Supporting OER Adoption
12 Managing OER Consultations
Abbey K. Elder
OER program managers are often asked to locate OER as part of their daily work. This work is usually supported through OER consultations, meetings with faculty that inform the content and subjects that the OER support staff will seek out.
The OER consultation process is similar to research consultations, which the librarians on your team may already be familiar with. Locating and sharing content may be a simple exchange over email, or it may be a more involved process that requires the support of go-betweens like subject liaison librarians or other OER support staff. To help you consider how you might implement this work at your institution, a basic guide for structuring an OER consultation is provided below.
There are four basic steps to every OER consultation:
- The preliminary message or meeting, where you gather course-level information.
- Follow-up meetings, which dig deeper into the needs of the instructor.
- The identification of content that fits the parameters identified in steps 1 and 2.
- Sharing content you identified with the instructor.
Before you can start looking for open content, you first have to gather information about the course in which it will be used. An easy way to do this is through a standard OER consultation request form. Create a form that faculty must fill out to request a consultation with you or another support person at your institution for help locating OER. When sharing a form like this, be sure to place it prominently in a place that is easy for faculty to find. A form that people can’t find isn’t of much use to you!
A basic OER consultation request form should contain at least three things:
- Instructor’s contact information
- Course code and number
- Details about the current textbook(s) and/or readings currently assigned
In addition to these three items, you can also ask for a copy of the instructor’s syllabus and/or course schedule, though this will require a “file upload” option within the form itself, which is not possible on every platform. You will need this information later, but you can request it from the instructor directly if necessary.
Although consultation request forms can be as simple or as complex as you’d like, we recommend keeping the forms as short as possible to lessen the burden on faculty filling out the form. A good example of a basic OER Consultation Request Form is provided below, from Florida State University Libraries:
Once a form has been filled out, you or another member of your team will need to follow up with the instructor for the next step of their consultation. For example, you may ask that a student worker on your team conduct the initial OER search for the instructor, or that the subject liaison librarian for your instructor’s department meet with them for the initial consultation. Some project management tools (e.g., Smartsheet) can alert members of your team when a consultation request form has been filled out so they can be prepared to follow up with faculty as well. If you prefer to handle the preliminary consultations and information gathering yourself, you can connect your form to your calendar app of choice.
In addition to setting up a consultation request form, it is useful to set expectations for your OER support early by letting instructors know when you will get back to them for follow-up, how soon you can meet, and what kind of support they can expect from you and/or your team. Setting expectations may be done over email, during the first consultation meeting, or laid out on the same website where your consultation request form is housed.
This example from the University of Missouri Libraries’ OER Guide is particularly in-depth and covers expectations for communication and the support staff who may work with the instructor during and after the consultation:
“Complete the A&OER Team Consultation Request Form. Your answers to this simple, one-page questionnaire will help your support team understand your specific needs.
We will form a small support team (3 to 5 people) of librarians, instructional designers, and bookstore administrators who are familiar with your course, department, and materials in your discipline.
Team members will review your request and begin identifying open textbooks, affordable (<$40) textbooks, government documents, library materials, and items in the public domain that might meet your needs.
Your team may ask for a copy of your syllabus, titles and ISBNs of texts that have been required or recommended for your course in past semesters, and / or any A&OER titles or repositories that you are familiar with or have already reviewed.
A representative from your support team will work with you to identify a good time to meet in person or virtually. In this meeting, your team will present you with open, freely available, and / or affordable educational resources that could be a good fit for your course. By the end, you and your support team will have identified your next steps for evaluating materials, integrating them into your course, and reporting them to the campus bookstore.
A team member will be selected to stay in touch with you after the meeting to answer follow-up questions and to ensure that your needs are met.” (University of Missouri Libraries 2020)
A boilerplate explanation about the OER consultation process is particularly useful to have on hand when your consultation workflow requires the support of multiple staff. It not only reviews what kind of support instructors can expect to get from your team, but also provides examples of the types of staff members who will be supporting them.
Not every OER program manager will have a team to back up their work. Be clear about what you can do to support your instructors’ needs, and what is outside of your job’s scope. This will help you manage your workload and balance instructors’ expectations accordingly.
Ask Deeper Questions
Once you have enough information to understand your instructor’s basic needs, you can set up an initial consultation meeting with them. If the course being reviewed has good examples of OER available, you may want to send these to your instructor ahead of your meeting. This will prepare you both for the conversation ahead and, if the instructor replies to the content prior to your meeting, will help you better understand the types of materials your instructor is interested in.
The consultation meeting should focus on the needs of the instructor. Begin building trust with the instructor you are meeting by exploring what they want from the consultation and reviewing what you and/or your team can provide for them. Faculty members may come to the consultation without a clear idea of what they would like to do. As an OER program manager, it is your job to help them chart a path for their course’s redesign process. During this stage, set expectations for the outcomes of your consultation, and come to an agreement on what the final goal(s) for your work will be.
How familiar are you with OER?
Discuss the instructor’s history with OER and what made them want to consider OER for their course now. This may be a great opportunity for you to learn more about your program’s reputation on campus and how you might improve your work’s visibility. If the instructor is wholly new to OER, explain the variety of formats that OER can be found in, and the affordances that come with an open license (See Chapter 1, Introduction to Open Educational Resources).
What is your goal for your course?
Discuss what kind of change the instructor is looking for. Do they want to rebuild the curriculum for their course from the ground up, or are they looking for materials that follow the same structure as their current course content?
What kinds of materials do you prefer to use in your courses?
Identify what kind of materials the faculty member is interested in learning more about. Do they want to find open textbooks, or are they more interested in activities, videos, and modular OER content they can compile to meet their course’s needs?
Having a few print OER examples in your office can be helpful at this stage, as it may pave the way for conversations about the various format options for OER (See Figure 12.2).
What tool(s) do you typically use in your course?
Ask whether the instructor utilizes your institution’s course management system (Canvas, Blackboard, etc.), or a separate course website to communicate and share content with students. This may affect the tools and practices you recommend.
What supporting materials do you utilize for this course?
If the instructor relies on self-grading homework platforms or ancillary presentations and lecture notes from publishers, you will want to discuss the various free and low-cost options available to replace that content (See Chapter 15, Finding Ancillaries for OER).
Alternatively, does the instructor already supplement their course materials with course notes or materials they have personally created? Often, when traditional materials are lacking or require supplement, instructors will create notes, reading lists, or other content to “back up” any traditional, commercial content used in their course. This instructor-created content can be reused with OER as well, or even adapted into a new open resource in the future.
Would you be able to adapt content if we find something close to your needs?
This question may be concerning for some instructors, so be thoughtful in the way you choose to broach this topic. Explain that OER can be adapted in various ways, and that the time commitment for this work may vary based on the materials you identify. An effective adaptation may be as simple as rearranging chapters or as complex as creating a new open textbook from multiple resources. Tools like the LibreTexts Remixer can make adaptation work easier, but that doesn’t mean that adapting OER is “easy.” Make sure that any work your instructor would need to do to get their OER ready for their course is known to them, and that any support you or your team can offer is clear and addressed up front. The last thing you want in this new relationship is to promise more than you can deliver, or to offload unexpected work onto your instructor.
Would you be interested in an open pedagogy approach?
For instructors who are engaged and interested in learning more, discuss the flexibility and potential of open pedagogy for adding value to their course and supporting student learning outcomes (See Chapter 2, Open Education). In addition to adding a more interactive component to the course, open pedagogy projects can help build on the OER used within the course. For example, students might develop test banks to supplement their open textbook, or comment on and even edit open readings implemented in a course. Review some examples with the instructor and tools available that can support these processes, like Hypothesis for social annotation. As with previous topics, though, you will want to acknowledge in your discussion that open pedagogy is not something they can implement quickly or easily. It is often a process that changes over time, to account for the interests and needs of students and address feedback from past courses.
What is your timeline for this project?
Ask how often the instructor teaches the course(s) in which they want to use OER, and when they will be teaching the course(s) next. How soon would they like to have a set of resources to review, and what does their current workload look like, for reviewing and potentially adapting content? Make it clear that the open content you share will take time to review and integrate into the instructor’s course. Additionally, depending on your institution’s course adoption reporting process, the instructor may need to determine their next term’s course materials only two or three months into the current term. This may affect your timeline if the instructor you are working with wants to use OER in their course quickly. Help the instructor plot out a timeline that is feasible for both of you to handle, even if this means they might not adopt OER until the following year.
Would funding help you complete this work?
Finally, if your institution has an OER grant program, gauge the instructor’s interest in applying for a grant to support the adoption, adaptation, or creation of new content. Tread carefully here, though. OER consultations should always lead with the instructor’s interests and needs. Do not push for projects that would require additional work from the instructor until and unless the instructor has shown interest in this type of work. A grant can be incredibly helpful for faculty who are on a 9- or 10-month appointment and lack summer funding for their work, but if your grant only covers OER adaptation or creation, this may be beyond your instructor’s interest.
Discuss the possibility with your instructor that you may have difficulty locating enough content or content in the specific areas covered by their course. Figure out what the minimum requirement would be for your search to be considered a “success.” Conversations about failure are never easy, but they are important to have, whether they take place during your first meeting with an instructor or later on.
Searching for Content
The person searching for OER may be you, a subject librarian in the faculty member’s field who has been trained on major OER repositories, an instructional designer, or another member of your team. Because of the proliferation of repositories and search tools available, it’s important that those helping you are trained on how to search for OER and the peculiarities of this process. Chapter 13, Searching for Open Content, will go into this process in more depth. If you’ve talked about searching for content with the faculty member, they may want to go out and search for content on their own as well! Consider sharing a worksheet or guidance document to help faculty through this work, such as the OER Treasure Hunt Worksheet (Elder 2020).
Sharing Content with Faculty
Once you have located some potential resources, it’s time to share them with the instructor. This part of the process can feel like one of the simplest, but there is plenty of room for things to go wrong. For example, you could overload the instructor with potential resources that they will not have time to review or you could present the materials in a way that makes it feel like they are only a collection of links. It’s important at this stage to keep up the same level of professionalism, care, and candor that you’ve presented throughout your OER consultation process.
How do you ensure that the resources you are sharing are presented in an organized fashion and easy for your instructor to navigate? An easy way to get around this is by sending content in a template, such as the OER Content Sharing Template (Smith and Elder 2021). Having a template for sharing content can be useful for presenting OER in an attractive way that highlights the pros and cons of each resource alongside basic information about it, such as description, content level, and license. The depth of information you include will depend on your instructor’s needs and the amount of content you’ve found. For example, if you’ve located a plethora of smaller resources, you may want to include “sections” in your template for specific types of material to further organize the results (e.g., readings, modules, exercises, images).
Another option for ensuring that the OER list you send is easy to understand is by being selective in what you send. Rather than including everything you found that might fit your instructor’s needs, limit your list to the items that seem like the best fit, based on your knowledge of the course and the resources you found. In your consultation meeting, you will have learned about the topics covered in the instructor’s course and what they want from their course materials. A cursory review of content and tone should help you determine what materials are most likely to meet your instructor’s needs.
Sharing a Lack of Content
Keep in mind that unlike commercial course materials, which have existed for decades, OER are still a fairly new concept and they have not fully saturated the market yet. There may be gaps in the OER available for some fields, and you may not be able to find anything open for your instructor. Be positive and frank with your instructor if this is the case. Here it’s incredibly useful if you’ve built a rapport with your instructor, since it will help you discuss any roadblocks you encountered in your search and how the instructor would like to proceed.
If there is a lack of OER for your instructor’s course, review possible alternatives available through your library’s collections (e-books, article indexes and databases, streaming videos, etc.) and course reserves system, or even commercial content that is more affordable than the previous resources they used. Setting up a regular check-in might be useful as well, so you can check in with the instructor as new OER are published that might be a good fit for their course. In the next chapter, we’ll dive into the process of locating OER in more depth.
The OER consultation provides a chance for OER program managers and instructors to meet and discuss their mutual interests. The specific process for managing these consultations differs from institution to institution. However, these meetings typically involve a review of the course being supported, a discussion about the course’s content and needs, and the identification and sharing of potentially relevant OER with the instructor. While it might seem like a wholly transactional process, if you manage these discussions well, OER consultations can be an excellent tool for getting to know the instructors on your campus and better supporting their needs.
- Course Mapping and Librarians (West 2015)
- Search for OER: Helping Faculty Find OER (McKernan 2015)
- Faculty, Are You Ready to Free the Textbook? Flowchart (College Libraries Ontario, n.d.)
- Setting up a formal process for consultation scheduling and management can help lessen your workload and streamline the process for instructors who want to get in touch with you and/or your team.
- When providing consultations for faculty, manage expectations for the outcomes of the consultation, and outline the process and timeline for locating content. This demystifies the process and helps programs avoid issues where an instructor’s expectations cannot be met.
- During your consultation, it is important to learn more about the instructors’ specific needs. Relationship building is an important part of this process, and will help both you and the instructor feel more confident in your ongoing discussions about OER identification, evaluation, and integration.
- Using a template to share open content mapped against course needs is one way that OER programs can provide a more professional-looking outcome for OER consultations. These mappings can be saved and reused for other courses in the same discipline as well.
College Libraries Ontario. n.d. “Faculty, Are You Ready to Free the Textbook?” Accessed January 29, 2022. https://tlp-lpa.ca/ld.php?content_id=34087644
Elder, Abbey K. 2020. “OER Treasure Hunt Worksheet.” Accessed January 29, 2022. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1Vc7xg_1LqJQ93gA789-LHLIwDe1ppK0m8IuhcPw_K_0/edit
Florida State University Libraries. n.d. “OER Consultation Request.” Accessed January 29, 2022. https://www.lib.fsu.edu/form/oer-consultation-request
McKernan, Rowan. 2015. “Search for OER: Helping Faculty Find OER.” In Librarians as Open Education Advocates. Library as Open Education Leader. https://openedadvocates.pressbooks.com/chapter/search-for-oer/
Smith, Shannon M., and Abbey K. Elder. 2021. “OER Content Sharing Template.” Accessed January 22, 2022. https://lib.dr.iastate.edu/materials/12
University of Missouri Libraries. 2020. “Request a Team Consultation.” Open Educational Resources (OER) Library Guide. https://libraryguides.missouri.edu/OER/consultation
West, Quill. 2015. “Course Mapping and Librarians.” In Librarians as Open Education Advocates. Library as Open Education Leader. https://openedadvocates.pressbooks.com/chapter/course-mapping-and-librarians/