5 Common OER Projects and Programs
Abbey K. Elder and Jeff Gallant
This chapter was adapted from the SPARC Open Education Leadership Program’s Open Education Primer, version 1.0.
Perhaps the most obvious work that an OER program manager does is to support projects (which have a finite end) and programs (which are ongoing) on campus. In this chapter, we will review common OER projects and programs, and provide examples of each. In addition, we have assigned a list of “related needs” to highlight what resources you might need to develop each project or program. Administrative buy-in, for example, can be a powerful tool for supporting and advancing your work. Since this chapter is an overview of many project types, it provides only basic information. For more detail about a single project type, review its corresponding chapter (e.g., see Chapter 6, Building a Grant Program, for more information about grant program development and management).
Professional Development Workshops
Related needs: staff time, staff expertise, funding (optional)
Organizing professional development workshops can be a successful way to engage faculty, raise OER awareness, and build a community of practice around open education and open pedagogy. Professional development workshops may take many forms and cover a wide variety of topics.
- Local Workshops: North Carolina State University has an open education program that offers open pedagogy workshops to educate instructional staff on the use of OER (North Carolina State University, n.d.).
- Consortial Workshops: The Open Education Network (OEN) provides workshops to member institutions to increase open textbook adoptions (Open Education Network 2022). Participating educators complete a full rubric-based review of an open textbook (see “Open Textbook Reviews” below) and institutions may choose to recognize this engagement with small educator stipends. A significant number of faculty who attend OEN workshops subsequently adopt open textbooks for use in their teaching. Another example is the monthly webinars series presented by the Community College Consortium for OER (CCCOER), featuring open education experts from across the United States. These webinars are free to the public and archived on YouTube.
- System-Wide Workshops: As part of its Affordable Learning Georgia program, the University System of Georgia offers locally-relevant training and events for members of its community to learn about OER, including the Featured Speaker Series (University System of Georgia, n.d.)
Professional Development Workshop Guidelines
If you are anticipating creating and running workshops, here are a few guiding principles to keep in mind:
Don’t Forget the Basics
While it may seem unnecessary or repetitive to offer workshops on the basics of OER (e.g., open education, open licensing, and finding/using OER), faculty come to OER at different times. Additionally, new faculty are always being hired. Program managers will be well-served by offering training on fundamental concepts annually. These workshops may have low attendance as your program grows, but those who are new to OER will appreciate the opportunity to learn.
Faculty and professional staff often have a very limited amount of time to attend professional development workshops. It may seem logical to let the attendance of a workshop rely solely on the merits and relevance of your program, but regardless of the interest that faculty might have in open education, incentives can help encourage attendance. Consider offering small stipends, a certificate, or professional development credit for those who attend a workshop or complete a workshop series. Aside from external incentives, you may be able to gather more interest in your workshops by partnering with organizations at your institution that provide required training (such as onboarding for new faculty) to introduce open education to staff at a larger scale.
Grow Communities of Practice
Once instructional faculty are knowledgeable about the basics of open education and possibly teaching with OER, webinars on the fundamentals will apply less to this group. Professional development opportunities shouldn’t end with the fundamentals, though: communities of practice, such as faculty learning communities, allow faculty to share their ideas and experiences with each other. This can unearth emergent and relevant topics to the group and ultimately encourage participants to take on further institutional leadership and advocacy roles around open education.
Karen Pikula, OER Coordinator for Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, has shared many resources about coordinating faculty learning circles for professional development. We recommend watching this video overview of her work from the Open Education Network: OER Learning Circles for Instructional Improvement (Open Education Network, 2020).
A similar program is helmed by SUNY and Lumen Learning, who partnered to create a Circles program for SUNY faculty consisting of nine-week virtual learning circle fellowships on a particular topic, including Teaching with OER, Open Pedagogy, and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (Lumen Learning, 2021).
OER Review Programs
Related needs: staff time, staff expertise, funding (optional)
OER review programs encourage instructors to review and evaluate existing OER by offering stipends or other incentives. Popularized by the Open Education Network’s approach of pairing an OER workshop with a requirement for participants to subsequently review an open textbook, this type of program has multiple positive outcomes:
- By reviewing open textbooks, instructors become part of the OER quality assurance process.
- Supporting OER reviews directly encourages faculty to explore OER in their subject area and to critique these offerings more carefully than they might when reviewing content on their own.
For example, the Davidson College OER Review Program (Hare, Wright, Allen, Clinkscales, & Reed 2019) has the following requirements for participants:
- Attend an OER consultation with a librarian to learn about OER and identify appropriate OER for their review.
- Complete a review form (provided) for each OER identified in the consultation.
- Provide feedback on the workshop and the review experience via an online survey.
Davidson’s program, and others like it, provide faculty who complete their evaluations with a small stipend to offset the time they have committed to evaluating and reviewing OER.
Related needs: funding, administrative buy-in, staff time, staff expertise, IT support
A mini-grant program is one that provides small grants to faculty to replace costly, traditionally-published textbooks with free or low-cost alternatives for students. These alternatives can take multiple forms, making use of a variety of open and library-licensed content.
The University of Massachusetts at Amherst launched their grant program in spring 2011, when instructors and administrators found that the average yearly allowance for books and supplies at a four-year institution was equivalent to 79 percent of earnings from a summer job for a student working full-time earning the Massachusetts minimum wage (The College Board 2011). The Open Education Initiative provides grants for instructors to create new open resources, use existing open resources, or even use library resources in place of a traditional commercial textbook (University of Massachusetts at Amherst Libraries, n.d.).
In contrast, Florida State University’s Alternative Textbook Grants program provides $1,000 in funding for instructors who commit to replacing their commercial course materials with OER, but do not provide funding for OER development (Florida State University Libraries, n.d.).
In addition to supporting the use of OER, many mini-grant programs supplement OER with other materials that are available free on campus, including library-licensed materials (which have already been paid for), public domain resources, free internet resources such as YouTube videos, and materials integrated under fair use. This approach can help broaden the spectrum of content available, although it is important to be clear with faculty and students about what content is OER and what is not.
Full Grant Programs
Full grant programs fund work that would not be feasible with a smaller budget, such as a total conversion of a course to OER for a team of faculty, or the creation of an entire open textbook without previously-existing materials that are easily remixed or revised. In essence, most grant funding is dedicated to supporting time; without a course release, summer pay, or overload pay for faculty, or similar support for a percentage of staff time, these larger projects would not be possible to complete.
Grant programs address and alleviate a common issue: the lack of value placed on OER labor within an institution or a system. When creating a full grant program, be sure to consider any differences in policies your institution or system has for funding faculty and staff. Leverage partnerships with other units (See Chapter 3, Building Your Team ) to make grant projects more feasible and effective. For example, if you have a department dedicated to assisting faculty with creating digital resources, this department may be able to participate within a grant project as part of a team, such as the provision of librarians and project managers in Ohio State University’s Affordable Learning Exchange Grants (The Ohio State University 2020).
For more information on starting a grant program, see Chapter 6, Building a Grant Program.
Open Education Policies
Related needs: staff time, staff expertise, administrative buy-in, funding (optional)
An open education policy is a plan of action or rule created to support the adoption, adaptation, and creation of open educational resources (OER) and/or the implementation of open education practices (EDUCAUSE 2018). Including Open Education in your institution’s policies is a way to directly raise awareness among your institution’s faculty and staff and to encourage part of an institution’s time and funding to be dedicated to open education work.
Institutional governance organizations such as a Student Government Association (SGA) and a Faculty Senate can pass a resolution stating that this organization is asking for particular open education outcomes, such as the adoption of OER or the funding of a grant program. While these resolutions are not rules or plans of action, they can lead to further development for your program by showcasing interest among the student population. For example, the Student Government Board at the University of Pittsburgh passed a resolution in 2018 to express their support for the use of OER at their institution (University of Pittsburgh Student Government Board 2018).
Promotion and Tenure Policies
Faculty will need to dedicate time and energy to the adoption, adaptation, and creation of OER. One way to recognize these efforts outside of extra compensation is to make sure this work matters during promotion and tenure evaluations. Working with your institution’s Faculty Senate or Student Government Association can move this work along and provide additional support for your policy’s development. For example, the University of British Columbia’s Student Government Association helped to add OER into their faculty P&T document in 2018 (Yano, Munro, & Coolidge 2018). This policy can be found in the current Guide to Reappointment, Promotion, and Tenure Procedures at UBC (University of British Columbia 2020).
Other helpful examples of documentation for OER in promotion and tenure include the DOERS3 OER in Promotion and Tenure Matrix, intended to be repurposed for particular institutions and systems (DOERS3 2021), and Iowa State University’s Open Education in Promotion, Tenure, and Faculty Development guide, which includes supplementary handouts and presentation materials (Iowa State University 2021).
Strategic Plan Inclusion
Institutions use strategic plans to set goals for outcomes they hope to achieve within a set span of time. While organizations often connect their initiatives to these plans after they are created, direct inclusion in the strategic plan often leads to higher priorities placed on this work. For example, the University System of Georgia’s Strategic Plan for 2024 explicitly lists Affordable Learning Georgia, their course materials affordability and OER initiative, as a strategic investment to improve affordability for their students (University System of Georgia 2019).
Alternatively, at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, the institution’s Open Education Program has its own strategic plan, rather than being part of a wider institutional planning document (Jhangiani 2018). This allows Kwantlen’s Open Education Strategic Plan to delve deeper into its OER program’s goals.
Related needs: administrative buy-in, funding (optional)
Recognition acknowledges the work that instructors do to create, adapt, and teach with new open content. Providing this recognition is important for OER programs because it rewards this extra effort rather than expecting faculty to do more with less. Recognition for instructors may come in many forms, from informal “news features” or blog posts to more formalized certificates and awards.
- Featured faculty website: Institutions can highlight instructors who have adopted OER into their courses by including them on a website or news feature. Iowa State University has a section on their OER website for OER Trailblazers, which features profiles for faculty who have adopted or created OER (Iowa State University, n.d.).
- Letters of recognition: OER Committees can support faculty who have created or adopted OER by sending out letters of recognition at the end of the semester or academic year highlighting their work with thanks. For committees with administrative support, getting a Provost’s or Chancellor’s signature on these letters can be incredibly impactful. Recognition letters can be physical or electronic. In the latter case, letters should be CC’d to the instructor’s department chair and/or dean to further boost the instructor’s work.
- SGA awards: Student Government Associations can make a big difference in your OER program by lending their voice as representatives for the student body. Awards from the SGA show thanks to instructors for the savings that OER brings to students in their course. Awards given by the SGA can be physical trophies, letters of recognition, or even monetary awards if your SGA is given a budget that allows for them. Texas A&M University’s Student Government Association has created two awards for instructors using OER, an Open Educator Award and an Open Education Champion Award (Texas A&M University Libraries, n.d.).
- Professional development (PD) certificates: PD certificates show that an instructor has completed some level of training around the use of OER. These certificates may be singular, showing completion for a training program, or they may be tiered, with different levels for specific workshops and areas of interest, such as open pedagogy, copyright, or the use of an OER publishing software like Pressbooks. One example of an OER PD certificate can be seen at Houston Community College, which offers OER certificates for instructors who complete OER training on the basics of “open education, OER, copyright, and the use of online resources and course design in Canvas” (Houston Community College, n.d.).
Course Schedule Markings
Related needs: staff time, staff expertise, administrative buy-in
Designating zero-cost or low-cost sections by providing markings in an institutional course schedule can achieve multiple outcomes for your open education program:
- Raising awareness of more affordable course material options including OER for faculty.
- Pointing out the most affordable course sections to take for students.
- Providing a potentially accurate way of measuring OER implementation and student success with OER throughout an institution.
For examples of course marking projects, see the excellent case studies and examples provided in Marking Open and Affordable Courses (Hare, Kischner, and Reed 2020). This open book, published by the University of Texas at Arlington, is a comprehensive guide to no-cost and low-cost designators, containing analyses of the policy and practices behind OER/affordable course markings and nine case studies from diverse higher education institutions and systems.
OER Hosting & Publishing
Related needs: staff time, staff expertise, IT support, funding (optional)
When it comes to programs that support the publication of OER, it’s tempting to assume that only larger programs, like those supported by university presses, fill this definition. However, your OER publishing work can start in many different places. In fact, many community colleges and even larger institutions share OER by hosting them on their institutional or consortial repositories rather than through an official publishing system.
Examples of places to host OER are provided below, with a description of each:
- Institutional repositories: A place to host all institutional files for public and/or limited distribution. Repositories often have vast options for entering metadata, which makes searching and browsing easier with large collections. One disadvantage of institutional repositories is their original function as a home for journal articles, theses, and dissertations: living, updated documents are harder to maintain in a static-file system like a repository.
- Library Guides (LibGuides): A place for the creation of web page-based modular (tabbed) guides to particular subjects. The modularity of LibGuides lends itself well to the creation of public and open versions of learning management system-locked courses. Depending on the subscription, LibGuides may have file size limits, and those limits may be exceeded by larger textbook files or other instructional materials with high-resolution images.
- OER Commons: Creating and/or linking to OER is free in OER Commons for individuals. While hosting files in OER Commons without a hub lacks a centralized way to bring all of your institution’s materials together, it does provide a solid way for creators to provide open-licensed and free access to the public.
- ○ OER Commons Hubs: A place to gather all OER Commons-linked or hosted materials for one institution. Because these are hosted within OER Commons and not within campus infrastructure and domains, extensive linking and promotion are needed in order to guide faculty, staff, and students within your institution to these materials.
Publishing programs are more extensive and often provide services such as graphic design, copyright management, and double-blind peer review alongside hosting.
In 2011, the University System of Georgia partnered with the University of North Georgia Press to create the first systemwide-authored open textbook, published in 2013. This partnership led to a workflow for the creation and publishing of textbooks that includes a call for authors, developmental edits, double-blind peer reviews, peer review revisions management, copyright management, copyediting, proofreading, graphic design, and hosting (University of North Georgia Press 2022).
Another noteworthy example comes from Oregon State University (OSU), which established a model for publishing open textbooks by leveraging the strengths of its existing campus units. Through the collaboration of OSU Libraries, OSU Press, and OSU Extended Campus, their publishing program provides financial, technical, and editorial support for faculty members to create open texts that aim to reduce costs for students (Oregon State University 2014).
For more information about OER publishing, see Chapter 17, Tools and Techniques for Creating OER.
Hosting and Publishing Open Courses
Related needs: staff time, staff experience, IT support
Open courses, sometimes referred to as open courseware, are full collections of materials aligned to a single course. These are sometimes presented as part of an online course offered live, and other times presented as an archive of materials used within a course in the past. The most prominent open courseware system is MIT OpenCourseWare (OCW), one of the first repositories for OER. Examples of open courseware projects include:
- MIT OpenCourseWare (OCW): A repository of course materials utilized at MIT, including syllabi, lessons, lecture slides, readings, and more. When commercial readings are assigned, information about the assigned texts are also included.
- Open Yale Courses: A select repository of free lecture videos from popular Yale courses. This set of materials has been diminished over the years as Yale instructors have moved their courses into Coursera, where learners can enroll for free or receive certificates of completion for paying a fee to the Coursera platform.
- Open Learning Initiative (OLI): Supported by Carnegie Mellon University, OLI offers fully online courses through interactive courseware. Instructors can adopt these materials in the OLI interface by creating an account. Note: some courses require a fee for students (or institutions) to pay for access to the courseware system.
Note that open courseware may pose some issues with accessibility and regular updates over time, particularly if they are meant to present a single moment in time for a course. Broken links, inaccessible PDFs, and difficult to remix PDFs of PowerPoint presentations can be found in some older courseware archives, though this trend is changing now that OER programs are given more support from digital archivists and other support staff. Proper versioning of course content and a linked data system for “pointing” at newer versions of a course should be considered for any newer open course systems, particularly those housed at a single institution.
Zero Textbook Cost Degrees
Related needs: administrative buy-in, staff time
A Zero Textbook Cost or “ZTC” Degree (sometimes called “Z Degrees”) refers to a degree pathway where at least one section of every course uses open or otherwise free materials. The idea is that students can attain a degree without spending a single dollar on textbook costs.
Tidewater Community College introduced the first truly textbook-free degree program in 2013: there is no cost for textbooks, and all course content is openly-licensed for its Business Administration Associate of Science Degree (SPARC, n.d.). This covers not only the degree-specific courses but also the general education courses needed to acquire each credential.
Pierce College in Washington State has instituted a ZTC Degree program for a university transfer degree. The Pierce Open Pathway program will allow students to enroll in online and hybrid classes, which feature low-cost, openly licensed learning resources (Pierce College 2015).
ZTC Degrees are often paired with course marking programs since students can enroll in some ZTC courses without necessarily being in the full degree program. By marking the ZTC sections of a course, students in the ZTC program can more easily locate the section they need to enroll in, and other students can selectively choose which sections to enroll in to save themselves money.
There are many programs and projects that an OER program manager can implement at their institution. The number and complexity of the projects you choose to undertake will depend on three things:
- Your workload and the availability of staff time to support your OER program.
- Whether and how much funding is allocated toward your OER program.
- The level of interest for OER on your campus, and existing programs that can tie into your work.
After taking these three considerations into account, you should be able to pick out a few projects or programs which will enable you to start at your institution. If you don’t have enough support to realize a project right now, this may be a great opportunity to reach out to stakeholders on campus and get additional funding, staff, or other support for your program’s ongoing success. Remember: you don’t have to start with a fully-realized OER program with multiple components. We all start small, and work our way towards a more comprehensive OER program as we find the ability to support it.
- Open Education Strategy Database (BCcampus, n.d.)
- OER Project Planning Worksheet (Elder 2018)
- OER Policy Development Tool (Coolidge & DeMarte 2016)
- Faculty Communities of Practice on Open Educational Resources: A Toolkit (Louis, n.d.)
- OER Action Plan Template with Examples (Open Education Network, n.d.)
- OER projects and programs come in many types, from workshops and workshop series to publishing programs and grants. Explore these options and consider whether you want to pilot or expand a project or program at your institution.
- You have a lot of options for supporting the faculty adopting or creating OER on your campus. Beyond direct grants, you can also consider methods for recognizing instructors through thank you letters, awards, or by advancing institutional policies that acknowledge open education work in promotion and tenure guidelines.
- OER programs can contain many pieces, from smaller projects to ongoing programs. What pieces your program contains will depend on the support available to you.
BCcampus. n.d. “Open Education Strategy Database.” Accessed January 30, 2022. https://airtable.com/shrVXJcvZ4KbxbXAO/tblSYQhp9tY0nIG3b
Coolidge, Amanda, and Daniel DeMarte. 2016. OER Policy Development Tool. Lumen Learning. http://policy.lumenlearning.com/
DOERS3. 2021. “Tenure and Promotion.” Accessed February 4, 2022. https://www.doers3.org/tenure-and-promotion.html
Elder, Abbey K. 2018. “OER Project Planning Worksheet.” Accessed February 4, 2022. https://goo.gl/qpwSnJ
EDUCAUSE. 2018. “7 Things You Should Know about Open Education: Policies.” https://library.educause.edu/resources/2018/8/7-things-you-should-know-about-open-education-policies
Florida State University Libraries. n.d. “Alternative Textbook Grants.” Accessed February 4, 2022. https://www.lib.fsu.edu/alttextbooks
Hare, Sarah, Andrea Wright, Christy Allen, Geneen E. Clinkscales, and Julie Reed. 2019. “Interinstitutional collaborations to forge intracampus connections: A case study from the Duke endowment libraries.” In OER: A Field Guide for Academic Libraries, edited by Andrew Wesolek, Jonathan Lashley, and Anne Langley. Forest Grove: Pacific University Press. https://boisestate.pressbooks.pub/oer-field-guide/
Hare, Sarah, Jessica Kirschner, and Michelle Reed (Eds). 2020. Marking Open and Affordable Courses: Best Practices and Case Studies. Arlington, TX: Mavs Open Press. https://uta.pressbooks.pub/markingopenandaffordablecourses/
Houston Community College. n.d. “OER Training Certification.” Accessed February 4, 2022. https://learning.hccs.edu/faculty/nathan.smith2/open-educational-resources-information/oer-certification
Iowa State University. 2021. “Open Education in Promotion, Tenure, and Faculty Development.” Accessed February 4, 2022. https://oept.pubpub.org/
Iowa State University. “Trailblazers.” Accessed February 4, 2022. https://www.oer.iastate.edu/trailblazers
Jhangiani, Rajiv. 2018. “Open Education Strategic Plan 2018-2023.” Kwantlen Polytechnic University. https://kpu.pressbooks.pub/openeducation/
Louis, Lisa. n.d. “Faculty Communities of Practice on Open Educational Resources: A Toolkit.” Last updated Jul 27, 2021. https://guides.library.tamucc.edu/oer_cop_toolkit
Lumen Learning. 2021. “Lumen Circles: SUNY Information Site.” Accessed February 4, 2022. https://info.lumenlearning.com/circles-suny
North Carolina State University. n.d. “Open Education.” Accessed February 4, 2022. https://www.lib.ncsu.edu/do/open-education
Open Education Network. n.d. “OER Action Plan Template with Examples.” Accessed February 4, 2022. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1Vhcdz6-HwNZN7t8Ka5u5HIun_H13_-LBjafC5UXDcrk/
Open Education Network. 2020, June 17. “6/17 OER Learning Circles for Instructional Improvement.” YouTube video, 57:07. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jDAzdaF1v3w
Open Education Network. 2022. “Local Workshops: Empower and Engage Faculty.” Accessed February 4, 2022. https://open.umn.edu/oen/workshops
Oregon State University. 2014, February 21. “OSU open textbook initiative aims to reduce student costs, enhance learning.” Accessed February 4, 2022. http://oregonstate.edu/ua/ncs/archives/2014/feb/osu-open-textbook-initiative-aims-reduce-student-costs-enhance-learning
Pierce College. 2015, July 2. “New university transfer degree eliminates textbook costs.” Accessed February 4, 2022. http://thesubtimes.com/2015/07/02/new-university-transfer-degree-eliminates-textbook-costs/
SPARC. n.d. “Reducing Textbook Cost to $0: Tidewater Community College.” Accessed February 4, 2022. https://sparcopen.org/impact-story/tidewater-community-college/
Texas A&M University Libraries. n.d. “Open Educational Materials Awards.” Accessed February 4, 2022. https://library.tamu.edu/services/scholarly_communication/open_ed_awards.html
The College Board. 2011. “Trends in College Pricing 2011.” https://research.collegeboard.org/pdf/trends-college-pricing-2011-full-report.pdf
The Ohio State University. 2020. “Apply Now for an ALX Grant.” Accessed February 4, 2022. https://affordablelearning.osu.edu/news/2020/11/24/apply-now-alx-grant
University of British Columbia. 2020. “Guide to Reappointment, Promotion, and Tenure Procedures at UBC.” https://hr.ubc.ca/sites/default/files/documents/SAC%20Guide.pdf
University of Massachusetts at Amherst Libraries. n.d. “UMass Library Open Education Initiative.” Accessed February 4, 2022. https://www.library.umass.edu/oer/open-education-initiative/
University of North Georgia Press. 2022. “Textbooks and OERs.” Accessed February 4, 2022. https://ung.edu/university-press/books/textbooks-and-oers.php
University of Pittsburgh Student Government Board. 2018. “Calling Upon the University of Pittsburgh to Adopt Open Educational Resources.” http://sgb.pitt.edu/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/B.R.2018.01-Open-Educational-Resources.pdf
University System of Georgia. n.d. “Featured Speaker Series.” Accessed February 4, 2022. https://www.affordablelearninggeorgia.org/events/speakers
University System of Georgia. 2019. “Strategic Plan 2024.” https://www.usg.edu/strategic_plan/assets/strategic_plan/documents/SP2024.pdf
Yano, Brady, Daniel Munro, and Amanda Coolidge. 2018, July 18. “University of British Columbia: Recognizing Open in Promotion and Tenure.” Educause: Transforming Higher Ed. https://er.educause.edu/blogs/2018/7/university-of-british-columbia-recognizing-open-in-promotion-and-tenure