion.
We based our review criteria on a common set of criteria for grants on campus and added some that are specific to OER. Each application is reviewed on the following criteria.
- The completeness of the application. Applicants are encouraged to consult with librarians, instructional technologists, and the pedagogy expert in the Center for Teaching Effectiveness early and often while drafting their application.
- The total cost to each student of the traditional textbook(s) in the course.
- The average enrollment in the course and the frequency with which it is taught. The multiplication of these three criteria (textbook cost, enrollment, and frequency) equals the total costs saved in that course, if we can entirely replace the textbook(s). The larger the number, the greater weight the reviewers give to the application.
- The availability of suitable OER in major repositories, such as: MERLOT (the Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching),4 Florida’s Digital Orange Grove,5 OER Commons,6 etc. Note that this is not an exclusive list. Interested faculty are encouraged to search these and other sources of existing OER. Interested faculty are also encouraged to work with a librarian to search for existing OER prior to submitting their application. The list also needs to be regularly updated.
- The likelihood that the applicant can and will complete the work. This is a somewhat subjective criterion. But Rollins is a small campus and librarians and instructional technologists have close relationships with teaching faculty. The $1,000 annual stipend is tempting and we are investing a lot in providing a team. We want to maximize the potential for success by also considering an applicant’s previous track record in terms of grant project completion and using our experience and expertise to make a call on the feasibility of the project.
Even though these grants are financed by the library’s budget and involve considerable effort from team members in different departments, the formal review and awarding of the grants is administered by the Faculty Affairs Committee (FAC). This is a standing governance committee of the faculty and one of its duties is to award and oversee various grants to the faculty. Both OER and FITI grant applications first undergo an expert review by a group consisting of the Chief Information Officer, the Head of Instructional Design & Technology, the Library Director, and the Director of the CAJ Center for Teaching Effectiveness. This group recommends applicants to the FAC, which formally votes to accept, revise, or reject that recommendation. Although this cedes control to a faculty committee, it gives both grant programs the imprimatur of the faculty, uses existing shared governance procedures and thus increases the confidence of the faculty in the process, and raises the visibility of both grant programs.
As I write this, the FAC has just awarded our third OER grant. The first awardee, Dr. Mackenzie Moon Ryan of the Art & Art History Department, is beginning her third and final iteration of the course and the OER grant. The second awardee, Dr. Julia Maskivker of the Political Science Department, is beginning her second iteration of the course and the grant, and at the end of the spring semester we awarded our third OER grant to Dr. Whitney Coyle of the Physics Department. The remainder of this chapter will draw out specific lessons learned from the experience of each awardee.
Dr. Ryan applied to bring OER to her 200-level art history course, Introduction to Global Art. In an interview with the author she noted that she had felt obliged to adopt a textbook when teaching such a broad subject, but had also felt constrained by the textbook. It had an authoritative voice without argument or criticism. It did not encourage students to develop the habit of questioning where the information came from. She sought more flexibility in choosing the artworks to focus upon and in selecting differing voices. She was dissatisfied by both the cost of the books to her students, the quality of the production, and that the publisher released new editions every couple of years (Miller, 2015b). In her application she identified digital resources from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and OER resources from the Digital Orange Grove and from Saylor Academy. She noted that she would need to:
augment [OER] with case studies utilizing peer-reviewed articles from scholarly journals. Many open-access resources are very introductory and it is crucial that students are also introduced to the sustained arguments and depth of research in scholarly sources. It will take some time to locate, evaluate, and implement select scholarly sources so as not to overwhelm students but also to convey the utility and necessity of peer-reviewed sources. (M. Ryan, personal communication, May 12, 2015)
It was clear from her application that she would not be able to move completely to OER in this course. The Metropolitan Museum’s (the Met) digital content is very high quality, but it is made available under a somewhat restrictive license (Metropolitan Museum of Art, n.d.) that would enable us to link to the content, but not download or create and publish derivative works from that content. Obviously, this means that any OER works we created including Met content would need to simply link to that content, which means that we cannot be confident that those links will always work over the long term. We would also be depending on the future direction of the Met, which is already changing (Pogrebin, 2017).
Further, the peer-reviewed sources that Dr. Ryan planned to use would largely come from the full-text licensed scholarly journals available to the Rollins community. These would be free to Rollins students, fulfilling our first goal of lowering the cost to students, but not our third of adding to the body of open resources. Again, we would have to simply cite articles that future non-Rollins users might, or might not, be able to access.
Despite these limitations we decided to award Dr. Ryan the grant. We were excited by her topic and knew her as a dependable and enthusiastic teacher. The traditional textbooks she had adopted were, in her words, “really expensive” (Miller, 2015b) and she taught this course annually. If we could not reduce to the cost to zero, we could replace much of the required course materials with more open resources. She was also excited to work with a team (Miller, 2015b).
We were probably too excited. As Dr. Ryan has progressed through two iterations of the course within the grant, her gallant efforts and those of her team have not resulted in the assembly or production of any OER that meet the strict definition of the term.7 There is a reason why art history textbooks are so expensive; the rights management and reproduction of large numbers of high-quality images is expensive and difficult to manage, and the synthesis of complex and diverse scholarship into appropriately written prose is a specialist activity for which authors expect to be rewarded.
We have learned from the experience. Perhaps most importantly we have learned not to bite off more than we can chew, and this is reflected in subsequent grant awards. We also learned that researching and understanding the rights and permissions attached to any particular resource that a faculty member is considering is a complex workload in and of itself. During the development of the application, assuming the faculty member consults with the library (where copyright expertise resides at Rollins) and certainly at the point of expert review, we must take time to delve into the rights and permissions of ostensibly “open” resources and insert the findings into the review process.
Finally, we gained experience in assessment. Dr. Ryan worked with our then Director of the Center for Effective Teaching, Dr. James Zimmerman. As Dr. Zimmerman noted in an interview, it is very difficult to isolate the impact of a single variable, like a textbook, on student learning, “but all hope is not lost” (Miller, 2015a). In the assessment of the first two iterations of the course, the team decided to use group interviews with students conducted by Dr. Zimmerman during class times with Dr. Ryan not present. Dr. Zimmerman found that most students found the traditional textbook valuable. He found that, not surprisingly, the students preferred the online open resources for the course to be clearly organized and that students preferred a combination of text and image rather than podcast and image. Dr. Zimmerman also noted that his discussion with Dr. Ryan suggested that instructors needed to have taught the course multiple times before they embark on the OER grant and that the OER transformation will take at least three years.
In the second year of the grant program we took Dr. Ryan’s experience to heart and selected what we hope to be a far less ambitious application: Dr. Julia Maskivker, of the Political Science Department, and her course Problems in Political Thought. This is a course in which students are introduced to some of the classics of western political philosophy: Plato, Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau. The course is taught every semester to approximately 25 students, so the impact of introducing OER could be quite large even though the cost of textbooks for the course was relatively low. The cost of textbooks is low because editions and translations of these classic texts exist in the public domain and they can be purchased in inexpensive paperback editions. The public domain status of these works also meant that they had already been digitized in Project Gutenberg and released with a very liberal license (Project Gutenberg, 2014).
The interesting aspects of Dr. Maskivker’s application were less about creating or organizing OER, since her team planned to create simple epub editions, and more about how students would use these ebooks in the course. Rollins does not require students to use a particular computer or operating system. We provide access to both Macs and PCs on campus and while the current generation of students tend to favor Macs, we have to plan on delivering content via a wide range of hardware and software. Studying how students navigate through open ebooks would inform the Library and Instructional Design & Technology’s wider understanding of students’ evolving use of ebooks.
Of even greater interest however, is Dr. Maskivker’s intention to incorporate the ethics of intellectual property, and OER, into the course, as she wrote in her application:
I will culminate the experiment with an invited lecturer that will speak to my class on issues of intellectual property law—its philosophical underpinnings and its policy implications. I believe this activity is a wonderful way to make the class more fun and interesting by linking issues of classical theory like private property and state power to a practical discussion on the policy implications and every-day-consequences of intellectual property law. In a fascinating way, “open source” means that the traditional barriers of intellectual property law are (at least temporarily or with permission) brought down. However, the concept exists in the background of a whole legal and philosophical apparatus, and I want my students to get a quick panoramic view of what that is and where it is moving. (J. Maskivker, personal communication, March 2, 2016)
The first iteration of Dr. Maskivker’s course was delayed to accommodate her sabbatical, so the team is currently working on assembling the OER versions of her readings and on developing assessment. Dr. Maskivker has required students to write responses to readings and her plan is to compare those responses from the traditional iteration of the course to those from the OER version of the course and to combine this assessment with measures of student satisfaction with the ebook experience.
The third grant was awarded to Dr. Whitney Coyle of the physics department. The physics department recently purchased a number of IOLab carts. These ‘carts’ (each about the size of a mobile phone) have, “built in sensors [that] measure force, acceleration, velocity, displacement, magnetic field, rotation, light, sound, temperature, pressure, and voltages … Expansion connectors provide access to over a dozen user controllable digital and analog inputs and outputs” (IOLab, 2016).
According to Dr. Coyle, each of these devices replaces a shelf of equipment that students have used in introductory physics courses. They are a relatively recent innovation and the initial development was funded by a Kickstarter campaign. The manufacturers note that, “sophisticated open-source software controls the device, acquires and displays data in real time, and provides a suite of analysis and data manipulation features” (IOLab, 2016). The devices are so new that no one has developed lab manuals for introductory physics courses using the carts. This is what Dr. Coyle plans to do for the PHY130 and 131 courses with the help of her OER grant.
Dr. Coyle also wrote in her application that, “for many years the Physics faculty have mapped out a skills tree that details scaffolded, by year, goals for student learning—skills that we expect our students to learn in each lab course we teach” (W. Coyle, personal communication, February 24, 2017). Her plan is to write a full OER lab manual that guides students through a unified learning experience using the IOLab carts. The skills Rollins faculty teach in this introductory sequence of courses are common in American college-level physics curricula and we anticipate that writing this lab manual, based around the IOLab carts, will be of use to many other physics professors using the carts. It also builds upon the open way in which these devices have been developed, with crowd-sourced funding and open source software. Dr. Coyle has reached out to the device developers. They are not developing such lab manuals and are supportive of her doing so.
How Dr. Coyle and her team will assess the impact of the OER lab manual on student learning is yet to be determined, but she is interested in measuring student perceptions of their own skill level and on work with her colleagues in more advanced courses to see how the skills students develop in the course are exhibited in more advanced physics courses.
This innovative grant program has taught us that OER do have a place in liberal arts colleges. Our commitment to open scholarship and learning can go beyond advocacy and support for open access publishing. The focused and nuanced attention faculty at liberal arts colleges have always paid to the required readings and content they bring into the classroom and their courses is a good fit with the OER movement and with OER development. Selecting a traditional textbook can sometimes be a case of “take it or leave it.” Developing OER requires carefully thinking about the details of what is included, or not, in the final resource. This fits well with the traditional care and attention faculty who are attracted to liberal arts education have always paid to the classroom experience.
These three very different projects have taught us a number of things. First, don’t be too ambitious. Secondly, as we suspected, the impact of one variable (the textbook or required course materials) on something as complex as student learning is very difficult to assess, but staying focused on assessment is constructive anyway. Finally, that such relatively small project-based grants, especially when combined with a focused team of academic support professionals, can have an outsized impact on the strategic success of the library.
The current iteration of the library’s strategic plan is to “become even more thoroughly integrated into the teaching and learning of the College. While continuing to provide solutions to information problems, the library staff and librarians go beyond this to be partners with faculty and students throughout the learning and research process” (Olin Library, 2014). This OER grant program enables librarians (and instructional technologists) to partner with faculty at a new point in the teaching cycle, at the point of creation and adoption of the textbook, or its OER equivalent. This is much earlier than has traditionally been the case and means we are working with faculty as they develop the course. We remain deeply connected to the course as it is taught over three iterations (and hopefully beyond). We can use these grants to build partnerships around a number of topics throughout the learning and teaching processes. Including issues of information literacy, intellectual property, and research data management. For instance, Dr. Ryan teaches her students to question where information comes from and saw her team as helping that process. Teams also help faculty understand the intellectual property (IP) landscape of textbooks and OER, and how they can make their own decisions about the copyright status of their own works, but also—as is the case in Dr. Maskivker’s course—help students begin to understand the nuances of IP. Finally, Dr. Coyle’s IOLab carts require students to collect and manage many more data points than would be the case in more traditional introductory physics courses, which raise issues of research data management.
We still have a long way to go, but all this is a very long way from where we began; wondering if we could sustain a collection of textbooks behind the circulation desk.
Beck, S. (2012). Queensborough community college: Textbook reserve collection. Community & Junior College Libraries, 18(3/4), 119–126.
Harwell, J. (2016). Being earnest with collections: Investing in open access at a small academic library. Against the Grain, 27(6). Retrieved from http://www.against-the-grain.com/2016/02/v27-6-being-earnest/
IOLab. (2016) IOLab wireless lab system. Retrieved from http://iolab.science/
Metropolitan Museum of Art. (n.d.). Terms and conditions. Retrieved from http://www.metmuseum.org/information/terms-and-conditions
Miller, J. (2011). Open access and liberal arts colleges: Looking beyond research institutions. College & Research Libraries News, 72(1), 16–19, 30. doi:10.5860/crln.72.1.8490
Miller, J. (Interviewer) (2015a). Clip 3 James Zimmerman on assessment and the Rollins OER Grant Program [Video]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/0rSkXQP11Lo
Miller, J. (Interviewer) (2015b). Textbooks and OER Mackenzie Moon Ryan on the Rollins OER Grant Program [Video]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/Y9A8ZWQUvUs
Nielsen Insights. (2016). Textbook trends: How U.S. college students source course materials. Retrieved from http://www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/news/2016/textbook-trends-how-us-college-students-source-course-materials.html
Olin Library. (2014) Olin strategic plan: Focus 2014–17. Retrieved from https://sites.google.com/site/olinplan/home/focus
Pogrebin, R. (2017, February 28). Metropolitan Museum’s director resigns under pressure. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/28/arts/design/met-museum-director-resigns-thomas-campbell.html
Project Gutenberg. (2014, August 15). The Project Gutenberg License. Retrieved from https://www.gutenberg.org/wiki/Gutenberg:The_Project_Gutenberg_License
Rollins College. (2016). Rollins College Fact Book 2016–17. Retrieved from https://rpublic.rollins.edu/sites/IR/_layouts/15/WopiFrame.aspx?sourcedoc=/sites/IR/Fact%20Brochures/fact-brochure-2016.pdf&action=default#https://rpublic.rollins.edu/sites/IR/Fact%20Brochures/fact-brochure-2016.pdf
Rollins College, Faculty of Arts & Sciences. (2010). Open access policy. Retrieved from https://scholarship.rollins.edu/open_access_policy.pdf
UNESCO. (2011). Guidelines for open educational resources (OER) in higher education. Retrieved from http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0021/002136/213605E.pdf
- More information on our OER program and the Wufoo online application form can be found at: http://www.rollins.edu/library/services/oer.html ↵
- The HILLGroup has since been superseded at Hamilton where the library and IT operations are now fully merged. For more details see: https://www.hamilton.edu/offices/lits/research-instructional-design ↵
For more information on MERLOT, see: https://www.merlot.org/merlot/index.htm
For Florida’s Digital Orange Grove, see: https://florida.theorangegrove.org/og/home.do
For OER Commons, see: https://www.oercommons.org↵
- UNESCO defines OER as, “teaching, learning and research materials in any medium that reside in the public domain and have been released under an open license that permits access, use, repurposing, reuse and redistribution by others with no or limited restrictions.” (UNESCO, 2011, p. v). ↵