Supporting OER Adoption
11 Supporting OER Course Conversion
OER program managers may find that a crucial part of their work is supporting faculty through the sometimes-difficult and intensive process of transitioning a course from a standard text to a free or very-low-cost solution. This can be challenging work for project managers who do not have formal training or experience in instructional design, especially if the conversion greatly impacts the syllabus and other course materials or assessments. What steps and skills do OER program managers need to take to successfully support faculty through an open course conversion?
Defining the Program
Prior to engaging with faculty and others supporting course conversions, program managers should aim to define their program’s goals, expectations, and limitations. Some common points of consideration include:
- Do materials created or used as part of this program need to be a particular level of open? For instance, must all materials be able to meet the 5R’s of Retain, Revise, Remix, Reuse, and Redistribute?
- Do faculty need to share the materials they create under a Creative Commons (CC) license?
- If your program has a financial award or stipend, what are the expectations for faculty to have complete a project? Are there particular deadlines with respect to how and when program participants can be paid or undertake their work?
- Does your program or school allow you to support faculty seeking to redesign courses to be low cost but not free as part of open efforts?
- If your program has a financial component, how and when will participants be paid?
Many grant programs pay in stages, with full payment only upon completion of the project. Make sure to consult with your supporting administrative teams to understand the particular restrictions in play for your institution. For example, in some cases, faculty may not be able to receive additional funds for terms they are already engaged in a full-time teaching position. This situation could potentially be remedied by dispersing funds in summer or other non-teaching terms.
- What are the deliverables participants must create to have fulfilled the grant or award?
- What specific digital systems are available through your institution to support OER creation? Examples might include content or learning management systems, institutional repositories, or support for systems like OER Commons.
Mini-grants, fellowships, and OER faculty incubators and cohorts often define collaboration on an open course conversion to a specific format or goal; at the most general level the goal is to create a syllabus for a course that uses open, free, or low-cost materials. Each institution or program will have its own specific requirements, which program managers may be part of establishing. Program managers should strive for OER program requirements that support their institution’s open goals while keeping the focus on student impact and success. Regardless of the specifics that define your program’s vision of open, it is crucial to communicate your program’s definitions of what meets the expectations clearly, up-front, and often. See Chapter 5, Common OER Projects & Programs for more specific ideas on open programs and project structure.
Because open initiatives on campus can take many forms, program managers should be thoughtful about communicating their particular program’s unique opportunities. Calls for proposals, announcements of persons selected for open fellowships, and open forums showcasing work are all crucial venues of communication – both for the opportunity at hand, and as a general means of promoting open on campus. Since a course conversion can be as simple as a switch to an open text that can still use an existing syllabus, or as complex as creating a complete custom textbook created from scratch, it can be challenging to communicate the full range of open activity your program might embrace. Communicating to faculty often with online resources, learning opportunities, grant options, and campus professional staff assistance shows how your institution supports this endeavor. Readers interested in learning more about best practices for communicating with OER stakeholders should visit Chapter 7, Marketing Your OER Program.
Faculty undertaking course conversions will often have misconceptions about open concepts and practices. Some common misconceptions and potential solutions include:
|I will have to license my materials in a particular way.||Programs should grant as much flexibility as possible in licensing options. Program managers should be knowledgeable about CC licenses to help advise faculty in making choices that work within the program’s goal.|
|I will have to write an entire textbook from scratch.||In most instances, some existing resources can be identified and used as a base for creating new materials.|
|No open materials exist for my topic.||Courses without texts available can assemble readers and syllabi from other types of OER such as websites, blog posts, and open access articles.|
|I don’t know how to use a particular digital tool or publishing platform.||Program managers can develop or connect faculty to existing training on how to use the particular platform supported or required by the program.|
|I can’t make my entire syllabus open so it’s not worth it.||Think of open as a spectrum rather than a binary. Using course reserves may allow for faculty to retain some licensed materials in their course while having the majority of course materials be open and all be free for students to access.|
From OER Concept to Reality
To help readers think about OER course conversion, let’s take a look at a few real-world examples of recent course conversions from standard (and expensive) traditional texts to OER solutions. One example describes adapting an existing text without major changes, another describes creating an innovative OER from scratch, and a third discusses adapting an existing open text with substantive revisions.
A graduate student in the physics department wants to rewrite his courses to use a free and open textbook. The standard text costs students more than $250, and since this is one of the core classes for this major, a significant number of students are impacted each semester.
A project might follow a process like this:
- The graduate student establishes collaboration with the OER program manager, either through a fellowship, grant program, or consultation.
- The graduate student and OER program manager work together to identify possible open text options—two are identified, one from OpenStax and the other from Open UBC.
- The graduate student uses subject and course expertise to review the materials and plan for potential changes or updates as desired.
- The graduate student obtains department approval as needed. This may be an essential step for the program manager to provide guidance and support in. Examples include advocating with knowledge on the general quality and capability of open texts, as well as identifying specific feedback and reviews on a particular title.
- The graduate student creates a new syllabus where many of the core lessons from the previous text are easily adapted to the new text, given the similarity of the content.
- The graduate student submits the syllabus and any custom or complementary materials to the OER program manager to complete the project.
An experienced music professor wants a new digital, open textbook that allows her to support collaborative learning in her advanced music classes. She plans to custom write the content on a special platform created by the university library and hopes that students will be able to easily contribute updates in future iterations of the class.
This project would follow a different trajectory than Example 1, one that might be familiar to practitioners with experience in digital projects:
- The faculty member establishes collaboration with the OER program manager, likely through a consultation, learning community, fellowship, or grant program. Intensive projects that require custom digital infrastructure may be supported outside of fellowships or grant programs; this will largely depend on your institution’s resources and capability.
- The OER program manager connects with other campus partners that can support the desired goals, in this case the library or the academic technology support unit. The program manager plays an essential role in establishing collaboration between the supporting technical teams and the faculty creating content. The program manager moves that collaboration along by setting meetings, establishing goals, and following up on action items.
- The faculty member begins writing and drafting content while the technical teams build the supporting digital system or platform. The OER program manager facilitates this process and coordinates work among stakeholders.
- The platform, or digital space, goes through iterative development where the OER program manager, designing faculty, and supporting team of librarians and instructional designers collaborate to create the digital textbook.
- The faculty member creates a syllabus using the newly built textbook as the course material and submits both the syllabus and a link to their digital text to fulfill their OER program requirements.
An experienced professor in sociology is looking for a free solution to replace an expensive text for an Introduction to Gender Studies course. Because they’ve taught this course many times before, they have a syllabus that works well. They’ve identified a textbook, Introduction to Women, Gender and Sexualtiy Studies, through the Open Textbook Library but it’s missing a few key concepts. What might revising this text look like in practice?
- The faculty member establishes collaboration with the OER program manager, either through a fellowship, grant program, learning community, or consultation.
- The faculty member reviews the existing open text and identifies key areas for revision, change, or substitution.
- Depending on the digital platforms involved, the project manager might facilitate creating a digital edition of the existing text that can be edited, remixed, and revised.
- The faculty member and OER program manager work together to identify possible open solutions for areas where the book needs changes. In some instances, chapters may be edited or a whole section may be submitted using OER from a different source.
- The faculty member uses subject and course expertise to review the materials and create a syllabus.
- The faculty member submits the syllabus and any custom or complementary materials to the OER program manager to complete the project.
These three examples are just a few of the many ways OER course conversion can look in practice. Across this wide range of possible activities, OER program managers will do well to develop skills and expertise in: identifying key players and program goals, time and project management, instructional design, identifying OER, and creating new OER. Read about each of these topics below.
Identifying Key Players and Program Goals
Savvy OER program managers will have a short list of partners on campus that can support faculty undertaking course conversion programs. As discussed in Chapter 3, Building Your Team, this list might include faculty librarians (including subject experts who are not experts in open), instructional designers, and even faculty and graduate students who have successfully championed OER at your institution. In the absence of a campus-wide open initiative, program managers might set modest expectations for either the number of courses converted, or in the level of support available for customization. For instance, they may only take on course conversions that transition from a traditional publisher’s text to an existing open textbook. Similarly, program managers should evaluate the resources available on campus that might support the work of open course conversion—for instance, those operating on campuses with robust instructional design centers will likely have many more willing collaborators to support faculty than those working in smaller or less resourced contexts.
Time and Project Management
One significant challenge of OER conversion work is determining the amount of time any particular project will take. Some faculty may be expert OER users who need only minimal assistance with specific topics or items, such as choosing the right Creative Common license. Others may need intensive support, even technical development of software platforms, as well as training on how to use various OER repositories and formatting systems such as OER Commons or Pressbooks. A recent survey of librarians supporting OER conversion showed it took 82 hours on average to convert a course from a standard text to open (West, Hofer, and Coleman 2018, 17).
Many program managers working in OER are not doing so exclusively and have significant time obligations outside of OER. This can present an obvious challenge when combined with the wide-ranging variability of the intensity and time commitment required to support any given OER conversion.
To help manage these challenges, program managers assisting faculty with course conversions might explore techniques borrowed from software development that are intended to support teams working on complex projects. Examples include adapting processes like agile sprints, which combine shorter focused work periods with frequent touch points for collaboration. Program managers at well-resourced institutions might have access to project management software like Jira, while those working without budgets might explore tools like Trello or Todoist. Program managers who prefer more analog tools might rely on tricks such as setting recurring meeting times with participants, using shared Google or Outlook calendars to track deadlines, and attempting to implement standard time frames for project sections or deliverables.
Regardless of the specific process or tools used, it’s most crucial for the program manager to set expectations (e.g., that faculty will meet their deadlines and complete regular or required check-ins as needed to advance the project). In return, program managers should be prepared to help faculty troubleshoot problems as they arise and help faculty work through the implications of any delays. While processes and tools can help with tracking the deadlines and details necessary for this work, equally important is a strong, communicative relationship between the program manager and the participants.
While some faculty may have an existing strategy of course design that allows them to simply slot in using open materials, others may require or desire more in-depth strategies and support. Ideally, OER program managers will have a strong team of instructional designers available on campus to help support faculty and instructors in redesigning courses to use open materials. Other program managers working with less substantive instructional design support may find that they need to skill up in the basics of instructional design to successfully support faculty through a course conversion process. A number of resources are available to help.
Faculty who are still developing their course design skills might enjoy resources like Zhadko and Ko’s Best Practices in Designing Courses with Open Educational Resources (2020). This comprehensive book covers all key elements of course design with OER at the forefront. Faculty new to course design will benefit from learning about strategies like backward course design, which identifies key learning goals and works backward to learning experiences and instructional content (Zhadko and Ko 2020, 52). A program manager collaborating with a faculty member might use a backward design model to first identify the learning goals for each section and then work backward to identify open resources that support those goals. Gaining familiarity and competence with foundational instructional design strategies can help OER program managers build confidence and competence in supporting course conversion.
This webinar, Instructional Design and Course Planning for OER, may be particularly helpful for those seeking to build instructional design skills.
Program managers should be prepared to help faculty with identifying the course materials that will form the base of their new low-cost or open syllabus. This could be a single open textbook, or it could be an open course reader with many items from different sources. Program managers should also be prepared to discuss the basics of open licensing and help instructors verify that the proposed materials are compatible with the intended use and potential sharing and reuse goals. For more in-depth information on identifying and searching for OER, see Chapters 12, Managing OER Consultations and 13, Searching for Open Content.
Creating New OER
Program managers may find themselves supporting faculty who want to create totally new course content, such as a new digital textbook or a website. Program managers should be prepared to connect faculty to subject experts, such as content specialist librarians. The process of creating new content is also a great time to consider diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), and to address systemic limits in the representation of marginalized people and perspectives. Ideally, OER program managers can advocate for the inclusion of narratives typically excluded in traditional publishing.
Program managers are in a unique position to advocate for the increased representation of historically marginalized people as both authors and subjects in the identification of new course materials. By setting DEI as a key program goal, program managers can search for new materials that more meaningfully include the contributions of historically marginalized people.
In her 2018 article, open scholar Sarah Lambert puts forth three key concepts for evaluating the social justice impacts of open practice. They are summarized as follows:
- Redistributive: This refers primarily to the financial and material impacts of an open text. Most OER are by default engaged with this concept of social justice because of the focus on free or low-cost materials.
- Key question: Is the material free or very low cost?
- Recognitive: Lambert defines this as “socio-cultural diversity in the curriculum” (2018).
- Key question: Are historically marginalized people well represented in the new content selected?
- Representational: Is content about marginalized people created by those people or about them? Ideally, open allows for a greater representation of authors, meaning more content can be told by the groups they are about, rather than created without their input and collaboration.
- Key question: Are historically marginalized people represented as authors and creators in the new content selected?
OER program managers who are keen to seize the social justice affordances of OER might create a rubric or curriculum that helps to evaluate newly identified course materials along these three social justice principles, or through a similar framework that resonates with a particular program’s mission or broader college or university goals.
For more on OER and DEI, see Chapter 2, Open Education. As mentioned there, Open at the Margins is also a great resource for thinking critically and expansively about the DEI potentials of open.
Equally important is making sure any materials created through a formal OER collaboration with faculty meet current accessibility standards at the time of publication, and are available in the widest array of formats to meet the needs of those with limited internet access. Program managers should also develop the skills or connections needed to support and advise faculty on accessibility best practices to help ensure that any newly created content is accessible. Many institutions provide these services and/or training through their distance learning, instructional design, or disabled student services programs. For more on creating accessible OER, see Chapter 18, Universal Design, Accessibility, and Usability for OER.
Collaboration with faculty to create OER-based courses is an exciting opportunity for OER program managers. This work can expand consultation and liaisonship into new directions to touch upon course design, pedagogy, custom technical solutions, digital publishing, and more.
Regardless of the specific form a particular course conversion might take, program managers should make sure to emphasize their program’s vision and the affordances of open throughout the course conversion process. A big part of the magic and potential of OER course conversion is helping faculty expand their thinking in terms of how students’ identities and experiences are reflected in course materials, and the radical possibilities presented by open content to more thoroughly and accurately engage those historically omitted. By engaging around these topics, program managers can help faculty create new open course content that is more accessible, impactful, and engaging to students in dimensions that extend well beyond cost. Helping faculty explore and expand possibilities for who is represented, including integrating student participation into an OER, is where many of the most profound social justice and student success-oriented impacts of open pedagogy can be found.
- Librarians as Open Education Leaders: Responsibilities and Possibilities (West, Hofer, and Coleman 2018)
- OER Self Paced Modules (San Bernardino Valley College, n.d.)
- Best Practices in Designing Courses with Open Educational Resources (Zhadko and Ko 2019)
- Instructional Design and Course Planning for OER (Online Learning Consortium 2020)
- Accessibility in Your Course (Iowa State University, n.d.)
- Program managers should collaborate with librarians and instructional designers to support faculty on the sometimes-onerous course conversion process.
- Converting a course to open can involve using an existing text, writing something completely new, or something in between. Think iteratively and encourage faculty to start with what’s doable.
- Program managers supporting faculty on intensive course conversion may benefit from learning more about formal project management and instructional design best practices.
- Program managers can work with the faculty and collaborating partners to ensure new OER materials bring a breadth of perspectives and identities, and allow all students to access them equitably and easily.
- Program managers must facilitate technical and detail-oriented work, as well as build strong relationships with collaborating faculty/instructors and support staff.
Hansen, John, Julia Cramer, and Patrick Chase. 2019. “Open Educational Resources & the Cost of Required Course Materials in Four-Year Universities.” Washington State Institute for Public Policy. http://www.wsipp.wa.gov/Publications?reportId=632
Lambert, Sarah R. 2018. “Changing Our (Dis)Course: A Distinctive Social Justice Aligned Definition of Open Education.” Journal of Learning for Development 5(3): 225–44. https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1197463
West, Quill, Amy Hofer, and Dale Coleman. 2018. “Librarians as Open Education Leaders: Responsibilities and Possibilities.” https://repository.tudelft.nl/islandora/object/uuid:749d9863-896c-42ce-8702-70911f883ed3
Zhadko, Olena, and Susan Ko. 2020. Best Practices in Designing Courses with Open Educational Resources. New York: Routledge.