A faculty cohort approach can help overcome obstacles to the adoption of open educational resources.
What We Faced
Textbooks are expensive. For many years, increases in the prices of textbooks have significantly outpaced inflation. An article from 2018 pegged the average cost per textbook in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system at $125.Footnote1 Such prices dissuade some students from buying required texts if they believe they can get by without the texts, compromising their ability to fully participate and succeed in the course. Open educational resources (OER) offer low- or no-cost alternatives to traditional textbooks, and in many cases OER also serve as more current and more valuable learning resources than conventional texts.
Persuading faculty to adopt OER for their courses, however, has proven to be an ongoing challenge. The work of transitioning to OER is not trivial, and many faculty are hesitant to commit the time and energy needed to find—or create—OER that suit their courses and their teaching style. Professional development programs have been successful at encouraging faculty to adopt OER, but these programs often prove difficult to maintain for a variety of reasons, including unsustainable funding approaches, lack of faculty interest, and overworked support staff.Footnote2
Partnerships across departments is one way of sharing the financial or personnel burden of faculty development programming. A faculty development cohort on OER was established at Minnesota State University, Mankato (MNSU) in 2016 and continued in subsequent academic years. The program was supported with grant funding for the 2017–18 academic year and with funds provided by the IT Solutions department in the other academic years. The program consisted of cohorts of faculty interested in textbook affordability and OER; they participated in learning sessions and consultations to adopt OER in at least one of their courses. Cohorts met for a series of in-person content delivery sessions over the academic year and worked with an instructional designer to choose and implement OER or other low-cost course materials. A total of twenty university faculty participated in the three cohorts, and student textbook savings from those faculty members' courses totaled $100,000 by the 2019 academic year. Faculty received a modest stipend for this work.
What We Did
Collaboration across campuses is another method that can distribute the financial burden as well as the staff workload to create a sustainable faculty development program. At MNSU, the IT Solutions department partnered with the Library Services department to create a multicampus faculty development program that would provide information and support to faculty who wanted to convert their course materials to OER or to library options such as e-books, online journals, library holdings placed on reserve, or student government–funded textbook purchases placed in the library collection.
For the 2019–20 academic year, the interim dean of Library Services and an instructional designer in the IT Solutions department at MNSU collaborated on a grant proposal for a faculty professional development program on OER for four university campuses within the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system:
- Minnesota State University, Mankato (MNSU)
- St. Cloud State University (SCSU)
- Southwest Minnesota State University (SMSU)
- Metropolitan State University (Metro)
The program included several goals:
- Creation of a cross-campus OER cohort model with instructional design, accessibility, research, and library support mechanisms
- Participation from 3–8 faculty members per campus to complete the program
- Development of a series of at least five webinars based on cohort programming that would be offered to the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system at large
- Creation of at least two OER research studies
- Hosting of an OER Symposium for participants to share and present their work
- Creation of a strategic plan template for this cross-campus collaboration model
At the beginning of the fall 2019 semester, each institution formed a campus leadership team and designated points of contact for the program. Regular leadership team meetings were held virtually to make design decisions and provide open avenues of communication. Periodic in-person meetings for the leadership team had been planned for a location central to all four institutions, but all meetings were transitioned to virtual to accommodate the team's workload and time constraints and to eliminate the expense of travel. The MNSU instructional designer acted as project lead and coordinated with instructional designers and librarians from the other three universities to select faculty participants and provide programming. The $80,000 grant from the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system provided funding for faculty stipends, a graduate assistant, and the end-of-program OER Symposium. A Microsoft Teams site was created to house all materials for the program and to provide a communication channel for the leadership team. Intra-agency agreements were established between the four universities so grant funds could be distributed to each campus as needed to support faculty stipends, meetings, and marketing expenses. Preliminary dates were chosen for the webinar series and for the OER Symposium.
Marketing materials for the cohort program were sent to the campuses, along with an application for participation. Applicants were required to provide information about their interest and experience with OER; to indicate which type of project they were hoping to work on throughout the program (adopt OER, write OER, research OER, or lead students in an OER-creation project); and to confirm that they would present their project during the OER Symposium to receive their stipend ($1,000). A total of thirty-seven faculty applied, representing disciplines including business (13%); education (8%); STEM (28%); social sciences (15%); health sciences (15%); and humanities (23%). Half of the applications were from faculty at SCSU, which had limited previous professional development opportunities available on the topic of OER. During the program, four participants withdrew due to time constraints, and the program finished with thirty-three participants.
Because this was a virtual professional development program, communication with the participants and within the leadership team was key. The program lead coordinated leadership team meetings and meeting agendas, took meeting notes; shared program administrative documents, maintained the Teams site, communicated with participants before the webinar sessions and sent follow-up emails with presentation and video links after the sessions, completed the required grant documents, managed the graduate assistant, provided one-on-one participant support, planned the OER Symposium, and monitored the grant budget. All leadership team members were copied on all participant communication to maintain transparency.
The content and design of the cohorts from the earlier program at MNSU were used as a basis for the multicampus OER cohort, with small changes. Because the project leadership team wanted to include the expertise of the library and instructional design staff from the other three universities, the webinars for faculty participants were created to provide the program content, with at least one webinar being delivered by library or instructional design staff from each institution. The topics for the webinars included an overview of the program and OER, finding and using library resources, dealing with challenges, copyright and publishing, research, and accessibility. An additional webinar about the use of the Pressbooks publishing tool was added mid-program at the request of the faculty participants. These seven webinars were recorded and put into a Kaltura playlist that was shared with all faculty participants and the leadership team.
The OER Symposium was to be the capstone requirement for the cohort program. Participants were required to send a proposal to the leadership team and indicate the type of presentation they would complete. Finished projects could be represented by either posters or presentations, while projects still in progress could choose discussion tables or lightning talks. Virtual presentation options were offered only on an individual basis in consultation with the project leadership team. The participants' presentations would be followed by an afternoon Textbook Affordability Fair, which would provide participants the opportunity to interact with other interested parties such as faculty who had already engaged in significant OER work, vendor representatives from OpenStax and Knewton, and OER coordinators from the system office to provide information about future funding opportunities for faculty. In addition, the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) workshop "Scholarly Communication: From Understanding to Engagement" was going to be offered first to the project librarians, then to librarians at the other remaining universities in the system, then to the librarians at the remaining community and technical colleges in the system. In March 2020, however, the COVID-19 pandemic derailed the symposium, and the ACRL workshop was canceled.
What We Learned
The project leadership team was pleased with the progress of the cohort. Multiple faculty members were very enthusiastic and became ad hoc "ambassadors" of textbook affordability for their department. Some participants were so passionate about this topic that they drafted a proposed Delegate Assembly Resolution to present to the faculty bargaining unit that would make OER creation an accepted activity for tenure and promotion. All of the faculty participants integrated low-cost, library, or OER materials into their courses in some way. Many of the courses impacted by these changes were first-year courses such as Biology 100 and English 101. Other courses were major courses that typically have expensive texts, such as in engineering and math. In lieu of the presentation they had planned to do at our OER Symposium, each participant submitted a summary of the changes they had made based on the information they learned in the program. Unfortunately, no OER research projects were completed by any of the faculty participants, so the leadership team was unable to reach that particular project goal. The leadership team believes that faculty interest in conducting OER research will come with time, after faculty have more experience with OER adoption and creation.
At MNSU, the multicampus project solidified a partnership between IT Solutions and Library Services, resulting in the creation of the Library Textbook Affordability Group, which continues the work done under this project. This group has developed a strategic plan for textbook affordability initiatives at MNSU and has collaborated with the university bookstore and student government to promote textbook affordability measures, including the use of OER on campus. In the 2020–21 academic year, a faculty member from MNSU who had gone through a previous OER cohort stepped up to lead a faculty professional development cohort of his own on OER. MNSU also partnered with OpenStax to elevate the promotion of OER to MNSU campus faculty. The other three universities that participated in the grant project continue to offer small cohorts and workshops on each topic. The webinar playlist from the seven offerings is available to each institution for their use. Each library will continue to work to raise awareness of the wide offerings in their holdings that could be a one-to-one replacement for many course textbooks.
Aside from demonstrating that there is a need on many university campuses for this type of programming, the project leadership team learned several specific lessons:
- It is particularly important to have the support of team members who can dedicate time and attention to the topic. While the librarian leadership team members were incredibly involved and provided stellar support, this work was in addition to their regular duties. The project was a time burden to all the team leads. This type of large project needs to be part of the team member's regular work responsibilities, so it is not so stressful.
- The workload for the support staff is also a concern. Conversations with high-level administrators are needed to discuss changes to position responsibilities and job duties to further support these types of efforts. Administrators from departments that have staff who are key to faculty development, such as IT departments and libraries, should consider how partnerships might expand programming and resources. Delegation of responsibilities among leadership team members is also needed; it did not happen with this project, though, and would have mitigated some of the workload concerns.
- From prior experience, the leadership team knew that there had to be some sort of accountability for the participants if they are receiving compensation for participating. The OER Symposium was to be the accountability piece for this project.
- The sustainability of funding for additional OER programming was a huge concern at the four campuses. There was a clear desire for this type of programming on at least one campus, but funding options are limited for all four campuses. Additional grant funding or other departmental funding is needed to support the faculty work in this area.
- Facilitating a multicampus professional development effort can be aided through the creation of a virtual community of practice. Librarians and instructional designers collaborated to create the programming and support the participants, helping thirty-three faculty members adopt OER and lower-cost textbook options through a series of virtual learning sessions.
Additional programming is needed at several of the universities, and future plans include separate OER programming on each campus. In addition, we anticipate conducting follow-up longitudinal surveys of all program participants to see if any other courses were modified to lower-cost material, and we hope to host a local OER conference for all interested faculty and staff from the four institutions.
The author would like to thank the staff at the Center for Excellence in Scholarship and Research for their support in editing the manuscript. Additionally, the author would like to thank the campus leadership teams for their collaboration and fellowship during the grant program: Daardi Mixon, Chris Corley, Bobby Bothmann, Firdavs Khaydarov, Neal Sorenson, Matthew Clay, Pam Gladis, Kate Borowske, Melissa Prescott, Jennifer Quinlan, Rachel Wexelbaum, Ruth Zietlow, Zorian Sasyk, Julie Maxon, Beth Clausen, and Rhonda Huisman.
- Caroline Kinskey, Hunter King, and Carrie Lewis Miller, "Open Educational Resources: An Analysis of Minnesota State Colleges and Universities Student Preferences," Open Learning: The Journal of Open, Distance and e-Learning 33, no. 3 (2018): 190–202. Jump back to footnote 1 in the text.
- Kathy Essmiller, Penny Thompson, and Frances Alvarado-Albertorio, "Performance Improvement Technology for Building a Sustainable OER Initiative in an Academic Library," TechTrends 64, no. 2 (2020): 265–74; Mandi Goodsett, Barbara Loomis, and Marsha Miles, "Leading Campus OER Initiatives through Library–Faculty Collaboration," College & Undergraduate Libraries 23, no. 3 (2016): 335–42; Lily Todorinova and Zara T. Wilkinson, "Incentivizing Faculty for Open Educational Resources (OER) Adoption and Open Textbook Authoring," The Journal of Academic Librarianship 46, no. 6 (2020). Jump back to footnote 2 in the text.
Carrie Lewis Miller is an Instructional Designer at Minnesota State University, Mankato.
© 2022 Carrie Lewis Miller. The text of this work is licensed under a Creative Commons BY-NC 4.0 International License.