OER: A Mechanism for Educational Change

Jonathan Lashley, Andrew Wesolek, & Anne Langley

For many of us, the drive to effect positive change—however vague or idiosyncratic our sense of this might be—has guided our work in higher education. And while myriad reasons exist for supporting a liberal education, we often champion the pursuit of a college degree from the practical perspective that few endeavors can match it in terms of advancing a person’s economic mobility (Chetty, Friedman, Saez, Turner, & Yagan, 2017). Despite recent debates about the value of a college degree (Pew Research Center, 2017), the opportunities and financial stability awarded to those with college degrees remain apparent when they are compared to peers who have only graduated high school (National Center for Education Statistics, 2017). And while more Americans have a college degree than ever before (Ryan & Bauman, 2016), access to a formal, post-secondary education continues to be elusive for some.

Indeed, over the last 10 years, analysts have projected that the cost of attending college would keep 2.4 million low-to-moderate income, college-qualified high school graduates from completing a college degree (Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance, 2006). During that same period, college students in the United States saw expenses related to tuition and fees increase by 63 percent, school housing costs (excluding board) increase by 51 percent, and textbook prices increase by 88 percent (Bureau of Labor, 2016). Because few students can afford a college education through salary alone, 44.2 million Americans have sought financial aid via student loans. As a result, total student loan debt is now topping $1.45 trillion in the United States (Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, 2017), and student loan delinquency rates are averaging 11.2 percent (Federal Reserve Bank of New York, 2017). The burden of a student’s financial decisions extends beyond the mere individual: society will inevitably carry the weight of this debt for years to come.

As a means of making college more affordable and promoting access to educational content, many of us look to open educational resources (OER) as a catalyst for positive, tangible change. Residing in the public domain or licensed in such a way that they are made free for use and repurposing by others (Hewlett Foundation, n.d.), these open teaching, learning, and research resources not only serve as alternatives to commercial educational products, they promote new relationships between academic communities and educational content. Take, for instance, the Project Management for Instructional Designers (PM4ID) (2016) project that David Wiley undertook with instructional design students at Brigham Young University. Though open project management textbooks existed, none addressed the work of instructional designers in particular. Rather than make do with a general textbook, the affordances of openly licensed content engendered Wiley’s students to work as co-authors and -editors on the content of a new, specialized open textbook that is still widely distributed and updated regularly. Thanks to OER, students became consumers and producers of increasingly valuable content while Wiley’s assignments and course materials became only more relevant to the context of his class.

The Basics of OER

Open textbooks like PM4ID may arguably be the best-known form of OER, but the potential implementation of OER extends well beyond the textbook format. Definitions of OER account for a plethora of education-related assets including “full courses, materials, modules, textbooks, streaming videos, tests, software, and any other tools, materials, or techniques used to support access to knowledge” (Hewlett Foundation, n.d.). While any such content that exists in the public domain is free to (re)use and may play a valuable role in the development of OER, because copyright protection does or will not apply to such authored work (United States Copyright Office, n.d.), it is the affordances to retain, reuse, revise, remix, and redistribute (the 5 Rs) of open licensing that promote OER adoption as worthwhile. Coined by Wiley (Open Content, n.d.), the 5 Rs describe the ways in which openly licensed content may be transformed while still celebrating the work of the original author. Under open permissions, anyone might responsibly copy, keep, combine, edit, and share the original author’s IP:

  1. Retain: the right to make, own, and control copies of the content (e.g., download, duplicate, store, and manage)
  2. Reuse: the right to use the content in a wide range of ways (e.g., in a class, in a study group, on a website, in a video)
  3. Revise: the right to adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself (e.g., translate the content into another language)
  4. Remix: the right to combine the original or revised content with other material to create something new (e.g., incorporate the content into a mashup)
  5. Redistribute: the right to share copies of the original content, your revisions, or your remixes with others (e.g., give a copy of the content to a friend) (Open Content, n.d.).

Thus, by way of the 5R permissions, users may transform openly licensed content under new, more fitting applications across myriad creative and educational contexts.

Organizations like Creative Commons (CC) exist to provide standardized, alternative means of licensing content so as to support original content creators and the 5R permissions alike. CC—a nonprofit organization that is the perhaps the most prominent platform for open licensing—maintains six licenses (BY, BY-ShareAlike, BY-NoDerivative, BY-NonCommercial, BY-NonCommercial-ShareAlike, BY-NonCommercial-NoDerivative). Through these licenses, authors may easily redefine the terms of copyright that are otherwise automatically applied to creative work, allowing materials to be shared broadly, reused flexibly, and modified legally (Creative Commons, n.d.). While any of the CC licenses may accompany OER, the least restrictive, CC-BY, is the one that we, the authors of this book, most heartily endorse (note that this book is licensed CC-BY). This particular license ensures that any resulting application of a work will provide attribution to its original authors without discouraging the transformative activities of others. A license that fully protects ownership and guides the open improvement of materials by all original and potential authors thus becomes a mechanism for great change in the development and distribution of resources to aid teaching, learning, and research.

This Book: A Guide

The production of new scholarly material is not without costs. While the end product may be free to read and free of most copyright restrictions, the production of OER requires substantial institutional investment—primarily in labor—for services such as peer review management, copy editing, typesetting, and the like. These up-front costs, combined with the lack of a clear revenue stream for OER, pose a challenge. Further complicating things, the possible implementations of OER may vary significantly as OER initiatives span departments, institutions, and systems. As is the case with other initiatives in higher education, research, assessment, and evaluation activities become necessary to support and sustain OER. Whether it is identifying milestones and stakeholders, surveying technical infrastructure and support, designing success criteria and evaluation, or shepherding training and curriculum changes, OER initiatives beg for collaboration among the various departments of our institutions. Some, including the editors of this book, look to academic librarians as uniquely qualified to lead such efforts (Bell & Salem, 2017). Simply, academic librarians are already well versed in managing content and working with others across disciplinary, professional, and geographic lines.

While faculty members and academic departments ultimately determine which educational materials are most appropriate for their courses, faculty, educators and academic leaders are not always aware of affordable or open alternatives to publisher content. Librarians, on the other hand, have a rich history of discovering educational materials broadly defined, ensuring access to such resources, and educating others about their use. This professional perspective encourages librarians to take a comprehensive view of educational resources. The greater the complexity of OER in form, the more we see a need for such a wide gaze in coordinating the community-driven approaches modeled by cases covered in the following chapters. It takes a village to adopt, modify, create, and share content well.

Structure of this Book

We intend this book to act as a guide writ large for would-be champions of OER, that anyone—called to action by the example set by our chapter authors—might serve as guides themselves. The following chapters tap into the deep experience of practitioners who represent a meaningful cross-section of higher education institutions in North America. It is our hope that the examples and discussions presented by our authors will facilitate connections among practitioners, foster the development of best practices for OER adoption and creation, and more importantly, lay a foundation for novel educational excellence.

The openly licensed content of this book is organized into four sections: (1) an introduction to OER, (2) discussions of how OER transforms teaching and learning, (3) examples of how librarians advocate for OER across campus, and (4) models of library-supported adoption and creation of OER. We encourage readers who are new to OER to read through this volume linearly, beginning with the introductory material. Seasoned practitioners may wish to pick and choose among the case studies that most closely relate to the contexts of their particular institutions. The open education movement is made up of passionate professionals who are willing to share their experience with others (as evidenced by this open access collection of case studies). Readers will find brief biographies for all of our contributing authors, and we suggest that you reach out to those figures who seem most compelling or whose work most closely aligns with your own.

Section 1: The Case for OER

In Section 1, our authors describe the interdepartmental and transdisciplinary stakes, strategies, and opportunities that exist as the academic community endeavors to support OER in higher education.

Throughout “Stakes and Stakeholders: Open Educational Resources—Framing the Issues,” Yano and Myers offer a broad survey of the ways in which OER is uniquely equipped to address the political, economic, and cultural conditions at play in modern education contexts. The authors further elaborate on how the escalating price tag for a college education relates to changes in the commercial publishing market, and identify the ways in which publishers’ “digital direct” and “inclusive access” models are attempting to confound and cannibalize non-commercial technology like OER. As Yano and Myers explain, however, government entities, nonprofit organizations, and grassroots organizing have proven helpful in launching OER initiatives and keeping them open. Finally, this chapter puts forward a shared discourse for OER by highlighting the terms, actions, and responsibilities that we might share when working with others.

Hilton, in “What Does the Research Say About OER?,” reviews the empirical research proving the efficacy of OER as an intervention. He situates the rise of OER as a means of combating the otherwise unchecked rise in textbook prices that has negatively affected students, taxpayers, and institutions financially. Perhaps even more important than securing financial equity, however, are the ways in which OER facilitates effective teaching and learning. By tracing how studies about cost savings, student outcomes, OER use, and user perception have proliferated over the last decade, Hilton paints a lucid picture of the meaningful relationships that exists between student success and open access to educational materials.

Section 2: The Pedagogical Implications of OER

In Section 2, our authors dive deeper into how OER-based interventions transform educational experiences for students and instructors alike.

Drilling down into the specific opportunities that OER initiatives might provide for academic librarians, Amaral’s chapter, “From Textbook Affordability to Transformative Pedagogy: Growing an OER Community,” situates support of OER as inherently complementary to the mission, resources, and priorities found at many libraries. Celebrating the top-down leadership of the City University of New York (CUNY) subsidizing library leadership in promoting low- and no-cost course materials, Amaral accounts for the hurdles, milestones, and opportunities that have helped position CUNY OER initiatives as some of the most compelling, scalable, and library-centric in the nation. At Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC), Amaral’s home institution, success with OER has come through a variety of approaches that are measurable for impact and, in turn, reveal a clear picture of positive outcomes around OER. As a result, the chapter highlights the ways in which an active and engaged culture may emerge from librarians setting clear goals and working with others in the greater pursuit of reclaiming knowledge as public good.

When it comes to supporting OER, Reed recognizes a need for increased collaboration between information literacy and scholarly communication librarians. In her chapter, “An Exploration of the Intersections of Information Literacy and Scholarly Communication,” Reed reflects on recommendations put forward by the Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL) white paper for how these two areas of librarianship might intersect in significant ways. For librarians who are serving in one of these two contexts, or for non-librarian readers who seek to better connect with their library counterparts, this chapter underscores the importance of not neglecting one’s own department when forming OER partnerships. Further, under the diversity of roles that occupy modern librarianship, Reed makes a case for why academic libraries are so perfectly positioned to initiate, innovate and support OER.

Michelle Reed and Ciara Turner, both of University of Texas at Arlington, in their chapter, “Experiential Learning and Open Education: Partnering with Students to Evaluate OER Accessibility,” provide us with a description of their work with a student intern on evaluating OER for accessibility with disabled students. This chapter describes how they created a student internship program that designed guidelines, criteria, and standards for accessibility evaluation. The chapter includes the methods they used, the key resources they used to design their evaluation, and describes in detail how to evaluate OER for accessibility. They looked at content organization, how images are presented, tables, hyperlinks and multimedia, formulas, fonts, and color contrast. They also describe how the internship worked.

In her chapter, “Course Material Decisions and Factors: Unpacking the Opaque Box,” Walz helps us consider the many factors that accompany course material selection and adoption. Though powerful forces like academic culture, tradition, and training might stymie the work of librarians, instructional designers, and others in cultivating a more purposeful relationship between instructors and the course materials they use, Walz observes an opportunity for open education advocates to break through these barriers and create more transparent, deliberate practices when evaluating and selecting required materials. Emphasizing how openness may inspire an ethic of understanding in those of us who work closely with faculty, this chapter offers insight as to how an individual librarian or other academic staff member might spark new and powerful conversations about course content by establishing shared values through a culture of trust and understanding.

In the final chapter of this section, Jhangiani and Green propose unity between librarians and others under the imperative of openly sharing practices and resources to support pedagogical innovation. “An Open Athenaeum: Creating an Institutional Home for Open Pedagogy” promotes contemporary conversations about how OER empower pedagogy in transformative ways, and illuminates the ways in which academic librarians and library resources might support these innovations. Jhangiani and Green provide multiple, tangible examples of open pedagogical practice across several disciplines and offer suggestions for how pedagogy, not tools or texts, is at the heart of our efforts when we advocate for OER. For the authors of this chapter, there is no better locale in which to cultivate the pedagogical efforts of an individual than among the resources and staff of an academic library.

Section 3: OER Advocacy, Partnerships, Sustainability, and Student Engagement

Section 3 provides a series of case studies about the practical, collaborative, and renewable aspects of supporting OER. Many strategies thus emerge for engaging instructors/students, finding and evaluating existing OER, and partnering with other units to support adoption/modification/creation initiatives.

In “Open Partnerships: Identifying and Recruiting Allies for Open Educational Resources Initiatives,” Cummings-Sauls, Ruen, Beaubien, and Smith extend conversations about OER-enabled partnerships by exhaustively describing the roles and responsibilities harbored by potential stakeholders in OER initiatives and highlighting the ways in which librarians might instigate partnerships between these groups. By clearly identifying the stakes of library, faculty, student, administrative, instructional design, information technology, and bookstore partnerships, the authors promote a sort of inventory for how and why we might meaningfully engage these local audiences in support of OER. Looking beyond our institutions to the broader external communities, legislation, and services related to OER, this chapter introduces the importance of considering how conversations might (and ultimately should) scale to include metrics that are worth sharing outside of our respective institutions.

Getting to Know You: How We Turned Community Knowledge into Open Advocacy,” by Lillian Rigling and William Cross is about how North Carolina State University (NCSU) Libraries assessed their OER work and outreach strategies with students. NCSU implemented an Alt-Textbook program to fund the creation of free or low-cost learning materials in 2014. While the program had success in the specific areas where it was adopted, the library wanted to work through their students to support wider advocacy for the program. This chapter describes how they designed and conducted targeted outreach to students and how they assessed their outreach work.

DeeAnn Ivie and Carolyn Ellis’s chapter, “Advancing Access for First-Generation College Students: OER Advocacy at UT San Antonio,” describes in detail how they worked through campus partnerships and multiple student groups for OER advocacy with major campus stakeholders. This university with a large population of Hispanic first-generation students had strong economic drivers for OER, and the library took advantage of this unique population to lead the way. This chapter discusses integration with the registrar, the campus bookstore, and partnering with the Provost and the teaching and learning center; describes how they worked with the student government and various student organizations to not only market but assess progress; describes the metrics they used to measure the program’s strengths and weaknesses; and finally talks about their future directions and how they will use strategic indicators to assess outcomes.

Alesha Baker and Cinthya Ippoliti, in their case study, “Student-Driven OER: Championing the Student Voice in Campus-Wide Efforts,” focus on the adoption of OER through working closely with students in multiple ways. These authors describe how they engaged students at Oklahoma State University to become advocates for OER adoption, how they worked closely with student groups, student government, and through the creation of a committee that included students. They talk about how they obtained a development grant to get the work started, and how they provided supporting grants to faculty to design resources; and finally, they describe how students designed OER.

Dean’s chapter, “From Conversation to Cultural Change: Strategies for Connecting with Students and Faculty to Promote OER Adoption,” describes how Clemson University supported OER adoption through a multi-pronged effort. Because they wanted to change their culture, they used a variety of outreach and advocacy efforts. The library led the process through in-depth analysis of the environment, and extensive assessment of the existing culture in order to implement a variety of communication strategies. The process is described in detail, as well as the relationship building that is needed for successful implementation. Dean addresses the sustainability of the program and talks about future planning.

In the case study “Making the Connections: The Role of Professional Development in Advocating for Open Educational Resources,” Michael LaMagna describes and presents a novel approach that uses training in professional development as a pathway to supporting future OER design and implementation. At Delaware County Community College, faculty librarians led the way serving as advocates and trainers to offer faculty in-service presentations about various aspects of OER. LaMagna describes the various sessions: OER writ large, an open discussion about campus adoption of OER, how to build alternative course content, and copyright and OER. Particulars about how they created the program, the funding sources, and the design of the curriculum are included in the case study.

Advocacy in OER: A Statewide Strategy for Building a Sustainable Library Effort,” by Emily Frank and Teri Gallaway, outlines how Lousiana’s state library consortium, LOUIS, advanced OER initiatives across an entire state. Frank and Gallaway include discussion about OER for cost savings at the state level, how they used grants to subsidize library faculty work, and how state legislation supported their work to reach statewide adoption. In particular, they describe their train-the-trainer approach, how they used training efforts to increase outreach, and how the libraries served as leaders throughout the process. They talk about how their advocacy changed the culture in the state.

Five authors, Sarah Hare, Andrea Wright, Christy Allen, Geneen E. Clinkscales, and Julie Reed, in the chapter, “Interinstitutional Collaborations to Forge Intracampus Connections: A Case Study From the Duke Endowment Libraries,” provide a study on how different institutions can work together to implement open education programs in a variety of different settings and campus cultures. This chapter talks about endowment support, assessment and analysis of their work together, advocacy, implementation and training, program customization, and using a train-the-trainer approach, and discusses how they engaged faculty. The institutions involved include: Duke University, Davidson College, Furman University, and Johnson C. Smith University.

Section 4: Library-Supported Adoption and Creation Programs

The final section of this book offers case studies in which library staff and operations successfully lead the development, sharing, and adoption of OER at a variety of institutions.

In “Seeking Alternatives to High-Cost Textbooks,” Smith outlines the growth OER initiatives at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. With a focus on improvisation, developing partnerships and transitioning from textbook affordability to true open education, Smith details grant funding opportunities offered through U. Mass. Amherst while wrestling with the questions of what exactly libraries support when they support “open education” and how can that support be provided sustainably.

Waller, Taylor, and Zemke, writing about the University of Oklahoma, present a chapter all about the multiple aspects of implementing their open education program. “From Start-Up to Adolescence: University of Oklahoma’s OER Efforts,” maps out their route to deep OER implementation. This chapter describes a top-down approach that included faculty support grants, creation of an OER Librarian position, the program design, how they put together an OER planning committee, an assessment of OER technologies, and OER course assessment design. They include a thorough description of their outreach strategies, and an assessment of those strategies.

Ross and Francis describe a unique bottom-up approach to adopting OER in “A Grassroots Approach to OER Adoption: The University of Saskatchewan Experience.” They talk about how outreach builds awareness, and describe their multiple projects and partnerships across the university. Ross and Francis describe how individual champions can be terrific instruments for change, and how even a single faculty adoption can start changing campus opinions. They tell how they used their institutional repository to support their adoption efforts and describe the library as the leader for OER.

In “Bringing OER to the Liberal Arts: An Innovative Grant Program,” Miller discusses at length the work at Rollins College, a small liberal arts college in Florida, to use faculty grants to inspire and initiate the creation of OER. Their program focused on full-time, tenure-track faculty, and designed an iterative grant process with clearly defined criteria that mapped to their program goals. Miller describes their experience with an art and art history professor, a political science professor, and a physics professor. The unique challenges each professor faced are discussed, as well as some of the lessons they learned throughout the process.

Finally, In “Transforming Publishing with a Little Help From our Friends,” Batchelor offers a case study in OER textbook publishing through the University of Washington and the Reebus Foundation. Specifically, she offers an example of what the Reebus Foundation could look like in the future, while calling on librarians to serve as catalysts and connectors in a broader faculty-driven OER publishing community.

A Call to Action

Though this book cannot fully account for all of the considerations that are necessary for supporting the OER movement, we have volunteered a common understanding for you to consult and reuse regarding the stakes, stakeholders, strategies, and opportunities worth anticipating in your work. Whether institutional or individual in scope, participation in the OER movement sponsors meaningful change for education. Those of us who work as academic librarians, however, are fortunate to harbor many of the relevant resources and skill sets that have proven invaluable to shaping the open education movement for broadest, most sustainable impact. Librarians have a long and rich history of connecting researchers with relevant information, preserving material, and facilitating access to that material. There are themes that run through many of the case studies, including the library and librarians as both catalysts and community leaders in awareness building, adoption oversight, and implementation project management. In short, we are certain you will be able to find potential solutions and a new network of colleagues to help you address the role of OER at your institution.


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OER: A Field Guide for Academic Librarians | Editor's Cut Copyright © 2018 by Christy Allen; Nicole Allen; Jean Amaral; Alesha Baker; Chelle Batchelor; Sarah Beaubien; Geneen E. Clinkscales; William Cross; Rebel Cummings-Sauls; Kirsten N. Dean; Carolyn Ellis; David Francis; Emily Frank; Teri Gallaway; Arthur G. Green; Sarah Hare; John Hilton III; Cinthya Ippoliti; DeeAnn Ivie; Rajiv S. Jhangiani; Michael LaMagna; Anne Langley; Jonathan Lashley; Shannon Lucky; Jonathan Miller; Carla Myers; Julie Reed; Michelle Reed; Lillian Hogendoorn; Heather M. Ross; Matthew Ruen; Jeremy Smith; Cody Taylor; Jen Waller; Anita Walz; Andrew Wesolek; Andrea Wright; Brady Yano; and Stacy Zemke is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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