Program Management

Case Study 4: Integrating OER Programming into Institutional Norms at Pierce College

Quill West

When I first started working in open education, I felt like my job was to persuade faculty and administrators that open education was a good choice simply because of the benefits of OER. I obsessed over elevator pitches, drafted and performed presentation after presentation on the virtues of OER, and strove to change the educational landscape at my institution course by course. I designed professional development sessions in which faculty and staff wrote haiku about the limitations of commercial textbooks and practiced course design through card games. I developed lists of OER broken down by course topics and outcomes with reviews by faculty and students so that I could share them with other faculty, and I asked students to share testimonials comparing their learning with OER to learning with commercially produced educational materials. These were great strategies for relationship-building, connecting OER to success stories at the institution, and garnering support for OER, but the amount of investment in individual and incremental change was a mark against the sustainability of our overall project.

There are only so many times you can talk to the same group of people about the virtues of open practices before they tune out your message, even when that message comes with the chance to earn a stipend. The secret to success in any project is to both ensure that the project ties clearly to institutional goals, and that the faculty, staff, and students believe in those goals and see the payoff for their investment in them. In 2015, Pierce College hired me to manage the development of an OER Degree Pathway. This was the first step in moving from a faculty-to-faculty based approach to OER adoption to a more integrated approach with institutional goals and supports.

A Brief Look at the Structure

Pierce College District serves Pierce County, WA with two colleges, Pierce College Puyallup and Pierce College Fort Steilacoom, two education centers at Joint Base Lewis-McChord (PCJBLM), and two remote education centers in area high schools. In addition, Pierce College offers online learning through each college and center. The District operates with a central leadership team, but there are unique cultures and student needs at each of the campuses and educational sites; this means each campus sometimes implements initiatives meant to serve their specific students. In particular, PCJBLM has a unique structure that is meant to support over 155,000 service members and their families who live and work at the Joint Base Lewis-McChord military base. While any student can enroll for classes at PCJBLM, most students at that site are either service members or family of service members. The first major investment of funds and personnel in OER at Pierce College was to help meet student and program needs at PCJBLM.

Investing in OER

A major issue at PCJBLM in 2015 was the commercial textbook infrastructure and the barriers it created for both students and faculty. Textbook costs were a significant barrier to enrollment and retention for students. Although students might have their tuition covered by various funding programs, most students at PCJBLM were paying a conservatively estimated $1,100 per year out of pocket for textbooks. At that time the faculty at JBLM were also required to adopt the most recent edition of every commercial textbook they used because of the challenges for the bookstore of delivering used and older edition materials to students all over the world. This meant that faculty were often having to revise and update courses to reflect changes in textbook editions.

In 2015, the leadership at Pierce College decided that the model for course materials wasn’t supportive of the students or program at PCJBLM. Textbook costs were higher than similar programs and faculty were investing significant time in adapting to new editions each time a publisher made a change. The college decided to invest in an open education degree pathway to help cut costs for students and ensure faculty choice in selecting course materials. An open education degree pathway is an opportunity for students to take all of the required courses to earn a degree or certificate without paying for textbooks. All of the course materials (particularly textbooks) in an open education degree pathway are openly licensed and available for very low or no cost.

At Pierce College, the initial investment in our open education project included hiring an open education project manager and providing stipends for faculty at PCJBLM to develop OER courses. Using this initial investment, we built structures that were meant to help integrate the work happening at PCJBLM across the entire Pierce College District.

Finding Structures to Support Goals

Having one unifying and specific goal can help build intrinsic and extrinsic motivation for people to embrace open education. Our program had two goals. The first was to create an OER Degree Pathway which we called Pierce Open Pathways (POP) at PCJBLM within two years. The second was to increase OER adoption throughout the District, though we carefully avoided adding specific numeric goals so that we didn’t overwhelm ourselves and our constituents. The general goal of “increased adoption” was meant to motivate the program and the institution to build support structures for a later growth of the POP across the entire District. Charged with these two goals, we began to build a series of support structures that were meant to support the primary goal of developing an OER Degree Pathway. However, too much focus on establishing an open program at PCJBLM sometimes meant that we found ourselves having to repeat efforts or revise our approach when we included faculty, students, and staff from across the District.

Any OER project can intertwine itself with institutional practices to become more sustainable and meet goals more quickly, but keeping a project sustainable requires consistent reflective and evaluative practices. Below I have provided an examination of the structures we built throughout the development of the POP and how they integrated with other institutional practices to help us meet our goals.

Faculty Incentives

Faculty at PCJBLM united around the goal to create the POP because they saw it not only as a way to increase enrollment and retention, but also as a way to choose course materials that best served their students. Other faculty throughout the Pierce College District had either been teaching with OER for years because of their interest in saving students money or adapting and revising their own course materials. Still others were disinterested in OER altogether, and faculty who were new to the idea of OER showed interest but concern over workloads. The diversity of interest in OER and motivations to adopt open materials meant that it was important to build a structure around incentives for faculty to engage with OER.

The first and most obvious incentive to develop was a stipend for developing or adapting OER courses. Pierce College has a faculty union, so our original course development stipend of $1,500 was negotiated with the union. This negotiation was an opportunity to discuss the value of open education work with faculty as well as raise awareness of the project itself. It was also an opportunity to have a discussion about workload and compensation related to a project that might have been easily side-lined otherwise. Another benefit of this conversation about compensation is that the faculty contract is regularly negotiated, which means that a conversation about OER and faculty workload in relation to adopting openness is a part of an ongoing process that is entrenched within our institutional culture.

The best advice I can offer in relation to talking with faculty about financial compensation for open education work is to be honest, direct, and to listen when people share their worries. We were lucky at Pierce College because many of our faculty were knowledgeable about OER and individual faculty invested in developing OER courses. Additionally, our leadership wanted to be fair in how we compensated faculty for their work. In my role as an advocate for open education, and at the request of the negotiation team, I prepared a series of outlines describing the processes of adopting OER that started with three different levels of adoption: Full Development, Heavy Adaptation, and Adoption (West, 2021). As an example, at the Full Development level, no open resources exist yet for the course. In that case the faculty member might have to begin by writing or heavily adapting and remixing resources to have enough content to meet learning outcomes. Whereas, at the Adoption level, a teacher might need to do less work to make slight adaptations to a course already designed to be open. These outlines served as a baseline for describing the work involved in developing open courses, and they helped everyone involved discuss how much time and effort might go into designing open courses for Pierce College. In 2019, negotiations moved from a flat-rate stipend to a variable stipend based on the three levels described in the initial outlines.

Other incentives around OER at Pierce College include inclusion of open education work in tenure, promotion, and retention. In particular it is important to recognize the value and vulnerability of part-time faculty who adopt and adapt open materials. During recent contract negotiations, Pierce has begun to adopt official recognition and elevation of part-time faculty who participate in a process we call Leveling. Essentially, Leveling helps us to add some stability in the work lives for part-time faculty who engage with the process. Our OER project part-time faculty get credit in Leveling for offering professional development and ongoing support throughout the process of adopting and adapting open materials. In this way, they are rewarded for their commitment to open practices in service to our students.

Course Review Processes

Almost every course at PCJBLM is taught both in-person and online, and for that reason, the quality of course design has always been a central concern for the program. In 2015, PCJBLM was heavily invested in the Quality Matters (QM) process for course review. Every online course went through a modified QM review process that included two QM trained faculty peers who examined the courses carefully before they could be approved for inclusion in the course schedule. When we started to design the POP, an additional review for open licensing and use of open materials was included in the review process. Faculty were concerned about violations of intellectual property rights or US copyright laws in addition to selecting OER that best fit their students’ needs. Originally, I acted as the OER Reviewer, but when we were at our highest number of courses in development, there were fifteen courses in creation or review. I couldn’t sustain the pace of course development and review if I remained the only reviewer. To make the process easier on myself and on faculty reviewers, we developed a POP rubric that included both licensing and accessibility of open materials used in every open course. More importantly, the POP rubric helped faculty to examine how their courses met standards in both QM and the open education space.

In more recent years, Pierce has reviewed the existing tools we use for evaluating course design, and we are considering new processes that include an emphasis on equity, diversity, and inclusion in the design of courses. To help develop an OER rubric that centers student experience and diversity more clearly, Pierce held workshops in which faculty examined existing OER courseware rubrics and drafted rubrics that showed how students might use, learn from, and feel affirmed by educational resources. These draft rubrics were used to evaluate open materials and are one of our tools for thinking about how to center students in the use of OER at Pierce.

Professional Development

Our professional development outreach around the POP had to include outreach to faculty who wouldn’t teach POP classes, because we wanted to extend our efforts to include the entire institution. While faculty at PCJBLM had a practice of meeting weekly for professional development and fellowship, this was not a common practice across the whole institution. Instead, we began to offer specific programming, such as a “How to Teach with OER” three- week course to faculty at Pierce College. We also offered specific professional development that impacted the growth of the OER project. This practice has extended as open education has become more embedded within our institution. For example, in spring of 2021 we offered a cohort learning experience facilitated by myself and librarian Kathy Swart called “Inclusive Pedagogy and Renewable Assignments.” In that cohort, 19 faculty members from across the institution discussed the commonalities of inclusive pedagogy and open education practices with the mission of creating their own renewable assignments.

Staff Investment

Originally the POP was offered only at PCJBLM, which is a smaller program. For that reason staff involved in labeling open courses, tracking student completion of OER courses, and advising students into POP classes were a small but mighty number of individuals who easily adapted to helping students identify opportunities for taking open courses. One staff member worked with me to devise a system to identify and code the POP courses as they became available. Faculty who taught with OER and who had their courses approved for POP, worked with me to get their courses labeled correctly in the course schedule. This was a very effective process which led to over 45% of enrollment at PCJBLM being in POP courses.

However, this manual process couldn’t work for the larger Pierce College District as scheduling of courses in the wider institution is handled at a departmental level, which means a more manual process would cause more work for already overburdened staff members. Instead, the college elected to wait for a newer student management system to build a unified process for identifying open courses in our student schedule. We’re still trialing a new system, but the groundwork laid at PCJBLM allowed us to know what could work for our new approach to labeling open courses.

Looking Forward

The success of the POP at PCJBLM is something that our college wants to spread to the entire institution, however we want to do this in a coordinated way. We strive to find structures and systems, such as tenure, promotion, and hiring processes that will ensure that our project remains sustainable and a part of the fiber of our institution. Openness is a valuable initiative, but it must work in alignment with many other goals and strategies to support our institutional values. To that end, we continually examine how our work in open education supports our institutional values, and we reflect often on how our day to day work supports those values.

One of the biggest challenges to engaging in open education work is stopping to reflect on whether the actions we take to forward openness support our institutional values. We do this reflection in several ways. For example, as the manager of open education at our institution I make a point of asking several questions: Who does this work serve? How does this work support our most vulnerable students? What about this work will help address a known barrier to historically underrepresented students? How does this work move the needle on our institutional scorecard? These questions help me and my colleagues to guide open education at our institution into our central values of serving underserved students and practicing antiracism. It also helps us to know how and when to measure the impact of our project on the institution and students.

To build an integrated and sustainable OER project, consistently and relentlessly ask difficult questions and give honest answers to those questions. Open education is not a process distinct from other institutional efforts. Rather, it is an integral part of how the institution operates and serves its students and community. Take a moment to turn away from the minutiae of your OER efforts, and see how they weave into the fabric of your workplace.


West, Quill. 2021. Levels of OER Course Creation/Adoption.–IMDRYa61T0tIE/edit?usp=sharing

Appendix: OER Evaluation Rubric (Sample)

Table CS4.1. OER Evaluation Rubric Sample

Criteria & Explanation

Can Use As Is

Minimal Revision

Significant Revision

Principles of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion

How would a student from a historically marginalized community see members of their community represented in this source?

What messages about diversity and inclusion are reflected in this source?

How does the source present issues of representation and belonging for people who are often overlooked by larger social systems?

How does the source encourage a sense of self-reflection about positionality, identity, and personal responsibility for building a community that respects, honors, and supports diversity?

Accuracy and Currency

How accurate is the material, based on current standards in the field?

If the material is inaccurate, does it acknowledge conflicts in perspectives and changes over time?

If the material is outdated, does it serve other purposes (to provide historical perspective, to provoke discussion, or to serve as an example)?

How might traditional markers of accuracy, currency, authority express a Western European interpretation of the information? How might that affect the overall message about diversity within the field?

Is the material peer-reviewed? Does the peer-review system support or hinder the diversity of the resource? How does the peer-review process address privilege as it relates to equity, diversity, and inclusion in the field?

Different Perspectives

How does the material acknowledge perspectives (of the authors, of other experts in the field, of critical voices, etc.)?

Whose viewpoint does it represent well, and whose viewpoints are left out?

How does the material present facts, opinions, and judgments?

Is the material customizable?

Overcoming Barriers to Engagement

How does the material engage students? Does the material reflect student experience and views?

What about the piece will keep students interested in reading/interacting with it?

How will students be inspired to reflect-on and/or use this resource to change their understanding of the topic?

How do students access the material? Does it require technology skills? Can it be accessed in multiple ways through multiple means?

How does the material/resource respond to accommodative and adaptive technologies?

Are there intentional ways for students to connect the content to their identities, backgrounds, cultures, and/or the identities, backgrounds, and cultures of others?

Relevance to the Course and Field

How does this material align with course outcomes?

Are there any outcomes that are not covered in this resource?

How does the material relate to the values and ethics that you would like students to remember as they participate in your field of work?

How would this source influence the students’ further development in the field?

What other perspectives would need to be included in this course in order to provide more balance? (For example, if the resource is created by professional/technical educators, could it be balanced with some perspectives from researchers and university scholars?)

What would be lost/missing from the course if this source wasn’t used?

Relevant and Useful for Students

How does the material reflect student interests and learning goals?

How does the material give students autonomy in their learning?

How does the material encourage interaction, critical thinking, and deeper learning/processing?

Appropriate reading/content level for students (entry-level)


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