Building an OER Program
Having a team to support your work is an integral part of any OER program. Team-building allows you to spread your message, gain visibility on campus, and garner insight from diverse groups. Whether you have an official team of OER staff at your institution or you’re creating a committee to help support your work, team-building is a vital step in OER program management. As Cummings-Sauls et al. (2019) explain, “Even when a library has the potential to support all aspects of an OER program, collaborating with allies on campus enables the resources and time of the library and librarians to have faster, greater, and better impact” (para. 10).
Soliciting Team Members
In some cases, you’ll be assigned to a group put together by your administration or compiled from existing staff who have an interest in OER. You may even have student workers or other staff you supervise who support OER work at your institution.
Even if this is the case at your institution, you still need to know how to reach out to potential external partners. This can also be useful for building connections across your institution and spreading awareness of your work, but outreach like this is often done when creating a committee. Soliciting committee members doesn’t need to be difficult. Sometimes, it is as simple as sending a friendly email to someone who works in a relevant area. Here are some tips for those of you just getting started:
Recruit Peers at your Institution
The first option is also the simplest. If you know someone from another office or department who would make a good addition to your OER committee, ask them. This can be done informally or formally. On the informal side, you might email or approach your peer to ask if they are interested in joining your committee. For a more formal approach, check with the potential team member’s supervisor before approaching them with a request to join, or send a formal email invitation on which you CC your peer’s supervisor. This email may be useful to your peer as a promotion and tenure item in the future when discussing their work on your team.
To recruit new team members that you don’t already know, it is best to send an introductory message to describe your team and why you think they would be a valuable addition to it. Here, it can be helpful to explain the story and motivations behind your OER program. What impact has your program had on your institution already, and how can your new team member contribute to make a difference? For those new to OER, providing a primer or offering to meet and discuss your work in more depth is a particularly good approach.
Often, the best team members to have in your committee are new members. Building a rotation into your annual process can be useful, and it fits well with groups who rotate naturally, like a representative from your faculty senate, advisory board, or student government. Just be sure to follow up on these rotating positions each year to ensure that you don’t suddenly lose a committee member without warning, if a past member is no longer at your institution or a part of the group they were representing.
Utilize a Top-down Approach
When you’re new to an institution, the best approach may be to contact the head of a specific department or office and ask for their opinion on who could contribute to your team. A few recommended partners are listed in the following section to help you brainstorm some options.
Common OER Partners
You should build a team with members that have a range of experiences, expertise, and roles across your institution. Bringing in members who have a range of experiences can be incredibly useful when it comes to developing outreach and training programs on campus, since these members may have different perspectives that affect how they respond to your program’s message.
Library representatives are often a staple of OER committees, and you might be a librarian yourself. Libraries are a natural fit for OER work, since they hold individuals experienced in copyright, content management, and publishing. The 2019 Connect OER Report from SPARC found that all of their surveyed institutions listed their college/university library as engaged in their OER program, and libraries have provided a leadership role in the open education community for many institutions. If you haven’t already, contact your institution’s library. They may be a valuable partner and can connect you with other local, state-wide, and national OER support groups.
Teaching and Learning Center
Aside from the library, the teaching and learning center (or equivalent group) is the second most common representative office on OER programs (SPARC 2019). These centers work in instructional design, which makes them a great complement for OER work. As many recent studies have emphasized, faculty can’t just effectively change their course content with no changes to the way they teach (Pierce 2016). Because of this, it’s incredibly important that OER programs have instructional design staff on their team to help faculty navigate their course design or redesign when making the change to open.
Besides triage support for faculty concerned about OER, these instructional design staff can also be useful for engaging with faculty learning communities in outreach projects, building out infrastructure to support open pedagogy on campus, and connecting with pedagogically minded faculty partners who can further support your team’s work.
Faculty and Faculty Senate
No matter how your OER team is made up, you should always seek faculty support for your work. Communicating with faculty members and with the faculty senate is important, and having one or more faculty members on your team can be incredibly useful when developing policy that affects instructors, putting together an outreach strategy, and testing professional development ideas. After all, if faculty members are one of your major audiences, it makes sense to include team members who represent this team. While this section has focused on “faculty,” teaching faculty and instructional staff are also incredibly useful partners for OER work. Don’t discount their importance when developing your team!
Similar to faculty partners, students can make excellent partners for OER teams when utilized well. However, finding students with the time and interest in OER work is often difficult. To help with this, we recommend reaching out to your local student government since student government members are more likely to have interest in extracurricular committee work.
In addition, partnering with student government can help you by giving your team the opportunity to communicate with major student groups easily and to develop policies, such as student government recommendations for course material priorities. In addition to these policies, working with student government can help you share information about your OER program, create and disseminate student surveys, and gather student input on your work. This input is incredibly important. Like the campus food bank or scholarship programs, the work being done “for” students to adopt, adapt, and author OER in the classroom should reflect actual student needs. Working with your student government can help you orient your work toward students’ needs.
Online Learning Office
If your institution has a separate office dedicated to online learning, the staff and administration of these centers are likely familiar with the types of restrictions and needs of their distance learning students, and OER are often a component in online degree programs. This group may also contain instructional designers who are particularly well-versed in online learning, and can be an excellent partner for your program. Whether your office for online learning is aware of OER or not, they can make a valuable partner in this work.
Finally, a major partner you should consider for your OER program is your institution’s bookstore. The bookstore is an obvious partner for OER work for a few reasons: they manage course material purchases for the institution, including software and ebooks, they gather adoption information from instructors about the materials they are using, and they provide lists for students to see what course materials have been assigned to their courses. In addition, bookstores have experience interfacing with vendors and can be a valuable partner in establishing standards for online platforms that are used at your institution.
Depending on your institution, partnering with your bookstore may be a more or less useful endeavor. Concerns about campus bookstore partners may include the following:
- For-profit bookstores not owned by your institution may have private commercial concerns above your students’ interests.
- The company that owns your bookstore may participate in openwashing.
- Even institutionally-managed bookstores may perceive OER programs as a threat to their business model or be actively against your OER program for another reason (Sanders and Wright 2019).
While these are legitimate concerns, you shouldn’t assume that your bookstore is an unwilling partner in your work. Think positive! Bookstores can make excellent partners in OER programs and should be given the benefit of the doubt when reaching out to potential collaborators at your institution (Bell 2015).
Other groups to engage with:
- Financial aid
- Deans and department chairs
- Digital Accessibility
- Institutional research
- Institutional repository managers
- Information Technology
- Open access programs or departments
- Student success center
- University press
- University printing
Assessing Potential Partners
It can be daunting to approach potential team members or partners about your OER program. If you’re not sure where to start, or how to approach a specific group or individual, consider what you could learn from them and what might interest them regarding your program’s work. The stakeholder analysis template created by Solera (2009) provides an excellent place to start this consideration, by asking you to list the stakeholders at your institution and how they might support your work. A stakeholder, in this case, refers to any contact who has the ability to support or hinder your program. A stakeholder analysis can be useful both for team building and for general program management, like soliciting funding or other types of support from administrators and other campus partners. Solera’s chart includes the following sections which you can map out against local contacts:
- Stakeholder names and roles
- How important is this stakeholder to your program’s success? (Low, Medium, or High)
- What is the current level of support from this stakeholder? (Low, Medium, or High)
- What do you want from this stakeholder?
- What is important to this stakeholder?
- How could these stakeholders block or be a barrier to your efforts?
- What is your strategy for enhancing stakeholder relations to encourage support?
When thinking about team building, the fourth and fifth points are particularly notable. The fourth point asks you to reflect on what you want from your potential team member, a useful exercise and a way of stepping outside of your position to consider whether your expectations might be overreaching. In contrast, the fifth point asks you to consider your contact’s point of view, which can then inform how you approach your potential team member and help ground your discussions with them.
Diversity and Inclusion for Team Building
If you already have a committee or group in place, consider whose voices might be missing and how you can incorporate those perspectives into your work. This could be accomplished either officially, by inviting additional members, or unofficially, such as by meeting with other offices on campus about your work.
Diversity comes in many forms, but it generally refers to including different people from different groups whose perspectives can enhance your work. Having a team that is diverse in race, age, gender, ability, and sexual identity as well as discipline, position, and pay grade can be incredibly useful for any academic program, but especially for OER programs. This is because OER work often intersects with issues on campus that require expertise in multiple venues. In addition, diverse teams are simply better teams and more likely to yield creative projects (Egan 2005).
The easiest way to build a diverse team is to do so intentionally from the beginning. Make it clear that you are looking for specific viewpoints and experiences that your team lacks, rather than assuming that an open call for participants will yield a diverse group of volunteers. In addition, be transparent in your request and the requirements of being a part of your team. Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) and LGBTQ faculty in particular are often asked to be representatives on departmental committees because they stand in for an underrepresented group; however, this mindset is not helpful to those faculty members or to you as a program manager as it places extra burden on them to confront and deal with issues that they may already be overburdened by on a daily basis (Matthew 2016). Interact with everyone on your team genuinely and create a space where each member can make meaningful contributions while respecting their workloads and time.
Making the Most of Your Team
To make the most of a diverse team, you need to let potential team members know that you value their specific experiences and viewpoints, not just their participation as a checkmark on a list. Utilize the strengths of your individual members and their areas of expertise. If you’re concerned that your committee lacks representation from staff, you shouldn’t reach out to individuals who might fit that niche at random; instead, think about the ways that staff from a particular office on campus could help support your work, tell them why you would appreciate their support, and ask for their advice on what they would like to do as part of your team. Some of the most impactful OER projects come from team members who have no pre-existing biases about what an OER program “should be.” Let the experiences of your team members and their areas of interest drive your work rather than hemming in your team to work on projects that you alone are invested in.
Keeping a diverse team requires work just as much as building one does. A diverse team includes people with different views, and because of this, a diverse team isn’t an easier team to manage. However, if you can foster an inclusive culture within your team, one that allows each member to present ideas and to have the time to discuss their opinions openly, you’ll accomplish better and more interesting work because of it (Rock and Grant 2016).
- Set up a regular meeting time when you can keep up with team members. If you don’t have a regular meeting time and/or if some team members are unable to regularly attend meetings, develop a process for sending out communications to your team, such as meeting notes or updates on the progress of specific projects.
- Check in between meetings for those working on particularly time-intensive projects. This is also a good practice for checking in with BIPOC, LGBTQ, and student members to make sure they’re feeling supported/valued by your group.
- If members of your team are also staff you supervise, be reasonable in your expectations for meeting frequency and length. If you could not make headway on a project alone in two weeks, don’t schedule check-ins with your team members on a biweekly basis.
- Be aware and considerate of student and instructor schedules, and try to set a consistent meeting time early in the semester that can accommodate the schedules of your student and instructor members. Using polling software or surveys can help in this process.
- For campus committee members whose work in OER is not related to their actual position, allow members to move away from the committee if they have too many other commitments.
- Additionally, seek new members for your team regularly, particularly if a long-term member has recently left the committee. You don’t need to have regular “changings of the guard,” but it is important to reach out to potential partners regularly to keep your team fresh.
- As you bring in new team members, introduce them to your team’s past work. Build documentation to explain the history of your group and how it was built, and include a description of roles and responsibilities that might be part of that history. Providing documentation like this can help ensure that, as old members leave your group, their work is preserved, acknowledged, and able to be built upon in the future if new members find that work of interest.
- Let your team pitch new projects! This can help drive interest in your team’s work, and support individual members’ buy-in to the group.
- Alternatively, pitch projects to your team. If you find that your team members are uncertain about the future of your group or what it could do, pitch projects that you find exciting. You’re more likely to energize your group if you are personally invested in the projects you pitch. Take on responsibilities for aspects of the project that require extensive experience with OER and delegate other tasks to the rest of your team, given their individual expertise.
- For new projects, track commitments and follow up with team members about their progress. For projects you’ve picked up, check in with yourself to ensure that you are also following through with your promises and let your team know if you need help with a particular aspect of this work.
- For particularly engaged team members, give them more responsibility in the group to reflect their experience and interest level. The amount of work you hand over to team members should be discussed with them directly to avoid concerns about volunteers’ workloads.
- Carefully plan out a timeline and structure for projects assigned to staff and student workers to ensure that they can complete their projects during the term without falling behind in other aspects of their work/schoolwork. This is particularly important for any staff you supervise.
OER initiatives are often headed by single individuals or units, but partnering with others can be incredibly impactful for your OER program. Sharing your work with others can amplify and diversify your work, while also providing a means for community engagement. This process brings stakeholders together under a mission they can mutually agree upon: improving the education of our students through both affordability and openness.
- BCcampus Working Group Guide (Wright and Lambert 2019)
- Lumen OER Playbook: OER Committee (Lumen Learning 2018)
- If your team has members from across your institution, ensure that you have included all major offices that have a stake in your work.
- Make room for consulting with staff and faculty members from other offices on campus, whether they are a formal part of your team or not. Getting input from campus partners can improve your work and ensure that you are taking into account the support available to you.
- Having a diverse team isn’t just for show: it improves and expands the types and levels of work you can do. Let your team members pitch projects and contribute to your program by leveraging their unique skills and experiences.
Bell, Steven. 2015, December 9. “Bookstore or College Store: Building a Relationship.” Library Journal. https://www.libraryjournal.com/?detailStory=bookstore-or-college-store-building-a-relationship-from-the-bell-tower
Cummings-Sauls, Rebel, Matt Ruen, Sarah Beaubien, and Jeremy Smith. 2018. “Open Partnerships: Identifying and Recruiting Allies for Open Educational Resources Initiatives.” In OER: A Field Guide for Academic Librarians, edited by Andrew Wesolek, Jonathan Lashley, and Anne Langley. Forest Grove: Pacific University Press. https://boisestate.pressbooks.pub/oer-field-guide/chapter/open-partnerships-identifying-and-recruiting-allies-for-open-educational-resources-initiatives/
Egan, Toby Marshall. 2005. “Creativity in the Context of Team Diversity: Team Leader Perspectives.” Advances in Developing Human Resources 7 (2): 207-225. https://doi.org/10.1177%2F1523422305274526
Lumen Learning. 2018. “OER Committee.” In OER Champion Playbook. https://lumenlearning.com/oer-committee/
Matthew, Patricia A. 2016, November 23. “What Is Faculty Diversity Worth to a University?” The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/11/what-is-faculty-diversity-worth-to-a-university/508334/
Pierce, Matthew. 2016. “Looking at OER with a Critical Eye: Strengthening OER Initiatives by Focusing on Student Learning.” Community & Junior College Libraries 22 (1): 11-17. https://doi.org/10.1080/02763915.2016.1205391
Rock, David, and Heidi Grant. 2016, November 4. “Why Diverse Teams Are Smarter.” Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2016/11/why-diverse-teams-are-smarter
Sanders, Colleen, and Meggie Wright. 2019. Not an Open Book: The Outsourcing of Oregon’s Community College Bookstores. OpenOregon Webinar. https://openoregon.org/archived-webinar-not-an-open-book-the-outsourcing-of-oregons-community-college-bookstores/
Solera, Jose. 2009. “Stakeholder Analysis Template.” Silicon Valley Project Management. Accessed February19, 2022. https://svprojectmanagement.com/project-decelerators-lack-of-stakeholder-support/stakeholder-analysis-template
SPARC. 2019. “2018-2019 Connect OER Report.” SPARC. https://sparcopen.org/our-work/connect-oer/reports/
Wright, Lucas, and Krista Lambert. 2019. Working Group Guide. Victoria, B.C.: BCcampus. https://opentextbc.ca/workinggroupguide/