Building familiarity with OER on campus is a key part of the outreach and promotion work OER program managers must undertake to help expand the adoption and promotion of open course materials. When thinking about building awareness at your institution, it helps first to determine what the overall OER climate is. Campuses with existing robust OER programs will have different needs than those whose OER efforts are more nascent. This chapter provides a guide to conducting an environmental scan to establish starting points for helping your institution build familiarity and interest with OER.
Conducting an Environmental Scan
When considering where to start or refine your strategy for building familiarity with OER at your institution, an environmental scan can give you and your team a firm foundation to start with. An environmental scan is an examination of the environments surrounding your program with special regard to how they interact with, support, or possibly hinder your program’s mission. When conducting an environmental scan for an OER program, consider these questions in order to get a full picture of your institution and its surroundings:
Internal Environment: Your Institution
How does materials adoption work at your institution?
Check for departmental or institutional policies which may affect whether instructors have the agency to select materials for their own course sections. For example, departments may adopt a single set of resources for use in large introductory courses at one institution, while faculty may select their own resources at another. The amount of agency an instructor has in selecting materials may also differ depending on their status (full-time, part-time, adjunct). Finally, there may be external factors which influence the choices instructors make, such as vendor incentives, automatic billing programs, or minimum sales requirements for discount prices on materials.
What are the current OER adoption levels on campus?
Gathering accurate data regarding how many faculty are adopting OER at your institution or system can be a daunting task, but some of this information may already exist. If your institution has comprehensive materials adoption data through a campus store or auxiliary services department, for instance, this data would be a great place to start looking for OER adoptions. Check with the providers of this data to find how it’s reported and whether or not they see the data as largely accurate. For institutions where adoption data is incomplete or disregards OER adoptions, you may only be able to estimate the current use levels by conducting a survey.
What can you discern about attitudes towards OER at your institution?
Take a look at the current activities within places that support teaching and learning; there may be open education activities taking place, along with open-friendly faculty learning communities, which may have the potential to discuss OER topics alongside other innovative ideas in teaching and learning. The presence of these activities increase the likelihood that faculty and staff at your institution are already aware of OER, and in addition, partnerships with these departments or offices providing these activities would be an easy way to schedule more focused OER sessions. Library focuses related to Open Education, such as Open Access or Open Data, may be the most common activities to bridge with an OER program.
More direct ways of discerning attitudes toward OER at your institution include one-on-one interviews, moderated focus groups, and surveys with open-ended survey responses. Looking at trends in this data will help you identify overall sentiments, and grouping your data by subject area, position, and other factors will help you understand more localized differences between groups of instructors regarding OER.
External Environments (your region, state, nation, etc.)
What is the recent history of OER efforts within your state or region?
This may start with some web searching, but consider contacting any OER program leaders within these environments as you find them. Look for OER library guides, websites, and other markers of existing programs near you to help identify peers as well. Library consortia and regional higher education compacts with open education programs will often be glad to help, and open education leaders tend to be very amenable to discussions about their programs and how to get yours started. Open education conferences, from regional to international, will help in forming networks with other open education leaders close to you. National and international open education organizations, such as the Open Education Network and the Rebus Community, are also wonderful places to explore OER collaboration.
Which institutions does your institution consider aspirational peers? Do they have an OER and/or open education program?
Knowing this information will help when discussing the potential for an OER/open education program with executive leadership at your institution, and knowing how leadership views aspirational peers will help as well. For example, if you are within an institution which looks to only “tried and tested” efforts in the field, identifying these within your institution’s aspirational peers will help in communicating the potential success and rationale for starting an OER program. Institutions could also function as the aspirational peer and the “pioneer” for other institutions; in this case, it may benefit you more to communicate the innovative side of OER programs, such as open pedagogy, contributing to a global and growing collection of resources, and the power of being able to remix or revise materials to meet specific instructional objectives.
Are there state-wide or system-wide vendor deals which affect open educational resource adoption, adaptation, and creation?
Look for wording mentioning “day-one access” or “inclusive access,” as this is usually how these programs are titled in a marketing context. Some commercial resource contracts with automatic billing may include discounts based on the volume of adoptions or student purchases, which may be steering administration and/or academic departments in favor of adopting those resources (Vitez 2020).
There may also be existing contracts between your institution or system which may create new opportunities for the program as well – for instance, if you have an existing subscription to a teaching and learning tool that may enhance open pedagogy, this may be both a good place to start with project suggestions and an opportunity for a partnership with the office that initiated this contract.
With the specific data on your open environment in mind, think about potential audiences with whom you wish to build familiarity and hopefully a positive valence towards OER. These groups can include:
Faculty who are ready and/or open to adopting OER. These are faculty and graduate students who are either at the start of a new curriculum design process or are interested in converting an existing course to OER materials. They are aware of the advantages of OER but may need support in identifying the exact platform or materials they will use. Folks like this are primed for something like an Open Education Network workshop, or similar, which can rapidly orient them to the resources out there to get started. Faculty who are OER Ready are often poised to become OER Leaders once they’ve successfully undertaken a course conversion project.
OER Leaders are those teaching faculty and graduate students at your institution already using OER in their courses. Perhaps these instructors have designed their own OER from scratch using a custom platform, or adopted a high-quality open textbook. In addition, OER Leaders might include librarians, instructional designers, administrators and leadership, and others with OER experience and knowledge, who can speak to the powers and potentials of open course materials. Their enthusiasm may be shared through lightning talks and showcases, conferences, scholarly publishing, campus promotional materials, and even directly in conversation with fellow faculty and students. Social media spaces like Twitter and Facebook are also sites of productive conversation and engagement amongst OER Leaders and the OER Ready.
Campus community members in this category aren’t familiar enough with OER to have a vested interest or opinion. Faculty who fall into this group are potential OER Adopters and Leaders waiting to happen!
To reach the OER Agnostic, strategize about what information is available at your institution pertaining to OER and what wider OER adoption might mean for your institution. OER Agnostic faculty might not be interested in promotional materials specifically branded around OER cost savings but may respond well to sessions that emphasize some of the unique pedagogical advantages of OER, for instance the potential of OER to advance diversity, equity and inclusion with materials and content engaged around social justice concerns.
Part of the challenge for program managers will be discerning the messages that resonate most on their campuses – here as in seemingly most all cases, consulting with liaison librarians, instructional designers, and others doing front facing work directly with faculty, can help program managers identify key areas of concern where OER adoption might offer benefits related to access, cost, representation, or technological affordance.
People in this category might have negative perceptions of the value or efficacy of OER, have had negative past experiences with a specific open resource, be intimidated by the perceived technological elements of open, and/or may feel that traditional publishing options are more sophisticated or authoritative. Others may support the concept of OER on campus, but be concerned about the additional labor contributions required of often overloaded faculty to rework courses to use new course materials. OER Program Managers should strive to identify the concerns raised by the OER Averse on their campus and address those concerns in programming and OER related services offered.
Some suggestions for addressing these common pitfalls include:
- Making sure the scale and scope of the work required of the program is appropriate for the compensation offered.
- Designing and iterating program requirements based on participants’ actual capacity. Initial goals may need to be scaled back or up depending on what people are actually able to accomplish.
- Building a list of talking points you think are impactful for your specific audience(s) that engage with questions around OER quality, cost, and ease of implementation.
Assume your audience is often unaware of the huge amounts of money and power wielded by big publishers and may even enjoy a friendly relationship with sales representatives who visit campuses to help promote and sell textbooks. Create opportunities to educate about the real cost impacts of traditional publishing, as well as addressing the many known factual errors or shortcomings found in traditional publishing.
Clarifying A Campus Vision of Open
Many faculty are now familiar with OER as a term, but there’s still a lot of understandable confusion given the overlap of emerging terms like Open Education, Open Pedagogy, OER, Open Access, as well as the relative complexity of related topics like Creative Commons. Create opportunities to educate stakeholders, especially teaching faculty, about what these different terms mean and the different ways they can positively impact their work. This might mean workshops, invited presentations to faculty senate, short videos, blogs featured in your institution’s publication channels, social media presence, or more. The goal is to help define and clarify what Open will mean at your institution.
Engaging Campus Partners
Many OER Program Managers will be taking on their OER work as a small part of a full-time position. Thinking creatively about how to engage campus partners can help create a larger OER impact than would be accomplished working alone. Partners like the library, instructional support units, student advocacy groups including student governments, and even more formal structures like faculty senates can all be engaged as effective partners in advocating for OER on campus. Program managers are wise to introduce themselves and their programs to these potential partners, and to develop organic points of collaboration when aligned goals arise.
Building familiarity with OER means making sure the key stakeholders at your institution have the knowledge and language they need to engage effectively around OER. This complex goal resists a one-size fits all approach, so project managers should expect to develop plans and goals customized to their program’s desired outcomes. Considering different OER user groups, and how to reach them, as well as planning for how to engage campus partnerships and existing OER programming in building familiarity, are just a few strategies OER Project Managers might use to grow OER activity on campus.
- OER Champion Playbook: Building Awareness & Enthusiasm (Lumen Learning, n.d.)
- 20 Questions to Ask about Open Education [pdf] (BCcampus 2019)
- Check your internal environments to find any previous OER work, OER-related initiatives, attitudes toward OER, and the adoption levels of OER at your institution or system.
- Check your external environments to find programs to aspire towards, the history of OER work in your region, organizations that support OER work, and any consortial arrangements that may assist or act as a barrier in a new OER program.
- Identifying those who are OER Ready, OER Leaders, OER Agnostics, and OER Averse at your institution can help you map the strategies necessary to reach your target audiences.
BCcampus. 2019. “20 Questions to Ask about Open Education.” Accessed January 22, 2022. https://opentextbc.ca/workinggroupguide/wp-content/uploads/sites/235/2020/11/Institution-Inventory.pdf
Lumen Learning. n.d. OER Champion Playbook. Accessed February 4, 2022. https://lumenlearning.com/champion-playbook/
Vitez, Kaitlyn. 2020. “Automatic Textbook Billing.” US Public Interest Research Group. Accessed February 4, 2022. https://uspirg.org/feature/usp/automatic-textbook-billing.