6 Building a Grant Program
Grant programs are a common and effective practice within OER initiatives; these programs are so widespread and trusted that statewide OER legislation often includes the establishment or continuation of a grant program (see Recommended Resources: State Legislation Examples). A grant program encourages action without mandating action, supporting the time and resources that are necessary for faculty to implement OER. Open education programs can support and grow the adoption, adaptation, and creation of OER while still giving instructors and departments the agency to choose which resources are best for their courses and students. Grants are therefore a core method of “opt-in” support, inviting faculty members to explore, collaborate, and build new OER within their areas of subject expertise.
Step 1: Determine Your Strategic Priorities
Before you begin building a grant program, ensure that you have the vision, mission, and strategic goals of the program finalized. While grant programs typically address common goals of student savings and student success, it’s important to link what you will prioritize in the grant application and review process to what your overall program prioritizes. Be sure to address these questions before creating your grant program:
Is your open education program focused on textbook cost savings?
Early open education programs often focused on the zero-cost aspect of OER and its potential to enhance student success through equitable access to materials (see Recommended Resources: Early Open Education Programs). Grant programs focused on textbook cost savings often prioritize the adoption of OER with regard to how many students are affected by a project and how much the new OER will save each student (see Chapter 21, Data Collection and Strategies for OER Programs, for more on savings data).
Not every open education program has a primary focus on affordability: the MIT OpenCourseWare program has a strategic priority of making MIT teaching and learning resources available over the Web to a global audience (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, n.d.). Grant programs focused on the global impact of sharing OER may prioritize the creation of original open materials.
Who makes the decisions on textbook selection?
In higher education institutions, individual faculty often select the materials they will use for their courses (Seaman and Seaman 2020). This could vary by the course or the institution, though: departments will sometimes choose a uniform set of course materials for their courses, or a major introductory course may uniquely have a uniform set of materials to accommodate part-time and adjunct instructors. Grant programs supporting individual faculty may focus on course release time and stipends, while grant programs supporting entire departments may include a partnership with embedded professional staff support (instructional designers, librarians) and include a department-wide approval process for materials.
Can your program support other institution-wide goals?
Open education programs often address student success through both affordability and innovative ways of teaching, but there are other goals that open education programs could support. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) goals could be supported through the creation of inclusive and accessible OER, while digital access-focused goals could be supported through zero-cost, day-one access to OER as an institution moves to online or hybrid instruction.
Step 2: Create a Draft Request for Proposals
The creation of a draft Request for Proposals (RFP) might seem sudden at this stage of creating a grant program, but this process happens early for a reason: designing the grant program that best fits the needs of your faculty, staff, and students first will function as the basis of your formal proposal for the implementation and funding of the grant program. Having an RFP ready means that you’re ready to tell administrators exactly what you need for the program and why you need it. When creating an RFP draft, include at least these sections:
Why do these grants exist? State the strategic goals the program is addressing, along with a few desired outcomes of the program, such as enhancing student success through open educational practices, making access to course materials more equitable and affordable, or impacting the global community through sharing institutional resources.
What do your grants look like? Are there multiple categories? Do those categories differ in how much you can award each grantee? This is where you define what these grants look like and the desired amount of funding. Here are some examples of different OER grant structures:
- Affordable Learning Georgia’s Affordable Materials Grants have two categories: transformation grants, for the replacement of commercial textbooks, and continuous improvement grants, for the improvement of OER through revision and ancillary materials creation (University System of Georgia 2014). Further strategic priorities are addressed through priority categories, which influence review scores but do not alter the amount of funding.
- The Ohio State University Affordable Learning Exchange (ALX) grants have four categories: high support, low support, a syllabus review, and a special grant that supports the strategic goal of racial justice (The Ohio State University 2022).
- Open Oregon Educational Resources’ OER Grants have six categories based on the type of work being done: as-is, maintenance, interactives, revise/remix, author, and a catch-all “other” category (Open Oregon Educational Resources 2021).
What will your grantees need to do before, during, and after the project? The work as described on each proposal will be the majority of the work, but consider whether or not these activities will also be required:
- Getting signatures on an agreement or contract
- Submitting invoices for payment
- Attending a kickoff meeting or regular check-ins
- Completing reports before the project is done
- Completing a final report
- Submitting any created materials
- Ensuring any created materials are accessible and inclusive
- Assigning a Creative Commons license to new materials
- Marking completed OER courses with a designator in the course schedule
- Participating in presentations and other program communications
While it may seem like a separate application form would suffice to explain how the application process works, it’s both good for applicants to know what to expect in the RFP and good for administrators to know how the process works. Be sure to address the following:
- How to apply, including links to the application forms and any review rubrics (links may be TBD in your first draft)
- The review process, including how peer and/or administrative reviews will work
- Any approvals needed, including departmental letters of support
- How notifications work once applications are accepted or rejected
What are the dates and deadlines that applicants will need to know? Setting a timeline will also give administrators a heads-up on when funding needs to be available. Be sure to include:
- The application deadline, including the date and time when applications close
- The review period, separated by peer and administrative reviews if applicable
- The notification date when all applicants should expect to know whether or not their application was awarded
- Any required meeting dates for accepted applicants, such as a kickoff meeting
While the award amount is critical to know, and you may have already put these award amounts in the Grant Structure section, you will need a space to explain the details for how funding works. Some of these might be TBD until funding is approved by your institution or until you meet with applicable grants/research office staff, but the following should be addressed early:
- When are grant funds disbursed? Do awardees receive all funding up-front, all funding at the end when a final report is submitted, or half up-front and half at the end? Funding methods where at least partial funds are disbursed at the end of the project can ensure an extra level of accountability for project completion.
- Are these direct stipends, departmental funding, or given in the form of release time?
- What happens if there is a change in personnel? Direct stipends can be tough to manage in the event of turnover or other personnel changes in the middle of a project.
At this point, you now have an RFP that outlines exactly how your grants will work; if you already have funding ready, you can continue with creating all of your supporting documentation to make these grants happen. If you are trying to secure funding, you may be doing extra work too soon by creating the rest of the documentation; consider stopping here and working toward securing funds with the RFP as your outline for administrators on how everything will work. Once funding is secured, you can move to the next step.
Step 3: Create Supporting Documentation
The RFP Draft as described in Step 2 will require quite a few documents to ensure that the launch of your grant process moves smoothly. These documents will include:
- The application form(s), including downloadable/printable versions for applicants to use as a template before applying (see Chapter 21, Data Collection and Strategies for OER Programs, for data you may need to gather for reports)
- The online application submission form
- A review rubric to share with reviewers and applicants with evaluation criteria
- A web page to host the RFP and all applicable forms
- An announcement to raise awareness of your grant program and the release of your RFP
- In addition to the documentation required for launching the program, you will need the following documents created in the near future:
- Report templates for mid-project and final reports
- Agenda, presentations, and activities for a kickoff meeting
Step 4: Finalize and Announce
Now that your documentation is completed and your grant program is ready to launch, it’s time to launch it. Finalize the RFP, with links to all of the supporting documentation replacing the TBD sections, and host the finalized documents on your web page. Be sure to run any official documentation through appropriate channels for approval, such as your department’s director. Work through as many communications channels relevant to your instructional faculty as you can, and capitalize on any opportunities to present to faculty at regular events such as new faculty orientation, committee meetings, and faculty senate meetings. See Chapter 7, Marketing Your OER Program, for more ideas on marketing your grant program. Be sure to set some time aside to answer questions from interested faculty during the timeline for the RFP.
Optional Step: The Peer Review Process
There are programs where the evaluation of applications by you and your team will be enough, but larger programs with limits on how many applications can be accepted can benefit from outside perspectives from peer reviewers to mediate this process. If you are planning on a peer review process for grant applications, you will need to recruit peer reviewers and facilitate the process. This includes:
- Securing funding and confirming how reviewers will be compensated, if applicable
- Issuing a Call for Reviewers and an application process
- Reserving a time for an introductory meeting about the peer review process with reviewers
- Providing an easy way for each reviewer to access all assigned applications
There are a few different approaches to the peer review process that have been widely adapted by OER programs:
Scoring-Only Peer Review
After an initial introductory meeting, peer reviewers are assigned their applications. Applications are evaluated individually, with peer reviewers filling out a form with scoring that pertains to the evaluation rubric. After all peer reviews are submitted, scores are either added or averaged for each application.
Advantages: This individual approach saves time for both reviewers and administrators. If used in tandem with an efficient online form, scores can be put side-by-side, added, and averaged immediately.
Disadvantages: Peer reviewers will not typically communicate with each other during this process, meaning if one reviewer identifies an issue, others may not identify that same issue when submitting their reviews. To ameliorate this disadvantage, consider assigning more than one peer reviewer per proposal.
Committee-Only Peer Review
Peer reviewers are given access to all applications and must read them over before the first meeting. Multiple meetings are convened to discuss each application and decide whether to accept or reject each. This committee of peer reviewers will need information on how many grants, or the maximum amount of funding, they can award. This process can also happen in multiple groups (for example, if there are thirty applications and nine peer reviewers, three groups of three peer reviewers select a maximum of six applications out of the ten assigned to them).
Advantages: Reviewers discuss each application with each other, and each reviewer’s perspective contributes to the overall evaluation, so most strengths or issues in an application are not lost in the numbers.
Disadvantages: In most cases, this will take more than one meeting to complete, and this process involves a heavy amount of consensus-building. Both program managers and reviewers will spend more time in this process.
Scoring/Committee Hybrid Peer Review
This peer review approach still requires meeting time, but scoring happens before the meetings convene. This way, peer reviewers already have all of their individual thoughts on each assigned application ready, and the ranking and acceptance processes will usually take less time in meetings.
Advantages: Every reviewer is equally prepared for the meeting, and while scoring does take place, there’s room for reviewers to share their perspectives with each other and change their scores if necessary.
Disadvantages: This will still involve consensus-building. To ameliorate this process, be sure to give clear expectations on what you want the final recommendations to look like, including your minimum/maximum amount of projects or funds available.
Step 5: Send Notifications
Once the review process is completed and your awardees are selected, it’s time to distribute notifications to all applicants. Set aside a substantial amount of time on the notification date to both distribute notifications and answer follow-up questions. Your communication channels will vary depending on your institution, but you need to distribute basic acceptance and rejection notices to applicants at the very least. Here are some things to keep in mind for notifications:
- Acceptance notifications should come with information on how to get started. This includes anything the awardees need to do to confirm they will participate, information on how to attend a kickoff meeting, and how they can get started on receiving funds. This is also a good time to give out a unique identifier for their project: usually a unique number that will identify the project going forward in all documentation and tracking. Affordable Learning Georgia gives out a three-digit number for each project.
- If you have projects where critical questions need to be answered by the applicants before awarding them, consider sending out these questions on the notification date and delaying the notification until these questions are answered. Assign a deadline for responses.
- Consider encouraging any rejected applicants to revise and resubmit in a future round. Be sure to include peer reviewer and administrative reviewer feedback in order to assist, and offer to talk with applicants about how to improve their project proposal.
Step 6: Get Grant Projects Started
Now that you have your confirmed awardees, it’s time to help these projects move forward. Most institutions will have a standard Service Level Agreement (SLA) or Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the grantees and your program, and these signed agreements will be connected to the disbursement of funds. Be sure to adapt this agreement to your specific program: for example, what happens if a project is only partially completed? What happens if zero work is done? What happens if someone leaves the institution or is replaced by another instructor on the project due to time constraints?
A kickoff meeting is a great way to ensure that all grantees understand the fundamentals of open education, accessibility, and hosting, along with how to complete reports and receive funding. Perhaps more importantly, it gets all awardees together as one ad-hoc community of practice centered in open education. Whether it’s online or in-person, kickoff meetings put a face to the email addresses and position titles and link those experienced with open education with those who are just getting started.
Covering open education, accessibility, how to host new materials, how to complete reports, how funding works, and how signed agreements work would take quite a bit of in-person time, and you want the actual kickoff meeting to encourage collaboration and teamwork, not just presentations. To make things easier, consider having some of the training done asynchronously before the meeting takes place. Affordable Learning Georgia has an open-licensed asynchronous kickoff training through Google Sites and Google Forms (University System of Georgia, n.d.).
Step 7: Deadlines and Reports
Once the deadline for grant projects gets close, send reminders out to awardees who should be filling out their reports, finalizing their materials, and sending everything to you. Have a final report submission form ready with everything you want to know about the project, including a narrative description of the project, successes, lessons learned, quantitative and qualitative data (e.g., student perceptions of the materials, student success data, course-level student retention data such as drop/fail/withdraw rates), and future plans to sustain the implementation of OER.
Have a folder structure ready to organize all reports – you may want to do this by the unique identifier assigned to each project. Ensure that all documents, including invoices for final payments if applicable, are sent to you. Consider hosting this in a closed space shared by your organization, such as Microsoft Sharepoint or a private FTP server, in order to access these documents remotely at any time. See Chapter 22, Calculating and Reporting Student Savings, for more on how to report the resulting data to your stakeholders.
Moving from Pilot Funding to Consistent Funding
Grant programs often start with a one-time pilot round of funding. These OER pilot rounds often attract faculty who are innovative instructors with the time and agency to learn about new teaching methods and apply them in their courses. In order to bring faculty with less time to devote to teaching and learning innovations within the program, grant programs will need to run for more than one round. This will allow faculty who are not early adopters to see successful examples, read successful applications, and plan out an adoption, adaptation, and/or creation strategy with often time-constrained teams.
One way to assist faculty with more time constraints in applying for grants is providing grant writing support or consultations for prospective applicants. Not all instructional faculty have grant writing experience to draw from when applying for an OER grant; this type of one-on-one support can help bridge the gap between those with grant writing experience and those without. It may also help introduce new, part-time, and/or adjunct faculty to OER work, instead of having a program that almost solely works for experienced, tenured or tenure-track instructors. For more on providing one-on-one OER support, see Chapter 12, Managing OER Consultations.
If you are running a grant program with just one year of funding, securing a renewal of the program in the following fiscal year will likely be a goal of the initiative. In order to reach this goal, the Program Manager will need to make the case that this is an impactful program worth sustaining. The following activities are crucial in securing a renewal of the program:
- Executing a data collection plan. For more, see Chapter 21, Data Collection and Strategies for OER Programs.
- Analyzing data and reporting on student savings to those responsible for funding the program. For more, see Chapter 22, Calculating and Reporting Student Savings.
- Knowing your environments and connecting with key stakeholders. For more, see Chapter 8, Building Familiarity on Campus.
- Marketing to these key stakeholders. For more, see Chapter 7, Marketing Your OER Program.
Strategic Connections to Other Faculty Incentives
The long-term sustainability of an OER program often depends on more than just grant funding; without additional incentives, interest may wane quickly. To encourage the use of OER, consider a grant program which connects with other faculty incentives, such as:
- the inclusion of OER work in promotion and tenure criteria (See Chapter 5, Common OER Projects and Programs)
- linking the grants to an already-existing course redesign initiative, such as Iowa State University’s Miller Open Education Mini-Grant Program and its stated inspiration from the Miller Faculty Fellowship Program (Iowa State University 2021)
- a link to a goal or objective within the organization’s strategic plan
- a link to an already-existing faculty awards program
Recognition and rewards outside of the grant program will drive further engagement with OER past the term of a grant project and frame OER adoption, adaptation, and creation as a practice that is not dependent on grant funding alone. A great example of this is the University of Tennesee-Knoxville’s SGA Open Educator Award, where the SGA awards instructors for high-quality OER creation, the promotion of OER, contributing to a culture of openness and knowledge sharing, and/or increasing student access to course materials (University of Tennessee-Knoxville 2019).
Grant programs within your OER initiative will depend heavily on the program’s environment, contexts, funding, and staff time available. Starting with existing and successful models will help to jump-start a grant program and provide a solid rationale to those responsible for funding at your institution or system. Keep an eye on your institution’s unique mission, strategies, and values while building your grant program, and be sure to connect grants with other faculty incentives available within your program or your institution.
State Legislation Examples
Early Open Education Programs
- Maricopa Community College: Maricopa Millions
- Tidewater Community College: Z-Degree Program
- OER Funding Amounts and Types (collectively authored, hosted and edited by Rebel Cummings-Sauls)
- OER grant programs support and expand the adoption, adaptation, and creation of OER within your institution without mandates; faculty still have the agency to select their own resources.
- A consistent grant schedule, which is dependent on a consistent availability of funds, will help faculty with less time to devote to pedagogical innovations to join OER efforts when they can.
- Just because funding is available does not mean that your OER grant program will see an immediate flood of interest. Partner with other strategic initiatives to get the word out and prioritize OER work.
- Recognition and awards can accelerate OER work outside of the grant program.
Iowa State University. 2021. “Apply for a Mini-Grant.” Open Educational Resources website. Accessed January 20, 2022. https://www.oer.iastate.edu/apply-mini-grant
Iowa State University. 2021.”Miller Faculty Fellowship Program.” Center for Excellence in Learning & Teaching website. Accessed January 22, 2022. https://www.celt.iastate.edu/resources/funding-opportunities/miller-faculty-fellowship-program/
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. n.d. “About OCW.” Accessed January 20, 2022. https://ocw.mit.edu/about/
Open Oregon Educational Resources. 2021. “Call for Proposals: Open Educational Resources Grants.” Accessed January 20, 2022. https://openoregon.org/2021-oer-grants/
The Ohio State University. 2022. “Faculty Grants.” Accessed January 22, 2022. https://affordablelearning.osu.edu/faculty-grants
Seaman, Julia and Jeff Seaman. 2020. “Digital Texts in the Time of COVID.” Bay View Analytics. https://www.bayviewanalytics.com/reports/digitaltextsinthetimeofcovid.pdf
The University of British Columbia. 2020. “Guide to Reappointment, Promotion and Tenure Procedures at UBC.” UBC Human Resources. Accessed January 29, 2022. https://hr.ubc.ca/sites/default/files/documents/SAC%20Guide.pdf
University System of Georgia. 2014. “Affordable Materials Grants.” Affordable Learning Georgia. Accessed January 29,. 2022. https://www.affordablelearninggeorgia.org/about/grants
University System of Georgia. n.d. “Affordable Materials Grants Kick-Off Training.” Accessed January 20, 2022. https://sites.google.com/view/amg-kickoff/
University of Tennessee-Knoxville. 2019. “SGA Open Education Award.” Accessed January 20, 2022. https://www.lib.utk.edu/scholar/services/scholarlycomm/sga-open-educator-award/