Program Management

Case Study 3: Building the Roller Coaster While Riding It: OER at Oregon Institute of Technology

Dawn Lowe-Wincentsen

“Building an airplane while flying it” is a phrase sometimes used to describe when something is built while it is working. Building a roller coaster while riding it is similar, but you keep coming around for another turn. This is what the first few years of the Oregon Institute of Technology (Oregon Tech) Open Educational Resources (OER) Incentives felt like.

Year 1: Laying the Track

In October 2017, I was the Interim Director of Libraries at Oregon Tech. I was inspired by a conference presentation to start a local OER incentives program. In my position and at my institution, I was empowered to start this program and had the capacity to do so. I started by contacting Amy Hofer, the statewide coordinator for Oregon OER. She was able to give me access to information and resources I needed to determine outcomes for the program. I reviewed programs that were similar to what I wanted to do, and talked to people working on such programs in the field. Beyond a few ideas and conversations, I had no plan.

Next, I started gathering a wide range of interested allies across Oregon Tech. I found faculty who had participated in Oregon state OER initiatives and invited them to be on an OER committee. The committee was charged with developing an application process and would review the applications received that same year. This provided me with a group of faculty at the university who already had experience working with open educational resources. Once I had formed the OER committee, I contacted the Commission on College Teaching (CCT) to get volunteers. This led to some of their own membership being involved. CCT is a committee that supports teaching at the university through professional development, internal grants, and other programs. By having members of CCT on the initial committee I was able to reach a wider audience that was interested in learning new teaching methods. When forming the committee, I also made sure that each college was represented. In the end the committee had two members from CCT, two people who had received state of Oregon Support for OER work, and myself. Coincidentally this also represented both colleges at the university and the library.

Piloting the Grants

Once our group was formed we started creating two applications: one for adopting and adapting OER and one for creating OER. The applications were based on the Open Oregon Educational Resources grant applications. We asked for pre-identified resources, connections with other instructional departments, and universal design elements. We then tailored the applications to the financial resources that were available at Oregon Tech and the amount of money we were able to offer. One important way in which we differed from the state program was our preferential treatment for upper division STEM classes unique to the university. We wanted to provide special encouragement to these classes, which are generally not eligible for OER funds from outside programs given their relatively low enrollment and school-specific curricula.

We received 14 applications. The majority were adoption applications – a trend we would continue to see. Notably there was a creation application in this initial set of applications that has led to a whole department going open (Chemistry 201 in LibreTexts) The committee met after reviewing the applications. We discussed what to do when a person applied for more than one grant and how to deal with teams that applied in a single application. We decided to fund all the applicants, though some did not receive all that they were asking for. This provided a strong base for the pilot year and an equity in the funding model that continued in later years.

During Spring 2018 we got the committee and all the applicants together for a breakfast Q&A. This gave them an opportunity to see what others were doing, and to make connections with the people from the committee who had already had experiences with OER. We had an upfront agreement with applicants indicating they would create, adapt, or adopt OER over the summer when they were off-contract. They would use the resources in the following academic year, and present back to the university community in the following Spring term.

The actual funding process was the most difficult part of that first year. Funding for OER initiatives are unique to each institution’s business processes, and I had not yet learned those processes at Oregon Tech. After talking to people in the business, budget, and grants offices, and re-explaining the desired outcome, the Provost’s executive assistant used a contract process similar to that used for adjuncts to pay incentive recipients.

What Worked?

Breakfast! The free breakfast Q&A for the grant’s applicants gave people the opportunity to connect and build a relationship. It was a required, in-person meeting, with an informal atmosphere and food. Time constraints meant that we did not have any other cohort gatherings, but this one meeting started the conversation and gave people someone to turn to if they needed. In planning for future incentives I keep coming back to this cohort idea.

One helpful task during this process was to make a flow chart of different funding options for OER. The chart I made in 2018 has been used to explain OER funding to every new constituent that has come along since.

Year 2: Adding Supports

In Fall 2018 I contacted all the grant recipients from the previous spring and asked for volunteers to be on the review committee. We used opportunities such as the CCT newsletter, provost newsletter, and campus presentations to advertise the first group’s successes and the opportunity to apply again.

Introducing OER Day

In January 2019 I started contacting all the recipients to schedule their presentations to the university. I gave them the opportunity to present at OER Day, a new event scheduled for the week before Open Ed week, or to present in a brown bag style session. Most chose to present as part of OER Day. Amy Hofer the Oregon Tech bookstore manager with whom I had developed a relationship were also scheduled to speak. We scheduled a room in the library and one at the Portland branch campus, and used Skype to connect the sessions and allow people off-campus to join. This was a fortuitous choice as both campuses were closed or delayed because of snow on the day of the presentations. Overall there were 8 presentations from incentive recipients and two others. Although the presentations shifted to a virtual session, attendance was good. After OER Day, the Open Education and Textbook Affordability at Oregon Tech website was created to show the program data and share the presentations.

To promote the 2019 incentive program, we chose to launch the application for the 2019 incentives during OER Day. Additionally, we were able to schedule brown bag sessions prior to the application deadline to help drum up more support and awareness of the program and successful faculty projects. For these sessions, the library supplied desserts on-site and a Skype link for those not at the main campus.

Year Two: Grant Changes

There were fewer applicants in the second round of grants. After individual conversations with some past recipients who had waffled about taking up resources that others might want, there was a surge of repeat applicants after the deadline. These applications were included in the funding, bringing the number up to the previous year’s total. This group was given the same expectations as the previous cohort.

During this time, my position had changed; there was a new University Librarian, and I went back to being director of the branch library. This change meant far less travel to the main campus, less access to funds, and less ability to direct what was going on 300 miles away. Because of the change in position, the 2019 cohort did not get breakfast or social events to connect with each other. The lack of community showed in the next year with less cohesiveness in presentations, and faculty who floundered because they did not know who to reach out to.

Spring of 2019 was also the first time we were able to assess the program’s impact on student savings. Applicants had given the cost of their previous textbook at the time of application. We used this cost and looked up the course numbers in the registration system to get the enrollment for each professor’s course. Enrollment was multiplied by the cost of the previously-required textbook and/or materials to find the student savings per term. This was added up for each of the academic year’s terms to achieve the savings for the year: $202,000.

What worked?

Using the cost of the previous textbook in our student savings calculations gave us a more accurate look at the savings from our incentives program because STEM materials are generally more expensive than humanities or social science materials.

Another success in the second year was the addition of OER Day to our spring events lineup. Even though inclement weather interrupted our activities, we were able to broadcast the presentations to a wider audience, and post the presentations publicly.

A third success was the direct connections I made with faculty and the connections they had made with each other in 2018. These connections allowed us to continue to build relationships, and for faculty peers to gain visibility and attract others to the program.

Year 3: Adding Guard Rails – making a plan

In the third year the program started to get attention from our administration. In the latter half of 2019, I presented at convocation, an annual event attended by all faculty and staff. Later, I presented to the Student Government leaders and University Boards of both campuses. It was a flurry of presentations, but it did help to establish alliances with groups outside the faculty who had been participating in our program beforehand.

As a result of the success of the presentations, I was inspired to reach out to faculty who had high cost materials and offer OER interventions through emails and personal conversations. These were information sessions, talking points, and suggestions on ways we could work together to both meet their course outcomes and net student savings. In some cases this was successful and in others it wasn’t; one example of failure is with the Anatomy and Physiology courses. The professors for this course series work together to provide consistent materials across sections and locations. When I identified the cost of their course materials as a barrier to students, they cited the ancillaries they use, and the quality of the course materials. They also noted that students had cheaper options and could get by with only purchasing the course ancillaries’ access code. While overall I have not found a way to convince the group to change, I have had a couple of the professors come to workshops and seek out more information.

In addition to email communications, Oregon Tech uses Microsoft Teams, which allows people to group together in Teams for different committees, departments, interests, or other reasons. These Teams then have a shared message board and shared file access. I was able to create a Team that is open to all at the university where information about OER and open education is posted. However, it also required people to use the Teams platform; some faculty are not familiar with it or don’t check it on a regular basis.

During this time, I also applied for the Open Education Network (OEN) OER Librarian Certification program. The outcome of the program was to create a campus action plan by September 2020. However, the coursework began in March 2020 and immediately began to impact how I was running our program. The most impactful change was the creation of a program plan – some guard rails to keep us on track. Finally, I shifted the OER initiative Program from “building the rollercoaster while riding it” to working toward a set of longer-term goals.

Year 3: Working With a Plan

In March 2020 during Open Education Week we once again held an OER Day. A higher percentage of initiative recipients were able to present at OER Day in the second year, and not just because of better weather. The program had grown to include more faculty and more classes. We also offered the presentations as part of a series of events at both campuses. There were photo booths, and thank you card stations where students were encouraged to share their thoughts and appreciation to faculty participating in the program. Through student advocacy, the Portland Metro campus held a listening session with doughnuts on OER Day.

OER Day was again used to launch the application process for the third round of grants. And then COVID-19 came in the Spring of 2020 and everything we had been doing was thrown into disarray. We extended the application deadlines as long as we could, but there were far fewer applicants. The committee, which was composed of people who had received incentives the previous spring, communicated via email.

As part of my own goals, and inspired by a conference presentation, I created a professional development course for OER incentive recipients and others. The course is asynchronous with the opportunity for communicating with the annual cohort. This was intended to work on the community building at a distance issue seen previously. The course also included presentations from 2019 and 2018 recipients to help each new group see what was already going on at the institution. The 2020 recipients were added to the new OER course in Canvas and were instructed to complete it by September.

The faculty who did not present during OER Day were unable to present, even in a streaming format, during spring term. Without a strong plan, a few things unraveled a bit. There was still more than $200,000 in student savings in the second year, but when comparing spring term 2019 to spring term 2020 we saw a downturn in savings numbers. The difference in years is only $642.00, but every other term — including summer 2020 saw an increase in student savings from the year before.

What Worked?

In the flurry of presentations in Fall 2019 I spoke with the student government. After attending the presentation as shared in Appendix A, they became advocates for the program and a voice to other students, which was helpful since students tend to listen to their peers more than faculty members or administrators. Students planned the listening session and added doughnuts to OER Day’s plan. Finally, the students, whose voices are often more impactful to faculty than the voices of program managers, adopted a resolution asking faculty to post course materials by the time registration opens for a term. This partnership with the student government continues to help build relationships and create more student advocates each year. Student advocacy and perspectives also helped to build the university textbook affordability plan.

Year 4: This Trip Around is a Whole New Ride

This case study is being written in Fall 2020. Because of my participation in the OEN certification course, the library now has an action plan that will provide direction for the balance of 2020 and continue into 2021. The plan is to continue the incentive program to offer more professional development, and to find new non-monetary incentives for participation.

Tweaking the Grants Again

To form the review committee for the next year I have sent an email to the 2020 recipients, and posted a call for participants in the Microsoft Team. This broadens the number of potential volunteers. The messaging to faculty has also changed. Instead of student savings we are focusing on improved pedagogy: the ability for faculty to adopt and create materials which directly support their courses’ learning outcomes. There have been more presentations: one at a virtual convocation, one to student government, and one at new faculty orientation (See appendix B for the presentation to new faculty).

In order to recreate the sense of community found from our breakfast in 2018, part of the committee work will involve leading the professional development for the 2021 cohort. To allow time for this, the incentive applications’ due date will be changed to fall on OER Day. The applications were launched December 2020 through the CCT newsletter.

What I Have Learned

Have a plan! I was inspired to try something new at Oregon Tech, and it was wildly successful in the pilot year. In the second year it received much attention, but in the third year I learned how unstable the program was. It is ok to try new things and have pilot programs; however, an important step I skipped in that pilot year was creating a plan of what to do in case the pilot was successful. I needed to have a long-term vision for the program, something that looked beyond the initial success. The OEN certificate program helped improve my frame of reference and reconcile the needs of the program with the needs of the library department and the university administration.

By creating a plan, I now have a guide for what the next few years should look like: one which stabilizes the program and eliminates the need to rebuild every time the roller coaster makes its trip around the track. As with any plan, there needs to be adaptability and flexibility built-in, but the overall direction and goal to save students money is clear and measurable.

Have a plan! Be willing to break the plan, be willing to change the plan, but have it nonetheless to guide you on the roller coaster.

Presentation Examples


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

The OER Starter Kit for Program Managers Copyright © 2022 by Dawn Lowe-Wincentsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.